At the ripe old age of 33, I’ve come to believe that Christmas is for kids. At the risk of sounding like Scrooge (which my Bin tells me I’ve become), it’s horrid to hear and say that I don’t like Christmas as much as I used to. I’ve become the fretful adult grousing about prices, my kilometer-long Christmas list that seems to grow longer everyday, the party preps that need to be done, and I find myself wincing (not just from exertion) as I listen to Christmas carols while at the gym.
Meantime I watch in envy as Boo, my 5 year old, runs around the house announcing, “Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming!” Without fail, she’ll ask me once everyday, “Mom, can I open my presents now?” Her youthful eyes sparkle with uncontained glee. Our Christmas tree, which has been up since November 1 at her request, has its lights turned on promptly at dusk, and Boo dutifully turns on the lighted wreath that hangs outside above our front door. Such merriment should be contagious I suppose, but I haven’t given in yet; perhaps because I don’t want to. Ah, the stubbornness of adults.
Grumbling notwithstanding, I haven’t lost my attitude of gratitude. I’m surrounded by love, I have my health, and the food I’ve been eating lately is too good to be kept a secret. These foods and places are not necessarily new, but (some of them) have become my favorites over time. So, in my attempt at reawakening my Christmas spirit, here’s the food I’m eating and loving this December. And oh, have a Merry Christmas!
Breakfast at Apartment 1B
Ah, breakfast. I like all three meals of the day, but I have to say it’s breakfast that excites me the most; probably because I’m seduced by the thought of a starch-heavy meal where biscuits, scones, pancakes, eggs, and egg Benedicts reign supreme. And speaking of eggs Benedict, I have a different favorite almost every quarter: Bizu, M Café, Gaster Deli, and a rather decent one at Heaven ”˜n Eggs. I’m almost always satisfied with the eggs Benedict that I’m served, and the one at Apartment 1B is my new favorite of the quarter.
Whatever the protein companion is for this dish ”“ ham, bacon, smoked salmon, spinach ”“ I only ask that the eggs be poached ”˜til they’re just set. I want that unctuous liquid gold to come oozing lazily out of their protective white sheaths, staining the plate and practically begging to be sopped up with the English muffin. For me, there’s nothing worse than pricking a poached egg only to see that it’s been cooked to oblivion.
The cooks at Apartment 1B give me an egg that is spot-on with what I want: luxuriant in their richness, the eggs make a shiny mess on my plate dyeing everything in its vicinity a gleaming yellow. The saltiness of the Canadian ham cuts through the swath of egg-y succulence, the deliciousness of it all enveloped in big, doughy bites of bread.
I’m also enamored with the omelets at this cozy restaurant. Made with three eggs, they’re the sexiest, lushest omelets that have ever been cooked: firm and practically bursting with filling, they’re edible testaments to the culinary dexterity of its cook. There can be no better omelet found in Manila.
132 L.P. Leviste Corner Sedeno St
Salcedo Village, Makati City 1227
Pachino ripieno in crosta di pizza at Gran CaffÃ¨ Casanova
There’s no dearth of Italian restaurants in Manila, but a lot of them are “Filipinized” Italian rather than true Italian. One restaurant that belongs in the latter category is Gran CaffÃ¨ Casanova, a rather “secret” place of residents of White Plains and St. Ignatius as well as people who work in the Ortigas area. Not as well known as other Italian restaurants, Casanova (now under new management) is for those who want no-frills Italian but are willing to open up to innovation once in a while. I come here when I want to enjoy a thoughtfully prepared meal in a relaxing environment that’s far away from the hubbub.
A new discovery I make on my most recent visit is the rather lengthily named pachino ripieno in crosta di pizza. In English — cherry tomatoes stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella rolled in crispy pizza and Parma ham (P360/5 pieces per order) ”“ also an equally extended translation.
But if every verbosity could be as name-forgetting as this dish, then it’s all worth it. Big enough for two bites, I wholeheartedly recommend stuffing the entire thing in your mouth so you’ll get the full-on experience. A sequence of flavors begins with freshly baked pizza dough soft beyond belief, collapsing onto a burst of juice from the succulent cherry tomato. It’s followed quickly by a surge of saltiness from the anchovies and the Parma ham then tempered with the luxurious subtlety of the mozzarella, a richness that coats my tongue and truly, renders me silent for a full minute. After I’ve eaten one, I immediately miss it. So I discreetly reach for another, hoping my two other companions won’t notice that I’ve had more than my allotted share…
Cliffhouse sandwich at Aristocrat
While Aristocrat Restaurant’s barbeque and java rice will make any Filipino’s mouth water, it’s their Cliffhouse sandwich that my heart really beats for. My dad introduced it to me when I was 12, and every time I have one I think of him (and subsequently take home an extra order just for him).
Available only at the main branch along Roxas Blvd., the Cliffhouse is Aristocrat’s take on the Clubhouse, a standby sandwich dish on the menu at almost every large-scale casual-dining restaurant or country club. A double-decker composed of three incongruously cut pieces of bread ensconces ham, pickles, omelet, tomatoes, and chicken salad (chicken chunks mixed with mayonnaise and seasoned). Dredged in eggs and bread crumbs that taste like they’ve been ground from pugon pandesal, the sandwich is then deep-fried briefly to bless it golden. It comes to table looking like an edible version of Stonehenge dribbled with a quasi-Hollandaise sauce.
After the initial crunch from the coating, the mélange of meats and vegetables ooze their essences into every bite and come to rest on my tongue, every flavor urging on another ”“ salty, sweet, smooth ”“ and through it all, the plain white sandwich bread exalted.
432 San Andres cor. Roxas Blvd.,
524-7671 to 80
Open 24 Hours
The Room Upstairs
The LRI Building along Reposo Street in Makati is a bliss spot for home decorators and designers. With big names like PNKY and Kish making their home here, there’s something for the eye perched in every nook and cranny. I especially like The Room Upstairs, the hip space owned by interior designer Pinky Peralta. Melding food and furniture, I dream about taking home one of the store’s unconventional wall clocks.
Usually however, I make do with having a cappuccino at The Room Upstairs’ café, sipping and ogling the vintage-chic couches and knickknacks. When Boo is with me, she likes to have their carbonara, and one day I hope to try their chocolate cake whose suggestive name escapes my mind right now. Sitting here in this café, surrounded by style in a sanctuary setting, it’s my little get-away-from-it-all place, and now it’s yours too.
The Room Upstairs
2nd Floor LRI Business Plaza,
210 N. Garcia St., Bel Air,
The Cookbook Kitchen is one of those places that only intrepid foodies will go to. Situated in the deep recesses of Mandaluyong, it can be almost too easy to get lost in the maze-like streets. On my first two visits there, I have to play an odd seek-and-peep game along Torres Street looking for the correct street to hang a right on.
Really a little house that’s been converted into a restaurant, it exudes an undoubtedly homey feel with hand-painted wall drawings and mismatched tables and chairs. The best seller of all time here is the White Fish with Lemon and Parsley Sauce (P220). Tender fish (labahita perhaps) fillets are marinated in lemon slices, dotted with butter and olive oil and then baked. Garnished with parsley, the fish literally swims in the two fats exuded while baking. Terrible for the heart I agree, but absolutely divine when ladled on hot rice. The fish is so soft to almost make teeth unnecessary, and the lingering topnote of lemon awakens my palate, though the garnish here is lime (go figure). No wonder every group that comes in has this dish on their table. I’ve also tried the Pineapple Soy Spareribs (P200) and the Rigatoni with Kielbasa Sausage (P220), both pleasing.
I also try the much-ballyhooed Kittin’s Scarlet Cake (P120), a riff on Red Velvet cake, which is now a local staple of Manila’s dessert lovers. This Scarlet Cake’s muddy-red hue is emphasized by the over-enthusiastic sprinkling of cocoa powder that destroys the purity of the cream cheese frosting underneath. The one and only time that I have this cake, the frosting was on its way to spoiling, making me wonder just how popular this cake really is. At another time, the server is at a loss as to how to describe the new Sunshine Cake and weakly recommends the Chocolate Cake by default.
8 Socorro Fernandez Street, Mandaluyong
Karen Young’s BTS Cake
BTS stands for ”˜Better Than Sex’ and when baker Karen Young tells me about this, one of her new cakes, I chuckle. “Are you intrigued, Lori?” She asks me teasingly. “Only if it really is better than sex!” I shoot back. We laugh loudly together.
There are many variations of this cake that abound in cookbooks and on the internet. Karen’s version is her famous chocolate ganache cake gussied up with dulce de leche, softly whipped cream, and large shards of chocolate whose crunch pleasantly startles. This is a terrific holiday cake, and a much needed change from the oft-ordered Chocolate Ganache Cake.
So is this cake really better than sex? Only you can say, truly.
428 Adalla St. Palm Village, Makati