A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS:
Well, here we are at the end of 2014.
It’s been quite a year, especially for the food scene – a gazillion openings made it hard for ANYONE to keep up, even for us who write about food. And you can bet that 2015 will bring even more grub to you. Will it ever end? Hell no. At least not yet.
The music scene was fun and provided a lot of ear candy. Foreign acts gave us our money’s worth. Local acts kicked ass as well, playing in all the nooks and crannies that would take them, and releasing great music online.
Performing arts held court, as I got to catch a whole load of stage plays that caught me off guard in their excellence. It’s a great time for Filipino Theater, in my opinion, with a wave of the new guard leading the way and showing their stuff, as well as supporting the more seasoned thespians.
Art fairs, concerts, exhibits, good food – the creative field was on a roll. Let’s hope that 2015 brings us more of that and then some! In the meantime, I’d like to end this year with a bang --- I’m gonna channel my inner Oprah and show you a mixed bag of my favorite things. I banged away at this (there aren't even any pictures yet!), and I surely missed a few, but hopefully you get the idea. Hehe! ENJOY!
These are the new places I went to this year that made me a believer:
Sarsa – I’m a fan boy. They got the goods. What can I say? More in store from these guys, so Ive been told.
Hole In The Wall – The bottom line with this behemoth of a space: it’s fun, and I think that’s something we sometimes forget eating should be. It’s not always about Michelin stars, or recognition --- it’s about good grub and a pleasant experience.
Lucky Rainbow – This just popped out of nowhere along Pasong Tamo. Upon investigation, it’s proved to be a bastion of Cantonese style grub. Nothing too crazy nor fusion-y (thankfully!) but great takes on classics.
Phat Pho – The little Cebuano Viet joint that could. Anything from a clean tasting bowl of pho, to a pretty good (if not a bit pricey..) bahn mi, and satay sticks. One of our better casual dining options.
Bahn Mi – If you find yourself in the Angeles area, try to seek out this gem in the middle of a quiet street. Sit yourself down and munch on outstanding bahn mi sandwiches, (and other Vietnamese treats) cooked by the chef/owner as taught to him by his Vietnamese MIL.
Patricio’s Cevicheria – A triathlete pilot becomes obsessed with kilawin and ceviches and decides to open a small place serving just that. Pat (the said pilot) is a veritable encyclopedia of this technique, and he’s a hoot to chat with, as is his wife, PIa. I’ve always believed in the importance of this place: they’re the ONLY ones doing food like this.
Nav Modern Thai – It’s taken me awhile to get here, and now I feel bad I took so long to try it. I’m not gonna be all “this ain’t authentic!” over the food here, but it is what matters most when it comes to food: it tastes good.
Farmacy – The quiet geniuses of Wildflour Café And Bakery recently rolled out this funky ice cream parlor and bar café hybrid. They saw an opportunity.. and they took it. Is it gonna fly? Well, judging from how many people I see there all the time, it sure it.
Mecha Uma – Probably the most hyped restaurant of the year, Mecha Uma will forever be known as the restaurant that brought Bruce Ricketts to Makati/BGC. The deal for me is to still sit at the bar and spend some money doing the tasting menu. You will be rewarded by some of the most creative yet still edible food you’ll have here.
Here’s a gargantuan list of the things I ate this year that really turned me on:
Gratinated mushrooms and foie gras (Breakfast At Antonio’s) – I would never order this, but my friend did, and I sure am glad he had the gumption to do so. Man… mushrooms and foie are MFEO. (That’s “made for each other”. No need to Google. Hehe!)
Poke (Patricio’s) – A Hawaiian treat --- Tuna, nori, and a soy based dressing make for this easy to eat bestseller from the kilawin artisans of Patricio’s.
SMEGG (Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza) – This pizza is so good it’s almost unfair. Then again, you can’t go wrong with these ingredients on top of one of our country’s best crusts – sausage, mushroom, egg, gouda, cream. It rules.
Com Chien (Phat Pho) – Oh man Vietnamese fried rice: a big ass meal in one. Trust me on this – it hits the spot.
Sabich (Beni’s Felafel) – Mr Beni, an Israeli, sure knows how to make this sandwich special: fried eggplant, egg, veg and a killer sauce make a haymaker of a post drinking delight. Add some felafels and bring it over-the-top.
Torched Salmon Donburi (Your Local) – This is surely on top of many people’s favorites for the year – it so satisfying, flavorful, and full of Omega 3 (my way of saying it’s kinda good for you.)
Bahn Mi (Bahn Mi) – This unassuming shop in Angeles, Pampanga is run by an ex-Nobu NYC alum and serves one mean bahn mi. How good is it? I’d drive to Angeles to eat some of this. (See “new places I went to this year that made me a believer”)
Green Mango, Thai Chili Sugar (Sebastian’s) – There is no doubt about it – Ian Carandang makes great ice cream flavors. This Green Mango is killer in itself – tart and refreshing - but when topped with Nam Prik, it makes your taste buds go all over the place, in a good way. Ingenious.
Fish Head (Mao Chia Hunan Cuisine) – Don’t get feaked out by the amout of chili you see on this – it’s not THAT spicy – but is sure has a whole lot of deliciousness in it, and begs for steamed rice!
Chicken Inasal Sisig (Sarsa) – This simple twist and mash-up on two of my favorite Pinoy dishes – inasal and sisig – was a revelation. Not as greasy and guilt inducing, this is a must any time you visit Sarsa.
Twix (Girl & The Bull) – Because shiz. TWIX! A dessert even a non-dessert lover like me can tuck into.
Burger (Magnum Café) – Another thing that took me by surprise – but Him Uy de Baron clearly put effort into their house burger in a café that was built to serve make-your-own Magnum bars! Proper. (And the Magnum bars ain’t bad either!)
Char Kway Teo (Authentic Masters Singapore Food) – Not the most definitive version, but I wasn’t looking for that. Let’s just way it hits the spot hard, and the wallet softly.
Queso de Bola Macaroons (Fairmont) – This was made for an event by then pastry chef Miko Aspiras. Queso de bola lends itself well to desserts – stuffed in a macaroon it becomes something truly special. After this event, I never saw it again!
Miso Salmon (Todd English) – This is just good salmon (which I requested to be cooked medium rare) with a sweetish miso glaze brushed on. The flavors just go really well together – I turned on several people to this dish, just like how my dad turned me on to it.
Chilaquiles (Orale) – The new and improved Orale is a great little restaurant that tries hard to please its customers, which is why it has a loyal following. These chilaquiles --- crisped up tortillas with chicken and tomatillo sauce – is great.
Burrata with Laudemio (My hauz) – So I bought some of Jutes Templo’s burrata from Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza, seared some cherry tomatoes, and drizzled some Laudemio olive oil and coarse salt on top. This is the good stuff: simple ingredients but they all work so well together.
Foie gras, bacon jam and a tiny croissant (Special Dinner, Toby’s – Miko Calo) – Ok I ate this in a one off dinner cooked by chef Miko Calo, but what a hit it was: a nugget of foie gras, with bacon jam, on a little croissant. Evil.
Oysters with garlic (Dampa, Hong Kong Master Cook) – Steamed with a soy based sauce and garlic, it’s so good that I could eat a shitload of this stuff. I wish I could eat this on a beach during sundown. It’s good vibes grub.
Pork Leg Canton (JP Anglo) – Because he’s my bud, I asked Sarsa’s JP Anglo if he could cook some stuff on my birthday. Ill never forget this saucy, sensual canton like dish full of tender pork leg and chili garlic. Freakin’ namit, and belying his other hat as owner of a Chinese restaurant in Bacolod.
Espresso and Caramel Pancakes (Sunny Side Café, Boracay) – One of my new musts when in Boracay is the fun and vibey little café by one of my favorite food couples Nowie and Odette Potenciano. Anyone who bothers to have their staff trained to properly make some coffee is great in my book, and oh yeah – their pancakes absolutely rock!
Lamb Curry (Nav Modern Thai) – This is now one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Manila. Chef/partner Francis Lim is quite the talented cook, making great tasting Thai grub like this tender lamb curry.
Octopus Tartine (Wildflour Café) – My instinct tells me hardly anyone orders this dish --- seared octopus, anchovies and God-knows-what else atop their fantastic bread. I could eat two orders of these (ok fine, I DID eat two orders of these.)
Chicken Nuggets (Tipple & Slaw) – One of the other babies of Nav Modern Thai’s Francis Lim is Tipple & Slaw, a place to eat sandwiches and drink. Yes, you read right. An early fave are these monster chicken nuggets, the size of baby’s feet,served with several sauces.
Lobster Mac n Cheese (Bowery) – Chef Cuit Kaufman makes this decadent mac n cheese, topped with a bit of swag: lobster chunks. It’s a delicious (and kinda pricey) proposition, but it will reward your tummy and make it smile.
Longganisang Hubad (Marmalade Kitchen) – Yes, this is run by pastry chef extraordinaire Aileen Anastacio, but that doesn't mean one has to forego the savory dishes. A great place to meet and chat with friends, you might stop chatting whilst chomping on this extra yummy kinda crunchy addictive longganisa!
Set Menu (Yoree) – This is my new favorite Korean joint. It’s a clean tasting, upgraded grill-type place, and everything I’ve had so far has been amazing. For 1200/two people, you can get a big feast of grilled meats, and assorted sides. Quite good value!
Durian Cheesecake (Pink Wasabi) – For all you durian lovers out there, this cheese cake cuts to the chase. Not too sweet (just the way I like it) but with the very distinct flavor of that much maligned fruit that we’ve come to love.
Chewy Buns (Orange Whisk) – Who would’ve thunk that in the middle of Better Living Subdivision lies a fun little restaurant run by a chef/pastry chef couple? Check out their savory grub, but do take home some of these addictive chewy buns to snack on at home.
Yogurt with Honey (Greek Yogurt) – Truly seek this place out in the outer corners of Century Mall – they sell some of the best yogurt in Manila. Top with fruits and/or honey, and you have a natural and healthy dessert/snack.
Taco Salad (Asha Peri) – I do like eating things that are good for you, and try to stick to that as much as I can. It helps when the “good for you” stuff is also delicious, like this taco salad (vegan at that!) by Asha Peri over at Legaspi Market.
Rogel de Dulce de Leche (La Cabrera) – Yes, their steaks Ive tried there are good, and their appetizer Provoleta is a great (and rich) way to get the eating started, but it’s a cup of their Argentinian Colombian coffee blend paired with Rogel de Dulce de Leche --- a cake whose beating heart is dulce de leche – that induces swoons. It’s a tad too sweet for some – so make sure to have it with black coffee.
Sisig (Manam) – This is one of those sisig variants that intrigued me. I don’t eat much sisig to begin with, but when I do I make sure it’s good – this one seems like it has a bit of mayo (gasp!) and it’s secret ingredient --- caramelized onions. Even my non-sisig eating dad liked it!
Tofu Curry (Izumi Curry) – One of the most underrated places I know of is this Japanese curry specialist in the dark corners of The Podium Mall. Their curry is clearly made with care and not out of a box (taste the apples in the mix!) and is really really good atop Japanese rice. Go make a run for them and try it!
Strawberry Wings (Melting Pot) – Think buffalo wings but instead the wings are tossed in a house made, chili inflected strawberry jam. Once again a creation by Nav and Tipple & Slaw’s Francis Lim, this tiny little pocket in San Juan is a great neighborhood go-to.
Cheeseburger (Teddy’s Bigger Burgers) – I love how this place came about: restaurant impresario popped into this place while finding shelter from the weather in Hawaii. The result? The arrival of one of the most legit burgers on our shores, in my book. Every single component, from the patty to the bread to the fries – is proper. Don’t forget to have a milkshake.
Tasting Menu (Mecha Uma) – Despite all the hype given to this man-child chef Bruce Ricketts (someone once whispered that at his age he cooks like Tetsuya Wakuda – wuht??!), he sure can deliver the goods. It’s one of the most creative meals in town, and the freshest and tastiest too (and yeah, one of the priciest!) but it’s so worth it, even once. Am I a fan boy? Hell yeah.
Sweet and Sour Pork (Lucky Rainbow) – If you’re Pinoy, you must love you some sweet and sour pork. Whilst a lot (or even most) places make theirs cloyingly sweet, the very superior version done at Lucky Rainbow, this massive and excellent Chinese joint along Pasong Tamo, a Binondo original, delivers one that is crisp and is a balanced sweet and sour.
Souvlaki (Ble) – Once in awhile you will bump into chefs who’s passions and energies are so pure that they make almost anything from their kitchen taste good. Such is the case with Ayse Trifyllis, a Turkish lady who married a Greek gent. Her souvlaki – basically a grilled chicken shawarma – is always excellent.
Torched Salmon (Sensei Sushi) – More torching, bitchezzzzz but who cares if it tastes great?? Bruce may not be as ever-present, but his capable staff still churn out great ala carte dishes that wont break the bank.
Steamed Wagyu (Wagyu Meat Shop) – It’s NOT a restaurant, so you’re not really meant to eat here, but people do anyway. The idea is to sample the meat and buy some, but what happens is people just sample a whole load and eat it on the spot. My favorite? This thinly sliced sirloin steamed on top of veggies and served with ponzu.
Cheeseburger (The Farm) – Another burger that made it to my top 5 burgers list this year was from The Farm (yeah, I’m late to the game!) It also took me by surprise – it’s organic and grilled at that (and it comes without anymore pink left! I like my burgers medium rare to medium!) but it’s soooo good and it really satisfies! I guess I love it because there’s not too much gunk on it – it’s all about the meat.
Mushroom Flan, Polenta Sticks (M Dining) – Admittedly I should visit here more because the food really is good and it’s really transporting. There’s a lot to love, but I really liked this decadent mushroom flan, which you eat alongside crispy polenta sticks.
Chinese Pansit (Munla) – This isn’t really a restaurant, but more of a food order place that delivers, with cheap prices to boot. They have yummy tinapa rice, but my posse and I really liked this pancit amped up with Chinese sausage.
Bhindi Masala (Kabob & Curry) – I have to hand it to my friend who brought me here, as this was so off my radar, which was too bad because the grub is crazy good! One of my faves: this okra dish even okra haters will love, cooked in a spice filled (but not spicy!) tomato based sauce.
Beef and Tendon Curry (Tuan Tuan) – This funky French looking Chinese bistro serves great food and drinks – I’d classify under comfort food even! This one is a clear standout: rich, gooey, tasty, and decadent - using imported curry powder even because they just had to get it right – is another Robin to steamed rice’s Batman.
Spicy fried chicken (Snowman) – I have to thank the Deliciouses (Jeremy & Jen Slagle) for bringing me to this tiny Korean/Japanese izakaya type joint. Great grub for not much money, in huge servings, meant to be downed with cold beer (because some of them are quite spicy). Or with massive amounts of rice. This chicken alone is worth the price of admission.
Tofu with Floss (Lugang) – Ingeniously simple – good quality cold tofu, topped with a bit of pork floss and century egg, with a sweetish sauce on the side. This really spoke to me. I can eat just this, an appetizer, and be totally happy.
Cheese Tart (Purple Yam) – It took a bit to get their groove but there is no doubt that they’ve found it. Leading the charge is a small kitchen brigade of determined and open minded cooks, eagerly exploring our cuisine and churning out things like this: a cheese tart, made of all local cheeses, and best eaten with a guava chili compote. Inventive, really delicious, and proudly local.
Fried Chicken (Bad Bird) – I had this again on Dec 30, and there is no doubt it belongs on my year end list. It’s crispy, full of umami (I’m not even going to tell you why that is!), and a crowd favorite (just check the lines!). Best eaten “spicy” and with dirty rice – with a side of hush puppies (little corn bread balls that apparently can sell out, so go early!)
Maki Mi Plus (Kwong’s Provisions) – People are attracted to Kwong’s because of many things – maybe the bacon dan dan mien (because bacon!) or maybe the soft shell crab cuapao, or even the salted egg wings. Me, I like the Maki Mi+ (a goopy meat and noodle dish of Fukien descent) – and yes there’s a “+” sign because of the add-ons of abundant crispy garlic and shallots, bean sprouts and crispy fried pork maki – because it’s a throwback dish for me and its better than any I’ve ever had!
Curried Chicken Sandwich (Mr Delicious) – You know you can get awesome bacon and pastrami here at Mr Delicious (yes, Reubens grilled to order!) but my revelation was in this simple but really well made curried chicken sandwich. I am most definitely coming back for this soon.
Lemon Cookies (Scout’s Honor) – The pastry field is practically devoid of any true superstars for some reason (which is ironic since Pinoys love their sweets) but there is no doubt that Miko Aspiras is one of. This phenom is behind Scout’s Honor – the cookie/dessert outlet of Hole In The Wall. This is what did it for me – a nuanced lemon cookie – not too sweet – and washed down with one of their flavored milks.
Mushroom Lentil Salad (Shine) – I wish more people would hit up this fantastic salad served at Shine: roasted mushrooms, lentils, a sous vide egg, goat cheese and balsamic and a vinaigrette. It’s filling in itself, healthy and a great change from most other salads you come across.
Seafood Shabu Shabu Thai Style (Coca) – This is the kind of stuff I can eat often – it’s healthful, satisfying and great fun too! Seafood, chicken and a mountain of vegetables are cooked shabu shabu style in Tom Yam broth (you can opt for plain chicken broth too). It ends with a Thai “congee” – rice cooked in the flavorful broth you’ve left in the pot. So much yum!
Strawberry Ice Cream Soda (Farmacy) – You can’t get more throwback than this: a 21st century ice cream parlor that also serves booze and coffee. Pop Tate’s come to life, and everything is house made. My indulgence – a strawberry ice cream soda: strawberry ice cream, a bit of strawberry syrup, and soda water.
Kaya Cappuccino (Red Ginger) – A rather inventive dessert: espresso ice cream with a whiskey foam and topped with a mousse like kaya jam flavored with pandan. Not too sweet and with surprising twists and turns in the flavor department, this is something to seek for sure.
Steak (Prime 101) – I had been here before for a meeting, and for some reason never made it back. But let me say this: it’s not bad value for your hard earned cash, and they make a mean steak. Everything else tasted good to me too, but it was their way with meat that stood out.
Paella (Vask) – Well of course this Chele the Spanish chef and his crew will find a way to whip up a great paella. This exemplary version is moist and has lots of soccarat (that’s tutong to you and me) to munch on. It’s so good that the VASK people are opening a whole new restaurant based on this (which, by the way, uses locally grown wild rice).
If I could put together a gift basket of stuff I found cool this year, it would contain the following:
Don Papa 18 – Damn this, iz so SMOOTH! Bely dangelous. Im not a big drinker, but this one I can drink.
Manille – a calamansi liqueur made by one of the oldest liquor manufacturers in the country, Destileria Limtuaco. This was done right: a classy bottle, great packaging, and a decent liqueur too.
Laudemio/Olivers and Co./Vom Fass – They’ll kill me for lumping them together, but they all offer fantastic olive oils (and in the case of Olivers and Vom Fass – so much more: vinegars, condiments and then some).
Bacon crisps – Pure evil in a bag, but damn straight yummy with just about anything.
Mango & Pineapple Granola (Pili & Pino) – A very Pinoy/tropical kind of granola, but made with very local ingredients. Based out of Cebu, but they rear their head here in Manila every so often.
Kale Mix (Take Root) – Super healthy kale and other greens, dehydrated and crisped, tossed in nutritional yeast (a cheese substitute). Eat a bag of this – better than downing Doritos.
Daing (Bicol) – I’ve never seen that kind of variety of daing they have in Bicol. It’s daunting, but your patience and sense of adventure in choosing will be rewarded. Check out “new style” daing.
Laing (Bicol, Leni Robredo) – I had the honor of meeting Ma’am Leni in Bicol, and the lady gifted me with some of the best laing ever. In fact, it was so good I’m now spoiled by it.
Balbacua (Davao, Carmina del Rosario) – Over in Davao, my friend Carmina makes and sells a version of balbacua --- basically a stew of meat odds and ends that locals eat as hangover cures. Hers is made with oxtail and is cooked for hours. One of the most memorable things I ate this year for sure.
Calamansi Pie (Earnest Bakes) – One day I got to hang with one of my musical heroes, Buddy Zabala of the Eraserheads and The Dawn, and his wife Earnest. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Earnest bakes (rim shot) and makes a kick ass calamansi pie? Very very awesome.
COOLEST THINGS I DID:
Eric Zamuco exhibit – Go to the Ateneo NOW, and check out the art of our very own Eric Zamuco, and his take on his life in America, and being neither here nor there. I chanced upon a day when he explained everything, and went home even more of a fan of his work. Amazing stuff.
Japan – This was the year I got to explore --- and conduct a food tour – of Japan. This is where it’s at! More on this next year!
Casa Artusi cooking lessons – Cooking lessons the Casa Artusi way is a full on education on the Italian way of looking at food. If you dive in, it’s a whole lot of fun!
Malasimbo 2014 – This is easiy one of the classiest music events on Philippine soil, with an eclectic and esoteric lineup. This year had The Robert Glasper Project, Omar, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Osunlade, Jose Gonzalez, and the return of Pinoy artists like June Marieezy. If you love this kind of music like I do, you know this lineup was absolutely earth shattering. The vibe is pure LOVE.
Eraserheads Esquire Party – This event made me really feel the power of music. The Eraserheads, love em or hate em, were really the sound of a generation, and they still have so much influence to this day. Suffice to say, I got goosebumps that night.
Coffee! – Twas the year of lovely coffee! For coffee lovers, we pounced on all the good stuff. The Curator, Yardstick, EDSA Beverage Design Group, Toby’s Estate, and Magnum Opus lead the charge for me. Then came guys like The Refinery, Local Edition, Habitual and more. The point being: you could get good coffee all over the place now, and that is always a good thing.
24 Hour Food Frenzy – Leave it to someone like Singapore’s KF Seetoh to bring a motley crew of people on a 24 hour food frenzy in Singapore. Yes, you read correctly. Blow by blow will soon appear on Just Jonesing.
Concerts! – It was a good year for music for me. I got to go to a whole load of gigs: Phoenix brought the party, The National got me brooding and smiling, Bruno Mars brought some sass, John Legend showed some soul. I also discovered tons of local stuff – the contemporary sounds of Dearest (I LOVE these guys), the drama of The Library Kids, the mellow vibes of Slow Hello, and the funk of Jensen And The Flips among others. Music is alive and kicking!
HERE’S TO 2015! HAPPY NEW YEAR, PEOPLE!!! I promise to be more consistent next year. Hehe!
And so I ask again: WHAT ARE YOU JONESING FOR?