Partner and the iPad from The Boy Wonder!
“WHAT?! YOU’RE laughing at me?”
“No. No, I wasn’t. Here’s Partner again.”
I handed the earphones back to Partner. I haven’t lasted a couple of minutes on my seat and all I had managed was indeed to laugh – to chuckle in bursts, actually – because I was quite surprised with what I arrived at at the table. Partner, who I had moments prior envisioned to have already been losing much of her renowned patience, was actually biding the time away in the company of The Boy Wonder. Virtually. His Christmas present to her – a 64-GB iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G – was comfortably set up on a stand on the dinner table and he was on Skype. All I managed was a wave. And yes, the chuckling in bursts.
Soon they said their farewells and Partner’s attention was back to me 100%. Having made her wait, I felt the need to launch to a lengthy apology – beginning with the horrendous traffic on EDSA. But just like how it is with real friends, she lovingly gestured with her hand that apology wasn’t necessary.
We haven’t seen each other for quite a while – as she has been based in Singapore for close to three years now – that I knew I wanted to give her a kiss on the cheeks and hug her really tight. I’ve missed her so much. And we both knew there were a lot of catching up to do. Unlike before when she would understand whenever I would miss showing up in the few days she would sneak back home for a quick respite, this time around, she was quite clear that my absence won’t be excused.
“There’s so much more to tell Partner, if only we can go to dinner now so I can tell you everything!… I have been dying to tell you but I never really had the chance.” exclaimed some of her e-Mails from a week back. So I knew I had to make good on my commitment to show up.
So there I was, seated across Partner at our table for two. Transfixed at one of my best friends, wondering how she has managed to look even more beautiful. I’ve always admired her face, but that night, bathed in the warm lights of the interiors of my restaurant of choice, Partner’s face emanated with the ethereal glow that brought to mind paintings by Rembrandt. I guess that’s what happens when one is truly happy from the inside. When one – or two people so in love – is “no longer hurting.” I could tell for I was one of her friends who have seen her through the ups and downs. I may not have been much of a help to her, but I’ve seen her through those times.
“Partner, you order. I’m not that hungry pa naman. I had a late lunch.” Partner uttered, snapping me out of the trance I was in.
“You sure? Where did you eat? What did you have?”
“Yeah. Cibo at the Shang. I had a salad.”
“Did you know that the owners of Cibo and Mamou are sisters-in-law?”
I just had to throw out yet another piece of trivia I know. And the very moment I did, our server just couldn’t help but smile.
And yes, the night’s restaurant of choice was Mamou at the Serendra Piazza. Partner told me I could choose whichever I want. Having been meaning to visit the place – almost on a number of occasions, but never quite! – I thought our dinner was the perfect reason to make good on that goal. I chose it because it does boast to be “a home kitchen.” It was, after all, a special dinner between really great friends.
Careful to spill out all my compliments, then all my questions, in one go, I kept myself in check and diverted my attention to Mamou’s laminated menu card.
“Partner, I’ll start with a salad. Then…” I was about to mention the pièce de résistance when – just how it is with real friends – Partner finished my sentence.
“You said you wanted to try the steak, right?”
“…then the steak!”
As if violinists in a symphony, Partner and I flipped the menus over in one orchestrated motion and perused the “Meat” section.
“Partner, I want this,” I spoke, mimicking how my six-year old nephew speaks, pointed on the menu card and continued, “the Angus Ribeye USDA Prime Grade Steak!” At that very moment, I could tell from my peripheral vision that our server (failed to get his name!) was having a field day with my and Partner’s repartee. And probably, he already could surmise who was getting the check! Hahaha!
I could very well have stopped with the salad – we asked for the Healdsburg’s Harvest – and the steak. After all, the pairing brought to mind one of my favorite lunches-for-one that I had learned from Nigella Lawson years ago. But I just had to ask for one offbeat, somewhat tangential choice – noodles. And I’m not talking pasta here, which could have very well been inspired by an Italian spread of Bistecca alla Fiorentina served with pasta. I’m talking good ol’ Hong Kong egg noodles swimming in a potent beef broth. They call it their “Mamou Mami.”
As the steak would be a bit of a wait – the menu said 20 minutes – Partner motioned to me to try the complimentary house bread. They were actually more like rolls, four rather unassuming pieces of rounded bread – two bark brown (whole grain?) and two white – in a small wicker basket. I took the white one, tore off a piece and launched with my questions.
Just about the best rolls I have ever had!
Aw-aw-aw... aw-aw-aw... Awesome!!!
“Did he know you told me about how he felt about you? Did he know I already knew. I mean, from your end. Because from his, I know because he told me. And I told you. Hahaha!” I asked. And as Partner responded, I felt I was holding in my hands the perfect metaphor to how her heart probably goes whenever she would mention The Boy Wonder’s name – like butter sliding down hot toast. Her eyes would glow and her heart would melt. “If this isn’t love / L–O–V–E / What is it to me?/ L–O–V–E ”
And Mamou’s bread does melt, literally, in my mouth! I’ve never been so taken by any restaurant’s complimentary bread. But Mamou’s are something different. In the middle of Partner and The Boy Wonder’s love story, I just had to interject,
“Partner, these rolls are so good!!!”
I looked for our server, and with a smile told him, “May we have more? Please.”
He took the basket, with a smile. And I knew, more metaphors of butter sliding down hot toast were in my immediate future. Like, in 5 minutes!
“So, Partner, when did you know that he was good for you? That he was what you needed and more?”
That was when the salad, Healdsburg’s Harvest, arrived. How could something so healthy, look so yummy? I could tell that the salad was able to whet Partner’s appetite but she was understanding of my unspoken, unwritten “shoot first, eat later” policy. My knees were weak at the sight of the salad and the shivering translated to the photos. It was hard to focus! The purplish veining of the greens were teasing and the explosion of juices that the cherry tomatoes promised – the moment I’d pop one in my mouth – were too much to handle by someone not blessed with steady hands.
The first portion I served Partner.
I got so intrigued by this leafy green that I had to ask what it's called... and forgot it! Hahaha!
“What’s the dressing called?” I just had to asked, my curiosity piqued by the explosion of purple that appeared to me more as candy than vinaigrette.
“Berry dressing, Sir.”
“Partner, it has glazed pecans and candied cranberries!”
I tossed the salad and served Partner a decent portion. She pierced some of the delicate greens with her fork and with the first taste told me, “Partner, it’s good!” I managed to break into a shy smile. Because for a moment I thought, while Partner may have told me that the salad was good, she actually unknowingly just answered my question. She just knew The Boy Wonder was indeed good for her. I know the guy quite well and if he came in a bottle of supplements, I’d call him “Multi-Harryboy” – complete from A to Zinc it would say on the label, just what Partner needed. Very much like the salad she was having.
We needed more space on the table when my big bowl of Mamou Mami arrived. In one quick motion, Partner willingly let go of the bread basket and handed it to our server.
“Do you still want that, Partner?” she asked.
“No, I’m ok.” (Though a part of me ached for that last brown roll.)
With what Partner removed from our table, a space was created for something she knew I really liked – the bowl of noodles.
Mamou Mami. This has got to be the best I've ever had outside of Ongpin. For this alone, I'll keep on coming back to Mamou!
“So aren’t you going to tell me about all that happened and came before The Boy Wonder?”
“No na, Partner. Those are all in the past. Let’s just focus on happy thoughts right now. Ask me about The Boy Wonder na lang.”
I bowed to catch a whiff of the savory bowl of Mamou Mami in front of me and almost instantly, a sense of comfort washed over me, making me totally forget about that last piece of bread. It was in the past now. Partner was obviously happy I was enjoying myself, though I was waiting for her to pass judgment on my unconventional choice (this was supposed to be a steak dinner!). But the happy person that she is, she allowed me my own happiness. Which, at that very moment meant a generous portion of perfectly cooked Hong Kong egg noodles in a robustly flavored broth that was part homage to the La Paz Batchoy of Iloilo and part to the mami of Ongpin. I fell in love with the hint of fresh coriander that perfumed each quiet (quiet!) sip of the broth.
“Partner, do you think The Boy Wonder came just at the right time? I mean, you shoo’d him away before. Good thing, you gave him another chance.”
And as with all good things in this life… As with all good things that have come in Partner’s life at this point, the fabulous steak came to those who were willing to wait. Served tilted to one side, our Angus Ribeye USDA Prime Grade Steak was perfectly done to Partner’s desired medium-well goodness, oozing with its natural juices and the goodness of – I surmised – really good extra virgin olive oil. I told myself, the generous jus and oil would make for a perfect dressing for the delicate greens, the sweet cherry tomatoes, and the slivers of cranberry stilton cheese. And to bring the salad to overdrive, I would tumble into the salad the slices of succulent steak. Sinfully good. For a while there, I could pretend that I was having dinner overlooking a vast vineyard somewhere in Tuscany. Yet, I was where I exactly wanted to be – with Partner at Mamou.
14-oz. cut of the Angus Ribeye USDA Prime Grade Steak
Medium-well. Just as how Partner asked for it.
Last couple of slices!... And we thought we were not that hungry to begin with!
The best corn pudding ever!
We started dinner with the excitement and intensity of how it felt for butter to slide down warm rolls (the promise of something new!), managed to let go of the past (that last roll!) and made room for the unexpected (Mamou Mami is mami from heaven!), and at the appointed time, became ready to receive the best of what the restaurant could offer (what a steak!).
I thought to myself, very much the story of Partner and The Boy Wonder’s love.
I politely asked our server, "Is the iced tea good?" To which he responded, "I'll bring you a tasting portion." A tasting portion?!?! If that's not luxurious, elegant service, then I don't know what is. (The iced tea was great!)
(I may not be the voice Partner hears first in the morning, and listens to last at night to tuck her safely and warmly to bed. Mine may not be the strong arms that hold her in a tight embrace whenever the world is cold and she needs comfort. My dreams may no longer hold as much importance or generate as much excitement to her ears like before. But Partner is exactly where she deserves to be – with someone I prayed she would be. With someone who can love her for everything that she is and for everything that she could help nurture in someone else.
I am a much better person because Partner has touched my life. She has done so for so many other people – to family and friends. It’s about time she allows the universe to pamper her and put her happiness first above all else. I know The Boy Wonder is up to the task. He has loved her with a love that was never afraid to take the pain, honest, sincere, unceasing. I pray for them.)
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