MANILA -- Fancy a 10-course tasting menu for only a P1,200? In Poblacion’s Esqinita, that’s 100% possible.
Celebrity chef Rob Pengson, who formerly helmed The Goose Station’s pricey degustacions, is offering one of the most affordable (if not the most affordable) 10-course tasting menus in Manila.
Calling itself a modern carinderia, Esqinita, off Makati Avenue at P. Guanzon Street in Poblacion, serves up hip versions of familiar Pinoy dishes to trendy Poblacion habitues.
“The plan for this space is three concepts. Esqinita is our Filipino concept, followed by Beso-beso, which is a tapas bar, and upstairs is an izakaya called Moto Moto, [serving] sushi and steak,” shared Pengson.
Esqinita launched in April, while Beso-beso followed in May.
1. Talong Amole Nachos
The start of a degustacion always sets the mood, and the mood that this dish set was delicious. Simple nachos became unique and extraordinary with Pengson’s scrumptious dip version of a roasted eggplant salad (best to mix the calamansi with the dip), combined with sour cream and cheese. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
2. Tuna Kilawin
Artfully plated, the tuna kilawin was tart, sweet, and cold. Avocado ice cream added creamy richness to the course, while an ube tostada provided texture and salt. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
3. Tahong Aburi
Esqinita’s grilled mussels were butter-garlic-kewpie-cheese filled shells of joy. I could not get enough of them! Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
4. Alugbati Brown Butter Crepe
Almost like a salad by the way of alugbati and a tangy dollop of whipped cream and goat cheese (with the crepe as the crispy crouton-like element). Alugbati has a distinct bitter taste and texture, but as one of the healthiest leafy things to eat, the sweet-nutty crepe with the cheese did help it become palatable in this course. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
5. Ginataang Gambas
Tangy shrimp kilawin became extra cool and creamy, thanks to a topping of coconut sorbet, with fried shallots adding sweetness and earthiness. Crushed peanuts added texture to the silky dish. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
6-7. Pork & Tofu Sisig with Stick BBQ
(Pro-tip: At this point, I would go ahead and ask in advance for my rice.) The stick BBQ was grilled well, tasting of the usual Filipino soy marinade. In this course though, it was the Pork & Tofu Sisig that shone brightly. As great sisig is a must for any Filipino establishment dubbing itself a bar, and Esqinita didn’t disappoint with a sizzling plate of crispy liver-tinged pork sisig nicely juxtaposed with kewpie-creamy fried tofu. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
8. Sizzling Salmon & Pusit Sinigang (or Hainanese Inasal Kare-kare)
Chicken or seafood? While the chicken came perfectly grilled and lathered generously with the kare-kare sauce, it paled in comparison to the seafood sinigang that had bracingly sour and clean light seafood flavors. Most interesting was the inclusion of baby squid into the seafood mix, which I have never seen before in a sinigang. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
9. Multi-grain Adobo Rice
This rice bowl can be eaten by itself. The multi-grain element gave the rice nutty flavors, which complemented the garlicky adobo flavor. Best enjoyed together with courses 5 and 6. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Dessert options may vary every day, but for our dinner, we were served Buko Pandan. The coconut-jelly dessert was transformed by a topping of gata coulis (otherwise known as latik), which gave deep coconut-caramel notes in every bite. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
11. Esqi Truffle Lechon (add-on for P388+)
A treat! Thick porchetta slices, fragrant with truffle oil, served with refreshing chimichurri and a spicy liver sauce. I skipped the side of atchara (pickled bitter gourd) and concentrated on getting as much as I could of those flat and crispy pork crackling, that topped the dish. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
12. Cocktails (ala carte)
After dinner, Pengson had us sip a refreshing cocktail called Guyabano Sour, which used soursop, ginger ale and tequila. A great palate cleanser that also packed an alcoholic punch. Sangria was also a crowd-pleasing option. (For wine pairing by Diego Virata with the degustacion, it’s an additional P995+ for five wines.) Photo by Jeeves de Veyra
Some of the servings pictured above were for 2-3 diners. Esqinita serves lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday, dinner only on Saturdays, and lunch only on Sundays.