Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King
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The Restaurant That Makes Me Re-Think My Eating Standards

posted by in Fusion, Restaurants

Note: This piece is not so much a feature (on the restaurant), as it is a personal reflection. Excuse the dreadful photos – it was very dark, and these are not up to par.

It starts out as an assignment to feature “…hole-in-the-wall places that are great for a Friday night gimmick.” I’d heard about Lime 88, even met the chef, Archie Juanta, a few times. His place does riffs on local street food, thus the tag, “Street food with a twist.” Now, I’ve had my share of street food, even consider myself quite the adventurous eater but as I’m soon to find out, there’s a difference between putting food in my mouth and actually enjoying it.

inside Lime 88

My mistake is that I bring Boo to this restaurant. From a 6-year-old’s point of view, Lime 88 is frightening: raucous crowds sit at low tables, they watch us as we amble in. We feel as out of place as chickens in a fox den. Inside, the place is awash in orange, amplifying the chairs and walls that are in the same hue. It’s an old house – jalousies, hollow walls; stand and ceiling fans providing ample ventilation. (For more interior shots, see this).

But it’s the music – god, the music! – that sets this place apart. I haven’t been to clubs since I was in college, but I’m pretty sure that the volume level here comes close. Daughtry wails, Lifehouse croons, and some ballads are thrown in for a well-rounded playlist. I notice that there are no speakers outside which is where the drinking crowd is, so the music is constantly amped up in order for the “target audience” to appreciate the sounds. Our server, Obet, is kind enough to lower the music a millimeter of a decibel at our request, but later, the volume is back to a so-called more respectable level.

At some point as my Bin and I study the menu, a couple in their 40s comes in and sits at the table at the back. They look as uncomfortable as we do. Because I’m “on assignment,” I decide to order everything that has been recommended to me by various people and Obet himself: chicken breast stuffed with kangkong and kesong puti (P120), osso buco style kare-kare (P190), embotido-stuffed crispy pata (P250), nasi goreng (P150), street-style pizza (P190), and the signature street style Barbecue Platter (P160). Because we need to feed Boo, we ask for the longaniza plate and spaghetti carbonara, despite her vehemence that “… there’s no kid’s food here….” Lime 88 also specializes in imaginative cocktails but I couldn’t tell you anything about them because I’m always about the food.

function room

As we wait for the victuals, a large party comes in and occupies the private room to the right, the only space that is air-conditioned and available only by reservation. I notice that the servers are quite efficient and unlike many other restaurants, the food comes to the tables in the order that they are ordered in (i.e. first come, first served). I’m tinkering with my camera and adjusting the settings, though try as I might, the light is so dim that I have to – literally — hold my breath as I press the shutter button; not an easy feat considering that our table is made up of two unstable glass rounds each held up by a single steel “leg.”

I’m satisfied with the pizza, a thin crust on which sit slices of longaniza and tuyo shreds. The customary mozzarella cheese is replaced with kesong puti and quick-melt (aka: processed cheese food). Simple and straightforward, it’s (unfortunately) not a harbinger of the dishes to come. In fact, it’s the second-best dish of our entire 8-dish lot, the first-best dish being the chicken, which arrives next.

chicken breast stuffed with kangkong and kesong puti

I’ve been told of the marvelous plating at Lime 88, certainly a trademark of Chef Archie. Though I learn that he’s away in New Zealand on a 2-year stint, it’s apparent that he’s trained his staff well. Dollops of mashed potatoes carry a chicken thigh and breast, both sufficiently stuffed with kangkong and kesong puti. Chicken is difficult to mess up, since the meat’s versatility makes it the “little black dress” of the food world. Again, this is all right, but my stomach is beginning to roil because of the music.

kare-kare

As if on cue, the rest of our food appears, quickly diminishing table space, the precarious glass tabletops wobbling for dear life. Again, the plates impress – the kare-kare’s green beans are twirled into cute curlicues, little Auntie Anne’s pretzels. Though Lime 88 serves “street food,” consideration has gone into the tableware – solid silverware that feels heavy in hand. Alas, nothing but a Wüsthof chef’s knife can cut through this beef! Much slicing effort yields me a few mouthfuls of meat, the largest one of which I put into my mouth and I start chewing.

And chewing.

And chewing some more.

“It’s tough,” I mutter to my Bin. “Get the ones on the end,” he replies, himself fighting with what looks like a mass of meat; alarmingly, the meat seems to be fighting back! The pieces on the end yield no change. Pity. If only the beef had cooked for a good two hours or more, this would’ve been great. The sauce, though scarce, tastes sufficiently peanut-ty and present are the two vegetables and one ingredient that I consider absolutely essential to any kare-kare: string beans and eggplant, and of course, bagoong.

embotido-stuffed crispy pata

I’m thinking that I’ll do better with the crispy pata so I move on. Its skin is pockmarked with “burst” bubbles, always a good sign – it’s been boiled prior to frying (perhaps even twice) to maximize crunch (think: twice-cooked French fries), and thus the “pockmarks.” But the meat is as resistant as the kare-kare, its deceptively crunchy skin so leathery and difficult to cut through that the embotido stuffing rolls out like sausage meat without its stuffing; it tastes like kielbasa.

After two failed dishes, I’m simultaneously hungry but unwilling to eat another bite. I manage to stuff two spoonfuls of the nasi goreng into my mouth, but I’m unforgiving in my opinion of it: it’s just rice colored yellow with plenty of shredded cabbage, unworthy of being called “nasi goreng.” Because I grew up in Indonesia, I’m quite harsh with food that is Indonesian or of Indonesian descent: I grew up with the original, after all.

Philippine street food, gussied up

And then I try the street-style Barbecue Platter, Lime 88’s defining dish. According to the menu, we’re supposed to get chicken ass (yes, that’s what it reads), isaw (chicken intestines), kidney (of whom or what, I don’t know), and betamax. Of the latter, no, it’s not that antiquated black thing from the 80s that we used to slip into machines and watch movies from. Betamax is roasted chicken blood that’s been congealed and skewered on barbecue sticks, hence the ‘betamax’ moniker.

Out of the four “pulutans” that we’re supposed to receive, I only see the isaw and the betamax. It’s to my unbelievable misfortune that I (unknowingly) pick up the betamax – it’s so dark that I can’t tell what I’m eating anymore – and chomp down, once. Immediately, my mouth is engulfed with a nauseating wave of blood, like the dead thing bloody exhaled into my (now-gaping) orifice. I gag and before I know it, I’ve instinctively spat the offending article which lands onto my Bin’s plate. He looks up at me, mortified at my atrocious table manners. His goggle-like eyes are screaming, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?!”

What’s the story, Lori?

I’m no quitter when it comes to food but exhaustion sweeps over me all of a sudden, and the roiling of my stomach can no longer be ignored. My ears are also complaining at the immense auditory onslaught. It’s true what they say that deafening music while eating will give you indigestion. So I refuse to persist any longer. I’ve never fought so much with my food and eaten so little. My Bin notices my shoulders slump and asks for the bill. I can’t even bear to stay for dessert.

Looking back on the experience now, it’s almost funny but the laughter doesn’t make it out of my mouth (just yet). Our total bill comes out to just P1,230 – a steal for the amount of food we ordered and the servings for each dish. It’s EXCELLENT value for money, plus where else can you get food that’s as affordable and as beautifully plated? I know a few people who would revel in Lime 88 — for them, it would be utopia.

But not for me.

I used to think that I could eat anything, anywhere – I was certainly raised that way: to be as comfortable in a classy place as at a street side stall. But try as I might, I have certain food standards that I keep to, one of which is that (my) food must be cooked properly. I’ll let slide the occasional bloody chicken leg but I won’t battle with my beef or bone, or whatnot. Cooking food properly is basic, whether it be using the proper cooking method or allowing the raw ingredient enough time to cook. You don’t even have to be a chef or a cook, really. I believe that a person who works with food (even weekend kitchen warriors) must use the best ingredients that he/she can afford and cook it with respect. Whether you’ve got a P2,000 piece of meat or local tenderloin that cost just P500/kilo, it won’t matter if you burn the darn thing. Somehow, cooking food improperly feels even more immoral than eating too much of it.

18th century essayist and lexicographer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, said it best: “He who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.” Eating is relative: what I like, others may not like. While some people can’t stomach eating dessert first or understand why anyone would pay more than P2,000 for a steak dinner, those are things I enjoy. To each his own.

Thankfully, my editor understands when I tell her that I’m not the right writer for this assignment. So she got someone else to write it, a guy I look up to because he adores eating in hole-in-the-walls and he knows how to appreciate places like Lime 88.

Lime 88
160 San Rafael St.,
Mandaluyong City
533.7515

28 Responses to “The Restaurant That Makes Me Re-Think My Eating Standards”

  • Forgive me Lori but I could not stop laughing. Not because I took any pleasure in your misery but because I can totally understand your plight. I’ve been to Lime 88 a couple of times. Let’s just say that both times were ‘interesting’. I admire Chef Archie’s mission to elevate street food but sometimes the food gets lost in the translation. For the record, I enjoyed myself at Lime 88. I guess if you drink enough beers you can forgive anything. About the music, I guess it’s true. Once you reach a certain age, we become our parents who always wanted us to turn down the volume. :)

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  • My thoughts exactly!

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  • Ohh street food with a twist. I saw this place inside Mall of Asia. I forgot the name but it is a small shop somewhere near Tagaytay Highland Steakhouse and they serve very interesting street food like roast beef siopao and the like. Try and check it out.

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  • This was a fun read! Of course I feel sorry for the owner of this resto, but I just appreciate how well-written the entry is, despite the fact that it was about a horrendous experience.

    I love street food too, having my share of stolen moments eating fishballs and isaw during my more care-free years. But in my opinion, street food should remain “street food”. I think that’s what makes it so good, anyway.

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  • Joey
    I can imagine that — as you say — “… if you drink enough beers you can forgive anything.” I’ve never been drunk nor imbibed enough beer, nay, alcohol, to even feel that way. It must be a trip.

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  • This is just hilarious!

    I’m sorry for Lime 88 but I don’t think I’d eat there after reading this. It’s not just the leathery and improperly cooked food. The other thing I hate about many restaurants is the loud music. I steer clear of places where I have to ask the waiters to turn down the volume. Why don’t they realize that dining is a social activity where conversation is as big a part of the dining experience as the food? How can people hear each other with all that noise?

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  • @Anson: That one in Mall of Asia near Tagaytay Highland Steakhouse is ‘Sosi Streetfood’.

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  • Hi Lori! I agree that getting the basics right is or should be the top priority for a restaurant. Other than expressing one’s creativity and love for food, a chef has the responsibility to properly and correctly represent eons of culinary history with each bite. Everything we do in the kitchen, whether it is a simple cooking method or a blending of ingredients has a reason and a standard, and we need to respect that, before applying our own poetic license. I read through this entry thoroughly. It was a good read.

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  • thank you lori for writing a real review of the restaurant. this is what i like about blogs, if it sucks, nobody will edit it and say you can’t print it.

    unlike in magazines wherein its only delicadeza that when people give you a free lunch, you should atleast have the decency to rave about it. otherwise, if you’d simply bash it, don’t bother writing it.

    i wondered about lime 88, you can bet i wont be going there anymore. i thought based on our title “made me rethink your standards…” i thought it was a rave and that the food was so good, it’s now your benchmark. hahaha. good job lori.

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  • I’ve been wanting to try Lime 88 ever since I heard about it. Food that’s described as having “a twist” never fails to intrigue me. Tough, unchewable meat is a turn-off, though. And I already know I don’t like isaw, so I wouldn’t even order the Barbecue Platter. Lots of people like betamax, just as many people like tripe or kidneys; I don’t. Nevertheless, I think I’d still check out this restaurant if I happened to be in the area. I’m very used to loud music and dim lighting (was just in such a place last night), so I have no problem with that aspect as long as I like the food — and thanks to you, I know which dishes to steer clear of. At least I know to expect an inuman ambience, so I won’t choose Lime 88 when I’m in the mood for a quiet night.

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  • I had been wanting to visit this place too, but I guess never had the company to think about “let’s try that tonight”. I like street food, but can’t enjoy big and noisy crowds when eating. Will still want to try and experience :)

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  • Hi Lori. Been reading your blogs for sometime now. Sorry to hear about your fod trip. Money spent on bad food is just- wasted money. Hay. I’m interested to hear about the pizza. The pic looks good. How was it?

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  • Hi Ms Lori! You got it spot-on when you said every person who works with food has to treat it with the utmost respect. I agree with you 100% percent. Its a shame that even the common household often makes food that is unforgivable, and much more so if its a charging establishment like restaurants and bars.

    By the way, as I see in your Street Style Barbecue platter, it seems that what you didn’t have the Is the Betamax and the Chicken ass. I think its isaw and kidneys (the rounds ones), are you sure? Kidneys and liver are difficult portions to grill (too bloody), especially if they are not prepared well beforehand (parboiled or cut thinly). If it was put on the grill raw and it was cooked to order, I wouldn’t be surprised if raw blood would be present because it takes a considerable amount of time to be cooked properly.

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  • My experience with Lime 88 has always been great. It never fails to impress friends who also like good food, be it in an upscale restau or the hole-in-the -walls type. As I know Chef Archie specializes in Asian cuisine. Our last meal there was before Chef Archie left for Wellington, during Charming Baldemor’s shoot. We went home stuffed and satisfied with his version of balbakwa, bbq chicken, and pad thai. Oh, you should’ve stayed for dessert….their chocolate mint torte, jackfruit walnut torte and valrhona cake is a must-try…

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  • A classic case of putting the concept before the food, if you ask me.

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  • Valrhona cake in a restaurant that serves street food with a twist?!? Hmmm, that must be a hell of a twist. Intriguing.

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  • i couldn’t agree with you more! Cooking food the proper way is basic, moreso w/people who are engaged with the food business. Whenever i encounter not so pleasant experiences w/ restos, i always wonder how they have decided to get into the food business and not be responsible enough to make sure they serve properly cooked food.

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  • Hi Lori!

    What a surprising review! I’ve been to Lime88 more than a couple of times and have even brought friends there to eat. Thus far, the place has never disappointed me. Although on both occasions, it was actually Chef Archie who cooked the food before he left for New Zealand.

    It’s unfortunate that your experience there did not merit what has been known to most regulars as a treat. I do understand your dilemma in dealing with the “improperly cooked” food. However, and as you mentioned, to each his own. There are some who venture on the unknown when it comes to food and takes it as it is, and there are some, like you, who give an ample amount of time to share your experience.

    Being a fan of Chef Archie since the time I met him and tasted his culinary creations, I do implore your readers to be a bit open that taste is acquired and that sometimes, reviews — however highly-respected they may be — are just that, reviews from the point of view of the person.

    It’s good that some commented that although you had a bad experience in Lime88, they would still try it. Your review would definitely make those Chef Archie left in charge do a double take on how they prepare the food. Maybe in the future, you will find yourself going back and seeing if it has, indeed, impacted a greater change in a wholistic way, music and all.

    I remember how you bashed Karen Young’s first attempt at Red Velvet cake. And she came out with a much, much better version after your inputs.

    May your review of Lime88 have the same effect and I do hope you get to go back after you’ve gotten over your trauma.

    Thank you and more power!

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  • Hi Lori! Great read!

    It’s unfortunate you had this experience. I’m a very fastidious eater. In fact, I normally wouldn’t try most of Lime88′s offerings. But, I’ve been there a couple of times when Chef Juanta was around and sampled a number of dishes to satiety. I’ve been delighted by the original and rich tastes. The presentation is above par. And the music wasn’t disagreeable during my visits.

    Among those you ordered, I’ve only tried the pizza and barbecue platter. I hope I don’t have an experience such as yours when I go back for more.

    Thanky! I’m looking forward to more reviews.

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  • Hi Lori!

    Well-written piece and a good read at that. I’ve also been to Lime 88 twice but I should say my experience was quite far from what you’ve described.

    I may not be a certified gourmand but during the times I was there, I really loved what was prepared for me.

    I sampled the “dinosaur” (deep-fried day-old chick), the barbecue platter and the Street-Style Pizza. Everything actually exceeded my expectations. The plating was a bonus, of course. The day-old chick was so creatively presented as it came in a bed of dried noodles that resembled a nest. I was really amazed that the lowly isaw came not just with the usual vinegar but also with sour cream. “Betamax,” an all-time favorite of mine, was actually at par with my “suki” near Angelo King Center.

    The second time I went to Lime, I tried the nasi goreng, chicken satay and pad thai. I’ve just arrived from Bangkok at that time but I was amazed that these dishes were even better than those that I’ve had in Thailand — and my companions agreed.

    Maybe we just have different tastes.

    Lime 88 is a compelling concept, and I hope those whose curiosities were piqued will still consider going to the place because it really deserves a second look.

    More power to you! Peace!

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  • My friend celebrated her birthday last year at Lime88. I really enjoyed the food especially the dessert. It is unfortunate that you came when Archie was out on assignment. I’m sure that Chef archie and his staff will fix the basics but still continue to serve good and value for money food.

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  • Archie is in New Zealand.

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  • Hi. Too bad you didn’t stay for dessert + Tiramisu Martini. And, the osso buco-style kare-kare was soft. Perhaps your tought one was a one-off?

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  • funny how we had the exact same problem with the camera and taking good food photogs (well trying to). hahaha! blogged about lime88 also before and also didn’t like it… like i said there: “you are better off eating at your friendly street food vendor than in Lime88″. thanks for the funny review though. you are the best lori! :)

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  • hello,

    where is san rafael st. located in mandaluyong?
    i’m not familiar with the san juan, mandaluyong area really….
    how do i get there if i’m coming from makati?
    i would really love to try lime 88 :)

    thanks.

    -tina

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  • This is hillarious.

    Won’t be visiting this place. Thanks to you.

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  • read so many great write ups about it so went there with friends. some food were ok but most were disastrous. i dont think my friends actually forgave me. desserts were good at least coz they are from jenny silayan but they didnt fit the theme i must say. there’s nothing “streetfood” about jenny silayan’s cakes.

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  • this place looks like a dump. is it still around?

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