Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sincerity

Every now and then you hear about one of those little restaurants tucked away in the strangest of places. You know--the ones you never even heard of but the locals are lining up around the block just to get a table?

This is about my visit to one of them. Sincerity is a little Chinese eatery on Yuchengco Street, just off Ongpin, not far from Binondo Church. It is surrounded by distributors of stationary and school supplies and you wonder why it’s there. The obvious answer of course, is to serve the locals. And serve them it does.

It sure seemed like a long way to go for lunch (we live in San Juan, and my parents-in-law took me). Like most restaurants in the area, when you walk in, it’s all business. It’s a clean, well lighted place. You go to the counter and place your order (tell whoever’s with you to grab a table, quick!); no atmosphere or ambiance here, just good old fashioned Chinese food.

I guess I could best describe the fare as “Chinese comfort food”. Sort of like a pinoy Aristocrat. If you’re coming here for the first time, there are 3 things (with me, there are always 3 things) you should always order: the fried chicken (don’t bother with ketchup), the oyster cake (ok, you can use ketchup with this) and the chami.

The fried chicken is buttery and flavorful. You know its probably bad for you, but you just reach for another piece. You came all the way here to watch your diet?

Oyster cake is an acquired taste for a lot of people. I first learned to eat it in Taipei, where it was the highlight of every street-food dinner. This had the same, unpretentious-but-wholesome feel to it.

As to the noodles, I prefer the sate bihon myself, very very flavorful.

With places like this, the proof is really in the eating, words can only say so much as they are intended to speak to one’s brain and not one’s palate. So the next time you set out for (or get dragged to) 168 for your Christmas shopping, make sure to drop by this place on your way back.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Massimo's

I’ve been wanting to write about Massimo’s for a long time, so when my work once more took me to Tagaytay, I had little trouble convincing my wife to come with me so we could sample its cuisine.

Massimo is run by a husband and wife team, the restaurant has an Italian theme, the wife, Hazel Lu Galvez having trained in Italy. The restaurant is located a short distance from the main ridge road, halfway between the Tagaytay rotunda and Taal Vista Lodge.

Massimo’s located on the second floor of tall, imposing house; the smell of baking bread greeting you as make your way up the stairs (definitely not senior-friendly, though.)

Oh, by the way, if you notice me speaking in the present tense, it’s because I’m experimenting with bringing the laptop with us while we try out new places, so as to be able to immediately translate what goes on from the palate to paper.

We ordered a medley of prosciutto ham and bread for appetizers, creamed spinach soup for me and tomato basil soup for Jen. We are going to share their (pricey but expensive) salad with foie gras, then Jen will have the Russian Sea Bass and I will have the Angus Tenderloin! Mwahahahaa!

The prosciutto came and went, but not without a fight. There was a good-sized platter of it, only fitting since it cost P295. The soups were dead on. The tomato basil soup is so good (such sweet basil!) you will want to order more. The spinach soup was very fresh and tasty.

Then the salad came. I’ve had this before, and my advice to you is – if you can afford it, don’t even think of sharing it! The foie gras was perfect, as always: just barely crispy outside, rich and creamy on the inside. The salad greens, as they often are in Tagaytay, tasted like they were picked just before they were served to us.

The entrees came. Jen’s seabass was decent, tasty, but had too many bothersome bones. The steak, on the other hand, was a revelation. Unlike most tenderloin that was all about being tender and not enough flavor in their loins, this one had flavor coming out of every tender morsel. This was as good as any steak I’ve had in this country, served in a mild pepper sauce, I recommend it to anyone willing to shell out the P1,000 bucks for a slice of meat-lover’s heaven.

Dessert, for its part, did not disappoint. Our set menu came with a generous slice of strawberry shortcake and fresh mint tea. And, get this, the chef makes her own gelato! Bless her little heart! I quickly settled for an order of peanut butter gelato (not a very common flavor), and was immediately overcome by its creamy gooey goodness. I’ve had peanut butter ice creams in my time, and this Italian twist is as good as any I’ve ever tasted.

Boy, do I love gelato! Remind me to tell you about the time when we were honeymooning in Tuscany, I made it a point to stop by the local gelateria in every town the bus stopped. The kids in our tour group knew that if they just followed me I’d lead them to the nearest handy ice cream store. But that’s for another story.

Anyway, back to the present. Our meal at Massimo’s was one of our more memorable ones to date. Nice ambiance, excellent food. It’s small; out of the way restaurants like these that make going out to eat worth it. I highly recommend it to any food lovers who find themselves looking for sustenance in Tagaytay.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Perfect Cheesecake

After several inquiries from my loyal readers (that basically means, you, Ana) , I decided it was high time to get back into the swing of things.

No, my prolonged absence does not mean I haven't been eating. It just means I haven't had much of a chance to blog about it, that's all.

Getting to with the matter at hand - Cheesecake has always been a preoccupation of mine. Much in the same way Iced Tea is. There a hundred ways of making cheesecake, probably ninety of them bad. The sins in cheesecake making include using the so-called "no-bake" shortcuts to topping cheesecakes with blueberries or whatnot to mask its true flavor.

Possibly the best cheesecake I ever had in this country was several years ago, when a friend of ours made us one from scratch which we ate fresh from the oven. It had no gelatin whatsoever and had creaminess and that luxurious sour-but-rich "cream-cheesiness" fairly bursting out of every bite. I've been looking for something to equal that experience ever since, with (very) mixed results.

Fast forward to today. The never-ending search continues. It was for that reason (plus the fact that Cupcakes by Sonja at Serendra was jam-packed) that we decided to try out its next-door neighbor, Miss Desserts. Like many of the establishments in Serendra, it was relatively small by mall standards with seating for perhaps a dozen people inside. Prominently taped to their glass exterior wall was Gene Gonzalez' article featuring his great cheesecake showdown, wherein Miss Desserts' offering earned itself top marks.

Oho! Sige nga! The proof of the pudding is in the eating; and that goes double for cheesecakes.

We ordered a personal-sized New York Style cheesecake (I agree with Gene Gonzalez 100% on his stand that this is the gold-standard for cheesecakes. Everything else is just fluff) and, almost as an afterthought, a personal-sized Sugar-Free Banana Cream Pie as well.

Right of the bat, I will admit it - the cheesecake was dense, it was creamy and the crust was as good as it gets. Despite its small dimensions, it is supremely satisfying (although a slightly bigger helping wouldn't have hurt at all). It had that creamy, luxurious taste and feel that I was looking for and I would have liked to imagine how it would have tasted having come straight from the oven. Easily one of the best I've ever tried.

If I had to nitpick, and I guess I have to, I would say that I would have traded a bit of sweetness for more of that "cream-cheesiness" I was talking about. It would have been perfect in my book just a bit more of that tangy-sourness. Still, I was nitpicking and I have to admit, it beats most other cheesecakes hands down.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want to hear about the Sugar-Free Banana Cream Pie? Darn. I was going to make that my little secret. One word I could use to describe it is FRESH. The cream was fresh, the crust was fresh, the bananas tasted like they sliced it just as I entered the store. Unlike other sugar free desserts, you didn't get the idea that they were trying to overcompensate by using a lot of Splenda or what-have-you. What you got was a nice, fresh pie with a rich flavor unburdened by the cloying sweetness that we often get these days.

We gave these two desserts an enthusiastic thumbs up! Although we're not often in the neighborhood, I'm certain it won't be long before we come back to try out more of Miss Dessert's other sweet offerings!