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.
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.
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.
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.
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 WÃ¼sthof 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 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.
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.
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.
160 San Rafael St.,