Rediscovering Pinoy: Deconstructing 1521

By franco on 9 March, 2009

Swak na Swak Chicaron Bulaklak

I love Filipino food.

I’ve been fortunate to savor the flavors of other nations but I always return to the food of my mother’s kitchen. There is really nothing like tasting the tangy sourness of a kinilaw, the fatty saltiness of a pork adobo or the deep earthy essence of slow stewed kare-kare. These are the flavors of home.

While eating Pinoy food at home is always a pleasure, eating Filipino food in a restaurant is another matter entirely. Admittedly, there are dishes that only a well-equipped professional kitchen can achieve vis-a-vis the normal home kitchen like the crisp crackle of lechon skin or pork sisig sizzling on a hot plate. But given the choice, many Pinoys would rather eat at home than pay for the expense of a restaurant meal.

Why eat out when you can easily make the same thing at home?

There are two reasons. First, the desire of that deep-fried crispy pata is just too great and you don’t want to spend hours in kitchen frying. Or second, the restaurant you are going to has found a way to elevate Pinoy food to interesting new heights.

Take for example, 1521 Restaurant.


This small, non-descript restaurant along Shaw Boulevard is the brainchild of three friends: Tanke Tangkeko, Chef RJ Ungco and Nica Miranda. This trio of food lovers have fashioned together updated Pinoy basics, family favorites and some interesting fusion combinations to create a menu that is, at first glance, humorously intriguing (to say the least).

Interiors of 1521

White-washed Interiors


Before I move on, let me get a couple of bothersome issues out of the way. First, the restaurant’s interiors are a bore, drenched in beige and white with tables and chairs that were as uninteresting as the color scheme. Yes, I did take note of the unusual ceiling (which has been described by a website as ” [a] ceiling made of food crates with a patterned design in wood finish, reminiscent of modern Filipino colonial architecture”. But honestly, how many diners really look at restaurant ceilings? Some people would call their design minimalist. I call it charmless.

Next, the service. The servers are courteous but sadly, not very engaging. And when your food takes much too long to be served, I guess diners would have time to admire the ceiling – not necessarily a good thing.

That being said, let talk about the food, starting with the menu.

1521’s menu is like an open invitation. It is witty, funny and intriguing, so much so that a diner can’t help but want to try every dish. If there is such a thing as a perfect advertisement, this menu is it.

Deconstructed Kare-Kare of 1521

Grilled Kare-Kare Thai-Kenko


We start our meal with a family favorite, the Ensaladang Manga or, as they call it, the Chica-Manga (P178). It’s a simple salad composed of crushed pork cracklings, small cubes of tomatoes, eggplant and white onions and slices of green mango all dressed with the fishy-saltiness of shrimp paste or bagoong. Plated untossed, guests are left to mix their own salad to their tastes. But once combined, this salad is a haramony of contradictions: the salty bagoong balanced with the sour unripe mangoes, the slightly bitter eggplant, the fatty crunch of cracklings and the sweet-soft tomatoes. A promising beginning after the long wait.

A. loves all kinds of chicaron but she most especially can’t resist the siren call of the deep-fried goodness of the Swak na Swak Chicaron Bulaklak (P210). Pork intestines are fried till a crispy golden brown and served with a tart kamias relish and lip-puckering sinamak. Crunchy on the outside but soft and spongey on the inside, the little guilty pleasures are not much to look at but they are absolute a delight to savor.

Last but most definitely not the least, we are served the Grilled Kare-Kare Thai-Kenko (P330). I love this traditional Filipino pork and tripe peanut stew but 1521’s deconstructed version may have upped the standard for me. The usual vegetable ingredients such as eggplant, string beans, squash and pechay and banana bud are grilled and served separately as sidings. The center of this dish is a fall-off-the bone stew of beef and tripe cooked in a sweet-savory peanut sate sauce. Instead of the usual shrimp paste or bagoong condiment, 1521 serves this dish with a generous serving of Khao Khluk Kapi or Thai-styled fried rice with shrimp paste. This unique kare-kare was a meal on to itself and is definitely a dish we will be savoring again soon.

Purirsts may disagree. But I believe that food like the dishes served at 1521 represent the future of our cuisine—putting a brave, new and inventive face on the food we all grew up eating. Admittedly, they may never replace your mother’s paksiw na isda or rellenong manok but the food of 1521 has made dining out, Pinoy style, fun again. 

1521 Restaurant
547 Shaw Boulevard
Brgy. Wack-Wack
Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila
Telephone: (02) 794 0433

*Ed’s note:

1521 has since relocated to:

1521 Restaurant
Forbes Town Center
Forbes Town Rd
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
(02) 552-1909

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  • MARCH 13, 2009 12:01 AM

    mrslavendula said...

    wow that chicharon bulaklak and kare kare looks heavenly!

    thanx for the post! im sure we will be heading there soon even with the bad review on the interiors and service. the food looks too good to pass up!

  • MARCH 13, 2009 1:30 AM

    Lori said...

    Hmm, you're dismissive of the interiors but you're all praises for the food. Fair enough.

    This place sounds like those restaurants in the late 90s, also on Shaw Blvd which trumpeted good home cooking -- but with a twist. Those places are long gone, however.

    Restaurant-style Filipino food is difficult to serve to Filipinos because it has to compete with the food of memory, a losing battle. Personally, I wouldn't want to see my kare-kare deconstructed. Where's the unctuous sauce that oozes out of the ox tail's crevices?

    1521 seems to have a courageous concept and I hope they deliver. At the very least, that chicharon bulaklak is a siren call for me. And no, I don't look at restaurant ceilings either.

  • MARCH 13, 2009 2:02 AM

    Socky said...

    "1521's menu is like an open invitation. It is witty, funny and intriguing, so much so that a diner can’t help but want to try every dish. If there is such a thing as a perfect advertisement, this menu is it."

    Hahaha! Tanke just happens to be one of the most-awarded creative directors in the country. But, yes, the food lives up to the copy.

    But, would you believe, I didn't notice the ceiling!

  • MARCH 13, 2009 3:47 AM

    CHEFangga! said...

    Hello and thank you! for the nice and constructive comments. I'm glad you liked some of our wacky named food..and thats just the tip of the iceberg! you must try the Bonggang bonggang binagoongan,Pochero,daimos etc etc i can go on and on heheh..and yes,We will surely not only satisfy and woo you and our guests with our food , but your overall dining experience ! thats a blood compact promise! and again thank you and please give me /us a tap the next time you drop by so we can thank you personally and even throw a killer leche flan in there for you! Ciao! -Chef Rj 1521

  • MARCH 13, 2009 9:47 AM

    Mariko said...

    OK, I know you were raggin' on the interiors, but the shot is actually kind of Domino-esque. I could imagine how it could feel a bit spare up close though.

  • MARCH 13, 2009 11:25 AM

    Franco said...

    Hello Mrs. Lavendula. Restaurant interiors are really not a high priority for me. It's a plus for the dining experience but it really is still about the food. :)

    Hey Lori. While I would never imagine any restaurant could replace my memories of family dishes served at mother's home, I still love trying the new and interesting ways restaurants try to tweak the experience. In the end, good food is still good food. Try it. You just might like it. :)

    I find it...'interesting' that interior designers spend so much time and effort on ceilings at restaurants that most people will never really see.

    Take a look at the ceiling fixtures at the ice cream bar in Rockwell. It's pretty but who really looks when they are all fixated on their sundaes and cones.

    Hello Socky. I heard. So I wasn't so surprised that the copy on the menu was informative, funny and intriguing all at the same time. Thank God the food was great or else that would have been such a downer.

    You're welcome, Chef RJ. Thank you to you and your partners for making your food so interesting.:)

    Mariko naman. You of all people should know that a picture never really tells the whole story of a space.

  • MARCH 14, 2009 1:02 PM

    Katrina said...

    I'm a fan of fusion. I can't think of any dish I love that I hold too sacred to fool around with. I might still prefer what I'm used to, but that doesn't mean I won't want a change, once in a while. Cuisines evolve. Besides, Filipino food is one of the original fusion cuisines, anyway. Not to mention how greatly the same dish can vary from one town to another. So personally, I don't believe in being too much of a purist about it. :-) All to say, I'd love to try 1521 soon!

  • MARCH 17, 2009 5:53 PM

    frannywanny said...

    i will have to agree with you on this :)

    " But honestly, how many diners really look at restaurant ceilings? Some people would call their design minimalist. I call it charmless. "

    however at some point we did noticed the unusual ceiling.. :P

    i love the food though! the grilled kare kare is truly a winner!

    you should also try the bad banana chips on your next visit its yummy! :)

  • MARCH 18, 2009 12:22 PM

    gourmandtales said...

    is it really modern filipino? or more like filipino fusion? food was good though

  • MARCH 18, 2009 9:44 PM

    Franco said...

    Hi Katrina. I totally agree with you. Sacred cows. :P And yes, try 1521 soon.

    Hello frannywanny. Planning to try the much talked about bad banana chips very soon. I actually love banana chips, so I'm not sure why I didn't order it the first time I was there.

    Hello gourmandtales. Honestly, I'm over trying to define it. In the end, it's just good food. :)

  • AUGUST 29, 2012 1:19 AM

    Rediscovering Pinoy: Deconstructing 1521 ‹ 1521 Restaurant said...

    [...] Read the original review here. [...]