Once again, I'm writing up this blog post right after a heavy meal, but doing it is making me hungry again. Or should I say, I'm still full but having to look at my pics and recalling the taste of the food at Tavern Asia is tickling my appetite again.
Tavern Asia is a restaurant/bar along Aguirre, a bit after De La Rama if you're coming from Phase III, that's staked its territory with Asian fusion food and a cozy, chic Asian-modern ambiance. Converted two years ago from an original BHomes showcase house, Tavern Asia features three al fresco dining areas -- front, side, and back -- and an interior dining area with classy Chinese-crimson walls, tables of fine old hardwood and tastefully chosen decor. I usually don't think of red as a relaxing color, but the combination here worked very well for me. This is a place I'd consider taking Cat for our anniversary dinner or something similar. In fact, says co-owner Jules Bonifacio, Tavern Asia makes quite a bit of its business in events, its ambiance being very conducive for private parties.
Cream dory w/ Mango salsa
Cat and I got to try the Crispy Cream Dory with Mango Salsa and the Pad Thai, two of Tavern Asia's bestsellers, as well as two of their signature flavored beers, the Caramel and the Strawberry. We were debating whether to get the Thai-inspired Bagoong Rice, but as I'd had asthma just a few days before I was wary of triggering my allergies again. Having tasted the food though, I think we missed something not getting the Bagoong Rice. The Cream Dory with Mango Salsa was perfectly cooked, crisp outside with a very light batter coating, very tender inside. Yep, they know how to cook seafood with respect -- I hate it when a restaurant overcooks my seafood or my steak. The fish went very well with its refreshing mango salsa, which came in a pretty generous portion.
The Pad Thai too came in a surprisingly hefty serving, easily good for three or maybe four if you're ordering it with one or two other dishes. But Pad Thai being what it is, ordering this dish of fried rice noodles topped with tofu, baby shrimps, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, shallots and onion rings would've been enough on its own for me and Cat. And this Pad Thai is the real thing, as Jules told us: his partner is half-Thai, and this is his own mom's recipe. Only the chili has been toned down for the Pinoy taste, but that was easy to fix: there's a caddy on every table that includes, among other things, a bottle of dried chili flakes.
Strawberry and Caramel flavored beers
The flavored beers went surprisingly well with our food. I've never tried flavored beer before, so I had no idea what to expect. Would it sweeten the beer too much? It didn't. The Caramel, Jules' own favorite and their current best-selling flavor, made my beer (the flavored beer has a San Mig Lite base) taste and smell like one of those Belgian brown beers. I also liked the taste of the strawberry, but it was a bit understated for us. Perhaps it was because I had a little more beer poured into the glass to give it a foamy head for my shot, but the main difference between the caramel and the strawberry was that the strawberry didn't have as much of a scent.
Platter 1 - Grilled squid, Grilled liempo, Chicken inasal
Tavern Asia also serves platters of grilled pulutan, again something for future reference -- maybe for a barkada get-together or a family dinner. Platter 1 contains portions of grilled squid, grilled liempo, and chicken inasal, while Platter 2 has spring rolls, crispy shrimp and chicken teriyaki. Definitely beer food. Definitely a beer place. We're definitely coming back.
Platter 2 - Crispy hipon, Spring roll, Chicken teriyaki
Salmon & Tuna Sashimi
There's a very basic rule for eating regional cuisines: if you want the good stuff, go where the people from that region eat. And in BF Homes, one of the places where you'll almost always find a Japanese customer is Tatsunoko, formerly known as Bento-Ya. With its plain exterior and very simple sign, this little restaurant along El Grande can be easy to miss, yet I've found that it has a whole coterie of regulars.
As our dining-out trips almost always take us in the direction of Phase I, Cat and I had never tried this place before. It was time to remedy the oversight -- particularly as Tatsunoko has been reviewed very favorably before by other food writers. Its claim to fame is in preparing Japanese food exactly the way the Japanese themselves like it, even including dishes in its menu that are not often found in Japanese restaurants catering more to the Filipino taste (for example, the rather pungent natto).
Today Cat and I made arrangements for a late lunch/shoot, trying out the Negima (chicken barbecue with leeks), Oroshi Soba, Agedashi Tofu, and a plate of Salmon and Tuna Sashimi. I'm almost tempted to say the photos already declare everything I want to say about the food, but I have to put down words or this isn't a proper food blog. If I could use just one word, it would be: Oishii!!! Delicious!
The Salmon and Tuna Sashimi were very fresh, the cuts served to us all flesh/muscle with none of the tough ligament you sometimes get with lesser-grade sashimi. For its listed price (a mere PHP 200.00), I'd say this sashimi is a steal. Next came the Oroshi Soba, buckwheat noodles in chilled stock that's served in Japan as a refreshing summer treat. And refreshing this soba was, as well as very tasty. The noodles had a nice nutty flavor, and the sauce it was served in zesty with ginger, radish, and leeks, plus a nice crunch from the tenkatsu crumbs sprinkled on top. Cat says she thinks she can understand why the Japanese expats in the neighborhood choose to eat here: the food is made with a delicate touch that's very Japanese, the fresh natural flavors of the ingredients enhanced rather than covered up.
The Agedashi Tofu was also very good. I love tofu, and I ask for it almost every time we eat Japanese. This tofu was very nicely made -- crisp outside, silky-creamy-soft inside, in a leek-and-soy sauce that was, again, so delicate in flavor you can taste every ingredient in it. The dish served last was the Negima, basically a yakitori with chunks of negi, leeks, threaded alternately with the chicken. The best yakitori is made with the juicier thigh, not the breast, and Tatsunoko's was as juicy and tender as I've ever had. Cat's a big fan of dark meat, so she was very happy with hers. Again, a nice very light flavor.
Conclusion: As this restaurant is actually on my way home when I'm coming from Lopez, I strongly suspect I'll be stopping here a lot more often from now on.
I once had a friend with a funny way of eating empanadas: right after buying one, she'd squish it flat. "Why?!" I asked. "To drive out the air," she grinned. And true enough, the empanadas we got often had way too much air in them. But she won't be doing that to Empanada Mas' pies. There's hardly any air in `em; once you get past the crisp, flavorful crust all you see and chew is filling. Rich, flavorful filling.
Cat and I got a boxful at the Pergola Mall branch of Empanada Mas, trying out the Chorizo, Chicken, Ham Cheese and Jalapeno, Tuna, Spinach with Cream Cheese and Pork empanadas, plus the Cream Cheese and Chives, Cheese, Chocolate, and Peanut Butter Fudge empanaditas. First, the crust: I have to say Empanada Mas trains its employees well. The empanadas were fried, but done just right and in very hot oil, leaving hardly any oil in the crust afterward. A hastily-trained cook would likely not wait until the oil was the right temperature, resulting in an oily, soggy empanada. Ours were really crunchy outside. And inside ... I have a feeling if I bought another box to bring home, only half the contents would make it to the house!
Ham & Cheese Jalapeno
Spinach with Cream Cheese
I'd already tried the Cream Cheese & Chives empanaditas before, which was why I got really excited when Cat told me we were shooting Empanada Mas. These little explosions of flavor make a good starter or snack, and you can mix them with the Cheese empanaditas to have a balance of flavors. The Chicken, Pork and Tuna are hearty comfort foods, just like mom used to make (or better - mom could never get her crust like that). The Spinach was a salad you can eat on the go, perfect for the health buff or vegetarian. Spice addict that I am, though, I enjoyed the Chorizo and Ham n Cheese with Jalapeno best. The Chorizo reminds me of a sausage we can only find in Davao, or a milder version of the Vigan longganisa in flavor -- loaded with garlic and pepper, and very fragrant. The Ham n Cheese with Jalapeno is nicely balanced, with just the right amount of the peppers so you can definitely taste the jalapeno but without its overwhelming the ham or cheese.
Chocolate, Cream Cheese & Chives, Cheese, Peanut Butter Fudge
Our hasty lunch -- grabbed on the way to Cat's parlor session for a friend's wedding -- ended on a perfect note with the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Fudge empanaditas. What kid wouldn't go crazy for flavors like these? I have to say when it comes to Empanada Mas' dessert empanaditas, I'm definitely still a ten-year-old.
Seeking a coffee spot for me is usually a case of 'let's find a joint that isn't Starbucks.' Not that I don't like Starbucks' coffee, but a) there are usually too many people and too much noise for me in the Starbucks branch here, and b) why should I patronize an American chain when I can have coffee exactly as I like it in a real homegrown Filipino cafe? Which is precisely why I like Figaro at the Pergola Mall. Not only is the coffee good, it has exactly the kind of quiet, classy but laid-back ambiance I find most relaxing.
What I'd never done before, though, was eat lunch at Figaro. Like most cafe-goers, this is a place I usually find myself at in between traditional mealtimes. This time, Cat and I tried their new entrees, the Chicken a la Kiev and the Cream Dory Provencal. The Chicken a laKiev is a chunky, hefty roll of chicken breast enfolding a pretty thick slice of ham and creamily melted cheese, served with Carbonara pasta and fries (also cut thick, as I like 'em). I must confess I was deceived by the size of this serving, thinking it was rather smaller than it really was; that chicken roll is not only sizeable, it's stuffed to bursting. Coupled with the fries, this dish moves comfortably to Medium-Heavy on my Meal Heftiness scale. Did I mention I liked the taste? My portion disappeared in less than ten minutes,which I guess should tell you all you need to know :-)
Cat also enjoyed the Dory Provencal, which came with Arrabiata pasta and green salad. Arrabiata's supposed to be a hot sauce, but Figaro's version is quite mild; however, we loved the flavor, very rich and not too oily. Cat thinks it was made with sun-dried tomatoes, as there was a sort of smoky intensity to the flavor of the tomato. I'm not sure about that, but I am definitely sure that I like this pasta, especially with more chili flakes poured on. The dory was fresh and tender, cooked just right, and its mild flavor with the mustardy, herby Provencal sauce made a nicely balanced contrast to the pasta. Next time anyone tells me healthy eating means eating like a rabbit, I'll confront them with this dish. (By the way, I used quite a bit of the Provencal sauce to dip my fries in; if you order the Chicken a la Kiev, by all means use the Force to influence your companion to order the Dory Provencal!)
Both dishes come with your choice of iced coffee or iced tea. I went for the coffee, Cat for the tea. Figaro's coffee is quite strong, the way I like it, but if you like your iced coffee sweeter you should ask
for sugar or syrup to go with yours. Both drinks were of course very welcome in the oppressive heat.
We had our meal, by the way, in Figaro's mini-function room. This enclosed rectangular space at the side of the cafe looks like it can seat 24 or so people, more if they re-laid out the tables. The back
wall is a bookshelf filled with Readers' Digest compilations. It feels like a library in here, and when it's not otherwise booked it'd be a perfect place to read or use the cafe's Wi-Fi in isolated peace. It would also serve very well for a meeting, seminar for small groups or a small party. Wonder if they'd be open to me taking my gaming group here?