November 1, 2004 (STAR) TURO-TURO By Claude Tayag - Flashback: Some 20 years ago, Ang Hang Restaurant opened its doors at Sunvar Plaza on Pasay Road in Makati to the delight of lovers of spicy food in the metropolis. Soon, it became the favorite lunch and dinner meeting place of foodies, celebrities, Makati’s top executives, political figures and ladies who simply lunched. Ang Hang’s chefs tirelessly prepared all the spicy dishes, which set the diners’ palates on fire and their stomachs craving for more. They all had one thing in common: An adventurous spirit and an insatiable craving for spicy food.

Ang Hang was an instant hit back then. Its owner, Larry J. Cruz, aka LJC, was as usual ahead of his time. He established the trendsetting Café Adriatico in Malate just a few years earlier, and Bistro Remedios, also in Malate, about the same time as Ang Hang.

To put things in their proper perspective, back in the early 1980s, the dining scene was as not as exciting as it is now. Malls were unheard of then. There were no Thai or Indian restaurants yet, and spicy cuisine was something very new to Filipino taste buds, except perhaps to Bicolanos. Ang Hang was in a way a pioneer of today’s specialty restaurants that has become de rigueur nowadays.

Ang Hang will always be special to me, though. It was there where I first came out of the pantry, so to speak, and unfurled (nagladlad) my apron to the public and got known as capable of deftly handling ladles as well as my paint brushes and chisels. For the first time, the public saw me in a chef’s jacket and toque. My cooking was no longer exclusive to my family and friends, who were my willing guinea pigs, but was now available to the public who dared try it. The cooking festival, aptly called "Art Woks," was originally set for just 10 days, but due to its success, it was extended to three weeks. That more or less established my moniker as an artist-chef.

Now, two decades later, due to insistent demand from LJC’s unshakable loyal followers, Ang Hang restaurant has been brought back to life, this time at the very heart of Malate where it all began 25 years ago.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of trying its new offerings. From the strictly Fino (as LJC wants to call his fine Filipino cuisine) fare from before, the born-again Ang Hang has expanded its menu to include other Asian cuisines. Its red and gold interior (to depict its fiery cuisine?), as expected, has the understated classic elegance, which has been the hallmark of all LJC outlets, with the assistance of Merle de la Peńa who lent her collection of Asian art and artifacts.

Perusing its menu, I first looked for some of the old Ang Hang’s knockout bestsellers and my personal favorites, like the Squid Tactics, Knock-out Knuckles and Gising-gising (Bicol express). But alas, they were not there. Although the old Ang Hang operated for only about five years (it had to close down due to labor problems), I did not entirely miss these favorites as they are served at Bistro Remedios all these years. Thus, LJC explains, he had come up with an entirely new menu, collaborating with his veteran chef Ninoy Aquino of Tarlac (yes, a namesake of the great Pampango martyr. Di pala siya nag-iisa! Pun intended) and didn’t want to repeat what was being offered at the Bistro just across the street.

The menu reads like a fiery food excursion around Asia: It has some dishes from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, China, India, and, of course, the Philippines (mainly from Binondo’s Chinatown, like Soup No. 5 and black pata served with steamed buns).

A chili guide is indicated with every dish. One chili means sissy spicy; two, bravo spicy; three, real macho stuff and have a fire extinguisher handy. And as for these fire extinguishers, there’s plenty to choose from, like dalandan with honey, kamias smoothie, dayap juice, lemongrass lemonade and iced jasmine tea. (Did you know that to quell a mouth on fire, from too much chili, that is, you must drink or eat something very sweet?)

For starters, aptly called First Alarm, we were served curried cashew nuts, so pungently full of flavor and spices, so good and yummy it set the mood and trend of the luncheon. It left me wanting more (I guess that’s why they’re called appetizers in the first place – to whet the appetite!).

Then what followed was a succession of little dishes from around Asia: Crisp fried shrimps rolls (Vietnamese); catfish flakes and pomelo salad (Thai); hot and sour soup (Chinese); squid in citrus soy sauce (Japanese?); Cambodian fish; temple crab (Chinese); black pata with steamed buns (Chinese); lamb adobo (Fino), smothered with whole garlic and chili, my fave I should add; salt and pepper crispy duck (Chinese); Ang Hang special fried rice served on half a pineapple shell; and two to-die-for desserts.

Though on the whole the dishes were all good in themselves, I was left wanting more of the fiery hotness (in other words bitin ’yung anghang.) Was it perhaps the dishes were tempered to accommodate some of the faint-hearted guests? No matter, I can’t wait to go back there with Mary Ann to eat to our hearts’ content with the promise of Singapore’s Race Course Road fish head curry, lechon tandoor, mutton rogan josh, and a piece or two of the roti chanai (that buttery and flaky flat Indian bread). It’s a trip worth going back for.

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Ang Hang is located at the Remedios Circle, Adriatico St., Malate, Manila. Call 521-6682 for inquiries and reservations. Visit its website at www.ljcrestaurants.com.ph.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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