What cannot be denied these days: the food scene in Dumaguete is exploding, with new options for dining opening with a frequency faster that we can go hungry. There is a list we’ve kept all throughout the long pandemic season about restaurants and cafes in and around Dumaguete we’d like to try—and we have yet to cross out every single offering. There is simply an abundance—but this is a nice problem to have, if you are a Dumagueteño who loves the thrill of a fantastic meal.
But how do these restaurants keep themselves in the spotlight?
Some try to stake out spots in food bazaars that seem to spring now and then. [There’s one pizza joint, for example, that opens exclusively to these food bazaars.] Others try out the congested marketplace of Sunday’s morning tabo at the Valencia. Others try culinary showcases—one-off events collaborated on by some of Dumaguete’s culinary new blood, meant to entice the food aficionado to a feast, and letting that experience reverberate, often through precious word-of-mouth.
Word-of-mouth is important in Dumaguete. No one here really writes food reviews for local papers, and social media posts are mostly generic food porn photos that is more photography than gustatory—and often the intention is PR. But listen to the off-the-record chatter, and you will find locals being honest about their various experiences of dining.
“That charred pasayan—what the heck was that?”
“Their steak is refrigerator fresh, and it’s freakishly expensive.”
“That cheese bread is mid.”
Six Hands Dining, a collaborative food event gathering three of Dumaguete’s best-known chefs last December 6 at Unknwn Kitchn in Claytown, is a showcase meant for exactly that kind of chatter. An invitation-only tasting event, it felt very much like a revisit to the Dug-ab event that the same group organized about two years ago, which was made to promote local dining selections during the pandemic; this time around, the intention is a showcase of each of the featured chef’s strength, all of them coming together “to promote sustainable dining using locally sourced produce,” and “to celebrate the homegrown food scene, and local farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen with creative minds, hearts, and tastebuds.”
Our first course, prepared by Adamo’s Edison Monte de Ramos Manuel, was marlin paired with sushi rice in nigiri fashion. The slices of raw fish highlighted its bright punchy marinade of soy sauce, lemon zest, egg yolk, and dill.
We shifted gears from sea to land with our second course, prepared by Matt Villamil of Unknwn Kitchn, with a duo of flora and fauna: seared salmon with pea puree and roasted pork loin with pumpkin puree. The fare was small packages of confit garlic, black truffle, and edible flower petals which were a treat to the eyes as well as to the taste buds.
Our third course was courtesy of Keith Fresnido of the soon-to-open Apas deli. His featured dish was a celebration of the earth with a plate red with flavor: steak and pastrami served with fermented red onions, shimeji mushrooms, a beetroot puree and a red wine jus. The onions were fermented in yogurt, cutting through the harsh spiciness but still retaining bite to contrast with the rich red meat. The leaves of the gotu kola garnishing the dish looked like lily pads on a red forest floor.
We ended the meal in cocoa and coffee, with a walnut brownie topped with a mocha cream and a mascarpone ganache by guest chef Grhemy Buenavista. The subtle espresso bitterness gave the dish dimension, and the cream and the ganache balanced beautifully with the brownie’s robustness and the generous walnuts.
It was the best showcase for what to expect when it comes to getting to know the nascent Dumaguete food scene.
Adamo [0916-552-1626] is located at the corner of Tindalo and Molave Streets in Daro, near SeaOil. Unknwn Kitchn [0969-520-8899] is located at Puyo Building along Little Children of the Philippines Street in Claytown, Daro. Apas opens in this month.
Author’s email: [email protected]