Move over Bugsy’s, you’ve been replaced. A curiously-named restaurant serves the best value-for-money steak, and even chicken too.
It’s a curious combination, yes – Hainanese chicken and steak – an eponymous restaurant named for its specialties tucked away in an obscure location. Hai Chix & Steaks is hidden: to reach it involves turns and round the bends past a cupcake shop, a foot spa, discrepant car accessories stores, and bars for every proclivity. To see the restaurant looming suddenly from somewhere, all bright lights and friendly, and parking just outside to boot, is truly encouraging compared to the previous atmosphere.
Hai Chix & Steaks is a contemplation of contrasts. Its informal name seems to save on syntax but once inside, it’s surprisingly large and well-lit. The design aesthetic reflects knowledge of efficient usage of space and sophistication merging with the casually chic. There are set-ups for more intimate eating while the center holds court for communal chow downs complete with high stools and wider tables. One can be forgiven therefore, for marching straight to a table and waiting for a menu. But no, ordering is done at the counter which faces the door head-on so directives are clear.
The chalkboard menu is scribbled and succinct, and obviously, I’m here to try the stars. The Hainanese Chicken Rice (P245) also comes Fried (P320) but I want to keep it traditional for now. The beef boss is a 950-gram USDA Porterhouse (P2,450), and Manila’s favorite cut of meat, Rib-eye, in 650 and 330 grams (P1,950 / 1,100). We go for the latter. Lamb is offered as is pork, the star in a highly appealing dish called the Beer Platter, a pork knuckle and sauerkraut extravaganza; something to come back for.
The kitchen is kitty-corner to the ordering station so the chefs can hear our every word and musings of indecision. So far, we’ve got chicken, a steak, and wings. My Bin turns to the chef who’s watching us and asks, “Anything else we should order, Chef?” “Round it off with the Butter Garlic Shrimp,” (P250) is the swift reply. So we do. As we turn to our table, I spy the bottles of wine clustered on the counter adjacent to the cashier. Looking up, there’s a Wine & Beer Menu too. That there’s wine offered and this type of selection too is impressive.
For a casual restaurant such as this, the orders don’t come in speedy succession but there’s much to distract. It’s a thrill to watch the chefs in action and their interaction with one another. This evening, there are three of them and their rapport is undeniable. Laughing, assisting, moving with stark alacrity to the soundtrack of hisses and sizzles amidst tongues of flames and smells that seduce.
When the Butter Garlic Shrimp is delivered to table, the waiter tells us to wait for the bread. It’s a while in coming as the dish’s piquant aroma tickles our noses with garlic. The shrimp is cooked outstandingly, heated just ‘til its translucence leaves no trace. It’s juicy and bounces in the mouth. The butter sauce is one of those that makes me weak in the knees, silken and seasoned and a middle-finger-in-the-air to dietary restraint. The bread that finally arrives is well worth waiting for: grilled and buttered, it’s got that wood-fired feel and flavor and is hardy enough to stand up to repeated dunking in the butter sauce. “It tastes like Casa Marcos pandesal,” my Bin and I think, and we’re right. Driving out of Ortigas Home Depot later, we see a Casa Marcos stall.
If there’s culinary proof to the maxim that opposites attract, then chicken wings is that proof. My Bin adores this dish, while I would rather live without it. Wing tips and bumpy skin – so many bones for such little meat! – squelch my appetite but this one from Hai Chix & Steaks is admittedly good. Its Asian Soy Glaze (P200) moniker is apt, a melding of ginger, honey, dark soy sauce, and cracks of black pepper reduced to a tempting stickiness and a burnished caramel.
Divergent from its bronzed counterpart, the Hainanese Chicken Rice is gentility on a plate. Almost alabaster in appearance, it’s cut from the breast and book-ended by slices of dark meat to mimic one continuous filet. So smooth (see cross-section photo above) and oozing juice, I daresay it might even be better than those two large chains dedicated to this dish. Exceptional.
I’d describe the steak served at Hai Chix & Steak as “a steak served by a steak eater.” Presented on a chopping board, it’s already a pleasurable proposal for any meat lover but it’s the details that count. First: a boneless rib-eye, big and beefy in flavor, is sliced and shorn of its fat. That fat is then crisped up and reunited from whence it came, but this time cast as its glistening crown (see cover photo). Thus: tender, yielding meat amidst the crunching of beef crackling. Then: the juices (or au jus if you prefer that affect) that surrender in the torrid heat of cooking are siphoned and stirred with just a smack of butter and a hit of salt. Dip a forkful of meat into this elixir and feel your eyes gaze heavenward in thanks. Lastly: they call it Beef Rice but it’s really rice fried in the juices and fat of the steak, a summation of its preceding parts coming together in a triumphant, take-no-prisoners whole.
Hai Chix & Steaks
Ortigas Home Depot
Julia Vargas Ave. near the corner of Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig
0917 507.5773 / (02) 661.7695
Mon: 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Tue – Thu: 11am-2pm, 5-11pm
Fri – Sat: 11am-2pm, 5pm-2am
Closed on Sundays
On Facebook: haichixandsteaks