People bandy around the word “love” too much, I know. It’s one of those things that slips out automatically like “Hi, howareyou?” and “Textme.” I’m guilty of the same. But when it comes to food ”“ and if you’ve been reading this website long enough, perhaps you’ve even met me ”“ you know I don’t take my food lightly. Nor am I a light eater. Okay, enough of the puns.
What follows is a short list of foods I love. Of course, if you’ve seen some of these photos before on this website and/or recall me mentioning them here, forgive me. I can’t keep track of all the foods I love.
Smoked salmon belly at Umu
The good people at the Dusit Hotel invite me for a gourmet tour of their fine dining restaurants. Our little group’s first stop was Umu, a Japanese restaurant that I’ve written about before. The cover photo seen above is a sampler of some of their best dishes. Focus on the center: there, where the silvery skin of a strip of smoked salmon scintillates in the evening light. “Ethereal” best describes the look and feel of this food. Sliding the skewered strip into my mouth, a light crunch of skin introduces a surge of the salmon’s natural oil commingling with a thin layer of fat that slides and slips. Subtle hints of smoke reveal the masterful ”˜robatayaki’ (Japanese grill) style of cooking that Umu is known for. And where there’s fire, there’s flavor.
Tom Yum Gung at Benjarong
Dusit’s Benjarong restaurant has probably the best tom yum gung in Manila. Striking a balance between the holy trinity of sweet, sour, and salty, the hot liquid puckers in the mouth. Its inherent layering of flavor upon flavor via its various herbs evoke an almost emotional response, leading me to believe that everything is right in the world. For now.
Note: This soup is not served in a buko shell at Benjarong; the magnificent presentation was for the Gourmet Tour only. However, the staff will acquiesce to advance requests.
Umu and Benjarong
Dusit Thani Manila, Ayala Centre, Makati City
Open Monday to Sunday, 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM and from 6 to 10 PM.
For inquiries and reservations, phone (02) 867 3333, extension 3343 / 3344.
Prime Rib at Gulliver’s
I believe this is a better prime rib steak than the one I’ve enjoyed often at Highland’s Steak House. Though the restaurant, situated atop a grubby Makati Avenue Hotel, is alarmingly dim, the ambience echoes what I’d expect from a “proper” prime rib place ”“ brass trolleys holding the meat pushed by women garbed in prim black and white outfits with bonnets; tables illuminated by candle light echoing with the boisterous laughs of men who’ve knocked back two too many.
But never mind. The meat here renders me weak.
Prime rib is Prime (the highest grade) cut of beef from the rib (obviously), the same place where rib-eyes and bone-in rib steaks come from. Its abundant marbling is a glistening indicator of its aching tenderness and ensuing sequence of vigorous flavor sensations. After eating one of these, all I want to do is lie atop one of those trolleys and be wheeled to bed.
10/F Great Eastern Hotel
Makati Avenue, Makati
896.7475 / 898.2888
Fried Shrimp at Savory
Its name is more along the lines of “camaron rebosado,” not fried shrimp as I term it here. Savory (short “a”) is up there in the echelons of classic Philippine cuisine sharing space with Aristocrat, et al. Famed for its fried chicken created in 1950 from a special recipe by two Chinese brothers, the original Escolta branch has fanned out to more accessible locations.
Naturally, it’s a given that Savory’s chicken is stellar on all counts in juiciness and flavor. Its gravy accompaniment is something that I’ve seen people pour mini pitchers-ful of onto their plates. That and the Yang Chow Fried Rice, and you’re set.
Personally, I’m blown away with the (as I call it) Fried Shrimp. It arrives at table looking like sausage pillows with peek-a-boo shrimp tails that prove terribly useful for picking up and plowing the whole thing straight into one’s mouth. The fried shrimp’s velvety batter and resounding crunch are proof of its coating made from a batter lightened with corn starch and egg whites, dredged with a light hand, and fried in fresh oil (or lard!).
The kids in my life are more interested in blowing out the candles on their birthday cake instead of actually eating the cake. Me, I’m all for the eating. Fancy desserts have a place in my life but there’s something about birthday cake that allures me. It could be the downy yellow crumb or the dense chocolate and the goops of icing that thrill me so. But it’s more likely that after the kids have whacked off Ben 10’s head or stolen Hannah Montana’s microphone, and imprinted the frosting with their fingers, I’m left with a cake that I serve myself a large slice of and revel in reliving what it’s like to be a kid again, plastic fork included.
**Hac Cordero makes great “B”-day cakes. He made the Cookie Monster cake you see below.