By Chef Gene Gonzalez
Illustrations by Roc Verdera and Ariana Maralit
Along with the fast-paced growth of this premier Mindanao city comes the mushrooming of restaurants that have so much to offer. I have some interesting finds—artisanal items sought after by Davaoeños themselves— discovered after hanging out with local foodies like Dianne Sia Luceñara (Davao Food Guide), Patrick Co (The Fat Cow bistro), and Paul Tee.
Here are some favorites.
Osvaldo’s Cakes, Loyola St.
I have been visiting this pastry shop for a while, even at its previous site. Pastry chef Joel Rodriguez’s atelier, with his paintings and a beautiful long table of thick ironwood, is perfect for socializing, especially for those who want a sweet treat while taking a peep into the kitchen. The pastries are creative and focused, and also a limited edition. Recently, I tried this blue cheesecake. The flavors of the dairy proved subtle, straddling savory and sweet, just lightly crossing the line, and further enhanced by figs cooked in a buttery honey glaze. My palate was screaming for a late-harvest wine or a Madeira, even in the early afternoon. Next was an ube cheesecake topped with a delightfully textured silky macapuno that Chef Joel sources from a nearby province. It’s like having kakanin with a royal pedigree.
Loveland Tea, SM City Davao
This milk tea brand is still hot as it has just opened. It is a fairly small player in Taiwan, having only three branches (two in Taiwan and one in the Philippines). The drinks use ingredients (tea, fruits, and sugars) from natural sources. The creations are also unique to each location as the fruits are seasonal and locally sourced, which means they go from tree to cup in a matter of days. What is more interesting is that the store has a machine that’s displayed at the front counter, and it’s perpetually churning out fresh pearls. The boba is slow-cooked in honey for almost two hours! Between 12:30 and 4 p.m., the aroma of cooked caramel permeates as much of the place as an eager crowd of arnibal lovers queues up to have their sugar fix.
Nico and Jayne Palma Gil have this web-based cookie business, whose name befits the creations. The young couple hand makes the baked-to-order cookies. Their classic chocolate chip uses real couverture chocolate whose smooth texture presents a surprise as you bite into the cookie that is crisp and crusty on the outside and moist and chewy inside, interlaced with real chocolate (no compounds here.) My favorite is the New York Style, which is thicker and has even bigger chunks of real chocolate, and chunks of walnuts, too.
Chucky’s, Mabini St
In front of the Mabini Commercial Complex, there’s a stand with no sign. Its owner, Chuck Jovan Arroyo, is a very talented cook who did the rounds working in quick service restaurants. He applies his sanitation and preparation know how to Muslim-friendly food. He sets up his hawker stand in the evening to cater to late night shift workers. Chucky’s is famous for the pastil. Customers come from Davao and outlying suburbs to enjoy this inexpensive fragrant banana leaf rice snack topped with chicken adobo, and drenched with a homemade chili-garlic sauce that sets its maker apart from other pastil makers. This little business now sells 500 of these banana leaf wraps a day. Chucky’s chili-garlic sauce also partners well with his homemade chicken siomai, another must-try. I was privy to his version of pares, which I anticipate will be another bestseller. He is seriously contemplating on this menu item that will be served soon. The stewed beef is rich and warm on the palate with a good dose of spicy black pepper and ginger. Robust flavors of star anise and cinnamon complete the pairing with garlic rice and, yes, more of that signature chili-garlic sauce.
Barney’s BBQ sa Davao, Teodoro Palma Gil St.
This ihawan or barbecue place finally has a name! The owner named it after his hardworking son. The attraction is the yakitori-sized pork barbecue with a garlicky soy glaze. This is supplemented by the signature sauce that is redolent of dark soy and brown sugar. There are three cuts of tuna collar available for every budget. You can also choose the stuffed squid that is grilled after you choose the size and price marked on the skewer. As for side dishes, order the the kinilaw and the seaweed salad. Rice is wrapped in fragrant banana leaves. After you stuff yourself silly, there is an ice cream cart outside that will complete the inexpensive feast of grilled food.
The Big House, 12 Juna Avenue, Matina Subdivision
Besides the charm of a large house converted into a hotel and restaurant with a beautiful garden for chilling out, what really captures you at The Big House is the food. Here, Chef Elizabeth Rubillo serves her versions of pasta and home cooking. For dessert, one can have an offbeat halo-halo with a great deal of creative panache. The halo-halo, aside from the gulaman, nata, etc., has sweetened pulp strings of squash with fresh mango cubes, as well as melon milk.
Desi Maza, Brokenshire College
Imran is a Pakistani guy I met months ago and I recently visited his Indian spot by the side of Brokenshire College. Being fire victims, I was amazed at how Imran and his wife have been working hard to pick up the pieces and spring back with their little food business that caters to Indian students. The masala used for their chicken biryani and their mutton korma are wonderful and authentic. I hope they keep up with the way they do their dhal and chickpeas that are braised to meltin-your-mouth goodness. I sampled all breads, all baked and shaped upon order, and everything, from chapatti and paratha to naan, went so well with the sauced dishes. Overall, this experience is a thumbs-up.
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The original article was first published here.