"Bring big appetites!" I looked at Cat's cellphone with a mix of exuberant anticipation and, I have to admit it, a bit of trepidation. Chef Tinette Miciano had just confirmed our shoot and sampling session at her restaurant, Twenty One Plates, and for a moment I was wondering if she'd bring out all twenty one of her signature dishes. I certainly had no problem shooting that many, nor any problem tasting that many; what I was afraid of was getting stuffed into immobility for the next few days!
I'd heard good things already of this delightfully quirky Mediterranean-Asian fusion restaurant. The food was said to be good, and the place really cozy. Located in what used to be a law office, Twenty One Plates' dining area is divided among several rooms that give diners a very private, homey feeling. The tables are spaced wide enough apart that one doesn't feel crowded at all. Cat and I chose the former library as our shooting room, as I thought I could use the shelves now arrayed with wine bottles as a fitting background for the food. Along with us was Doc Jon Atacador, a good friend and avid hobby photographer who wanted to see what shooting food was like.
Pork Adobo with Sherry Vinegar
Chef Tinette and her husband Mico gave us an effusive welcome then showed us the tasting menu. I wanted to cry with joy! For starters there would be Kimchi Rolls, beef bulgogi and rice wrapped in kimchi cabbage leaves. Then Bo's Kaldereta, beef ribs cooked in a creamy sauce with peanuts and coconut milk; savory Korean Beef Stew; Seafood Paella; Spaghettini with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Chorizo; and Pork Adobo with Sherry Vinegar Sauce, a large slab of pork slowly braised with Chef Tinette's fusion take on adobo sauce. I estimated there would be enough food on the table to feed six or seven people. But Chef Tinette wasn't done with us yet; we still had to try her Frozen Brazo de Mercedes, Banana Split with Peanut Butter Cookies, and her signature Carrot Cake.
Our timing was perfect, Chef Tinette said, as she was launching her new menu this very day. Twenty One Plates' unique take is that it only offers 21 entrees (plus a few mainstays that regulars always ask for). Another fun innovation the couple have introduced is to brand the dishes for the patrons who like them most; so the Taco Spaghetti is now named Aaron's Taco Spaghetti, for a ten-year old boy who's there every weekend and orders nothing else.
The food was simply fantastic. The Kimchi Rolls were a novelty for me, a fun and spicy twist on sashimi, that. The meats were incredibly tender, falling off the bone and soaked through and through with flavor. I loved the way Chef Tinette combined the traditional and the new. Having the Adobo served as a slab that had to be carved just tickled the carnivore in me pink, and the unique flavor of the sherry vinegar was exactly what was needed to cut through the fat; I'm a great fan of fat in adobo, as that's simply where the flavor is. The Bo's Kaldereta was - and I exaggerate not -- the best kaldereta I've ever tasted, every mouthful to be savored; Cat enthused repeatedly about drowning in delight in the creamy sauce. The Korean Beef Stew was nice and savory, not too sweet -- a problem I have with some Korean beef stew versions -- though I could've taken it a little hotter.
The Spaghettini tasted very Italian, with a hint of Spain; the sun-dried tomatoes went perfectly with the spicy Spanish sausage, all brought together with just the right amount of olive oil. As for the Paella, I loved the freshness and quality of the ingredients, the mussels and shrimps having the sweet succulence of something caught just that morning. Cat and I did wish Chef Tinette had added more tomato sauce to the Paella though, and I would've liked for it to stay a little longer in the oven because I love paella crust.
Banana Split with Peanut-Butter Cookies
I was already feeling quite immobile when Chef Tinette brought out the desserts. Any more room in there? Probably not. But -- sniff -- this Carrot Cake is really fragrant! A little bite, then - and another, and another, and hey, what's this plate of ice cream and stuff? Banana Split with home-made Peanut Butter Cookies? Pass me some! Cathy gushed something about these cookies should be sold on their own too. And I already know what to give for Christmas -- Tinette's carrot cake. The coup de grace to my mobility was delivered by the Frozen Brazo. Doc Jon and Cat just took a little taste; I finished it. Fifteen minutes after we were done, I still found it near-impossible to stand up.
Thinking of trying out Twenty One Plates? There's no need to think about it. Just go! And bring a (really) big appetite.