In Which Oysters are Transformed Into Pure, Decadent Indulgence…

Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters are a food with one hell of a reputation.  Since ancient times, they have been considered an aphrodisiac, a means of boosting human ardour and prowess in bedroom gymnastics.  While there has been no true scientific information with which to back this up, it is a belief that remains with us in the 21st Century.  Oysters, nevertheless, are highly nutritious bivalves, seeing how they are rich in such essential nutrients as zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and Vitamins A and B12.  Ideally, to get the most out of the nutritive value, oysters should be eaten raw in a manner that has not changed since the days of the Roman Empire: shucked straight out of their gnarly shells, a squeeze of fresh lemon drizzled over, and eaten with abandon with bread and beer.

Over the centuries, of course, the notion of eating oysters has changed with various culinary trends and local customs.  That said, I personally find that the most appealing way of devouring oysters has to be if and when they’re prepared as oysters Rockefeller.

The name of the dish comes from the delighted exclamation of a diner who tried the dish at Antoine’s in New Orleans where it was first prepared by the proprietor’s son in 1899.  A patron was so taken by how the oysters were smothered with spinach puree, sauce bechamel, and crispy breadcrumbs that he declared, “These oysters are as rich as Rockefeller”, alluding to legendary magnate John D. Rockefeller.  As a result, the name stuck.

The best place, in my opinion, to have oysters Rockefeller in this part of the world is at any of the Via Mare chain of restaurants.  Here, fresh oysters are smothered in a magnificently decadent sauce bechamel.  The classic white sauce is further enriched by the addition of grated Cheddar cheese, crisp bacon bits, and finely-chopped spinach.  It is a divine blend of flavours that does not drown out the minerally taste of the shellfish; indeed, it amps it up and you get a well-balanced mouthful of salty creaminess with the pleasantly ferrous tang of the oysters.  An eight-piece serving of this classic dish will set you back just P 345.00 and they show up on an almost volcanically platter, resting on a bed of sea salt.  It is perfect for sharing and, as above, is a fitting side dish or appetizer to a meal featuring such Filipino classics as beef tripe kare-kare and arroz ala Cubana, but I prefer to have these as an entree following Via Mare’s equally delectable Caesar Salad.

Cafe Via Mare: 2nd Floor – The Landmark Department Store, Ayala Center, Makati City

Via Mare Oyster Bar: Ground Floor – Greenbelt III, Ayala Center, Makati City

In Which One Has Tea with Lemon in a More Enjoyable Frozen Form…

Gelatoooooooo!

Gelatoooooooo!

The combination of tea and lemon is a classic mix of tastes, a refreshing pair of flavours that tastes as good cold (as in iced tea or Southern sweet tea) as it does hot.  I was thinking of this combo when I found myself standing before the gelato counter at Caffe Bene, dithering over whether I was going to get coffee, tea, or something more indulgent for a post-lunch treat.  Among the tubs freezing in the display case were blueberry, yogurt, chocolate, espresso, green tea, and lemon.  One look was all it took and a doppio featuring a scoop of green tea topped with a scoop of lemon was soon in my hands.

The lemon gelato was like a cross between a granita made with sweetened lemon juice and a gelato (that said, I daresay it would be best described as a sorbetto al limone) in the sense that you get a bright lemony flavour with a pleasant tang in a soft ice that is more milky than creamy.  It was like eating a light, frozen scoop of proper lemon curd – so much so, in fact, that I wanted to buy a pint of the stuff to serve in puff pastry shells; it’d be like a summery version of a tarte au citron.  But, I digress…

A deep, rich, green below

A deep, rich, green below

The green tea gelato (gelato di tè verde) was just as dreamy: a deep green ice cream heady with Korean matcha (Caffe Bene is, despite its molto Italiano name, a Korean franchise) with its herby, nutty aroma.  It was perfectly bittersweet: the tannic bitterness of the tea was balanced by sweet cream.  The melty parts were lush and creamy, while the more solid parts had a bit of a chew to them that was most pleasant.

Eaten individually, these ice creams were delicious.  Eaten together, on the other hand, and they were sublime.  The sweet-tart lemon was an excellent counterpoint to the bittersweet green tea.  It was also a play on textures with the lighter, milkier lemon balancing the creamy lushness of the green tea below.  It’s like a classic cup of afternoon tea, only in a more indulgent form.

Caffe Bene: Ground Floor – SM BF, Sucat Road, Paranaque City (with branches in other parts of the NCR)

In Which the Iced Belgian Chocolate was Just Bloody Magnificent…

Something hot...

Something hot…

Interesting sign, eh?  Blenz Coffee recently opened a branch on the ground floor of the BDO North Tower in Makati which is on my daily route from the office to the bus stop – and it was a rather timely opening, seeing how I seriously needed a good cuppa comfort on the way home one evening.

I love Blenz for its matcha lattes, but the sign on one of the walls when I entered the cafe grabbed me in a major way because that Belgian Hot Chocolate looked so utterly tempting!  Plus, I saw someone else order a hot choc while waiting my turn at the counter – oh, and such a hot chocolate!  Almost as thick as molten ganache (hell, I could have sworn it was ganache!), a spoon-coating richness that no powdered mix or artificially-flavoured syrup could ever match.  I wanted one…except it was an incredibly warm evening and I was wilting in the heat!

Fortunately, Blenz has an equally nefarious, so too wicked alternative: the iced Belgian chocolate.

Believe me, it's bigger than it looks and delivers a serious chocolate hit...

Believe me, it’s bigger than it looks and delivers a serious chocolate hit…

If you’ve heard of the frozen hot chocolate over at New York’s Serendipity 3, this is as close as you’ll get to it in the tropics.  It is, essentially, the Belgian hot chocolate poured over ice and topped with a billowy cloud of whipped cream and dusted over with crushed milk chocolate.  (I’m thinking at this point that it’s the sort of description that doesn’t seem to do the drink justice…)

When you order an iced Belgian chocolate (P 180.00 for a whopping large tumbler), the barista will ask you if you would prefer dark, milk, or white chocolate in your drink.  I don’t know about all the rest of you – Laird known that I know a lot of tender-tongued pansies who would prefer the milk chocolate – but I told the barista to make mine “as dark as possible”, as decadently, deliciously dark as they could make it.  Most baristas would probably blink at this, but the one who served me that evening threw me a knowing smirk.

I was asked to wait for a bit while they made my drink – about five to six minutes, tops.  It was well worth the wait; I was not disappointed.

More like: 'This beverage is EXTREMELY delicious'

More like: ‘This beverage is EXTREMELY delicious’

If you love hot chocolate, chocolate milkshakes, or just plain chocolate milk, this is definitely the gold standard for it.  The people at Blenz stir a Belgian dark chocolate ganache into warmed whole milk and pour it over just enough ice to cool it to the wonted side of cold and delightfully frosty.

It is a rich bastard, if you’ll excuse my French, of a milkshake: the milk and the ice do little to take the edge off the dusky, smoky bittersweetness of the chocolate melted into the drink.  You get a proper chocolatey hit with each sip, no questions asked.  You have to keep stirring it from time to time to make sure that the chocolate doesn’t settle and go all stodgy and sludgy at the bottom of the cup, but this extra bit of effort makes it worth it.

With the rains pouring again, I might succumb to the temptation of the hot version.  But, while the hot weather still holds sway, keeping it iced is the only way to go.  :D

In Which a Meal at Zabo Chicken Was More Than What the Blogger Expected…

Eighteen spices?!?  Sign me up!

Eighteen spices?!? Sign me up!

The past week was a regular rollercoaster on both physical and emotional levels.  After our in-house artist bade us adieu – along with Lord knows how many others who have tendered their respective resignations over the past two weeks, I felt more than a little disheartened by what was happening around me and considered my options.  Fortunately, a solid job offer came my way on Tuesday – and I start my new gig in early September.  Thank God for small mercies like that!

And so, after going all cross-eyed and cranky over the past few weeks, I decided that I’d go and treat myself for a bit; I’d try a new restaurant and have a magnificent, lip-smacking, belly-busting meal.  I didn’t know, of course, that I’d get more than what I asked for!

Zabo Chicken is a relative newcomer to the local casual dining scene.  In a country that is totally hooked on chicken – fried or roasted, it’s all good – it has positioned itself as an alternative to all the usual suspects.  The closest competitor it has, at present, would be Kenny Rogers Roasters as they both offer roast chicken either as is or as part of a set meal.  But while Kenny’s fowl is all savoury and peppery, Zabo’s chicken has a hell of a lot more zing, seeing how its main selling point is that it’s been steeped in eighteen spices and herbs.  That alone made my jaw drop: I was officially intrigued and did not hesitate to saunter up to the counter and plunk down an order.

Come to mama, baby!

Come to mama, baby!

The navy blue and white colour scheme of the restaurant ought to be a dead-giveaway that Zabo’s food skews towards Mediterranean  / North African, with quite a bit of a Turkish or Middle Eastern vibe going on with the flavours.  Everything is nice and clean, spacious and airy; it’s a comfortable place in which to enjoy a meal.

But going back to the food: it’s all very reasonably priced.  Rice bowls topped with chicken turna (marinated and grilled fillets), grilled beef, or Zabo’s zesty take on chicken popcorn go for only P 99.00 each and are rather generously portioned.  They also have wraps filled with either chopped up and deboned roast chicken or turna, as well as a tasty array of sides.

But it is the roast chicken that is the star of the show – well, that and the fact that rice-junkies can indulge in not one, not two, but five different rice dishes to go with their chicken.  If you throw in an additional P 29.00 to any rice set meal, you’re entitled to unlimited trips to the rice buffet!

For this visit, I went for the quarter roast chicken meal which features a cup of  rice and an enormous quarter of roast chicken.  When I saw the portion I’d been served, I was crestfallen at first; breast and wing quarters are not my favourite part of the chicken as these tend to be dry, chalky, and ultimately tasteless.  To my great surprise, however, the chicken proved to be absolutely delicious: full-flavoured, it was beautifully marinated in a rich, garlicky spice paste, and it was very moist and succulent – definitely a moreish bit of chicken to have for lunch.  While the garlic is nice, smoky, and almost fruitily pungent (and pleasantly so), your palate can also detect freshly cracked black pepper, cumin, coriander, and the barest hint of cinnamon and rosemary.

A  dollop of garlic dip comes with a tomato quarter and these are good enough accoutrements to your meal.

Carrot rice

Carrot rice

The unlimited rice buffet features plain steamed rice, brown rice, the turmeric-infused Java rice that comes as the default option on the main plate, a truly incendiary spicy rice cooked in chicken broth with plenty of red pepper, and a nice, garlicky carrot rice that has a nice, nutty flavour that goes very well with the chicken.

Should you opt to gun for the unlimited rice buffet, skip the plain and brown and go for the flavoured options.  You would do well, however, to go easy on the spicy rice; it’s a truly fiendish, fiery side!

Not your usual falafels

Not your usual falafels

Speaking of side dishes, these usually go for P 75.00 a helping if you order them ala carte.  But, if you order them with a set meal, the price drops to just P 60.00 and you get a nice, generous helping.  Standard options for sides include fries, roasted corn on the cob, herbed mashed potatoes, hummus with flatbread, and falafels.

My brother had a rather nasty experience eating cold, stodgy falafels when he was in France a few years back and has steadily advised us to steer clear of these chickpea fritters.  I am of the opinion that he will definitely change his mind when he tries Zabo’s falafels.

These are made with a mix of fresh herbs (parsley and rosemary) compounded into a coarse chickpea paste.  The resulting dough fries up into fritters that are more chunky than smooth.  But these are good fritters: served just out of the fryer, they have a fresh, nutty taste that is amped marvelously by the herbs and a faint touch of garlic.

The best dip for them is Zabo’s proprietary sweet sauce - a creamy brown sludge reminiscent by turns of peanutty gado-gado dressing and fruity chutney.  The sauce transforms these already excellent fritters into an amazingly exotic treat.

My total bill came up to P 288.00 (US$ 6.59) all in – and it was definitely worth it.  Zabo has my vote for a restaurant worth coming back to – and frequently, at that. ;)

Zabo Chicken: 3rd Floor – SM BF Paranaque, Sucat Road, Paranaque City  (Also has branches in Makati and Quezon City.)

In Which One Encounters a Green Tea-infused Ginger Ale…

Why is there green tea in my ginger ale?

Why is there green tea in my ginger ale?

I love ginger ale and I like green tea.  So, when I saw Canada Dry‘s Green Tea Ginger Ale one evening as I was making my way home, I didn’t hesitate to grab a can.

Combining ginger with tea is nothing new, really.  In India, ginger is one of the classic spices used to give chai its characteristic heat.  It is also used elsewhere to boost the flavour and the curative properties of green tea, doubling its anti-oxidant content.  So I seriously assumed that Canada Dry’s attempt at combining the two in a soda drink would be excellent.

Alas, I was wrong.

When you crack the can open, the first aroma that tickles your nostrils is the floral fragrance of green tea.  Unfortunately, it’s also the only aroma you pick up even as you get closer to the bottom of the can.  It’s a totally one note thing: the scent of the tea totally overpowers that of the ginger, there are no spicy nuances at all.  All you get is a jasmine-like scent that, while pleasant, sort of makes you take a second look at the label to double-check on what you’re actually drinking.  The fact that “green tea” is written in a bigger font than “ginger ale” really ought to be seen as a warning.

The taste was also disappointing: the green tea totally overpowers the ginger – and the tea itself has a rather soapy, off-putting taste that seems totally uncharacteristic.  This is definitely one thing I will never buy again; I’ll stick to real ginger ale or, better yet, ginger beer.

In Which There is a Slice of Carrot Cake on a Blue Day…

Anyone for cake?

Anyone for cake?

Things have been totally crazy in my neck of the woods of late.  On one hand, we have the deadlines that keep piling up left and right; there is a major shared-services conference in this part of the world next week, so there are presentations to make, press releases to write, case studies to consider and plot out.  But, on the other hand – the more sinister hand, to be brutally honest about it – there have also been resignations left and right.  I wish I could say this was a relatively recent thing, but people have been leaving the company in droves since May – and I am not exaggerating when I say that.  Just yesterday, we learned that twenty people had tendered their resignations within the span of a week.  And that, alas, is on top of the other resignations we’ve had to deal with since May.

I thought that my department would be immune to the onslaught of departures, seeing how all of us were shiny and new to the organisation; sadly, not.  Two weeks ago, our resident artist handed in his resignation.  Yesterday, I got a call from an ad agency I applied to in February; apparently, the position I applied for is still open.  Given the sort of hell I’ve had to go through featuring everything from negative feedback to actual physical illness to outright character assassination (where those lobbing the accusations won’t name their witnesses; kind of dodgy, if you ask me), perhaps it is time to rethink what I want in life.  Perhaps it is time to finally face my fears, move on, throw away whatever it is that has held me back, and fly away.

In the meantime, there is cake to munch while one thinks of where to go next.  Specifically, a fat, fluffy wodge of carrot-pineapple cake (P 35.00) from The Happy Bakery.  To be honest, it is not the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten, seeing how it’s just this side of bland – and you get more of the pineapple than the carrot.  But the texture…the texture is compelling to say the very least: it is toothsome, just firm enough to sink your teeth into and then it melts appealingly in your mouth.  It is also firm enough to dip into a mug of milky coffee, if you’re so inclined.  Plus, seeing how it’s bland, it actually improves the flavour if you soak it in your coffee before gobbling it down.

And so, I nibble my slice of cake as I go through the job postings and schedule my interviews.  I say my goodbyes to those who have filed their resignations; I wish them well and they, knowing full well my situation at the office, return the greetings with as much goodwill and kindness.  May Fate see us all in better circumstances…hopefully soon.

In Which Ramen is the Star of a Celebratory Dinner…

Fish is a great way to start the meal...

Fish is a great way to start the meal…

When my sister turned 24 on Saturday, we were actually in a dither as to where to have her celebratory dinner.  We’d ordered in Chinese food for lunch earlier in the day, but a serious Nihonophile like my sister deserved a proper Japanese meal.  Fortunately, my brother called up just a little after lunch to tell us that we were going to have dinner that evening at Kenji Tei.

Kenji Tei has to be one of the more underrated ramen houses in the Greater Manila Area, seeing how people would more likely go to Japanese franchises like Hokkaido Ramen Santouka or Ramen Yushoken or to more popular dives such as Ukkokei or Mitsuyado Sei-Men.  But the food is good: amazingly simple yet delicious and quite decently priced.

We started the meal with the sashimi platter and a plate of spicy salmon maki.  The platter features a nice mix of fresh and cooked treats: maguro tuna and slices of raw salmon, silvery-rosy bits of fresh mackerel, crab sticks cut on the bias and sweet tamago-yaki (rolled omelet), and sweet raw sea urchins that crunch when you bite but melt into briny-sweet richness in your mouth.  The salmon maki will appeal to fans of another Japanese restaurant’s tempura tuna sashimi tartare as it features a crunchy-tender mound of raw salmon chunks and tempura crumbs bound in a mayo-dressing made heady with fiery wasabi on top of chunky, well-filled uramaki. Seriously, if I had my way, all I’d eat would be the salmon maki – but the ramen…  Oh, yes, the ramen…

Chashu miso ramen

Chashu miso ramen

We each opted for a regular sized bowl of our ramen of choice – and the regular size is actually big enough to be shared by two particularly hungry diners!

My bowl of choice was the chashu miso ramen (P 268.00 for the regular size).  This was a fairly large, deep bowl filled with semi-hard wheat noodles in a rich, nutty miso broth with a bit of a smoky nuance added by toasted sesame seeds.  Along with generous bits of pork mince, scallions, and spinach, this dish actually takes its name from the three thick slabs of beautifully-cooked chashu pork that are floated on top of the dish along with half a medium-boiled egg.

You would do well to order an extra couple slices of the chashu pork as it really melts in the mouth and has a rich, almost ham-like smokiness to it.  You would also have to order an extra bowl of noodles (P 40.00 per bowl) to help sop up the generous broth.

It was definitely a meal that really made my sister’s birthday – and one I would definitely enjoy again one of these days.

Kenji Tei Ramen House: Ground Floor (Cinemas Area) – Alabang Town Center, Alabang-Zapote Road, Muntinlupa City