Wantusawa, located in the alley behind Tambai in Poblacion, is offering up a restaurant experience that most of its customers probably aren’t used to. There are no tables, for one thing. There are just long counters and bar stools. The main counter surrounds an open kitchen, where Wantusawa’s staff may be witnessed shucking shellfish, cooking various things, and meticulously assembling their plates.
The menu is small, too, and while there are a few heftier dishes, the restaurant really specializes in small plates. You get oysters per piece, prepared in one of three ways: fresh, breaded and fried, or baked with a miso bechamel. Fresh is best. The entire place is really built around the glory of the Aklan oyster. They’re flown in fresh every single day, and while there are certainly merits to the other methods of preparation, raw is still the best way to experience a good oyster. Just add a squeeze of lemon or a dab of hot sauce to complement that lively, briny flavor.
Baked, Grilled, and Fresh Oysters
Not that the place has any problem serving really good cooked food. One of the biggest highlights on the menu is the grilled shishamo. It’s a deceptively simple dish that has a lot going on underneath. Japanese smelt is pan grilled and oven roasted to crisp, dark perfection. The resulting flavor is powerfully fishy in all the right ways, mimicking many of the pleasures of smoked seafood in a bite-sized package. It’s the kind of flavor bomb that really works well for a night of drinking. It wakes up the palate, cutting through the alcohol-induced numbness.
Grilled Shishamo, Baked Scallops
Scallops are paired with shimeji mushrooms and baked in the same miso bechamel as the baked oysters. It’s a meaty, indulgent little bite brimming with umami. If you’re looking for something lighter and fresher, there’s the cold tofu hiyayakko: a block of tofu topped with chives and katsuoboshi, doused with a light, sweet and savory sauce.
And yes, there are heftier options. People rave about the grilled prawn laksa, for example. But it almost feels like a concession to the kind of experience people are expecting from their restaurants. Wantusawa might be best enjoyed as a stopover, as a place you pop into in between other establishments, picking up just an order of oysters or that grilled shishamo, perking up the palate with just a small plate of something distinctly flavorful. You sit at the counter, and maybe you sober up a little bit watching the kitchen prepare your food. And you savor those perfect little bites for a moment before heading out and exploring what else this strange neighborhood has to offer.
Or you could stay. You can choose to experience Wantusawa in any way that you desire. In either case, the establishments small, focused menu delivers, big, fresh flavors; a lot of it coming from the local bounty of our seas. And that’s what it all comes down to, in the end. It’s just good to know that Wantusawa is there, tucked away in that little alley, with fresh Aklan oysters available for anyone craving its briny pleasures.