Pia y Damaso

Pia y Damaso, where Jose Rizal’s characters come to life

Chef Bamby Sy-Gobio offers ‘subversive’ Filipino cuisine in her Greenbelt 5 Mall restaurant, Pia y Damaso with heirloom dishes and Pinoy food with a twist.

Browsing through, a flash of familiarity swept in as the list of names, unlocked from a distant memory, tumbled out: Placido Penitente, Doña Victorina, Kabesang Tales, and that unforgettable and lamentable name, Sisa. It is not a list of characters for a play at a theater somewhere. While based on Jose Rizal’s two landmark novels, the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo, it is a menu at the second level of a high end mall in Makati, inside the warm and inviting Restaurante Pia y Damaso that serves subversive Filipino cuisine.

“I made it up from the Noli and the Fili, so a lot of the food is basically what Rizal wrote that the characters were eating and the others I made up based on family recipes and classic Spanish food. Others like I would use certain things he wrote about and twist it a little bit,” Chef Bambi Sy-Gobio, the force behind the restaurant shared. That twist on classic Filipino dishes makes it subversive.

The ten-year-old restaurant started when Greenbelt 5 opened and it has undergone a major redesign last year. Its name is based on two controversial characters of the novels: Doña Pia Alba and the controversial Padre Damaso. Chef Bambi narrated how the name and concept came to be: “My brother wanted a restaurant and he told me that it should be named Damaso. ‘Basta, it should be Damaso. Ikaw na bahala.’When I came home (from abroad), I thought that Damaso could be a chocolate bar or a pastry shop, a café. But it would be so limiting, there’s no food. So, we decided to build on the Noli. When I read it again and took notes, I realized that Rizal was so clear on what the character was thinking and feeling when he ate this. It’s bizarre! I mean, all the materials were in that book!”

‘Subversive’ food

A character in the El Filibusterismo novel, Placido Penitente is level headed, intelligent and diligent. Chef Bambi lends his name and transforms a delicious concoction of sticky black rice risotto with fish roulade and pieces of cuttlefish and mussel. The dish is well composed and plated; the contrasting colors of the risotto highlights the pale hue of the seafood. But just like the character, during a confrontation with a friar in Chapter 13, his contempt and anger boiling over, so too does a spoonful explode a ton of flavors as you savor the different layers of taste. The lemon adds zing while the mussel cerveza cream adds piquancy.

The almond stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, an appetizer is especially interesting. A popular tapas dish in Spain, Chef Bambi noted, is a medley of contrasting texture and taste. The smoothness of the dates creates a polarity to the crunch of the almonds. The sweetness of the former adds a pleasing counterpoint to the saltiness of the bacon. The almond stuffed dates is such a pleasant experience at the first bite that you are determined to pick another piece and replay that relish.

The creamy tinapa, asparagus and fish fillet pasta dish is bold but disarming. A forkful twist of pasta clinging with tinapa flakes creates a sensory overload as your taste buds are stimulated. The asparagus adds an anonymous crunch. It’s a great comfort food that unlocks memories of childhood provincial vacations.

Other dishes

Other than the above specific dishes, Restaurante Pia y Damaso offers a lot more. There are appetizers, meats and fish, salads, pasta and noodles to sandwiches. There’s the boneless crispy pata squares, a ‘subversive’ take on a traditional favorite. The callos is highly recommended and remains a popular dish in the menu. For dessert, the goat’s milk leche flan with lime zest, an heirloom recipe. There’s also the wildly popular Sisa’s Dementia, a truffle cake with white chocolate almond pastille, dark chocolate mousse and ganache. There’s also a wide range of beverages from different kinds of hot chocolate drink to martinis, cocktails, soda and shakes.

Although the Greenbelt 5 location is convenient being inside a mall, for a bigger group, Chef Bambi offers Damaso Residencia, her chalet style abode in San Juan for special, by appointment only dinners.

Pia y Damaso

Appetizer of almond stuffed dates wrapped in bacon

Pia y Damaso

Creamy tinapa, asparagus and fish fillet

Pia y Damaso

The cozy and bright interior of Restaurante Pia y Damaso in Greenbelt 5

Pia y Damaso

Damaso Residencia, an extension of Restaurante Pia y Damaso located at the chef’s chalet inspired residence for private dining

Originally published in Going Places Magazine Vol. 1 No. 10/October 2017

Restaurante Pia y Damaso
2/F Greenbelt 5
1000 Makati
(02) 729 5511

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications.

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces.

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