Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which One Encounters the Halal Guys…

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Don’t judge me; I was hungry

Long time readers know this about me: if there’s a new place to nosh, I’m on it; I’m there.  More so if it’s a franchise of some foreign place I’ve only read about, say, on Serious Eats, Food 52, BuzzFeed, or Lucky Peach.  In this case, I had to head for the Halal Guys to see what all the hubbub was about.

The Halal Guys started out as a dinky wee food cart in Manhattan in 1990 when its founders ran a hot dog cart on the southeast corner of 53rd St. and Sixth Avenue.  Having been raised in the Middle Eastern / Mediterranean tradition of big, substantial meals, they figured that the lunch crowd probably found hot dogs unsatisfying for a midday meal.  They ended up serving grilled chicken over rice with Mid-eastern sauces; the rest, as they say, is history.

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Falafels

I decided to start the meal with a classic: falafels.  Php 99.00 gets you a four-piece serve that, if you’re peckish, can stand in as a light meal.  These are hefty chickpea nuggets that are absolutely moreish: properly seasoned with just the right hint of earthy cumin to go with the nutty lentils that make up the mash.  A splodge of white sauce – their spin on classic tzatziki – adds a tangy, garlicky touch.

Most people who have reviewed HG in this part of the world complained that the falafels they got were cold and stodgy.  I think I was one of the lucky few who got a batch fresh out of the fryer as mine were hot, crisp on the outside, and creamy-chunky within.

I followed this up with a regular gyro platter (Php 299.00) – and found that I’d probably bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak, as the portion was massive.  Here, gyro meat is shaved off the chunk revolving on a kitchen spit and scattered on top of a tasty, orange-hued rice pilaf along with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced pita.

I confess: I was disappointed.  I wasn’t sure what meat had been used in the gyro; I mean, I wasn’t sure if it was lamb, beef, veal, or a combination thereof.  While it was grilled nicely with a proper char that crisped the outside, the texture reminded me of commercial lunch meats or cold cuts.  Also, one could only have one sauce on top; you’d have to pay extra for an additional dollop – not cool in light of the fact that the original HG carts let you have extra sauce for free.  Still, the rice and fresh veg were very good and just needed sauce to make it a meat-free meal.

I am not going to let this misstep stop me from going back, though.  I am seriously intrigued by the chicken on fries and the basbousa (semolina and almond cake) on the dessert menu.  Likewise, maybe I’ll just opt for chicken or falafel on my platter next time.

The Halal Guys @ SM Fashion Hall: 5th Floor – SM Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping

In Which a Bad Bird was Actually Pretty Damn Good…

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Bad Bird’s Dirty Rice Plate

I daresay I’m pretty lucky to be working with people who love food as much as – or possibly even more than – I do.  It usually results in plans to head out of the office on a Friday evening to grab dinner and [occasionally] a few drinks.  In doing so, we find ourselves trying new restaurants or discovering new dishes and treats from old favourites.  There are many ways of enjoying a Friday night out, – some better, some worse – but, really: this is the one I’m sticking to.

One particular Friday night outing found us snaffling up an Uber ride to Century City Mall where the Hole in the Wall food hall features an amazing selection of cuisines to tempt even the pickiest tastebuds.  Once there, we made a beeline towards Bad Bird.

This ain't the Colonel's fried chicken, y'all.
This ain’t the Colonel’s fried chicken, y’all.

Bad Bird’s piece de resistance is its umami fried chicken: chicken that is steeped in a flavourful marinade before being rolled in seasoned flour and panko.  These deep-fried beauties are gorgeously crunchy on the outside (yes, the skin crackles loudly whenever you take a bite), deliciously succulent within, and – sans exaggeration – have a definitely moreish flavour.

The chicken comes in three levels of spiciness: normal which has a rather miso and nori sort of flavour profile, spicy which has the somewhat citrus and capsicum heat of shichimi togarashi, and the totally worrying chemical.  I don’t have the gall to sample the chemical level which I hear really sends zings up and down one’s esophagus, so I just stuck with the spicy and was not disappointed.

Considering that I got a breast portion (you know very well I’m more of a dark meat sort of person), I found it very good: juicy and not at all dry, the meat having soaked up the pleasantly piquant marinade to the smallest fibres.  Hefty and just this side of fiery, it was a delicious way to kick-start the weekend.

Dirty rice and kimchi for the win
Dirty rice and kimchi for the win

And it isn’t just the chicken that wins prizes at Bad Bird as the sides are anything but shabby.  The stall adds an Asian twist to a classic from the American Deep South: their chicken and waffles plate (Php 320.00) plates up the umami fowl with sweet potato waffles slathered with nutty-tasting miso butter and a generous drizzle of real maple syrup.  Definitely a go-to dish for people who crave for something sweet but not so sweet as to be considered dessert.

Savoury-cravers like myself, on the other hand, would do well to grab the dirty rice plate (Php 350.00).  Here, the chicken is accompanied by a generous bowl of fried rice made absolutely flavourful and divine by the addition of bacon, chicken liver (!), and katsuoboshi shavings that give it a distinctive surf-and-turf vibe (well, coop and coast to be more accurate.)  The plate is rounded off with an equally generous portion of house-made kimchi.  The tang and almost fruity taste of the chili-pickled cabbage is just the thing to cut through the rich flavours of the chicken and rice.  Definitely something to return to some other weekend.

Bad Bird: Hole in the Wall Food Hall, 4th Floor – Century City Mall, Poblacion, Makati

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

In Which a Vegetarian Lunch is Filled with Mexican Flavors…

Mexican flavors...without the meat.
Mexican flavors…without the meat.

Under ordinary circumstances, we usually think of Mexican cuisine as a fairly carnivorous one: fajitas con carne come to mind and so do unctuously rich and savory pork carnitas.  We think of tacos loaded with beef mince cooked down with chilies and such spices as cumin and plenty of black pepper or burritos loaded with everything from carne asada to strips of char-grilled chicken to savory chorizos of varying levels of heat and intensity.  Vegetables are probably the last thing people have in mind when they think of Mexican food…and then one encounters the food over at FaBurrito.

The restaurant’s name is a double-edged pun of sorts: a play on favorito – the Spanish rendition of the word “favorite” – and the hopeful premise that you’d have a “fab burrito” over at their shop.  And it should be noted that you’ll probably feel fab by the end of your meal because:

  1. All the food is made to order and nothing is microwaved;
  2. All the ingredients used are fresh and organic [and locally sourced, most probably] and nutty-tasting, chewy brown rice is used in the bowls and burritos rather than polished white;
  3. They actually let diners know in the ordering phase how many calories each dish has;
  4. 10% of all proceeds help fund the FabFoundation which runs a school/shelter for homeless children; and
  5. The food is amazingly flavorful (considering that the average Juan dela Cruz’s notion of healthy eating involves flavorless, nutritionally balanced provender).
Veg chips for the win
Veg chips for the win

When I trotted over to FaBurrito from across the street, I wasn’t sure what I even wanted to eat.  All I know was that I was hungry, but didn’t quite want anything with meat.  Fortunately, I checked out the menu and noticed the fajita mushroom burrito (P 210.00 for a regular sized burrito; same price for the rice bowl and salad options).  It was a happy choice.

While not as massive as my favorite burritos from Cantina Deliciosa (which, come to think of it, I haven’t been to in a long time), you get a substantial flour tortilla-wrapped cylinder loaded with strips of shiitake mushroom soaked in a rather spirited marinade (you’ll see why in a bit) before being pan-grilled, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet onions, chewy kernels of brown rice cooked with cilantro for a herbaceous zing, and nutty black bean frijoles.

The earthy flavor of the mushrooms was amplified by the tang of fresh lime and the peppiness of green chilies in the marinade; a bit of char yielded in the grill pan also gave it a tasty hint of smoke.  I am not a fan of brown rice, but it worked very well here as the nutty sweetness of it was a good complement to the zingy grilled mushrooms.  All in all, quite a delicious and satisfying thing to have for lunch as it fills you up rather than out.

Add P 125.00 and you can opt to have one of their veg-friendly soups or a basket of veg chips (those herb-flecked nachos you see above with a fresh-tasting dish of pico de gallo salsa) and your choice of iced tea.  I say: go for the lemongrass as it is just sweet enough and is most refreshing; the right thing to drink, I daresay, for these horrendously hot summer days.

FaBurrito: Ground Floor – Tower II, The Columns, Ayala Ave. cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Ave., Makati

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping

In Which the Mushroom Sauce Made Lunch Perfect…

Chicken Katsu with Mushroom Sauce
Chicken Katsu with Mushroom Sauce

I had the perfect lunch last week…and “perfect” is not a word I throw around lightly.

With traffic gone absolutely haywire last week, tempers were fraying all over the place.  Patience was rapidly running out at the office.  In my case, the malaise of the past month still hadn’t lifted and there was the loneliness I’ve had to live with these past several months on my shoulders, to boot.  Things were, to be very honest at this point in time, absolutely dismal and I have developed a habit of isolating myself from the rest of my colleagues at lunchtime.

I was dithering over grabbing a burger or just a couple pieces of chicken.  However, high noon on Monday last week was blisteringly hot – so much so, in fact, that I could not bear to walk any farther than the intersection leading into the Burgos Circle.  Trudging just down to the corner to Tokyo Bubble Tea, I was pretty surprised to see that the teashop was virtually empty for a Monday.  (Well, I shouldn’t have been surprised, seeing how so many people fled the capital to maximise the APEC break.)  I plunked onto a chair, cast a glance at the menu, and pointed to the chicken katsu with mushroom sauce.  I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed; far from it, as a matter of fact.

What you get is a parsley-speckled, breadcrumbed, and deep-fried chicken thigh fillet, seasoned in a rather balanced manner – neither too salty nor overly peppery.  The chicken is delicious as is, really, but the mushroom sauce definitely elevated it in a major way.  It is a dark demiglace sauce with a hint of red wine and caramelised onions, simmered down until thick and rich.  The sauce was made earthy and deliciously funky by the addition of three kinds of mushrooms: shiitake, oyster, and brown button.  Swiping a bite of chicken through the sauce made for a most flavourful mouthful: you would think you were eating partridge or quail; properly-cooked game as opposed to standard-issue battery fowl.  The rich, dark thigh meat was cut somewhat by the slight acidity from the wine in the sauce, while the mushrooms brought all the flavours into high relief.  Goodness me; such divine decadence!

You will be given a choice between rice and mashed potatoes to go with the dish.  I recommend the rice as it’s cooked with garlic and keeps the dish from getting too much for comfort.  I daresay I would order this again.  And again.  And, well, yes: again.

Posted in Restaurant Hopping

In Which the Shawarma Bros Take Centre Stage…

What's cookin', good lookin'?
What’s cookin’, good lookin’?

I confess: this blog has been radio silent for what has been a relatively long time.  Work deadlines, one’s book, a bit of personal fretting, a lot of ill health, certainly more ill will from one source or another – these have all taken their toll and then some.  To the extent, alas, that I was housebound for the better part of a week; chronic fatigue syndrome and creative burnout can and will do that to you.  Believe me when I say that the results have not been pretty.

There have been a few pockets of happiness, though.  Solo walks around the BGC with naught but my iPod camera for company, snapping shots of things that tickle my fancy and inspire fresh verses.  Reading updates from the friends who are still on the road, the fun they’re having between gigs; the things they’ve seen, done, and experienced.  Meeting up with friends old and new over cups of very good coffee and plates of nice sandwiches and pastries.  (Those croissants at Toby’s Estate, those flat whites…!)  Cooking or baking for family and friends whenever I have energy to spare.  And, of course, trying new restaurants on my own.

One particular place that stands out is Shawarma Bros.

Get in line!
Get in line!

Shawarma Bros started out as a food truck plying its trade in key points of the Greater Manila Area and doing the rounds of several popular gourmet markets and foodie events.  Now, though, they have a spot at the Boni Stopover in the BGC, a place rapidly gaining popularity due to the number of restaurants located within.

The interiors are rather manly, really; definitely speaks to the bros amongst us.  An urban aesthetic, rather street with simulated pedestrian lanes, bare pipes overhead, rather Spartan interiors: but there is a fun sort of vibe running through the place, giving it a relaxed ambience that encourages diners eating in to chill out and enjoy their food as opposed to just bolting it down and fleeing the premises ASAP.

It’s semi-self-service here with the Bros: you mosey up to the counter and place an order.  The staff will give you a nifty thingamajig like the one at the top of this post; wait for it to light up and buzz; go pick up your order along with napkins and cutlery, and let the good times roll.

Come and get it!
Come and get it!

The thing about Shawarma Bros is that they kind of go beyond the Middle Eastern wrap from which they took their name.  Aside from classic shawarma plates featuring grilled beef, chicken, or lamb, they also pander to local tastes by offering generously-portioned rice plates which feature one’s protein of choice paired with a tangy salad and some zesty and flavourful biryani rice.  In a rather unusual twist, they also offer – get this! – burritos where pita bread is rolled around biryani, your protein of choice, and some veg.

For those with very hearty appetites, however, the Bros also offer their Big Bro rice plates.  Aside from the aforementioned rice plate, you also get a saucerful of beef keema – and if that isn’t hefty enough for you, I don’t know what is.

Lamb Steak Rice Plate
Lamb Steak Rice Plate

For this particular lunch, I decided to go full-on MidEastern and opted for the lamb steak Big Bro rice plate (P 279.00; with a single-serve iced tea).  Here, the lamb is plated up in bite-sized chunks alongside the rice and salad.  Very tender to the bite, the lamb is also properly seasoned and you can detect the flavour of cumin and – was that a touch of cinnamon? – garlic.  The gaminess that puts off most people from eating lamb is quite toned down and the tangy tomato, cucumber, and onion salad adds a sharp, tart contrast to the meat.

Beef Keema
Beef Keema

The keema is also tasty.  Think of a Bolognese sauce that can pretty much stand on its own without pasta and, like the lamb, flavoured with the spices of the Middle East.  When eaten with spoonfuls of the biryani, it gains a nutty savour.

Tomato cheese and garlic yogurt sauces
Tomato cheese and garlic yogurt sauces

Upon ordering, the staff will also ask you what sauces you’d prefer.  Their hot sauce is pretty damned incendiary; perfect for chileheads.  But, for more tender-tongued specimens like yours truly, the tomato cheese with its nacho-like flavours and the bright-tasting garlic yogurt will suffice.

All in all, Shawarma Bros will definitely leave you well-stuffed and absolutely satisfied with your meal.

Shawarma Bros: 2nd Floor – Boni Stopover, 31st St. cor. 2nd Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig