Thursday, May 04, 2006

Middle East in Makati

In the course of trying to stay away from carbs, I've found that Persian (or, to be more accurate, Middle-Eastern) seems to fit the bill, thank you very much.

While there's always the ubiqitous Cafe Med, which seems slightly more Grecian in bias than most, there are a couple of one-off restaurants (and oh, how I love those) in the Makati area that I'd like share with you.

The first is Hossein's. Definitely not cheap, this place on Makati Ave. seems like its been there forever. Run by its proprietor, Mr. Hossein (surprise surprise), it's quite a cut above your run-of-the-mill shawarma joint.

Our order would always be the same whenever we went there - Vegetable Curry (yes, they do some Indian dishes on the side), Leaf steak (the beef is cut into a "V" and spreads out like a leaf), basmati rice (this was back in the good ole carb days) and of course, my favorite, Misa, which is a mixture of grilled eggplant, garlic and saffron mashed together and eaten as a dip with flat bread. Do not miss out on the Misa. It's not particulary strong-flavored but it has a nice warm, rich garlicky-saffron flavor that doesn't try to overpower your taste buds like some dishes from that region. We usually end the meal with a tiny slice of Baklava, thin sheets of phyllo pastry covering sweets with almonds or pistachios.

Mister Hossein likes to take the time to show his non-Persian customers his old trick on how to eat the roasted tomato that comes with the meats. You skin the tomato, dice it into little bits, then sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. If you ordered some yoghurt dip he'd dab some into there as well, not bad. Yes, you read correctly, they charge for sauce (look under Tatziki, as they don't have it for free like other restos).

One thing you could say for the place was the quality. You could be sure that the veggies were fresh and the cuts of meat were succulent. But you literally pay the price...

As an alternative, try Ziggurat, just a stone's throw away from Hossein's. If Hossein's was based squarely in the Middle East, you could say Ziggurat's claim to fame would be that its menu extends much further south than the usual North African cuisine associated with most Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurants.

The place is much smaller than Hossein's, with most of the ground floor seating devoted to carpets and divans for you to sit on instead of chairs. Prices were more reasonable than that of Hosseins and we took advantage of that to sample a wider array of food. We had some honeyed lamb in couscous, easily the most pricey item we ordered. Not bad, but I still say I can make better couscous than any resto I've tried thus far.

We also had some kebabs, beef and duck (this was new). Both were quite tasty, the duck was especially succulent. We even tried some African banana soup. I can't rightly recall where exactly from Africa it came from but it had a sweet-salty flavor and is well worth trying.

If you're a true food fanatic, I suggest you try both these places out, as neither one will disappoint.

Directions-

Hossein's--it is on your right just before Jupiter if you're coming from the Makati-Mandaluyong bridge.

Ziggurat is on Tigris corner Euphrates street, just of P. Burgos heading towards Kalayaan.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Update!


Work has kept me from updating this blog but I would like to discuss a couple of places that has struck our fancy.

The first is an Italian Resto called Galileo Enoteca, and unlike most of its ilk, it is located not in trendy Makati or Ortigas center but in Calbayog street, Mandaluyong (it's behind the unfinished Star Mall annex).

Galileo follows the current trend of combining a restaurant with a european deli. The twist here is that the deeper you go into the place, the more you feel like you're in someone's wine cellar, cool and cozy. The merchandise adorns the shelf and keeps you company while you go through the relatively short menu.

They have a special here. For 500 bucks you can have an appetizer plate, a dish of pasta, a glass of wine and coffee. Now this is the real thing. No token appetizers here. This is a major part of your meal. 3 kinds of cheese and 3 kinds of cold cuts, all ranging from mild to quite piquant. The pasta looks underwhelming but the penne gorgonzola we had was anything but that. Satisfying without overwhelming you, and the pasta was quite al dente. Can't really say anything about the wine since the missus and I don't really drink. We wrapped up the meal with a cup of strong Italian coffee.
500 bucks might be considered a lot to pay for cold cuts and pasta, but coming from a guy who eats big lunches, I would actually consider this good value for money as I had to struggle to finish my food. We need more places like this. I for one am getting bored with the cookie-cutter restos we see in most malls. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

To get there, take Shaw Boulevard, and coming from Cherry Foodarama, take a right on Samat St. just before EDSA and take a left at the first intersection. When you see all the cars, you're there. Make reservations, especially for dinner or at least try to be there early. Seats go fast. Buon Appetito =)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Going Back to Iced Tea

OK, Iced Tea, part deux.

My wife, Jen, knows how much I love iced tea. She even bought me a book about it. (Yes, someone out there is crazy enough to write a book just about iced tea!).

Fred Thompson's book Iced Tea is a nice little compilation of ideas and anecdotes about iced tea and contains 50 recipes for all sorts of iced tea ranging from the simple sun tea to variations on the alcoholic variants such Long Island iced tea (which, by the way, contains NO tea at all!).

Thompson gives us six rules for making good icea tea:

1. Start with enough tea bags. Thompson claims using manufacturer's instuctions leads to wimpy iced tea!

2. To strengthen your tea, add more teabags. DON'T just steep your teabags for a longer period of time as this just brings out the bitter flavor of the tannins in the tea.

3. Don't skimp on the sugar. While Thompson scoffs at de-emphasizing sweetness, he DOES say good things about my favorite sweetener, Splenda.

4. Let your tea cool before refrigerating it. Putting hot tea in your fridge will make it cloudy.

5. Keep your iced tea fresh. 'Nuff said.

6. Never use anything but freshly squeezed lemon juice.


Here is the recipe for a basic variant of iced tea that was said to have originated in the American South:

Southern-Style Iced Tea

6 regular-sized tea bags
1/8th teaspoon baking soda
2 cups boiling water
6 cups cold water
Sugar or other sweeteners to taste

1. Place the teabags and the baking soda (it softens the tannins and helps remove any bitterness) into a container and pour the boiling water onto them. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes.

2. Remove the teabags (but don't squeeze them as this will release the bitter tannins we've been talking about).

3. Pour the mixture into a pitcher and combine with the cold water and sweeten (If you want to add lemons or whatever, this would be the time to put it in).

4. Let cool, chill, then serve over ice!

If you're interested in other recipes, let me know.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Serendipity in Times of Traffic

For past the few years, my wife and I have eschewed going to big-name or trendy places on Valentine's day and have instead chosen to eat at small, out-of-the-way places where the traffic isnt bad and there's usually no need for reservations. Most of the time we have no idea where we're going; it's as if the car was on autopilot and we just arrive after taking the path of least resistance to the seemingly unavoidable traffic snarls that spawn anywhere near a restaurant on Valentine's day.

Last year we wound up at Cookbook Kitchen, a small little place tucked away in an equally small Mandaluyong side-street, right beside our son's pre-school. While the place deserves an entry, we will leave this for some other time. Someone remind me to get around to it. =)

This year we decided to try out Barcino's Gourmet, a small Spanish deli-restaurant on Julia Vargas avenue in Pasig (it's in the commercial complex right beside Ortigas Home Depot). It had two things going for it. The location's never crowded and it's near the office! We were supposed to try it out last week but got sidetracked into trying Le Boeuf, a sea food / steak restaurant in the same complex.

Barcino Gourment is on the second floor of the complex. When one enters, one is given the impression that he's stepped into a store's warehouse (albeit a nice store warehouse with airconditioning) where the owner has put up a few tables to cater to those customers who decided to eat in instead of taking their purchases home.The use of old wood and furniture gives the place a sort of old-world charm.

You immediately notice the large bank of shelving for the dry goods, mostly Spanish delicacies, the type you see at Terry Selection (I got the impression it was cheaper than Terry's, though). There is a huge storage section for wines, a small bank of refrigerators for drinks and cheese, and then, almost as an afterthought, you notice a nice homey table for maybe 8 pax and two small tables for two tucked away by the side.

In a word, homey. Homey but in a store.

Go figure.

We started off with some sliced Spanish sausages and some mild cheese. I think we disappointed the proprietor when we told him we didn't drink, and I don't mean in a financial sense, either. A friend of mine who visited relatives in Spain told me they drink more wine than water during a mealtimes over there.

The appetizers were served with some very nice warm bread. We were hungry and if we were wine drinkers I'm sure the night would have been complete with just the appetizers. Oh, by the way, this stuff wasn't even on the menu. You just go to the fridge, take it out and ask them to serve it to you. It's that informal.

The menu itself is a very short affair, perhaps no more than half a dozen dishes. We ordered the Fabada, Pes de San Pedro (St. Peter's fish) and the Cocindo de Madrileno.

The Fabada was just wonderful. Soupier than what is served in say, Dulcinea yet flavorful and full of meaty goodness. The fish was quite tasty. It had roast garlic cloves so it was off to a good start. Our only complaint about the fish was that it was strangely cold by the time it got to us.

The Cocido turned out to be a stew of vegetables, garbanzos, chicken, pork, sausage and beef. I've tried dishes like this before and it certainly held its own against the competition. My only comment is I wish it came with more sauce and vegetables (did I actually say vegetables??).

Bottom line is I like this place. It had a nice, friendly staff, an informal atmosphere, and it didn't even have a Valentine's menu. If I wanted to eat what everybody else was eating I could have gone to a cafeteria, right?

The price was right, too. We ordered maybe half the menu and even stuff not on it and our bill was less than P1,000 for the two of us. Hooray for serendipity! By the way, they were promoting some of their wines - buy-one-take-one. Their cheapest promo was for 190 for two bottles of a spanish red.

Dessert, you say? Well, the nice biscuits they gave us at Barcino Gourment were all well and good but we'd already decided to go downstairs and have the really excellent Halo-halo at Razon's of Guagua. Razon's has single-handedly re-affirmed my enthusiasm for our national dessert, to the great detriment of my diet.

The latter's version of Halo-halo sounds downright spartan compared to what most of us are used to. The first-timer to Razon's may well caught wondering -

"Is this it? Where's all the stuff inside??"

Instead of the colorful kaong, beans and whatnot topped by what is usually ube ice-cream, what you get is a faily monochromatic blend of sun-dried bananas, macapuno and very finely shaved ice (Ice Monster comes to mind). This is topped with unsweetened milk and some really creamy leche flan. What you get is a smooth, creamy blend. Not too sweet but very flavorful and you don't miss any of that other stuff anyway. I think the ice played a major role here, allowing for a smooth, flowing mixture instead of what often becomes a mish-mash when the ice gets lumpy.

Highly recommended. We haven't tried the other viands there like the sisig, hopefully this will merit another entry. P.S. go for the extra leche flan.

Oh, and for those of you who were wondering what we thought of Le Beouf, let me begin by recalling the fact that when the late, great food writer Ms. Doreen Fernandez didn't like a restaurant, she would simply refrain from writing about it. That's why I call her a food writer and not a food critic.

In the interest of the dining public, however, I will give these comments - The rib-eye steak was P180 bucks but you could hardly taste a thing. The best thing you could say about it was that at least it wasnt tough. The "Caesar" salad tasted suspiciously like thousand-island dressing with roast garlic bits. The sisig was ok though and my wife liked her tapa. Decent ambiance. Nothing to see here folks, move along now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Beyond Nestea

If there's one drink I really miss since having gone on a sugar-free diet, it's iced tea.

Sure, there are sugar free iced teas out there but the best iced teas are the ones made from scratch, and while I can do it at home there are few establishments that do it sugar-free.

Beginnings

My infatuation with iced tea started a long time ago. Even before Nestea first came out. As a child, I remember what a treat it was to drink Butterfly iced tea. I recall it was mostly sweet, but with a definitely strong tea flavor in it. They apparently stopped marketing it sometime in the 80s and I had to make do with instant Lipton and the later ubiqitous Nestea.

As I grew older I started to enjoy the really strong iced tea they served in Hong Kong. Over there, iced tea was made using the very strong, often bitter chinese black tea. Ordering an iced tea in the then-still Crown colony meant taking British-style, brewed very strong and liberally sweetened with evaporated milk.

A-List

Here's a list (in no particular order) of what I consider to be some of Manila's better iced teas, feel free to write in and give your opinions on your favorite iced teas as well -

- Passionata from Edsa Shangri-La Hotel (very sweet and mixed with passionfruit juice)

- Valle Verde Country Club Iced Tea (made with LOTS of calamansi)

- Wendy's Iced Tea (I used to go to Wendy's just to order the iced tea)

- Starbuck's Passion Iced Tea

- Hong Kong-style Iced Tea (both milk & lemon) from David's Tea House

More on brewed iced teas in the next installment.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mad About Cows

Well, at least about steak.

Steak seems a fitting first topic for this blog, since it was over a totally worthless steak dinner that I finally decided to set pen to paper (finger to keyboard?) and get all my ramblings written down.

There's really nothing to beat a nice, juicy steak. To me, it's one of the basic cornerstones of good eating. So simple yet so subtle. You take a firm cut of meat, marinate it and you either grill it (the preferred manner) or pan-fry it with your choice of condiments and, if all goes well, Nirvana is achieved.

If I have I to explain it further you may as well stop reading. =)

Good steak used to be almost exclusively in the domain of the can-affords. Here are some steak memories when I was a kid -

- Imported Glen Joes from PX stores in Virra Mall

- Those rare trips to Alfredo's Steak house on T. Morato

- Minute Steaks from House of Minis (I never found out why they call it that, really)

Nowadays with the ready availability of Angus and Australian meat, you've got restaurants such as The Steakhouse at Tagaytay Highlands, the very trendy and chic Antonio's and Gulliver's on Makati Avenue.

012206161
(Highlands Steakhouse Prime Rib)

Sandy Daza wrote about Gulliver's back in 2003 in his column here.

Now, I'm not an expert like he is but I personally don't consider Prime Rib as being exactly the same as steak. It just isn't. And by the way, the Prime Rib in Gulliver's is excellent. Order more of the Spinach Souffle. Where was that when I was kid?

Going back to steak, I've noticed recently that several small restaurants have opened serving cheap, tender, tasty and, most importantly affordable steaks.

Probably the most famous one is Hot Rocks in Libis, followed by Steak MD on T. Morato. Two other places of note are Everything at Steak on P. Guevarra St. in San Juan and Snackeroo on Jimenez Street (just off Kamuning).

What they all have in common is that they serve char-grilled steaks. We've yet to try Hot Rocks but the last three places I mentioned all serve their steaks at around P120 per serving (sans rice, its a budget place, remember?). All these establishments serve local beef with relatively thin cuts

Snackeroo is basically a carinderia which expanded to offer steaks. My good friend Jerms, who saw it as his culinary duty to check it out when I tipped him onto the place, told me that he actually witnessed customers standing right behind Oliver (the man in charge of the grill. Jerms is nothing if not thorough when it comes to these things.) actually choosing their steak and "making bantay" to make sure it doesn't get served to someone else. The place is that popular.

The steak here is no-nonsense, very flavorful and you can really taste the char-broiled goodness here. No need for much gravy here (ask for gravy on the side whenever you go to a steak joint, some places will try to disguise their attempts at tenderizing a steak by pouring tons of gravy on it), although it can be just a tad chewy. Many people swear by this place but I find that it may be a victim of its own success as the quality suffers slightly when the demand is high. Poor Oliver obviously has a hard time feeding so many hungry carnivores!

Snackaroo 1
(the Snackeroo no-nonsense steak)

Snackaroo 2
(attack!!!)

By the way, my wife swears by their Saba con Hielo and they're not stingy on the corn for their Mais con Hielo.

Steak MD is in a building on Morato just before the creek if you're coming from E. Rodriguez. It's a small place, like Snackeroo it isnt air-conditioned. The main draw of this place are their "rubs". In effect, their steaks come pre-marinated in several flavors. A garlic-based rub (my obvious favorite), a spicy rub, a sweet rub and a "house" rub. The steaks here are a little fattier than in Snackeroo but they are consistently more tender. BTW, they have a monthly "eat-all-you-can" promo every 15th of the month for P500 bucks. If you can finish more than 4 steaks, its worth it.

Garlic Rub of Steak MD
(Garlic Rub at Steak MD)

Everything at Steak is located in what used to be the convenience store of a Petron gas station on P. Guevarra, near Sky Cable & King Crab. The advantage of this place is that it's air-conditioned, has a full menu aside from steak and they offer decent sidings (mashed potatoes, for one). Their steaks are also a little fatty but they're flavorful and consistent. One caveat though - Their marinade is a little on the sweet side, think pinoy barbecue sauce.

All these places tend to get crowded at dinner times, so choose your timing well or manage your expectations. Steak MD and Everything at Steak have ample parking but Snackeroo has no parking to speak of so you have to park on the street itself.

Eat Hearty!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Next Great Meal

We spend a lot of a time eating.

OK, OK, I spend a lot of time eating.

But take into consideration all the meals we go through during the day - Breakfast, morning coffee break, lunch, merienda, dinner, dessert (yes, that can be a meal in itself), midnight snacks (don't deny it) - All told, we probably spend 2 hours a day just eating.

Eat to live, live to eat. This blog is more about the latter than the former. It's all about the search for the next great meal.

I've always wanted to keep a diary about the restaurants I've been to where I could rate the food so I'd be able to remember what to order (and what not to order) if I ever came back. She suggested I go even further and make a blog so I could share it with my fellow "foodies" out there.

Just a quick word about me and my eating habits - I'm an attorney, 35 years old and work in the Ortigas Center area. I've been on the South Beach diet (more-or-less) for over a year now, which suits me well, since I'm a bit of a carnivore at heart.

I am greatly influenced by the books of Peter Mayle and Anthony Bourdain, who bring writing about food firmly in the mainstream. More about these two later.

You are more than welcome to write in with comments, clarifications and suggestions. The more blame I can spread around, the better!