Posted in A Girl at Lunch, A Whole Lotta Spice!, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

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

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

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?!

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, A Whole Lotta Spice!, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, Uncategorized

In Which One Lunched on Saigon-inspired Dishes…

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Gỏi cuốn

This is the problem with working in the big city at the height of summer: when noon hits, you find yourself reluctant to brave the intense heat outdoors to grab a bite to eat.  Given how hot it is even in the wee small hours of the morning, you’re too flustered to fix yourself a boxed lunch.  And, even if you do manage to brave the heat, you find yourself heading to places closer to the office.  In my case, this means convenience stores – and you can only go so far before you find yourself dumpling-sick and fried-chicken-sated.

But good things come to those brave enough to go a hop, skip, and jump farther.  Thus, it was a serendipitous thing when I found myself trotting over to the food court on the 12th Floor of the nearby GT Tower because that’s where I found Xành Quán Vietnamese Food.

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Grilled Pork Chop and Fried Egg Rice

Xành Quán’s stock in trade is a dish called Cơm tấm or “broken rice”; so called, because it makes use of the grains that are broken in the milling process.  In most Asian countries, raw broken rice is sold at a lower price and is eaten by poorer folk or used as animal fodder, a base for brewing alcoholic beverages, or as a foundation starch for cosmetics.  In Vietnam, particularly in the southern city of Saigon, it is considered a delicacy because of its fluffier, mealier texture and mildly sweet, nutty flavor.

At Xành Quán, you can order broken rice served in the classic Saigon manner (P 150.00) where it is served with slices of sweet grilled pork, a slab of steamed, egg-wrapped Vietnamese meat loaf (chả trứng), and a selection of fresh and pickled vegetables.  Personally, I went with the grilled pork chop and fried egg rice (P 140.00); it is a tasty and filling combination.  The pork is rather thin, but very tender and has a sweet, savory taste heightened by the addition of sesame oil, annato (hence the golden color), and nuoc mam (fish sauce) in the marinade.  The egg adds richness to the dish and is set off beautifully by the crisp, tangy Vietnamese pickles (carrot and daikon radish), along with slices of fresh tomato and cucumber.  It is deeply satisfying, yet the flavors and textures are light enough to make it a meal you can enjoy even on the hottest of summer days.

However, in case your appetite is seriously flagging in the heat but you still want something substantial, you can opt for Xành Quán’s take on the highly-popular gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese summer rolls) which go for P 25.00 a piece.  Here, fresh herbs (mint and Thai basil), bun (rice noodles), small prawns, and slivers of grilled pork are wrapped in translucent rice paper.  The resulting rolls are served with a chili-flecked peanut sauce that adds a fiery sweetness to the bland bun and heightens the fresh, green flavors of the herbs as well as the savor of the meat and prawns.  It is also a fascinating play on textures with crunch coming from the herbs and the al dente noodles, the chewy rice paper, tender meats, and creamy dip.  Not a bad way to nosh up for the day and a refreshing one, as well.

Xành Quán Vietnamese Food: Art and Food Galerie, 12th Floor – GT Tower, Ayala Avenue cor. H.V. dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati.

 

 

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Midge on the Road, The Pinoy Food Route, Uncategorized

In Which We Ate Quite Well in Cebu…

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Now, here’s brunch!

Here’s the assignment: fly in, fly out on the same day for an Institute event in the Visayas.  You won’t have time to tour ’round as this is all work (and you will be shlepping equipment – laptop, DSLR camera, recorder, tarps in a carrying sling – for much of the day; you will be interviewing senior members of the Cebu business community; and you are the [sort-of] official photographer so you’ll be on your feet much of the time).  You shan’t have that much time to sample local delicacies, but – at the very least – you will be fed well.

Thus was the scenario from last week when the Institute of Corporate Directors for whom I work as a marketing/communications specialist flew over to Cebu for an event honoring two new fellows for the Institute.  Fly out of Manila at the crack of dawn; fly back to Manila in the early evening (air traffic permitting).  And don’t worry about going hungry as the City Sports Club in Cebu caters quite well.

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Club Sub Sandwich with potato wedges

The City Sports Club is a gem of a facility: excellent sporting facilities, a refreshing-looking pool that made us want to jump in, ample conference and banqueting facilities for the locals and for those from outside Cebu.  The downstairs resto-bar, Bistro 88, does good eats with more than substantial portions.

A good brunch option if you’re feeling peckish from the drive from the airport is the amply-portioned Club Sub Sandwich.  Here, a  crisp-crusted mini-baguette is grilled and filled to the gills with ham, bacon, salami, and crisp mesclun leaves.  The sarnie is simply dressed with mayonnaise and ballpark-style mustard and a dish of fat, chunky potato edges is served on the side.

While the flavors are typical of many sandwiches, the heft is what sets this wee beastie apart.  One sarnie easily feeds two ravenous people (seriously) and keeps them stoked for a morning’s worth of setting up, running around with cameras or clipboards, and interviewing local brass.

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Chicken Cacciatore with Parsley Rice

The City Sports Club’s function food is also pretty good.  In this case, the meal began with a mild spin on traditional pork sinigang – not bland, so you could mistake it for nilaga; but just tart enough to let you know that tamarind leaves and not pulp were used as the souring agent.  It’s the sort of thing that helped whet the appetite for a neat spin on chicken cacciatore.

This Italian classic featured chicken breast and thigh fillets rather than bone-in pieces, but these were tender and coated with a savory tomato sauce.  The chicken was a good match for the parsley flecked rice that came with it.  The vegetables, I must say, were standard-issue banquet food.

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Watermelon Shake

While sodas and iced tea were offered to slake intense summer thirsts, one would do well to grab a watermelon shake (or, for that matter, any other smoothie made with fresh in-season fruit) to cool down on a hot day.

City Sports Club: Cardinal Rosales Ave., Cebu City 6000, Cebu

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Midge on the Road, Restaurant Hopping, The Pinoy Food Route

In Which Lunch was a Taste of Western Visayan Comfort…

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Inasal na Liempo at Batchoy

The cuisine of Iloilo in the Visayas Region is known to be robust, full-flavored, and deeply satisfying.  The last time I was there a few years ago, the locals fed us with rich molo and batchoy soups made with stocks rich with schmaltz (chicken fat) and pork bones, deliciously porky little sausages served with fried eggs for a suitably magnificent breakfast, Spanish-inspired stews that stick to one’s ribs in the best manner possible, fine grilled fowl marinated in kalamansi lime and annato (achuete) oil [inasal], and fabulously rich desserts straight out of a Spanish-run convent.

I’ve not had time to return to Iloilo, though I was recently on the neighboring island of Cebu (more about that in another post), but Ilonggo and Bacolonon (from the nearby city of Bacolod) food can be found in various places here in Manila for a reasonable price.  Fortunately for this hungry urban warrior, the nearest place is just a short walk away at Inasal Joe.

Hee

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“Hey, I’m about to eat pork and rice!” (from Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen)

Here, P 99.00 gets you the Liempo Inasal (pork belly marinated and grilled inasal-style) with rice sprinkled over with toasted garlic and a small portion of achara (pickled green papaya).

While it may look like a rather meager portion to most eaters, the amount of meat here is actually sizable.  Plus, it was tender enough to slice through with the edge of a spoon.  It was nicely seasoned: tangy and salty and smoky all at once, playing up the natural sweet savor of the pork.  I also liked the fact that the fatty edges were good, crisp, and charred just right.  Eaten with the garlicky rice and the sweet-sour pickles, it definitely made for a good meal.

But, wait: there’s more!

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Batchoy: I know you want it…

If you add P 25.00 to your meal, you get a small bowl of batchoy: that rich noodle soup cooked in an incredibly soulful pork broth and made sinful with pork cracklings, fatback bits, and diced pork heart and liver.

Inasal Joe’s small bowl of batchoy is actually deceptive: don’t let the size of the bowl fool you as it’s filled to the brim with noodles and good stuff and that rich broth.  Definitely good value for an extra twenty-five bucks and it makes a hearty meal so much more satisfying.

Inasal Joe: 3rd Floor – RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

In Which there are “Crab” Cakes…

Kani Cake
Kani Cake

Crab cakes are something straight out of Ruth Reichl’s autobiography Comfort Me with Apples.  In chapter two (The Success Machine), she takes lump crabmeat, mixes it up with breadcrumbs and a host of other good things, forms the mixture into patties, and fries the lot up in a lot of butter.  Reichl cooks these cakes in a fit of pique; worried sick that she doesn’t know what’s up with her then-husband (artist Douglas Hollis) who’s always away doing projects and who, alas, doesn’t seem to want to properly settle down and have children.  It’s a situation that seriously warrants luxurious, decadent, fattening, but so-comforting dishes such as proper Baltimore-style crab cakes.

While my own emotional state isn’t at all that rosy at the moment, I have not been prompted into cooking crab cakes at home.  Things aren’t that bad (well, not at the moment, knock on wood!), but a case of the blues calls for stodgy, tasty things.  Probably not the healthiest course of action, of course, but a spot of deliciousness on the tastebuds helps to lift one’s mood.

This what I was hoping for when I decided to try some nosh over at Coco Hut.

Crunchy outside, gooey within
Crunchy outside, gooey within

Coco Hut is run by the same team behind popular burger and taco joint Army/Navy.  But while A/N does Tex-Mex grub in the midst of faux military decor, Coco Hut served fried chicken and seafood with a more laid-back, island-hopper vibe.

For this particular lunch, I opted for the kani cakes and a plate of pancit palabok.  Oh, and to wash things down: a large glass of teamarind.  The teamarind is a tamarind-infused spin on iced sweet tea; this sweetly tart concoction is served ice-cold and goes down a treat on a hot summer afternoon.

The kani cakes were, alas, not quite crab cakes as these are made with surimi crabsticks, those faux crab-flavored fish cakes used for California maki.  Nevertheless, these make a (just-acceptable-enough) substitute as they work well with the mozzarella cheese and jalapeno bits.  The exterior of each “crab” cake is well-breaded with crispy panko and shatters when you sink your teeth into it; the crisp exterior gives way to the soft, gooey center.  Dip these babies in sweet chili sauce and you are good to go.

Coco Hut's pancit palabok
Coco Hut’s pancit palabok

I must confess, though, that I was a trifle disappointed with Coco Hut’s spin on pancit palabok.  While I like this sort of noodle dish good and saucy, this was too saucy and the amount of noodles felt rather short.  I think I would have been better off ordering the garlic chicken sotanghon I saw on the menu.  But, nevertheless, it was a fairly good meal.

Coco Hut:  2nd Floor – Bonifacio Stopover, 2nd Avenue cor. 31st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

In Which We Have a Black Garlic Ramen…

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Kuro Chashumen

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a serious ramen craving.  Blame it on the weird weather; blame it on the weirder than weird situations I’ve been in over the past four months.  You could also blame, I think, having to deal with somewhat difficult people over the same time period.  But, regardless of whatever reason, I wanted ramen.

The good news is that there is actually a very good ramen-ya just a short walk from where I work now.  The bad news is that the place is packed to the gills with people at lunchtime.  But, in my case, fortune favors the desperate (or the seriously depressed, for that matter): and a need to have dinner before diving into the increasingly worse homeward traffic led me right up to Ramen Kuroda.

Tonkotsu ramen is the specialty in this particular shop, which is to say that noodles are tossed into a bowl of silky, savory, collagen-rich pork broth upon serving.  You know the sort: pork bones and cartilage are cooked down with seasonings to yield a milky-looking broth that is said to do wonders for your skin.  Here, you can have your broth as is (shiro – white), given a shot of fiery tomato-chili miso paste (aka – red), or with an inky-looking splash of roasted garlic tare (something of a heady, savory black garlic confit) as in the case of the kuro ramen and kuro chashumen.

Here, Php 180.00 gets you a bowl of ramen (regardless of variant) with half an ajitama (soy-cooked mollet-style [firmer than soft-boiled but not quite hard-boiled] egg) and a slice of chashu (roast pork belly).  However, PhP 230.00 gets you a chashumen – a bowl of ramen with ajitama and four slices of pork.  Believe me when I say you’re good to go shelling out extra cash for the extra chashu.

What you get is a bowl of firm, chewy noodles – thinner, perhaps, than what other noodle shops sell, but a generous amount cooked al dente, nevertheless – soaking up that rich, porky-tasting soup.  The addition of the black garlic tare in either the kuro ramen or chashumen adds a smoky richness, a somewhat vegetal tang, and a delicate sweetness that tempers and is tempered by the smoothly rich broth.  You would think that a ladleful of the stuff would make the soup far too pungent for comfort, but it doesn’t.  In fact, it’s deliciously subtle – and you needn’t worry about garlic breath if that’s what worries you.

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Kae-dama, o-negai shimasu!

By the way, the amount of broth also warrants an extra order of noodles (kae-dama); don’t fight it, go with it, and enjoy it.

Ramen Kuroda: 3rd Floor – RCBC Plaza, Salcedo Village, Ayala Avenue cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati