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...