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Bicol’s Spanish outpost

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QUE PASA’s seafood paella — WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/QUEPASANAGA/PHOTOS

IF YOU EVER consider swinging by Naga, there are a lot of reasons to do so. There is the tablea chocolate that stands out, and one might want to say a prayer at the Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. And while Naga isn’t the setting for pounding clubs and such, a pleasant evening in a nice Spanish restaurant right across the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral might make an impression.

Que Pasa is a new concept by local restaurant chain Bigg’s Diner (See related story here). Que Pasa means “What’s happening?” in Spanish — and with the murals, the drinks, and, of course, the food, this is what’s happening down there.

The interiors are painted with murals reflecting some elements of modern Spanish art, as well as scenes from Spanish-language novels. The choice of decor might reflect the menu: it has a strong Spanish base built up with a few trimmings here and there from the Spanish Empire, which stretched from Europe to South America and the Philippines.

The executive chef was a charge of Vask’s Chele Gonzalez, so keep your expectations high. The Ensalada Verde (green salad) is sprinkled with sheets of cheese and slices of oranges, crushed nuts, cherry tomatoes, and a light citrus dressing that set the quick pace of the evening. This was accompanied by cocktails, including a simple white wine spritzer flavored with lemon, and a cocktail inspired by Bicol made with tablea, coconut milk, and vodka.

Any Spanish restaurant worth its salt would serve a nice paella, and Que Pasa did not disappoint, with three options: seafood, chicken, and Paella Negra. This was a crowd favorite during a tasting in Naga earlier this month, because it successfully featured Bicol’s underrated seafood, the taste of the sea lingering in the shrimp and the squid, and the flavors successfully seeping into the silky rice. The callos, meanwhile, had a nice aggressive flavor from the chorizo in the tripe-based stew, but didn’t quite have the gelatinous texture that was expected. No matter: a roasted chicken was juicy all throughout, and its tangy flavor was accented with a fresh chimichurri. Then there were the ribs, which while tender, still had a bit of bite in them, thanks to a herby crust formed by the char, which also gave it some much-appreciated smoke.

A nice spicy fish curry was also served, which made one pause: how is this Spanish? Adolf Aran, Bigg’s, Inc. COO justifies its presence as 85% of the menu is as Spanish as one could get in Naga, and reminded BusinessWorld of the culinary renaissance taking place in Spain. Spain’s top restaurants no longer have a static definition of what Spanish cuisine is, but instead take influences from all around the world and within its regions to create culinary synergy.

A restaurant with such lofty influences just might be the touch that Naga imparts. Sure, it’s still smaller than a lot of cities in the Philippines, but malls have been popping in, and flights and bus trips are making it easier to drop by. Mr. Aran says: “We’re at the brink of something different. We’re set to enter the next stage… of sorts. You can see a lot of concepts happening in different formats.” — JLG