Music & Magic At The Restaurant

1 Aug

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So I walked into this joint called Exit one night. ‘Twas dark and mysterious – the only source of light was from the backlit bar.

The wait staff just killed it – they were sharp. They spoke well, and they looked great in their ties and white jackets. Classy.

It was quiet at first, with music wafting softly in the air – unobtrusively so, yet almost too quiet. As my ears slowly adjusted, I heard and got to listen to the music – that which was to set the tone for the evening: The Black Keys, some classic rock, soul, blues. Eclectic, esoteric, sometimes even sexy, and sometimes even bordering on stuff I didn’t quite like (and I listen to everything!).. but oddly enough – so REFRESHING, and even foreboding in a way.. an aural starting point for the tomfoolery to follow as inebriation sets in.

Welcome to modern day Manila and its burgeoning food scene. Hip restaurateurs and bar owners – well travelled and fed well – have FINALLY caught on that music does matter and can affect the concept of what you want to be.

About time, I say. I’ve spoken to people about this topic – something I’m very passionate about simply because I love my music, and the playlist can and often does dictate if I’m gonna go back to your joint or not – especially if it’s a bar.  Suffice to say – people have confirmed to me that they are listening.

No disrespect to her, because I think she’s a talented lady, but there is NO EXCUSE these days for a trendy, breezy, airy new restaurant to simply pop in a Sitti CD and let it play for the duration of their operation hours. No.Freaking.Excuse. She’s got talent, but I don’t want to hear 80s nuggets like, say, With Or Without You bossified one more time. Mercy, please.

Air Supply (“Making Love Out Of Nothing At All”), Kenny Rankin (“Hiding Inside Myself” – the ultimate “kill me the fuck NOW” song), Joey Albert (“Tell Me”) and the rest of that salvo of AM love song hits we seem to love so much… that doesn’t really belong to a restaurant where you want to be happy and satisfied. Again, no disrespect to them – but hey it might be better off in the quiet of your office while you work on your Excel sheets. (shudder.)

I’m not being a snob here, alright? No. Far from it. I mean, if you want to play some Color Me Badd at your fancy French Bistro, go right ahead. I’m  definitely not dictating what you should and shouldn’t be wafting out of your speakers. I’m just saying don’t be a lazy ass and rip every other restaurant’s playlist and not care.

Mario Batali is famed for playing Led Zeppelin and REM at his flagship restaurant Babbo in NYC – at a volume that can definitely be heard, but where people can still talk. But here’s the rub: it’s calculated, studied – and it works, because the buzz is amah-zing.

And that is exactly the point I’m trying to say here: know and embrace your concept, discuss what sound levels you want to hit (hopefully you sound engineered your restaurant BEFORE you finished building it), and don’t be afraid to play stuff that people don’t know, as long as it SOUNDS right for the experience you’re trying to achieve. There is so much music out there – overwhelmingly so – be playful and enjoy the hunt for tunes to play.

And worse comes to worse – stick to formula (no shame in that!) but do it with style and panache: Sinatra and standards (or gee, Joe Mari Chan and his jazz album, or radicals like Radio Active Sago Project to support OPM) in a steakhouse always works. The Rolling Stones, Juan dela Cruz, The Jerks – they will always rock your roadhouse type bar more than LMFAO. Broken beats, soulful house – perfect for your lounge where people start the night or are eating light supper. K-pop in a Korean joint, Ryuichi Sakamoto in a sushi bar, blues in a barbecue joint, and yes, I wouldn’t mind hearing current Chinese pop in a dimsum house. Rock it, whatever it is – the music is an extension of what your want your place to be. It almost always guarantees a good experience, and will make people want to come back and re-live those good times.

Hitting the beach for some quiet R&R? Pass me the Sitti please.

Capsule Review: Ginza Bairin (and other Tonkatsuhans!)

1 Aug

hire:rosu set

How do you make hot breaded pork stand out in a sea of others who’ve come and planted their flags before you?

As in all cool things – do it by thinking it through and by respecting the details.

I’m talking about the subject of today’s capsule review: Ginza Bairin.

Now, let me be transparent wit’ you (because I’m a responsible “food blogger” that way. THAT’S how I roll. Harhar!): I was invited by their marketing team to meet the owners and taste their grub. All in the name of research, of course… hehe. Yes, I got the first class treatment here – but I always do when invited to these things, and it doesn’t necessarily mean I will be a frequent guest to an establishment either. **note: I’ve come back once since then, and things were still pretty cool to me**

Ok, now that I’ve confessed that to you – Ginza Bairin is a tonkatsu restaurant that dates back to 1927. It originated and is still located in the posh Ginza district of Tokyo (think Greenbelt Mall and multiply by 100) and has specialized in this dish and it’s variants for generations.

As of today it opens in Glorietta 2, facing Palm Drive, beside Wee Nam Kee. They’re opening another branch in this new Ayala Mall near Meriam College.

THE GOOD:

GB owners and chefs

Having met the Japanese owner of the chain and had a great conversation with him, it was good to know that he was a typical Japanese dude: very thorough and meticulous – some of their best traits. That means they cared a LOT about where they sourced their pork, their eggs, breadcrumbs and other ingredients. Only the best quality they could afford. And it definitely shows.

I got to try several things: their pork cutlets are tender and perfectly fried (to me, at least) as they were crisp and practically greaseless. Two of the Japanese chefs are still in the kitchen as of this writing, so the challenge is to keep up this level of cooking when they leave.

But as I questioned at the beginning – how do you stand out when you have other katsu houses like the mighty Yabu, Saboten, and even smaller players like Tonkatsuya in the playing field? All these guys do tonkatsu quite well – to varying degrees, of course, and subjective to your tastes and experiences.

You shine with the OTHER stuff.

The Secret Sauce

Take, for instance, their tonkatsu sauce. This is leagues away from the stuff that we all grew up eating – the infamous Bulldog sauce, which I find cloying and too “rough”. GB’s sauce is a proprietary recipe from the man who started the biz. Made at their home base in Japan, it’s shipped out to all GB outlets. One pour and you will spot the difference: lighter in color and viscosity, it has many flavors running through it. I tasted a bit of umeboshi – Japanese dried plum – but I can’t be certain. It certainly beats out Bulldog for me. You don’t actually NEED this sauce – actually, I like it with a squeeze of lemon and some sea salt (which they have on the table) – but it IS good, especially when paired with some hot Japanese mustard.

katsudon special

A must is their katsudon special (tonkatsu in a special sauce over rice, topped with an egg). The first thing you’ll notice is the beautifully orange egg and the taste of the sauce base, which is made by simmering pork for hours. It is in my book the most thoughtful version of katsudon I’ve tried here so far. Pop the egg yolk, and let it dribble over your rice .. dip a katsu slice in it and use it as a secondary sauce. Comfort and bliss in a bowl. It’s won awards in Tokyo, and if I’m not mistaken the reason why owner Scott Tan fell in love with GB in the first place.

sando set

If you’re not doing rice for sexy time purposes, they have a tonkatsu sandwich on white bread. Trust me here: it doesn’t look like much, but they did their research with the bread they use for this, and it works aces. It’s a fine sandwich, and a welcome and refreshing alternative to the big katsu sets.

unagi katsu

The diva of the show, so to speak, is the unagi tonkatsu. At close to P800, it’s their most expensive set, and also probably their most unique. It’s unagi fried katsu style (duh.) and best eaten with ground sesame seeds with sea salt. Just a light dip will do the trick..let them sweet and salty flavors become friends in your maw. It took me by surprise how much I liked it – this, to me, is really good shit, and great for the occasional splurge.

mixed set

They also have katsu curry bowls, seafood (prawns, scallops, white fish), as well as gyoza and edamame. Oh, for all you takaws out there – it’s unli rice, pickles and cabbage.

Now, let me make a brief comparison to the OTHER katsu joints that have popped up and who are doing brisk business. This is how they stack up in my eyes:

Ginza Bairin is the cool kid you like to hang out with. Likes wearing cool clothes, listens to cool music, and pays attention to the little details. GB is probably a graphic artist or an interior designer.

Tonkatsuya is the street smart guy with swag. He knows what he’s doing and wants to bring his talents to a wider audience. Krumping is his specialty. Hahaha! (Tonkatsuya is run by this Japanese fellow who’s been at it for years making the same thing. I’ve only been here twice, but his prices are unbeatable – in the 200 range – and for the price, the quality is excellent.)

Yabu is the OG of the lot. A celebrity with talent and eye candy to boot, Yabu can bring in the crowds. (Mainly because of generally excellent food, great graphics and details inside the shop, and a loud energetic buzz.)

Saboten is kind of like your steady uncle, with lots of attention to detail as well. More formal than casual, he’s a tailor who can make a mean “bespoke” suit. (I say this because their food is also excellent, with their own tricks up their sleeve like a killer snow crab croquette. Also, they have this very Zen like serenity in the room, and actually BOW to you in a deeply respectful way when they present your check and all. Obviously trained by a Japanese hospitality person, this makes Saboten quite the transporting experience. And that’s a good thing.)

And no, I wasn’t smoking anything when I wrote this, lest you think otherwise. :P

THE BAD:

Hmm.. nothing out of the ordinary so far. I think they MIGHT have a problem if they become too popular, as the room is a bit small.

THE SWANGIT:

As I exited the door during my second time, at around 750pm, there was a wait outside. I know it’s not GB’s fault, but waiting outside is never good. Oh, maybe they can offer chairs to the inevitable line.

GINZA BAIRIN

Address: G/F, Glorietta 2 (along Palm Drive)

Tel. No. +632.5537350

Hours: Sunday – Thursday 10am -11pm; Friday – Saturday 10am – MIDNIGHT, BABY!

Price: Tonkatsu regular set – P345, large set P395; Sando (sandwich) a la carte – P215, set – P325; mixed set – P425; special katsudon – P395 …. More or less you’ll spend P500 or less, which is about the going rate with the better katsu houses, with the exception of Tonkatsuya

Capsule Review: LES Bagels New York Deli & Bakery

19 Jul
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LES for bagels!

The bagel is one of those iconic foods of the world. To me, it’s New York on a plate, right up there with a nice cheesy slice, and the street cart hot dog.

Toasted, with schmear (cream cheese, in various flavors) it is the quintessential Manhattan breakfast-on-the-go. Take a walk down the avenues at around 730am, and you will see countless people headed to work, headphones blasting Jay Z (or gee – show tunes!), and munching on a sesame bagel.

However, if you’ve had the good fortune to try exceptional versions of this Jewish treat, finding a decent one here in Manila is like looking for Waldo. Once upon a time, there was an American family who had a bagel shop in Filinvest, but sadly, it closed, together with our collective bagel cravings. Everything else was like eating a brick, until now.

Here’s my latest capsule review: LES Bagels New York Deli & Bakery.

The Good:

Well, they’re still on soft opening, so as of this writing, TODAY, July 19, EVERYTHING is 50% off. JUST FOR TODAY. They close at 10pm, so haul ass there now!

It’s a – dare I say it – cute little space. Cute because it’s tiny – there are a few tables upstairs on the mezzanine, but I think takeout or al fresco on a breezy day is the way to go here. Unfortunately, today was not a breezy day. Hehe!

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The counter (check out the sandwich selection!)

But if you’ve had the chance to enter an NYC neighborhood deli, it all looks sooo familiar: bagels of various flavors (onion, sesame seed, plain, pumpernickel, among others), different kinds of schmears (cream cheese, baby! Veggie, herb, garlic, caramelized onion, bacon & cheddar, jalapeño & cheddar, strawberry, apple cinnamon), bialys (another Yiddish treat – similar to a bagel but with an indentation in the middle, usually with caramelized onions), rugelach (sweet Jewish pastries), AND, according to their menu, a myriad of deli sammies — from smoked pepper turkey and Havarti on a hoagie roll, to Ruebens on rye, to good ol’ egg salad. All these are the handiwork of a man named Cuit Kauffman, the same guy behind the pizza slices of Nolita in High Street Central.

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Today’s schmear selection

I walked in this morning with Paolo Vasquez (the fine gent behind Longboards Manila) and the wife and we immediately zeroed in on the star of the show. Between the three of us: a sesame bagel with jalepeño & cheddar, an onion bagel with bacon & cheddar, and a plain bagel with plain cream cheese.

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Spoilt for choice! What’ll it be?? Paolo can’t seem to choose..

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Talk to the hand while I eat my plain bagel. tsk.

The verdict? A definite hooray! Chewy, just the right kind of dense, and great schmear flavors – nice and satisfying, and guaranteed to fill you up for at least a couple of hours (like all good bagels should! Hehe)

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Sesame bagel with jalapeño & cheddar schmear

There’s soooo much to try still, and that’s always a good thing. They have stuff like matzoh ball soup and even egg creams! I kinda envy the people who live around here, because they have all these fun dining options at their doorstep.

Oh, and fine.. PS — Upon recommendation, I bought an oatmeal maple cookie sandwich. I didn’t take a pic because……..  I ate it. tsk. It’s good with coffee. We haven’t tried a lot of stuff, but my gut tells me we’ll be getting quality. Always a good thing.

New York just moved a few steps closer.

The Bad:

Well, it was our fault, I think – we forgot to have the bagels toasted. We’re all big on the crunch, so toasted it will be next time around.

Also, I wish there was more shade outside, but well, that’s just me. It was a bit hot this morning. But don’t get me wrong —- it’s a casual place to go to in your shorts and sneakers, so eating al fresco should be quite pleasant most of the time, especially in the late afternoons to evening.

The Swangit:

The only real complaint I have about this whole area is universal to all the restaurants here: parking. I’ve been told there will be spaces somewhere, but the I will tell you now that the existing ones are few and far between, and once all the big guns are up and running (like Ukkokei! Shudder) parking will be absolute war.

Oh, and you know what else is swangit? The feeling you’ll get after more than one bagel. Tread carefully, my friends. haha!

The star of the show!

The star of the show!

LES Bagels

Upper McKinley Rd, Tuscany, McKinley Hill (beside B&T Mexican Kitchen)

Currently on soft opening — M-Sat, 8am-10pm; no phone number as of yet

Pricing:

- bagels with schmear (Php 140-180); bagel sandwiches (Php 60-420 for one with lox and scallion cream cheese); sandwiches (Php 250-580)

Capsule Review: Zarzuela

2 Jul

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Ilongga lady Racquel Sian and her cohorts Owen Gan, Mel Sanchez-Dumlao, and Trina Tiaoqui-Imperial have been in the food business here in Manila for a loooong time. They’re the kind of restaurant group that remain a bit anonymous to most, but have a long standing relationship with everyone who frequents their establishments – usually located in an office building or similar foot traffic heavy environs. I mention her Ilongga roots because like a lot, if not most, true Ilonggos, she likes the good stuff – Pinoy grub that’s tasty, often slightly sweet (a nod to her Sugarland roots), and will have you reaching for hot steaming rice faster than you can say “baboy”. Yep, it’s that kind o’ place.

THE GOOD:

Plain and simply put: their grub is delicious! Everything I’ve had in my two visits here – spaced months apart – was yummy. However, I don’t think this is the kind of place you visit  when you’re on a diet. (But it’s the shiznit for your cheat day! Haha!)

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The ..uhm.. “Fountain Of Youth” in particular – think of it as KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicharon.. gasp! Faint) – is one of those crazy dishes that only a true blue Pinoy pork-o-phile can come up with. It’s exactly as I described it – like chicharon that’s been battered and fried, served with bagoong, mangga and vinegar. It’s killer, for sure, and may even sound a little too out there, but it’s delicious. Have it once every six months.

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Squid stuffed with minced beef and bagoong teeters on the sweet side, and again will have you reaching for the rice in no time. Same goes for crispy binagoongan, that pork staple that’s pure evil yet pure heaven in your mouth.

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Adobo is served two ways (“Sa Pula, Sa Puti”): flaked on one side of the platter, on the other stewed in vinegar and garlic sans the soy sauce (the way I love it, actually!).

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Bangus is made into tasty sardines – it’s braised in olive oil and brandy, and paired with pickles and chilis. Rellenong manok (stuffed chicken) has bits of chorizo and raisins, and is topped with a cheese sauce that oddly enough works for me (though I’m sure some will find this too over the top).

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“Cowboy” sisig is BOTH pork and beef bits, grilled first before combined and seasoned. Chichos is also thinly sliced pork and beef spiced with paprika, pimenton and roasted garlic, like a version of salpicao – they go together like Ernie and Bert. For dessert – a take on Maruya – chunks of plantain and langka (jackfruit) fried and served with ice cream.

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Yes, they do NOT play around here.

All the food tastes great and is filling, and designed to give you the greatest bang for your hard earned money’s worth. They deserve the “super sulit” restaurant award, if one ever existed.

Service is tight and attentive (although admittedly I made my reservations through the owner, so they may have been extra attentive), and the space is pleasant, if a bit hard to find in the new wing of the mall. 

THE BAD:

I have but one complaint – and it’s not really a complaint – but more of a suggestion. I wish they had more vegetables on the menu, and perhaps a few more healthful dishes. I don’t mind the menu items – it’s all good – but they do need something to balance all that richness. Perhaps some house made pickles (an atchara, if you will), and other refreshers. You can only eat so much binagoongan and “fountain of youth” without getting guilty about all that indulgence. You need something to “de-guilt” you.

Lipitor shakes might help too.

THE SWANGIT:

The feeling you get as your system tells you you’ve ingested way too much of that lovin’ pork, rice and bagoong. You’ll need a hug for sure. Pass the hot water. Zzzzzzz..

 

Zarzuela

6/F Shangri-La Plaza Mall, East Wing, EDSA cor Shaw Blvd

Wack Wack, Mandaluyong

Capsule Review: Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen

2 Jul

Welcome to my first ever capsule review! Realizing that I DO NOT have to go so deep into a restaurant and write some voluminous review, I’ve come up with this – thus enabling me to put more content on this little blog (hehehe!). I’ve divided it into three parts: The Good, The Bad, and The Swangit.

I promise to be concise and meaty. Just like me. :P

Enjoy!

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The Good:

I am in agreement with C that the interiors of this place are easily in the top three of all the new wave of ramen joints. It’s classy looking and modern – very Japanese – and I for one am quite the fan of Japanese aesthetics.

The service was good too – the wait staff were attentive without hovering around you, and the orders came really quickly. You can go in and out of here in an hour or even less.

I ordered some Black Garlic Tonkotsu ramen, essentially their house specialty tonkotsu (pork stock) broth with a lashing of roasted garlic oil. Some people don’t get this, and may even find it “bitter”, but I guess it’s a base to base casis. :) I thought it was interesting – tasty even – and was content with it. An extra order of ajitama (soft boiled egg) was sweetish, custardy and properly made, and was a nice contrast to the broth.

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Our companion ordered a Spicy Tobanjan Tonkotsu – a tonkotsu base with tobanjan paste, which added an appealing zing of spice and even some acidity. If I ever found myself here again, that’s an order I’d consider.

Their gyoza was a bit of a revelation – it was actually dribbling juices as you munched on it (much like a Shanghainese xiao long bao), as I think excellent gyoza should be. Not too garlic heavy, and crispy skinned, it’s a recommended side to your ramen.

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Tori karaage (aka Japanese fried chicken), with a splash of lemon, was relatively grease free, crispy and tender even. I can imagine coming here just for this and some rice. 

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The Bad:

We also had an order of teriyaki chicken wings. In fairness to the waitress, she confessed they were on the smaller side.

When they arrived, I had to snicker – they were a bit beyond small. They looked like fried toothpicks!

I’m guessing they lopped off most of the meat to make some karaage or whatever other uses for chicken the kitchen had – but still. It wasn’t annoying, really.. it was FUNNY!

And to top if all off – it didn’t taste bad either.

Dual purpose food: teriyaki wing appetizers/toothpicks. There’s an idea for you!

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The Swangit:

Well, to be honest the house tonkotsu broth on it’s own was kinda blah. It didn’t have a big punch, considering it was a pork stock that was supposed to be boiled for hours. There was a fishy taste to it (though I do understand that each broth is a different creature, and some do use fish bones or dried shrimp or whatever else to add flavor), which I don’t usually mind, but all in all it just didn’t do it for me (nor for the other two in my table that ordered it.. wrinkly noses and all.) With added seasonings like the roasted garlic oil or the tobanjan paste it amped up, but of course it would be better if the base were already kick ass on its own.

The ugliest thing here, for me, was the noodles. All these new ramen joints are going out of their way to ensure a top notch carb experience – a lot even importing expensive machines just to produce the good stuff. Now I don’t mind if you’re not that hardcore and use packaged noodles or you buy your noodles from elsewhere – as always it’s about managing expectations.

The thing with this place was they bothered to specifically asked you how you wanted your noodles. Immediately I chimed in: “firm please. Al dente.” As did everyone in our table. When the bowls showed up and us hungry peeps started slurping, it was soft and mushy – across the board. I ain’t gonna hate on ‘em for this – maybe it was a mistake.. whatever – but I won’t lie: it’s disappointing, especially since this is supposed to be some Japanese chain who knows their stuff, coming into town at a time when ramen is the hot shit dish of the year. If they continue on like this, they will get left behind. And I would never want that for anyone – it’s a huge undertaking to open a restaurant, much more a specialty restaurant like this.

I would like to root for them to have a steady crowd, but they have stuff going against them. Already I’ve heard many grumblings about their broth and their noodles —- which to me essentially IS ramen. So, powers that be, please please do something – the ball is in your court.

 

SM Aura Premier Branch:

2/F SM Aura Premier , McKinley Parkway

McKinley Hill, Taguig

Shangri La Mall Branch:

5th Level, Shangri-la Plaza Mall
Shaw Blvd. cor. EDSA, Mandaluyong

Phone Number
(+63 2) 477-8333

 

I Disappeared Again..

2 Jul

 

 

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.. and I’m sorry. You know what I mean.. sheet happens. :(

I realize it’s been three long months since I’ve last posted anything here. Manila Pop-Up from last March! Yeesh.

In the meantime, Summer came and went, and I wound up doing a lot of things. 

For one thing, I swam with the fishes. 

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I also got myself a massage from a really strong blind guy.

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I learned how to use a bow tie together with a suit, which was cool. 

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As well as use a bow tie WITHOUT a suit, which was what my uncle the Chippendale taught me too. 

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The Chippendale shot led to a photo shoot, where I learned that it was not that easy to be a model, but easy enough for me. 

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And lastly, I started taking #selfies. Well, who doesn’t these days, right? #vanity

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OK, I’m just messing with you. :P

I’m putting up new content on this here blog o’ mine, and not just my usual voluminous ones, but shorter articles as well.. because I have a few new tools to play with to make this an easier process. 

To the 10 people or so who follow me – keep reading, k? I promise to be a good boy. :) 

Cheers to the second half of the year!

Popped and Loaded

26 Mar

Where it all went down

As we greet the sun kissed months, the ever morphing local restaurant scene seems to be getting THAT much more interesting.

Like, for example, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a place like the vaunted International House Of Pancakes (that’s IHOP to you, bud) would show up on our shores. A US diner chain in the middle of urban BGC, with people queuing up for hours to eat there is absolutely crazy! (Have you lined up yet? Because I haven’t. haha!)

And for that matter, how crazy is it that US West Coast burger giant In-N-Out went and did a one-day test run to dip their toes in our food obsessed waters? Considering that they’ve gone on record saying that they hardly have plans of expansion in the US, that they bothered showing up in Southeast Asia at all is just a bit shocking (they did this stunt in Singapore and Hong Kong as well).

Many more chains are popping up like mushrooms: Cold Stone Creamery, Saboten, Paul Patisserie – all just around the bend.

Not that I’m complaining, of course. Bring it on, chain restaurants – Manila is a hot place to be now (literally and figuratively!)

It’s a really interesting time to be a diner in Manila – many new local joints are popping up as well, with some of them pushing dining into new directions, which is fantastic for the dining community. Check out spanking new places like VASK and Grace Park.

Speaking of “popping up”, just last night, I found myself in a pop-up concept in Salcedo Village. My buddy Jeremy “The Delicious In Mr. Delicious” Slagle just texted me saying he had extra seats to this event by a group that called themselves Pop Up Manila, so I jumped at the chance. The pop-up restaurant, in case you haven’t read about it yet, is basically a restaurant within a restaurant: a cook, often one without his/her own place yet, takes over another restaurant’s kitchen on it’s quieter night, cooking his/her brand of food.

Yes, we are goofballs - but that just makes us fun!

Yes, we are goofballs – but that just makes us fun!

Does that make sense? Well, let me just say it’s pretty fun.

The people behind this – Erwan Heussaf (who doubled as the waiter. Saan ka pa?!), Dee Jae Pa’este (well, that’s his Twitter handle..haha!) and some members of the Concepcion family (Michael, is that you behind this?) – hooked up with young chef Bruce Ricketts (yes, he’s related to Ronnie..) formerly of the now defunct Robot and currently of his own place called Sensei Sushi in BF Homes. The food concept: Latin American via Vietnam.

With Erwan The Waiter (oh fine..he’s also an instigator)

Dee Jae – another instigator

Did you get that? Again, let me just say it’s pretty fun. Mind you – it’s not the time and place to expect haute cuisine. No, son, you come here to enjoy the ride.

Called Barba Cua, they decked out this small Thai restaurant along Valero with DIY attitude: South American posters, sombreros, rice paddy farmer’s hats, and ukuleles – and presented a cool little menu of small plates – perfect for sharing.

Le menoi, showcasing their logo for the night

Being the adventurous peeps that we were, of course we just proceeded to order most of the menu (research, my friend. All in the name of research.)

Our fellow researchers

Besides, the small plates concept – like tapas with international flair – is a great way to eat without feeling like you’re going to rip your jeggings.

A lapu lapu ceviche type thang came with little cubes of watermelon, crab, citrus bits and fresh dill.

Raw, baby

Shredded oxtail and lengua rode in on a slightly greasy garbanzo based tortilla and topped with salsa verde and pickles. This was one of the tastiest stuff we ate. High on fat it seemed too (which may explain why it was so good.)

Oh mama..

Some rolled and fried bits of pig head, topped with a little salad and some pig ear bits, was quite over the top. Did we like it? Well of course! Wouldn’t you?? But this was the kind of food that you could only eat a few bites of, and it begged for an ice cold beer which unfortunately was not available. (They had a cocktail menu instead – which I think could have used a bit more booze. Apparently I can be a lush too.. heehee!)

Kulit mo, Mr. Delicious.

Kulit mo, Mr. Delicious.

Piggy in all it's glory

Piggy in all it’s glory

2 kinds of punch – they were quenching, but I think they needed more punch, though. ;)

The slightly more virtuous smoked tofu came with a nice “relish” of cauliflower, raisins, carrots and other veg in a nuoc nam (fish sauce) based dressing and would’ve been great with rice, with the other vegetarian offering crispy tamales (more like a veggie and quesong puti taco of sorts) being equally tasty as well.

Virtuous? Nah...

Virtuous? Nah…

A steak and eggs with black garlic, and an avocado sauce was good – something every meat loving Pinoy will take to like a moth to a flame – but it was the lone starch dish of rice cooked in what was probably crab stock and topped with uni and prawns that took it all home. All in all, pretty loverly stuff.

For the meat lovers in the house!

For the meat lovers in the house!

Seafood orgy on a plate: crab stock rice, uni, prawns

Considering that this was probably a bitch to pull off (when we do dinner events like this with Pinoy Eats World, my body definitely takes a beating!), I gotta hand it to their team for producing a fun, let down your hair sort of evening. I had no expectations whatsoever – which is probably the frame of mind you want to have entering events like this. The food was pretty good, the room was pretty vibrant, there were lots of celeb sightings (well, Anne and Solenn, plus fashion icon and provocateur Rajo), and my company was great. (A side note: Rajo introduced me to Solen, and she said she remembered me!!! Of course, I don’t think we’ve ever met. I would’ve remembered by now. Sorry Erwan. You probably get this all the time.haha!)

I can’t think of a better way to close out the weekend. The Manila Pop Up guys and gals throw a great experience our way – just the kind of thing this town needs more of. I’m looking forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeve.

My buddies Rajo & Nix – next time I should ask Solenn and Anne for a pic too! :P

The guys behind FoodLab (cheesecakes galore @ Legaspi Market) aka The Bears! :)

Ok fine – we *did* manage to sneak in a pic of THE Anne Curtis (sorry Erwan) – she was cool, btw!

I come clean: we got Solenn too (sorry again Erwan!).At some point we literally rubbed backs. haha! AND she said she remembers me! O HA! (We may have met…in my dreams!)

Pop Up Manila is on Twitter. Follow them at @PopUpManila to find out about their next gig. Pareng Erwan said sometime in April – wait for their announcement!

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Kevin Fortu

20 Mar

 

If you’re my Facebook friend or follow me on Twitter, you may have heard of a little project my friends and I started in support of our local barista champ, Kevin Fortu, who’s representing us in a prestigious event in Melbourne.

We’d like to send his folks with him on this incredible journey and are raising money to do just that! Get to know more about Kevin by watching this. Be inspired by this really humble guy. PILIPINAS, REPRESENT!

Coffee, Tea, or Me (..with Coffee)?

20 Mar
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Latte Art from Craft Coffee Workshop

My love affair with coffee is like one of them super colorful relationships, filled with twists and turns, long stretches of both true passion and empty, meaningless MOMOL sessions. O ha.

Back in the day, I used to frequent this Japanese coffee shop: a dimly lit, often cigarette smoke filled cafe with old movie posters of James Dean and Humphrey Bogart (I’m not even going to say which it is. You’ll figure it out – and it will date you. haha!). On the menu was everything from chahan (fried rice) to tuna sandwiches, and of course, coffee (or rather, coffee concoctions): sweet drinks filled with chocolate and cream and honey and whatever else you could pile on there – plus some coffee. Emphasis on the “some”. Yeah they were basically milk shakes.

Of course I loved it, as did the girls my buddies and I took there. It was the perfect place to chat with the ladies (*shudder*) and get to know them, and is definitely the starting point of a lifetime of “having coffee”. I felt very cool sitting there in that dim room, reeking of “yosi” (cigarettes), and with a steaming cappuccino, albeit one that tasted like candy. And thus the said affair began at this “getting to know you” stage.

By senior year of high school, during our last retreat as classmates, my buddies and I would pounce on our classic breakfast of red dyed hot dogs, cold eggs sunny side up, and rice – and wash them down with a very potent (and seemingly adult-like) instant brew with a shitload of sugar in a Styrofoam cup, its color lightened by a heaping spoon of powdered “creamer”. That certainly kept us up throughout the weekend.

Coffee became a “friend” of sorts.

At some point (I forget when), the juggernaut known as Starbucks marched into town and made quite a splash. I won’t deny – I was crushing on that mermaid pretty bad.

And how could you blame me? Their flagship at 6750 was gorgeous! 2 stories, full of couches and obscure background music and the heady aromas of coffee – it was seductive. The seduced came in droves, like zombies, and learned to sip….. frappuccinos. In their best clothes, too – I remember spotting couples out on prom night dropping by for a mocha frap.

At that point I tried to up my coffee game by trying the more “serious” offerings: apart from my staple cap, lattes soon entered my vocabulary, and – when I thought I was ready and following the footsteps of my Pops – an espresso (con panna,though, with that dollop of whipped cream smoothing out the rough edges). I felt so dirty and macho. Yes, yes, this was definitely a MOMOL moment.

It went on for a long while, all this emotionless making out with coffee. The mighty S had become a de rigueur hang out space, even a place to see and be seen. Lots of pretty young things doing their hair toss, all the while displaying their cute little frothy cream mustaches from their fraps. Cute.

Even during my travels, I’d make a beeline for Starbucks to beat my drowsiness, or any other place that served coffee. No deep feeling, no emotions. Triple espressos, usually after a long haul flight. The coffee equivalent of the walk of shame.

The day I fell I love was special. Down right torrid, even. I was in the Bay Area, and had read about this newly opened place called Blue Bottle Coffee. C and I, both intrigued, gave it a go.

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I had an espresso, because my gut told me so. With no sugar sachets in sight, they pretty much discourage you from putting any sugar in their drinks – though there is a container of really nice Japanese sugar crystals if you insist – so I didn’t. It had the thickest crema I’d ever seen (that head of brown froth that forms after the barista pulls a shot)..one that didn’t go away and dissipate in 5 seconds. One sip of that stuff, smooth and not bitter, with a finish of chocolate, took my breath away. I sipped C’s cappuccino – even THAT made me curse out in it’s deliciousness. We went back for more: New Orleans style coffee with chicory, flat whites, lattes, even a mocha. Best I’ve ever had.

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Bay Area coffee lovers

And it was the place itself – the baristas who all looked like displaced hipsters (even before I even knew what a hipster was!) all tattooed up and moving with purpose; their rows of sleek machines, grinders, and siphons (something UCC had going even before them, I might add); and one of the funkiest things I’d seen – hand filtered coffee, where you put coffee in a special filter and hand pour the water in a steady stream to produce one of the cleanest tasting cups you’ll ever sip. Apparently this was how coffee was done waaaay back in time, and it was just a method that was being reintroduced.

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Blue Bottle barista doing his thing

This was when coffee and I left the MU stage and just went for it. The Third Wave of coffee is the movement where Blue Bottle was smack dab in the middle of – a time when coffee obsessives opened shops, sourcing the best beans often straight from the people who planted them,  and trying their best to extract the most flavor they could from various methods. These guys treat coffee like fine wine, and that concept just blew me away.

The only problem was that the Bottle was all the way in San Francisco. I don’t know about you – but I hate long distance relationships. I tried my best not to think of it, but the separation was unbearable. Worse, I got spoiled by it too. Where o where was I going to find someone to pull that kind of shot for me?

That quest went on for a loooong time. My espresso connoisseur father and I would order an espresso in every local restaurant we would visit. Time and time again, we were let down by watery shots, some found in the best of restaurants in the city. Restaurant peeps – you really should consider upping your coffee service game – it’s always disappointing to have a great meal be drowned out by bad coffee.

Then during my travels, I chanced upon Fuel Espresso in Hong Kong. This gweilo (Canto-slang for “white dude”) hangout, a New Zealand chain owned by a couple of Kiwi gents, made KILLER espresso and only did espresso-based drinks. Their flat white (ristretto with milk, no foam) was really fuel for me, putting a bit of strut in my stride, and their iced latte cooled me and boosted me during warm days. Every trip I made to the Fragrant Harbour made me visit Fuel every day, sometimes twice a day, even if it was out of the way. My only gripe with them was that they forbade me to take pictures of their location –although it was a great set up, I don’t get how they think it’s so “unique”. There’s nothing there that hasn’t been done before! But well gee – who cares, right? It was the coffee I was there for.

A way cooler experience came last year, when a coffee blood brother of mine – Nicco Santos – happened to be in Singapore the same time I was (see my “New Order” post) and wanted to take me to this special coffee temple, knowing that I was hooked on the stuff.

We took the subway and emerged in the middle of nowhere, walking in a neighborhood I had never been to before. It looked like the Singapore ‘burbs, if that’s possible. Nicco then pointed to this high gate, like something you’ll find at a big home in, say, New Manila, and entered.

Chye Seng Huat Hardware then proceeded to greet me like we were old lovers. Yes, torrid. Super. Where was this place all my life?

Located in an old (duh) hardware store, this was so my kind of place: airy, chill, full of light – the main room had a long bar where all the coffee magic happened,; a few cozy tables; a music corner with a vintage turntable, speakers and vinyl; a wall full of coffee machines, gadgets, grinders.. like all cool places that get to me, the atmosphere was intoxicating. And the coffee…  well, let’s just say they knew what they were doing. Like Blue Bottle, they had it all – shots, pour overs, siphons, and a new creature for me: cold brews. Cold brewed coffee is simply coffee that is filtered for a loooong time (24 hours or more!) and chilled. The result is akin to sipping the cleanest iced tea, but with a mild hit of coffee at the back of your mouth. Delicious! But don’t be fooled – this shit will keep you up spinning and dancing if you fool around with it at night. The caffeine level is through the roof.

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The lovely lady baristas of Chye Seng Huat Hardware

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Harhar!

Beside the main room was an area for roasting (because that’s how respectable Third Wave shops roll!) and arguably an even cooler spot than the main room called The Annex. Basically a room with equipment and a small bar, it was used to hold coffee classes, as well as what I went there for: pairings and tastings. Nicco’s cousin, Andre Chanco (who works there as a barista) and one of his colleagues (whose name escapes me right now) did the session. I left smiling, like I had found something I had long been looking for. That was the closest I had gotten to my Blue Bottle experience, and I went home with a wealth of knowledge too.

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Pinoy barista Andre Chanco

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Where coffee education happens – CSH Annex

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Coffee is now in session

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You may have seen these before

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The idea is to use coffee in as many ways as you can

However, Singapore and Hong Kong still aren’t in the vicinity, obviously. It’s not like I can drive over and ask for a date to Tagaytay and have dinner at Antonio’s. It was still long distance. My heart ached, and longed to listen to some balladic Journey. I needed some Faithfully. In a dark room.

But fret not, dear reader (and THANK YOU if you’ve read this far! Haha!), because this does end with a Happy Ever After.

The Third Wave has landed on our shores, in case you didn’t notice, and hopefully like our penchant for 80s New Wave, it will never go away.

One of the joints in the frontlines is this place called Craft Coffee Workshop. Located on a sliver of storefront along 14th St. and Broadway in New Manila, Craft is a great way to get introduced to the world of coffee. I had only heard about them, and was quite surprised that to find that they also knew the people who ran Chye Seng Huat through my man Nicco. It was high time to investigate.

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Raymond of Craft Coffee Workshop

The 3 gentlemen who run it (Raymond So, Peter Ong & Sly Samonte) are obsessive, like most of the Third Wave generation: they source their own beans, roast them, and do everything they can to get good flavor – siphon, cold brew, espresso shot, pour over. Its vibrant and alive inside – some people even mistake it for a bar – and if it weren’t a little far from me I’d go there everyday. The crowd is a mix of people who live around the area, and young med students from nearby St. Luke’s — all looking for a place to be still and enjoy the java. At least you know that if you cut your finger or bump your head you will be in awesome hands.

The baristas and owners will gladly discuss you about what exactly is going on in your cup, and if wish to learn even more, they sometimes conduct classes in their second floor “extension”. The good people behind this place have managed to grow a small community – a “Cheers” for coffee – and the surroundings are all the better because of it. I was there one night when they held an impromptu “latte art” competition – regulars and baristas went at it head to head, producing tulips, ballerinas, and..uhm.. ganja leaves made of milk, as the crowd cheered them on and judged the winners as well. Good fun!

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My coffee connection Nicco Santos doing latte art

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Champion Barista Kevin Fortu

So that’s my love story in a nutshell. From Manila to the San Francisco Bay Area, to Hong Kong, Singapore, and finally back to Manila, I am happy to say that the torrid affair has blossomed into marriage: Life long and strong, an endless love. Lionel and Diana would be proud.Image

BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE (66 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, CA .. +1 510.6533394;  1 Sausalito, San Francisco Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA .. +1 510.6533394)

FUEL ESPRESSO (Shop B47A, The Landmark, 12-16 Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong .. +852 2869 9019; IFC Mall, 1 Finance St, Central, Hong Kong .. +852 2295 3815)


CHYE SENG HUAT HARDWARE (150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore .. +65 36960609)

CRAFT COFFEE WORKSHOP (66 Broadway Ave., New Manila, Quezon City, Philippines .. +632 5703436)

 

The 83 : Best Stuff Of The Last Year

30 Jan

So here is my first “food” related post on my new blog: a seemingly random 83 things I ate in the year 2012 that rocked my socks.

Why 83? No, it’s not a number I popped from out of my butt -1983 was the golden year my idol Dr. J won his first and only NBA championship. So in homage to that, my list goes up to 83. Doesn’t make sense? Well, it’s my blog, innit? (I kid, I kid..)

My only criteria was that it had to be something I bought and paid for, and something I could drive to – so stuff I ate in, say, Cebu, doesn’t count. I know Baguio is a stretch, but hey – it’s MY BLOG. ;p

Anyhoo – Here’s my list. A lot of them are things from good friends of mine – hats off to them – what can I say? I have cool friends! Without further adieu, the good new eats in my life this past year, in no particular order. If you disagree with my choices, well tough – because (all together now!) it’s MY BLOG! Harhar!

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  1. Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup (Wild Flour) – Yeah, I know their service can be spotty sometimes, but there is no denying that this little “corner bakeshop” churns out quality grub. I’ve yet to have something here that didn’t appeal to me – a great burger, a killer short rib sandwich, breads and desserts that are the real deal – the list goes on. But it’s this grilled cheesy sandwich, paired with a spot of tomato soup, which got my attention the most this past year.  Image
  2. Claypot Rice (Sir Raffles) – This tiny plain Jane joint has awesome Sing/Chi home style grub. The owner cooks most of the stuff, and chooses prime ingredients. For his claypot rice, he flies in special duck sausages to make it that more special. If he suggests something, I say take it. Great stuff, and worth the drive to BF for me.
  3. Chai Masala (Da.u.de Tea Lounge) – For me, this is the center of the tea universe  (at least in Manila). If you’re even remotely interested in teas, best to sit with the supafly owner, Renee Sebastian, and pick her brain. My fave? Hot and spicy chai masala – it’s got all sorts of stuff going on, kinda like salabat on ‘roids.
  4. Shabu-shabu Spaghetti (Yomenya Goemon) – A Japanese spaghetti joint may not make much sense to you, but gosh darn it, it just works! Fans of the defunct Dean St. Café may be familiar with Japanese style pasta – here at this Greenbelt outpost it’s amped up to a whole new level with so many variations. My favorite is this one with thinly sliced pork and a sesame flavored sauce. Pizzas ain’t bad either!
  5. Tsukemen (Mitsuyado Seimen) – Their service was also crappy for awhile, but I do enjoy their basic tsukemen – a dipping type of ramen where you’re given these thick-ish house made noodles to dunk in a steaming bowl of pork stock cooked with a shot of yuzu, a great complement to cut through it’s richness. If you have any soup left over, drizzle a little chili oil on it, ask for some white rice and pour the stock on top. It may even be a better experience than the noodles, depending on your mood!
  6. Paitan Ramen (Kitchitora) – Yet another ramen player with a very neat trick up their sleeve – a rich, viscous stock made of chicken, paired with house made noodles and broiled chicken chunks. Yes, if you’re looking for “healthier” options, this just may be the ticket.
  7. Tantan men (Ramen Yushoken) – These guys take their ramen very seriously, going down the route of authenticity. No “house tea” or any of that here, just straight up traditional ramen, some gyoza and fried chicken. Their secret? The chef is pedigreed from the “Tokyo Ramen God” himself, with the result being refined, clean tasting ramen that’s guaranteed pleasure for the ramen aficionado. A decently spicy tantan men is my personal fave, with miso coming in a close second.
  8. Dimsum (Golden Bay) – Brought to my attention by the food lover elites (notice I didn’t say “foodie”, because I really frikking hate that word), this is a huge, cavernous Cantonese warship of a restaurant that I suspect caters to high rollers in the nearby casinos. Sure, you can blow thirty grand on lobster and abalone, but my thing here is the dimsum, which is (for now, anyway) always 50% off, coming out to 70-80 per dish. 500 bucks should get you all sorted out. Good fillings, with thin wrappers, and a damn tasty XO sauce to help you along – you’d be hard pressed to find better value for this quality.
  9. Crabs with salted egg (Hong Kong Master Cook) – Rob and Sunshine Pengson turned me on to this little corner of Dampa. The come on is the real deal HK chef in the kitchen overseeing all the grub – producing (literally) finger licking, decently priced food. My friend loves this crab dish so much, he licks the salted egg sauce of the shells. True story. Image

10. Buffet (impressions) – Ok fine, blow your wad over at the newly redone Spirals (for the record, I haven’t been there in its new incarnation just yet) but for me, this little buffet that could is the shiznit, not just for pure deliciousness but also for value. From the house smoked salmon, to the cold seafood station, salad bar, carvings, fresh pasta and crazy dessert station – I guarantee an experience that will shock you with it’s quality and commitment to have you eat so well that you’ll have to waddle out like a fat penguin.

11. Sliced Pork And Ampalaya (Hanaichi) – This neighborhood Japanese restaurant grew on me and is now one of my favorite places, with home style dishes like this sliced pork with egg and ampalaya that will satisfy your hunger without busting a hole through your wallet.

12. Chicken Meatballs (Mangetsu) – I’ve always loved Mangetsu from the first time I tried it. It’s solid grub with some twists and turns, and it’s always a good experience (except sometimes when service lags a bit – which is rare). My last time there I had these awesomely tender chicken meatballs, floating in a dashi broth. With a swipe of Japanese mustard, these morsels and light, guilt free and delicious  – my kind of meal.  Image

13. Coconut Gelato (Morelli’s) – This kinda pricey gelato joint impressed me with this coconut flavor. It’s quite..erm..”coconut-y” – a good thing for coconut lovers like me. I know there aren’t that many coconut fans, so a treat like this is always a welcome surprise.

14. Beef Tendon Curry Noodles (Nomama) – I don’t know if the good chef Him is going to permanently put this on his menu, but I tried this at an event and it blew me away. Melt in your mouth tendon in curry, on top of noodles – we need more food like this around here.

15. Cheeseburger (Burger Bar) – The new kid on the block, cousin of ‘Cue, produces many things – a lot of them dangerously good – but the one that stands out is their basic cheeseburger, with a juicy, crust rimmed patty, melted cheese, raw onion, lettuce and a smoky “secret sauce” cradled in a toasted bun. We’re getting closer to becoming a burger town because of “better burger” places like this.

16. House Burger (‘Cue) – For me, it wasn’t the barbecue that turned me on here, but the house burger – a simple patty of local beef blends (with a decent meat/fat ratio – crucial to burger success!), cheese and bread. They can build a rep on this sandwich, if you ask me, which may explain their next project, Burger Bar. (see above!)  Image

17. Chicken Parmigiana Pizza (Nolita) – If you’ve ever entered a slice joint in, say, New York, then the aromas wafting around this place might seem pretty familiar. The other menu items are just ok for me – the best stuff to explore here are the pizzas. Of all the variants, I dig this one with eggplant and chicken on a crust with a nice crunch to it. Eat with lots of black pepper and chili flakes.

18. Bulgogi (Sariwon) – I’m normally not a big bulgogi person, but this place does an excellent job. After eating all that meat (cooked in a special inclined grill) the wait staff start cooking potato noodles in the left over sauce that’s pooled at the bottom: the best part.

19. Pickle plate (Tajimaya) – This Cebuano via Tokyo transplant does everything right. Good quality meats for grilling, soups, sides and yes – a killer pickle plate that I really enjoy. You know a restaurant is good when they take the effort to make stuff like pickles an awesome thing.

20. Moussaka (Argos) – This Turkish owned little hole in the wall in the red light district of Burgos is a real find. Kebabs are good, but it’s this moussaka that I enjoyed even more. They close late (well, early morning actually) and they love their beer and football (and their water pipes!)

21. Lamb Chops (Savoy Bistro) – This little gem, on the bottom of a gallery of sorts, is another great find. Throwback recipes on a very decent price range is the card up their sleeve here – they serve food that reminds me of dinner out with my lolo (Tournedos Rossini, escargot, et al) My choice are these lamb chops in a supremely flavorful brown sauce, with a siding of eggplant and more lamb bits. Enough to satisfy cave man like hunger pangs.

22. Thai Ravioli (Thai Bistro) – I follow owner Cecille Chang wherever she lays her hat, because this is a woman who loves her food, especially stuff with Thai touches. Her “ravioli”, really thin rice wrappers, stuffed with pork and mushrooms and served with an addicting sauce laced with Thai patis, is a revelation. Light and full of flavor, it’s the perfect starter at this little restaurant that could.  Image

23. Iced Macha Latte (Chez Karine) – Home of the Frenchy creations of my awesome friend Karen Yang, I go to CK for something her boy friend Johnnie turned me on to – this iced drink with macha from the mountains of Taiwan. I don’t normally order this in other places, but theirs is really refreshing and healthfully delicious!

24. Beef Tendon Rice (Mien San) – I love this place. We had a good relationship going, so it really saddened me when MS moved out of Makati. This dish, a legacy of Him Uy de Baron to me, is crazy – meaty and gelatinous tendons slowly cooked til they’re soft and luscious, served with rice and a fried egg. After a long night of whatever you’re doing, this is the way to come down to earth.  Image

25. Lunch at Antonio’s (Antonio’s) – After many years, this man Tony Boy can do no wrong. It’s always a good thing – something to be enjoyed every so often. If you can, order the steak tartare, by the way – exemplary!

26. Smoked Bacon (Premio) – This is one of my favorite eating partner Xandra Rocha’s legacies to me. A restaurant that flies a bit below the radar, Premio’s point guard in the kitchen (whose name escapes me) makes this killer smoked slab bacon, among other things. No one quite does this porky treat like her – so this easily stands out.

27. Lemon Pancakes (Pancake House) – Although there are things that I used to love that I don’t agree with anymore at PH (taco shell is sooo different! Boo!), they still have good pancakes, like this one. Guaranteed to induce food coma.

28. Fish Kebabs (Kasbah) – I don’t normally agree with Boracay to Manila transplants, but Kasbah is one big exception. They managed to transform the former Red Kimono space into, well, a Kasbah, and the food is pretty darn good. Fish kebabs, a standout for me in Boracay (where it’s the perfect food because it won’t get you bondat!), are great here too.

29. Chirashi Sushi (Inagiku) – I never really ordered chirashi (fish and seafood atop sushi rice) anywhere, preferring a sushi platter, but when I chanced up Inagiku’s – a place where I go only for special occasions – I was hooked. Premium stuff on top – eel, salmon roe, uni, salmon, scallop, etc – and a lower price point than mixed sushi make this a true winner.  Image

30. Fugu Congee (Kitsho) – A subterranean like Japanese restaurant in the rather cool Shangri-La run Trader’s Hotel, Kitsho is the only place I know that serves the legendary fugu. Done 3 ways (sashimi, fried, and shubu shabu), my favorite part is when the chef transforms the shabu shabu broth into fugu zosui (Japanese congee). Smooth as buttah.

31. Steak (Bugsy’s) – My friends started ordering this at Bugsy’s one day  – a 500 buck steak with gravy and mash. It’s several notches up from Pinoy sizzling meat with gravy, and it’s great for a quick meat fix.

32. Tonkatsu with Radish (Tonkatsuya) – The Japanese tonkatsu master who runs this makes magic with local pork. Tonkatsu with grated radish is da bomb (and pretty cheap too!)

33. Ravioli with Egg (Va Bene) – Massimo Varonesi, apart from being a really nice guy and Jean Claude van Damme doppelganger (no, really!!! I wanted to ask for his autograph!), is like Yoda with pasta. This giant raviolo, stuffed with a whole egg which just dribbles onto the pasta sauce and creates a whole new one, is something else.

34. Sole Meuniere (Masseto) – This cantina of the powerful execs (check out the suits during lunch!) has been churning out good, solid grub since they opened. I don’t get out here often enough, but the few times I have have been glowing meals. I do really dig this simple piece of fish, cooked in brown butter.

35. Fish Cake Soup (Poongwol) – My friends took me to this Korean beer house one night for dinner, and everything was huge and spicy! The champ for the evening was this bubbling cauldron of various fish cakes in a tear inducing broth. You dip ‘em into a tangy sauce, and gobble with rice. Oh yeah, baby.

36. Big ‘n Tasty (McDonald’s) – I am not going to discount fast food, even if I generally stay away from it. I hate McDo for releasing this onto the world, because I really like it, processed meat and all. Boo. And yum.

37. Fried Wings (Yellow Cab) – Easily one of the classiest of the local quick service joints, they make killer pizzas, pasta (!!!) and.. really crispy wings. Me likey once in awhile – it totally took me by surprise when I first ordered it.

38. Lengua Flautas (B&T Mexican Kitche) – Speaking of wings, this tiny joint makes great mango habanero wings, but it was their flautas stuffed with lengua (tongue) – that I NEVER order anywhere – that impressed me the most.

39. Sausage And Lentils (My Kitchen by Chef Chris) – Look beyond the signature panizzas and discover gems like these really delicious grilled house made sausages on top of tender lentils. Or be a good piggy and have BOTH.

40. Anchovies (Terry’s Selection) – The food here is always good, but this one, the most suave of anchovies served on top of cheese and toast – really simple! – was one of the best things I’ve had this year for sure, hands down. Part of Terry’s Asturian food festival, I don’t know if I’ll ever see this again, but I sure will remember it!   Image

41. Pancit Choko en su Tinta (Asiong’s) – My buddy Ige Ramos, a fiercely proud Caviteño, took me on a mini-tour of the town where he grew up. The eats were amazing – and this was definitely the one that rocked my socks: humble bihon, with squid ink, garlic and a ton flavor. This, and bihod (fish roe) are worth the drive over.

42. Sangria (Las Flores) – The winner of the most chichi bar of the year, in my opinion – this hot spot has a great cocktail program, and their white sangria is most ace.

43. Beer Mussels (Draft) – Well, gee – what better way to show off your beer selection than cooking with it too. Steamed mussels in a broth of beer and bacon and chili. Saan ka pa? Watch yourself slurp the broth like soup!

  1. 44.  Lamb Stew (Hill Station) – The much storied Hill Station is a beacon of culture, good times, and good eats in the City of Pines. This Moroccan stew, filled with all sorts of spices and with a kick that will heat your chilly bones, is one of the most interesting things I’ve tried all year.

45. “Tiago” Burger (Burger Project) – How can you go wrong with customizable burgers? If it sucks, you have no one to blame but yourself! My first time at this transplanted Maginhawa joint was inspired by the little boy – a double patty extravaganza with caramelized onions, mushrooms and an egg.

46. Corned Beef Sliders (Mr. Delicious) – Marooned Bay Area gent Jeremy Slagle developed a killer corned beef recipe and sold it from a food bazaar as sliders. He is a naughty man – and hell yeah, they were good, and sold out too!

47. Ensaymada Ice Cream (Fog City Creamery) – Edy Liu, proprietress of FCC, is really sweet and super friendly. Who would’ve thought she had a dastardly mind with the ability to come up with evil concoctions like this, a tie up with the equally sweet and despicable Homemade Treasures’ Chona Ayson? Heaven on your tongue.. havoc on your jeggings.

48. Guava Basil Sorbet (Pinkerton) – Xandra Rocha models for her ice cream brand in a bikini (yes, she has that model swag). But beyond her looks is a genuine passion for her product, resulting in excellent treats like this refreshing sorbet, a happy flavor bomb with all the right notes.

49. Chocolate Bars (Risa Chocolates) – One of the nicest and most intensely knowledgeable chocolate lovers I know, Pam Cinco has come a long way from when I first met her. Her newest product, chocolate bars, (some made purely of locally sourced chocolate), is smooth. I totally see her leading the pack and introducing Filipino chocolate to the rest of the world.

50. Hiyashi Ramen Goma (Ukkokei Ramen Ron) – Much ado about this controversial place, their troubles, their tantanmen, and their so called “nazi” in the kitchen – but at the end of the day, it’s just good grub, and that’s how I’d like it to stay. Went out of my comfort zone and ordered this, a room temp sesame ramen, which right now is something I am actually craving for.   Image

51. Salted Sumatra Ice Cream (Mad Mark’s) – In the restaurant test zone of Barrio Kapitolyo in Pasig sits this sammie and ice cream hole in the wall. Their coffee flavors are top notch!

52. Mixed Sashimi (Azami) – One of my new favorite casual Japanese go-to joints, Azami does practically everything pretty well. But it’s their magical sashimi platter, with the sweetest seafood selection, that hits a home run. While it’s not exactly cheap, it’s cheaper that what you’ll pay for in much higher end restaurants, but with the  same quality.

53. Kouign Amann (Brasserie Cicou) – The highest echelon of the food obsessed were all about this, and I finally saw why. Basically it’s a butter and sugar bomb – and yeah, it’s a good thing. I can’t finish one order, especially after eating a meal there, but I will gladly take a bite of yours. If you’re a sweet tooth, this is the ticket to a foodgasm.  Image

54. Stuffed Pljeskavica (Bankah) – A small joint serving Eastern Euro grub, Bankah’s main playah is this sort of “burger” stuffed with molten cheese . Eating it is like swallowing a brick and letting it sink straight to your gut, but deliciously!

55. Lamb Shank Caldereta (Villa) – This homage of Chef Sau del Rosario to his roots and then some produces some keepers, with this slowly cooked stew of lamb shanks leading the pack, in my opinion. This could easily pass for a winter dish in Winterfell.

56. Cuapao (Spring by Ha Yuan) – I love the story behind Spring (and the people behind it too!) with 3rd generation Suzy Lee steering her family’s food into the future. Her spins on their traditional cuapao are fun, inventive and tasty. Love the chili crab variant with a splash of sriracha.   Image

57. Crab on Crispy Noodles (Wooden Spoon) – The food pedigree of Sandy Daza is impeccable. His foray back into the restaurant biz, WS, produces his spins on familiar flavors. A smoky, tasty crab and egg on top of crispy rice noodles begs for chili sauce and rice – sarap!  Image

58. Modern Triptych of Fish (Bar Lounge, New World Hotel) – I tried this seafood in squid ink concoction at a special dinner in the private dining lounge of the new and improved New World Hotel. Concocted by their then-newly installed Italian executive chef, it proved to be a sneak peek into the interesting directions they want to take their food, apart from it being truly flavorful and a great conversation piece.   Image

59. Sabich (Café Mediterranean) – Café Med has always been a staple for me, with food being satisfying and generally healthful. Their sabich, with fried eggplant and egg and chickpeas in pita, is something I can eat all the time.

60. Foie Gras Carbonara (L’Entrecote) – On the other end of the spectrum, here’s something you SHOULDN’T eat all the time. To be fair about it, though, it wasn’t as rich as I thought it was going to be. Was it good? Oh, hell yeah. Take a bite or three and share the rest.  Image

61. Longgiyoza (Manila Maki) – Longganiza in gyoza wrapper. An inspired combination from this little Jap/Pinoy hybrid that serves great bang for the buck meals.

62. Blue Cheese Wedge Salad (Chops) – Interestingly enough, the thing I enjoyed the most in this steak house concept was this wedge of iceberg with bleu cheese dressing, a throwback dish from classic steak houses of yore. The steak I had? Not so.

63. Starbucks Sandwiches (Starbucks) – ’12 is the year I sampled the variety of Starbucks sandwiches. While I’ve tried these in other countries, like say, the States, I am proud to say the best ones are the ones I’ve had here in Manila. Props to their sandwich supplier!

64. Latte (Craft Coffee) – If finally happened – a serious coffee geek’s lair opened up, with enough Third Wave coffee to keep you up until 2014. My kinda joint. Watch out for the good things coming from them.

65. Eclairs (Gourmandise) – Showing off her Parisian pastry skills, the loverly Sunshine Pengson puts a little bit more love in your belly via her decadent eclairs. Sure, there are now cakes, cookies, and parfaits, but I’m a sucker for these. Will not help your summer fitness goals, though.

66. Buttermilk Pancakes and Eggs (Malcolm’s) – A great surprise for breakfast lovers like me, Malcolm’s makes buttermilk pancakes from scratch. With sunny side up eggs (something I picked up in American cafés), it’s a hearty way to start your day and a great weekend treat.

67. Strawberries, Cream And Wild Honey (Café By The Ruins) – Ok I know this is a stretch from my “rules”, but you still drive to Baguio so this counts. What’s so great about it? It’s great in its simplicity – Benguet berries, cream and  some local honey.   Image

68. Cheese Sticks (Pino) – Hey hey – don’t judge me. Good food is good food. These little lumpias of cheese and nori with a bit o’ jam (the twists) are just good, period. Fun stuff!

69. Eggplant And Tofu Miso (Pipino) – I’m stoked that there are finally more veg options in my area. Pipino does hearty vegetarian fare, and this dish of eggplant and tofu in a savory miso sauce served with brown rice is one us meat eaters can definitely tuck into without missing a beat (of meat!).

70. Ensaybites (Home Made Treasures) – Sometimes all you want is a treat in two bites. Chona Ayson’s ensaymadas of sin (oh my, you gotta try – they’re confession worthy) are even satisfying as her new ensaybites. Perfect for dipping in hot chocolate. You sinner you.

71. Crepe Samurai (Desserts By Roshan) – I’m a little late to this Roshan game that everyone else has been playing (then again I’m not a dessert person), but her stuff is genuine and obviously made of the good stuff. She began with Crepe Samurai, and I personally think it’s definitive.

72. German-style Cuchinillo (Pepita’s) – This lady Dedet dela Fuente serves  lechon tasting menus if you so desire (4 kinds!), though personally it’s a bit too much piggy for me. I’d rather small doses, with this oven roasted cuchinillo stuffed with baby potatoes my choice among her concoctions.

73. Radish Cakes in XO (Kirin) – I don’t even know how this place is still standing – not that I don’t like it! – it’s just that I don’t know many people who eat here. However, their food is decent enough, and these crispy little radish cake cubes in XO sauce are absolutely yummy. We’d go there just for this!

74. Curry Fish Balls (Tao Yuan) – It’s way too easy to direct your sights on their Hainanese chicken and laksa and other best sellers like that, but one day I went out of the comfort zone and ordered these: light little fluffy fishballs in curry, and was duly rewarded by it.

75. Lolo Art’s Chicken Sarap (Catering) – My family’s go-to guy for fun get-togethers. Mr. Art, an Ilonggo, specializes in that Southern delicacy chicken inasal, served with all the fixings. I love this stuff – simple food cooked really well.

76. Speculoos Gelato (Bono Artisanal Gelato) – A spanking brand new player in the gelato field (just two weeks old or so as of this writing), they’re the first ones to capitalize on this whole “cookie butter” mini-trend by mixing it into their gelato base. I smell a hit. It’s a goody.

77. Quesillos (Cavite Market) – About the same time I tried that squid ink pancit, I got to try this stuff – a Caviteño white cheese that I think trumps any I’ve ever tried. Too bad it’s all the way out there (or probably just as well!)

78. Kitayama Beef (Kitayama Meat Shop) – Pinoy Eats World has been flogging this beef the whole year. Bred in Bukidnon, it’s the greatest local beef ever. EVER. You can even eat this raw, like tataki. I adore this stuff.

79. Oyster Mushrooms (Ministry Of Mushrooms) – Led by poster boy Marco Lobregat (literally a poster boy – he’s a model) and JJ Ortoll (well, they’re the only two I’ve met – I believe there are others), these cultivators produce big, clean, and bold mushrooms. Watch out for more products from them.

80. Mignonette (Tarte Manila) – Here’s something interesting: 2 ladies wanted to start up a business doing pastries and such. Their one savory product, this mignonette which is a concoction of pickled shallots and chilies in vinegar, is a lovely companion to all sorts of stuff: inihaw anyhow, chicharon, etc. If you want to guarantee eating more than you set out to, use this.

81. Korean Tapa (JAM Foods Tapa) – Well why not? Angus tapa of the kinda fatty variety (and that’s a good thing) marinated in some Korean spices. I tried it with sinangag, egg, kimchi and nori for a Korinoy breakfast mash up. Evil in two languages.

82. Hitachino White Ale (Global Beer Exchange) – You can now buy this stuff at GBE over in Magallanes. It’s a Japanese Belgian style beer, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s so refreshing. Goes great with sushi, ramen, or gee, even potato chips. And it’s nice and strong!

83. Don Papa Rum (Distillery, among other places) – Local rum that’s good enough to sip on the rocks. The bottle is a design coup – something that with a little push can definitely appeal to a foreign clientele.  Imagebest

Tortang Talong

The cool stuff I find in the world we live in.

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