_Is a bigger burger really better? For me it depends on what you made it bigger with. Now, if you're making that burger bigger with more real, high quality beef, then yes, a bigger burger definitely makes me happier! If Pergola Mall were on my way home from work I'd probably be eating here more often.
My usual order here is the One Third Pounder, no cheese -- gotta watch the calories, and also because I usually want to enjoy the beef without diluting its flavor. Normally this burger's enough to fill me up, so I don't even have to order sides unless I'm really starving. BBB's burgers are thick, juicy, have the crumbly texture of an all-beef patty, and because they're grilled, have a lightly smoky flavor. You may have to wait a bit for your burger on a busy day, because they grill each order fresh; me, I consider the wait worth it!
Taking Cat here for the first time -- she was in Davao when BBB opened -- we got the One Third Pounder, a side of Potato Wedges, and the Chicken Parmigiana rice meal. We loved the potato wedges, nice thick slices of potato, skin on, crisp outside and perfectly cooked through inside. Cat says if she can't have mashed potato, her fave potato dish, she'll gladly settle for this any time. Me, I think my next order of burger will have to include this. There goes the calorie count! We also liked the Chicken Parmigiana, the sauce was nice and savory, and there's a generous topping of melted cheese on top. I'm a sucker for melted cheese on rice, so again this dish is a winner for me.
_Still, if you're coming to Big Better Burger for the first time, you should be here for the burgers. Yes, they're that good. BBB's patties compare very well with the product of a classic Filipino chain we who're old enough to like retro stuff know well, but because it's grilled I'll have to consider BBB's even better.
Big Better Burger is an up-and-coming chain with 10 branches already throughout Metro Manila, the Pergola Mall branch being their 8th. The chain is owned and operated by the Teotico family, and interestingly enough is totally home-grown--it's not a US franchise at all. Eric Teotico, who loves to cook, came up with the idea of opening a burger chain based on his own recipes. Learning this story, I'm motivated to patronize BBB even more -- I like it when my peso goes to a local entrepreneur instead of a foreign corporation, and my palate tells me I'm getting value for my money.
While admitting it inevitably betrays my true age, I just have to say that if there's one burger I think of when I'm nostalgic, it's Tropical Hut's Classic burger. We rarely feature chains here in Good Living BF, since our focus is on 'homegrown' restaurants and enterprises, but we decided to do this as a fitting tribute to our favorite burger since the 1970s.
Tropical Hut was a burger chain way before McDonalds came in, or Jollibee morphed from ice cream parlor to fastfood giant. The BF Homes branch is up to now one of the longest-running Tropical Hut outlets in the country -- if I remember correctly it's their second or third branch. When I was a kid studying at La Salle Zobel, I'd often badger my dad into taking me there after school before we made the long drive back home. But Cat and I don't go to Tropical Hut to eat history. We go because, very simply, Tropical Hut still serves the juiciest, most meatily fragrant burger we know.
The Tropical Hut Classic stands out because it's cooked quite differently from other fastfood chain burgers. I often find the meat patties from other chains rubbery in texture, probably from a combination of extenders and the dry cooking method they use. In contrast, Tropical Hut's burgers tend to fall apart on you while you eat, while the buttery, utterly beefy juices run down your chin. The secret is in the thickness of the patty and the pouring of a special sauce over the burger as it cooks. As the outsides of the burger seal from the heat, the sauce gets trapped inside, keeping it tender and packed with flavor. I'm drooling as I write this!
Unfortunately, Tropical Hut was never managed with the same level of marketing savvy as its newer rivals, and the quality of its products can be uneven. I've been to Tropical Hut branches that were badly maintained, that stank (I didn't eat at those!), and been disappointed with various menu entries. The fries can be bland and soggy at times; at best, they're crisp but still rather plain, when compared to say McDonalds' fries. Sometimes the staff are not as well-trained as they could've been.
I hope one day to see Tropical Hut undergo a management renaissance. Better training, better marketing, investment in more effective advertising. But please, please, if ever this happens, do not change the Classic burger. It's the reason why, despite all the warts, I still keep coming back to Tropical Hut.
As I am a few years older than Dariel, my memories of Tropical Hut burger go even more way back, back to where I think it started in Ortigas in the 70s. But here I plead a senior moment because I cannot exactly recall the name of the place or the building. But what has stayed indelibly in my mind was the experience of my first taste of the burger that was then making waves all over town. Simply put, it tasted like no other -- not that I could compare it with a MacDonald's or a Jollibee's because as Dariel said, they still had to hit town or hit it big at that time -- but that it had its own very distinct taste. A taste that, thankfully, to this day has remained in the Classic Burger.
Part of its appeal was its bigger-than-normal serving size -- rivaled only by the equally famous Dayrit's hamburger -- which the Classic has kept; and part of it was the de luxe way it was served, with chips and potato salad if memory serves me right. .
Over the years, as its rivals overtook it in popularity, availability, and visibility, it has tried to hang on stubbornly, sometimes perhaps too stubbornly for its own good as when it seemed to resist upgrading its branches, making them look like holdovers from the past century. But at the same time, that stubbornness is what may have kept its loyal followers like me coming back for the Tropical Hut burger taste--it had kept the flavor that had made it an institution, a go-to for a burger fix, and a must-have for those midnight cravings.
The relatively few places it had branches in became my landmarks -- in Greenbelt and Crispa in Gil Puyat opposite the Makati Post Office; the Greenhills branch was another favorite stopover. The first two are now gone; I haven't been to the latter in ages. So I am happy that although as whimsical as the food industry can be, Tropical Hut has endured. And that the Classic Burger is still a classic.
Now, my only quibble is why don't they have a branch in Davao?
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.
When the first returning OFWs from the Middle East brought back shawarma, they knew they had a hit on their hands. Such a hit, in fact, that we Pinoys very soon had our own versions. One of the best-done versions I have to say is from Food Channel, a shawarma and snack chain that originated in a kiosk by an escalator at the ground floor of Virra Mall in Greenhills in the early 90s, spreading all over the metropolis and finally coming to BF Homes, their first branch at the south. Cat and I got to know Food Channel BF Homes franchisers JP and Joyce when we went to try them out.
Beef Shawarma & Beef Shawarma with Rice
At first I didn't recall that I'd eaten at Food Channel's Greenhills stall before, but the signage and the menu were somehow familiar. Then JP told us its origins, and I had it -- I'd been noshing on Food Channel's shawarma since the 1990s. They now offer a wider variety of very affordable, below Php100 food choices. Aside from their signature Beef Shawarma with Cheese, we also tried the Shawarma Rice, the Korean Beef Rice, and the Barbecue Rice.
Food Channel's All Beef Shawarma is a real Pinoy shawarma, made to satisfy the bottomless hunger of students and late-night snackers. It's literally bursting with crunchy beef, made heftier with the addition of cheese and a side of french fries (yes, shawarma and fries!). For the size, amount and quality of beef you're getting, this shawarma is well worth its price of PhP 95. It's not filled with as much onion and tomato like Lebanese shawarma, but the Lebanese-style garlic sauce - thick, smooth, and creamy -- is still there, and the spicy sauce is very good. For those with a really big appetite -- note that the Beef Shawarma is already a meal in itself -- the Shawarma Rice is the same shawarma served with a cup of Java rice.
Korean Beef Rice
The Korean Beef Rice is another meal for those days when you're desperately in need of something good to fill you up, fast. Flash-cooked strips of tender beef, marinated in sweet Korean-style marinade and served on a bed of caramelized onion, this is a treat I can definitely go for after a long night of gaming or writing when the body inevitably demands some munchies.
Same goes for the Barbecue, which to our surprise was cut really thick. I've gotten used to barbecue from the neighborhood stall, which as typical for barbecue is cut thin for fast cooking; Food Channel's is thick yet very tender, the sweet-savory flavor of the marinade soaking through and through. You can literally sink your teeth into this one!
Other goodies you may like are their Tapsilog, Sisig, Korean Beef, Gourmet Tuna Wrap, and Fried Siomai to list a few. This branch even serves breakfast comfort foods all day - the bestsellers are their Tuna Shitake Mushroom Melt Omelette, Blueberry Pancakes, and Chocolate Chip Pancakes.
Food Channel BF Homes has targeted the early morning risers to the late sleepers and everyone in between by opening its doors from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Adding enjoyment to your dining experience is an entertainment set and free WiFi. They’ve just opened their catering services in time for the Christmas season and will soon offer free deliveries as well.
High concept modernity and the homey familiarity of Filipino comfort food rarely feel they belong together. At Big Plate restaurant, however, they've made it work. From the tasty fusion approach they've taken with old Pinoy favorites to their chic but comfy interiors and the way they're recycling energy from their aircon to heat water, this is one restaurant that's serious about bringing the Filipino dining experience into the 21st century. They’ve even invested in their own organic farm and commissary, on top of state-of-the art technology for their kitchen. All of these serves as a foundation for a restaurant the owners hope will become part of the Filipino tradition.
So how successful are they? Only time will tell but they certainly are off to a good start. Just in the midst of their soft opening, phase, they have already attracted a steady crowd. Why?
Let's start with the ambiance. Yeah, I know you never order it, but you pay for it anyway -- and it really does affect the pleasure of eating. There's a clean, casual, modern-but-organic feel to Big Plate's interior with its mostly green and white scheme, accented by colorful Maranaw vinta themes on its quirky furniture , runners, and its walls. There's a very family-friendly vibe to the place. The tables are also big -- as CEO Rainier David says, they designed the place so that a table normally used for six people at other restaurants is made to seat four here. Which turned out to be very good, as when the food arrived the restaurant's name was proven to be no lie!
Yes, Big Plate really serves BIG plates. With servings to match -- big connotes a feast , hence the name Big Plate, David explains. The typical order here is good for two, easily three if you're light eaters. We got to sample some of their best sellers: For starters we had the Creamy Pumpkin Soup, Bangus Sisig Balls, Lumpiang Dagupan, and Big Plate's House Salad with beef tapa. For our main course David had us try the Crispy Binagoongan, Grilled Prawns with Bagoong Rice, and the Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs with Sweet Potato. And for dessert, it was their two most popular meal-toppers, the killer Coco Mango Panna Cotta and Carrot Cake. Visually, these dishes were a breeze to shoot - they all looked good, and they smelled so good it was easy to get inspired! Amount-wise, we were totally overwhelmed. Immobilized afterward was more like it.
For starters, we had the Creamy Pumpkin Soup. Squash soup is one of my favourite soups, something I always ask Cat to make at home. Although we have it every now and then, I have never tasted it with eggplant so Big Plate’s version comes as a refreshing change, the smokey flavour of the roasted eggplant adding lushness to the pureed soup.
Bangus Sisig Balls
We've had the Bangus Sisig Balls twice already, and we'll probably have it every time we visit Big Plate. These are fried croquettes filled with tinapang bangus flakes, served with aioli and sweet and sour sauce on the side; I prefer it with the aioli. The Lumpiang Dagupan, as you might expect, are also filled with bangus, very light and crispy.
Big Plate House Salad
Cat and I also loved the Big Plate House Salad, a green salad jazzed up in a uniquely Filipino way by the inclusion of homemade beef tapa bits and mango cubes. The sour-salty-meaty taste of the tapa made a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the mango and really set off the greens well, and for this diehard carnivore, it's a great way to make me eat and enjoy my veggies.
Grilled Prawns with Bagoong Rice
Next up were the Grilled Prawns; fresh, fleshy, and full of flavor, and as David explained to us, there was no need for a sauce because the sauce was already inside. To a true Filipino there's no pleasure like sucking out the juicy insides of a prawn head, and the heads of these prawns were especially flavorful. Unfortunately this Pinoy is asthmatic and allergic to crustaceans, so I only had the courage to try one head. It was so good!
Another sinfully delicious treat was the Crispy Binagoongan, crisp-fried slices of pork liempo on a bed of bagoong sauce and eggplant. Unlike many a binagoongan dish we have eaten, this had a light hand with salt -- in fact, this can be said for all the dishes we tried -- so I didn’t mind chewing and crunching the meat even though it was unfortunately fried a little too long. Still, Cat said she liked this version a lot and thinks it’s a better alternative to the salt-drenched, sweat-inducing binagoongan dishes we usually encounter.
Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs with Sweet Potato
The entree I got to enjoy the most was the Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs with Sweet Potato; a very rich take on kaldereta, with a thick sauce made even richer by the scoops of buttery mashed sweet potato floating in it. This dish was a must-have in my mind as soon as I saw it on the menu, as I like the full flavour and tenderness of slow-cooked meat; Big Plate did not disappoint, as I got the beef falling off the bone and so tasty I would've gnawed the ribs afterward if my wife hadn't stopped me! It was no surprise to learn that this is one of their bestsellers.
Coco Mango Panna Cotta
For dessert, we tried the Coco Mango Panna Cotta and Carrot Cake. The panna cotta -- another bestseller -- is again one of Big Plate's very successful Filipinizations of an international dish, as they substitute coconut milk for dairy cream in it. The fragrant nuttiness of the coconut milk perfectly complemented the sweetness of the mango topping. This is one dessert that manages to be rich and refreshing at the same time, a difficult combination to achieve.
Finally, after almost having our fill of all of the above, we ended with the Carrot Cake. Finished it. ‘Nuf said.
There's also something for the kids, David points out: Spaglug, which as the name suggests, is a mix of spaghetti and pancit luglug. Hmmm, Filipino fusion, indeed. Then there's the Big Plate Burger; Big Plate's Tasty Fried Chicken, and the Creamy Adobo Pasta.
Big Plate enjoys a strategic location along President's Avenue at the corner of Elizalde, by the old Caltex station. It's one of the most conspicuous dining places you'll see on your way in if you're coming from Sucat Road, and thanks to its being right beside the station, it has ample parking. Big Plate is seriously targeting the events market, so it’s made its facilities to match. The second floor can comfortably seat one hundred plus another forty on the verandah, and there’s a small function room that can seat thirty with a seminar-type layout.
Best of all, I may be able to eat at Big Plate even in Makati or the Ortigas area soon, as this restaurant is branching out in 2011. CEO David says he and his partners plan to grow this concept into a chain by next year, with the BF Homes branch serving as headquarters and training ground for future staff. Currently they have a preferential hiring policy, giving back to the community by giving priority to hiring BF residents. In other words, eating at Big Plate helps give your fellow BF Homers jobs!
Boss Chief Inasal is a newly opened inasal, or barbecue, house along El Grande that can boast the true Bacolod taste. This cozy little nook, sitting no more than a dozen or so, is clean, cozy, conducive to hang around in -- and serves some mean inasal and La Paz batchoy.
Chicken Inasal is a deceptively simple dish, being just chicken marinated in a pickle of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, pepper and turmeric, but there are just some cooks who do it so right you'll remember them and come back for more. Boss Chief has one of those cooks. We both got a leg quarter each, and they were done just right, cooked through but still thoroughly juicy and flavorful inside and out. They also added an innovation to the presentation of their inasal by serving it with a dip of bagoong (which they make themselves), calamansi, and chili in addition to the usual garlic-and-chili vinegar dip. As I'm allergic to bagoong, it was Cat who tried her inasal this way and she finds it much to her liking. "It's surprisingly well-suited for the dish, and I'm wondering if there is anyone else who's serving it this way," Cat says. At just 90 bucks for a combo meal of a leg quarter or breast with garlic-topped rice and a soft drink, Boss Chief's price compares very well with other inasal houses.
La Paz Batchoy
On top of our barbecue, Cat and I also shared a bowl of La Paz Batchoy, another of my favorites from the Visayas. Boss Chief's batchoy comes in a surprisingly hefty bowl, easily enough to constitute a hearty eater's lunch all by itself. The savory broth is apparently made using pork cheeks, the same flavorful cut used for making sisig, thus its rich flavor. In the broth were generous portions of fresh noodles, meat, slices of liver, and a sinfully delicious topping of chicharon, green onion and fried garlic bits. Now this is soup! Mrs. Melissa "Ging" Matubis, Boss Chief's Inasal's chief, is also testing the market by offering Manapla puto as an add-on for the batchoy, and she let us sample some. Very hearty! Being an Ilongga herself, Cat says this is still her favorite kind of puto. I liked it that the noodles were cooked just right, and tasted fresh; the last time I had a craving for batchoy and bought from another store the noodles were horribly soggy and had a bit of a funny taste already. Boss Chief Inasal is walking distance from my place, so I think you know where I'm getting my next bowl of batchoy.
As I like telling Cat, I know only four words of Ilonggo: Inasal, Batchoy, and Namit gid (delicious!). At Boss Chief, that vocabulary is all I need.
Del's Kitchen is one place that could easily slip beneath your radar if you're not on the lookout for it. Tucked away along Elizalde (on the segment between Aguirre and President's Ave), there's only a small and simple black and white sign to tell you the house with the tasteful Mactan stone facing and patio behind the wrought iron fence is now a restaurant (a tarp has now been added). Chances are though that within a few months this restaurant will be lining its side of Elizalde with the parked cars of its happy diners. I'd even lay a bet on it.
Del's Kitchen is the brainchild of Julius Bernard Lopez and his high school friend, long-time BF Homes resident Deb Gutierrez, and is named for her late mother. The partners explored several concepts for the place before settling on the heart-warming idea of comfort food with a gourmet twist. "You'll see that all the foods we offer are quite familiar, we got from this and that cuisine but they're all familiar, but with an extra something added by the chef who developed our menu for us," Julius says. We got to try out some of Del's bestsellers, starting with the Potato-Bacon Chowder, then the Nobu Prawn Tempura, followed by Mussels Puttanesca, Chicken a la Mexicana, their most popular entree the Crispy Bagnet Kare Kare, and finally the opulent Triple Decker Chocolate Cheesecake, which has been voted a Top Food Choice of the Ayala Malls by online voting.
Potato Bacon Chowder
True to the concept of comfort food, all the dishes we tried were indeed very hearty and likely to be ordered again on your next visit. First, though, a word about the serving sizes: they're big. All the entrees come in servings good for 2 or more persons, and for some dishes like the Barbecued Beef Short Ribs you can order a plate good for four. Our first dish, the Potato Bacon Chowder, was a thick creamy soup full of tender cubes of potato and bits of real bacon. This is one soup I'd definitely ask for should I get a cold! Because it's so heavy, though -- think of an arroz caldo with potato instead of rice, and you'll get a good picture of this soup's consistency and filling power -- I suggest sharing.
Nobu Prawn Tempura
The next dish was the Nobu Prawn Tempura, named after Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa who developed this style of tempura. Instead of being dredged in heavy batter, these prawns are only lightly crusted, allowed to curl elegantly over their tails and served on a bed of potato crisps and a ginger-soy sauce dip instead of the usual tempura dip. They're good even without the dip, as the coating seems to contain some spices, and all our prawns were cooked just right, retaining their full succulence. Cat and I found that it was best to dip our prawns just lightly, as soaking them in the dip made them a bit too salty.
Chicken a la Mexicana
This was followed by the Chicken a la Mexicana, which I could eat as either viand or as an appetizer shared between a small party. It's grilled chicken breast, served sliced on a bed of tortilla bread and topped with a salsa of mango, corn, and coriander, lightly spiced with cumin. The salsa really came together for me, with the zestiness of the coriander and the sweetness of the mango really going well with the slightly smoky chicken, and then you get that nice little crunch of corn. I can imagine this going really well with a bottle of icy San Mig.
We next had Mussels Puttanesca, one of their best-selling pastas. I just had to whisper to Cat, "This is puttanesca the way it should be!" The puttanesca was named for its spicy hotness, from the spicy hotness of Italian -- er, anyway, it's supposed to be hot. All too often, however, I order it and find that it's not. Del's Puttanesca gets that heat right, which sets off very well the sweet succulence of the fresh mussels in it. Those were really fresh mussels! If you're sensitive to hot food, though, remember to order this one mild. But do order it. Cat and I were already looking at each other with goggly eyes by now, but we had one more entree to sample.
Crispy Bagnet Kare Kare
And sample it we did, in fact we kinda scarfed it up, for who can resist crispy deep-fried Bagnet, that wonderful Ilocano take on lechon kawali, served on a bed of Kare Kare sauce and vegetables with heavenly dollops of bagoong and aligue on the side? "You can eat it with a clean conscience, because it comes with vegetables," Julius jokes, adding this is something he often overhears from customers when confronted with the sheer richness of this dish. The pork skin was very crispy, the kare kare sauce richly peanutty, and the vegetables done just right. I didn't sample the bagoong or the aligue -- though I would've wanted to -- because I was afraid of having an allergic reaction; Cat did, however, and had to say the bagoong was done just the way she liked it, flavorful without being too salty, and the aligue rich and delicately flavored. I just have to come back for this when my asthma isn't acting up. I also have to say the artful way this dish is presented -- not sunk in sauce like your usual kare-kare -- might be one way to get a Westerner interested in Filipino food.
Triple Decker Chocolate Cheesecake
To cap our decadently huge meal, we were presented with a slice of Triple Decker Chocolate Cheesecake, the creation of Mel Torre, who supplies Del's Kitchen with all its desserts as well as supplying the Parvati shop in Trinoma. It was through Parvati that this cheesecake received its Ayala Malls Top Food Choice vote, and Cat and I have to agree it deserves it. Despite being convinced, after the Bagnet, that we couldn't take another bite, we demolished the cheesecake in about five minutes. It's rich without being too sweet, the dark chocolate setting off very well the mild flavor of the cream cheese. I normally want coffee with my dessert, just to cut through the sheer sugaryness of most pastries, but this one can be taken without having to order coffee at all.
Del's Kitchen opened only last July 31, and as an introductory promo is offering a free order of pasta and chicken for kids; parties that come in with a child under four feet tall qualify for the promo. If we had kids we'd definitely bring them to Del's Kitchen; since we don't, we'll just go back there anyway and eat for them!
There's just something about food cooked with traditional methods that takes them a step beyond what we usually can do in a home kitchen. Did I have the space at home, I'd like to have a tandoor oven built into one corner of my kitchen (and if I had the budget, one big enough to accommodate a whole sheep!) At Chi's Brick Oven Kitchen, they have the local counterpart, a wood-fired brick oven or pugon. And boy, do they know how to use it!
Chi's is a cozy little restaurant along Aguirre, near the corner of De La Rama, which is literally built around its brick oven. Practically the only items on the menu not made in the oven are the drinks. The oven is the very first thing you see when yo enter Chi's, as it's right opposite the door. The next thing you'll notice is the homey European style of the place -- heavy, rustic wooden furniture and tables, framed prints on the walls, wine bottles and china on little shelves, giving you a feel of an old Southern French farmhouse but with some Filipino touches. Their menu is similarly eclectic, blending Mediterranean and Pinoy; according to manager and partner Joey Torres, the concept was to build everything around the experience of brick oven cooking.
Cat and I first came here during our anniversary a year and a half ago. We absolutely loved the pizza and the baked clams, but at the time they were having a problem with the air conditioning and we didn't enjoy the experience as much as we could have. This time around, they seem to have the ventilation problem tamed, and the restaurant is much cooler now. If you're a polar bear like me, though, the best place to sit is in the room that doubles as their smoking area, as it's totally insulated from the common room and the oven behind. Having an idea already what to expect in terms of flavor, Cat and I were looking forward to visiting the restaurant again. This time, we tried out the Puchon, one of Chi's most popular entrees, the Roasted Veggie Pizza, the mouth-watering Brick Oven Chocolate Cake a la Mode, and the Chocoholic's Pizza.
The Puchon, short for 'lechon sa pugon', was a hefty slab of pork liempo baked to crisp golden perfection and served with rice in a clay dish and a sharp-salty vinaigrette sauce. I, of course, was very happy that the garnishing thoughtfully included several chilies, as I like my vinegar dip hot. What can I say? The skin was crunchy, the tender flesh cooked through and flavored with a delicate touch of wood smoke. I wanted to take pic of Cat enjoying the Puchon, taking great big bites, but was stopped with a loaded glare. (Would've made a great Facebook post, dang) This order is good for two, even three people. As I normally count as two persons when dining, it was just right for us.
Roasted Veggie Pizza
The Roasted Veggie Pizza not only made for a nice shot, it was very good eating as well. Fresh tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and onion, roasted in foil in the oven then layered on their own freshly-rolled pizza crust with mozzarella cheese and baked. Salad on a pizza! Healthiness plus flavor, that's a winning combo for me. (One sure sign that this pizza was really good was that the leftovers still tasted just as good two days after!)
We finished our meal with two of Chi's signature desserts. The Chocoholic's Pizza is exactly that--layers of white chocolate shavings and dark chocolate chips on a freshly baked pizza crust, crunchy, smoky, and as chocolatey as anyone could wish. If there was anything I would've added to this to make it perfect, it would be a layer of slivered almonds.
Brick Oven Chocolate Cake
The Brick Oven Chocolate Cake is a heavenly confection of rich, dark, gooey chocolate batter topped with cherry preserve straight from the oven and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. As we shot everything first before digging in, by the time we got to sample this cake, the ice cream had totally melted into the cake. Did it make any difference? Not at all, I said. But if you really want to have empirical evidence, we can order another... and at this point Cat whacked me. Too bad. I really wanted another...
There's a nice new breakfast and merienda spot on the corner of Aguirre and Banzon called Lugawan Republic, a great place to stop when you're in need of comfort food. Cat and I stopped by for a snack and got to chat with Attorney Jojo Salomon, one of the owners, who told us the interesting stories behind each dish.
We had the Pilugaw, the aptly named Goto Hell, a very crunchy version of Tokwa't Baboy, and Crispy Tofu. As we learned from Salomon, the whole concept of Lugawan Republic is to offer the classic Pinoy favorite in a new way; yep, it's lugaw with class. The Pilugaw, their flagship product, is truly a deluxe congee, tinted and flavored with either annatto or kasubha, and topped with tender goto (tripe), wood mushrooms, quail eggs, crunchy fried garlic bits and green onion shoots. Very flavorful and filling! The wood mushrooms (tengang daga) add a touch of the exotic, raising the humble lugaw to a whole new level.
On Atty. Salomon's urging I also tried the Goto Hell, a product with a humorous story behind it. It seems that when Lugawan Republic was first started in Timog, partner Gladys Reyes mentioned it on a TV show and her co-hosts jokingly told her she should make a porridge named Goto Hell. The next day, the restaurant was deluged with requests for the fictitious product. Reyes took up the challenge and concocted the chili tripe with chili congee recipe over the next few days. Was it as infernally good as advertised? One spoonful and ... woohoo! This stuff would be a hit in Singapore! As a confirmed spice addict, I have to say I'll definitely order this again.
To go with our congees we had the Tokwa't Baboy, and as with everything here, there's a little twist added to make the dish unique. Traditional tokwa't baboy usually consists of boiled pork, with the crunch, if any, coming solely from the tofu; Lugawan Republic's version adds quite a bit more pork, and fried crisp lechon-kawali style. It's double, no, triple, the crunch of mom's tokwa't baboy, and I'm loving it. But as Cat and I are too crunch-happy, we also had to try the Crispy Tofu. This was fresh tofu fried with panko breading, so it's really crunchy on the outside, silky soft inside; it's served with a sweet and sour sauce. Good stuff, and if your kids don't like tofu I'm sure this is going to convince them otherwise.
Lugawan Republic shares premises and in fact has the same management as Iago's Grill so it was no surprise that the water served was again pandan water. It's also possible to sit in Lugawan Republic's quiet, air conditioned space and order from Iago's, or vice versa. I like that. Cat and I will definitely be coming back, and one of these days we're bringing the family.