Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Rich and the Famous

No, I am not talking about the celebrities blitzing around Beverly Hills in their Rolls-Royce Phantoms or the royal brats vacationing in Monte Carlo. I am talking about a certain goose that is probably just as quintessentially-Hong Kong as the city’s skyline and it’s Victoria Peak.

Ask any local or regular Hong Kong vacationer and they would know that the place-to-be for roast goose is Yung Kee. Acting as Matt’s tour guide for his first trip to the city, I decided to start-off our Saturday night at this Hong Kong institution. We have made plans with a friend to go clubbing in the area anyway, so after taking the Star Ferry from Kowloon (part of the “tour”), getting off at Admiralty, and then taking the cab to Queen’s Road (where we started our trek upwards to Wellington Street), we walked into a jam-packed Yung Kee at around 9PM.

This huge restaurant has four floors, and if what the Michelin Guide says is true, the higher up you are, the better the food. I have eaten in both the ground and 3rd floors, and honestly, I could not tell the difference. So far, all my meals at Yung Kee have been pleasantly memorable.

We were sent up to the 2nd floor wherein the lobby was converted to be the designated receiving area for the restaurant. Soon after, we were given a number by the receptionist and we patiently waited our turn despite our rumbling stomachs. After a 20 minute wait, our number came up and we were given a nice corner table downstairs. I liked that it was far from the center of the busy dining room to avoid being bumped in the head by a frazzled waiter.

I quickly ordered the dishes that I wanted and sipped hot tea as we waited. First to come out was a starter of Preserved Eggs and Pickled Ginger. Even as a child, I have always been fond of this strange-looking delicacy. I like how Yung Kee’s version is gooey in the middle with the century egg’s trademark umami lingering long after I have consumed my share. A friend’s recommendation is to have it with the pickled ginger, which was at the same time sharply acidic and candy-sweet. Matt begged-off a second round, so I immediately order another one for myself.

Next to arrive was our “Consuelo de bobo” order of fresh seasonal vegetables (I forget what it’s called) to accompany our main dish, as well as two cups of steamed rice. It was very simply sautéed in garlic and oil allowing the fresh vegetal quality to shine through. It took a while for our entrée to come out, so we had to send the rice (which has gone cold) back to be replaced by steaming-hot ones.

Finally, the goose is served. We ordered half which- as the chuckling server said- should be enough for the two of us. After giving ourselves a moment to admire the bird’s glistening skin and its dark meat which promises to be gamey and flavorful, we attack our goose with the fervor of blood-hungry predators. The roast goose, to be honest, was not as I remembered it (lean but juicy, robust and rich). I found it to be too cold and a bit too tough. I understand that the slightly-gristly meat is typical of this game bird, but it was much tougher this time. Matt, too, was a tad underwhelmed, but still proclaimed it to be a really good meal. Besides, we were freaking hungry, so we gobbled it all up, anyway.

After a pause to recover from our sinful dinner, we tackle the treacherous (for me, at least, in my four-inch-heeled “hooker” boots) hike up D’Aguilar St. to get to another Hong Kong landmark- Lan Kwai Fong. This legendary hot spot in the center of Hong Kong’s business district is famous for its string of bars, restaurants and clubs wherein the parties last until the early hours of the morning. On weekends, the party spills out into the streets and, that portion of D’Aguilar leading up to LKF, is closed to traffic. Matt, known for his unsatiable appetite for the night life, has been looking forward to this part of the trip the most.

We decided to wait for our friend, Wolfgang, at LUX, where we had a few drinks at the bar. Upon his arrival, we have a celebratory shot of Patron tequila to kick off a night of partying.

We continue on up the street to Wyndham Road (At this point Matt is already semi-dragging me. Damn boots.), taking the elevator up Hotel LKF to the roof deck bar called Azure. The mostly expat crowd sipped their single malts and martinis in dark, deep couches while looking out onto the now-quiet city. After a drink, Wolfgang said we had to move on.

He then took us next door to Dragon-I (which, aside from being the hottest club in HK, also serves a mean dimsum brunch, I heard), where he thoughtfully reserved a table for us and had to get to it by 11:30PM. When we arrived, the party was just starting, the lounges and the long bar slowly filling up with the city’s beautiful party people. We were required to purchase a bottle in order to reserve the table, and so the three of us shared a bottle of Belvedere vodka with complimentary cans of Red Bull. The events that happened beyond this point are quite blurry to me, and I believe it is best that they stay that way.

I love Hong Kong. And now, Matt does, too.

Yung Kee
Wellington St.
Central, Hong Kong
Tel. no. (852)25221624

29/F Hotel LKF
Wyndham St.
Central, Hong Kong
Tel. no. (852)35189330

Upper Ground, The Centrium
Wyndham St.
Central, Hong Kong
Tel. no. (852)31101222

Monday, February 22, 2010

An American in Hong Kong

There are certain restaurants that I will never outgrow.

Oftentimes, it’s because of timeless flavors- just good, dependable food that satisfies every single time. Some places I love because of its proximity to where I live or work. While there are a select few I enjoy visiting over and over simply because of the fond memories I have associated with those restos and their food.

Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon is one place that I keep going back to for all those reasons. The food here is typical American, with most menu items you would easily find in other restaurant chains like Ruby Tuesday’s or Chili’s. But, what I love about this place is that the quality never wavers and, every time I come to visit, it’s the same good American fare. Our favorite hotel is also right behind it (Note: we did not stay there this time, since we wanted to try out this new boutique hotel on Kimberley Road), so it is very convenient for us to pop in for a drink or a late dinner. And, after all those trips to Hong Kong with my family, it just holds a permanent spot in my heart (and palate).

Matt and I went to Hong Kong for a quick vacation a couple of weeks ago to enjoy the nice cool weather and do the usual stuff. Since its Matt’s first time in this cosmopolitan city, I was eager to show him around and familiarize him with our old haunts. I knew that we were going to OD on Cantonese food while we were there, so in order to ease him into the local food scene gently, I thought I would bring him to Dan Ryan’s first for a late lunch. My dad already told him stories of his “me” time sipping beer at the bar, so Matt wanted to see one of our favorite spots.

The cozy, tavern-like interior has not changed since I started going there, and I really don’t mind. It has a warm, lived-in feel that I enjoy being around. The bar near the door has a partial view of the harbor, and the booths inside are comfortable and covered in clean white linens.

Since it was just me and Matt, I restrained myself from ordering the huge Appetizer Combo (onion rings, Buffalo wings and potato skins) that my sisters and I love. We just decided to share a small Caesar Salad which was actually big enough for the two of us to start our meal with.

Matt- who is frustrated by the lack of beef hotdogs in Manila- is always excited to see when beef hotdogs are on the menu. He opted for the classic Chicago Dog, which is an all-beef hotdog in a soft bun topped with fresh onions, pickle relish and tomatoes, accompanied by a small bowl of chili and coleslaw.

Famished, I decided to go all-out and went for a half slab of the Baby Back Ribs with a side of fries and coleslaw. In my opinion, this is one of the very few restaurants outside the US who can do this dish right. A lot of the American chains in Manila serve baby back ribs, but for some reason they’re mostly bland and dry. Dan Ryan’s ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, moist and perfectly smoky and tasty. The sauce has a wonderful balance of mildly sweet and savory, with the deep and musky aromas of spices and dried peppers. Not nearly as good as the best baby back ribs I have tasted, but this one is more than decent.

I would have loved to keep coming back to this restaurant during our trip, but I had to control myself in order to make room for the many others that we wanted to try. Aside from the good food, it just brings me back to simpler times- when my sisters, cousins and I would trek down the long corridor of Ocean Terminal with our grandparents to Toys ‘R Us; Walking to Tony Mak’s electronics store with my dad to buy our first Nintendo console; and, after a long day of shopping, just huddling in our hotel room with my sisters and cousin, Tons, to eat Sweet and Sour Pork, Cream of Mushroom Soup and Fresh Strawberries with Whipped Cream while we ordered movies from the hotel’s pay-per-view. Those were truly one of the best times, and its wonderful how food can somehow help you remember.

Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill
3/F Ocean Terminal
Harbour City
Kowloon, Hong KongTel. no. (852)27356111

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sumo-Sized Goodness

Friends and fellow-foodies, married couple Sanj and Cutie, told me and Matt about this place in Little Tokyo serving Sumo Stew called Chankonabe (thanks, Noel). Literally, it is stew served to sumo wrestlers in Japan which pretty much covers all the essentials in a person’s diet. Coupled with a sizeable amount of beer, this stew is what keeps these colossal athletes on top of their game.

Initially, the plan was for Sanj and Matt to play a few sets of squash before meeting Cutie, Cookie Goddess, and I for some Sumo Stew at Sekitori. Unfortunately, Matt had a toothache and was not feeling very “athletic”, so we decided to postpone our date. After feeling the initial hunger pangs signaling dinner, I decided a cancelled squash game should not stop us from having our fix of Sumo Stew. Therefore, Sanj, Cutie, Matt and I went ahead and met in Little Tokyo to have some sumo-sized soup.

After dumping our car on the first passable parking slot along Pasong Tamo, we proceeded to Sekitori which is right on the mouth of Little Tokyo’s entrance. Like other restaurants in this area, the ambience is very relaxed and almost artisanal. There is a small room with a glass window near the kitchen where a man is making udon (thick wheat-flour noodles) the traditional way. We are ushered towards the back of the resto where our friends were already sitting on a slightly elevated platform with some low tables.

Sanj already ordered our Sumo Stew and picked out the broth it will be cooked in. You can choose from three different flavors of broth: regular, miso and kimchi. We opted for the last one since Sanj and Cutie say it is their favorite among the three. We also had a few orders of sushi (uni and saba) and some Takoyaki made by this man from Osaka in a stall outside. The sushi was very fresh and the Takoyaki delicious, much better than the commercial ones you find in malls.

Our waitress then comes in with a hot pot and a mountain of ingredients for the stew. According to Sanj, this is actually a small portion compared to the actual stew that sumo wrestlers consume. And it was enough for the four of us to share! As I took pictures, I noticed the group of Japanese diners smiling in amusement at my dropped jaw (or they could just be smiling for the picture). The amount of vegetables, meat and seafood we were about to consume was truly an awesome sight for me.

The waitress proceeds to cooking the stew on our table as we finish off our starters and down some sake. She cooks the vegetables, meat and seafood first, and then when all of that is served, she then cooks the udon. Judging by the smell, I knew the broth was going to be a winner.

And it was. The kimchi flavor was not overpowering and too spicy. It was a perfect balance of flavors and strong aromas, backed up by a nice and pleasant kick. I happily slurped it up with the vegetables, seafood, and meatballs.

When we have been served the first portion of the stew, the waitress started cooking the udon. I love udon above all other Japanese noodles so I was very excited to try Sekitori’s “homemade” ones. Thankfully, the wait was not in vain as the thick, slippery noodles slithered into my mouth. There was a little bit of resistance as I bit into them, which is how really good udon should be- not too soft, and definitely not mushy. I ate way too many bowls of this.

This was a most enjoyable meal for me, surely something new and different. I promised Cookie Goddess that we shall return with her, and I am looking forward to it. We ended the night in true “Salaryman” style and had a few drinks at Bugsy’s, the new “neighborhood bar” at Salcedo Village. A few shots of Burn Bugsy Burn (for Cutie and I) and bottles of San Mig Light (for the boys) later, we were ready to call it a night. As I fell into my alcohol-induced coma, I was still thinking of that stew and those delicious strings of udon.

Little Tokyo
Pasong Tamo Ave.
Makati City

Pasta for Every-Juan

When Luigi A. calls me for a favor, I don’t say “no”. We have been buddies since my college days because I was very good friends with his sisters (and his entire family, for that matter) and we all used to hang out a lot. This guy is probably one of the nicest, friendliest most fun people I know. So, when he asks, I say “yes”.

Ok, maybe I agreed to meet up with him also because there would be pasta involved. I love pasta in all its forms and sizes. Cream, oil, tomato sauce… Heck, I’m up for it. Since Luigi is doing PR for Pizza Hut, he asked me if I would want to have a tasting of their new Pasta Perfetto range of pastas. Do I? It’s almost like he never knew me.

After two months of planning, we finally agreed to meet at the Pizza Hut branch in super busy Megamall. Honestly, I have not eaten in Pizza Hut in years, simply because I prefer the thinner, crisper crusts of other chains. Once in a while though, I would get drawn in by their banners advertizing big, generous toppings and chunky crusts loaded with cheese.

This time around, it was all about the pasta. Luigi introduced me to Edgar who is the Marketing Manager for the Pizza Hut Franchise in the Philippines. The hard-working dynamo went on to give me a blow-by-blow account of how the pastas were developed and the training that their staff had to undergo to be able to execute this new product perfectly.

Aside from the pastas that Edgar made me try, we also had some starters of Cream of Chicken Soup and Mango Shrimp Salad. The soup, as expected, was nothing special. It tasted like it came out of a can. The salad, though, was surprisingly good. The dressing was creamy and the vegetables cool and crisp.

Another appetizer was the Chicken Wings. The meat was juicy and the wings themselves were big. Unfortunately, the glaze was pretty bland.


After the mediocre start, I was eager to move on to the pastas. First to be brought out was the Chicken Pesto Penne. The tubular pasta was perfectly al dente, the pesto was creamy and fragrant. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered it again at another branch. The second one I tried was not as good as the one cooked in the Megamall branch, and I think that this would be the problem of this particular chain. According to Edgar, the pasta chefs are trained for several months, capped-off by a “final exam” wherein they have to cook all pasta recipes by memory in front of a panel. Although this gives Pizza Hut’s pastas a more upscale restaurant feel, the issue of consistency will be their biggest challenge. Despite rigorous training, I believe that it would be difficult to replicate the exact same recipe for the hundreds of Pizza Hut branches in the Philippines. But then again, I would love to be wrong.

The next pasta that was served was the Three-cheese Ravioli. At first I was put-off by the overflowing sauce, but later appreciated it since it was so tasty and garlicky. I wish I had some bread to sop it all up with! I also liked the filling which was smooth and cheesy.

Served with pride was the Seafood Supremo Pasta- linguine with seafood, tomatoes, capers in a light cream sauce, wrapped in parchment paper and then baked. The result is a rich and aromatic dish which is hearty enough for two. Luigi proclaimed this to be his favorite, and I can see why, despite the fact that I am not a fan of seafood pasta dishes. The flavors were truly intensified by the baking process which adds a special touch, something you would not normally see at this price point.

Dessert came in the form of a Baked Bread Pudding. Interestingly enough, the texture of the dish is closer to a cinnamon roll than the bread pudding that I am more accustomed to. I pointed this out to Edgar and he disclosed that the “bread” that they use is- surprise, surprise- pizza crust. Hence, the slight gumminess and bite in the middle, which is characteristic of pizza crust done right. Will I order this dish again? Probably not. Is it an inventive and cost-effective way of disposing of extra pizza dough? Definitely.

Although I usually reserve my pasta intake for really special meals (now that I have to watch my carb intake)- or those days when I’m feeling crappy and would like to pamper myself with a steaming bowl of homemade spaghetti- Pizza Hut’s Pasta Perfetto is a great addition to the food chain’s tried and tested menu dominated by pizzas. This valiant effort by the restaurant giant- although not quite perfetto yet- is definitely commendable and is surely making a lot of pasta lovers very happy.

Note: Thanks to Luigi and Edgar for treating me to dinner.