Does a guest in a restaurant have to enjoy all the dishes that he/she orders in order to qualify the meal as a good one? I used to think so but my restaurant experiences this year have shown me that while not all restaurant meals are great, there are some dishes worth going back for. Here, a few of my favorites.
Delicious Diet Food
Say “diet,” and I think tofu and togue (bean sprouts). In between cups of siphon coffee at Han Wok, I like biding my time with their poached tofu (P98). A rather sufficient size, it’s charmingly imprinted with a pattern that reminds me of the blocks my grade school teachers used to teach me addition and subtraction. Simple and straightforward, it’s drizzled with a sauce made with sesame oil, light soy sauce, and if I’m not mistaken, black vinegar. The tofu jiggles as I use my spoon to scoop out some of it. One of those culinary chameleons that’s able to adapt to the flavors it’s cooked with, this tofu dish is light but wonderfully satisfying. When alternated with bites of the cilantro garnish, it transforms into a memorable dish.
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Madison Square, Ortigas Avenue, Greenhills
724-4051 / 721-7479
Open Monday-Sunday 6am-9pm.
A few readers have emailed me about Angel’s Kitchen: “… tastes that stay faithful to the cuisine, but with a twist that makes it original and memorable,” as well as “…owners are a group of ICA moms and you can see and taste the love!”
The small, self-dubbed “home café” glows in its lime-green interiors with an open kitchen at back. At least one of the four owners are always around, and true to what my readers have said, the place is always full no matter what time of day or night I come. The menu is straightforward and has influences from international cuisine, typical of a mom’s weekly menu plan ”“ favorites that stand the test and taste of time.
Though I try plenty of their dishes, my favorite is the pinakbet rice topped with lechon kawali (P318). Pinakbet of course is the Ilocano dish where a variety of vegetables is sautéed and then simmered in bagoong. Though I stay away from this dish like the plague because I absolutely loathe ampalaya, I’m drawn to this dish. Its salty and sweet flavors mingle with the various textures of the vegetables and the crunch of the lechon kawali provides that unexpected thrill that makes the eating all that more pleasurable.
There’s a brightly-lit dessert display case that’s a beacon to diners reminding them to not forget dessert. I must say however, that while the selection is impressive, I’m not too happy with the desserts. The banana cream pie (P158) is very soggy and overloaded with bananas (how can that be a bad thing, right? but it is), and the chocolate sauce carelessly laced over it totally ruins the delicate banana flavor. The chocolate cake (P138) is more of a brownie, really, than a cake with a confusing chocolate flavor. But the apple pie is decent.
57 Connecticut St. North East Greenhills, San Juan
Bagnet is the bomb
When all my dietary resolve flies out the window, which is usually on weekends, I prefer to worship at the altar of all that is deep-fried and crunchy. Bagnet is the perfect thing. The lechon kawali of the Ilocos, pork belly (liempo) is marinated, boiled to tenderness, and then deep-fried to crispness. To differentiate it from the usual lechon kawali, bagnet is cooked using a wood fire to achieve its unique taste, but in Manila, a kawa (deep cooking vessel, see below) is used.
At C-Front in San Mig by the Bay, they’ve made bagnet (P220) their business. A huge and deep abyss of oil is enclosed in glass, giving off the message that this place takes its (crispy) skin seriously. I’m told that the bagnet is cut to a specific size and is cooked for two long hours at a specific temperature to achieve that inimitable crunchiness. When brought to table, it’s not long before unprecipitated outbursts of delirious pleasure reaching orgasmic proportions are heard. Porcine in smell and taste, it’s a dish that’s unmistakably carnivorous. It makes nostrils flare and mouths water.
A caveat: Your bagnet should come to you with skin that almost shatters your eardrums with its crispness. If it doesn’t, ask the server to have it re-fried or ask for another one. With a dish like this that escalates cholesterol levels to untold highs, you deserve it. Hell, even I find it hard to go back to plain lechon kawali now.
Unit 13-16 Bldg. E
San Mig by the Bay, SM Mall of Asia,
Seaside Blvd., Pasay City
Food that’s got a lot going on
Indian food is rich and earthy, cooking up smells that are as complex as they are pungent. A meal consists of a succession of powerfully flavored offerings with top notes of cumin and curry.
This is what I get and have come to expect whenever I visit Uncle Ed’s Indian Food and Grocery in Manila. Located along UN Avenue which is like Little India with its temple and scores of Indian groceries, Uncle Ed’s is where I go when I want a party in my mouth.
Needless to say, the samosas are hand-sized gut bombs bursting with potatoes and green peas that I liberally drown in the can’t-get-enough-of-it tamarind chutney, and the spicy chola, a garbanzo stew, inspires dreams of delicious delirium when dipped with the flaky paratha bread. And that’s just for starters. Of course I don’t go wrong with the chicken biryani and the basmati rice dribbled with ghee. Washed down with a glass of cold, salty lassi, I can’t ask for more.
1268-G Midtown Executive Homes, U. N. Avenue,
5214579 / 5230266