LIKE YOUR MAMA’S, BUT FANCIER

At Etta’s Eclec­tic Food + Drinks, the usual home-cooked dishes gets a twist

Cebu Living - - Food - By JUDE A. BA­CALSO Im­ages by JIM UBALDE and NAPOLEON BOJOS, JR. ETTAS ECLEC­TIC FOOD+DRINKS Gar­den Level, Ayala Cen­ter Cebu, Cebu City 410-9012. www.face­book.com/Et­tasPH

Din­ing at Etta’s is like com­ing home to your mother’s cook­ing—af­ter she’s had a month­long train­ing at some fancy culi­nary school and is vis­i­bly ex­cited about the new things she’s learned, rolling out her old dishes in their new per­mu­ta­tions.

Case in point: the Salmon Belly­sioso. It’s your fa­vorite inun-unang isda, which is tra­di­tion­ally made with ban­gus. Cooked in vine­gar, gar­lic, and salt, the Ce­buano ver­sion of pak­siw is a break­fast sta­ple (my fa­ther has this al­most ev­ery day) and con­jures many happy me­mories of grow­ing up on this is­land. But Etta’s in­vests in a risky up­grade: the fancier salmon is ar­ranged del­i­cately on the top lip of the serv­ing plate, fol­lowed by the blanched veg­eta­bles—toma­toes, gar­lic, pep­pers—form­ing their own rows, creating an un­usual line-up for the usual sus­pects. Even the salty-sour soup, which al­ways makes my mouth water, trig­gers my taste buds to call out for rice, is per­fect to bahug (a Ce­buano term for pour­ing sauce or soup over rice), is served “on the side,” a Western din­ing con­cept that used to be alien to Pi­noy cook­ing.

Etta’s ex­per­i­mented with the good old French fries as well, sprin­kling them with parme­san cheese and flaked pork pieces—the dry kind, done the Ce­buano way—then serv­ing them with truf­fle ketchup. The humba, a red-braised pork dish bor­rowed from our Chi­nese her­itage and is an­other Bisaya fa­vorite, is served with a dif­fer­ent car­bo­hy­drate: noo­dles in­stead of rice. A pancit dish with an eclec­tic twist is the pancit ne­gra black­ened by squid ink, as if your nokos nga naay ata sud­denly took a trip to China and cheated on a bowl of rice with glass noo­dles.

Derek Dy­tian’s fourth restau­rant brand fol­low­ing Chika-an, Big Mao, and Brique, and also the 19th branch to open across the VisMin area, Etta’s Eclec­tic Food + Drinks pays homage to his mother Loretta, who is one of my fa­vorite peo­ple in Cebu.

The throng of peo­ple com­ing in and out of the restau­rant sug­gests brisk busi­ness. But then again, Ce­buanos will al­ways check out a din­ing spot at least once if it is new, and it is too early to tell if the re-imag­ined tra­di­tions at Etta’s will click with their equally eclec­tic crowd of din­ers. But I can tell you one thing: I ate my fancy salmon the way I did when I was five, the soup spooned over steam­ing hot rice and the fish and veg­eta­bles dunked into the bowl of soup “on the side.”

I might spo­rad­i­cally say “Lit AF,” but I’m old like that.

RIGHT: ETTA’S ECLEC­TIC FOOD + DRINKS ADOPTS

A MOD­ERN, IN­DUS­TRIAL LOOK. BE­LOW: PANCIT NE­GRA; SALMON BELLY­SIOSO.

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