Words and Photos by Christian Valdes
I was roaming around Rockwell on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon looking to escape from the heat and to satisfy my hunger, when I came across Kafe Batwan. I have heard great reviews and I have noticed that it is normally full when I pass by, but I haven’t had the chance to stop and try the Bacolod style cuisine. I decided now was a great time to cool off and fuel up.
Though the place was packed, there was no need to wait. The staff attended to me right away, and within five minutes I was seated, had a cool glass of water, and had placed my order. The menu itself had a large variety of options to make anyone happy. Personally I was taken with the Chicken Pecho Inasal (BBQ Chicken Breast), Pancit Palabok (Rice noodle Dish), Crispy Crablettes and Grilled Kurobuta Liempo (Pork Belly). This food was my heaven. Why? Oh let me break it down for you!
The crispy crablettes were the appetizer that got this food-venture rolling. I am a huge seafood fan and when I saw this on the menu, it was a no brainer, I just had to order it. I had my expectations, and these bite size deep fried crablettes exceeded them. They were crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside — we are talking about two different textures of awesomeness! But let me tell you about the flavor. The crab meat had a light sweetness, followed by a mild saltiness, but not over-shadowing the former, at all. Now, add the sinimak (vinegar w/ chili ginger and garlic) dipping sauce and we have ourselves a winner! You just added a tangy, mild spicy and tart sauce to this sweet and salty madness. I urge you to try controlling yourself while this appetizer is in front of you. It’s hard to stop yourself from eating it all, so you may as well order for an extra serving!
Chicken Pecho Inasal: Anyone can BBQ, but not everyone can capture that perfect chargrilled flavor. It takes some skill, too, to preserve the juicy and tenderness, and balance it perfectly with marinade and the natural flavors of what is barbecued. That being said, let’s cut to the chase and talk about the chicken. It had a subtle saltiness and bitterness from the marinade and the charcoal with a crispy exterior. Once cut into, a steam of juices flow from its tender interior. These guys know what they are doing. The chicken pecho inasal was accompanied with a pickled green papaya salad and a soy sauce sinamak dipping sauce. It is good on its own, but it just kept getting better and better. Just try and imagine adding a hint of sour, followed by mild spicy garlic flavor, and a crisp crunch to the dish. Need I say more?
Pancit Palabok (Pah-Lah-Bohk): This is a staple in Filipino cuisine. Its rich sauce is made with pork and shrimp, and gets its rich color from the anatto seed (almost like a saffron color), which, once cooked takes on a creamy consistency, and then served over a bed of rice noodles. Kafe Batwan took it to the next level. How did they do this? They must have said, “Let’s add a topping of calamares en su tinta (Squid cooked in its own ink), a medium boiled egg with a beautifully fluid center that just doesn’t quit, and replace the chicharon with crispy miniature crabs!”
The noodles were cooked perfectly, the palabok sauce coated those noodles in a smooth and meaty union; it was meant to be. And I will tell you how it got better: the calamares gave the overall dish a balance of tender bites of squid with a touch of tanginess and the medium boiled egg…no words come to mind, all I can say is, “Thumbs up!” The topping on this baby was the crispy miniature crab bites. It balanced the texture with a crunch, added a saltiness factor and brought out the seafood flavor in the dish.
Grilled Kurobuta Liempo: Pork belly is typically tender and full of flavor, but how does one make an impression? Make it Kurobuta Pork. This pork is unlike any other pork in the world. It is juicier and more tender than the rest, tested and proven! As a side note, there are restaurants that use premium ingredients and over-complicate things. As a result, flavors get lost in translation. My point here is that sometimes simple is good, and I would like to mention that this grilled liempo wasn’t over complicated, or boasted big flavors. The Kurobuta Pork belly was the highlight. Visually, it is appetizing with its consistent grill marks topped with an eye catching glaze served on a bed of sambal (garlic and shrimp paste) green beans. Here’s a mental image (if the photo I took was not enough): Kurobuta Liempo, juicy through and through, with a rich pork flavor, mixed with a hint of smoke and char from the grill. Then, add a touch of shrimp, salt and garlic from the sambal, and a burst of freshness from the green beans. This dish is a testament to how simplicity goes a long way. Don’t just take my word, you be the judge!
After dining at Kafe Batwan, I can see what everyone is saying. It truly is an experience from start to finish. In summary, the staff is attentive. The physical location is comfortable and you don’t feel the urge to rush and eat. The cuisine is one-of-a-kind. A word of advice: bring a wheel chair because you may go in hungry, but you will leave satisfied and full!
Kafe Batwan by SARSA
122 Joya Lofts & Tower, Amorsolo Drive,
Rockwell, Makati City