Del's Kitchen is one place that could easily slip beneath your radar if you're not on the lookout for it. Tucked away along Elizalde (on the segment between Aguirre and President's Ave), there's only a small and simple black and white sign to tell you the house with the tasteful Mactan stone facing and patio behind the wrought iron fence is now a restaurant (a tarp has now been added). Chances are though that within a few months this restaurant will be lining its side of Elizalde with the parked cars of its happy diners. I'd even lay a bet on it.
Del's Kitchen is the brainchild of Julius Bernard Lopez and his high school friend, long-time BF Homes resident Deb Gutierrez, and is named for her late mother. The partners explored several concepts for the place before settling on the heart-warming idea of comfort food with a gourmet twist. "You'll see that all the foods we offer are quite familiar, we got from this and that cuisine but they're all familiar, but with an extra something added by the chef who developed our menu for us," Julius says. We got to try out some of Del's bestsellers, starting with the Potato-Bacon Chowder, then the Nobu Prawn Tempura, followed by Mussels Puttanesca, Chicken a la Mexicana, their most popular entree the Crispy Bagnet Kare Kare, and finally the opulent Triple Decker Chocolate Cheesecake, which has been voted a Top Food Choice of the Ayala Malls by online voting.
Potato Bacon Chowder
True to the concept of comfort food, all the dishes we tried were indeed very hearty and likely to be ordered again on your next visit. First, though, a word about the serving sizes: they're big. All the entrees come in servings good for 2 or more persons, and for some dishes like the Barbecued Beef Short Ribs you can order a plate good for four. Our first dish, the Potato Bacon Chowder, was a thick creamy soup full of tender cubes of potato and bits of real bacon. This is one soup I'd definitely ask for should I get a cold! Because it's so heavy, though -- think of an arroz caldo with potato instead of rice, and you'll get a good picture of this soup's consistency and filling power -- I suggest sharing.
Nobu Prawn Tempura
The next dish was the Nobu Prawn Tempura, named after Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa who developed this style of tempura. Instead of being dredged in heavy batter, these prawns are only lightly crusted, allowed to curl elegantly over their tails and served on a bed of potato crisps and a ginger-soy sauce dip instead of the usual tempura dip. They're good even without the dip, as the coating seems to contain some spices, and all our prawns were cooked just right, retaining their full succulence. Cat and I found that it was best to dip our prawns just lightly, as soaking them in the dip made them a bit too salty.
Chicken a la Mexicana
This was followed by the Chicken a la Mexicana, which I could eat as either viand or as an appetizer shared between a small party. It's grilled chicken breast, served sliced on a bed of tortilla bread and topped with a salsa of mango, corn, and coriander, lightly spiced with cumin. The salsa really came together for me, with the zestiness of the coriander and the sweetness of the mango really going well with the slightly smoky chicken, and then you get that nice little crunch of corn. I can imagine this going really well with a bottle of icy San Mig.
We next had Mussels Puttanesca, one of their best-selling pastas. I just had to whisper to Cat, "This is puttanesca the way it should be!" The puttanesca was named for its spicy hotness, from the spicy hotness of Italian -- er, anyway, it's supposed to be hot. All too often, however, I order it and find that it's not. Del's Puttanesca gets that heat right, which sets off very well the sweet succulence of the fresh mussels in it. Those were really fresh mussels! If you're sensitive to hot food, though, remember to order this one mild. But do order it. Cat and I were already looking at each other with goggly eyes by now, but we had one more entree to sample.
Crispy Bagnet Kare Kare
And sample it we did, in fact we kinda scarfed it up, for who can resist crispy deep-fried Bagnet, that wonderful Ilocano take on lechon kawali, served on a bed of Kare Kare sauce and vegetables with heavenly dollops of bagoong and aligue on the side? "You can eat it with a clean conscience, because it comes with vegetables," Julius jokes, adding this is something he often overhears from customers when confronted with the sheer richness of this dish. The pork skin was very crispy, the kare kare sauce richly peanutty, and the vegetables done just right. I didn't sample the bagoong or the aligue -- though I would've wanted to -- because I was afraid of having an allergic reaction; Cat did, however, and had to say the bagoong was done just the way she liked it, flavorful without being too salty, and the aligue rich and delicately flavored. I just have to come back for this when my asthma isn't acting up. I also have to say the artful way this dish is presented -- not sunk in sauce like your usual kare-kare -- might be one way to get a Westerner interested in Filipino food.
Triple Decker Chocolate Cheesecake
To cap our decadently huge meal, we were presented with a slice of Triple Decker Chocolate Cheesecake, the creation of Mel Torre, who supplies Del's Kitchen with all its desserts as well as supplying the Parvati shop in Trinoma. It was through Parvati that this cheesecake received its Ayala Malls Top Food Choice vote, and Cat and I have to agree it deserves it. Despite being convinced, after the Bagnet, that we couldn't take another bite, we demolished the cheesecake in about five minutes. It's rich without being too sweet, the dark chocolate setting off very well the mild flavor of the cream cheese. I normally want coffee with my dessert, just to cut through the sheer sugaryness of most pastries, but this one can be taken without having to order coffee at all.
Del's Kitchen opened only last July 31, and as an introductory promo is offering a free order of pasta and chicken for kids; parties that come in with a child under four feet tall qualify for the promo. If we had kids we'd definitely bring them to Del's Kitchen; since we don't, we'll just go back there anyway and eat for them!