Going Indian with Batman at the sale at The Podium

3 03 2009

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RECESSION OR not, a sale is a sale.  As I have said in a previous post, one of the three things that stop me on my tracks is big bold red letters that spell SALE.  So knowing that The Podium was going on sale last Friday, naturally I made a plan.  I was just so glad that Batman was in on the adventure.

 

Oh, no, not really that “in” on the adventure as he had work that day.  We just agreed to meet up for lunch.  Then, I’d be off to go shopping and see a movie perhaps.  Then, we’d meet up again for dinner.  It was the most opportune time as we had been meaning to have Indian cuisine, courtesy of The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine!  Batman has been harping about this Indian place from when it first opened at the said mall.  Finally, a chance to see a dinner plan to fruition.  (Though I’ve eaten at this restaurant already at their branch at The Columns…  more about that later.).

 

Unfortunately, I got caught up in last minute issues at work (though I had done my best to prepare and clear up my Friday schedule!).  So tried as I could, I ended up losing all my lead time, got inadvertently caught up in traffic, and missed Batman’s drop-dead call time of 12 noon.  I would have understood if he had lost his cool.  But quite surprisingly, he was very understanding.  I think I had never apologized as profusely as I did, starting at the very moment I saw him waiting at the third floor escalator landing.  As all seats at our restaurant of choice were already taken, and we would have been third on the wait list, we conceded that we didn’t have time anymore for lunch.  So off he went back to his office.  As for me, I had about five hours to burn.

 

I sort of lost my appetite already so I went to the cinema first.  I was hoping I could catch a screening of “The International,” starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, but the timings were going to put me off my pace.  But I didn’t leave the box office just yet.  The mean me lingered for a while as I suspected the mestizo guy next to me was getting so uncomfortable with what he wanted to ask the ticket sales person.  As he was clearly on a time crunch, he eventually, albeit sheepishly asked under his breath, “Miss, what time is the first screening of ‘You Changed My Life’?”  Hahaha!

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I guess being so mean burned too many calories that I finally felt the pangs of hunger.  I almost ate at the Indian restaurant but self-control – not to mention respect for Batman – prevailed.  So off I went to my other favorite place at The Podium – The Banana Leaf.

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As it was quite late already for lunch, they had run out of my favorite Stir-fried Malaysian Noble Leaves with Garlic.  But I didn’t fret as I munch on the complimentary prawn crackers.  I just settled with my other favorites, starting off with their Tom Yum Kung (Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup, Php 198.00).  They make almost-authentic Tom Yum, though all I sensed was lime, lime… and even more lime.  They had probably run out of fresh coriander because not even a speck was in my soup.  But it was okay.  They more than made up for it by being generous with the straw mushrooms.  Unfortunately, not the same could be said about the two prawns.  But they were really fresh and were of perfect doneness.  The flesh burst with each bite, and was naturally sweet.

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For my main entrée, I asked for the Hainanese Chicken Rice Set Meal (Php 198.00).  This has got to be one of my ultimate comfort food options.  I first fell in love with this dish on a trip to Penang in Malaysia and I haven’t looked back since.  Once back at home, and before discovering Hainanese at The Banana Leaf, I would ask hotel chefs if they could make the dish for me.  The most memorable was the one made for me by the lobby coffee shop chef of the Makati Shagri-La Hotel…  at past midnight!  He made an authentic rendition of the dish, complete with all the requisite condiments and the perfect rice, that I couldn’t help but write him a very heartfelt note of thanks.  That was the very first time I wrote a note of thanks for a chef.

 

The secrets to the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice are how the chicken is cooked (definitely NOT overcooked, just boiled ever so lightly, and then left to simmer in the broth for a couple of hours); how the rice is cooked; how the accompanying chicken soup tastes; and of course, the condiments – grated ginger in oil, thick sweet soy sauce, and chili.  So far, I will have to say that The Banana Leaf makes the best Hainanese Chicken Rice.

 

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For my drink, I asked and finished (to the last drop) a couple of their Chrysanthemum Iced Tea Shake (Php 68.00).  I couldn’t think of any other beverage to perfectly cap a filling lunch.

 

As I don’t want to rattle off any of the purchases I made (was there another wristwatch thrown in in the bag?!), I’m going to jump off to dinner time and share with you the joys of authentic Indian cuisine.  Oh, but before that, there is indeed something from the shopping bag I want to share!  You see, if Batman could only go to one store everytime he is in the mall, it would surely be Astrovision (or Astroplus)!  We got a lot of DVDs, but mine were only a couple – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”  I had finally seen the movies, and especially in the case of “Breakfast…,” Batman is recommending that I write here what I think about the movie!  We’ll see.

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So where am I?  Oh, dinner!  Right on the dot, Batman was back at the mall.  And after spending quite a while at Astroplus (again!), off we went to The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine.  My initiation to Indian cuisine happened – wherelse?! – but in India!  I was fortunate enough to have spent a weekend in Bangalore, a week in Goa, and another weekend in Mumbai as part of a team delivering our company’s top management training program (to Asian participants).  Apart from the very spiritual experience I had there – communing with nature, meditating by the shores of the Arabian Sea – it was the cuisine that left the most lasting imprint in my consciousness.  It was so good that in my “Rickshaw Diaries,” I accounted for every sensory-gastronomic adventure, extolling even the in-flight cuisine of Air India.  It was that good.

 

But prior to that first-hand experience, my pseudo-initiation to authentic (so clearly the Filipino “yellow” chicken curry doesn’t count) Indian cuisine was when I first saw chef/author Maya Kaimal cook on the FoodNetwork show “From Martha’s Kitchen,” right around the time she was promoting her book “Savoring the Spice Coast of India.”  The heady concoction of fresh and dried herbs and spices that she put in to her “masala” filling for her bluefish had defined for me the wild, exciting, and unexpected ride that could only be Indian cuisine.  I think she mentioned that the recipe she was using for her masala could vary from the next Indian chef, as the many available spices render themselves to a host of interpretations.

 

As in any cuisine, while the main ingredient and its freshness – be it meat, fowl, or vegetables – take centerstage, in Indian cuisine, it is the curry that is the cornerstone.  This pungent blend of spices serves as the fundamental ingredient from and around which a whole dish is developed.  A typical curry powder may contain the redolent smokey-ness of cumin, the parsley-like essence of coriander, the deep aroma and intense color of turmeric, the biting heat of chili powder, and the licorice sweetness of fennel, among many others (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves).  Depending on the proportions, and the region where a dish originates from, one may have a “tika,” “tawa,” or “goan” curry.

 

And those are exactly what Batman and I tried.  Though he actually left much of the ordering to me.

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But before getting to the good part of the dinner spread (the curries!), we started off with the Butter Naan.  Rightfully so, New Bombay couldn’t go wrong with their Naan, one of my favorite Indian flat breads.  I have had the experience in Goa to really watch while my naan was being made, right by the beachfront.  I didn’t mind the heat as I stood so close to the open-mouthed clay oven they used.  The chefs would stretch the leavened dough (imagine pizza crust being tossed) and then they would throw it right smack onto the walls of the clay oven.  In minutes, what came out was a bread blistered by the heat (direct fire), and made perfectly chewy.  I would dip this in chutney or curry sauce.  Yum!

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Vegetable Tawa Masala

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Chicken Tikka Masala

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Shrimp Goan Curry

Then, I asked for a number of curry dishes – a triumvirate actually – that I hoped would introduce Indian cuisine to Batman.  We first asked for the Vegetable Tawa Masala, a medley of vegetables and tofu, with lots of green peas (you wouldn’t miss them!).  It turned out to be the spiciest of the dishes.  And I could feel for Batman as he kept wiping the beads of perspiration forming on his brows.  He kept assuring me that it didn’t take away from his enjoyment of the meal, but still, I thought we could have really asked for “mild” spiciness instead of “medium.”  (But me, I want curries REALLY spicy so I was okay).  For meat, we had the Chicken Tikka Masala, which is chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast and thigh meat marinated in spices to a deep red, matching the intense color of the curry sauce.  It was the least spicy, though I really liked the version at the The Podium branch than at The Columns on Ayala Avenue (where I first had this dish).  The meat was really flavorful and moist, which was quite an achievement for me because it would almost always be easy to dry out chicken meat – even when doused in generous sauce.  But New Bombay did deliver with their chicken tikka masala.  For seafood, we had the Shrimp Goan Curry.  This one felt like it had endless fresh, plump, sweet shrimps because everytime I dunk my spoon in, there was just some more!  Its spiciness was actually just right and I guess this was the one Batman liked the best.

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We enjoyed all these curry dishes with a generous serving of Saffron Basmati Rice.  The menu said that they make this usually with dried fruits.  But since I’m not crazy about that, I asked the chef to tweak the dish a little.  I had the dried fruits removed and instead asked for chopped white onions to be thrown in the mix.  And the resulting dish was fragrant from the saffron, nutty at times, and bursting with sweetness from the onions!  It complimented the curries really well.

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Wiped out!... I love these stainless steel serving dishes!

Apart from their authentic dishes, what I did like about The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine were the serving dishes they used.  They were in all stainless steel, bringing back memories of how things are really done in India.  Besides, the curries and the bread on stainless steel provided a stark contrast that was pleasing – and more importantly, appetizing – to the eyes, and then to the palate.

 

I washed eveything down with a tall glass of Iced Indian Tea, made with Indian tea, milk and cardamom!  This one put Starbucks Coffee’s Chai Tea Latte to shame!  New Bombay’s drink blended well the goodness of tea and milk, which I would instantly get with every sip, before the strong, unique, distinctly floral goodness of cardamom would explode in the background.

 

Batman and I wiped off the dishes clean!  And that could very well be the best compliment we could pay the chef and the staff.  I would definitely keep coming back to The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine.  No wonder it was full for lunch that day!

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I saw this shirt on someone at the restaurant... So nice! I'm green with envy!

 

 





“THAI AT SILK” lives up to its name

12 02 2009

[This dinner has been a long time coming.  And this post, even more so.  You see, I’ve loved this place since my first visit in 2007.  I’m just so glad that I’ve finally gotten around to writing this piece.]

 

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I’VE BEEN feeling so under the weather since late last week that up to about a couple days back, I’ve been literally snacking on antibiotics and what text messages had told me to be concoctions being recalled by the U.S. FDA.  I thought nothing could pick me up from such my sorry state – not until Batman texted me when we could meet up, specifically for me to be able to pick up all that pasalubong he brought me back from Gotham City.  Now that’s a good enough excuse!

 

The opportune time turned out to be Wednesday night.  And I got to pick the place where we’d have dinner.  Finally, I found the perfect opportunity to visit (yet again) one of my favorite places in the Serendra Piazza – tHAI AT SILK.  I can still remember how in 2007, after the arduous task of emceeing a major company event (and singing with the jazz band afterwards!), I got to dine here for the first time.  My finding this gem of a place proved to be quite serendipitous.  I was resigned to the fact that I could satiate my hunger with just about anything – Brothers Burgers was actually appealing already – until I saw this posh Thai restaurant!

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I never realized then just how much I’ve missed Thai cuisine, especially since Sukothai had closed shop.  I hadn’t been able to go back too to Malai Thai in the Magallanes commercial complex after they had moved to the new building.  Dusit Thani in Glorietta doesn’t quite make the grade (but their food is good nonetheless).  Oody’s and Oody’s Express, while able to serve good food, haven’t quite appealed to me completely.  And The Banana Leaf Curry House on the restaurant strip in Alabang Town Center (their only branch that I loved) had already morphed to what appears to me as either an “under-the-sea” or a “pirates-of-the-caribbean” thing-y.  As for Penang Hill (which serves Thai dishes), I’m reserving my comments for now.  Haha!

 

tHAI AT SILK was, and still is, such a welcome sight – literally too as the interiors are in the calming, relaxing hues of green and white.

 

So right after the requisite stop at CUPCAKES BY SONJA – just to say “Hi!” to the friendly staff and to introduce them to Batman – off we went to tHAI AT SILK.  As I was the one insisting on this place, Batman gave me the free hand to choose the dishes.

 

We started with the Tom Yum Goong (Hot & Sour Shrimp Soup, Php 310.00), which we asked to be made mildly spicy (in deference to Batman…  Hehe…).  If there is any one dish that can transport you back to Thailand, or introduce you to the place, it is this dish.  And after having had this soup in its many possible incarnations – here and abroad (including the one I made to rousing reception by an international crowd) – I still maintain that the best version of Tom Yum Goong is made by  tHAI AT SILK!  Their version perfectly showcases just how Thai cuisine has achieved the balance of the basic tastes, while allowing each component to explode into its own momentary highlight – layer by layer – from the very instant the very hot soup tempts my olfactory nerve, touches my puckering lips, and swishes into the wall of my mouth.  The soup is faithful to its name.  It is HOT.  It is SOUR.  And it is chockful with really large, plump, juicy, and fresh white freshwater shrimps.

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It is HOT from the chilies, which could very well be at least three kinds (as what my personal recipe requires).  Like freckles on a pretty lady, crushed red pepper flakes beautifully dot the broth.  Under the restaurant’s subdued lighting, the soup glows in its appetizing orange hue, that can only come from the roasted chilies in oil (on its own a separate recipe!) that Bangkokians added to the original recipe from the Southern coastal villages of their country.  And that is how I prefer this soup – with the roasted chilies in oil.  It is SOUR (and a bit cloudy) from the undeniable bursts of fresh lime juice, that really  do give the dish its “characteristic” sourness.  And rounding off the robust flavors are the freshest ingredients that form a background symphony for the senses – the galangal for the floral hints; lemongrass for the mildly floral-and-citrusy notes; and cilantro for the very mild pungent undertones.  And as I said above, I’ve had this soup in its many versions and even the ones I’ve had in a number of layovers in Bangkok, seem to pale in comparison.  That’s just me.  And I think now, Batman too!  It was so good that I couldn’t wait for our main entrée and I had to already ask for steaming hot long grain Thai jasmine rice.  As you see, this restaurant doesn’t scrimp on the quality of grain and ingredients they use.

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For our second dish, I was actually considering the Massaman Chicken Curry I’ve loved from when I first tried it.  I have fond memories of that dish.  Besides falling in love with it during a trip to Bangalore, Goa and Mumbai in India, I will never forget how  tHAI AT SILK chef and owner Cecille Ysmael graciously served me the dish.  She even recommended to me a pickled concoction she just made in the kitchen which she said would perfectly complement the curry.  She even went the extra mile by keeping me company during my dinner, talking me through the dining experience that was the curry and that side dish (thrown in free of charge!).  I was so bowled over by the charm and demeanor of this lady!  I thought I was just going to share my table with the many boxes of cupcakes, the Barack Obama book, and the two Alessi wristwatches I had just bought.  I thought she would just pass by my table as she surveyed the dining room – only to stop and ask why I was alone and where my friend (from the previous dinners) was.  Clearly, she pays attention to her clientele!

 

Unfortunately last night, I couldn’t find that curry on the menu.  I asked for the “small” menu they used to have, which contained the new dishes and where the massaman curry was listed before.  But our polite server told me that everything had already been incorporated in the “big” menu I had on my hands.  As I failed to fully articulate what I was looking for, I settled for the Thai Chicken Basil (Php 310.00).  This choice turned out pleasantly… even surprisingly great!  Served on a green cake-pedestal-like platter, it was a festive medley of minced chicken meat, chopped green beans, and thai sweet basil, crowned with three thin rings of orange chili.  This dish was superb!  The basil perfumed the dish beautifully.  I loved it that the saltiness was kept to the bare minimum, allowing the natural sweetness of the moist chicken meat and the crispness of the beans to shine through.  I will definitely order this dish again.  And again!

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And going back to the usual Thai “route,” we asked for the Pad Thai (Php 400.00) as our final dish.  This is where  tHAI AT SILK’s visual presentation skills are taken – not only to the “next” – but really to the “highest” level.  The farthest I’ve gone to Thailand would be the times I waited for connecting flights at their international airport in Bangkok.  But as I understand it, this technique in presenting pad thai in a mesh or net of scrambled egg is exactly how it is traditionally done there.  And tHAI AT SILK surely didn’t want to cut corners and went for the entire nine yards with this one.  Beautifully ensconced and nestled in the egg net is the pad thai, surrounded by traditional condiments that include crushed peanuts, a wedge of lime, scallions and mung bean sprouts.  I felt that it was almost a sin to disturb the presentation.  But Batman wouldn’t let me to just stare at it endlessly…  I had to do the honors to mix everything together.  And in seconds, Batman had a taste of what could be the best pad thai he has ever had.  I love it too!  The sauce has an authentic tempered sweetness, allowing for the tamarind pulp to shine.  The noodles were cooked with the perfect give to it, and the smokiness in the dish was just right.  Even with the piles of Thai jasmine rice already on my plate (and in my stomach), I easily finished half of this dish!

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Batman and I washed everything down with tall glasses of this restaurant’s signature Lemongrass Juice (Php 115.00).  This drink was just perfect as it soothed my throat (which towards the end of dinner was all the more strained from all the “kwento”) with its citrusy goodness, punctuated with the hint of ginger-like essence.

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By the time I was taking my last spoonful of the rice, Batman had been heaping praises on my dinner choices.  He actually said that he had never been “that” full in recent memory.  Hehehe.  Either he really meant it or it was just the jetlag talking.  Hahaha!  But I guess he meant it.  I too, after a while of missing out on tHAI AT SILK, had to stop and acknowledge the fact that I haven’t had that great a dinner too.  All the food were literally wiped out from the plates and I couldn’t think of any better compliment to pay the chef.  tHAI AT SILK lives up to its name – it is THAI, and it is smooth as SILK – simply one of the finest in the world.

 

Oops…  I actually did, as I wrote a short note on the back of our check just to say how fabulous the dinner was.  And how attentive, prompt and warm the service was.

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After dinner, we took a leisurely walk to CUPCAKES BY SONJA.  I got a box for Spider-man and a couple more for my engineers (I’ll post this later!).  I didn’t get a box for Superman as he won’t be onsite tomorrow.

 

 





New offerings from Cupcakes By Sonja!

26 01 2009
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With a Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake and Caramel Hot Chocolate... all's fine in the world.

 

I woke up on Sunday morning with a hankering for cupcakes that just wouldn’t let up.  So off I went to Cupcakes By Sonja!

 

The very nice Ms. Sonja L. Ocampo, a very busy glorious presence in an understated little black dress, was again in the store.  She was in the kitchen, working with her baking staff, going over batches of cupcakes, fussing over her masterpieces.  I had to wait for my turn so I perched myself on one of the stools by the bar facing the beautiful counter display.  I saw that the limited edition Barack Obama Chocolate Surprise cupcakes were still available.  When I lifted my face up to check the handwritten menu on the boards on the walls, Sonja had already seen me and we greeted each other by waving “hello.”

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There are so many new items to try out! And, YES WE CAN! Hehehe...

 

Going back to the handwritten menu board, I noticed that there were a number of “new” items!  I particularly took note of the “Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl.”  I couldn’t help but wonder how this would be, knowing for a fact that one of my most memorable chocolate cream cheese cake experiences was the “Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake” from The Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco.  My friends and I would take the whole 215.88-miles round trip just so I could get that cheesecake!  Other new items are the Key Lime, Chocolate Tofu, Smores, Choco Chip Cookies, Caramel Pecan Brownie, Coco Blondie, Salted Valrhona Choco Bites, Nutter Butter, and Lemon Tea Cake.  They all sound so yummy!!!

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With a smile, served by the staff – the Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake!

 

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Caramel Hot Chocolate. Tsokolate Eh!

 

But as usual, I asked for my favorite of the moment – the Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake – though this time, I asked for a hot drink to go with – the “Caramel” Hot Chocolate.  You already know how much and how deeply I feel for this confection that is Sonja’s red velvet cupcake.  What I was kind of excited to try was the hot chocolate (which I later realized to be spiked with “caramel”).  It was good.  Really comforting even!  Very much like how a warm blanket would feel on a very chilly night.  It was a bit thick, enough to bring back thoughts of just how sinful and how rich and superior in quality the “Tsokolate Eh!” of our ancestors must have been.

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Without question, I went through my cupcake in a breeze.  But of course, as I devoured this “piece of cake,” Sonja was kind enough to keep me company, so to speak (remember, she is always so busy!).  She asked me about the next places I’m planning to visit.  I rattled off a few names – of course, Thai at Silk was at the top.  I want to go back there and, as I had told her, take good pictures of the dishes.  Then, there’s Azuthai.  And then, I mentioned to her that I have wanted to go back to one of my years-long favorites, a restaurant I first discovered in the Magallanes commercial complex, where it was right next door to an art gallery.  Lately, I’ve been to both its branches in the Greenbelt 2 restaurant strip and at Corte de las Palmas in Alabang Town Center.

 

Bright-eyed and beaming with a smile so wide, Sonja said that she is part-owner of that restaurant.  Without hesitation, she gave me her number and said that should I decide to visit next time, she would be glad to have the chef meet me up and who knows, we could collaborate on a dish!  Wishful thinking…  Though right now, I already have in mind a (send-off) dinner plan for someone really important

 

Seeing that I am a years-long fan of their restaurant, I went on declaring my all-time favorites with unbridled enthusiasm.  I have a “holy trinity” of sorts (she already knows which ones!).  But during the course of our conversation, what I took away was Sonja’s palpable pride on her chef and her staff.  As another very successful restauranteur – Margarita Araneta Fores – once shared on an interview somewhere, one’s staff is key to a restaurant’s success.  And just like Ms. Fores’, some of Sonja’s staff from her other ventures have stayed with her, and one of them, Lucky, now works at Cupcakes.

 

Which brings me to a fitting close to this post.  A huge shoutout to the wonderful staff of Cupcakes By Sonja’s who always ensures that a visit to their store is such a pleasurable experience – Kim, Debbie, Lucky and Len!  Hi to the bakers too!

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“Because sometimes, the truth isn’t good enough…”

6 01 2009

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THANK GOD for Powerbooks.  There was a good year in my life when I would regularly – almost daily!  hang out at their Alabang Town Center branch after-office hours and just flip through cookbooks.  On most occasions, I was able to finish a whole book in one sitting!  But last night, I was in their Glorietta branch and while I noticed that the place had shrunk, I didn’t miss out on the cozier feel I got when I stepped in.  I reached out for a nice hard-bound celebrity chef cookbook (Wolfgang Puck’s), doing so as I fought the urge to look for a warm blanket to pull up to my chin as I cozied up on one of the seats (that could very well double as couches).

 

Of course I had to contend myself with slumping onto the floor.  But I chose my position strategically – the one with the cookbook shelves behind me and to my left.  And why so?  Simply because should the world come to an end by way of an earthquake that very moment,  and should I survive it albeit caved-in in piles of books, I would at least be surrounded by the ones I do love to read.  And I had my contingency plan in check – an extra pair of titanium spectacles stashed in the nether recesses of my Adidas bag.  It would have been very pathetic to be surrounded by books after that earthquake only to realize that the Emporio Armani-framed eyeglasses I had on got broken in the midst of the temblor.

 

But yes, there was no earthquake.  Quite obviously, I didn’t get caved-in anywhere.  So all of these things I’m scribbling down on the pages of my 16-month Starbucks date planner & journal would have a great chance to see themselves on print in wordpress.

 

So there was I in Powerbooks, waiting for one of my best friends.  We had to meet up.  I felt a bit guilty because weeks before, I had failed to meet up with all my other friends.  And even with this one, I had cancelled twice before already.  But things really do have a way of working themselves out and I made it to the appointed meeting place last night.  I came all the way from way down south of Metro Manila while he was coming from the Ortigas area.  I arrived first and I didn’t – actually, NEVER – mind having to wait.

 

After flashing feelings and thoughts of guilt tinged my early evening reading; and after I had memorized a recipe for decadent chocolate cupcakes with a gooey and seductive center (much like Giada DiLaurentiis’s!), in came a text message announcing the advent of the best friend.

 

[And then the best friend arrived!  Pen had to be parked for now…]

 

He just had his birthday and he is about to leave for a trip abroad.  So those are a good couple of reasons to see each other.  Friends really do find reasons to see each other.  And of course, the fact that I still couldn’t figure out his Christmas gift for me was another come-on.  Up until the time I left work at 4:00 P.M. sharp, I couldn’t figure out what could be something that “I truly like but may end up returning to him the moment I see it.”  Hahaha!

 

I decided to meet him halfway so I walked towards the SM side.  I saw him first at one of his favorite stores (or only favorite?) and stood right beside him to check if he’d notice me while his attention was totally demanded by the objects of desire staring him to his face.  Unfortunately, it took a nudge, after a good couple of minutes had first passed, for him to notice me.

 

First order of business was getting my gift.  Hahaha!  He handed it to me and my eyes zoomed onto the note he scribbled on the wrapper.  It wasn’t his original, but it was VERY NICE.  Of my few best friends, he is one of those who writes really nice notes.  He was a bit disppointed that I didn’t revolt over the ‘shabby’ wrapping (a first from him) – sheets of plain white paper held together by strips of torn masking tape.  He called it to be very ‘Frankenstein.’  It didn’t matter to me.  All I cared about was the note:

 

“BECAUSE SOMETIMES, THE TRUTH ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH…

SOMETIMES, PEOPLE DESERVE MORE…”

 

So nice.  Still not caring to open the package, I went on babbling about my understanding of the note.  Apparently, apart from the escalators, walls, ceilings and floors, nobody was listening to me.  Best friend wasn’t listening.  He cut me mid-sentence and with a dagger look demanded that I tear apart the wrapping and check out the gift, before we reached the night’s dinner place.

 

I had no choice.  So I did.  And I was speechless.  It happened to be one of the things that I had wanted for quite a while.  You see, apart from me, he is best friends with another one of our friends.  And all this time, I had played second fiddle (it’s just an inside joke…).  But with this Christmas present, I guess I had inched closer to the top.  Hahaha!

 

But of course, getting to our dinner place was pleasantly marred by a few requisite stops which allowed me to get my photo taken with two of my fave superheroes – MY TWO SUPER FAVORITE SUPERHEROES.

 

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That's me with Superman! Superman is the star here so it's okay I got cut.

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eNTeNG and The Dark Knight!

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My Fave Superheroes - Superman & Batman - WHAT MORE CAN I ASK FOR?

But things only got better when we got to our dinner place, especially since we decided to uphold the Filipino tradition – ‘the birthday celebrator pays!’  Along the expanse of the Greenbelt 3 restaurant strip, we decided on Café Bola – innovative, cutting edge Filipino cuisine.  Pinoy dishes with a twist!  Café Bola has never failed me and I’ve raved about it eversince – way back four or more years ago!

 

We are both on some sort of ‘diet’ so he had just the very basic, very bare Chicken Cutlet Sandwich (Php 145.00).  Since I was feeling really hungry, I threw all my diet impositions out the window and asked for the very substantial Botsky’s Tuna Laing Rice (Php 195.00).  I made it extra special – and sinful – by replacing the plain steamed rice with the Crab Fat Rice (Php 80.00).

 

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Chicken Cutlet Sandwich!

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Botsky's Tuna Laing with Crab Fat Rice!

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Batman was keeping watch during dinner.

The laing (torn dried taro leaves and stems cooked in coconut cream) was not swimming in the coconut cream and had the taste and goodness that could only come from slow-cooking.  I could tell that the cocount cream reached the point that gives off a hint of aromatic nuttiness without actually curdling.  The dish had a smooth texture but I could still make the torn leaves and stems – it was not at all unslightly mushy.  And the tuna was very fresh and oozed with the flavor of the laing.  I had to really savor the moment of chewing each chunk of tuna as every piercing of the perfectly cooked meat literally burst with creaminess and flavor that could only come from fresh meat from the sea.  I loved it that the restaurant opted to just beautifully ‘plant’ the siling labuyo (Filipino fiery red chili) on top of my dish.  I wasn’t particularly craving for hot and spicy last night, so having an option worked well for me!

 

But just when I thought the laing was great, I never realized how the lowly fried rice could further elevate my gustation up a notch!  I first caught the faint gust of yummy steam that escaped as the mound of plump premium rice slightly gave in crumbling to the thrusts of my fork.  Yummy!  And some things do taste even better, this rice no exception, as I took my first forkful.  I’ve sampled so many executions of crab fat in various dishes (foremost the pasta variant) but Café Bola has got to be the one to perfect it.  The rice didn’t taste fishy at all.  It was just oh-so-wonderfully good.  Each full fork would leave an impression in my mouth that just begged for more.  I couldn’t let up!  While the rice was resplendent in the hue of commercially bottled crab fat, the resulting dish was surprisingly not salty at all.

 

As I have said, in keeping with the Filipino way of celebrating birthdays, best friend put his foot down and took care of the bill.

 

We had a lot of catching up to do and that we did at Starbucks.  Though I knew I would fail miserably again in earning the required number of stickers to get the limited edition 2009 planner for free, I still routinely collected the stickers, proudly brandishing my card that could only muster pride and courage worth three stickers so far.  Goodluck to me!

 

My drink was the Praline Mocha Frappucino (Php 170.00 for the ‘venti’).  Of the three 2008 holiday drinks, this was the one I loved the most.  It was love at first sip from when I asked for it on the night of November 28th at their Las Pinas branch where some of the staff would greet me by first name the moment I dart in through the doors.

 

And yes, what I mean was that they knew me by my “coffee name.”  Which, judging from the picture below, has now changed to ‘Clark.’  I just love the sound of that name – Clark.

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I super love this holiday drink - Praline Mocha Frap!





LZM “Lutong Bahay” – gastronomic feast closest to the warmth of hearth and home

24 12 2008
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On board Spider-man's car on the drive to LZM. That's Chax, and of course, Spider-man!

For quite a while, I’ve been harping about that it has really been looking a lot like Christmas.  I mean, eversince Batman and I saw the Christmas trees being put up in Greenbelt 5, it has felt like Christmas.  Even the gentle breeze already carries the season, as it kisses your cheeks and whispers in your ear.

 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t and can’t still take off early as a lot of work still needs to be done.  Not that I’m complaining, because, as a lot of people know, I love what I’m doing.  I love my work so it’s not really work.

 

True enough, December 23 was still bustling with activity here in the office.  And since a lot of our engineers, especially the new ones, still reported to work, we thought about going out to lunch!  It was a way to reconnect with one another, over none other than the closest to home-cooked meal that we could get.  A couple of generous people helped spread the season by footing the bill – Brother and one of my four new engineers, Dennis.  And for good measure, I just threw in a little more.  Hahaha!!!

 

The bill amounted to Php 7,170.00, plus a generous tip.  Not bad for satisfying 23 really hungry people!  I was joking over lunch that I must’ve starved all of them with too much work (I was department Officer-In-Charge) because each dish was literally wiped out the very moment the serving platters landed on the table!  But I guess the fact that we had to really wait was the more likely reason.

 

But as what we have come to love at LZM Lutong Bahay at their original restaurant in Silang, Cavite, the food at this new branch we went to – the one in the “Magdaragat” Paluto (“Magdaragat” cook-to-order) – was just superb!

 

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Of course, there were the requisite ‘giant’ Daing na Bangus (Crispy-fried Milkfish marinated in vinegar and spices, Php 250.00).  I’ve always loved this, though I still maintain that the one at Leisure Coast Resort in Pangasinan is still the best.  The Beef Bulalo (Beef Bone Marrow Soup, Php 360.00) was really comforting.  The essence of beef was well-pronounced in the stock that was so hot, I got a facial!  Devouring the bone marrow Chax served me, I felt like I had a death wish while having my lunch!  The vegetables in the dish were plenty and were left half-cooked, really crisp and brightly colored.  So those couldn’t help but just whet my appetite further!  The Buttered Garlic Prawns (Php 240.00) were really fresh.  The garlic was really prominent and some of it on top were a little raw.  The freshness of the prawns infused the buttery sauce with a certain sweetness that was refreshing.

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The Tortang Talong (Omelet of Grilled Eggplant, Php 120.00) was my special request.  I loved the smoky goodness the grilling always imparted to the eggplants.  It was just further enhanced by the sauce I made out of lots of calamansi (Philippine lemon) juice, soy sauce and siling labuyo (Philippine chili).  And the way LZM does their tortang talong, totally left devoid of any other ingredients to enhance the dish, is exactly how I love it.  Added to our vegetable repertoire was the Pinakbet (Mixed fresh vetables stewed in fermented shrimp paste, Php 270.00).  Of the many variations made to this all-time favorite dish, LZM’s is my favorite.  It’s the faint sweetness that you would get from the sauce that married the freshness of the vegetables with the pungency of the fermented shrimp paste that I always found irresistable!

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The final dish on our table was the one that surprised me the most!  It was the usual Calamares (Fresh squid in rings in a light batter, deep-fried to a golden crisp!, Php 190.00) though what LZM did was probably get the freshest catch, coated them in a light batter and fried them to perfection!  I got the crunch right away, and the coating revealed the most tender, sweetest squid rings I’ve ever had.  I didn’t need any ‘thousand island dressing’.  The calamares themselves alone were super!

 

Right after lunch, I laughed at myself when I realized that I was scratching my tummy – in public!  I guess that was just me unconsciously giving my stamp of approval to a lunch and time well spent.  With great food.  With really great people!

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With my engineer, Dennis (generous!) and Spider-man...