Customize your taco.

Alegria Manila hits its stride

“The first menu was pleasant and pleasing, but this second one is more refined and really representative of what its chef can do

Customize your taco.

By Nino Angelo Comsti

The year 2022 saw a lot of Alegrias.

Among them were Alegria Cantina, a midtier, wood-fired casual dining restaurant in Molito Lifestyle Center, Alabang; Buena Vida by Alegria, a straightforward boutique club that celebrates art in its various forms, from culinary to music and performance; Café Alegria, a more approachable and relaxed joint serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; and Hola Chula, a beachfront concept that borrows from their different brands. They all showcase chef Charles Montañez’s flair for cooking Latin American flavors, both the traditional and fusion kind.

Of the lot, though, Alegria Manila in Uptown Parade is where the 29-year-old really gets to show off his capacity.

Opened late last year, the space, loosely designed by Montañez himself, is built to captivate the senses. Contemporary paintings stand out against the black walls; a flower-like installation hangs from the ceiling, taking attention away from the equally impressive backlit bar tucked behind the entry wall; and an impressive and much-used grill lords over the whole kitchen.

“My taste runs along everything dark with a little color pop, hence I tried to darken everything to make the neon feel highlighted,” says the young talent. The interior design is there for starters; the rest of your faculties, he will address with his repertoire of dishes.

Chef Charles Montañez

More substantial
Whereas his maiden menu consisted mainly of small bites that primarily introduced guests to his definition of transcultural cuisine (think local oysters bathed in leche de tigre and Yakult, and chicken pianggang coxinha), the follow-up reinforces his notion with more substantial courses.

“The second menu is actually a collection of dishes that I like eating myself,” he confesses. “And how I have always imagined each one to be if it became part of a tasting menu.”

Etag, the smoked pork of the Cordillera, is typically used conservatively, as it is salty due to the curing process. But for his number, Montañez hang-smokes the jowl and belly of the pig and complements small slices of the pork with grapes pickled in earl grey tea, chopped jalapeño and burong singkamas.

Wood-fired scallop is tucked under a mound of noodles made of the heart of palm. A rich broth of prawn and chicha de jora is then poured tableside, then topped with corn and kombu caviar. The server also scoops roasted marrow out of the bone then proceeds to plop it on a bed of wagyu carpaccio with smoked tripe. There’s a lot of show and interaction, which helps keep the guests entertained and the whole experience exciting.

Fish Moqueca

As for the last savory dish, the taco, Montañez lets the customers get in the action as a platter holding chicken barbacoa, escabeche in nine-month tepache, ensalada, salmuera, salsa roja, and blue and yellow corn tortillas is laid on the table for each person to customize according to their preference.

Personally, I felt that the first menu was pleasant and pleasing, but the second is more refined and really representative of what Montañez can do. It’s tighter when it comes to building and promoting a brand personality. It’s like he has finally thrown caution to the wind. He believes so himself.

“We were very happy with the first, but presently, I feel like the second one really speaks for what we want to do and where we want to go. I feel like this time, we’ve somehow figured out the identity deeper and that we have gotten out of the box to keep on pressing for the future.”

He adds, “One of the notable changes that we have made is that we have learned the balance between simplicity and technicality, and it makes us more comfortable during execution. Surprisingly, the current season’s menu is a lot easier to prep and serve compared to the first one.”

Alegria Manila has finally hit its stride.

Alegria Manila is at G/F, Uptown Parade, Uptown Bonifacio, 9th Avenue corner 38th Street, Taguig. Call 0956-8348677. Follow the author at @fooddudeph on Instagram.

Iberico pork