Jonesing for this flavorful and juicy grass fed double cheeseburger at The Farm Organics.
In this crispy pata/sisig/lechon loving country of ours, there is indeed a case for eating a bit better and healthier.
I tip my hat to those who’ve blazed the trail – like vegetarian restaurants like Bodhi in the food courts (though I think they just used a lot of meat substitute such as seitan – or wheat gluten - which a chef friend of mine hates and calls “satan”) or Corner Tree Café – arguably the first restaurant who took vegetarian cooking to another level – or even Denise Celdran’s Edgy Veggy who delivers veg these meals to your front door.
I’m not saying we should all go vegetarian, of course, although doing so a few times a week does have its benefits, not just for general health but for the environment as well. No, it’s just that vegetarian restaurants are what easily comes to mind when you say “healthy eats”.
Nowadays, It’s good to know that it’s possible to eat well and eat healthily when going out. Watching what you eat doesn’t mean you have to be on some fad starvation diet – and that’s mainly because more chefs are doing fun things with food that’s actually good for you. That’s probably the best food “trend” we can ask for, really, don’t you think? So eat more of these kinds of foods and save the rib eye, fries, chicharon bulaklak and lechon kawali with garlic rice for weekends or special occasions.
In no particular order are some of the healthiest discoveries I’ve tried recently. Still haven’t been to The Wholesome Table, nor tried Jam Melchor’s Healthy Eats food delivery, and I’m still waiting for Bianca Mabanta’s new restaurant.. but in the meantime, chow down on these and don’t feel guilty..
- Salmon Donburi – Your Local – Check it: rare Norwegian salmon, skin torched crisp, with tobiko and ebiko on roasted corn and shiitake wild rice. The idea behind this is so thoughtful and simple, and it tastes like gold. I didn’t want my bowl to empty. Ask for it with a soft boiled sous vide egg – break the yolk and let it dribble into the umami filled wild rice. Oh yes.
- Octopus Salad – Wildflour – Octopus is such an underused seafood in these parts – and admittedly takes some technique to get it right - but when you get it tender and caramelized like Wildflour does – and mix it with mango, and cabbage, and dress it well? You’ve got a healthy winning meal right there.
- Shakshuka – Blackbird – I’ve been here exactly ONCE with my folks, and haven’t been back, also because it’s a bitch to get a ressie. However, my one and only time was actually quite the grand experience – this restaurant is breathtakingly beautiful. Service and food is what you can expect from Colin McKay – and though some say they’re still getting their kitchen groove, my Eggs Shakshuka was brilliant for a light Sunday brunch.
- Eggs Traviata – Toby’s Estate – Yeah, they’re best as coffee peddlers, but their food ain’t bad either. This Traviata, baked eggs with roasted tomatoes and basil, and served with a great piece of bread (one of my favorites, actually) is a satisfying go-to breakfast that will send you on your way for the rest of the day.
- Greek Yogurt – Greek Yogurt – A sleeper hit caught in a quiet corridor of Century Mall, this place has deliciously thick, creamy and tangy yogurt by the gram. I had mine with some walnuts and yogurt, but you can opt for fruits if you wish. Go, please, because sadly, this place is perennially empty.
- Black Bean Cakes – The Bowery – Make no mistake; this comfort food joint is driven by meat. They do however have this one seriously filling vegetarian dish – and a delicious one at that: black bean napoleon – black bean cakes layered with spinach, corn, shiitakes, red peppers, cheese, and served with a spicy tomato sauce and sweet potato mash. Food coma? Yes, guaranteed. But you’ll be smiling.
- Miso Broiled Salmon – Todd English – ‘Twas my pop who first ordered this. He asked for it medium rare – and I suggest you do too. It’s like buttery sashimi, with an umami filled miso glaze to take it over the top. It’s served with mashed pots, but you know what? Go for it and eat it with some hot rice, if you want. It’s a perfect combination.
- Lah Lah Land Popia – Spring By Ha Yuan – This is the lovechild of Singaporean popiah and fresh Hokkien Chinese veggy lumpia. Filled with shrimp, scallions, egg, cucumbers and belachan and kecap manis (sweet soy), it’s perfect as a filling snack or as a light meal.
- Poke – Patricio’s – In case you haven’t been to Patricio’s yet, this is a one of a kind hole in the wall inside Taguig. The menu is built around ceviches and kinilaw – the obsessions of owner Pat Roa – using recipes he’s researched during his travels as a commercial pilot. To start your journey here, check out poke, a Hawaiian creation, essentially chopped fish with a base of sesame oil and soy sauce. It obviously has Japanese influence, and is an easy eat. Watch it disappear just like that!
- Roasted Kalabasa – Sarsa – When I want to feel virtuous yet still silence my raging hunger pangs, my latest go-to is this satisfyingly simple squash dish. I ask for extra ginamos (Ilonggo bagoong) and their XO sauce (to add spice – highly addictive!) and eat it with red rice. Gives you a big hit of flavor, plus it can fuel you up for whatever else you have to do.
Once in awhile, I get asked to give talks about food.
I’ve always seen myself as more of an observer and student of things that pertain to it, be it cooking or studying food ways or even the restaurant biz – but somehow I get lumped together with some really heavy hitters when I do these things. It’s humbling, to say the least, but I guess I must be doing something right then.
This talk, which I gave in Davao, was given as part of a series of conventions in the Mindanao region called DINE Philippines. Run by couple Adolf and Alu Aran, I see now that it’s their way of trying to raise the bar of the food scene on a national level. What I love most about these experiences, apart from meeting really wonderful people (and breaking bread with them!), is getting an education from my co-speakers – in this case French Baker’s Johnlu Koa, entrepreneur/social media specialist Homer Nievera, and GeiserMaclang’s Amor Maclang. Crazy right? I felt like a student attending a lecture.
At any rate, I just wanted to share with you, my Just Jonesing readers, my little part in all this, and hope you learn a bit from it too. Here is it, slightly edited to be easier to read, and without the slide show. Hope ya like it!
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of Davao.
Today I’m supposed to talk to you about Concept Innovation.
Nowadays, I am sure you have noticed the surge in the food biz. Restaurants are opening at lightning speed, and sometimes they close at lightning speed to, unfortunately.
This may be because of several reasons – maybe they were in a bad location (because as we all know location is a key factor to success)… maybe the service was horrible and they drove people away (something we really have to address in this country, if you ask me!)… or well, maybe the food was just bad. OR…. their concept wasn’t tight enough.
Is there a formula for success? Not really, if you ask me. Even the best of restaurants with all the right pieces sometimes fail. Nothing is foolproof. BUT if your concept is tight, and you lock it down, and you have some luck on your side: then you have a fighting chance. Later on I’ll discuss with you some models which I think really work – places that have lines out the door because they’re doing something right.
But before that, here are some practical observations and some tips you may want to take into consideration when thinking of your concept, or if you’re considering entering the food business in general. Here they are in no particular order:
- EMBRANCE THE MILLENIAL. (Here I showed a slide of 19-21 year olds, members of Antioch, a Catholic group I’m involved with in my parish) Embrace the mind of the millennial. They may not have that much spending power YET, but they are already changing the way things are done. They live to LIVE: they work to travel, journey to the unfamiliar. They are visual. They seek the unusual. They love to eat, take pictures, create. (Here I show a slide of a friend of mine, Mikka Wee) This is Mikka, 26, the managing editor of top food blog Pepper.ph, and a good friend of mine. She encompasses everything a millennial is about, and who also happens to be an influencer. Millenials eat “carpe diem” (seize the day) for breakfast. Ride that wave and let it inspire you to drive your concept home.
- SOCIAL MEDIA, FOR NOW, IS KING. (Here I showed a slide of one of my recent Instagram posts – featuring a restaurant in Osaka that basically rounded up the best beef and pork cuts from all over Japan. Yes, it got a good number of hits!) In case you haven’t yet – take a long hard look at social media and hop on that bus, because at least until the near future this is how things are going to get done. It is the fastest way to get the word out, it is how you can spread images of your business with the tap of a button. It is how information is and will be digested on a normal basis by a lot of people. By tapping into this resource, you reach not just those around you, but the whole world. This may all seem obvious, but you will be surprised how many are still not keen on social media.
- ITS ALL IN THE DETAILS. (Here I showed slides of Gab Busto and Thea Rivera, owners of The Girl & The Bull in BF Homes – a visually arresting place, chockfull of eye candy) Here’s an interesting way to look at things too – take into consideration how visual people are these days, now more than ever. I’m sure you’ve heard or even use that app called Instagram – one of my favorite apps to use these days, because it’s so effective. I’ve read about restaurateurs that have planned and built their physical space to be instantly “Instagrammable” – a 21st century term, no doubt, but one that makes total sense. People will be taking snapshots anyway – apart from the food, give them interesting things to shoot. (Here I put a slide from Noriter – one of the coolest looking cafes I’ve seen ANYWHERE – and it’s one near DLSU, and mainly for students.) Clever details, amusing objects, transporting spaces (Here I showed a slide of The Black Pig in Alabang, because while their interiors are decidedly more adult, they still managed to put in a lot of details that will catch anyone that’s interested in design) --- let them share these with the world, and get added buzz immediately. Remember that you want to give an EXPERIENCE. (Here I flashed a slide of Sonja Ocampo and her Sonja’s Cupcakes – because her new shops embrace this aesthetic and really draw you in visually. ALL her new shops look great. No mean feat.
- PUT MORE EFFORT INTO YOUR SERVICE CULTURE. (Here I showed a pic of Ronnie, a Pinoy restaurant manager from Singapore, and who is really efficient and clearly some who loves his job) As you shoot ideas together, please also put some time into thinking about your service philosophy. It’s more than just serving food quickly and efficiently. It’s about how you respond to customers, the culture you cultivate, and what kind of atmosphere you want in your establishment. I for one would love see more restaurants where servers LOVE WHAT THEY DO, LOVE THEIR MANAGEMENT AND LOVE THEIR RESTAURANT. If you figure a way to make them have ownership too, to be truly proud to be a part of your front of house, there will be so much less headaches and so much more room to concentrate on what you’re there for: to give an awesome customer experience. Don’t coddle, but truly care - and watch the staff blossom. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting one of the management of the Les Amis group from Singapore – and he told me they take staff abroad to beautiful restaurants and let them see, taste and experience for themselves what a humming, successful restaurant is like as a diner. Now that may seem extreme for a lot of us, but I do get what he’s trying to do. He’s transforming them to be better-equipped front of house. (There is a book I highly recommend called “Setting The Table” by one of New York’s most successful restaurateurs, Danny Meyer. It’s a chockfull of inspiration as far as the service aspect of things go.
- MAKING A CONCEPT IS LIKE THE SEARCHING FOR A LOVER: FIND THE PERFECT MATCH. (Here I put a slide of Iza Calzado.. mainly because I crush badly on her. Hehe!) Lastly, choose wisely the people you work with. Make sure you find a chef that is a fit with what you plan to do. There are a lot of progressive chefs out there who need like minded (AND business minded) people to team up with – these are the ones you want to seek out and partner with.
Consider all these as you’re cooking up your business, and you may have enough ammunition to do something proper and something that works.
Now to end things, here are a few homegrown restaurants and restaurateurs who I think are doing something special, and why.
- Sensei Sushi – This is an anomaly in the restaurant world. For one thing, it’s in the tiniest sliver of a space in BF Homes – a bit hard to find for the uninitiated to the area. Plus it’s not really a “Japanese” restaurant so to speak, (although they do serve great ala carte sashimi, and tempura and stuff). What most people come here for are the tasting menus of whatever comes out of the crazy mind of Chef/Owner Bruce Ricketts. His thinking is so out of the box that one cannot fathom where his ideas come out of – especially when you consider he’s all of 25. Even he doesn’t know where his ideas come from anymore. But one thing is for sure – he creates some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had, period. This is a niche product, but one that works because he connects with his clients, and the food, while out of the box, still tastes of the delicious and the familiar. World class stuff.
- The Moment Group – This power trio is arguably one of the most aggressive restaurant groups in Manila these days, but no one can deny that they have a nose for what works. One of their newest concepts – 8Cuts Burgers, a spinoff of their Burger Bar – is quite the success story. They also have a barbecue restaurant, a great Pinoy concept (Namnam) that also packs it in, an upcoming concept with a Hong Kong restaurant group and… they’re now working with Bruce Ricketts. Expect much from these guys – observe and be inspired.
- Him Uy de Baron (Nomama) - Now here is one of the most hardworking people I know in the industry, with 2 Nomamas, a whole slew of establishments consulting with him, and 2 more restaurants in the pipeline. He’s a thinker, is on top of what’s happening in the food world, and creative to boot. His latest is this placed called Kbap – a make your own bibimbap (stone rice bowl) concept, which I find clever, focused and progressive, and which has great chances of achieving because of the double whammy of serving the Korean flavor lovers and the rice eaters (basically almost everyone). Not to mention this hits on healthful eating, a growing trend seen everywhere.
- El Chupacabra – This is another anomaly that I think there are things to be learned from. Located in a small street off of the unofficial Makati red light area, this is the Mexicali chain reinventing itself and getting down and dirty. There’s no a/c, and a lot of tables on the street – but it’s always packed with people wanting a cold beer and street tacos. If anything, it is indeed an experience. Clearly researched Mexican street food, done to the best of their abilities, and served as rough and tumble as they come. Yes, people want this too, and not just to be pampered in a white tablecloth restaurant.
- Spring By Ha Yuan – The unlikely success story of this place begins with Suzy Lee, 3rd generation daughter of the owners of Ha Yuan. From not wanting anything to do with the business, Suzy suddenly takes interest and takes it into an entirely new orbit, taking her amah’s classic Hokkien dishes and giving it a modern spin and serving it to a broader audience.
- Bon Bahn Mi – Here’s an idea that always appeals to me: the specialist. This place, in the middle of a quiet residential area in Makati, is run by a Vietnamese couple, and all they make is this traditional Viet street sandwich called the bahm mi. The blue print: pork belly, jamon, pate, and pickles, all in a softer than usual baguette, tweaked by the Vietnamese for the perfect sandwich bread. They have this, they have a spicy beef version, chicken, and a sweet roast pork one. They make everything, including the bread, in house – and whereas once they were unknown, they are now superstars of their community and beyond.
- Wildflour Café & Bakery – This is place you either love or hate (mostly because it’s always crazy there and sometimes you have to wait a bit to get a table). What I love is that they make simple dishesbut do it very well, from salads, to soups, to pastas, sandwiches.. even their cocktail and coffee program is excellent, as are their pastries and breads (they are a bakery after all). It’s designed well and is very transporting (do check out their new branch is Salcedo Village), and the world class chef’s mandate is if you can’t make it properly in our small kitchen, don’t do it --- hence, they don’t overextend themselves. It invariably brings in a lot of foreigners who can relate very much to the food and the ambience. Smart, if you ask me. Not many restaurants look at this angle.
- Yardstick – So one of the owners spent many years working in some of the best coffee house in Singapore, and decides to bring his expertise here. The result? One of the handsomest places to have coffee in the city, with great coffee to boot, and owners who will happily talk to you about the finer points of coffee, and who can even train your staff and sell you the necessary tools to put up your own place. They even hold classes on how to make a proper cup and how to enjoy it. This is a one stop shop for coffee.
- Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza – Lastly, there’s Gino’s. The owner, a basketball coach, decides he wants to open a very focused pizza joint. So he researches on the internet, and managed to develop one of Manila’s best pizza crusts. He’s also researched on how to make a carabao milk burratta – which is fresh mozzarella with a creamy center. While I hardly ever use the word “best” – his is the best burratta I’ve tried in the country. All because he was curious, because he is a hard worker, and because he kept his concept simple and tight: pizza and pasta – stuff everyone loves but which he managed to elevate and step away from fast food varieties. Suffice to say, it’s quite difficult to get into this place unless you come really early or late.
And there you have it, some tips, some examples and some inspiration. All you need now is some heart and passion, and a great idea to run with. Today’s Filipino diner is savvy, travelled, and searching for that great experience. Challenge yourselves and think out of the box, and you may just be the lucky one who gives them that experience again and again and again.
THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME OVER!”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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 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!
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
- bagels with schmear (Php 140-180); bagel sandwiches (Php 60-420 for one with lox and scallion cream cheese); sandwiches (Php 250-580)
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!).
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).
“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.
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.
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 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..
Wack Wack, Mandaluyong
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
McKinley Hill, Taguig
Shangri La Mall Branch:
5th Level, Shangri-la Plaza Mall Shaw Blvd. cor. EDSA, Mandaluyong
Phone Number (+63 2) 477-8333
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)