The Paella That Wasn’t Easy to Love

SOME OF THE BEST AND TASTY paella variants I’ve ever tried were at Las Paellas Cafe at the Festival Mall in Alabang, Casa Armas Tapas Bar Y Restaurante in Malate, Barcino in the The Fort, and here in Puerto Princesa, at Tom Tom’s Club along Manalo Street.

Even to this day, I can’t forget the subtle flavor and aroma of the cafe’s Paella Marinera, and the gastronomically bewitching Paella Negra, a scene-stealer and high drama rice dish that is dyed black with squid ink, and mottled with calamari, a rich blob of garlic aoili mayonnaise, red bell pepper strips, and some other toppings.

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“Matiz Paella” by Matiz Restaurant & Tapaz Bar at Hue Hotel.

Any chef who can rustle up a good paella will say right away that this famous Spanish dish is really “all about the rice” and the socarrat, without abandoning the adequate quantity (and quality) of other ingredients that needs to be there over the base.

Socarrat is the rice that gets pleasantly crisp and forms a tough outer part at the base of the paellera, a special skillet from which the paella is cooked. It is to the dish what the smoke ring is to a brisket.

In Filipino, it is “tutong,” or the burnt rice that we find at the bottom of our pot when we don’t pay enough attention and cooks it for too long. The difference is that we shed out the burnt rice, whereas the Spaniards and paella lovers save the socarrat (sometimes for last) as it is essential to the total goodness of the paella.

Tom Tom’s Club is the only dining place I know here that serves really good paella. So, when I learned that Matiz Restaurant & Tapas Bar at Hue Hotel is offering Spanish-inspired cuisines, I really campaigned to have our regular Women of Wednesday (WOW) there to try the dish.

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Sinugba, the two-cooking method dish of grilled pork belly and fish ceviche (kinilaw).

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WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY (WOW) sisters on September 13 at Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar, Hue Hotels, National Highway, Puerto Princesa City.  

WOW is a group of lady past presidents of the JCI Puerto Princesa Peacock, Inc., and Wednesday is usually the day in the week when we all meet to just let our hair loose — allow ourselves to behave much more freely from our daily routines and just laugh at everything and enjoy.

On September 13, all 11 of us were at this restaurante to finally try some of cuisines it’s offering. The specialty of the house the waitress offered was Matiz Paella, which I ordered for four since those who arrived ahead of me had already ordered.

Paella always gets me excited because it is a Spanish food that’s easy to love, easy to adore. Anything that’s easy to love and adore keeps you calm, right?

After waiting for nearly half an hour, the so-called Matiz Paella that got to our table (with a portable stove) was nothing short of regret.

Sorry about that.

Flavors certainly did not blend and burst together, the rice mixture was (sadly) soaked through, and toppings to add to the distinctive taste were measly — it’s head-shaking.

I agree, the chef should not overwhelm the rice with toppings as it will affect the whole taste of the paella, but really that meager? Four pieces of boiled quail eggs (I get it, because I ordered for four), seven pieces of sliced squid rings, two pieces of shrimps, and four slices of chorizo that were charred and tasted bitter, and green peas.

There was really nothing else for me to be excited about in the dish that was regarded as the specialty of the house. Where’s the sudden rush of beautiful flavors in every spoonful and layer of toppings spread over the base? What happened to the socarrat?

The price of Php995 for four for the paella that to me, failed to happen, was really sore to pay though we all split the tab at Php500 for everything we ate. Di naman sa… pero, why pay good money for something that’s not belly satisfying?

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Bagnet, crunchy and truly good!

Though disappointed with its paella, I’m not saying you don’t go and try the Spanish-themed restaurante because your fondness might be different from mine. Unless the chef improves the paella, I honestly think it’s safe to go for the Sinugba and the Bagnet on its menu list.

These two Pinoy dishes are really good at Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar. They might be a little pricey where your dining-out-to-treat-yourself fund is concerned, but, hey… no regrets if the food is good.

Sinugba, which employs two methods of cooking — grilling pork belly and soaking fish in lime juice or coconut vinegar to become ceviche — needs really little introduction to Filipinos as it is a beloved dish, especially in the Visayas.

Many Sinugba lovers just salt the pork belly and grill it. The others choose to do it with their own created barbecue sauces, and after grilling, mix it with the fish ceviche.

At Matiz Restaurant & Tapaz Bar, the Sinugba, thankfully, didn’t taste sea-level salinity (over-salted food isn’t good for the kidney). It was light and bright, used the freshest fish possible, and wasn’t overly marinated.

The deep-fried pork belly Bagnet that originated in Ilocos was everyone’s rave in the restaurant that night. There was no bagoong monamon (fermented anchovies) that was served with it, but the chef’s success in making it crispy on the outside and tender and savory on the inside got me.

I would certainly go back for the Bagnet because the resto got it right, and it brings me back sweet memories of my father. If he’s alive today, he’d surely be happy to be taken there for a special dinner of the Ilocano favorite simple recipe… with, of course, bagoong monamon.

I just know he would look for that; not the vinegar as dipping sauce.

Nice Ambiance

The inside of the restaurant used wooden wine rack modules clawed on the wall on one side for efficient and elegant bottle storage that are typical to tapas bars. Individual plank tables hang on the ceiling on another side to complete its stylish whole tapas bar look.

Imagine having your tapas on swing tables. The playful design makes dining fun and interesting. I’m actually imagining what if it has hanging chairs to sway me too.

Its interior design concept is nothing I’ve ever seen in this city. It has high upper interior surface that adds space, and speaks relaxation and comfort to people who shun having their meals in a place that retards them from trouble-free gestures and physical movement.

Sometimes, when we go to restaurants, it is more than just the food. The ambiance and the all-embracing experience can often mean a lot more. This is the reason why many really take time and effort to create and develop their own themes, or assimilate elements of a culture — all with the objective of entertaining your senses, not just your taste buds.

The Staff

Except for one waiter who doesn’t know how to describe to us the food we wanted to have, I was glad everyone was attentive enough to check what else we needed that night.  The waitress who served our food was always smiling, and checking on us.

Poor customer service can cause restaurant businesses to die. In fact, I think it is one of the chief reasons why many lose the interest to become returning customers. Attentive waiters/waitresses is part of the whole deal of superlative customer service.

I’m not the only one who’s going to say this: If a restaurant is able to deliver remarkable atmosphere, delicious food, reasonable prices, ample serving, and quality customer service, then there’s no reason why I would not return.

Cheers!

 

 

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