Twenty One Plates, Ms. B’s Tuck Shop, Ramen Bar, and Hermanos Taco Shop.
Twenty One Plates
This is a restaurant that I happily drive to even though it’s nowhere near me. All of my South-based friends love it here and it’s they whom I need to thank for giving me the heads-up about it.
It’s called Twenty One Plates because when owners Mico and Tinette Miciano opened the restaurant, that was how many dishes they had on the menu. The number has varied since then and I haven’t tried all 21 but I can count my clear favorites.
Every time I eat here, I begin with the Kimchi Rolls (P200), cabbage leaves laced with the Korean condiment cradling a cluster of sticky rice. The kimchi flavor is very evident, pointed up by the supplied soy-based dipping sauce.
Twenty One Plates’ Caldereta (P330) is superlative and no visit is complete without it. I was here once when they’d just run out of it and I almost ran out of the restaurant, tempted as I was to eat elsewhere. Yes, it’s that good. Though caldereta has a myriad of variations, what’s essential is tomato sauce and the browning of the beef, the latter helping to ensure complexity of flavor. This restaurant’s caldereta is also cooked for hours, as evidenced by its thick sauce. It’s almost pasty but is prevented from being so by the excess of oil that rims the plate it’s served in. A deep tawny hue, it speaks to the sauce’s intensity, a melding made over time between beef, tomato (definitely sauce, perhaps paste, too), cheese, and I daresay liver (spread), all the makings of undiluted rapture on a plate.
I’m also ridiculously attached to the Indonesian Fried Chicken (P280) because it reminds me of the flavors I was surrounded with when I was growing up in Indonesia. This is excellent fried chicken, although at times it’s fried a little too enthusiastically. Still, it’s the sauce that makes this dish, a one-two punch of turmeric that packs it in with its pungency, followed closely by the pow of pepper, its power zinging through mouth then nose leaving a taste-trail of chili and soy sauce. What a trip!
Korean Beef Stew (P330) is a mainstay on every table here, its surfeit of sauce so steeped in beefy essence that two cups of rice seems just about right to finish off a serving of the meat. I also like the Chorizo Omelet (P330), a simple dish that doesn’t seem to belong on the menu but satisfies because of its simplicity.
Twenty One Plates
205 Aguirre Avenue, BF Homes, Parañaque
(02) 825.7348 / (0917) 892.2156
Oh, how I so want to like Ms. B’s Tuck Shop! The handwritten menu on the blackboard speaks of charm as do the classroom-type tables and chairs. And then there are the 1950s-style water bottles and vintage glasses, pleasing accoutrements that I want to toss into my handbag and take home. There’s also an almost palpable desire to please here: from the server and her accommodating mien, to the cooks I see working earnestly in the open kitchen.
But darling interiors and honest ambition does not a restaurant make. There are several factors that correlate to make a restaurant successful and it goes without saying that the food should be spot-on. I understand that Ms. B’s Tuck Shop is named after the owners’ pet cat, and that ‘tuck shop’ is an international term for small food retailer. In that regard, the menu is compact but encompasses dishes from all over the globe. Thus, Fish & Chips (P240), a bonanza of burgers (P185), everything from Beef to Pulled Pork to a Crispy Pork Confit, Super Sirloin (P430), and the cheekily dubbed “You Got Spanked” (P298) a version of chicken (beef, really) fried steak served with gnocchi.
I’m ravenous when I’m here so I try three quarters of the menu. I’m dismayed with the majority and won’t speak of them in this post. I will however, recommend the Lechon Salad (P160), a delightful nod to this tuck shop’s locale. Shredded cabbage imbues a rusticity to this starter spangled with onions, julienned carrots, and a tangy leek dressing. Fried wanton strips add pleasing texture. I have to hunt for the lechon, though.
I also like the Fish & Chips, although instead of one long fillet, they’re more nubbins of fish – tender little things that are satisfying dipped in tartare sauce. This dish comes with potato chips that are thin and crisp and glisten with a veneer of oil.
I can suggest that you try the Manila Cheesecake but I do so with reservations. It’s a block of what tastes like dense cream shot through with ribbons of dulce de leche. It’s very sweet and shamelessly rich. The mango compote that lends its zing is truly a welcome diversion, bolstering my taste buds for yet another forkful.
Some issues I must bring up regarding the food at this Tuck Shop. First, the food is seasoned with a very heavy hand. I like salt and have a higher tolerance for it than most people, but some of the dishes I try are just overboard with the seasoning. Secondly, if you’re going to order a burger, ask for it to be cooked medium-well, maybe even well-done. The cook’s doneness of medium borders on raw. And as for those milkshakes (P185) that have gained quite a following, especially the Roasted Marshmallow and the much-ballyhooed Red Velvet, I’m not a fan. Impressive presentation yes, but it’s too thin to be called a milkshake and no, it doesn’t taste at all like Red Velvet.
Miss B’s Tuckshop
# 20 Valdecon Building, Jupiter Street, Bel-Air, Makati (Beside Distillery and O’sonho )
0929 795 9922
Mondays to Thursdays, 12pm-12am; Saturdays, 5pm – 3am
This is where I go when I get tired of Ukokkei . I can hear some people gasping because really – is it possible to ever get tired of Ukokkei, home of the so-called Soup Nazi who makes Manila’s best ramen?
Well apparently, anything can happen, even palate boredom. I like the Ramen Bar for its streamlined interiors and straightforward menu. There’s hardly anything Japanese-like about it; it’s upfront about the food it serves and that’s it. I start off with the Spicy Kakuni Buns (P180), pork belly that’s very similar to what Ricky served at my Anniversary Party. This pork is tender, almost painfully so and possesses a subtle teriyaki note. I love how I can feel (and hear!) the pork fat squishing in my mouth, the oil gushes and makes me giddy.
This is the Super Chasyu Ramen (P380). At Ramen Bar, they’re very proud of their chasyu, pork belly that’s boiled for 20 hours. On first bite, I can feel my knees weaken by the succulence of the pork. Teeth seem inconsequential and unnecessary, such is the pork’s softness that I’m willing to just let it sit on my tongue and melt into oblivion. The menu describes this broth as “soy-infused,” but whether that means soy sauce or perhaps soy bean is unclear. Whatever it may be, the broth is subtle but brimming with flavor, its umami character uplifts – as most Japanese broths do, and I’m content to lap up such reviving sustenance.
G/F Eastwood Mall, E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave., Libis, Quezon City
Ground Level, The Venice Piazza
McKinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
Hermanos Taco Shop
I’m glad that I don’t have to drive all the way to Pampanga anymore to get my Mexican food fix at Zapata’s, now unfortunately named Iguana. The past two years have seen a surge of Mexican restaurants in Manila, the reason for which isn’t known but one that I’m thankful for nevertheless. I grew up eating enchiladas and tacos on the weekend so you can understand why I have almost unreasonable affection for Mexican/ Tex-Mex food.
Friends have been bugging me to haul ass to Hermanos, so much so that one night they show up at my house and drive me to the restaurant. On the ride over, they regale me with tales of all the delicious “Mexican madness” I’m soon to ingest.
The consensus is clear and true: Hermanos serves unforgettable Fish Tacos (P150). A Southern California (SoCal) specialty, a traditional and typical fish taco consists of spicy-battered, deep-fried white fish bathed in a yogurt-mayonnaise dressing cradled in a soft tortilla. Cabbage and lime provide crunch and cool. The ones served at Hermanos come very close to this ideal, no surprise since one of the proprietors is a SoCal native.
The Tamales (pork or beef; P320) is beyond reproach, perhaps the best I’ve come across in Manila. The masa dough, itself gritty with ground corn, encloses flattened packages of pork deeply imbued with a corn flavor. Though it’s not my dish but my what my friend, Fran orders, I can’t help but pick at her plate. (Thank goodness she’s a food-sharer! I can’t always say the same thing about myself.) The seeming authenticity of these tamales reverberates, and as I write this, I smack my lips at the memory of them.
I can do without the burritos here – they’re overly stuffed with rice and require too much of a commitment from me, stomach-wise. But I’d come back for the Quesadillas (P250-P310) and especially the Carne Asada Fries (P320) which is like a party plate of cheese fries strewn with the good stuff and made even better with fresh guacamole and salsa.
Hermanos Taco Shop
#27 Granada Avenue, corner Jose O. Vera St. Quezon City, right next to Petron.
(02) 570 8425