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Tomatito is bringing sexy tapas back. There’s a host of small bites that are good for sharing. Just take the case of the Salmón TNT, their bestseller, and rightly so. Take a bite of the puffed pastry shell and an explosion of truffle sour cream hits your mouth. It’s a perfect complement to the smoked salmon roll that sits on top of the pastry. For a final, tasty touch, the smoked salmon is adorned with a dash of truffle honey.
Tomatito is Spanish for little tomato. According to the chef, Carlos Franco, it’s a name that’s easy to remember, and a lot of food in Spain is related to the tomato. We had Secreto Ibérico con romesco y espárragos, slow cooked pork with a tomato, almond, and pepper Spanish sauce. Operations manager Maria Muñoz tells me that Secreto Ibérico is served in Sunday lunches all over Spain. I’ve never been to Spain, but I could easily imagine eating a bite of the soft, salty, pork in Barcelona, or perhaps Madrid. The pork is enhanced by an orange sauce with a gentle kick of chili, just the right amount to wake the palate.
Owned by Sergi Rostoll, Dani Aliaga and Uri Singla, Tomatito is run by the same men in charge of Las Flores in Fort Bonifacio and Rambla in Rockwell. In 2015, they partnered with chef Willy Trullas Moreno to open Tomatito in Shanghai. Tomatito opened at Bonifacio Global City last December 2016. Chef Franco worked at Tomatito Shanghai before moving to the Philippines.
Chef Franco hails from Mexico, but traveled to Canada when he was only 17. That’s when he started cooking. He’s spent time in France, Spain, Argentina and Washington D.C. He has a Master’s degree in Culinary Arts from the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian. Before coming to Manila, he worked at the first Tomatito branch in Shanghai. He first came to the Philippines in April 2016, during a Madrid Fusion culinary event at Rambla. He recalls, “I enjoyed it. I really love the people and the place.” When Chef Trullas asked him if he would like to move to the Philippines to helm a new restaurant, he immediately said yes.
Chef Franco’s personal favorite on the Tomatito menu is the cochinillo, a slow-roasted, succulent piglet. It’s cooked for 24 hours until it’s very soft, and then grilled until it becomes crispy. It’s served with tart mangoes and lime.
Like its chef, the food in Tomatito is figuratively well-traveled. The meat is sourced from Australia and America, but for seafood, Tomatito looks no further than our own shores. “The seafood here is very good,” Chef Franco asserts.
Seafood was showcased in the Ceviche de atún, a citrus-marinated tuna ceviche with watermelon and basil. It’s dressed with ají amarillo, a Peruvian paste, sesame oil and soy sauce. There was an interesting juxtaposition of tuna and watermelon. It makes for a good summer starter.
No other dish that we were presented was as dramatic as the Pulpo ala Tomatito, which was served in a sinuous tentacle plate. The octopus tentacle, cooked perfectly until it was firm but not chewy, was skewered on top of a baby potato, topped with Iberian ham. This is a dish that would pair well with beer.
Speaking of spirits, Tomatito also has an extensive wine list. Wines available by the glass are generously listed on a blackboard behind the bar, for the wine lover’s proper guidance.
We had a white sangria, which is made with vodka, brandy, sauvignon blanc and four kinds of citrus. Everything paired well with the fish appetizers, packing a potent punch.
Aside from the Salmón TNT, my favorite dish and special recommendation would have to be the dessert, Pana cota de vainilla con fruta de sangría. “I know you love sangria,” Maria said, as she set it down on the table. Part of what makes Tomatito a good restaurant is the level of attention you receive from the staff. The food was promptly brought and served, and there was always a server whenever we needed water to cleanse our palates for the next dish.
A lot of people indeed are always happy to dine at Tomatito; there’s even a customer who told Maria that she was sad when she went to the restaurant, but after eating there, she instantly felt glad. Such can be the effect of Tomatito’s food, drinks and overall ambiance.
“It’s amazing,” Maria says “that food can influence feelings.” I, too, felt overjoyed eating the pana cota. Its subtle taste is a perfect foil for the crimson chunks of fruit that adorn it, while the fruit squares provide a refreshing taste and texture. Indeed, a perfect pairing.
Chef Franco says that Tomatito is “basically Spanish, but it’s a fun restaurant. We don’t say we’re a purely Spanish restaurant because we have a lot of Latin American and Mexican influences. Even a little bit of Asian influence. We tried to orient ourselves towards a Filipino audience.”
Having been a Spanish colony for over three hundred years, one would assume that there are many similarities between Filipino and Spanish cuisine. But Chef Franco says that there are also numerous major differences.
Filipinos, according to him, don’t consume a lot of cheese and wine. In Spain however, people drink wine like water, along with their meals. One of the reasons why Tomatito’s wine list is so extensive is that they would like to introduce the Spanish custom of drinking wine with meals to Filipino diners.
If you haven’t tried Spanish food and are unsure about where to start, Chef Franco has many helpful suggestions. At Tomatito, begin with a plate of cold cuts and cheese and a glass of wine. Spanish, like Filipinos, love to share food. Next, have Escalivada, char grilled vegetables dressed with salt and vinegar with mackerel fillets. Dig into a croqueta—you can choose between the bestselling truffle and chicken, Iberian cured meat, and spicy chorizo and cheese.
“Spanish cuisine is based on ingredients. If you have good ingredients you’re going to be able to make a good recipe,” says Chef Franco. Spanish food, he adds, is very casual food. “Everybody can eat it. Everybody’s gonna love it.”