We're proud to present another success story from BF Homes in Pinky Anonuevo, proprietress of Pinky's Goodies along El Grande Avenue. Starting from just her mom's signature butterscotch brownies, Pinky has grown Pinky's Goodies into a bakeshop that supplies retailers as far as Tagaytay and Davao and is now about to enter the Landmark chain of supermarkets.
She's also proof positive that Ilonggas have a magical connection to pastry. "What's the secret?" we ask her. "The sugar!" she laughs. "I think it's very simply because in Iloilo and Bacolod we're at the center of the sugar industry and with so much sugar available, it was easy to find ways to use it. Also I think because the Spanish influence is strong there -- look how many of our pastry products in Iloilo have Spanish names." These influences came together in a set of traditional family recipes that Pinky inherited from her mother, who inherited it from her mother, with which she established her bakeshop.
Pinky's Goodies sells Butterscotch brownies in traditional, Chocolate, and Mango variations, plus an assortment of merengues, muffins, cookies, yema, biscocho, and Iloilo's signature Pancit Efuven noodles. I got to sample the Butterscotch in their new foil packaging, which Pinky had to do to maximize their shelf life in anticipation of supermarket distribution, the delectable Banana Muffins, the Date and Walnut Cookies, and the Raspberry Cookies. They were good!
I specially liked the three varieties of Butterscotch, the Banana Muffins, and the Date and Walnut Cookies. The butterscotches were moist, chewy, full of nuts and fruits, and I could taste every different filling because they were neither too sweet nor too buttery. Yum. As for the Date and Walnut Cookies, they were also nicely chewy and the walnuts fresh-tasting. I hate the taste of stale walnuts, and these cookies were thankfully innocent of that taint. My personal favorite though would be the Banana Muffins, as I've always loved banana-based breads and cakes. I got mine baked just that day, and it was wonderfully moist and rich, with just the right amount of butter, the banana flavor very fresh and clean. Now that I know what Pinky can do, I'm just itching to try out their new Banoffee Pie ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I developed a taste for yogurt way way back, when during one of my dad's foreign assignments, my mom learned to make yogurt. One of my favorite ways to have it was as dessert, with slices of fresh mango or banana, or made into a sort of shake called lassi. The one thing I never thought of, though, was to have it as ice cream.
Fast forward a few decades (no you do not get to ask how many!), and what do I find? Frozen yogurt shops mushrooming all over Metro Manila! One of the friendliest I've found is right here in BF Homes, right by the PCJ Church. This is Yogie Island, a homegrown venture - that is, developed right here in BF Homes - of entrepreneur Gladys Escueta. Their frozen yogurt is not only delicious, you also get to have it just the way you like and served in a in a very welcoming atmosphere as well.
There's no way you can miss this store; it's the most colorful one on the block. With its interior laid out in a combination of mint greens, blue and white, it projects its holiday-island theme like a seductive calypso, irresistibly drawing you to come in and chill out for a while. Gladys says this was the foundation of her business idea - "I wanted it to be fun and have the colors of the beach, white sand and blue sky and green trees, relaxing colors that also make you think of having something cold at the same time." That fun atmosphere is further heightened by Escueta's furnishing various board and party games for free. Any customer is welcome to play the games and stay as long as they like.
Why yogurt then? Here's another secret: this shop serves good stuff because it's what the proprietress herself loves. "Frozen yogurt is a favorite of mine, but when I was looking for one here in BF I couldn't find any. So I studied the business and came up with my own for BF Homes," Gladys says. Yogie Island was the first froyo shop to open here. The shop offers 30 different toppings, from various chocolate chips and candies to fresh fruits, and also offers a line of Berazzled yogurts, frozen yogurt infused with deluxe flavored syrups from Italy. Among the bestselling toppings, Gladys says, are the mochi and crushed graham, almonds and chocolate syrup, and the blueberry cheesecake.
I've always loved yogurt, but Cat usually finds it too tart for her taste. Yogie Island was a delightful surprise to my wife, as the yogurt here is a nice balance of tart and sweet, with extra milk added, to make a rich, mild-tasting refreshment that can easily win traditional ice cream lovers over. Kids love it, Gladys says, which gives health-conscious parents an opening to get their kids used to this lower-fat option. Which is giving me an idea right now: this kid is hankering for a froyo with kiwifruit and peaches.
Yo ho ho, to Yogie Island we will go!
One of my happiest food-tripping memories is of the morning Cat and I spent munching our way down Jakarta's Sabang foodie district. Since then I'd have a craving ever so often for some hot Indonesian food. Now there's an answer to my cravings just five minutes walk from my house.
The newly-opened Pawon Ageng, which owner Ng Sardjono tells me means 'Big Kitchen,' occupies a two-lot property on the corner of Djakarta (what a coincidence) and El Grande; I literally pass it every time I go to work. First impressions: from the distinctive decor and the extensive menu advertised on banners outside, I was guessing the owner was either a Filipino who'd stayed long enough in Indonesia to go native, or more likely a real Indonesian. Bingo - the owner is indeed an Indonesian, married to a Filipina (and a Locsin from Silay City at that, which means she and Cat may even be related; talk about surprises!). The facilities are not air-conditioned, (they are now; with an al fresco dining at the front) but pleasantly laid out across a spacious patio and the interior of the property's original bungalow. And good news for customers -- this restaurant has parking enough for a dozen or so cars.
I arrived before Cat, having come straight from work, and being extremely hungry, I immediately ordered some Sate Ayam Madura. I got five sticks of very tender chicken, smothered in freshly-made peanut sauce with real crunchy peanuts. A definite winner, and necessitating an immediate order of San Mig Lite. In a way, that makes this place a level up from Sabang - I can get San Mig! And how was the sate? It didn't survive long enough to be photographed! As a side note, this sate isn't hot, so it's a safe order for kids and the spice-fearing among us.
Once Cat and my dad arrived -- one of the few occasions we were able to tease Dad into going out with us -- we polished off the remaining sate and ordered our main meal. We tried the Tahu Isi, a sort of beancurd fritter fried to a crisp golden brown and stuffed with mixed vegetables; the classic beef Rendang, a beef curry cooked until its coconut cream-based sauce dried into a nutty, slightly smoky-tasting crust; Ayam Goreng Mentega, fried chicken in Indonesian-style lemon butter sauce; Udang Bakar, prawns dredged in sweet kecap manis before being barbecued in their shells; and Cah Kangkung, a fiery stir-fried kangkong dish. Though Pawon Ageng's five kinds of Nasi Goreng, Indonesian fried rice, were among its best-sellers we opted for plain
rice to get the full savor of our viands.
We all loved the Tahu Isi, relishing the freshness of the tofu and its crunchiness. Definitely great beer food, and not too spicy by itself (I dipped mine in one of the chili-onion-soy dips provided with the prawns). The Ayam Goreng Mentega is also safe for those with low chili tolerance, a hearty and familiar-feeling dish with a lemon butter sauce that is flavorful yet not overly rich. Cat and I liked the flavor of the Udang Bakar, but it seems the way it was cooked made the shells stick to the flesh and a bit hard to peel off. (Mr. Sardjono explained that the prawns have to be cooked in their shells to avoid burning them.) I really enjoyed the Cah Kangkung, its heat a pleasant surprise -- I was crunching slices of red chili with almost every bite. Yum!
The star of the show for us though was the Rendang. This was real rendang the way I remembered it from our Jakarta trip, cooked to dry nutty crustiness, its flavor a complex cascade of exotic Indonesian spices. On finishing our dinner, we found out some of the secrets behind this heavenly rendang from Ng and his son, Lawrence. Pawon Ageng is all about delivering an authentic Indonesian experience, Lawrence says, and so dedicated to this cause are the Sardjonos that they even grow some of the necessary ingredients in the restaurant's gardens and at their home. What they can't grow or source locally, they bring in through a family member who regularly visits Jakarta. No wonder then that we cleaned our plates.
Pawon Ageng opened in October 2010, and since then has been attracting a small but steady stream of customers specially in the evenings when the garden dining area is at its best. The Sardjonos are slowly adding more treats from their homeland as the business grows, so expect to be able to savor yet more exotic treats here in the future. The funny thing about our visit to Pawon Ageng? Dining here didn't quell my craving for Indonesian food -- it's sharpened it! Terima Kasih, Mr. Sardjono!
I got to visit Pawon Ageng last Friday to meet a friend, and driven by curiosity, I ordered one of the dishes marked on the menu as very hot. This was the Ayam Goreng Rica Rica, pronouched "richa-richa," a fried leg quarter of chicken smothered in a sauce of sauteed fresh tomatoes, onions, spices and chilis. Fire in the hole! Lawrence, son of Ng Sardjono and manager of the restaurant, assured me what I got served was a somewhat tamed version of the dish, with less chilis than what they normally have. Still, it was hot! It was good! And did I say it was hot? I'm now putting this dish on my personal list of comfort foods. The sauce was rather reminiscent of a traditional Pinoy sarciado, the tomatoes fried until they into a flavorsome paste, but with that unmistakably Indonesian blend of spices. Tip: if you're going to order this one, order a milky fruit shake or have ice cream or froyo afterward; the milk will put out that fire.
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.
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.
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.
Back in my misspent youth, I would often use the long breaks between my classes in DLSU to hop the jeep to Binondo for lunch. Among our favorite destinations there was the Panciteria Lido, which my Chinese buddies told me had been a fixture in their dining experience as long as they could remember. I of course had to agree with them and their honored ancestors - I loved the place! However my photography habit then always left me with money only for either one of two things --Asado Rice or the Chami Special. Fast forward quite a few years, and to my great surprise, I spotted a familiar name along President's Avenue. Panciteria Lido was still alive! Is the food still as good?
The answer is a resounding 'Yes!' Cat and I visited to sample the food and there found out the story behind Panciteria Lido, from its founding by Chinese chef Mr. Lido in 1936 to its new direction in franchising under current proprietor Annie Go. BF Franchisee, Mr. Paul Ting, notes that BF Homes was one of their first targets for a branch, based on the size of the community and its growing reputation as a foodie mecca. Cat and I tried the signature Pork Asado and the Chami Special, both exactly as I remembered them; the Poached Tofu; and also took home their Familia Feast which contains, aside from asado and chami, some frie dumplings, lumpiang shanghai, and buttered chicken. To top off our meal, we also tried their Syphon Coffee.
Our first course was the Poached Tofu, a soft, silky beancurd dish served swimming in a light but savory sauce. The tofu was very fresh and light, a perfect appetizer, side dish, or even a main viand if you're planning to eat light. Next came the Pugon-Roasted Asado. Though the Lido labels itself as a 'Panciteria,' its true signature dish is its mouth-watering Pork Asado roasted in a 'pugon', a wood-fired brick oven. Still using the traditional recipe handed down from Mr. Lido, this roast pork is basted with a secret Chinese sauce and baked to a succulent, juicy tenderness with just a slight hint of smokiness. It's not as sweet as the more Filipinized version of asado that you might get elsewhere; the flavors are more subtle, and so tender it almost melts in the mouth. Cat and I didn't believe we could finish the platter served to us, but we did!
The Chami Special was another nostalgic treat for me, a reliably hefty comfort food that I know will satisfy me even when I'm really hungry. I've always been more partial to Chami than to pancit canton or pancit bihon, loving the thick chewy noodles and the sweet-savory blend they're sauteed in. I've yet to taste the chami in Shanghai, where this noodle dish is said to have originated, but I've tried Hong Kong's version; let's just say that over here I consider only two restaurants to have chami as good as in HK, and Panciteria Lido is one of them. Their Chami is neither oily nor salty, two defects that often mar the noodle dishes of lesser restaurants. I commented to Cat that they probably don't use MSG, and found to our delighted surprise it's true: All of Panciteria Lido's offerings have no MSG added.
We finished our lunch with the Syphon Coffee. Now you normally wouldn't associate coffee with a Chinese restaurant--you'd think of tea, right? But the Chinese like their coffee too, and they like it fresh and strong. They use their own secret blend of coffee beans, and the full body and rich aroma remind me of Batangas' best. I usually sweeten my coffee, but this one tastes great even as plain black.
The contents of the Familia Feast--great for Christmas season--we served the next day to our family. The kids predictably loved the Buttered Chicken, lightly breaded chicken pieces flash-fried in a wok. I had to remind them I had a restaurant to review just to get a bite! The lumpia and dumplings also went fast, my Chinese sister-in-law commenting that the flavor was indeed, still very Chinese. And that's why I'm glad Panciteria Lido is now in BF. Because when I want that real Chinatown taste, I know where I can go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Watch out for their grand opening on November 27!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!