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.