I’ve lived in the Philippines all my life, but I still have enough of a day-to-day multicultural experience to perceive Filipino food as equal parts exotic and comforting. It’s at-once fiesta and lutong-bahay (home-cooked meal), and that’s what I appreciate about this culturally diverse cuisine. So when there’s a new restaurant in town that captures that comfort food experience and couples it with an accessible location, you know I’m there! Sure enough, I found myself smack in the middle of Kuya J Restaurant in SM Megamall.
Before the name was shortened to Kuya J Restaurant, this establishment started out as the more traditional-sounding “Kan-anan ni Kuya J“. It wasn’t so much a full-on restaurant as it was an eatery in Cebu. But good dishes make for memorable meal times, so Kuya J’s fanbase grew until it progressed into its current 18-branch chain with more locations on the way.
For the event, bloggers and members of the media were invited to try Kuya J’s best-selling Pinoy dishes and meet their celebrity endorser…
But before we talk about the movie star, let’s talk about the stars of Kuya J’s menu.
At face value, grilled scallops with melted cheese on top may look like a simple enough crow-pleasing dish, but that’s where the subtleties make the difference. I gotta say that this was a tasty appetizer that didn’t skimp out on the garlic. The scallop itself was tender.
Living up to its name, the Lumpia Presko (fresh lumpia) was all about the light and fresh flavors. It contained crabmeat and bamboo shoots, though I didn’t notice the crabmeat so much. They went one step further by using a malunggay-infused lumpia wrapper and topping one half with alfalfa sprouts. Let’s not forget the sweet garlic sauce.
I usually don’t like stuffed chilies (red or green), because I’m not into heat. I prefer the spicy to the hot. However, the chorizo at least gives the heat some direction. Of course, it isn’t all that acidic, since the chilies are green.
Flavored with the above-mentioned dried, salty fish, this rice is on the saltier side of things for sure. For that reason, I’d recommend ordering this with a richly sauced viand to prevent a salty overload. Maybe with kare kare?
Innovative rice dish alert. This is the first time I’ve tried salty, sweet Chinese-style humba (aka “Hong Ma”) flavored with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). Imagine garlic rice, tart green mango, sweet braised pork, and salty bagoong. At the same time, the rice itself isn’t too flavorful that you can’t eat it with viands.
Bam-i is Cebu’s take on pancit. Again, I like the garlicky, savory goodness. It has a fair amount of sahog (toppings).
The Kare Kare is up to standard with its rich and creamy peanut sauce. The consistency wasn’t too runny, and I’m so particular about that. There was a healthy amount of veggies on top of the meat.
A little on the sweet side, but this sisig is quite different from your usual. Mostly because it’s not made of the typical odds and ends of pork head (ears, cheeks, etc.). This features premium pork parts. And while that causes it to lose the sensation of biting into cartilage, Kuya J tries to make it as crunchy as can be with what’s in there.
I found this dish to have lots of fine bones that needed to be spit out, but the seasoning and accompanying sauces, chili tuba sauce and bagoong mayo, were in sync.
You’ll want to finish your veggies with this tasty Pinakbet.
And now for the pièce de résistance, the lip-smacking Crispy Pata served on a wooden slab. The special occasion even came with a delightful surprise:
Echo, himself, went from table to table cutting up each serving of Crispy Pata, much to the delight of the guests.
The Pochero sauce was sweet and savory, soo good to pour over rice.
Simple dessert with a show-stopping presentation. I like the spun sugar, though it took us a while to figure it out. Apparently, you’re supposed to use your spoon to stuff the sugar into the bowl, so that it mixes with the dessert and gives it extra sweetness. I find that the Mango Pandan could do with less liquid and more jelly and mango fruit bits, but there are no problems with the flavor. It’s light and refreshing.
Nostalgic for the taste of tsokolate from tablea? This takes the aromatic, slightly bitter profiles that tablea and coffee are known for and mellows it down a pinch by serving it in flan form.
They didn’t miss the cake-in-a-cup trend, and I find the presentation to be adorable. It’s the kind of dessert that’s fun to share.
After the grand meal, there was a presscon with Jericho and the minds behind Kuya J. Here are some fun facts: First, the “J” in Kuya J stands for Juan, a representation of the every-man. Second, there are currently 18 branches of Kuya J Restaurant in operation, but 50 branches are slated to be in operation by the end of 2015.
It’s obvious why Echo was tapped to represent the brand. He has a warm and approachable personality that’s just as evident off-screen as it is in front of the camera. Doesn’t he strike you as a “Kuya J”, especially while serving you up with some Crispy Pata and a friendly smile?
Kuya J, SM Megamall
Lower Ground Floor, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong
*I went to this event courtesy of Kuya J Restaurant and Zomato. While I got to dine free-of-charge, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.