Monday, August 16, 2010

what i'm reading 2

Actually, I bought these last year. I've already read them.

My one-word reviews:

1. Kulinarya (A Guidebook To Philippine Cuisine) by Fenix et al-- pretty

2. Surreal Digital Photography 2 by Ben Renow-Clarke-- groovy

3. Street Café Japan by Emi Kazuko & Jeremy Hopley-- ethereal

4. The Flip Reader (Being A Greatest Hits Anthology From Flip: The Official Guide To World Domination) by Zafra et al-- enlightening

5. Gilda Cordero Fernando Sampler by Gilda Cordero Fernando-- fun

6. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman-- scary

7. Tweak by Nic Sheff-- painful

8. Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder-- educational

9. Fruitcake by the Eraserheads-- strange

10. Greed And Betrayal (The Sequel To The 1986 EDSA Revolution) by Cecilio T. Arillo-- scandalous

11. Twisted 8-1/2 by Jessica Zafra-- acerbic

Friday, August 13, 2010

the best truffled mac 'n cheese

You can order it at Lu, the great little restaurant at the Joya Rockwell. Here it is:

Truffled Mac 'n Cheese is one of those dishes du jour that seems to be on every restaurant menu nowadays. I like truffles. I like macaroni. I like cheese. This is the best I've had so far-- better than Lusso and Mr. Jones. The top was gratinated but not dry. The pasta was al dente and substantial. But it's the cheese of course that makes the dish. The menu said that they use five (!) cheeses, so how can you go wrong with that?

The other stuff we ordered were also very good. The Argentinean Hand-Chopped Beef Empanadas were to die for, no kidding. Too bad we had to share and I only got one. I can't tell you any more about these amazingly wonderful morsels because it's torture just thinking about them. Just go to Lu and order them. Right now.

The Istanbul Lamb Kebabs were a surprise. I was expecting meat on sticks. Instead, we got juicy lamb drizzled with yogurt sauce, resting on a tiny pita round and doused with a spiced tomato relish-- just waiting to be picked up with your fingers and shoved greedily into your mouth. Oh, and the green salad in the middle of the plate was nice, too.

For our salad, we had the Sweet Mandarins, Goat's Milk Feta From Davao And Roasted Cashews Over Mixed Greens. It didn't sound very special, but this one was chock-full of light and refreshing flavors which prepared us for the main courses.

The Mexican Steak Frites jumped at us from the menu. It's described as a "arrachera hanger steak, caramelized onions with melted cheese". This definition did not do justice to what arrived at our table.

Two steaks, onion rings, fries, caramelized onions, aioli and mixed greens. The meat was faultless. The wooden serving board was a nice touch. Fun to eat. By the way, each time greens were used as a side, a different salad dressing was used. What a great idea!

Of course, we couldn't resist Lu's Ultimate Pork Chop (15 oz.) With Tangy Orange-Achuete Sauce. You could pick it up and hit someone over the head with it. We normally avoid the pork chop at restaurants because we consider it an easy cook-at-home type of dish, but let me just say: This monster is how pork chop should be cooked. It was deeply satisfying on many levels. It was huge, flavorful, moist, still on the bone, with a thin film of caramelized fat on the edge. And the sauce was yummy but unnecessary. Anthony Bourdain, the Ultimate Porker, would enjoy this.

I thought that the orange stuff was creamed sweet potato. Later I was told that it was squash. Oops! (Er, it kinda tasted like kamote, honestly.)

Verdict: I don't know what I was expecting, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Lu (not Lu-lu) is not cheap-- we spent about US$20 per person-- but the servings were gargantuan and are excellent for sharing. I was told that the owners wanted their restaurant to cater to a certain market and set the prices accordingly, but decided to make the serving sizes "so huge that you can't complain about the price". And I am pleased to say that their strategy worked.

To me, Lu's food is comfort food from a childhood that I never had. Each bite gave me warm and fuzzy feelings. Kudos to the chef!

Unfortunately, the desserts left much to be desired. We had the much-touted (why oh why?) Dark Chocolate And Hazelnut Terrine. It was horrible. It was tasteless and boring. It came out frozen with the disturbing texture of a popsicle.

The Lemon Glazed Yogurt Cheesecake was another disappointment. It seemed so uninspired, so different from the stellar food that we had just wolfed down.

I hope they do something to improve their dessert offerings. It's kind of depressing-- after a good meal, to come crashing down that way. 'Di ba bad trip? Sorry, but the word that comes to mind is "insipid".

Call +63.2.4033991 to make reservations at Lu. The place was packed, with a waitlist, when we were there. Go early, park at the Power Plant Mall and then just walk to the Joya Building right across the street from Starbucks and Cibo. The acoustics are pretty bad, so prepare yourself for a noisy meal. But with food that good, you won't be having any deep conversations during your meal anyway.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

food porn @ enchanté

Jessie Sincioco is a French chef. That is, she is a chef in the traditional French style. Which means that her food looks perfect from any angle.

Virgie Ramos Salad, angle #1. Pan-fried goose liver, grilled tiger prawns, seared scallops and grilled shiitake mushrooms in raspberry-honey sauce and creamy balsamic dressing.

Virgie Ramos Salad, angle #2.

Virgie Ramos Salad, angle #3.

Her plates are always immaculate.

Escargots Bourguignons. Snails in garlic and butter.

Every element on the plate is placed just so.

Trio of Fish Tartar. Salmon, tuna and lapu-lapu (grouper).

Detail of tuna tartar topped with nori (dried seaweed).

Detail of lapu-lapu tartar.

The presentations are impeccable, dish after dish.

Grilled Chilean Sea Bass Fillet. In artichoke tomato chardonnay sauce.

Prawn Curry. Served with rice, as all curries should be.

The desserts are like exquisite jewels.

Trio of Desserts.

Pistachio Sans Rival.

French Chocolate Kiss.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Grand Marnier Soufflé.

(Sorry for the lack of details. I was distracted due to a very animated conversation at our table of seven.)

Enchanté Restaurant & Bar by Chef Jessie has been receiving a lot of flak lately. Bloggers and reviewers are not very enthusiastic, and I think I know why.

The food is not bad. In fact, it is good. But it is not spectacular, and therein lies the rub. It's quite an expensive (we spent about US$40 per head) place to eat, and for the same amount of cash, there are many other fine dining restaurants which are capable of impressing us. In terms of flavor, Enchanté's offerings lack the WOW factor.

But what Chef Jessie is doing is important, I believe. She allows the ingredients to shine through. Other than the flawless display on the plate, she doesn't really do too much to change the raw materials. There are no strong or unfamiliar flavors. The thing is, in today's restaurant industry, it seems like most diners have ADHD, and everyone is looking for new and exciting, instead of warm and comforting.

So does this mean that Chef Jessie has to change her traditional French style? Should she dabble in molecular gastronomy? Should she adopt more fusion-style dishes? Should her presentations be less rigid and more free-for-all? I hope that it won't be necessary for her to go there, and I know that she already has a very loyal customer base, but I don't see how she can entice the rest of the dining population if Enchanté's food stays the same.

Bottom line: The food is good, but relatively expensive. However, the service is attentive yet unobtrusive. And the ambience? Made for marriage proposals.

Enchanté at the Oakwood Joy-Nostalg along ADB Avenue. For reservations, call +63.2.4704828 or 4704210.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

pretty chocolates

We eat with our eyes, so I'm always very pleased to see purveyors put effort into their packaging.

A lot has been said and written about Paulene's chocolates, but one must meet them in person to fully appreciate them.

We bought a box of 12 colorful pralines. Each one's shape is sort of irregular, which suggests that they were hand-made. They're just a little over US$1 apiece.

Because they were kind of expensive, I restrained myself and ate only one a day. The first one was filled with strawberry creme, I think.

Tip: Don't eat them straight out of the fridge. Let them sweat a bit, so that they melt in your mouth.

The problem with eating only one a day is that by the time you eat the next one, you'd have already forgotten what the previous one tasted like. So you can't compare. And no, I did NOT take notes. Some things are best enjoyed unanalysed.

Another tip: Ideally, you must not share. Otherwise, how can you taste all of them?

My favorite was a white chocolate one that tasted of Grand Marnier. It was like an endorphin-bomb exploding in my mouth. My eyeballs involuntarily rolled back in their sockets. Fireworks went off in my head. Sadly, I don't remember which one it is. Which means that I'll have to get another box and try each one again. Or should I get the box of truffles next time?

Paulene's chocolates, available at Cuillere, that lovely French brasserie at Serendra.

I was excited to eat at Cuillere again, after the wonderful meal that I had with friends last year, which I wrote about here. But for some reason, they were off that day, 21 July 2010, when I took the Parents there for dinner. Half of the items on the menu were unavailable, including the much-anticipated duck confit. When Pop tried to order plain rice instead of the rice pilaf that came with his entree, our server told us that they don't have any plain rice. What, you don't have any uncooked rice? Your pilaf comes from a box?

Also, I was feeling under the weather, so I wanted some lukewarm/ room temp calamansi juice.

Server: Oh, sorry, we don't have that.
Me: You mean you don't have fresh calamansi juice?
Server: We have fresh calamansi juice, but it's already in a bottle in the fridge, so we can't serve it at room temperature. It's already been chilled.
Me: So it's not fresh anymore.
Server: No, no, it's fresh.
Me: How can it be fresh when it's in a bottle in your fridge?

How hard can it be to squeeze a couple of calamansi to make a glass of room temperature juice? Seriously.

Maybe it's true what Thomas Wolfe said-- "You can't go home again." It won't stop me from trying, though. Cuillere, I'll be back. Get ready.

Monday, August 9, 2010

the last buffet?

My doctor just told me that since I started seeing her two years ago, this is the fattest I've ever been. And the heaviest. With the highest cholesterol levels.

How did this happen? Enter Umu, the Dusit Thani Manila Hotel's Japanese restaurant.

Very serene with a view of the garden. Thanks, Steph, for booking this table for us.

I took La Familia to the Crossover Buffet on 18 July 2010. By "crossover", they mean that you can stuff yourself with eats from the hotel's four restaurants-- Umu, Benjarong for Thai, Tosca for Italian, and Basix for Continental. Two are on the ground floor, two are on the second floor. Walking through the lobby with food and drink in hand are unavoidable.

Let the games begin!

Plate No. 1 Lamb chops. Tough and gamey.

Plate No. 2 Assorted dimsum steamed to order. Bland and mushy.

Plate No. 3 Prime rib. Dry as cardboard.

Plate No. 4 Gindara teriyaki and edamame. OK lang.

Plate No. 5 Pomelo salad, green mango salad and fried papaya strips. I was actually craving for some authentic papaya salad. Nada.

Plate No. 6 Freshly stir-fried pad thai. It was good, but I've had better in a food court in Bangkok.

Plate No. 7 An assortment of desserts. The mango sticky rice was a major disappointment. The white rice-cake thingy and the flourless chocolate cake were passable. The meringue tart thingy? I don't even remember it.

Brother said: "Why do we keep eating at hotel buffets? It's no joke trying to lose weight nowadays."

Father said: "People are crossing the lobby with plates full of food. Whose stupid idea was this?"

Steph (silent H) said: "The buffet is cheaper than ordering a la carte from a single restaurant."

I say: From now on, we will no longer partake of the trough-like offerings at hotel chains. Instead, we will eat fabulously expensive food at specialty restaurants. Hopefully, we will eat less, but better.

greenhills for the day

On my last afternoon in Manila, we went to Greenhills for some shopping and chow. To me, Unimart, Greenhills Shopping Center and Virra Mall-- no matter how much they renovate them-- will always be the last bastion of the 80s. Walking around these places brings me back to grade school and high school, when there were no giant SM malls yet, and our idea of a good time was Pizza Hut followed by a movie on the top floor of Virra Mall, buying a comic book at Filbar's and then a sundae from the first McDonald's in the Philippines.

Of course, it's not exactly the same as before. But the essence is still there. I guess Greenhills is now what kids would call "kinda retro".

Anyhoo, I ventured inside the Greenhills Theatre Mall to grab some Big Daddy's Chicken, which Jin Perez salivated over, here.

Regular chicken chop

Chili chicken chop

Pretty good! We ate them as they were, without any sauce or sidings. I can imagine bringing them home to eat over rice or pasta or even a nice green salad, or serving them plain with some beer. The chili ones were particularly addicting.

A couple of stalls away was Bread Connection. Oh, that brought back memories. The Bread Connection sandwiches were Ma's default take-out meal for us kids when we had gone through all the take-out and delivery menus in the kitchen drawer and wanted something else. I'll be sure to get me some bacon and egg on round (yes, round) white bread next trip.

Dinner was at Gloria Maris across Unimart. Pop had a hankering for hotpot. Check out the condiments:

Clockwise: Fresh red chilis, chili garlic oil, peanut sauce, satay sauce, garlic and spring onions

Ma ordered the set for four (which looked to me like four pieces of everything), plus some extra fatty beef and fish balls.

We had two kinds of soup, plain and spicy. We dumped everything in.

My gripe is that some of the ingredients in the set were not what we wanted to eat, e.g. the scary tentacles. The other table had lobster balls and veggies ONLY for their hotpot. I wanted to make friends and join them. The set is probably cheaper and makes decision-making easier, compared to ordering all the components individually, but wouldn't it be worth the added effort and moolah to have a hotpot where every scrap of meat and vegetable was consumed-- and with excitement and gusto?

(Note to self: Must try lobster balls next time.)

Still, waste not want not, so we ate it all. Except the tentacles.

At the end of the meal, we were full to bursting, sweaty and smelly. All signs of a satisfactory hotpot experience.