MANILA -- With little or no fanfare, Chef Myke "Tatung" Sarthou opened Pandan Asian Café off Quezon City's restaurant row of Tomas Morato Ave. featuring a menu of memories from his travels around Southeast Asia.
Fresh from the success of Talisay Garden Café, one would expect this in-demand chef to take it easy. One would expect the follow up to be smaller and less ambitious. But one look at the 200-seater Pandan Asian Café and one immediately realizes that this is not the case with Sarthou.
The Ivy Almario-designed interiors were inspired by the movie "Crazy Rich Asians." The directive to the interior designer was to create a restaurant that could be a shooting location for the film. The interiors are light and airy. During the day, windows all over the place let natural light in reflecting off the white walls painted with greenery. The space extends deep within the property with additional seats and function rooms for private events on the second floor. A verandah that overlooks the parking lot and street has mechanical abanikos above to keep the air flowing on warm barmy days.
Pandan allows Sarthou to play around with his fascination for Southeast Asian food. He cites his curiosity with how ingredients like ginger, galanggal, and lemongrass which are common around the region are used to come up with different flavors.
At first, the prices seem to be a little steep compared to other Southeast Asian restaurants. However, the servings are good for two or three. Single-serve dishes are not on the menu so no pho or rice toppings here, although Sarthou said they might appear later on as a lunch special.
Sarthou’s inspiration for the menu are his food memories from his travels around the region. He is quick to note that he wanted authentic flavors without compromise, noting that the safe way would be to tweak recipes for the Filipino palate. If it’s spicy, it’s spicy. If it has unusual flavors due to ingredients, it will stay that way. He said that the challenge was to get the taste and flavors of the dishes as close as possible to how he remembered them.
“It’s the memory, it’s the experience of eating those dishes that make them special,” explained Sarthou.
Here's what you can expect at Pandan.
Cool off at the bar with some Southeast Asian beverages. Shown here are Pandan Asian Café’s versions of Caphe Sua Da, Cucumber Lemonade, Brown Sugar Milk Tea, and Bandung. The Bandung is the star of the non-alcoholic drink menu that’s made with rose syrup with lychee.
The freshness of Vietnamese food is the highlight in Sarthou’s Vietnamese Sampler. A trio of chicken sate, gou coin (fresh spring roll), and shrimp roll are paired with sate sauce, spicy sinamak-like vinegar, and hoisin with peanut.
From the hawker centers of Singapore comes another plate of appetizers with Tatung’s versions of BBQ pork, Hainanese chicken, and roast pork belly.
There’s something for everybody on the menu. For kids, the Pandan Chicken is a friendly introduction for kids and diners who aren’t into spice and unfamiliar flavors.
A lot of salted egg dishes lay the sauce on too thick that the underlying flavor gets overshadowed. This is not the case with Pandan’s deep-fried salted egg prawns where the salted egg sauce is generous and complements the prawn’s flavor.
Sarthou’s caramelized dilis makes his sambal-based Nasi Goreng extra special adding sweetness to this spicy Indonesian rice dish.
Pandan Asian Café’s heaping bowl of Laksa comes with sliced fish cake, egg, tofu, and prawn. Sarthou’s version is nicely rich, sour and spicy. He also uses both egg and bee-hoon noodles for an interesting variety of textures.
Many local versions of Char Kway Teow are based from the Singaporean salty sweet recipe. Sarthou serves up the Malaysian version that’s lighter and whose flavors lean towards the salty side.
Having a bite of the Sambal Pomfret brought me back to Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur’s food street in the Bukit Bintang district. Sarthou couldn’t find a steady supply of stingray, used in Malaysia, and opted to use fish instead. The sambal used here is unapologetically spicy, yet the spice hits after a while.
Sarthou notes that the closer one gets to the Philippines, Malaysian flavors get milder. This Sambal Squid is from Sabah. The sambal is somewhat similar, yet more tame, than the Sambal Pomfret.
Finish off the meal with Pandan Asian Café’s desserts featuring Sizzling Bibingka topped with a Chocnut-like topping and latik syrup, Sticky Mango Rice with gata and blue ternate, Buko Pie with homemade crumble, and Coconut Pandan Jelly with lychee.
Pandan Asian Café is located at 76 Scout Limbaga Street in Quezon City and is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.