The Restaurateur Who Changed Makati's Dining Scene Just Opened A New Eatery
If you are currently a thriving restaurateur or even a happy eater in Legazpi Village, you might want to thank Christine San Diego. Over 20 years ago, restaurants on the streets of Makati's business district were not allowed by the Ayala-led neighboorhood association. San Diego fought hard against the powers-that-be just so she could open her restaurant and bar, Bistro 110.
"First of all, it was in our building, so I told them, 'I can do whatever I want within our property," recalls the pretty 51-year-old. "Of course, Ayala will protect their interests since they have restaurants in their malls. There were cafeterias and restaurants within the buildings, but no restaurants are allowed to have frontage in the ground floor. Imagine that?"
Eventually, they gave in. And after a staggering 16-year-run, Bistro 110 closed to make way for The Balcony. "That was the first gastropub in the Philippines! I swear, you can ask the SEC," San Diego laughingly dares. "They asked me, 'mam, ano yon?' They said I had to call it a 'restaurant' or a 'bar' or an 'eatery.' But, back then, a 'gastropub' was unheard of." The Balcony was well received and patronized by a young and energetic group of advertising types and expats. It lasted for five years before the San Diegos decided to change concepts once again. Unfortunately, the Japanese restaurant that came next didn't survive after some issues with a partner.
Now, even when restaurants come and go, Legazpi (and even Salcedo) Village is recognized as one of the Metro's fining dining areas. San Diego also took advantage of the blossoming restaurant industry. She and her brother Peter recently opened Damiana's in the same spot, displaying classic cooking techniques on their grandmother's classic recipes.
Damiana's puts the Le Cordon Bleu-trained Peter front and center for the first time since they started working in the restaurant industry. He has a stellar thrice-cooked chicken adobo served with three sauces to appease the many varieties available. The broth of their tinola is dense and flavor, with ripe papaya adding a pleasant complexity to the homey dish. The peanut sauce of their kare-kare is thick and rich, a fitting pool for the crispy slab of pork belly sitting in it. Chef Peter cooks his Filipino food with the global diner in mind, so even their enasaladang talong and kinilaw na tanguigue would look right at home in any modern Asian restaurant.
Thrice-cooked chicken adobo
Lechon Kawali Rice Bowl
Kinilaw na Tanguigue
Sandiego tells us about the oxtail sinigang she made on a whim while still living in the States. "It was the only meat I had in the freezer, and I didn't know how to make kare-kare. But, then I knew how to cook sinigang," she smiles. She told Peter that it was worth trying. "Little did we know that this latecomer was about to steal the show." In this dish, the gelatinous oxtail—often masked with thick sauces—is gloriously bare, allowing the tingly sour broth (a combination of sampaloc and batwan) to momentarily grab your full attention. But, with some vegetables and rice, the lusciously tender meat stands out and will have you booking your next reservation.
Ribeye Steak With Barako Coffee Rub
With the current frantic climate of the local restaurant scene, most establishments are developed from rigorous research and a properly plotted business plan. The San Diegos, however, have always followed a very organic approach to choosing which concept they're going with next. For instance, Christine opened Bistro 110 when she was still married to her French husband. "We always choose what ever cuisine we feel like eating at the time," she admits. Going Filipino, perhaps, was nostalgia settling in for the siblings. Comfort food for the well-traveled duo who went wherever their father's business (the San Diegos were lucrative exporters of farmed seafood) took them.
The San Diegos are very much aware of their market so a full bar and competitively priced lunch bowls have been made available, but that does not take away from the fact that Damiana's has legitimate Filipino fare. Nailing comfort and innovation to a tee, we can only hope that Damiana's has finally found a permanent home.
Damiana's Kitchen is at 110 C. Palanca Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City.