Don Baldosano’s private dining restaurant returns, better than ever, with the unsung dishes of the Philippines taking center stage on its latest degustacion menu
A couple of months back, Parañaque restaurant Linamnam temporarily closed to make way for renovations as well as to give time for proprietor and chef de cuisine Don Baldosano to reinvent himself.
The place underwent a relayout. It now offers indoor dining that could accommodate 10 guests at a time. Beyond the establishment’s physical changes, diners, at least those who are acquainted with the 23-year-old restaurateur, would get to see a more mature Don, apparent through his food described by Manila Bulletin lifestyle editor AA Patawaran as “[works] of pure quality, every little bite the product of genius-level curiosity, passion, extensive research, imagination, do-or-die creativity, hard work, and a devotion to Filipino flavors and ingredients and culinary techniques, traditions, and aspirations.”
In August, the new-and-improved kitchen reopens with a tasting menu that shines the spotlight on lesser-known dishes in the Philippines.
The pilot menu begins with Putong Bigas, soft rice cake composed of five different grains from all over the Philippines. It is garnished with Beluga caviar as well as kinuday na taba (dried pork fat) that has been smoked for a week. Kinuday is cured meat that is either dried beneath the sun or smoked above firewood for weeks or months by the Ibaloi, an indigenous ethnic group in Benguet. The hors d’oeuvre has a subtle but lingering savoriness.
Served on the same plate is Tinapay, brioche soaked in burnt butter, topped with sisig made of Ifugao tomatoes. The vegetarian fare has an eye-opening acidity and a more pronounced meatiness that, like the first appetizer, dwells in the mouth.
What follows are bites Kilawing Puso and Calumpit Longganisa. The former is puso ng saging (banana blossoms) cooked in vinegar, finished with coconut, daing butter from Capiz, and malunggay leaves. The latter, on the other hand, is Bulacan longganisa with roasted sitaw (string beans) and red santan.
Water used to wash hulled rice is utilized to boil several kinds of vegetables for the cold soup, Laswa sa Hugas Bigas. Dredged with a dash of malunggay oil, it gets better with each sip. “We wanted an ever-changing dish in the restaurant, so whatever vegetable’s we grow and are in season, we serve through this soup,” explains Don. The cool temperature tames the saltiness of the broth.
For hot soup, the Caldo, short for arroz caldo, was inspired by Don’s childhood rice porridge that came with fish instead of chicken. The pompano fat and maya-maya stock, where greens have been boiled, seep through and meld together seamlessly with the rice grains, dahong sili (chili leaves), garlic oil, calamansi, rice chip, and Capiz kalkag (lightly-salted, tiny, dried shrimp). The comforting broth makes the taste buds dance.
The Kulawo na Kinilaw transports dinners to Laguna, where the smoked coconut cream sauce dish, slightly similar to guinataan, is served. Eggplants are seasoned with shrimp, dressed with a crispy prawn head, and dressed with a traditional kulawo sauce with latik (coconut cream) oil. The shellfish, with its glycine, algine, and proline, imparts an umami that mingles well with the zing of the cream.
Pahiyas ng Quezon is Don’s edible version of the colorful harvest festival of the same name. On the lid of the cup-like tableware sit two chips, one of atsuete and the other of saluyot, both of which are topped with binayong hipon, dried micro shrimps lightly cooked with coconut until they split. Underneath is maya-maya and roasted squid in a sauce of guinataang kamatis (tomato cooked in coconut milk). “In Quezon, they would cook sinaing with a guinataang kamatis condiment. This is Linamnam’s fine dining iteration, but keeping its familiar flavors.”
An introduction to the meat courses is a familiar yet surprising snack, the Hot and Cold Potato Lumpia. This paradox of a dish has a warm and crispy wrapper while its Robuchon-style mashed potato inside is cold and soft. This particular plate takes a lot of skill and technique to pull off, but Don does it effortlessly.
The first meat dish is the Asado Pampangueño. “This dish veers away from the traditional asado (braised meat) influenced by the Chinese and Spanish. This is what I deem Pinoy asado,” says Don. In his travel to Pampanga, he was fascinated by their asado cooked in tomato sauce, calamansi, and soy sauce. His rendition is the exact opposite. In the middle is a pork belly from local pig cooked for 10 hours in Berkshire pork fat. Instead of using lean meat, pork feet were used for the sauce, which makes it collagenous. On the side are potatoes and kale.
The showstopper from the special menu is Pater sa Quiapo, a homage to the Muslim community in Quiapo. This is Don’s adaptation of the Mindanao Pastil, steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves with dry shredded beef, chicken, or fish.
One of the rarest rice in the country sourced from Sagdanga, Mountain Province, acts as the carbs for the rich duck, whose savor lands on your tongue with a thump. The meat of the duck, exclusively fed with corn and rice, is braised in soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar. It is adorned with roasted sayote with duck fat and juice. Enhancing the already good dish is a tea of duck liver, kidney, gizzard, and head, as well as palapa, a Mindanaoan condiment comprised of the region’s onion seasoned with fermented chili and coconuts. The palapa is an excellent spur to the appetite. Mixed in with the duck and rice, it is exquisite beyond description, one is left wanting more with each bite.
The proper way to eat the Pater sa Quiapo is by adding a bit of the palapa to each spoonful, and then taking a sip of the tea.
Gatas con Yelo, the first of the trio of desserts, is Don’s stripped down halo-halo with a sorbet of gatas ng kalabaw (carabao milk) sourced from Norzagaray, Bulacan in the middle, a buko reduction ice seasoned with Stevia at the bottom, and cream from honey harvested from Subic on top.
‘The work of Don in the kitchen is pure quality, every little bite the product of genius-level curiosity, passion, extensive research, imagination, do-or-die creativity, hard work, and a devotion to Filipino flavors and ingredients and culinary techniques, traditions, and aspirations.’
Another panghimagas is the Buko Tart, which is almost a no-bake affair save for the cracker of duck and pork fat that serves as the pie crust. Underneath is Davao chocolate infused with cashew. It is finished with grated white chocolate.
Last but not the least is Pulot sa Buri dedicated to the province of Iloilo, an ice cream of pulot sa buri (tubo sap) with brioche soaked in half butter and gatas ng kalabaw. On the side is linga, condiment for kakanin.
During his brief hiatus, the l’enfant terrible of modern Philippine dining went on to pursue his advocacy to explore the endless possibilities of Filipino cuisine. Don has not only furthered his knowledge through online and field research, but also found a local farm where he could grow premium produce, bringing him a step closer to one of his dreams, which is to promote the best ingredients available in the country.
“I want to establish a carinderia (road side eatery),” shares Don when asked about his future plans. “Carinderias in Manila would normally serve a mix of the most popular regional cuisines. Little do we know there are a lot more unfamiliar local dishes worthy of our attention.” This is part of the young cuisinier’s mission to educate everyone about the hidden culinary gems of the country.
By October, Don should be able to implement his plan to create a menu that makes use of native vegetables. “I want to revive the [forgotten] dishes of the Philippines using traditional, real, native ingredients. I want to introduce Filipino food for what it really is, not just recipe-wise, but even with the ingredients.”
A 50 percent non-refundable downpayment on all reservations for the restaurant is now required. Reserve a table via @linamnam_mnl on Instagram.