The 83 : Best Stuff Of The Last Year

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 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!

  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.  
  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 ( 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.
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  10. 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. 

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.  

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!)  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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!   

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.   

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.  

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.   


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!  


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.   

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.  

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.   

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.  best