If Alegria Manila were to open a corporate dining outlet, then its new lunch menu might be what Charles Montañez would serve.
Frankly speaking, it’s akin to the diffusion lines many fashion designers do. It’s commonly seen on those who have built reputations of molding fashion into art (Comme des Garçons) or injecting (pop) art into fashion (Moschino).
Just like these fashion houses, Montañez seems to follow suit in full flow. But the decision to launch a lunch menu doesn’t mean that his immense tasting menus aren’t profitable or accessible.
It also isn’t a watered down version of what he normally does; rather, in a seemingly contradictory fashion, the lunch menu is both a transitional and permanent attempt at casting his net wider before he unveils his new tasting menu and his next concept whose only clue winks from right under your nose.
“These are completely different dishes. The tasting menu is still carrying the Filipino-Latin American approach while the a la carte menu is more Latin American-forward,” he says.
As with any Montañez menu, his a la carte repertoire is memorable in the sense that the items are balanced between the outlandish and the accessible. And no one probably wouldn’t mind really for anyone still riding on the Montañez hype machine—like yours truly—since this guy has made his name on the back of some ridiculous dishes.
“More than half of the dishes are actually dishes from the tasting menu that didn’t make the cut so we changed the plating and made the portions heftier to fit the a la carte approach.”
An Alegria lunch to think about long after you’re done
The menu consists of six palate starters, five vegetable dishes, nine wood fired plates, and two desserts from new pastry chef Kyle Macatunao. There is so much to like here. And if it isn’t any more obvious, sharing is the name of the game —just in an ostentatious manner—to prevent it from clashing with the tasting menu. But don’t let the concept of an “Alegria lunch menu” fool you, the quality is still tremendous.
Dishes such as the prawn esquites (a Mexican street corn salad that practically takes us down cornick territory) and octopus carpaccio (with that vivid plating and juicy burst of melon and honeydew) reference his taste for elevating the seemingly simple.
You get that mindset even more when he bravely created a separate category for his vegetable entries that are meant to not alienate vegetarian customers. It’s a reminder once again of Montañez and his creative team’s ability to approach ingredients like cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, and eggplants with the same bravado as they do on the more evolved tasting menu.
The production on the other half of the menu feels just as impressive, imparting a kissed-by-the-fire flavor that’s typical of Montañez’s style. The chochoyones is a, dare I say, life-changing dish that demonstrates texture and palatability. Instead of using traditional masa for the dumplings, their version is a creamy squash and corn combo that’s soft and chewy to absorb the fermented garlic miso’s umami and naturally complement the crunch of the mushrooms.
The chochoyones is a, dare I say, life-changing dish that demonstrates texture and palatability. Instead of using masa for the dumplings, their version is a creamy squash and corn combo that’s soft and chewy to absorb the fermented garlic miso’s umami and naturally complement the crunch of the mushrooms.
Another highlight of the wood fired category is the freshly caught langoustine whose simplicity is deceptive at best. Butterflied and brushed with “head” butter, it’s a dish that gives new meaning to keeping things simple.
Which is also the case with its duo of desserts from Macatunao. Though new to the Alegria Manila kitchen, he is already in full flow, poking through your sweet tooth with a suspiritos (meringue) disc that reveals itself once you get past the compressed (and super vermillion, mint tea-infused) pomelo jelly. It’s refreshing though it might not be for everyone.
However, it’s the burnt Basque cheesecake that will make you doubt yourself on how many of these fluffy, cloud-like cakes you can stuff into your mouth to cap off the lunch. It doesn’t push the boundaries per se but its power comes from the superlative flavor profiles at play—corn crumble crust, salted dulce de leche, and majarete crème Anglaise. We clearly weren’t ready for how good the cheesecake was (we had second helpings) but it’s a worthy contender for one of our favorite desserts this year.
At this point, is anyone really surprised about this self-assured take on a lunch menu? Overall, Montañez has proven once again that his growth comes in many forms—and that includes a celebratory spread meant for anyone’s lunchtime needs.