Quibranza: You deserve an adventure

NASAAG SA KALASANGANThere is this relatively new restaurant in Cebu City that is a cut above the rest in terms of pushing the boundaries of Cebuano modernist cuisine; unrelenting in providing customers with highly innovative yet unapologetically Filipino dishes.

Say hello to Sialo, a 16-seater restaurant on 7A President Laurel St., Kasambagan, Cebu City. The restaurant’s name is derived from “sialon,” a Greek prefix which means saliva or salivary glands.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying one of its three specially curated menus. There’s the 12-course Hak-ab (Bisaya word that means “nibble from a variety of dishes”). There’s the 16-course Hikay (which simply means “feast”). Then, as the name fittingly suggests, the 24-course Engrande (“grandiose”). I had a taste of the offerings showcased on Hikay.

Sialo’s interiors lean heavily on whites, reminiscent of a blank canvas. Our attention is drawn to the open kitchen where chefs — led by Head Chef Ron Villavelez — are preparing the dishes.

For abrigana (appetizer), I had a sip of Biasong-Tanglad Kinutil. This is Chef Ron’s take on the traditional kinutil. It uses Chinese wine and is infused with rose petals, lemongrass, native ginger and biasong (a type of wild citrus). Next, the Three Crackers — each featuring a prominent ingredient which are landang, tapioca and tinigib. These were to be enjoyed with either compound butters: tomato-herb or brown miso-biasong herb. After, the Dayap + Pan was served. Here I enjoyed homemade focaccia served that’s meant to be had with a chicken liver parfait enclosed in a sphere-shaped dayap (key lime) jelly. Slice the sphere. Spread the parfait on the bread and chew in delight.

The next one was indeed a highlight. Cheekily named “Itlog Mo ‘Noy Orange,” I was served what looked like a breaded, soft-boiled egg but in actuality was an encased deep-fried egg yolk with mushroom truffle jelly. In a little sleight of hand, the small “sunny side up” beside it was actually a “fake poached egg” which is made with a spiced mango cream and some goat’s milk. As instructed, I took in the entire “orange egg” first in one mouthful, enjoyed the burst of flavor in my mouth, and then had the fake poached egg as a sweet finish. What a treat that was.

Next up: “Lumsan sa Sabaw.” If the earlier dish was a card trick, the next dish gunned for Copperfield at his peak — illusion and all. In front of me, from left, was what looked like soup, pasta and a croquette. What these were in actuality, from left, were an emulsion of manok tinuwa (Filipino chicken soup), dinuldog (smashed squash with coconut milk) but in pasta form and kare kare (Filipino stew) but served as a croquette.

Slamming on the savory brakes, up next was the sweet palate cleanser: Rosas-Pandan. It was a sweet bowlful of marinated strawberries, fresh lychee, rose crystals and petals, with some vodka jelly and rose elixir.

Have you ever had liquified vegetable salad? I haven’t. The next dish, “Paku not Wings,” was a pairing of liquid salad with paku (edible vegetable fern) as its base ingredient and a roasted chicken and salad tart with a sphere glazed with paku jelly, topped with some wild cucumber.

The next dish, “Balangaw” (rainbow), was another show-stopper — seven colored pastes arranged neatly in rows on a plate. However, it arrived with no utensils. The instructions were to lick the pastes off the plate to eat them. I was also told that licking the different colored pastes top to bottom vs. bottom to top would give you two different flavor profiles. Lick I did and surprised I was. Each color was a careful curation of flavors: Red (tomato, ham), Orange (carrot), Yellow (mango), Green (avocado, green tea), Blue (curacao), Indigo (blueberry) and Violet (eggplant).

The next pair of dishes were “Pakbet, My Bet” and Sugba-Tuwa-Kilaw. The former was the restaurant’s take on the classic Filipino dish pinakbet but this time, in puree form. The puree served as the perfect accompaniment to the sous vide prawn. The latter was another creative take on the classic Filipino grilled meat, soup and ceviche combo — Yellowfin tuna and Marbled Eel tartlet (and soup) served with coconut and dalandan juice jelly.

Next was the popular breakfast food Chorizo. I enjoyed the homemade classic that, according to the chef, was made with a 70:30 lean meat to fat ratio ensuring full flavor.

“Nasaag sa Kalasangan” (Lost in the Forest) followed. This plate was another carefully arranged dish that makes use of adobo-flavored “mais bisaya” to mimic the soil and match sponge cake for moss. Then, the star of the show, takyong (local bush snail), was cooked with olive oil and butter. All of these are brought together with a garlic puree.

Sialo’s “Humba Bisaya” is a lesson in elevation. Cured for 24 hours and sous vide for another 48, its take on the classic Filipino braised pork dish is as beautiful as it is tasty. The dark sauce is made with a combination of balsamic vinegar, red wine and humba stock; the light sauce features fermented black beans.

It’s time for dessert. To end, I had the Alibangbang, Da Coconut is not a Nut and Halo-Halo. The first one is a landang crumble that’s served with mousse, apple brandy and brown sugar. The second is budbud (rice cake) served with dark chocolate, Ricotta cheese, mango pandan ice cream, then topped with coco cream, spiced mango ice cream and coco crumble. The last is a classic: A combination of flan and coconut mango cream, ube halaya, marinated jackfruit and jackfruit ice cream. For playful textures, it’s served with a corn tuile and dehydrated tapioca.

I guess, even a thousand words do not do justice to the dining experience that awaits people at Sialo, the culinary playground of one skilled and talented Chef Ron. Cebuanos deserve a wild gastronomic adventure, and they will find it here.

Sialo is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 6 to 11 p.m. Reservations are highly encouraged.

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