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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Saturday, January 22, 2011

entry arrow6:53 PM | Why I'm the Mayor of KRI

If ever you do FourSquare, you will quickly find that as of this writing, I am the “mayor” of KRI, a new fusion restaurant along Silliman Avenue that’s creating much talk among culinary adventurers in Dumaguete. There’s a reason for that, and there’s a reason I’m the so-called mayor of it.

FourSquare, of course, is this popular iPhone and iPad app that locates and tags you in places you are currently in—but beyond it being a geography-specific tool for Internet-driven vanity, it is increasingly becoming a helpful tool to locate online, while you are in a particular locality, the best places to go to for various things. Like food.

For the uninitiated, the app works by asking its users to “check in” every time they are in a specific establishment—and if they want, to leave a few helpful tips about the place. (On KRI’s FourSquare profile, I’ve left this tip: “Try everything, but begin with the fish dish.”) When one has checked in a particular place enough times, one becomes its “mayor.” I know it’s all so silly—but it’s a platform in this app-devouring time that I can’t ignore, if I am to remain an updated observer of popular culture that is. It goes without saying that I’ve checked in so many times at KRI that I’ve eventually become its mayor. (Sorry, Ritchie Armogenia.) Why the constant patronage? Simple: I have yet to find a smidgen of disappointment in this restaurant. It’s cheap, it’s near the heart of downtown—and the food is downright delicious.

Ritchie, of course, is its chef and visionary. Many months ago, after studying culinary arts at the Colorado Institute of Arts and after stints in Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago (he also trained briefly under Chef Thanawat Bates in 2008 as part of the James Beard Foundation in New York), he returned to his hometown to make his mark in local cuisine. We have seen his first efforts in Likha, his tapas bar in South Seas Resort. Together with his cousin Kris Zubiri, his sister Kit, his father Rene, and his wife Iris, he launched KRI a few months ago—and judging from its reception, it has become an instant success.

The restaurant’s name is really an acronym sporting the first letters of all their given names, “but if you Google ‘kri,’ it gives you kri-kri, a Greek goat subspecies. So I think we’ve covered all of them,” Ritchie tells me. Is there a goat dish in the menu? I ask. He answers: “Soon. Who knows we might come up with goat dish someday.”

What KRI offers is more of the fusion cuisine that Ritchie has become known for, always working with local ingredients but adding a twist to it. “Really, one can do a lot of things with a tomato,” Ritchie says. “And we want to be as creative as we can get with what we have locally. It is the same with Likha. That one is more on the tapas and tasting menus, smaller portions for those who just want to hang, have a drink, although guests can certainly indulge.” But KRI, he says, is designed more for his own version of “comfort food” cooking, with the healthier option of having to do without grease, and with no masking of flavors. “There is no magic sarap here,” he laughs. “We hope to do honest cooking. We can’t just open cans. Our sauces we make from scratch.”

There is also the surprise in terms of his prices, something that piqued interest right from the very beginning: nothing on the menu is priced above P99—which should be good news for notoriously cheap and very discriminating Dumagueteños. “The goal,” Ritchie says, “was to make good food available and affordable to everyone, especially the student market here in Dumaguete. Healthy options need not put a burden in our budgets, and we have all been there, being students eating on a budget. We, however, hope to expand soon, and maybe we can also offer a different menu for those willing to pay more for a semi-fine dining experience. There have been requests for that already.”

Looking back, I remember making a promise to myself that I had to try KRI the moment I got back from the U.S. because it was all everybody was Twittering and Facebooking about. My first dish was the Negrense Fried Rice, because it promised so much of local flavor—and it was all that I could do to fill my palate with to erase the memory of American food. What I got was comfort food fried rice with tiny bits of carrot, plus some scallions and chorizo, topped with pork belly and then a sunny-side-up egg. It had a texture I found tender and enticing, the taste of the pork somehow lent a surprising softness by the yolky juice that soon covers the dish.

Soon, there were other favorites in my quest to try everything on the menu: the sambal chicken with stir-fried vegetables and later on the herb-crusted chicken breast with lemon caper beurre blanc, the spicy shrimp (sautéed with chili, garlic, and tomatoes) and the marinated tofu, and the oven-braised pork baby back ribs with San Miguel Beer barbecue sauce. I topped most of that, always, with a ginger lemonade, KRI’s specialty drink which has a delicious spicy kick to it.

And then there is the pad thai—perhaps the best one can find in the city—and the KRI burger with Swiss cheese and the turkey on ciabatta and the barbecued pulled pork. Once I had its Chocolate of the Week—a concoction so sinful I swore never to have it again, or at least have it with an intense sense of moderation. But always I turn to a dish that has become a favorite: its Fish of the Week. So far, the revolving recipes for that dish include sautéed tuna with shrimp and chili butter sauce, and later, pan-seared tuna bundled with vegetable rice paper rolls and strips of ham. Those dishes have some sacred succulence marinated in every quick bite, both of them tempting fares that fill us and seduce the tongue without overwhelming it with unnecessary kick.

Of course, I had to return more than once. And that is why I am the mayor of KRI.



The Fish of the Week, with apologies for the crappy camera resolution

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