Wooden Spoon Restaurant by Chef Sandy Daza

The Wooden Spoon by Chef Sandy Daza

Destiny, we believe (at this point, anyway), is the sum of one’s free choices after having been presented with infinite possibilities in life. In short, it is not predestined. It shifts and changes based on our choices. On the other hand, others say that as we go on through life, so many events would lead us to seriously question whether these events are mere coincidences. There is, indeed, a plan. If we choose to pursue this path, just for the sake of a lively long weekend discussion, we’d eventually end up narrating how we came to visit the Wooden Spoon restaurant.

Eating outside used to be a simple matter. Back in the days when we were single, there was absolutely no other consideration where to eat other than our preference at that very moment. Marriage affects the decision-making to a certain degree, with the couple usually coming up with some sort of compromise when it comes to the decision where to eat. It’s a simple two-way street.

The arrival of kids changes everything. The moment toddlers learn to craft an opinion and the moment they learn to negotiate in order to pursue that opinion, eating outside the home becomes an entirely different ballgame. With each kid added to the equation, the game becomes more complicated. Empowering the kids means giving each an equal vote to decide where to eat. Majority wins. A tie means negotiations. Parents exercise veto power, a power which should be used sparingly. Anyone not satisfied with the majority decision gets to negotiate. Failure to convince the majority means the decision is carried. No whining. Today, the little boy successfully pre-empted a vote by negotiating to hold the dinner at Cafe Via Mare inside UP Diliman. Fate, or coincidence, didn’t make it happen.

If we consider the single fact that this summer is painfully hot (makes you wonder why it’s not hot when you’re on the beach, but terribly hot when you’re somewhere else), then there’s nothing to think about in terms of fate or coincidence. Factor in the surprising turn of events and conspiracy theories begin to filter in. Someone up there favors a Wooden Spoon. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

“Sorry po, ma’am, pero nasira ang aircon namin,” the Via Mare‘s staff apologized. All three airconditioning units tripped at the same time, we were told, and that it’s going to be hot. It was a no-brainer. Time to look for an alternative place to eat.

It was the height of dinner time, which means that everyone is hungry and the nearest venue, the UP Town Center, is loaded. The next nearest venue is Katipunan. But which one to choose among the gazillion restaurants along Katipunan? KFC, the little boy quickly suggested. After days of fasting/abstinence because of the holy week, and Easter being a feast day, dining in a fastfood restaurant is simply unacceptable. So even before anybody can utter any other word, we ruled out fastfoods. No KFC, BonChon, McDo or Jollibee. Desperate times call for desperate, strong-handed measures. But, of course, kids have to hear reasons. It would be difficult to ask kids to listen, to be reasonable, when adults don’t give any good reason. So, we asked, isn’t it time to explore and try other restaurants? The reply came quick and crisp.

Came the little boy’s retort came quick: “But, mom, how can we decide what other restaurant to choose if we don’t know what those restaurants are?” Fair point. The trip from Via Mare inside UP Diliman to Katipunan took around 5 leisurely minutes. We had to think quickly.

How about Wooden Spoon? “Oh yeah,” he lit up, “Miguel said they ate there and that it’s good.” What are the chances that his classmate already tried the Wooden Spoon, liked the food, and told him? Nothing short of a miracle. The stars appear to have aligned to nudge us towards Wooden Spoon. Coincidences? It depends on one’s persuasions.

Anyway, the only two remaining tasks, we thought, would be, one, locating the Wooden Spoon and, two, looking for a parking slot. The first part is relatively easier because, as far as we know, the restaurant is located along (#329) Katipunan Avenue, right across Miriam College and Ateneo. This further narrows down the search area because the side along the Ateneo has no restaurants. We figured looking for a parking space is much, much more difficult — the number of establishments along Katipunan, or practically in most areas in the metro, is inversely proportional to the parking space available. But lo and behold, right under the Wooden Spoon signage with bluish background light (that seems to hide, rather than highlight, the signage), is parking slot with a sign “parking reserved for Wooden Spoon customers”. Or something like that. The exact wording doesn’t really matter now. We were too excited to discover an available parking right in front of the restaurant. In the metro, in the rush during dining hour, finding a parking slot in front of the restaurant is like finding gold. More like a miracle, really.

Maybe this is a good juncture to make an apology to Wooden Spoon‘s staff patiently manning the waiting area. She had her hands full, an understatement given the deluge of hungry patrons waiting for their turn to be seated. We were seventh in the list and more families were arriving. Yes, we’re willing to wait, we said, but can we order ahead? We expected the standard reply, which is to wait until we have a table, and only then will they take our order. We’re willing to pay in advance, we said, just so they can take our order and prepare the food while we wait to be seated. The staff said, with a smile, that they can’t do that. We waited.

We really don’t know how Wooden Spoon intended the ambiance to be, but we could characterize it as relaxed, family semi-fine dining. The white drapes gracing the small glass window adds a good measure of simple elegance. The soft cushioned chairs adds comfort. The soft clink of utensils happily mingle with the hushed tones of light conversations as patrons eat their food. Families, with kids in tow, outnumber couples.

The place is really small, with every inch of space maximized. A narrow circular stairway leads to the second floor, populated by seats with spoon shapes carved on the backrest, softly lighted for effect. Soft, warm light fills the place. The expert manner by which the crew weaved around the narrow spaces, making it look like a bus can easily navigate the middle isles in this small restaurant, is amazing. What is more amazing, at least to us hungry patrons, is the speed by which the food was prepared and served. The confident smile of the waiting staff at the ground floor, when she said that we can’t order food until we’re seated, made sense when the food that we ordered was served in 5 minutes, with tons of warm smiles from the crew. Wooden Spoon came across as a restaurant that knows good food and knows how to serve it really well.

First came the appetizer, Crab Pancit. Sandy Daza, through the menu, tells the story of the Crab Pancit: “This was a popular appetizer we served at our restaurant Aux Iles Philippines in Paris, France. Two star Michelin Chef Jacque Marniere of Au Pactole in the same district, brainstormed this recipe with my mother Nora Daza. This starter is a rich, creamy concoction laid on a bed of light crispy noodles.” The good thing about Wooden Spoon‘s menu, is that it contains not only the dishes and the price — it also tells a brief background story of the dish, like the on Crab Pancit, a bestseller, we understand. In fact, we wouldn’t have noticed if the food came much later because by the time the first dish arrive on our table, we were just getting warmed up in reading the stories of each dish. We didn’t get to read beyond the story of the Crab Pancit.

Another good thing about the menu are tidbits on what patrons are supposed to do with the food. The entry on Crab Pancit, for instance, contains a gentle reminder to “fold the sauce lightly with the noodles as soon as it is served.” The crew thankfully did that for us the moment they served the Crab Pancit. We’re sure we must have scared the crew when we uttered, “Wait!!!!” Yes, my good man, you can fold the sauce lightly with the noodles, but not before we take photos.

If there’s a single food item in the entire Wooden Spoon menu that caught us of guard, it would be the Crab Pancit (and not because the crew we almost lost the chance of taking a photo before the crew tried to fold the sauce with the noodles). It’s because the Crab Pancit is a picture of understated appearance. Food in some expensive restaurants can look so appetizing, yet the taste can be disappointing. The Crab Pancit is the exact opposite. By the looks of it, we felt we can prepare the Crab Pancit ourselves — boil some white noodles (sotanghon), pour scrambled eggs on top of the noodles, cut some spring onions and sprinkle on top, and voila, something that looks similar to the Crab Pancit. But looks can be deceiving, the first spoonful will tell you. There’s no need to chew, come to think of it. The firm crab meat sinks on the faintly crunchy white noodles and, together, they melt with the first bite. No strong taste — just round, comforting taste that quickly grabs the taste buds before fully disintegrating into happy nothingness. The taste doesn’t linger in the mouth; it vanishes right away, ready for the next spoonful.

The Breaded Fish Filet with Wansoy Sauce, the children loved, without the sauce. The Bistek Tagalog is a little departure from the usual bistek, which has sauce. Wooden Spoon’s Bistek Tagalog has thick sauce, almost none, jealously hugging the very tender beef perched on mashed potato. The Crispy Pata Fish is simply crispy tuna tail and you can’t really go wrong with crispy buntot ng tuna.

On Dinakdakan, we really can’t describe any other way, so we’ll rely on what Wooden Spoon has to say: “This is a popular dish well known in the Ilocos region. Imagine tender pork slices broiled and mixed with a sour, savory, spicy sauce with raw onions & peppers tossed in. To the non-Ilocano, it’s something totally new and different. You have to try it!” Every word on that description is true. It’s something guests should really try when visiting the Wooden Spoon.

We save the best words for last, as it should be on the table: dessert. We tried each and every dessert item on Wooden Spoon‘s menu.

That’s not too much, mind you, because while we’ve ordered all dessert items on the menu, there are only three items to choose from — Sago Cake, Pandan Crepe and Reyna Blanca.

We can quickly dispose of the first two. The Sago Cake is like taho, without the taho. All chewable sago (tapioca) lumped together and shaped like a mini-cupcake, floating in generous palm sugar sauce and drenched with pinipig (rice puffs). Good, but, because we’re conserving our sugar intake due to diabetes, we didn’t fully consume the Sago Cake. The Pandan Crepe, we saw being prepared, as we’re seated in the far corner behind the little counter where the crew prepared this dessert. They got a circular crepe wrapper previously prepared, pandan in color and, as we later discovered, in taste. They got a couple of ube ice cream scoops on top of the crepe wrapper, then rolled the entire thing, topping the roll with rice crispies. Who could resist ice cream?

Our best bet, our new favorite, is the Reyna Blanca, a “refreshing coconut custard topped with pinipig (rice puffs).” Think of maja blanca with a soft thick layer of macapuno on top. Masarap na ‘di nakakaumay. If dessert is a circus performer that amazes the crowd while expertly tiptoeing on a thin line of heavenly sweetness, we absolutely have no doubt that its name would be Reyna Blanca.

So, there you go, the story of how we ended up at the Wooden Spoon. We originally intended to visit another restaurant and we had absolutely no plans of exploring the Wooden Spoon. A series of happy coincidences led us to the Wooden Spoon’s door and introduced us to its fine cuisine. Maybe it’s called destiny in culinary heavens. Maybe the gourmet soul of the culinary veteran Nora Daza, the well-known and well-loved mother of Chef Sandy Daza, had a hand in leading us to the narrow, circular stairs going up the Wooden Spoon’s second floor. We can play with conjectures and we can have a lengthy discussion on destiny and coincidences, but we can agree on what is real — the fine cuisine of the Wooden Spoon.

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