FOR FREQUENT travelers, Davao has always meant fresh, seasonal fruits and succulent grilled tuna jaw and belly. There is more, however, to this expansive city if you know where to look.
The quaintly named Tiny Kitchen is actually a good-sized restaurant that gets packed during lunch and dinner. Entire families and groups of friends already know what to order, such as the Paella Negra, black rice made with squid ink and assorted seafood, and served with creamy aioli. It is just one of four tasty paellas on the menu, about 30-40 minutes to cook.
If you prefer your paella meaty, order the A la Cazador or hunter’s style with beef, chicken, duck and pancetta (bacon).
Tiny Kitchen cook and owner Vincent Rodriguez said he serves paella dry for that prized tutong (socarrat), although he can adjust it to guests’ preferred consistency.
Portion sizes range from extra small to party size, which can feed 15-20 persons. The latter is often ordered for potluck parties and is a welcome addition to family meals at home.
The menu at Tiny Kitchen lists Spanish dishes that Vincent grew up eating, like fish served a la Basque con Patatas (fish fillets, shells, shrimp and potatoes in a hearty tomato-based sauce); Chorizo con Gambas (chorizo and shrimp cooked in garlic); Pato a la Sevillana (duck simmered in a Spanish-style broth and garnished with orange slices); and Paella Fideua (angel hair pasta with seafood, chorizo and paella sauce).
Vince’s wife Donna is in charge of the array of delectable cakes sold whole or by the slice at the adjoining bakeshop while their 11-year-old daughter Anna is the “manager” who greets guests.
Meat lovers can choose from dishes like Lengua Estofado (stewed ox tongue in a rich brown sauce); Lengua con Champignon (stewed ox tongue in chunky mushroom sauce); or Cordero (slow-cooked lamb stew).
Over at White House, the menu fuses flavors from the East and West. Its version of Fish and Chips is served tempura-style using nori-crusted lapu-lapu, along with sweet potato chips and a tart ponzu sauce instead of vinegar.
Uni or sea urchin is placed in a shot glass and flavored with ponzu, wasabi, chili and ebiko. Guests are instructed to break a raw quail egg into the glass, stir and drink it up. It’s a mouthful of flavors that taste distinctly of the sea.
We sampled several entrées, but the most interesting was the Oven-poached Halibut in Umami Broth. It was brought in by two waiters who proceeded to apportion the tasty fish and broth in bowls.
It reminded us of tinowa or tinolang isda, a Visayan fish stew flavored with lemongrass, tomatoes and chilies. The dish is similar to the more popular sinigang but with a nuanced sourness that comes from the fresh tomatoes.
Tiny Kitchen branches are at Homecrest Tulip Drive, Ecoland; and F. Torres St., Davao City. Call (082) 2858740 or (082) 3059232.
The White House is at Camella North Point, J.P. Laurel Ave., Bajada, Davao City. Call (082) 2824540