By Divine M. Recio
Spanish cuisine has always been a touch-and-go venture for many Filipinos who want to open a Spanish restaurant, especially in the provinces. In fact, even in Metro Manila, we can count by our fingers Spanish restaurants that come up to standards, primarily, those being patronized by Spaniards themselves.
So then, it is a surprise to find a Spanish restaurant in the Bicol region that actually replicates the taste of Spanish dishes served in Metro Manila’s known Spanish culinary haunts.
¿Qué Pasa?, in Naga, does that, if not better.
Located near the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the religious landmarks in the city rich with Spanish heritage, the restaurant is owned by Spanish-Filipinos Carlo and Rica Buenaflor. Built from the ground up in 2015, the original restaurant had shaky beginnings until the owners decided to create an enhanced identity with a re-engineered menu.
The Buenaflors want to preserve and give homage to their Spanish heritage, and how meaningful can it be if it is not for the cuisine? The Buenaflors are also the people behind the region’s iconic fast casual dining Bigg’s Diner, a popular homegrown restaurant.
“This is styled casual dining, “said Adolf Aran, chief operating officer of Bigg’s Diner Inc.,“and restaurants in Naga are kept alive by the Bicolano’s loyalty on tried and tested brands.”
On opening night, everything on the menu prepared by its resident chef Jet Sumayao who’s claim to fame, aside from many years of experience in famous restaurants, would be his two-and-a-half years of working under Chef Chele Gonzalez of Vask (now Gallery) restaurant in BGC, Taguig City, and how Spanish can that be? Chef Jet is from Iriga so we can say that Manila’s loss is Naga’s gain.
“I want to bring to Naga the fine art of cooking and mature culinary practices already being done in Manila especially farm to table and entrepreneurial skills, it can be done, and at lower costs,” Chef Jet imparted.
The ¿Qué Pasa? menu displays a typical Spanish selection of tapas, ensaladas, pasta, paella, cerdo, vaca and pescado dishes.
The spread offered a sampling of the menu. It consisted of three types of Paella, the traditional Spanish rice based dish — Valenciana (chicken, white beans and bell pepper), Negra (cooked in squid ink and topped with shrimps and squid), and De Marisco (seafood) — the banner dish borne from Chef Jet’s well spent time at Vask Kitchen’s Arrozeria section. Needless to say that the Paella Negra was the best tasting of the three types of Paella showcased by Chef Jet. The other two are still second best because there was the authentic taste that cannot be found elsewhere in this region.
Then there were Pollo Asado, a ¿Qué Pasa? feast featuring a whole roasted chicken served with vegetable sidings, Spanish rice and chimichurri sauce; Pescado Al Horno, fresh catch of the day cooked in potato confit and white wine in vinegar and baked to perfection; Tortilla de Patatas, thick omelette made with potatoes, onions and chives, a traditional Spanish dish; Pescado Al Curry, grilled fresh giant Talakitok cooked in a special curry sauce; Pasta con Mariscos, linguini with fish and shrimps in a tomato and pesto cream sauce.
Que Pasa’s culinary delights go well with contemporary Latino art that is present in almost all available space. The colors of the food complement the visual in a themed setting and it makes for a well-spent time dining.
In our vocabulary, best tasting would be a reason “to go back for” or a reason “to spend your money once more” which is actually a more realistic statement rather than the usual high but pretentious accolades some of the other stories come up with. Indeed, with Chef Jet and his team leading the way, ¿Qué Pasa? may be just the restaurant that starts a “culinary revolution” and make Naga a delicious destination in the Bicol region. We recommend it.