I will have what Phil’s having

I chanced upon this show while I was channel surfing. First impressions were: a) who is this? and b) no, not another food show. As it turned out, he’s Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond; and no, it’s not another food show: five minutes in, I was smiling and completely charmed by his self-deprecating humor and his (sarcastic) lack of affection for his kids. (“I love demons, they remind me of my kids.” “I have three pictures of my children [in my phone] and 50,000 photos of what I ate.”)

The opening montage quickly explains how he went from growing up knowing nothing about food to how Everybody gave him the opportunity to travel and learn about different cuisines from around the world. Hence, the title of the show: I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, indicating how his background and taste are a lot more accessible to you and me. Sure, he’s traveling around the world, but the locations so far have been very mainstream: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Italy, Paris, Barcelona, and Los Angeles.

Ok, perhaps, he can’t get more relatable than this: he’s the only food host I’ve seen take pictures of his plate. So food-porn fanatics should feel no shame.

I got to see the Tokyo episode which, as it turned out, is the first of the six-part series. It was breathtaking to watch, particularly his experience at the Narisawa restaurant that boasts The Most Beautiful Meal in the World™ (at least, that’s what I’ll caption my Instagram post when I get to eat here), which looks like this:

It could have been ludicrous, really—the wood tablet came with wireless speakers that was livestreaming the sounds of a forest in Japan—but the theatricality and grandeur of the plating and the entire experience were simply too majestic for Phil, or me, as an outside viewer, to ridicule. The visuals and sound were that great.

Aside from featuring food, each episode also films him in a Skype conversation with his parents as he updates them on what he’s been up to in the city; and his parents are just as hilarious in the most endearing way possible.

DO WATCH THIS SHOW!

My Ooma favorites—and that fish that tastes like bacon

I’ve been meaning to try Ooma in Rockwell ever since I read about it in Pepper. I liked how it was described as the casual version of Mecha Uma, which I’ve heard so much of (though I haven’t been there either). So when Pam invited me for lunch as a guest of Ooma, I said yes right away.

Umami, the Japanese term for savory taste from which the restaurant got its name, is exactly how I’d describe the dishes we tried: there was no room for subtlety, as if each sushi was meant to deliver a punch—and immediately. This makes sense: as a casual restaurant (and with limited seating capacity), diners do not have as much luxury to slowly build up their meal with say, five courses. One bite and it’s wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

Still, the dishes came out so beautifully, like this Steak Aburi Maki, with threads of fried onion delicately balanced at the top:

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Steak Aburi Maki (torched steak, pickled and fried onions, truffle oil, grilled and marinated leeks)

 

And this Soft Shell Crab Tako-Maki, oozing with aligue mayo like melted cheese:

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Soft Shell Crab Taco-Maki (open-faced temaki wrap, crispy soft shell crab, aligue mayo, ebiko)

 

My favorite was this hamachi that would have fooled me for pork; the fish is torched just right enough to taste like bacon—I’m not kidding.

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Hamachi and Kani Aburi Maki (torched hamachi, sesame seeds, pickled carrots, fried shallots, aioli, teriyaki sauce)

 

I also got to try sake for the first time. I thought it would taste like vodka, but they couldn’t be more different: vodka burns, but sake soothes. It tasted clean and fresh, and I like how it reset my palate after we demolished each set of sushi. Same with the Half-Baked Chocolate Lava Cake—it wasn’t too sweet, perfectly rounding out our meal. This takes 30 minutes to make, so order ahead of time.

 

Ooma
G/F Rockwell Edades & Garden Villas
Amorsolo cor Waterfront Dr, Rockwell, Makati

Monday-Sunday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
+63 2 958 6712

Family Mart’s soft serve ice cream

This is what a cool Saturday night is like for me and my friends:

Family Mart ice cream

 

This is after dropping by two other Family Mart branches. We were on our way to Café Breton when we saw a Family Mart beside Linden Suites. We decided to ditch the crêpes in favor of soft serve instead. Upon entering their doors, we were met with bad news: they ran out of the ice cream. We must have looked so forlorn (we were also denied the ice cream two weeks ago in the Century City mall branch) because the attendant volunteered to call up the nearby Family Mart in Pearl Drive to ask if they have them (the answer: yes, they do). So Jill drove there, except it took us three circuits because we had trouble locating it. By the time we arrived, we saw a dad giving a cone to his daughter, which made us laugh because what if it was the last cone, right? Hahahahaha. Pam even joked she’d grab it from the kid if it did turn out to be the last one, hahahahaha.

It was the last cone. (The kid managed to run for her life leave before we got our hands on her.)

So off we went to the San Miguel Avenue branch, where at last, there was ice cream available. Look at how giddy Tatin is as Giff twirls it like the rent is due tomorrow. And it was worth it—that was some good ice cream for the price of P25 (I got the salted caramel and green tea); excellent value for money.

And that’s how we ended our night. #titas

 

PS
This really was the highlight of my Saturday.

PPS
Don’t watch T’yanak. Just lost my respect for who I thought was the best film critic in the country now.

 

Food review: Wildflour Cafe + Bakery, Salcedo

It took me two years to step inside Wildflour Café + Bakery and only after it opened a branch in Salcedo, a block away from our office. I’ve heard about how hard it is to get a table at their first branch at The Fort and more so at their smaller space in Podium, so I never even tried to wander by or call for reservations.

Wildflour Salcedo

The Salcedo branch gets fully packed as well. On my first visit, I went there at 11 a.m. without reservations, and although I got in, I was told to vacate by 1:30 p.m. to make way for someone who did arrange for a table. Later, the couple beside me asked for the bill and the staff inadvertently brought mine instead—while I was midway my steak. These moments close to ruined my experience for me.

Wildflour steak

Speaking of my entrée, it was my mistake that I asked for medium well: I enjoyed the juicy center but had a tougher time with the dry surface. Overall, the food was good-okay. I liked the ambiance primarily—it was gorgeous—and the staff was nice, except for those gaffes.

Nevertheless, I decided to give it another shot. If there’s any proof that second chances are worth giving, then this was it. It was a completely different experience, as if the restaurant was under new and overeager management.

All dishes we ordered were excellent, most especially this braised beef brisket, which is one of the most memorable dishes of my life:

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The meat melts in your mouth, disintegrating into juices of sweet and syrupy greasy goodness. It tasted like the kind of dish that fairies have been roasting in some magical oven, waiting to be served on the King’s birthday. (Wait, whut? Lol.)

The potato gratin is so creamily delicious, your brain screams expletives as it counts the calories you’ll have to burn and pay for with, if not weight, then future heart disease—but good lord, who can ever stop in the middle of a thrilling orgasm? And wait, what’s that you just scooped with your gratin? Holy moly, it’s the familiar, loving taste of tender juicy bacon.

As if this dish wasn’t sinful enough.

The salad and the rest of our dishes were all good; I liked how chewy and aromatic the breads were. If food reviews I’ve read aren’t mistaken, Wildflour changes its menu regularly—I hope the braised beef brisket makes it permanently.

Wildflour Cafe + Bakery
V Corporate Center
125 L. P. Leviste Street
Salcedo Village, Makati City

+63 2 808 7072

St. Marc Cafe’s chococro (updated)

Everything is in SM Megamall! Ippudo just opened, the lone Tim Ho Wan Philippine branch is there as well, and now, this popular food destination – St. Marc Cafe. It’s amazing how Megamall, which 3-4 years ago seemed to be nearing the end of its days, bounced back and is now offering foodies (and fashionistas alike, especially with the opening of H&M later) some of the best dining options in Manila.

(Abe, which is my favorite among other relatively pricey Filipino restaurants like Sentro, Mesa, and Fely J’s, has recently opened a branch. Still there is the more competitively priced and another personal favorite Mannang’s at basement level.)

Sorry, back to St. Marc. This Japanese cafe franchise was brought here by Ben Chan, the man behind Bench. It is known for its chococro, a portmanteau of chocolate and croissant. Last Saturday afternoon, the small shop was overwhelmed by customers—not quite like queues in government offices—but there’s a long wait nonetheless. A proactive staff approached us and asked if we were ordering takeout, and when we said yes, she processed our order with one caveat: we could only pick up our 1 1/2 dozen of chococro 30 minutes later. We said sure, only because we were going to line up at Tim Ho Wan directly across (to eat pork buns—we are… um, a ravenous bunch).

In case you’re still with me: So yup, that’s two restaurants, both of which are enjoying long queues.

St Marc Cafe Chococro

When we got our chococro later, it was still warm: the bread was chewy and flaky, and I liked the added flavor and the texture of the sesame seeds. (Update: My friends pointed out to me that there were no sesame, but that they were nuts; but I swear I tasted them!!! [But then the photo does not lie :-P].) The chocolate wasn’t too sweet, which is just how I like it, though I wish it was present in my every bite.

Will I trek to Megamall for this? No. Will I line up for more than 10 minutes for this? No. If I was already in Megamall, passed by the cafe, and saw I’d be done in less than 5 minutes, then yep, I’ll get a box of chococros.

St. Marc Cafe
Ground floor, Mega Fashion Hall,
SM Megamall

Food review: Eat First Chinese (hot pot) Restaurant in Makati

Whenever I’m on my way from Century Mall to A.Venue along Salamanca St. in Poblacion Makati, I’d always pass by this restaurant that was always—as in always—filled with young Chinese patrons. It’s off the main thoroughfare that is Makati Avenue, and so as a hole-in-wall, I assume it’s as good as a Chinese restaurant gets, especially given its loyal patronage.

Eat First

Last Wednesday, I was in the mood for Hap Chan, but remembered this place at the last minute. And so Jamie and I decided to have a little adventure.

At about 6:30 p.m., we were lucky to have stumbled on a table as the place filled quickly shortly afterwards. I have to say though the interiors were as depressing as I imagined it to be: plain brown walls, fluorescent lighting, and no windows. And as always, it was filled with Chinese customers.

Upon receiving the menu, it was a surprise for us to learn that this is a hot pot restaurant and not like Hap Chan. (It’s curious though that Eat First advertises itself as a shabu-shabu restaurant, which is Japanese in origin.)

The menu is in English and Chinese, so no problems there. (It is also staffed by Filipinos.) It has a respectable number of entries, and even offers set dishes for up to four persons:

After selecting from the broth options (we went for the combination of Szechuan Spicy and Pork Bone), we got beef, chicken, shrimp balls, and watercress, along with rice. The waiter later informed us that watercress wasn’t available but kangkong was, so we got the Tagalog version :-D.

They serve complimentary toasted peanuts and their ‘special’ sauce, which included spring onions and chili. I thought it was weird that they charged for other condiments and spices, like wansoy, garlic, and chili sauce, as you can see in the menu. In any case, to me, the free one, which is part salty and sweet, is fine enough.

We had to wait for about 15 minutes to receive all our items, but otherwise, the staff was fairly efficient and pleasant.

Except for the frozen item (dumpling), everything was fresh. The chicken slices were pink and thinly cut they looked like salmon. The kangkong was leafy, very green, and crunchy.

Once we got cooking and tried the Szechuan broth, man, we were on fiiiiirreeeeee. That brew is hoooooot. I’ve tried Szechuan cuisine, but this one seemed hell bent on burning our stomach lining. Nevertheless, the intense flavor was so good, we just had to keep going with the culinary S&M, never mind that it burned our tongue and lips. My suggestion is still to order this combo broth, cook everything in the clear broth, then before eating, dip it into the Szechuan.

The restaurant is air conditioned but had to be supported by electric fans. We sweated like we ran a marathon (our hair were practically dripping wet)—I had to pop my shirt open and Jamie had to put her hair up.

Our bill ended up at around P750+, plus tip (including drinks; no service charge). We could’ve had a better deal with their set menu, and we’ll grab just that as we’ll definitely be back.

 

Eat First
4756 Salamanca St.
Makati City

+63 2 553 8605

Pesto fusilli by 26th St. Bistro

Pesto Fusilli with Toasted Pine Nuts (P365), served with sundried tomatoes and parmesan cheese

Pesto Fusilli with Toasted Pine Nuts (P365), served with sundried tomatoes and parmesan cheese

Something about this dish makes me wish I was in a cabin in Baguio right next to a fireplace—or else, having breakfast at a campsite with the sunlight streaming through needles of pine trees. It is comforting, filling, and invites beautiful reverie.

I have a suggestion though: the trio of pesto, sundried tomatoes (the taste of which I almost compare to anchovies), and cheese make this a tad salty. Bread would have been a welcome respite, but alas, Coffee Bean seems to think its price doesn’t merit a complimentary piece.

Service was friendly and helpful; however, the kitchen wasn’t only overwhelmed (orders took 20 minutes and much longer), but also less accommodating with requests: orders were no longer being accepted 30 minutes before closing time.

26th St. Bistro by The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
5/F Shangri-La Plaza, East Wing,
EDSA cor. Shaw Blvd.,
Mandaluyong, Metro Manila

Book review: Ruth Reichl’s Delicious!

Delicious by Ruth Reichl

This is the book I was referring to in this Instagram post: it was a gift from Pam from her recent vacation in New York. When she had my book signed, Pam told Ruth about my carbonara experience, which was essentially, my first foray into cooking. Ruth then wrote a special message for me.

I’m amazed at how writers are able to write specialized messages for each book they are signing.

I’m amazed at how writers are able to write specialized messages for each book they are signing.

 

June had been slightly more hectic and stressful than usual I simply didn’t have enough time to curl up with Delicious! the entire month. And so I had to cram on the last day of June: with about 200 pages left, I proceeded to a coffee shop right after work, ordered chicken and pesto sandwich and iced soy latte, and delved into it. (Highly recommended: Spotify’s Late Night Reading playlist; the sandwich with the stale bread from Starbucks, not so much.)

Taking everything into account, including my love for Ruth’s work (Garlic and Sapphires is one of my all-time favorite books), I already loved Delicious! even before reading it.

The first few pages were enthralling, the prelude ended in dramatic fashion as a young Billie Breslin attempts to recreate her mother’s gingerbread, based solely on memory and to her surprise, her palate’s razor-sharp ability to distinguish and identify flavors. That was promising; I couldn’t wait to go on this ride.

Many years later, as a fresh graduate, Billie lands an interview in the distinguished food magazine, Delicious!—where its staff, friendly, flirtatious, and otherwise—unwittingly dare her to unleash her culinary talents, now kept under wraps due to a traumatic experience. My expectations were then set on a lighthearted romance novel—in the tradition of Confessions of a Shopaholic (which I loved)—with food as the central motif.

Unfortunately, the ride took way too many turns for my taste. The number and nature of the subplots bordered on farcical (I’d list them here but they all involve spoilers), most of them an unnecessary juggling of Wikipedia-like narrative (however written in Ruth’s elegant prose).

It’s hard for me to fault Ruth’s enthusiasm: her brightness and optimism drip on every page, which was, to be fair, refreshing versus nauseating; nerds would have a field day learning about obscure ingredients and dishes, although in my case, it was a challenge to keep myself fascinated by the many details. Overall, I feel this was more the editor’s fault than the writer’s: the former could have striven for a tighter storyline, although I do acknowledge that this wish is rather subjective.

I suppose I could be upbraided for having set such a limited expectation for the novel’s storyline; however, the problem with having a myriad of subplots is that the reader ends up disappointing himself every time the author decides to explore a different direction. Even if Ruth was successful in tightening all loose ends, my interest in them had waned by then.

I liked the book and enjoyed its heartiness; with some fine-tuning, it may have been perfect.

* * * *

First few paragraphs:

“You should have used fresh ginger!”

The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. I glanced at Aunt Melba to see if she was upset, but she was looking at me with undisguised admiration. “Why didn’t I think of that!”

“And orange peel.” I wanted her to look at me that way again.

“Any other ideas?” Aunt Melba was rooting around in the vegetable bin.

She emerged holding a large knob of ginger triumphantly over her head, then went to the counter and began to grate it, sending the mysterious tingly scent into the air. “How come you didn’t say something last year?”

“Would you have believed me?”

She swiped at the thick red curl that had fallen across her right eye and grinned ruefully. “Ask advice from a nine-year old?” She  reached out and tousled my hair. “Now that you’re ten, of course, everything’s changed.”

Lost and found

I lost my office keys today: that for my locker in the restroom and that for my—I just learned what’s it called today (I previously referred to it as the ‘black box’)—pedestal cabinet. I’ve no idea how it disappeared; all I know is that it was no longer in my bag pocket by the time I returned to work on Monday. The replacement will cost me P330, which is pretty pricey for two keys.

I’m sadder for the loss of my keychain—a wooden steering wheel with a black leather strap. It was a gift from my cousin when I hosted her wedding reception from about five years ago. The keychain lasted longer than her marriage.

* * * *

Starbucks PH rewards card

It looks pretty though.

I got a Starbucks card today. I’ve been a regular in the last month so I figured I might as well take advantage of the rewards.

I find the card wanting, to be honest, which is the reason why it took me this long to get one. You can only top up at Starbucks stores in increments of P100; you can’t purchase baked goodies or bottled ice tea/water with it; and you need to purchase a ‘handcrafted’ beverage to claim your birthday reward of one slice of cake. The only advantage is you get a free grande beverage for every 12 coffee (or any 250g of whole bean coffee for every 10 bags; or any 12-pack Starbucks Via Ready Brew for every 10 packs).

It also takes a minimum of 3 minutes for the cashier to top up your card, which makes me fidgety especially when I could sense that the customer after me is getting impatient.

Related reading: Want more bang for your Starbucks? We tested 8 money-saving hacks

 

Craft beer and porchetta Sunday

Bien invited us over to his home in Quezon City for porchetta and craft beer Sunday. I’ve been a secret fan of his place ever since it was featured in an architecture/interior design magazine; unfortunately, I didn’t get to take photos because dyahe :-P.

Nevertheless, Pam was able to capture the beauty that was the pork roast (above), which did not require any sauce or spices as it was able to deliciously stand on its own. It was perfect.

I enjoyed the beer by Katipunan Craft, too. (Incidentally, Pepper has a newly published article on the brewing craft beer industry in the Philippines.)

Katipunan Craft Beer

The Weizenberg is light and bubbly, it’s like the champagne of beers. It’s fresh, crisp, and clean, I think it would even be perfect as an apéritif.

The Indio Pale Ale has an earthy-malty, caramel-like taste (sorry, I’m in a bind here since I’m not exactly a connoisseur). I thought it was pretty sexy, hence, I preferred this over the ‘lighter’ Weizenberg, haha!

For beer-lovers, these indie breweries make for an exciting future.