I don’t know if Fat Michael is fat. Michael is, however, the nephew of Fat Michael’s owner-chef Jude Mancuyas . The restaurant is a family-run business almost six years old, quite a feat really, since working with one’s family can inspire murderous instincts ”“ or so I’ve been told. Heh.
The restaurant echoes the character of its neighborhood in Barangay Bangkal — eclectic and one of a kind. Bangkal is filled with thrift shops, a trove for treasure hunters, where you can find almost everything and nothing, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s these treasure finds that make up Fat Michael’s. “I’m at the thrift shops at least three times a week,” Jude tells me, as he describes the knickknacks surrounding us. There are mismatched chairs and tables, rows of books on various subjects, swags of cloth cleverly hiding electrical wires (see photos), and as my friend Kaie points out, “Look, no two tables have the same salt and pepper set.” I spy a Victorian white jar with an elegant spout on one of the tables. I want it for myself, but I doubt Jude will sell it to me. I’m right. It’s one of his treasured finds.
I need a moment to absorb the décor. There appears to be three separate dining rooms, one nearest the door where the sunlight is filtering in through green shutters…
… another section with more muted lighting, near the kitchen…
… and the last dining area is situated beside a flight of stairs which I presume leads up to the bedrooms. The owners live upstairs and I can’t help but feel that I’m infringing on their privacy, especially since I see a partially hidden person in a bathrobe and slippers trudging up the stairs. I wonder how it is on those days when the family doesn’t feel like entertaining yet another stranger in their home. I know I’d probably be screaming for everyone to get out.
What you see is what you get, literally, at Fat Michael’s. The house specials are scribbled on little blackboards, and I think it’s kind of fun to crane my neck and peer at the writing. If you prefer to stay away from neck acrobatics, there’s also a menu with that infamous motto of the house, “We cook slow. Live with it.” It’s off-putting at first, I agree, others think it cocky, but it piques my attention. When I ask Jude what the sign is all about, he says in a very matter of fact tone, ”Because we do. This isn’t fast food. Everything is cooked to order.” Makes sense, and no, our food doesn’t take forever to arrive. Maybe they don’t really cook that slowly after all.
I don’t know what it is, but whenever Kaie is with me she always wants to order a salad. Jude recommends the fruit and walnut salad (P105) to start us off, followed by a grilled seafood pizza with kesong puti (P205) to share, and the scampi pasta (P205) to satiate my craving for noodles.
I must tell you that Fat Michael’s was set up to be a place where, as Jude calls it, “… like eating at home without having to do the dishes.” The food looks and tastes homemade, with all the pleasant imperfections that “homemade” connotes. Thus, while the salad has a delightfully tangy dressing emphasized by its fresh greens, its accompanying croutons are oily. The pizza is baked crisp and thin topped with a simple tomato sauce and an even more homely combination of cheddar cheese, tomato slices, red peppers, and kesong puti (native white cheese). It’s a humble pizza, practically devoid of herbs and seasonings. It’s alright for me, but when I take some home for my Bin to try, he deems it tasteless. Like I say, it’s all in the perception.
My scampi is of modest portion, almost too small, but it’s got just enough olive oil to flavor, not flounder in it. The fresh tomato slices give a burst of sweetness, and since shrimp is expensive, there are just a few pieces of it. I like the burst of parmesan cheese on the plate and the toast is interesting: very flat and pressed, like it’s been made in one of those old-fashioned sandwich makers (from a thrift shop in Bangkal, I bet).
Come to Fat Michael’s if you’re in the area, but remember to keep your expectations to yourself. This is no-fuss homemade food that can satisfy you if you let it.
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
LacuÃ±a corner Rodriguez St.
Call to reserve. It’s a small place.