Filipino comfort food with a twist. The dishes are mouthwateringly delicious but when you combine that with the experience of dining in the midst of eye-popping art work, the meal becomes something unforgettable. That’s KUS: private dining with art and artists. How we found ourselves there is quite a story.
In September 2017, a good friend, fellow blogger, educator and artist, Rolly de los Santos, celebrated his birthday. It was a surprise party organized by his wife and children. We shared the table with Henry, Rolly’s fellow teacher whom we have had the pleasure of meeting before, Rolly’s siblings, cousin and two of his artist friends from college, Susan and Omi Reyes. We learned that they operate a private dining service right at their house in Mandaluyong with Susan as the chef. As we said our goodbyes after the party, I set a date with Rolly’s wife, Nitz, to dine at KUS, Susan’s and Omi’s place.
We planned on going during the semestral break but it was too close to the Christmas and New Year holidays and we had to postpone. Finally, earlier this month, we went. Rolly’s treat and he took care of choosing from the menu. All that Speedy and I had to do was brave the traffic from Antipolo to Mandaluyong and make sure that we were starving by the time we got there. We braved the traffic and because the trip took more than two hours we really were quite starving by the time we reached the house of Susan and Omi. Going through the gauntlet called Metro Manila traffic was worth it. The food was superb and I couldn’t stop ogling the art works hanging on the walls and lining the shelves.
It’s family style dining, the traditional way that meals are served in the Philippines. The Filipino dishes were all home cooked. The meal started with pamplina, a soup I had made before. The meat in Susan’s pamplina was so much more tender than mine. Speedy had two servings; so did I.
The main courses consisted of a vegetable dish, laing, a seafood dish, prawns in garlic butter, and a meat dish, sinuglaw. The laing was sublime, the prawns were oh, so tasty but it was the sinuglaw that made me eat more rice than I have in a long time. It’s so good with rice and I just kept asking that the bowl of sinuglaw be passed to me so I could have more. I think I had four servings.
What is sinuglaw? It is a pork and fish dish—a fusion of two beloved Filipino classics, sinugba (the Cebuano term for any char-grilled food—pork included) and kinilaw, the Filipino version of ceviche. Tender pork bursting with smoky flavor from the grill and cubes of fish fillet that had just the right amount of tang. Add chilies and you have a bomb. I was completely blown away.
Dessert was a new take on palitaw. Instead of being rolled in grated coconut and sprinkled with sugar and sesame seeds, the sticky rice cakes were served in sugar syrup and garnished with aromatic latik—browned curdled coconut milk.
What a stupendous meal. I ate so much I swore I wouldn’t be able to eat the next day. But it wasn’t just the food that made dinner so enjoyable. There was Susan, a lovely hostess, who sat with us for most of the meal. There was Omi who popped in now and then. Rolly told a lot of jokes (most green, as usual) that had us laughing out loud. There was Henry who inadvertently told a story about how Rolly, a diabetic, had been cheating on his diet by eating cheesecake, and that had Nitz giving Rolly a meaningful sideways look. Hilarious. And then, there was the art which dominated a good part of the conversation. But the art deserves a separate write-up.
KUS is not about pretentious food and over-the-top plating. If it were, I wouldn’t have bothered. KUS is like visiting the home of a friend and the friend lovingly cooks a meal for you. The feeling is traditional Filipino hospitality and the food makes you think back, with nostalgia, about meals you shared with your family in the past. And with the thinking comes that warm feeling of comfort.
We’d love to go back to KUS to try the other items in the menu. If you’d like to try the KUS experience, it is located at 616 F. Blumentritt, Mandaluyong City. Call 0905 221 7830 to make a reservation.