In Which Kebab Factory Gives Mediterranean Classics a Quirky Twist…

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Why is my flatbread on a spike?

I am of the opinion that authenticity is something to consider with regard to dining at establishments specializing in the cuisine of specific countries or regions.  For this reason, Japanese restaurants always seem to have a traditional aesthetic and Mexican taquerias always look like a mercado de la puebla in Oaxaca or Acapulco.

Following this unspoken, unwritten rule, many restaurants specializing in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian food look like the inside of a Persian harem with elaborately decorated lanterns, reproductions of Moghul Period art, and the requisite decorative hookah in the corner.  So it comes as a surprise that The Kebab Factory looks absolutely modern – and pretty much looks like a standard-issue present-day cafeteria because the food is prepared at a steam table at one end of the restaurant and is served on dinky melamine plates.

But don’t let that keep you from enjoying the wealth of flavors this joint offers.  In fact, a hint of quirkiness makes your meal more interesting.  Case in point is the starter shown above: baba ganoush with flatbread is presented in a somewhat unusual manner.  Instead of dishing up this tasty eggplant dip in a bowl or a small soup plate, this creamy melange of roasted eggplant, yogurt, and garlic is served in a highball glass with a drizzle of olive oil, a dusting of tart sumac with a hint of chili, and a whole green olive plunged into the center of the dip.  Additional chopped olives are also mixed into the dip, the zingy tart taste balancing the smooth, creamy, smoky bitterness.  Even the flatbread is presented differently: layered onto a paper spike – the kind you usually see in professional kitchens (for finished orders) or editorial offices (for finished assignments).  Crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle, these wedges are the perfect size for scooping up the baba ganoush.

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Kebab Trio Ultimate Plate (L-R: lamb, chicken, beef)

TKF also has platters to share under the heading Ultimate Plates.  One nifty choice is the Kebab Trio which has a three-kebab assortment on top of a bright yellow biryani with crisp coriander-seed pappadums and grilled tomatoes on the side.

I daresay that no extenders seem to have been used in the kebabs as these were meaty all the way through with the cumin-spiced lamb becoming a personal favorite.  The well-seasoned beef comes a close second, but the chicken – while perfectly spiced and flavorful – was on the dry side.  The mildly spiced rice works a treat with the meats, complementing rather than overpowering the flavors.

That said, what The Kebab Factory lacks in aesthetics, it certainly more than makes up for in flavor and savor.

The Kebab Factory: Ground Floor – SM Jazz Mall, Nicanor Garcia cor. Jupiter Sts., Bel-Air, Makati

In Which There are Two Takes on Fast-Food Chicken…

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The chicken from Family Mart

Fried chicken is considered the go-to meal for many urban Filipinos.  For one thing, its one of the easiest things to find: there are variations on the theme of batter-coated/deep-fried fowl everywhere from the humblest carinderia to the convenience store on the corner, from the mall food court to the swank-and-swish restaurants along the high streets.  For another, most people love chicken.  One more reason: most fried chicken plates are within the range of even some of the tightest budgets.

But while it is easy to get a meal of fried chicken and rice in the Greater Manila Area, it’s also fairly easy to get a bad fried chicken meal.  You either get undercooked or overcooked chicken; the skin is limp rather than crisp; the chicken can also be under-seasoned or overly salty; and portions can also be quite scanty.  Fortunately, there are places where you can get hefty bang for your buck while also pleasing your tastebuds and belly.

The Japanese kombini [convenience store] chain Family Mart has substantially portioned chicken meals where you can opt for one or two pieces as shown above (PhP 135.00 for two pieces with rice and gravy).  The chicken is quite succulent in parts; drumsticks and thighs are all properly juicy.  Breasts and wings, however, have this tendency to be somewhat dry and stringy; dark meat is definitely the option here but these parts are quite popular and sell out quickly.  Nevertheless, it makes for a satisfying meal and the gravy tastes of butter and mushrooms – and that’s never a bad thing.

Also Recommended: the two-piece fried chicken meal at MiniStop.  At P 108.00 for a two-piece serve with enormous pieces of chicken, this is one of the more satisfying options.  The skin is a trifle salty, but this makes it perfect with rice.  The meat – almost always dark because drumsticks and thighs are always on display in the countertop warmers) – is juicy and properly seasoned; the skin is as crunchy as potato crisps and, despite the salinity, is definitely moreish.

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Crunchy Garlic Chicken with Seoul Fried Rice

Korean-American import Bon Chon, on the other hand, gives diners three options with regard to the flavors of their chicken and another three options as to which parts they want.

Personally, the choice boils down to the crunchy garlic drumstick-and-thigh rice box combo (PhP 155.00).  Unlike the other available variants where much of the flavor is concentrated in the crunchy glazed skin, the crunchy garlic tastes garlicky and savory from the first bite to the last.  I guess it helps that there are flecks of toasted garlic scattered all over each pieces.  Portions are ample and an extra PhP 20.00 lets you upgrade your plain white rice to the beefier Seoul Fried Rice which has bits of bulgogi, spring onions, omelet strips, and sesame seeds.  An extra order of kimchi coleslaw is recommended.

Also RecommendedKFC in the Colonel’s original recipe; because, face it, who says no to KFC?!

 

In Which There are Churros at La Maripili…

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Churros con choco?  Si!

I go on record as saying something to the effect about churros being my nibble of choice during times of stress and sheer and utter frustration.  I also remember saying something about how hard it was, at the time, to grab churros in the BGC where I was working at the time.

Things have changed since that post: I now work in Makati (again) and, while there are no churrerias within my immediate vicinity, I am grateful that I can get a cruller-fix on weekends at La Maripili Churreria at the Alabang Town Center.

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Saunter up to the counter and place your order…

La Maripili is located at the Corporate Center, the newest building in the ATC grounds, and is a little difficult to find at first.  But, trust me: it’s worth looking for.

First impressions: a clean space reminiscent of Spanish interiors just after the turn of the last century or of Southern/Caribbean plantation interiors; plenty of wood and wicker, some bits and bobs of wrought iron; and mirrors on the walls.  A refreshing place where one can relax, really.  You can opt to hop onto a bar stool or sit at more conventional tables.

But I am, of course, not here for the decor: I’m here for the churros!

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Yes, this is a SMALL serve

A small serve of churros sets you back P 60.00 and you throw in an additional P 110.00 for a cup of smoky-dark hot chocolate.

Mind you, though: these aren’t the skinny sticks you’d get at most lower-market establishments.  For scale, look below:

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Yep. they’re pretty damn big

These crullers are as long as an average-sized glossy magazine is wide.  Again: you get six of these beasties to a serve and they’re the perfect size for sharing.  However, for hardened churro-holics like myself, these are just the right size to enjoy for a solo breakfast on a lazy Saturday morning.

These come in a paper cone and are lightly sprinkled with granulated white sugar; every order is freshly-fried so these come to you all crispy-hot and golden.

Sans chocolate, these are nifty on their own: there is an eggy, buttery savor to each bite that you crunch through.  But if you dip these into the chocolate, every bite becomes divinely decadent and you are torn between scarfing down the lot before they get soggy or leisurely crunching through the lot one by one.

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It’s like an exquisitely posh take on a hotdog

Flavored churros (P 60.00 per piece) are also on the menu at this particular churreria and diners are spoilt for choice between sweet and savory options.

Here, oversized churro tubes are either pierced at the ends and piped through with creamy custards for sweet options (rumor has it that the classic crema Catalana and chocolate and chili mousse are quite popular) or split on one side and filled with either smoky-salty jamon Serrano or slices of paprika-spiced chorizo; the latter is finished off with a drizzle of honey.

The latter is a rather posh spin on a hotdog: a nifty little sandwich (or, to put it in context, bocadito) that is portable and easily noshable.  The sausage is said to be in-house and is excellent: just the right amount of paprika, deliciously porky, and has an even ratio of fat to lean.  The honey adds a light sweetness that offsets the spice and works beautifully against the eggy taste of the churro.  While putting a sausage into a cruller sounds ridiculous, I suggest you try it at least once – and you’ll find yourself craving for one.  Oh, and if you’re hankering for more substantial savory fare, La Maripili also has savory toast and sandwich options to choose from.

And, if you’re still craving for something sweet, this shop also has a selection of chocolate-covered churros (P 40 for classic dark or white chocolate; P 60 for fruit-infused white chocolate) you will be glad to sink your teeth into.

All things considered, La Maripili is definitely a place I’d be happy to return to…and I’ll be more than happy to head on back.

La Maripili Churreria: Ground Floor – Corporate Center, Alabang Town Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa

In Which There is Breakfast for Dessert

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Matcha Souffle Pancake

Under ordinary circumstances, pancakes and waffles are dishes usually considered breakfast or brunch.  However, a little creativity and a touch of divine decadence can take these mundane munchies to another level as seriously scrumptious desserts.

Take, for instance, the matcha souffle pancake (PhP 180.00) from a new discovery: Le Petit Souffle over at Makati’s Century City Mall.  At first glance, compared to the other green tea confections available on LPS’s menu, it looks rather plain: a thick, stodgy cake under a light snowdrift of confectioner’s sugar.  But when you take a bite…!

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Splodge on some creme Anglaise et laissez les bon temps rouler!

You sink your teeth into a delightfully fluffy bit of cake: somewhere between a very thick breakfast buttermilk flapjack and a light and airy chiffon.  Here, the matcha has a very pronounced flavor: somewhat floral though without the grassiness that seems to characterize the taste of more common matcha-infused sweets.  There is no bitterness, though the herbaceous character of the matcha used (I’m half-tempted to describe it as la fleur de matcha because it is so headily fragrant) adds a very mild astringent hit.

This will arrive at your table with pots of vanilla bean creme Anglaise and maple syrup.  Tip: skip the maple syrup as it adds nothing to this pancake’s charms.  Instead, generously splodge on the rich, luxurious-textured vanilla cream on every bite: the lushness works gorgeously with the pillowy texture of the cake.

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After these, you probably won’t want to eat waffles any other way

Now, as for the waffles, southerners should make a beeline for Milkbox at the Alabang Town Center and grab the dark chocolate waffle sundae (PhP 290.00 for a two-scoop serve).

Here, two dark chocolate waffles fresh off the iron are drizzled over with chocolate and strawberry syrups, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, scattered over with bits of brown sugar brittle and edible flowers, then topped with two scoops of the ice cream of your choice and a pair of toasted marshmallows.

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No regrets if this is the only thing you’ll eat all day!

The waffles are properly crisp on the edges and fluffy within, their crevices a perfect catch-basin for dollops of syrup.  These cakes are more bitter than  sweet, by the way: the smoky richness of cocoa evident in each bite as well as the aroma.  (I swear: you can smell the waffles cooking several feet away.)

Milkbox denizens recommend dark chocolate, red velvet, and green tea ice creams for topping this bittersweet behemoth.  I recommend the latter two: the cream cheese in the red velvet adds a welcome tang that goes nicely with the strawberry syrup while the green tea helps balance the bitterness with a somewhat nutty – almost almond-esque – nuance.

Le Petit Souffle: 3rd Floor – Century City Mall, Kalayaan Avenue, Poblacion, Makati

Milkbox: Lower Ground Level – New Wing, Alabang Town Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa