One-Third Pounder with Potato Wedges
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.
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.
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.
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.
First impressions on entering: the place will only sit about a dozen or so people at a time, but the interior is very tastefully done in bright pueblo colors; there's Spanish guitar music on, and the only occupied table (it was early for dinner) was occupied by an expat. He looked happy with his burrito, so I got one too. Surprise! My Burger Burrito had a good proportion of meat to rice, wrapped in a nice fresh tortilla, and the flavors were bright and right. The cook, whoever he or she was, knew enough not to hold back on the cumin and other spices, so the burrito's contents had a really nice aroma. This was served with a side of sour cream for dipping and some fresh onion and tomato salsa. I had to take Cathy here! I also got to meet one of the proprietors, Dia Velazquez, so we scheduled a shoot with her.
I found another hidden treasure of BF Homes earlier this month when, on impulse, I decided to eat at Mexan one evening I felt too lazy to cook. This little restaurant is tucked away on the side of The Pergola Mall facing the Ruins bazaar, a side I rarely go to, and would've slipped beneath my radar if not for the placard they'd put at the mall's front entrance.
Chili Con Carne
The best dish of the lot for both Cat and me, however, was the Buffalo Wings. It's the kind of dish you dig into with your fingers, gnaw on the bones for as long as you can still get some flavor from them, then lick your fingers afterward. Crunchy even when we ate it a little cold (in between the interview) and served with a sour-cream dip instead of the usual blue cheese or Cajun sauce, the wings had just the right blend of sweetness, a mild heat, with the tanginess of the sour cream rounding out the flavors. It will keep you coming back for more.
I had to buy a take-home pack for my dad -- it made a good excuse to have a few more! Also, the order is quite big; while on the menu it's describes as five pieces, Joanne says this is based on the number of wings that go into each order. Since they halve each wing, an order comes to ten pieces -- if you're having this as appetizer, it's good for a group of three or four. We had our food with iced tea, but for those who want it, there's also good old San Mig beer, Corona beer from Mexico, sodas, margaritas, zombies, and of course, tequila shots available.
On our third visit, owners Dia Velazquez, Joanne Sta. Maria and Tess Vinluan were there to greet us and give us a sampling of their bestsellers. We got to try the Chili con Carne, Beef Burrito, and Buffalo Wings. The burrito was a known quantity - I'd had it before, and I knew I'd always have one when I eat here. It's flavorful and filling, but my personal favorite remains the Burger Burrito -- also beef, but maybe the ground meat or the way they cook it makes it taste even meatier. The Chili con Carne was exactly that -- hot! Just the way I like it! Again, I liked the fact that they didn't stint with the spices, and again, the proportion of meat to beans was just right. And did I say it was hot?
The buffalo wings got added to the Mexican lineup, Dia says, when they were talking to the mall management. Taking the suggestion of combining the concepts instead of getting a separate stall for the wings, they quickly found the wings to be a bestseller too, along with their burritos, and soft tacos. The popularity of the latter two has led to additional sizes, junior burritos and large tacos.
Perhaps the best validation for Mexan's taste is the number of expats who've been coming back as repeat customers. "There was this American who ate here one day and he kept whispering to his Filipina wife. It turned out he was a Texan, and he liked the food so much he wanted to order another!"
Perhaps, we have The Pergola Mall to thank for for offering them a bigger space than their initial plan for a just a food stall. It's given the entrepreneurial moms the creative space to come up with their culinary best.
There are no Mexicans, or even Texans, involved in this restaurant at all. Instead, Mexan is the brainchild of Dia and Joanne -- credit for the name goes to Dia’s son Migs -- who, along with Tess, share the responsibilities of running the restaurant, developing recipes and taste-testing, with one another. Although they only opened at The Pergola Mall last April, they've been doing Mexican food for six years, with a food stall in La Salle Zobel. "We were a hit with the kids, because the way we cook is we're always thinking we're doing this for our own families," says Joanne. "We developed our recipes together, researching recipes then testing and combining until we got what we wanted. Being moms, we knew what kids wanted."
Tess Vinluan, Dia Velasquez, Joanne Sta. Maria
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?