Taco often falls victim to the trap of authenticity. Its shell should be solely made with masa de maiz and made the “Mexican way.” It should be this and that otherwise, that’s not the real thing. Purists tend to think in absolutes that limit how things like taco can be. Not in Miko Calo’s new taqueria.
Taqueria Franco does away with the absurdities of authenticity. For beginners, Calo doesn’t even use corn masa. “There’s a whole chemistry and science to that that I kind of don’t have the bandwidth to deal with,” the French-trained chef admits. Nevermind that. The flavors she wanted to create in her tacos wouldn’t go well with a corn tortilla anyway. Its golden confines are simply too small to contain her ideas of what a taco can be.
Calo didn’t wake up one day and decided she would make tacos though. Her taco epiphany came to her as a question that her cousin and business partner RJ Galang posed: “What if someone who does fine dining makes taco?”
In Galang’s recollection, that quickly escalated to “What if you—Miko Calo—made tacos?”
She is, of course, well known among Manila’s fine dining circle for her exacting culinary creations, a result of her classical French training. Tacos, on the other hand, are more casual and no-frills.
“Creativity-wise, Franco’s a little bit more relaxed. Off the cuff,” she explains. Her restaurant Metronome, she says, is more precise, just a little bit more cerebral. “This is really my other side. I’m a Gemini and it comes out in everything that I do.”
This other side of her culinary exploration proved to be challenging—if only because she is used to complex cooking. “This has to be as simplified as it can be without taking away from cooking it properly, seasoning properly, doing things properly.”
You might think, “Oh, so she deconstructed, reversed-engineered, and molecular gastronomized tacos?” Quite the opposite.
There is no room for taco-nfusion at Franco. The menu is grouped as tacos, tostadas, and quesadillas—tacos are folded, tostadas are flat and open-faced, and quesadillas have fillings cooked together with tortillas, unlike tacos where the components are cooked separately.
But before you dig into those, you might want to dive into nostalgic snacking with Franco’s version of nachos, Le Bon Junk, a literal bag of Granny Goose Tortillos with garlic bechamel, beef haché, tomato concassé, pistou, feta, and its signature pepper sauce.
There are eight kinds of tacos at Franco based on fillings. All are served in buckwheat tortilla. Perfectly cooked prawns laid on a bed of thinly sliced red cabbage seasoned with chili and lime and dotted with vocado mousse may be the most familiar. That or the lamb Bourguignon by virtue of birria’s new-found popularity among Filipinos.
The rest are rather unorthodox taco ingredients. The mushroom taco with roasted tomato salsa, cilantro-parsley pistou, and arugula is for non-meat eaters. The poulet roti with roast chicken, roasted tomato salsa, arugula, beef jus, and a helping of housemade shoestring potatoes is for those who don’t want to veer too far from familiar territory. Otherwise, if you’re quite the adventurous eater with money to spend, you go for these four: breaded oysters, steak frites, duck confit, and foie gras.
Each taco order has two servings, except for the foie gras taco, which is arguably the star of the menu. It’s a generous slice of pan-seared foie gras with sweet and spicy chipotle-muscovado caramel. The foie gras taco is rich, earthy, creamy, and pairs well with beer.
Another heavy hitter on the menu is their duck confit taco. The duck is cooked perfectly—crisped skin and all. It’s slightly reminiscent of a Peking duck wrap (thanks to the sweetness from the hot honey) but only if it had a drunken one-night tryst with the traditional French version of the dish. It’s topped with onion crisp that adds another layer of umami and crunch to the dish.
Calo and Galang are also keen to share their after-fine dining service hangout with other chefs. So we may see more creative takes on this quintessential Mexican dish soon. Maybe even as a collaboration of sorts? The duo says they are planning to make it a reality come next year.