Can You Take the Heat in This Poblacion Taqueria?
Here's a puzzle for you: There are 15 friends, six of them are chefs, and they want to open a restaurant. What kind of food should they serve?
Mexican seemed like the obvious choice in the case of Ian Padilla (Common Table) and his partners. While working in the U.S. after training in Paris years ago, Padilla was exposed to the popular South American cuisine through the service meals prepared by the mostly Mexican kitchen crew. “They would make these rich sauces like molé and bean stews, and frankly they don’t look like much,” admits Padilla. “But, then once I tasted them I was like ‘wow!’”
Over the years, Padilla gathered enough recipes from his trips to Mexico as well as from workmates and their abuelas to put together a legitimate menu. He quickly pounced on the Poblacion location when it became available and pooled resources from his partners. His chef-friends gave him autonomy in the kitchen.
Their trust was well-placed. For Taqueria Seta, Padilla came up with casual Mexican cuisine all done in his usual style—without shortcuts. The corn tortillas are made in-house, the salsas are prepared fresh using peppers flown in by a business partner exclusively for them.
Anyone familiar with Padilla's journey would remember that he doesn't mind hard work so long as the results are validated. The word seta is actually a nod towards his now-defunct fine-dining outlet La Girolle and his casual French eatery Brasserie Girole which, in turn, were homages to the hours he spent cleaning mushrooms in France. “I suppose they believe there’s still some power behind the brand,” Padilla says with a shy smile.
The salsas provide heat and flavor dimension to Seta’s nachos made massive with the understanding that nachos are meant to be scarfed, not nibbled. The tacos are simple, adorned with your grilled protein of choice, and perhaps pico de gallo and cilantro, too. Salsas, of course, play the important role of adding acid and heat. Padilla’s bestseller at Common Table, the pork sisig also makes a surprising appearance in between the tortilla.
Padilla explains that most Mexican peppers are dried before shipping so they're easily able to fly them in for the sauces and stews. This extra effort is exemplified in the chimichanga--a California classic which, in shorthand, is a fried burrito. The carnitas or shredded pork, for example, is stewed in a spicy, rich adobo-like sauce, which is further reinforced with a layer of hot salsa. Padilla firmly stands by the heat level. “The spice level might be too high for some,” he explains, “but, then we think that heat is a big part of what we do here.”
In case the heat gets to you, the margarita on the rocks makes for a refreshing antidote, and so does ice-cold beer, which pairs perfectly with Seta’s dishes. In the summer, tios y tias might prefer to position themselves next to the air conditioners in the second floor.
With Padilla’s vast experience in French cuisine, one can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever make his way back. “French cooking is still my passion,” he admits, “and I have every intention of opening Girolle again.” However, he also imparts that before this happens, he plans on opening two more comfort food concepts. “For now, comfort food is more practical for the everyday Pinoy compared to fine dining.” Mexican food, Padilla imparts, is his favorite food to eat when he’s not working. Luckily, he loves it so much that he does it so well.
Taqueria Seta is at P. Guanzon Street, Barangay Poblacion, Makati City.