Tucked away in a neon lit alley in Makati, lies a bar that takes a different perspective on a night out in Poblacion. Drinks are a given, sure, but this bar’s main highlight is its fresh catch of the day. Whether it’s baked, grilled, or just shucked from the shell – Wantusawa is an oyster bar committed to elevating our perspective on local oysters.
Oysters are generally known as a delicacy. It is even said to be an aphrodisiac for those looking for an extra thrill when eating them. There’s a hint of luxury when one eats an oyster. Yet when it comes to local oysters, you get the opposite reputation. Local oysters are avoided by many for an assortment of reasons. Take it from causing stomach aches to just being of lesser quality to foreign oysters, such as the Fine de Claire variant from France. This is the stigma that Chef Christine Zarandin, founding chef of Wantusawa, aims to end. Contrary to popular belief, local oysters (when prepared correctly) won’t cause an upset stomach. Another counterpoint to their infamy is that local oysters are actually plumper and meatier than its foreign counterparts.
Christine realized this inherent bias against local oysters in her time as a hotel chef. Local oysters were only used in bulk for buffets. While foreign ones are reserved for à la carte dishes that highlight the shellfish. Zarandin, in protest, sneaked in local oysters into dishes as much as she can in preparing executive dinners. To many of her diners’ surprise, quality flavor can be achieved using local oysters. This inspired her to open up an oyster bar that showcases this overlooked local delicacy. Wantusawa is the fruition of this idea. It is named after the number of oysters you can consume in one night – one to sawa.
Oysters and Other Sea Fare
Wantusawa is straightforward with their oyster menu. You can have them in four ways: raw, baked, grilled, or fried. Its simplicity is to highlight the oyster itself – its fresh briny flavor and soft texture. Freshness is a guarantee because their oysters are caught fresh every day. They have their oysters shipped from Panay every morning to guarantee quality flavor for every dish. Wantusawa is a good place to try it for the first time, especially for those who are squeamish to try raw oysters. A raw oyster is best with some vinegar or hot sauce, something sharp to complement its rich sea flavor. Even just a squirt of calamansi is enough to pair it with.
If you prefer your oysters cooked then their baked oysters is a definite must-try. Visually, it looks like a standard Oysters Rockefeller but this version gets an Asian twist. Instead of a Béchamel, the oyster is topped with a thick mix of miso, sake, mirin, and egg yolks. It is a creamy blend that adds umami richness paired with the freshness of the oyster.
Aside from their signature oysters, they also boast other seafood dishes. You can enjoy with the shellfish and a drink. Their Grilled Prawn Laksa pulls you right in with its scent. The rich coconut broth is a creamy savory combo that brings out the taste of the prawns. The prawns are a flavor bomb of their own, fried in butter beforehand and charred just right before being immersed in the broth adds a layer of depth to the laksa.
If you’re in need of more prawns, then their Shiro Butter Garlic Prawns should be next on your order list. Shiro is a dark miso that gives a deep umami flavor that the prawn carries. But not too strong to overpower the prawn’s taste. Garlic adds some pungency to the sauce balancing out its deep creaminess. The Shiro butter is the main player in this dish, so much so that it’s served with some bread to sop up that rich sauce.
Last for our featured dishes is the Octopus, Chorizo, Potato, & Leeks. A meaty fry-up with tender octopus and sliced chorizo that creates a flavorful oil that coats the potatoes and leeks. The oil brings together the earthy saltiness of the chorizo and of-the-sea savoriness of the octopus, creating this complex taste in every bite.
Reflecting its focus on its dishes, Wantusawa’s interiors are cozy, bright, and highlights the food. Their first floor is set up where the bar surrounds the kitchen so patrons can watch as their food is made. This makes for a richer dining experience seeing what goes into creating each dish. Their second floor, on the other hand, is made for groups to sit down and enjoy the oysters and drinks amongst friends.
If there’s one message that Christine wants Wantusawa to stand for it’s “Teaching Filipinos to trust our local oysters.” There’s always a sense of bragging when one tries a dish that is of foreign origin and oysters are no exception. Wantusawa proudly counters this assumption. In this clamored culinary arena where something imported is implied as better, places like Wantusawa prove that something Filipino is not only at par but can be superior. We just have to believe in it.
Wantusawa is located at Tambai Alley, 5779 Felipe, Makati, 1209 Metro Manila. For reservations contact (0917) 301-7968.
Photos by Miguel Abesamis