Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rabbit Virgin, No More

I had a long week- trying to meet my self-imposed deadline for the newsletter, while dealing with backlog at work; going to the gym while still on starvation mode; and, of course, the ongoing preparations for the wedding. By week’s end, I was physically and mentally-drained, as well as deliriously hungry.

Fortunately, I had Friday dinner to look forward to, which Matt and I decided mid-week would be at our favorite French resto, Je Suis Gourmand. We have not been back since last December, when we just passed by to grab a log of Foie Gras Terrine and bottled Peppercorn Sauce for Christmas Day dinner. Matt has always been picky with his food, so I’m happy that we have a shared affinity for this popular bistro (along with a few other restaurants) which we try to visit as often as time and budget would allow.

I brought a bottle of Chinon Le Grezeaux 2002 which I bought from Sommelier Selection (through The Bluefrog) a year ago. Wine connoisseur and serious foodie Bernie Sim was at a table nearby with his charming wife, and instructed me to have my wine chilled and decanted immediately.

Looking through the familiar menu, I thought I would give my favorites a rest and inquired about the specials. Although the server eloquently enumerated the dishes, I missed out on a few of the details. Good thing Mr. Sim came up to our table and recommended that I have the rabbit dish which was one of the specials that evening. He claimed that it would go very well with my Cabernet Franc from the Loire region.

I smile uncomfortably and tentatively order the dish. I would actually call myself an adventurous eater, having had my first balut (duck enbryo) when I was 9, and even braving an appetizer of crickets at Fely J.’s recently. But, for some reason, I have consciously avoided eating rabbit. Maybe because I had a pet bunny at one point in my childhood, and so have always put the cuddly creatures in the same category as Shih-tzus and Shetland ponies. But, since Gourmand has yet to disappoint me, I decide that it’s time to- as Elmer Fudd loved to say- “Kill the wabbit”.

When I told Chef Marc Aubry about my concerns, he scoffed in his typical French way and said, “Oh, don’t worry! I saw the one you’re eating tonight, and it’s an ugly one.” Ok. I feel a lot better.

Our starters finally arrive. I ordered the Mesclun Greens with Bacon, Roquefort, Egg and Wallnuts tossed in a light vinaigrette. This is something that I would love to make at home, being so simple and yet so satisfying. I would pretty much call it “star-studded”, containing practically every ingredient that I would want to find in my salad. The flavors were perfectly-balanced and they were very generous with the bacon. I can’t complain.

Matt had a bistro staple, Onion Soup, topped with Gruyere and a toasted slice of baguette. This was followed by his favorite Gourmand dish, Lamb Shank with roasted vegetables and potatoes. Instead of the usual potatoes, he asked for reosti (Swiss pan-fried shredded potatoes, typically with bacon). Good thing Chef Marc remembered that Matt does not eat pork, and so made sure that there was no bacon in it.

And finally I come face to face with my main course, Stuffed Rabbit Saddle with Garlic Tarragon Pasta. I discovered that rabbit meat had an unusual texture- quite rubbery and dry. I learned from Chef Marc that the rabbit itself does not have a lot of flavor, especially these farmed ones, so it soaks up all the flavors and aromas of its accompanying sauces and side dish. The stuffing of rabbit liver and kidneys was deliciously earthy and succulent, truly making the dish a perfect match with the wine and its moderate-to-heavy tannins. It was an earthy and brawny wine, something that I could imagine standing up to even meatier dishes. The pasta, although quite simple, was flavorful and intensely aromatic. Matt- occasionally picking from my plate- asked me, “You can make this, right? Try to make this at home, ok?”

Once again too stuffed for dessert, we finished off our wine outside with a few cigs. Chef Marc, who usually joins us for some smokes and conversation, was noticeably absent. Later on, he tells us that he has decided to quit the smelly habit. He did chat with us a bit before we left, Matt and I making the effort not to smoke in front of him. Although Chef Marc said that he doesn’t mind, I personally would want him to enjoy his new life devoid of carbon monoxide.

It was a wonderful dinner, but I must admit that I am not a fan of rabbit. Although the dish itself was tasty, rabbit meat just does not have the juicy succulence of steak or the sublime gaminess of duck breast.

Bunnies everywhere can give out a sigh of relief.

Je Suis Gourmand
Net One Plaza
Fort Global City, Tagiug
Tel. no. (632) 8158801

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Please (Don't) Feed the Models

It’s very seldom that you find a place which serves great food and is also a happening party spot late at night. Several have attempted to do this, but only a rare few have succeeded. I know a lot of lounges or clubs (both existing and obsolete) in Manila which have created major buzz around their cuisine, and then not exactly stepped up to the plate. After a while, their dinner service is completely scrapped-off and what used to be a restaurant/bar /club just turns into a venue for after-hours partying.

For a while now, I have been wanting to have dinner again at Tabu after eating there more than a year ago. Yes, I do go there once in a while for drinks. They serve up some really mean cocktails, and I do have a major thing for martinis and mojitos. I like that their mixed drinks are not watered down and overly-sweet (unless they’re supposed to be) without customers having to pay New York prices (Oh yes, you know who you are, you over-charging-wannabe-Bungalow 8, you!). So when a few friends decided to meet up for Tabu’s Model’s Night, I decided to start the night early.

Matt and I met The Manchild shortly before 9 in the evening. The tables outside were already full when we arrived, mainly because there was a photo shoot taking place inside the establishment. After a short wait, we were ushered to our table by our server. During dinner, the restaurant was well-lit, showing off Tabu’s dark, modern interiors.

The menu was quite eclectic, ranging from American bar food to Thai dishes. We started with the Taco Cheese Rolls (seasoned ground beef and cheese wrapped in egg roll paper, deep-fried), which I remember from my first meal there. It’s just a really fun and tasty starter, reminiscent of our parties in college where we chowed-down on cheese rolls and sisig, but this was a better-made version, of course.

The Manchild and I were both watching our carb-intake, so our threesome shared Chicken Satay (marinated grilled chicken breast strips), Pad Thai (sauteed edd noodles with chicken, shrimp, egg and bean sprouts) and Beef Curry . Matt, not having any of our silly dieting, ordered himself a cup of steamed rice. The Chicken Satay was flavorful and moist, the peanut sauce fragrant and quite authentic. I honestly cannot say the same about the Pad Thai, but it was still ok. I prefer my Pad Thai a bit on the spicy side and not too sweet, and this one was a bit on the sweeter side.

Matt obviously enjoyed the Beef Curry, which had a very thick sauce. I tried a small piece of beef (two-bites worth) and I had to consciously stop myself from getting more rice. It was very tasty, and I will surely order it again when I am no longer on this torturous diet.

After dinner, our friends arrived in rapid succession: Papa Tims (who reserved a nice corner banquet table for us) was there with some of his wife’s relatives from Vancouver; DJ Scratchmark was working that night to spin some tunes, introducing us to Steven, a visiting DJ from San Diego; TG-Boy and The Body followed after, just in time for the parade of drool-worthy Brazilian hot bods. I saw a couple of old friends, too, which was nice.

After The Manchild left, we joined Papa Tim’s relatives closer to the door. It was late into the night and the place was packed, with models, wannabe models, gawkers (that’s us), partyphiles of all ages just looking for some crazy partying. Working models get free drinks, and luckily Matt had a few gigs before, so the beers and Mojitos were flowing (for the two of us, at least). I was apprehensive that I would have to deal with stupid airhead comments and arrogant airs from the “beautiful people”, but there was none of that. It was a really fun night and I was a bit sad when it was time to leave.

It’s nice to know that Tabu was able to maintain the quality of their food, while coming up with exciting events to heat up Manila’s nightlife. They really seem to offer a little bit of everything, even for their patrons who DO eat.

Tabu Restaurant and Bar
Salcedo St.
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8177523

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quick Bites: Uncle Moe's

Matt and I almost broke up because of their Chicken Shawarma.

Yes, I admit it was lame, fueled mostly by too many rounds of Irish Peckers (we came from a pub), but for some reason I was insanely jealous. Instead of spending time with me, he would much rather go all the way to Pasig in the wee hours to chomp down on the grilled Middle-eastern snack. I was furious and I thought he was being- as Jennifer Aniston famously put it- “uncool”.

The following day, sober and sheepish, I agreed to go with him to Uncle Moe’s to try their famous Chicken Shawarma. If I almost lost my fiancé because of it, it better be worth it.

The restaurant/bar’s clientele are mostly visitors of the nearby driving range, as well as the residents of the neighboring villages. Despite being in the same row as a couple of well-known pizza places, it seems to have gained quite a following on its own. The eatery has both indoor and al fresco seating, where customers (from boardshorts-wearing college boys to well-dressed, Ferrari driving professionals) can enjoy a few beers and some well-chosen Middle-eastern dishes, the most popular of which is the chopped grilled chicken wrapped in warm pita bread.

You can either order the regular Chicken Shawarma (which comes with chopped raw cabbage, onions and tomatoes) or the all-chicken version. I decided to order the regular size, while Matt expectedly went for their large one.

It was truly the best Chicken Shawarma I have ever tasted. The meat was moist, the marinade mildly pungent and flavorful. The garlic sauce was creamy and not overwhelming at all. I appreciated that the vegetables were fresh and crisp, which gave a nice contrast in texture.

I gobbled down my order in less than two minutes, taking bites off Matt’s second order, as he watched me condescendingly. I admit when the battle is lost and when it is time to accept defeat, so I allowed him some well-deserved gloating as I picked off his plate.

At least now I know we will never fight about Chicken Shawarma again.

Uncle Moe’s Shawarma Hub
City Golf Plaza
(Across Valle Verde 3)
J. Vargas Ave., Pasig City

Friday, January 9, 2009

There is No "No" in Italian

Telling me not to eat carbs is like telling a lion not to devour an injured antelope.

My most ultimate comfort foods (chicken arroz caldo and pasta) fall under that category. Aside from that, I believe that it is very unnatural to do away with carbohydrates. Even your body reacts by making you unbearably cranky and depressed.

But I have to do this, at least for two weeks. Based on experience, it really was the fastest way to shed some pounds. So, as of Monday, I have decided to take a break from carbs.

The following evening, though, Matt and I decided to have dinner with our Discovery Weekend friends, Brian and Therese, at Carpaccio. What the hell was I thinking? Nobody on a quasi-South Beach Diet would even entertain the thought of having dinner at an Italian restaurant. But I, silly girl with the zero self-control, told myself that I will just order a salad and some fish. Yeah, sure.

So off we went to the newly-renovated Italian restaurant on the second level of Werdenberg Corp.’s restaurant complex, right next to their main building. It has been transformed from their old look of a small Tuscan eatery to a posh, uptown dining establishment.

We were quickly given a table at the smoking area which we fortunately had to ourselves. Things could get pretty loud when Matt and I get together with the newly-married couple, so it was a good thing we could have our hearty belly-laughs without bothering the other customers.

I do not know a lot about Italian wines, as some reds I have tried I find too bullish and tannic, while some Pinot Grigios are just plain flat and boring. I do like this particular white wine (Mancini Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Desi 2006) which I frequently buy at Santis, and I thought Therese- a newly-anointed wine disciple- would enjoy its crisp, peach and green apple notes.

We started with the Carpaccio Cipriani (thin slices of raw beef drizzled with olive oil and topped with a salad and sliced provolone) and Caesar Salad. With a squeeze of lemon, the carpaccio tasted fresh and bright, the subtle cheese a perfect accent to the meat.

The men both ordered pasta, A Caneloni ala Casa (pasta tubes filled with ricotta, beef and spinach, topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella) for Matt and a Ravioli Panna (meat-stuffed pasta pockets filled with a parmesan cream sauce) for Brian. For journalistic reasons, I was allowed to try their dishes. The Caneloni I like very much because it was not overly creamy like some tend to be. The Ravioli was a good portion and quite hearty, but I would prefer that it have a bit more sauce. It does not hurt to have a little left over for bread-dunking.

Therese and I shared the Bistecca ala Casa (12 oz. Angus Rib-eye) and the Risotto al Funghi (Arborio rice dish cooked with porcini mushrooms). Our bubbly server, Reina (whom we love, by the way), suggested that we should just accompany our steak with some stewed vegetables, as the risotto is more than enough for us two. The steak, like in any Wedenberg establishment I have visited before, was a perfectly marbled, properly-grilled piece of choice beef. It was topped by an earthy and rich mushroom sauce which really made the dish scream for a big red wine. The risotto, aside from the heady aroma of the porcinis, also had nuances of saffron, which I think nicely rounded out the dish.

Stuffed but unwilling to give up just yet, we took a look at their dessert menu. Matt the ice cream monster chose from their selection of gelati (Italian ice cream), as did Brian. Therese and I once again shared a dish, this time their Dolce Platter, which were tasting portions of their Tiramisu, Panacotta, Crème Brulee and Biscotti. Out of all that, we liked the panacotta the most.

Before that evening, I have only eaten at Carpaccio a couple of times, preferring the European comfort food at the old Bianca’s. I don’t know if the food actually improved, but this particular dinner was exceptional. I will surely be back for more. After two weeks, I hope, and not even a day before.

Carpaccio Ristorante Italiano
Yakal St.
Brgy. San Antonio
Makati City
Tel. no. (632)8437286

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year, Old Habits

Luckily for the few who follow my blog, I will not bore you with New Year’s resolutions. I have never believed in them, probably because I lack the discipline to stick things out anyway.

Besides, I believe in that saying, “if it ain’t broke, why change anything?” (I can’t remember who said it, but I’m pretty sure it was not Shakespeare.) Life is just too short. (Ok, enough clichés for now.)

So, despite the fact that I’m on panic mode considering I have not in the very least slimmed down for my July wedding, I still cannot resist another let’s-think-of-a-stupid-excuse family dinner. If the Catholic Church sees it fit to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem, who am I to question it?

We (“I”, actually) decided to have Sunday dinner at La Tienda, a Spanish restaurant I have been meaning to try for quite a while now. Spanish foodie Miguel and wine expert Noel frequent that place, so I naturally had very high expectations.

The first thing I took a peek at was the wine list. I was surprised to see how limited the selection was, knowing that a Spanish chef was at the helm. I did get to try some Marques de Caceres in the past, so I just ordered a bottle of their Crianza.

Creatures of habit, we ordered the menu items we always have in other Spanish restaurants, starting with the Gambas al Ajillo, Calamares Frito, Chistora, Chorizo and Croquetas al Pollo. As always, the gambas were gone in mere seconds. The calamares were actually very tender and perfectly fried, while the sausages were also quite good. The croquetas, in my opinion, are nothing great. I would have wanted to order the ones with Bacalao or Chorizo, but poor Matt would have nothing to eat with his bread. He really should just convert to Catholicism, but that’s a different blog.

A cute thing happened during dinner that I thought I should share. My two-year-old niece, Rianna, saw that I was taking pictures of the food. So she took the 10th breadstick that she was munching on, put it on her plate, and had me take a picture of it too. In the background, you could see her tiny hands folded as she patiently had her breadstick’s picture taken. IT’S SO FREAKING CUTE! Oh well, she could skin a kitten alive and I’d probably still find it adorable. Moving on…

My family and I shared dishes of Paella (a rice dish with vegetables, shellfish, sausages and chicken), Salpicado (beef cubes sautéed in garlic and olive oil), Pollo al Ajillo (chicken cooked in garlic) and Callos (a stew of ox tripe and garbanzos, among other things). We found the paella a tad dry, being used to the more moist preparations. I’ve read in other blogs that they sometimes prepare paella with Basmati rice (long grain rice popular in India and the Middle East). The salpicado and the chicken- which shared the same cooking method- were both really good. My dad’s sister makes really good callos (the ox tripe is very trender, the sauce perfectly seasoned with paprika, green peppers and other spices) so we compare all other callos in the universe to the one she prepares every Christmas. So far, my Tita Edelyn’s callos, remains unbeaten.

Despite the hits-and-misses, my family still enjoyed our Spanish dinner. I found out later on that Chef Javi is on leave Sundays, so that could be the reason the food was not as good as I expected. It seems that La Tienda’s regulars know that, as we were just one of the only two tables occupied that evening. I will make a second visit for sure, but next time I will inform Miguel so he can give the chef a heads up, and I will also bring my own bottles.

The service was pretty good, as it should be since we were the only ones there. The food came out in fast succession, which was great. We were pretty hungry.

Surrounded by the ones dearest to me, it was a good way to end the holidays and start another year. I seem to be less sentimental than most people, so I have the propensity to look ahead as I consciously close the doors to the past. I do take stock of the year that has passed and ponder on both the good and the bad, trying to work out in my mind how I could make the year to come the best ever.

But, like always, I will trust the current. So far, fate has not failed me. I’m excited to see what comes next.

Happy New Year, everyone!

La Tienda Restaurante
Polaris St.
Brgy. Bel-Air, Makati City
Tel. no. (632)8904123