Brown, beefy, beautiful.
My college days and early working years were filled with visits to Whistlestop. It wasn’t cheap but pre-Starbucks, it was convenient and always open. Revived in 2009 after a spell away, the restaurant makes it easy to remember which dishes provided sustenance: old favorites are appended with a tiny “Bestseller” note. Seeing them again stokes my nostalgia: Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice), Boneless Buffalo Wings, etc. It’s interesting to me that the one dish that causes a stir in my carnivorous soul and incites almost unbearable hunger pangs is the Beef Salpicao. My previous experiences were bereft of it. Pity.
Beef Salpicao (P223) is a dish only for the macho because it’s bold and beefy and long on swagger. I love the cloves of whole garlic here, ivory jewels on a landscape of brown. Pliant, they lend themselves to being mashed in mouth or on spoon. The plate cradles a shallow well of what appears to be a sheen of oil that’s anointed the entire dish. It’s golden at the edges, transforming to deep saffron nearer the center, and at its very heart, a mahogany-colored middle, the precious juice rendered from the beef, which is real tenderloin.
True-to-its-name-tender with that fine, velvety grain, it’s none of the usual beef shoulder (kasim) that lesser places pressure cook to death and try to pass off as tenderloin. Soft to the bite, it’s also supple enough to be cut with a spoon, its somewhat stringy character taking exceptionally to its saucy coat. Not timid this sauce, it splashes the taste buds with a squeal of sour overlapped by sweet, with a touch of what I suspect to be Dari Crème margarine (not a bad idea, this) rounding off these twin-thrills. It’s a sauce that has resemblances to the dipping sauce at Joseph & Jaemark’s, and like all good sauces, it beseeches to be spooned atop garlic rice, and plenty of it. Some spoonfuls are beef and rice and sauce, others are bites of beef with sauce – the one constant is the sauce, always the sauce.
And at the end, when there’s no more beef and the plate is bare, all that remains are streaks of that sauce, reminders of the glorious oiliness that was, how it tempted and titillated. But look, there are a few errant grains of rice so I take my fork and press down on them, and with it, I wipe the plate where the beef was, clean. My mouth opens for this last bite and though it’s a scarce forkful, it’s an approximate abbreviation of beefy bliss, one that requires repeated visits.
Jupiter corner Astra Streets, Bgy. Bel-Air, Makati