By Gene Gonzalez
I got to learn that the owner of Project Paella is Uno Tupas who has been active in the evening food fairs in Davao City. His paellas always seem to make it as a big hit while he starts everything from scratch busily sautéing the rice and slowly infusing the broth and spices to the delight of his patrons and onlookers. Recently, he set up a shop in Torres Street famous for a row of restaurants and cafes where he could show his culinary school training and the techniques he has learned from his apprenticeships in very good restaurants in Bonifacio Global City.
Anyway, it was a good time to ask chef Patrick Co of The Fat Cow to lunch and catch up on his latest project since he was only a good saunter away. Our lunch started with a bevy of tapas. The croquetas con jamon came freshly fried and wonderfully crisp on the outside and showed its creamy, moist potato interior emanating steam inside as we bit on the croquette. Next came some tigre, (short for mejillones con tigre) or baked mussels in spiced tomato puree. The callos was very tender and was done low and slow as its fibers and exterior had taken in the spices simmered on its rich gelatinous juices. By this time, the flavorful appetizers had made my palate want a beverage, and what’s good with this place is it is right beside Uno’s family-owned Soulfood kitchen where the healthy, fresh fruit and vegetable juice combinations are not only for healthy drinking but are also well tested and thought of combinations.
Having had our tapas and some interesting conversation on Davao cuisine and the mushrooming of theme restaurants, we decided to have Uno’s freshly made renditions of arroz. What’s good about his selection is that one can dine alone and have an individual portion of paella from the fresh batch he cooks as orders are filled in. I love requesting for the soccarat or the crisp crust formed on the bottom and sides of his paellera. We tried the paella negra which had the true flavor of the squid ink but without the funk which many restaurants in Europe feel is the character of the dish or the squid ink. Uno was confident enough to add streaks of aioli to the rice dish without overwhelming the dish and the diner.
Next we tried the valenciana, which is the house mix of seafood, chicken, and chorizo also streaked with his house-made aioli. Again one can immediately discern the bite of the rice as cooked only by slow restraint of putting stock little by little to braise the rice from the olive oil and fat excreted by chicken, chorizo, and the mixed seafood essence.
Having no more room for dessert where they offered some churros, I would wonder if Uno would do a weekly special for dessert or savory taken from his creative spirit and mind. The boy is turning into a hardcore thinking chef… as evident by the simple but correct and satisfying food his diners come for… another contributor to the growing scene of Davao gastronomy.
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