Kusina De Manila, a Goat-To Restaurant

 Owners Mary and Winston Sevilla make sure that dining at Kusina De Manila is a unique experience. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Owners Mary and Winston Sevilla make sure that dining at Kusina De Manila is a unique experience. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

"There is a God!” the GI (Genuine Ilocano) in me screamed when I recently tasted bodacious goat dishes at Kusina De Manila in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb in Chicago.

Adobong kambing . . . papaitan . . . kalderetang kambing . . . kilawing kambing . . . How can anybody resist? You can Google the entire world, and you will never find a restaurant like this!

Kapampangans are renowned for being great cooks in the Philippines. But when it comes to goat dishes, the Michelin star goes to Ilocanos—hands down! How can the Kapampangans object? The bragging rights belong to Ilocanos because they originated delicious goat dishes in the Philippines. They are pros in every itty-bitty molecule that the almighty goat has to offer.

 Delicious food keeps the customer coming at Kusina De Manila. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Delicious food keeps the customer coming at Kusina De Manila. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Goat dishes are popular among Ilocanos. But they are usually served on special occasions, like parties. The availability of goat dishes in beer houses and roadside restaurants in the Philippines reinforces the idea that goat dishes are ordinary. But why not celebrate the ordinary? Kusina De Manila then is a trailblazer in elevating goat dishes to a fine-dining experience.

When you enter Kusina De Manila, you are transported to an elegant ambience. There are murals depicting Philippine scenery, and live music is in the air.

Owners Winston and Mary Sevilla have always dreamt of having a presentable Filipino restaurant. They also realized that to bring in customers, appearance is insufficient unless the food is delightful.

“We decided to establish the restaurant in our own neighborhood,” Winston tells me. “In that way, we can have Kusina De Manila as an extension of our home.”

The live music enhances the dining experience at Kusina De Manila. What gave the Sevillas the idea of live music? “My mother-in-law, Guia Yapyangco Sevilla, owned a music school on the second floor before we established the restaurant,” Mary explains. So, it was natural that the restaurant became an extension of the school. That also explains why we have talents for live music.” In addition, their daughters, Natasha and Natalie, play violin and piano, respectively.

 Beth Jorgstorf and Joe Contreras provide live music at Kusina De Manila. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Beth Jorgstorf and Joe Contreras provide live music at Kusina De Manila. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Red-snapper delight and bangus sisig are also popular dishes at Kusina De Manila. But who is the behind the culinary delights, especially the scrumptious goat dishes?

An Ilocano—of course! Chef Niel Salvatera, who is originally from San Fernando, La Union, mastered the art of cooking on the job. And to think, he only knew how to cook survival Filipino foods when he left the Philippines. “I learned how to cook from my mother,” he recalls. “I cooked adobo and pinakbet—nothing special. Being in the culinary world never entered my mind.”

 Chef Niel Salvatera can cook a multitude of dishes. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Chef Niel Salvatera can cook a multitude of dishes. (Photo by Ivan Kevin R. Castro)

Pure serendipity brought him to where he is now! His first job on a cruise ship was as a galley cleaner. After a week, he moved up to being a prep cook. Then, assistant cook, third cook . . . He was assigned in the soup-and-vegetable section, cold section, grill section, et cetera . . . et cetera . . .

In the U. S., Salvatera worked in hotels, resorts, restaurants, including a Filipino restaurant in Chicago.

Now, Kusina De Manila is his world, and he will not stop at achieving excellence. He observes customers and listens to their comments. “I can't say our Filipino dishes are virtually authentic," he elaborates. “We make modifications as needed.” Taste is acquired. The bitterness and sourness in pinapaitan, for example, can intimidate the uninitiated. As such, it is the role of Salvatera to make it inviting, if not appealing.

Kusina De Manila offers the best in food, service and atmosphere. The dining experience is superlative! And Chef Niel Salvatera is there to make it happen. So come on in!

For Kusina De Manila's Goat Papaitan recipe, please visit: 
http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/the-happy-home-cook-goat-papaitan-bitter-sour-dish-soup

The author wishes to thank Almira Astudillo Gilles, Ph.D., for her assistance in the interview.

Kusina De Manila
632 West Algonquin Road, Suite 100-101
Des Plaines, IL 60016
Tel. (847) 378-8838

Website : www.kusinademanila.com
E-mail address: kusina.demanila@yahoo.com


 Rey de la Cruz

Rey de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D., Positively Filipino correspondent, writes from Chicagoland when he is not loving the arts and traveling. He is the author of the children’s book, Ballesteros on My Mind: My Hometown in the Philippines, which also has Ilocano, Spanish, and Tagalog versions.


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