Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pepita's Kitchen: Hayop na Degustacion!

I know that Christmas is near when I tend to start eating a lot of lechon. The more lechon I eat, the closer it is to Christmas! Haha! Personally, one of the best lechons in the country can be found at Pepita's Kitchen, and Dedet de la Fuente-Santos, the owner of this magical place and Lechon Diva, had invited a few of my friends and I to try their latest edition of stuffed lechon, along with some very "healthy" courses before the big lechon de leche finale. Talk about lucky!

The Hayop na Degustacion is a very creative 12-course Filipino-inspired degustation celebration ending with a few (yes, a few!) lechons (roasted pigs) filled with some of the most creative stuffing imaginable. We cheated a little bit and had a 13-course degustation, but that was only because we had two lechons.

The degustation starts at 7pm, so we were expected to be there by 6pm, so the dinner could start on time. Get settled in, chat with friends, or in my case, make new ones. I was invited along with some of the most influential food bloggers like Franny Ang, Jin Perez, and Leslie Cheng, along with editorsof some of the most influential magazines such as Rogue and Town & Country. I have to admit, I was a bit starstruck.

I just have to say, Dedet's taste for decor is amazeballs! I love the overall modern Filipino design with the eclectic mix of art. I have never really been a fan of Filipino design (it reminds me too much of my lola's house), but seeing her space has made me a convert! You can be boho chic and a modern Filipina all at the same time!!

Kicking off the dinner was Pepita's Magic Potion - a generously-sized, fluffy cotton candy ball with a shot of dalandan-infused lambanog.

You pour the dalandan-lambanog shot into the martini glass, where it magically melts the cotton candy, leaving you with a very, very pink drink! I was a tad apprehensive about the lambanog at first, but taking a sip I found it to be virtually non-existent, the tart flavor of the dalandan overpowering the taste of alcohol, subdued by the sweetness of the cotton candy. If I were to describe this drink in one word it would be: delicious!

the degustation started with a small plate of Tendon Chips with Dip. A healthier version of chicharon, this airy crackling is made from beef tendon, or litid, which is why the color has a seashell white instead of the usual yellow hue. This is accompanied with a sinigang na gabi paste, giving the dish that sour, malinamnam flavor. You scrape a little bit of the paste on the crackling, before popping the whole thing in your gob, and wait for the flavors to meld into one before chewing and swallowing. I wish Dedet sold this dip by the jar - I wanted more!

Next came the Hiplog. Don't let the soup spoon fool you - this was one really big spoon! The prawn is covered in a rich aligue (crab fat) butter and topped with bits of yolk from a salted egg. The result? A lovely, rich taste, of buttery prawn almost melting in your mouth, with little grains of salted egg giving the whole thing a whole other dimension.

The decadent, high-blood inducing dishes weren't stopping, with a Bone Marrow with Oxtail Marmalade and Special Salt coming out next. In Dedet's defense, they may be super rich, but they come in tasting sizes, so you can never have too much! You basically scoop a little of the bone marrow on your spoon and sprinkle a little of the special salt - crushed chicharon - on top, and using the savory oxtail marmalade to take away the cloying taste the bone marrow tends to have.

I seriously want Dedet to bottle the marmalade up and sell it. This is magical and can go on anything - from bone marrow, to grilled burgers, to frickin' Skyflakes crackers!

We were also treated to a glass of vino that we enjoyed with the rest of our meal. I'm not a huge fan of red wine, but this went down really smoothly and complimented most of what we had for dinner.

One of the healthier parts of the degustation was the Salad Surprise - micro greens, arugula, and an edible flower are served with a dollop of cream cheese, pureed cashews, and the surprise: watermelon-flavored pop rocks! It was so weird, having my salad crackle and pop whilst eating it, but it works! The salad was a really nice balance of bitter, creamy, nutty, and sweet. I wished they had a bigger serving for this. It was simply delightful!

Going back to the oh-so-bad-yet-tastes-oh-so-good, we were served a humongous crab claw drenched in aligue butter, aptly named Sipit Sarap. This is served with a small parcel of rice for those who want to enjoy it with a bit of carb, but I liked it as is - buttery and rich, the bits of crab meat soaking up the flavors of it's own crab fat. Mmm... Crab-ception.

A take on the brand Lucky Me, Lucky You works as a palate cleanser to get your taste buds ready for the next dish. Delicate vermicelli noodles are simply dressed in a bit of olive oil and chopped basil. This basically tasted like pesto, which I liked. And the presentation is just too cute!

Up next was the Lambada - Dedet's take on the Spanish lamb caldereta. This is pretty spicy, thus the name Lambada kasi mapapa-lambada ka sa anghang! A fan of all things spicy, I took to this dish like a fat kid takes to chocolate cake. The heat slowly creeps up on you and lingers in your mouth for a little bit before receding. This was nice and swabe.

Up next were one of the stars of the night - the Than Long Crab Stuffed Lechon! I have never seen Dedet's stuffed lechon de leche in person, and was giddy with excitement just looking at the golden beauty, it's burnished brown skin calling me to bit into it, with promises of crispy happiness just a few moments away.

Dedet's youngest daughter, Little Pepita, did the honors of carving the lechon de leche. Taught by Chef Cicou himself, she quickly carved the suckling baby pig with the ease of a professional. There was a hushed silence as everyone listed to the *crack* *crack* *crack* the skin made when her knife glided through.

And out pored the noodles and shredded Than Long crab, the smell permeating the entire room, with everyone oohing and ahhing in anticipation over the glorious, glorious meal they'd soon be eating. This comes with an aligue garlic butter that you can pour over the noodles.

So this was my plate - with a little bit of lechon meat, a huge chunk of skin, and a lot of stuffing drenched in the crab-garlic butter. I couldn't really taste the lechon de leche itself, as the stuffing really takes over the flavor of the suckling pig, but this isn't a bad thing! And the skin was just so crispy, delicious, and sinful - I wish I went back for seconds!

Dedet had set out a little snack table before the event started, so I went by there instead to sneak in a chocnut before the next dish was served.

Before the next lechon came out, we were served a Cheers Palate Cleanser - a sampaloc sorbet - to wipe away any traces of buttery crab noodles and to get us ready for the last lechon of the night.

Spanky, our resident capo di tutti capi - or simply, The Godfather - looked positively beaten by the Than Long crab-stuffed lechon. Or was he just taking a break? Or giving me his best take on Don Corleone? Or asking himself why the hell I have a camera pointed at his face?

The second lechon we were to taste was the Christmas Ham Stuffed Lechon, and it looked just as delicious as the last one we had! I can appreciate how Dedet makes her lechon de leche's look really pretty - if you look at them it's as if they were just sleeping out in the sun too long and had a bad case of sunburn.

Little Pepita taught Jin how to carve up the lechon. It looked like a very painful process, judging by the the look on her face. But she did a marvelous job of it!

The Chinese Christmas ham came pouring out of the lechon's insides, and it started to smell a lot like Christmas! This comes with a sweet ham sauce that Dedet recommends you pour over the ham stuffing, not the lechon, just to enhance the Christmas-y flavor of the whole thing.

Check out the super cute plates we used for the lechon. I cannot stop raving about Dedet's taste in everything - and I love the humor that came with eating all these piggies.! I needed a bit of a cleanser after the sweet ham and crackly lechon skin, and swiped the last of the Choc-Nut Supreme sweets.

To rid ourselves of the aftertaste of Christmas ham or too much lechon skin, we were handed Dedet's Cholesterol Sweeper that was composed of oatmeal... with white chocolate. Haha! This also has a Toblerone version, for those of you who think it couldn't get any worse for your diet. This has to be the only kind of oatmeal I've actually enjoyed!

For dessert we had Guinataan Brûlée with a Layer of Carabao Flan. Another one of Dedet's crazy dishes that actually works, I loved the idea of using local ingredients to make the classic French dessert. This was really, really sweet though, I could only finish a fourth of the whole thing - the cracked sugary top gives way to the sticky sweet guinataan underneath and an equally sweet flan.

The dessert that no one touched - simply because we were all so stuffed to popping - was the Super Suman! This bilao of suman was topped with yema, macapuno balls, chocnut, pastillias and every Filipino sweet that would make you nostalgic for the good old days! Talk about a monster dessert!

Thank you so much to the super generous Dedet and her daughters for having me for dinner, and for sharing their mouthwatering dishes! Pepita's Kitchen does private dining events, and can accommodate a minimum of 15 people per event. Lunch is P2,250 per person, and Dinner is P2,250 per person + 10% service charge.

When you find yourself mucking around Manila with a big group of people to feed, make it extra special and contact the Willy Wonka of the lechon world, Dedet, and set up a lechon degustation of your own at Pepita's Kitchen!

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Pepita's Kitchen
+63 2 425 4605
+63 917 866 0662