This traditional Japanese restaurant along Aguirre (near the Elizalde stoplight) -- now entering its seventh year of business -- is helmed by none other than the former chef of the posh Tsukiji restaurant in Makati, Hiroaki Otsuka. If you're a fan of Japanese food you'll already know what that means; if not, then let us quote you what they've put at the front page of their menu: "Fresh Sushi. Delectable sashimi. Crispy tempura. Tender Beef Sukiyaki. Mouth-watering Ebi Ten Maki." The descriptions do not exaggerate. From a small restaurant, Hanakazu has expanded its space to accommodate its growing clientele, a testament to Chef Otsuka's labor of love.
We ordered a perennial favorite, the Ebi Ten Maki, a sushi roll tenderly cradling crisp ebi tempura slices in its center; Miso Soup; a refreshing Kani Salad; Yakiniku (grilled beef); and Yakimeshi (fried rice).
All the dishes were made to the high standard that this popular restaurant has come to be known for -- all the ingredients are top-grade and fresh, the flavors light and ethereal, very well balanced -- you can see the chef's expertise in the way every roll of sushi here is rolled just so, the sashimi cut so neatly you'd swear fish grow in neat rectangles and lozenges.
I asked Cat where she wanted to have our anniversary dinner and she said she'd been craving Japanese. And when it comes to Japanese food, Hanakazu will always be among the first restaurants I'll think of.
Ebi Ten Maki with Maguro Tatsutaage and Miso soup
A new revelation for us was the Kani Salad, a beautiful light salad of lettuce and assorted greens, carrots, and kani strips, tossed in a light semi-sweet mayo dressing and topped with strips of dried seaweed. The serving of this salad was surprisingly large, easily good for sharing among three or four. On its own, it can make a pretty filling meal for a health-conscious diner. We also loved our Yakiniku, the beef so tender we could tear apart the strips easily with our chopsticks, with a light soy-pepper-slightly-sweet flavor. The beef went perfectly with our sticky Yakimeshi.
As I said, we nearly always order the Ebi Ten Maki when we eat here; Hiroaki's wife Lorna says she's not sure whether this roll is Hiroaki's own invention or not, but she does get comments from foodies telling her Hanakazu's version is the best they've had. I agree. We also received tiny bowls of Maguro Tatsutaage, breaded tuna slices fried crisp, as a complementary appetizer.
Yakiniku with Yakimeshi
The rest of the week, though, is spent keeping up the quality that Hanakazu's become known for. Though the restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m., Hiroaki arrives early to begin making the ramen broth, which he insists on making fresh every day. He also does the marketing for ingredients himself every three days, and they regularly receive shipments of locally hard-to-find items from Japan.
That passionate attention to detail is evident in every bite here at Hanakazu, which is why we've been regular customers since 2005. The staff even remembers my friends and I as "that noisy gang that always makes such a ruckus in the tatami room but orders a lot!", said with a smile, of course. Lorna said that their loyal customers now have "Hanakazu babies" -- you could say that we could count ourselves among them as well.
Chef Hiroaki was too busy to interrupt, but we were able to get Lorna Otsuka to drop by our tatami room and tell us more about Hanakazu. The restaurant's name is taken from their daughters, Hana and Kazuko. They and their two sons, Yoshi and Sachi (after whom the two tatami rooms are named), are the reason Chef Hiroaki is happy in BF Homes rather than taking up offers to open a Hanakazu branch in commercial districts like Makati. "We were tempted by an offer when Serendra was new, but when we found that we'd have to be open all week, my husband said no," reveals Lorna. "He wants his Mondays off, because that's his day to be with his children. That's the day he'll make them lunch himself as a treat."
Beef Kababs, Chicken Biryani, Prawn Curry
When I was fifteen and living in New Delhi with my parents, I'd often get off the schoolbus a few blocks before our street and walk home from there so I could pass by the local bakery. I'd pick up half a dozen piping-hot vegetable samosas, make half of them disappear, and arrive home with a cheery 'Hey Mom, Dad, look! I got us samosas -- one each!'
My first bite of Raaz Mahal's vegetable samosas inevitably brought back this memory, as fresh and sharp as it was yesterday (Hey, it's not been that long ago! Uh, yeah riiiight.). I guess another reason this memory got triggered was because our first visit to Raaz Mahal was at my dad's invitation, his treat for me on my birthday. The two of us have had a real weakness for Indian cuisine ever since that stint in Delhi, and as Raaz Mahal serves Punjabi food, the same North Indian food we got used to, we're really happy we've now got a restaurant like this in BF. A few days later, Cat and I visited again to interview the Arshad family, Raaz Mahal's owners, and of course to eat more samosas.
Vegetable Samosas and Potato Pakoras
Ordering for the family, I went for the tried and true appetizers: Vegetable Samosas, Onion and Potato Pakoras, and cheese-filled Aloo (Potato) Balls. We followed this up with the Chicken Dal, Chapatti bread to scoop up the dal with, Beef Kababs, Prawn Curry, and Chicken Biryani, and on our return visit, we tried the Goat Korma and Naan.
The great delight of Indian food, for me, is the way the complex blend of spices, the masalas, create a cascading explosion of flavors on the palate and the nose. This is exactly what we got with Raaz Mahal's food. The Samosas were crisp on the outside, soft and delicately spiced inside, and served with a sweet and tangy chutney sauce. The Pakoras were also crisp, really nicely done -- flavorful, not oily at all despite their being deep-fried -- and went great with the provided chili dip. The kids went bananas over the Aloo Balls, which were like potato croquettes filled with an herbed cottage cheese, and also served with chili dip.
Aloo Balls and Chicken Dal with Chapatti
I would've liked more lentils in the Chicken Dal, which was a lentil-and-chicken stew with curry spices. You scoop it up with torn pieces of Chapatti bread or Naan. The Beef Kababs and Prawn Curry came next, and disappeared very quickly! The kababs were delicately spiced, still moist inside (ground meat kababs dry easily, so this tells me the cook has a light hand on the grill), and served with a yogurt-mint-and-coriander-leaf sauce that surprisingly turned out to be the spiciest thing on the table, heat-wise. The Prawn Curry was buttery and had just the right amount of heat for the family -- strong enough that you could tell this was real Indian food, yet toned to the level that my sister and nieces could still taste everything. And the prawns were very fresh -- they had that sweet fresh taste. Because of the strong sauce of the kabab and the prawn curry, I'm afraid I wasn't able to really isolate the flavor of the biryani very well; it was very fragrant though, and yes, it was made with real basmati rice.
Goat Korma with Naan
I wish though that I'd thought to order the Korma while my whole family was there. That was a knockout! The yogurt-based sauce was very rich and creamy, nicely aromatic with the distinct yet far from overpowering mutton scent that tells you this isn't beef or pork. (Raaz Mahal is owned by a Pakistani family and serves Halal food). If I had to recommend a dish with which to break the common Pinoy aversion to goat or mutton, this korma would be high on the list, if not first. We chose to have this curry with Naan bread instead of rice, and I'm happy to report that Raaz Mahal's naan is the kind made with sesame seeds, giving them a nice added crunch.
I just wish the portions were bigger, a concern that manager Shala Arshad assures me will be dealt with when they come out with their new menu. Now that they know their market and are more confident that their food sells, Shala says, they're ready to upgrade the 'sampler' portions to something larger. Raaz Mahal is not a cheap place to eat, but given the complexity of their dishes, and the fact that all the spices they use must be imported from Pakistan, you know what you're buying.
Shala, her brother Ismail (Ish), the chef, and their father Muhammad sat with us as we were wolfing down the korma to tell us Raaz Mahal's story. The name Raaz Mahal means 'Secret Palace' or 'Mysterious Palace,' and fits right in with the tasteful, very Indian theme of the interiors. The Arshads own the Orientique furniture and antiques stores, and it shows. Raaz Mahal's interiors are painted in the gay hues of a bazaar in Rajasthan, and studded with plaques and statuettes done in traditional Indo-Persian motifs.
Nor are the Arshads newbies at the restaurant business, having opened one in Jakarta sixteen years ago, and another in Lahore. In fact, Shala says, the very reason for Raaz Mahal's existence is the love she and Ish have for their dad's cooking, which is based on traditional Muslim Punjabi recipes. But when he finally caved in to their insistent clamor for a restaurant here in Manila, it was Muhammad Arshad who chose Aguirre Avenue as their first location; a tribute to the burgeoning BF Homes food culture.
We finished our meal the same way we did on the previous visit, with a Strawberry Lassi. This sweet iced drink, with just the right amount of fresh strawberry and yogurt tartness, clears the palate beautifully after a meal rich in heady masalas and ghee; not surprisingly it's one of their bestsellers. They also offer Mango and Banana Lassi, and we also tried their Kulfi; an ice-cream like dessert made with milk steeped with intoxicatingly fragrant cardamom and topped with crushed pistachios. Dairy-based desserts are very important when you eat hot food like Indian or Malay, as the milk clears the burning sensation from the tongue. (Alcohol intensifies it though; which is why, spice freak that I am, I had my appetizers and main course with San Mig Lite!).
Ish Arshad says, though, that we've yet to try their real signature dish, the Beef Nihari. It's a rich beef curry that takes all of seven hours to cook, and I can just imagine how richly developed its flavors should be from that treatment. Looks like Cat and I have something to look forward to!
The Arshad Family
Tom Yum Goong
There's a certain level of expectation you build when a restaurant's owner tells you they delayed opening until they had all the necessary herbs growing in their garden. That electric feeling of anticipation was just what I got when we first talked to Thai Fusion Cafe's genial owner, Don Reyes. Thai cuisine's unique flavor is built on a selection of fresh, aromatic herbs, so when a restaurateur tells you they grow their own, you know they're honestly passionate about their food.
Cat and I finally got to try Thai Fusion Cafe, and I'm glad to report that my expectations were met. No, more than that -- they were totally bowled over! Put it this way: If ever a typhoon catches you in here and Aguirre floods, you can just imagine that you're in Bangkok eating at this secret locals' place beside a klong. That's how I felt after sampling four of Thai Fusion Cafe's dishes -- Tom Yum Goong, Red Chicken Curry, Pad Thai, and Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork. There's an elusive quality that just tells you a real Thai hand is behind a Thai dish--the balance of flavors, the bright freshness of the herbs and ingredients, the respect with which they treat the food. Not surprisingly, Don's secret weapon is his wife Patty, a Thai he met while working abroad.
Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork
Thai Fusion Cafe, Don says, was five whole years in development: research, recipe testing, business studies; and yes, making sure their backyard herb garden could supply enough for a restaurant. Despite, or perhaps because of all that research, Thai Fusion Cafe has a very down-to-earth approach that lets you know this is a Thai place, while making you feel very much at home.
The interior of their new location, along Aguirre beside Arti's Boutique (the former site of Chi's) and near the Rodeo Spa, is simply yet tastefully done, with an atrium for al fresco dining that should be very inviting on clear December evenings. Subtle clues to the identity of the chef can be found in the decor -- not the mass-produced tapestries or paintings you'll find in Bangkok's tourist bazaars, but modern prints of signature Thai things such as kickboxing, temples, and portraits of the Thai royal family.
Then there's the earnest tagline Don uses to market his food--not 'authentic Thai', but 'home-cooked Thai cuisine.' Don's a great believer in letting the customer discover the quality of Thai Fusion Cafe as a delightful surprise and gratifying experience, a refreshing approach to branding compared to the hard-sell variety. He's even humble enough to warn that they can't always have everything available, or always produce a dish the same way all the time. That's why he's in no hurry to branch out even with offers on hand; to him quality, not quantity, is paramount and comes first.
Thai Milk Tea (Jumbo size)
Don had already revealed his aces -- herb garden, Thai wife -- when he asked how spicy I wanted my food, with a mischievous twinkle. I asked for their normal level of heat, and immediately got insurance by ordering some Thai Milk Tea; I knew I'd need it! Sure enough, Cat and I got the works! Even at mild levels Cat's eyes were going wide as she ate her Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork. Me, spice addict that I am, I think I was pounding the table with joy over my Penang Curry.
First impression: these fresh, bright flavors are really possible only when you've got fresh Thai herbs to use, and the cook really knows what she's doing! The rich coconut milk sauce was smooth, creamy, shot through with sparks of unique flavor from the Thai basil and other fresh herbs in it. As for the chili level, as expected, their normal is a cut above what you might expect from Malay or Indonesian; which in turn is a cut stronger than North Indian, what I'm most used to. That Thai Milk Tea was indispensable! I had the curry with white rice, as per Don's advice, so I could enjoy the sauce's flavor to its fullest.
Red Chicken Curry (Penang)
Same thing with the Tom Yum Goong, our usual benchmark for the quality of a Thai restaurant. It was a bright, complex interplay of herbs and contrasting flavors -- sweet, sour, salty, hot, savory -- and capped by the sweet light texture of very fresh prawns. Now, I'm allergic to crustaceans; the older the stock, the stronger its effect on me. My allergies remained quiet during and even after our meal, despite the soup having several split prawn heads in it for flavor. Conclusion: those prawns were still swimming a day or two ago. This guess was borne out by Don's assuring us that he's very meticulous about freshness, keeping only three days' worth of stock on hand at any time.
Cat was amazed by the complex balance of the soup, quite unlike the Tom Yums in her memory bank. Don speculates that may be because, left to their own devices, Filipino cooks tend to gravitate to the familiar flavor of sinigang and make their Tom Yum closer to our local soup by using less coconut milk and a much more conservative use of herbs. It was a gamble, he says, to introduce his wife's Tom Yum Goong because the Filipino market might already have been used to a modified, Filipinized version of Tom Yum. Me, I think that's a gamble Thai Fusion Cafe is going to win.
A note to the less adventurous -- Don stressed the importance of enjoying these dishes the Thai way. Many Thai offerings, such as the Bagoong Rice with Sweet Pork, have their flavors balanced in such a way that not eating everything on your plate will totally alter your experience. Under his guidance, Cat tossed the sweet stir-fried pork, scrambled egg, mango strips, chilis, chopped string beans and shallots into her rice, and immediately she tasted the difference. I tried it too, and yes, the flavors now came together like a harmonious gamelan symphony. Then we both grabbed our Milk Teas! I'm not sure if the chef was using Thai birdseye chilies or our siling labuyo, but a mere teaspoonful of the stuff is mighty powerful. One reason why the condiments are grouped apart on your plate, aside from the presentation's appeal, is so you can mix as much or as little of each as you want (although he says another reason for the compartmentalized presentation is that some customers may be allergic to some ingredients).
The Pad Thai arrived last, when we were already starting to feel full. That we left not even a single bean sprout, noodle or speck of ground peanut surviving on that plate should tell you how we found it! Don's recommended way of eating Pad Thai is to pair it with their Papaya Salad or with Satay, either chicken or pork. Pad Thai has become a favorite of some regulars' children, he says; maybe this is a good way to trick kids into eating their vegetables? It's also one totally non-spicy dish, so you've a fallback order if any of your friends or family are averse to chilies.
Thai Fusion Cafe was recommended to us by our friend Sheila Amora, owner of Funky Plum. She was so eager to have Good Living BF feature this restaurant, she even followed up a few days after texting us her recommendation. Now we know why. Had my mom been born Thai, I think this is how she'd have cooked. Honest, unpretentious, yet lovingly dedicated to quality. This is the real stuff!
You may also want to try their other bestsellers: Chicken Pandan, Thai Toast, (Fried) Glass Noodle Spring Rolls, Pork or Chicken Satay, and the Papaya Salad.
There's a place in BF that serves lamb satay! Whee! That was my first reaction on reading the menu at Food de Sentosa, a Singaporean restaurant in Phase 3 that's been garnering quite a bit of attention lately. Business has been good so they are expanding the restaurant and adding five to six more tables next month.
Food de Sentosa is owned by Mr. Ronnie Teo, a Singaporean who's immigrated and married here. His son, David, turned out to be a co-teacher of mine at the College of Saint Benilde, but had to take a leave to help out at the restaurant due to the unexpected boom of demand there. He is now its full-time manager but you can also find him inside the kitchen helping his dad cook.
The elder Teo is a retiree who started the restaurant simply because he got bored after retirement. He had always loved cooking as a hobby and being the cook of the family, he brought in his family recipes as well as his own style of cooking and drew from Singapore's mixed Malay-Chinese heritage to build up Food de Sentosa's menu.
The eventual success of Food de Sentosa is one of life's quirks that just happens: With no business plan, no formal culinary training, no background in the food business, but armed only with a love of food and cooking, he launched his restaurant in November 2009. He never expected it would take off the way it has--they were even featured in the Philippine Daily Inquirer without their knowing a reviewer had visited--because he wasn't serious about it when he started, recalls David.
Today, they have regulars in and out of BF, like a fellow Singpaporean who travels all the way from Batangas just to eat there three to five times a week. Can you say Food de Sentosa addict?
One other reason for his success may be that Mr. Teo simply can't say no to any customer requests--he once cooked tempura for a customer. "Sometimes, he will cook something new on the spot and sometimes the dish would find its way to the menu the next day," David grins. He will also create new dishes with in-season ingredients like tom yao, kay lan, bok choy, and tang-o either from the local market or flown in from Singapore. (They also have kid-friendly dishes like Fried Fish Fillet with Chili Crab Sauce that's not spicy and custom-made prawn-flavored fried chicken).
Cathy and I decided to try out the Lamb Satay -- hey, I never say no to lamb satay! -- the Black Pepper Beef, and the Nasi Goreng.
We loved the Lamb Satay, grilled to tender perfection and served with Mr. Teo's own traditional peanut sauce. Food de Sentosa's version of satay sauce is not as sweet as the Madurese version served in Pawon Ageng; I think it has more tamarind, and has a more herby aroma. Which do I like better? Give me both! Nobody ever died of a satay overdose, and one of these days when wifey is not watching I'm going to prove it! The sauce went very well with the unique aroma of lamb.
The Black Pepper Beef had a nice savory flavor, though not as hot as I would've expected from a Singaporean restaurant; unfortunately there were some tough bits.
I enjoyed the Nasi Goreng, Malay-style spiced fried rice with bits of meat, vegetables and egg, made savory with belachan, Malay dried shrimp. I rather wish the portion was a bit larger because we finished it before we could consume all the beef. The Nasi Goreng was really a meal in itself--a scrumptious one at that--so we could've gotten two and skipped the Black Pepper Beef.
I also wish I wasn't allergic to crab. A serving of chili crab went to the other table just as Cat and I finished eating, and the aroma simply grabbed me and almost made me forget I'd already eaten.
I've always said BF Homes needs more restaurants like these, and I'll say it again. Singaporean food is a great way for Pinoys to start sampling the wider galaxy of Asian cuisines, blending as it does the influences of Malaysian and Indian cuisine with the familiarity of Chinese, and Food de Sentosa is just the place for it.
One last detail: Why the color purple as the restaurant's theme color, we asked David. Because his dad didn't want the all-too familiar red, David laughs. Food de Sentosa's striking color was a great way to announce itself to the community a year-and-a-half ago, being the first restaurant here to use it in a big way. Today, his cooking and can-do attitude has endeared himself to his customers and has established his former hobby into a full-blown business.
Editors Note: We'd like to thank Ria Quintos-Ortega for reviewing Chic-Boy for Good Living BF.
SAVED BY THE FOOD
By Ria Quintos-Ortgega
I have heard many good things about Chic-boy from my friends and my party-legal children. I have been told me about their delicious Chicken Inasal and garlic rice with chicken oil poured over it with extra toasted garlic sprinkled on top. Doesn’t that just make your mouth water?!?! So I decided to bring my brood to the Chic-boy branch along President’s Avenue, BF Paranaque for dinner so I could see for myself what the fuss was about.
Let’s talk about what’s good about Chic-boy. First, parking was not a problem, considering it was a Sunday night, and the place was packed. There was more parking on the left side of the building too.
Second, the food was fantastic! Chic-boy is a play on the words Chicken and Baboy. We felt like the “boy” part of Chic-boy so we ordered the following items: My husband had the salmon sinigang, a double order of garlic rice, a double order of ginisang kangkong to share, and the Whole Cebu Lechon Liempo. My daughter ordered the SS-1 (Sizzling Special Meal Lechon Sisig served with rice and soup). My son and I both ordered a CB-6 (Chibog Busog Meal Cebu Lechon Liempo served with rice and soup).
The salmon sinigang was what I would like this dish to be. No scrimping on the salmon belly and soup sour enough to make your cheeks pucker. The garlic for the rice was toasted to perfection. The kangkong was very flavorful, well-seasoned and had the right crunch and color to it. The liempo is to die for with its delicious, well-marinated, juicy, succulent meat and crispy skin. It was lovely. The sisig was perfect - comparable to those served near the “riles” in Pampanga. There all sorts of textures at play with the softness and stickiness of the fat and crunch of the skin and the tenderness of whatever lean meat there is. Not to mention the added kick of the spicy sili! It was a rock concert in my mouth.
Third, Chic-boy is rice-all-you-can country! Yes, you read it right. This place serves unlimited rice. For those of you who are big fans of the stuff, the waiters go around carrying rice buckets, ready to plop a hot steaming heap of unadulterated carbohydrates onto your plate.
Lastly, you get great value for your money here. A very filling CB-6 meal costs P99. If you add a bottomless iced tea, it will come to about P124. Not bad at all!
Unfortunately, I do have some issues with Chic-boy, starting with the poor ventilation. The minute we walked through the door, the air was thick with the scent of barbecue smoke. It clung to my hair and my clothing. You must not shower before going here. Wait until after you get home or you’ll have to take another one if you do.
When we entered Chic-boy, we waited to be seated. The waiter approached us after a few seconds to tell us that we needed to place our order first, but we had to wait for a free table. He quickly added that there were people who were almost done anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Well, it was. After we had our orders efficiently taken by the person at the counter and was handed our order number, we had to look for a table. I approached one of the waiters and asked if there was a queue for seating. The reply was, “Wala po. First come, first serve.” I replied with, “That’s not a good idea.” People were circling the area for tables like vultures prowling for a meal. Some who came in after us got a table sooner just because they happened to stand next to some diners who finished earlier than expected. Not exactly first come, first served, is it? To be fair to the service staff, they rustled up a table once I grimaced at their response.
Once we were seated, we were served in trickles. The first to arrive were the drinks, the salmon sinigang, my husband’s double orders of rice and ginisang kangkong, and my daughter’s SS-1. My son had to follow up the rest of our orders 7 minutes into the meal. By the time the Whole Cebu Lechon Liempo and one of the CB-6 orders got to us, my husband was halfway through. They seemed to have forgotten my order, so I had to follow up on it. My CB-6 didn’t arrive until everyone was almost done. I was, then, pressured to wolf the delicious food down. I was so rushed that I wasn’t able to ask for the soup which is supposed to be available upon request.
The restroom? It was nicely appointed, but by the time I got to it, the liquid hand soap was so diluted, it may as well have been water. There were no paper towels to dry your hands with, and worse, there was no toilet paper. The toilet and urinal were not as clean as I would like them.
My verdict is this: If you’re in the mood for a no-frills, insanely affordable pig-out meal, with extra helpings of rice and well-prepared meat, Chic-boy is the place for you. I’d definitely go back to eat there again! Come on, guys! I’m rooting for you!
A house built on soup. That, in a nutshell, is Pat Pat's Kansi, a growing chain of Ilonggo restaurants whose core offering is a hearty beef soup called Kansi. Cat and I got to visit the BF Homes branch and met owner Enri Rodriguez, who told us Pat Pat's story.
Kansi - Laman
Pat Pat, it turns out, is an Iloilo lass who as a child kept asking for a particular beef soup from Bacolod. It got to the point that her
mom, rather than taking the ferry to Bacolod just to buy the stuff, reverse-engineered the recipe and added her own touches to make the Kansi that would later take Makati by storm. What's Kansi? It's the Ilonggo version of Bulalo, beef marrow soup, but cooked with a sour fruit called batuan plus the secret herbs and spices added by Pat Pat's mom. It's so flavorful, says Enri, that there's no need to add soy sauce or patis to the soup as most Tagalog diners usually do with their bulalo. Years later, the family put up a small restaurant along Kamagong in Makati. It's now devilishly difficult to find parking along Kamagong at lunchtime, with so many of Makati's office workers heading for Pat Pat's Kansi.
Inasal - Pecho
Cat and I sampled the signature Kansi, the indispensable Iloilo/Bacolod favorite Chicken Inasal, Pork Barbecue and the Sizzling
Sisig. First stop, the Kansi: we opted for the Kansi Laman (meat), an all-meat version, rather than the Bulalo (bone marrow) - I've been taking in too much cholesterol lately! On my first spoonful of soup I could already tell this beef had been lovingly boiled into submission over a slow fire, the flavor was so rich. Because we'd been shooting the other dishes the soup had gone cold, but Enri gave us fresh broth to bring our bowl of kansi back to steaming the way it should be enjoyed. The beef was very tender, and Cat, who usually takes her boiled beef with some kind of sauce, found she needed to add nothing at all as Enri smilingly advertised. Me, I'm the guy who always likes fire on the palate so I used the provided calamansi, fresh chilies and soy sauce to make a hot dip. Either way it went down great (had to try Cat's version too!).
The Inasal tasted just like those we had in Bacolod, smoky and tangy, while the Pork Barbecue was garlicky-sweet like the barbecue I grew up with. Both went down very well, though I found a bit more gristle than I liked on one stick of the barbecue. The Sizzling Sisig was a wow - really spicy the way I liked it, spiked with chopped chilies and fried to a crisp on a hotplate.
You'd expect a place that serves sisig like this to be a beer drinker's haven as well, but here we found another unique aspect of Pat Pat's Kansi: in line with its original concept as a down-home, family-friendly place, alcohol simply isn't on the menu. And because the owners want to keep the focus squarely on their strongest suits, the menu is restricted to only ten dishes, which if the four items we sampled are any indication they do really well indeed.
Speaking of menus, the place has been discovered by a new market--our Korean visitors. A Korean traveler stopped by last year and found the food to be very much in line with the Korean taste. So determined and enthusiastic was he to recommend Pat Pat's Kansi to his compatriots that he insisted to draw up a testimonial right there and then, which the Rodriguezes printed on a banner, and they now also have a menu with entries in Korean script.
Pat Pat's Kansi BF Homes branch is located at the lower level of Greenworld Plaza along President's Avenue. The place has ample parking, a requirement which Enri says the franchisors wisely made a prime requirement. The restaurant is Enri's first venture into the food business, and it's one he made based on his good relationships with the franchisors and his belief in the product. As he narrates, he took his wife Lea to sample the Kansi, and she was sold on the idea immediately. I have to say, after the first try we're sold on Pat Pat's Kansi too.
We've just discovered a new Japanese street food place along President's Avenue. It's called Kushiten, which in my fractured understanding of Japanese boils down to 'heaven for everything on a stick.' If you've a hankering for yakitori, this is the place to find it -- about a dozen varieties of it, and all of them made with an authentic, light Japanese touch.
Kushiten's secret weapon is owner/chef Kath Kaneko and her culinary blue blood - her father is a Japanese chef and their family used to own the Keiyu Japanese restaurant in Phase 3. Kushiten's menu is a reflection of what Kath herself loves most in Japan, its variety of skewered street foods. The menu was inspired by a street stall that she always visits when she goes to Tokyo. Banking on the Filipino's love for grilled and fried dishes, Kath designed Kushiten to showcase the streets of Tokyo's best in a casual, relaxing atmosphere that welcomes Japanese expats and Filipino barkadas and families alike.
Left Photo (l-r): Tebasaki, Tsukune, Buta Aspara. Right Photo: Momo and Negima
When I order yakitori, I usually know what to expect: tender bits of sweet-salty chicken on sticks. That's it. In Kushiten, though, there's a lot more to it than that. Cathy and I sampled Momo (chicken dark meat), Tebasaki (chicken wings), Tsukune (balls of ground chicken), Negima (chicken with leeks), and Buta Aspara (thin strips of pork rolled around fresh asparagus tips). I have to say Kath has a very light hand with her marinades, so you can savor every nuance of the ingredients' flavor without them being overwhelmed in sweetness or the saltiness of soy sauce. I can see why the Japanese expats eat here.
The yakitoris went very well with a bowl of Chahan, Japanese fried rice.
(From bottom) Kushiages - Ebi, Gyu, Uzura Tamago, Sakana, Ika
After the yakitoris we tried a variety of kushiages, namely the Gyu (beef), Ika (squid), Sakana (fish), Ebi (shrimp,) and a surprise, the Uzura Tamago (quail eggs). By default these are served with a sweet kushiage sauce, but Kath also urged us to try them with tartare sauce and her own Kushiten sauce. One of the draws here, she explained, is that you can order kushiage with the sauce of your choice, including chili mayo and wasabi mayo if you want a hot kick. Cat and I found that each kushiage tends to go best with a different sauce -- the tartar was great with the fish and squid; I found the Kushiten sauce was fantastic with the quail eggsl and the sweet kushiage sauce went very well with the beef. If you're going to bring kids here, the kushiages are guaranteed to be a hit with them! Trust me - I'm very in
touch with my inner kid.
We also had a plate of fried Gyoza, an all-meat dumpling, again with Kath's own gyoza sauce. Cathy's a gyoza connoisseur, almost never failing to order it when we eat Japanese; so when she says she likes a gyoza, I know we're going there again. As for me, I liked that the gyoza sauce here has more ginger and is less sweet than usual; I find that it brings out the taste of the gyoza filling better. We then had our vegetables in the form of an Okonomiyaki, a sort of savory pancake made with shredded cabbage and topped with a light, sweet sauce, Japanese mayo, seaweed flakes and dried bonito flakes. This dish is surprisingly hefty, and can make a filling snack on its own or be a good side dish to go with the light yakitoris and kushiages.
Gyoza and Katsudon
As there's inevitably one big eater in every group, Kushiten is coming out with a line of donburis, or rice topping bowls, by next week. We got a sneak preview of the Katsudon, a breaded pork cutlet on rice. Kushiten's katsudon comes in a rather large serving, and is drenched in a special sauce that adds juiciness to the fried pork and makes the rice really savory. I guess this is the Japanese version of comfort food, so comforting I didn't want to get up from my chair anymore after I finished it! This friendly place with its delicious, authentic and surprisingly budget-friendly Japanese food is going to be among my top recommendations from now on.
"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.
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.