Monday, February 23, 2009

Hong Kong, Day 2: Lamma Island

My head still heavy from the partying we did the night before, I forced myself out of bed for lunch. My sister Foxychef has arranged a seafood lunch at Lamma Island and was insistent that we still forge ahead with the plan, despite the bad hangovers. So, at breakfast, I down my favorite day-after remedy (an ice-cold Coke Light) and get on the ferry to Central.

From Central, my group (Me, Foxychef, Beersponge, Juggies and my parents) took another 35-minute ferry ride to the island’s Sok Kwu Wan port where Foxychef’s brochure told us we’ll find the row of seafood restaurants. Despite the fog and dismal weather, the hydrofoil ride was mostly smooth, with the occasional side-slap from medium-sized waves.

Lamma Island is the third largest land mass after Hong Kong and Kowloon and has become popular with both locals and tourists for their fresh seafood. As we approached the dock at Sok Kwu Wan, we saw the shore which is dotted with “fish cages” and lined with several restaurants. It reminds me of our local “Sea Side” wherein you buy seafood from the market and then bring your purchases to one of the restaurant for them to be cooked as you preferred.

As we got off the boat, our complaining stomachs led us to the first restaurant on the row- Rainbow Seafood. We were immediately welcomed by Bryan, who seemed to be either the head waiter or resident English speaker of the establishment.
He showed seafood experts Foxychef and company their live fish and crustaceans in tanks and baskets, while I was mesmerized by their see-through fridge stocked with a pretty decent selection of white wines.

We got a table on their expansive veranda by the sea and Bryan promised to take care of how our food was going to be prepared.

First to arrive were the Szechuan Bamboo Clams. The tubular clams were tender with a bit of a bite, a pleasant sea taste coming through the mildly spicy sauce.

Quick to follow were the Scallops and Clams prepared the same way- steamed with vermicelli, garlic and scallions. The beauty of this dish is in its simplicity, the garlic mellowed out by the steaming and effectively eliminating any fishyness from the shellfish.

Next was a lobster-relative called squilla, deep-fried and sprinkled with crispy noodles, garlic and chillies. It had a tender and juicy texture similar to our pitik or horseshoe crab. I liked the crispy, salty topping.

Right after that was the lobster prepared the same way as the scallops and clams. By this time I was growing tired of all the garlic, and after the squilla, the lobster meat seemed tougher by comparison. I can’t complain, though: it was still fresh lobster that was very well-prepared.

Finally, we were served the Steamed Fish which was sliced and then stir-fried in vegetables and green peppers. It was a simple dish and could have been outstanding if not for the overload of pungent aromas and strong flavors which preceded it.

Since I was in the company of beer drinkers, I had almost an entire bottle of wine to myself. Out of the restaurant’s fridge, I picked out a Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2005 from Marlborough, New Zealand. I have always been partial to Sauvignon Blancs from this region, enjoying the pleasant gooseberries its generally bright and crisp character. I was surprised that this particular Sav Blanc is almost buttery and with a pronounced oakiness- a characteristic more common with Chardonnays. I read somewhere that this particular Cloudy Bay sav blanc has had some considerable time in the barrel, which gives it that rounder, burlier character.

Personally, I found this odd. Why make a Sauvignon Blanc taste like a chard? Oh well, I suppose some people are into that, but I prefer my New Zealand Sav blancs done the traditional way.

It was a good lunch enjoyed by all, even non-seafood lovers like myself. The service was great since we were the only ones there, and none of that frantic craziness I usually associate with waiters in Hong Kong. Must be the island vibe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some Darn Good Beer (Or At Least The Ones I Like)

I used to drink a lot of beer in college. But for some reason, the older I got, the harder it was for me to drink it. If back in the day I could down four to six bottles before I got significantly inebriated, these days two would be enough. Not “enough” in the sense that I have that nice, tingling buzz, but more like I-have-a-giant-rock-in-my-stomach kind of feeling.

Recently, though, I have discovered some beers that I enjoy drinking. Hamburg-native Matt introduced me to Warsteiner when we started dating several years ago. We spotted a limited supply of the German pilsner in Rustan’s and we grabbed a few bottles for me to taste. It was ok, kind of like our local San Miguel.

Later on, he made me try another German import: Weissbier or wheat beer. That one I liked. A lot. The cloudy, golden liquid smells great and is light and fruity on the palate. Mickey’s- a german deli along Jupiter Street- brings in an assortment of these wheat beers, although some brands are not always available. When they have my favorites though (like Paulaner or Franziskaner), you can count on me being there munching on Neurnbergers and my nose buried in the thick, white foam on top of a pilsner glass.

Our trips to Hong Kong have also introduced me to a wide variety of beers from all over the world. City Super- our favorite grocery in Harbour City, Kowloon- offers a plethora of choices, and brews are not an exception. I have noticed that their beer selection is more diverse than their assortment of wine, so I usually gravitate towards the former when I am there.

One of my favorites is Fischer Blonde from Alsace, France, a small city (Note: Actually, its a region in France. Thanks, Cosmopolicious, for the correction.) right on the German border. A crisp, high-alcohol pilsner, Fischer has a nice fruity aroma and a light flavor with almost no bitter after-taste. Maybe I unconsciously associate it with Alsatian wines which I favor, so I enjoy it more because it has a “wine-y” character to it. Plus, it does not give me that “heavy” feeling I sometimes get with wheat beer. I wanted to know what regular beer drinkers thought of this wine, so I checked it out on-line. True enough, some beer fans complained of it not being “too hop-y” or “tasting flat”. Uncannily, the same characteristics that got me hooked on Fischer in the first place. Interesting to note, though: I noticed that those who had an intense dislike (to put it more delicately) for this particular type of beer were mostly British.

Another beer that my sister Foxychef discovered on our recent trip was Grimbergen Blonde. An authentic abbey beer from Belgium, this particular brand has been around for 900 years. There is a whole lot of tradition behind this, for sure. Not noticing its 6% alcohol content, I was initially deceived by its diminutive container. The flavor, too, will have you drinking this very (and I mean VERY) fast. The color is bright and golden, with a delicious aroma of apples and caramel. Thinking about it now makes me wish that I brought some home. Or at least drank the rest of my sister’s bottle when she was not looking.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hong Kong, Day 1: Chill Night... Yeah Right!

Depressed by the thought of being left behind by my sister’s family (especially my adorable niece, Nana) when they took off for New York, my dad decided that it was time for another trip to Hong Kong.

We as a family love that city. When we were kids, we would go there in the summer or during “sem break” with our Lolo Meo, Lola Nena, Titos, Titas and cousins. I remember trekking down the long corridor from our hotel to Toys R US at Ocean Terminal in Kowloon with my sisters and cousins, then lugging back our purchases to our room where we would feast on fried chicken, mushroom soup and strawberries with whipped cream.

Hong Kong’s charm for me is that it is exotic and exciting as any foreign city, yet I have established a cozy familiarity with the place which is comfortable and relaxing. After trips to Toys R Us have been abandoned for more grown-up activities, it still continues to deliver all kinds of thrilling escapades which I constantly look forward to. Thankfully, this particular trip did not fail to deliver.

As we- My parents, sister Foxychef and I- checked into our favorite hotel (the Marco Polo Hongkong) on Canton Road, we were told that we were going to be given an upgrade to a Harborview Deluxe Room. This was wonderful news, since anyone who has been to Hong Kong would know that the views from Kowloon of the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island are quite stunning. If you sit on the Star Ferry pier at around 8 PM, you would be able to catch a captivating lights and sounds show that showcases the architectural masterpieces on the other side of the harbor.

We met Foxychef’s friends, Beersponge and Juggies, for a late lunch at Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao Restaurant at Harbour City. As always, we then headed to City Super where we stocked up on snacks and, ehem, beverages. I wish we could have supermarkets in Manila like this, where there are several choices of gourmet and deli products. On our last day, Foxychef went to town on it by grabbing bottles of dry herbs and spices, condiments and cooking tools.

As we attempted to think conservatively, we decided to just chill in the room with our drinks and snacks, reserving our energy and funds to “fight another day”, so to speak. After all, we had enough drinks in our pantry to last us through the night. But, as in any random drinking spree, events could always take an unexpected turn.

A few beers and a bottle of wine after, our group decided to take a cab to Knutsford Terrace on Kimberly Road. We found a table at Que Pasa, a Mexican and Spanish restaurant at the ground floor of Knutsford Plaza. I ordered a Reposado Margarita on the rocks, Foxychef and Beersponge ordered their beers, and for Juggies- a “jug” of Strawberry Margarita, which we were only too happy to help her with.

And then, the craziness began.

For your viewing pleasure, some pictures from a nearby club called All Night Long

Friday, February 13, 2009

Not All Tenderloins Are Created Equal

Matt and I met TG-boy and The Body for dinner at Sala Bistro one Friday evening before another round of the clubs. We were immediately led to our table near the window and were offered drinks, as we admired the modern interior and gorgeous lighting.

As usual, the two hotties were running late, so Matt and I gave temporary relief to our rumbling stomachs with their Mezze Plate- a generous serving of hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, Kalamata olives, olive tapenade, falafel and kofta. I was not sure if I should order a Mediterranean dish at a bistro, but I crossed my fingers and dove in. It was surprisingly good.

When TG and The Body finally arrived, we ordered our main courses. The winning dish for that evening was TG-boy’s Pasta (it’s some exotic-sounding name, I forget) with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Truffle Oil. The oddly-shaped pasta was as perfectly al dente as it could possibly get, just on the brink of being undercooked. That’s how I would want my pasta to be cooked from now on. And the sauce was simply phenomenal: creamy, aromatic, delicious.

Now, for my order. Where do I even begin?

First of all, I have a bone to pick with our waiter. As I was pondering on which meat I should have, I asked him which one he would recommend: the lamb shoulder or the beef fillet? Our bespectacled server gave out a little snort and said, “The beef fillet, of course!” Now, what exactly does he mean by “of course”? Irritated, I ask him that, giving out my own obnoxious snort. He said, “It’s tenderloin, and tenderloin is always good.” Oh. Ok.

After all the main courses were served, mine had yet to show up. When it finally did, the beef was overcooked. I thought I was quite clear in indicating I preferred my steak done medium, and what I was given was obviously well-done. I hate giving food back, but steak is one of the most honest dishes there is with very few prerequisites, the most crucial of all would have to be its level of doneness. Naturally, when you are asked for your preferences and they are not delivered, it is a major disappointment.

I sent it back and my grumbling stomach had to wait a few more minutes. Fortunately, when the second steak arrived, it was perfectly medium, but unfortunately, bland. The mashed potato with truffle oil (which I requested to replace the roasted potatoes) was also void of even a nuance of truffle. Not good.

Is this officially a rant? Unfortunately, that is how it turned out to be. Was the food really lackluster (to say the least) or was I just ticked-off by that supercilious waiter that my palate was rendered numb and unresponsive? Maybe. But that is why service holds such an important role in giving diners a superlative gastronomic experience, and ultimately, ensuring return visits. Honestly, there are some restaurants that I have returned to after a mediocre meal because of a relatively good overall experience. Although some did not deliver eventually, there were those that prove to be “late-bloomers” and were worthy of that second chance.

Yes, I will eat at Sala Bistro again, but because of that heavenly pasta dish, not the beef fillet. I will not be eating that tenderloin again because, simply put, it just was not good. Looks like a certain waiter should do some revising on his mentally- inscribed Food Bible.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quick Bites: Filling Station

Diner food is highly under-estimated. These are easily passed-off as greasy, on-the-go grub for blue-collar Americans and 24-hour breakfast fare, when it has actually evolved into something more.

The bigger American cities have become cultural melting pots, playing host to a multitude of nationalities from every continent. On my last few visits to the States, I noticed that it is quite common to see in a diner menu (which are normally almost as thick as the yellow pages) a whole roster of ethnic cuisine (Greek, Italian, even Chinese) alongside the American classics. The portions are naturally American (large enough to feed a family of four average-sized Filipinos), but the flavors, in most cases, are pretty authentic.

In the Philippines, we seldom see a diner that stays true to its red-white-and-blue roots in terms of flavor and magnitude. The James Dean posters and Marilyn Monroe busts (and by "busts" I mean life-size sculptures of a person's head and shoulders. Dirty dog.) are there, but the food is oftentimes poorly-executed versions of the originals. There is one diner, though, where the food stands out amidst the clutter of American pop culture memorabilia.

After a quick round of wedding-related chores, Matt and I were ready for a quick afternoon snack. Leaving our car in front of a florist’s shop we visited, we crossed Makati Avenue and strolled down the lively Burgos St. area of bars and clubs. Filling Station Diner is right smack in the middle of them all.

The main dining area is on the second floor, and like any of those American-themed restaurants, the place is floor-to-ceiling Americana: from the vinyl hanging on the walls to the classic gas pump that Matt was seated next to. The d├ęcor was over the top kitsch, but fun, nonetheless.

Looking through the extensive selection of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and main courses, I settled on something new on their menu- Mini Tacos (small crispy tortilla shells filled with ground beef, salsa, cheese and sour cream, accompanied by a spicy fresh salsa). The dish seemed more like an appetizer, but a good-enough snack for someone who is not famished. The tortilla was crispy, the filling of ground beef generous and flavorful. The side of fresh salsa was light and just moderately spicy, using green local chilis instead of Jalapenos. It didn’t matter to me, it was still good.

Matt picked the Chicken Pesto Grilled Sandwich (grilled whole chicken breast with cheese and pesto mayonnaise in sliced focaccia bread, with a side of French fries and more pesto mayonnaise), which came highly-recommended by some friends who frequent Filling Station for their after-party food-binges. True to form, this sandwich is big and rich enough to fill up a hungry, inebriated male- the slices of chicken breast are huge, the local cheddar cheese (a.k.a Quick Melt) oozing out as you squeeze the crispy grilled bread together. This had Matt immediately smitten.

I wish I could come here late at night for those after-drinking munchies, but the waitress from before admitted that it could get pretty rowdy during those hours. Matt even noticed that the servers are presently all-male, while the females are safely behind counters as cashiers and bartenders. A direct result of those “rowdy” nights, I suppose?

Despite the rep, I still like coming to Filling Station for its playful atmosphere and tasty International cuisine. I like it when restaurants commit to a concept and execute it wonderfully.

I need a milkshake…

Filling Station Diner
Burgos St.
(Between Makati
and Kalayaan Aves.)
Makati City
Tel. no. (832) 8972053