Friday, May 28, 2010

Cantonese Cuisine Festival at Tin Hau

Dim Sum is one of those styles of cooking wherein you cannot cut corners and scrimp on ingredients. Yes, you can find some pleasure in fastfood Chinese restaurants and supermarket stalls, but nothing beats dim sum that has an artisanal feel to it, recipes and techniques handed down through generations of apprentices and kin. In the masterful hands of a dim sum chef, seafood, vegetables and minced meat become bite-sized pockets of flavorful treats- wrappers are home and handmade, succulent and firm once steamed to perfection; the filling is made with generous portions of fresh, hand-chopped ingredients. The result is generally nothing short of flawless.

My new friends at Mandarin Oriental invited me to lunch to have a taste of their Cantonese Cuisine Festival at Tin Hau. Three award-winning chefs from one of Hong Kong’s top restaurant chains- Super Star Seafood Restaurant- will lord over Tin Hau’s kitchen throughout this week to give Manila a taste of their Cantonese specialties.
Memorable dishes during our lunch were:

Stir-fried Diced Beef with Wasabi sauce- the beef was butter-soft and the sauce had just the right amount of wasabi heat.

Fresh Radish and Fungus Salad- Aside from the aesthetic appeal, this dish is both refreshing and earthy. The sweet and tart flavor of the radish nicely balances the mushroomy-umami of the fungus.

Steamed Prawn stuffed with Scallop- Clean flavors of shrimp are accented perfectly by the salty dried scallop.

Steamed Fish Dumpling with Stir-fried Scallop- I did not care much for the stir-fried scallop (which did not do much for the dish except make it pretty), but the dumpling was perfectly-executed.

Stonefish cooked two-ways- The first preparation is steamed in a lotus leaf, the other is stir-fried with egg white. I enjoyed the texture of this particular fish, its firm and flavorful flesh holding up well to both cooking techniques.

Marshmallow in Rabbit Shape and Jello- the flavors are nothing fabulous and outlandish, but it was just too darn cute. Just looking at it put a smile on my face.

The star of the lunch was most definitely the Dim Sum Platter- deep-fried dumpling in crab shape, penguin dumpling (no, it’s not made with actual penguins), and pan-fried dumpling. The crab-shaped dumpling had a unique flavor coming from its pastry-like crust. The sweetness lent a nice contrast to the savory filling and salty soy sauce. The pan-fried dumpling reminded me of gyoza, which I liked. The most eye-catching of the bunch has got to be the penguin dumpling, which is actually generously-stuffed with shrimp and fish. The wrapper, in my opinion, is what separates their dim sum from the average teahouse variety. It is thick and yet translucent, holding all its contents in until all that flavorful goodness is ready to burst into your mouth.

For those who are confident enough to learn how to make these delectable treats at home, the guest chefs will have a cooking class and lunch on May 29, starting 9AM. For reservations or more information on the cooking class, you can call Mandarin Oriental Manila at (632) 7508888. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Brunch-ing Manila: Sala Bistro

Another hangover-free Saturday morning and I was excited about brunch. My date- Cookie Goddess- and I were headed to Sala Bistro to try their famous champagne brunch menu.

I remember reading about brunch at Sala even before they moved to Makati from Malate. Restaurant owner and Chef Colin McKay actually opened Sala Bistro so that there would be a cozier and more relaxed venue for this particular weekend activity.

Not that the bistro is less sleek and classy than its fine dining cousin- Sala Bistro’s interiors ooze contemporary elegance with a moderate laidback edge. Floor to ceiling windows usher in the warm late morning sun, reflecting colorful rays of light through the curtain-like glass chandeliers.

Cookie Goddess and I order our two courses each which is required by the brunch menu (one main course and one pudding) along with unlimited pours of Australian sparkling wine, on its own or mixed with orange juice, peach juice or Cassis. The juices were great, but Cookie Goddess and I agreed that the modified Kir Royale was the way to go.

Cookie Goddess ordered the Two Poached Eggs on toasted ciabatta topped with prosciutto and hollandaise. This is finished under the grill to lightly toast the top, just like the classic Eggs Benedict. I had a bite of this and I must admit I could have had at least five more. The eggs were perfectly poached- light, creamy, almost ethereal. The prosciutto was sliced paper thin and added just enough saltiness to the dish. A bit lighter than the rich, gooey Eggs Benedict that I’m more used to, but I liked its clean flavors.

Craving for something a bit heavier, I opted for the Bistro Minute Steak- Pan-seared Australian Beef Fillet on toasted sourdough with spiced tomato chutney and onion rings. This dish could have been a success if not for the fact that it was difficult to eat- the beef was borderline-rubbery, the toasted sourdough a bit hard. Unfortunate, since the chutney was bursting with exotic flavors and the onion rings were the best I have ever had. Both my and Cookie Goddess’ dishes were accompanied with the most delectable potato hash.

For “dessert”, Cookie Goddess picked the Ricotta and Banana Pancakes with Maple Syrup. Again, this dish was simply delicious: The pancakes were fluffy but rich, and the bananas were perfectly caramelized.

I had the Rum and Raisin Bread and Butter Pudding, an instant favorite. Having gotten used to the bread puddings simmering in hotel buffet tables, I have almost forgotten how really good bread pudding tastes like. Sala Bistros version delivers in every point- the pudding is warmed through and comforting, with calorific flavors of milk and butter; the sauce perfectly complimentary, thick and distinctly laced with rum and cinnamon; raisin ice cream is velvety and has just the right touch of sweetness…Truly a champion dessert in my book.

A full meal and three to four glasses (each) of bubbly cocktails later, Cookie Goddess and I ambled towards her car and drove to nearby Rockwell. I misunderstood my sister Foxychef’s instructions and it landed us in my parents’ place, both of us laughing drunkenly at my stupidity, while everyone else watched in amusement (or was it disgust?). We attempted to sober up with some iced cappuccinos at Cibo while snacking on spinach dip and potato chips.

I think I should do this more often.

Sala Bistro
G/F Greenbelt 3
Makati Ave.
Makati City
(632) 7294888

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Taste of Wine and Spirits 2010

Last week, I was invited to attend the press preview of Wine and Spirits 2010- Mandarin Oriental Manila’s annual wine and food festival that gathers the country’s top wine dealers to showcase their premium selections of the world’s most sought-after vino. On its third year, wine and food lovers will get to sample an impressive line-up of wines from Wine Depot, Future Trade, Le Cellier, Barcino, Philippine Wine Merchants, Brumms, BBB, Sommelier Selection, Moet-Hennessy/Rams House of Wines, Manny O., Titania Wine Cellar, Inc., Straits Wine, among others, with the delectable cuisine Mandarin Oriental is famous for.

As I walked into the Blondel Room on the 3rd floor, I was welcomed by Mandarin’s witty PR and Events Officer Erica Aquino, and her very charming boss, Charisse Chuidian. A few food writers and magazine editors were already munching on the mouth-watering spread of coldcuts, cheeses, hot and cold tapas, and desserts prepared by Executive chef Rene Ottlik. I loved the assorted Spanish cheeses and cold cuts, the delicious gazpacho, and the Croquetas de Jamon Iberico Belotta. This was merely a fraction of what will be served on the actual event, the massive chef (as in MMA fighter “massive”) from Leipzig, Germany explained. Aside from the coldcuts and appetizers, there will also be a raclette station, a quiche station and a risotto and pasta station. Honestly, if I wasn’t a lush, I would still go just for the food.

Don’t think I forgot about the wines, though. I tried my best to sample as many of the almost a hundred bottles from the hundreds more that was selected by the hotel’s resident wine expert, the adorable Mirko di Giorgi (Note: He’s single, ladies. For now, at least). The Italian-German from Frankfurt was busy refilling everyone’s glasses and answering wine questions. Since it was incredibly hot and humid that day, I was happy to drain their supply of sparkling and white wines. Some of my favorites were the Chandon bubblies, Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett 2005, Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2008, Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer 2008, Martin Codax Albarino 2008, and Bott-Geyl Les Elements Muscat 2007. These are very easy to drink, approachable wines that are perfect for the scorching Manila summer. I also spotted some Riojas and Italian reds that I would have wanted to try, but the heat just made it impossible. Another great reason to go to the actual event in June, I suppose.

I had a really fun time chatting with fellow foodies and writers- author and PDI columnist Mickey Fenix, Editor-in-Chief Ana Marie Ozaeta of F & B World, Atty. Freddy Pio de Roda of Metro Society, FHM columnist Chef Toto Erfe of CACS, my former editor Aissa Gonzalez of Philippine Tatler’s Best Restaurants and Margaux Salcedo of Sunday Inquirer Magazines. I hope to bump into them again in June 4, 2010, 7PM, at the Mandarin Ballroom.

Actually, why don’t we ALL go? It’s going to be fun. There’s going to be live Jazz music and a bunch of prizes up for grabs. Cheers!

Tickets to Mandarin Oriental’s third annual wine event are available at the hotel’s Lobby Shop at P2,200 nett (so worth it!) and include entrance to the event, as well as free-flowing wine and food. For more information, call the hotel at (632) 7508888 or e-mail

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Dishes at an Old Favorite

I love those get-togethers that are totally random. Matt had a dinner meeting in Makati, so I was left with nothing to do after work. Luckily, my favorite single ladies- Mrs. Nadal and Cookie Goddess- were free that evening. I remember that Terry’s Segundo Piso had new menu items so- without having to worry about Matt and his dietary restrictions- I asked the girls if they wanted to try it out. As expected, their reply was a resounding “yes”.

They picked me up at my parents’ place and we all headed to Segundo Piso’s Pasong Tamo branch. The restaurant is located above (hence, the name) their famous deli where their impressive wine selection and European delicacies are made available to us foodies. The spacious dining room is modern and cozy, making it the perfect place to indulge without having to fuss over what to wear. Everything seems unchanged, from the wooden shelves filled with wine bottles, the high ceiling and the open kitchen. As usual, we spot the owner and culinary icon JC de Terry, with his brother-in-law Antonio Garcia and two other ladies. Mrs. Nadal says hello while Cookie Goddess and I find our table.

Famished, we look through the snazzy new menu and marvel at the number of new dishes being offered. Without waiting for Mrs. Nadal (who was still chatting with JC and company), we quickly order new appetizers to try. Our wine of choice- a 2008 Protos Rosado from Ribera del Duero- was already chilled, so we quickly had our pours before it was submerged in an ice bucket. I love this rose with Spanish food- just enough acidity to cut through the fat and the right balance of fruit and dryness to compliment almost any dish.

When Mrs. Nadal finally came to our table, the server informed us that our order of Duck for the Gods (OMG, right?) was not available, so we asked Mrs. Nadal to pick something else. Despite hints to pick from the new appetizers, she still decided to go with the classic- Chorizo on Piggyback. I cannot blame her- this classic SP dish never fails to disappoint in terms of flair and flavor. The chorizo is first flambéed in a pig-shaped clay cooking vessel before being sliced and plated. I noticed that the plating in SP has improved greatly, adding to the aesthetic appeal of their dishes.

Our next appetizer was the Tuna Belly Tempura with Artichoke Dip. Purists would gasp at the sight of this in a Spanish menu, but as they thoughtfully explain to us gringos, tempura was actually brought to Japan from Spain by Jesuit priests. So, tempura IS Spanish. Pushing technicalities aside, it was simply scrumptious- the crispy batter was flavorful and airy, while the fish was flaky and moist. The dip, too, was a nice accompaniment with its subtle earthiness and texture from the artichokes.

As we chatted and chewed on the tempura, the Stuffed Piquillo Peppers arrive. This is one sexy dish if I have ever seen one. The bright red peppers- looking shiny and lacquered- slide around your mouth as you slowly break them down with your tongue. The stuffing is creamy and velvet smooth with delicate flavors of cheese and Iberico. I can imagine Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz feeding each other this dish with their hands in that sexy way that they do… Penelope’s thick, tousled dark hair just brushing the peaks of her decolletage as she leans over to pop a stuffed pepper into Javier’s full mouth. You get what I mean.

Finally, the Paella Negra is served- a personal favorite, something SP does very well. Cookie Goddess and I both notice, though, that it seemed to be lacking in flavor a bit. We really could not place a finger on it (The broth was bland? Not enough squid ink?), but there seemed to be something missing. Whatever it was, we still finished the dish off. It was still good, but being used to superlatives when it comes to SP’s paellas, we knew we have had better.

Needless to say, the girls and I will be back again to try more of their new dishes, as well as to “re-try” the old favorites. It makes me happy to see that an old-timer like JC de Terry continues to challenge himself and is more than happy to give his regulars something new and adventurous. He’s a true artist, as his many fans call him, and I could not wait to try more of his new creations.

Segundo Piso at Terry’s Selection
Karivin Plaza
Pasong Tamo Ext.
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8441816

Segundo Piso has other branches in One Lafayette Sedeno cor. Valero Sts., Salcedo Village, Makati City and at the Lower Ground Floor of The Podium, San Miguel Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Brunch-ing Manila: Mamou

Brunch is one of my favorite indulgences. First of all, it’s not an activity I can do every day: I do have a day job, you know. On most days, breakfast consists of a soggy bowl of oatmeal and some eggs, or maybe cereal, and then I’m blitzing out the door. Second, I do not have the metabolism (or the talent of regurgitating my meals) of a Brazilian supermodel that I can treat myself to regular helpings of bacon, French toast, eggs Benny, and all the other delectables you’ll find in a brunch menu. Finally, on weekends when I can actually have brunch, I sometimes find myself hungover and tired that the best meal I could think of is my trusty fixer-upper of instant noodle soup and ice-cold Coke Zero.

When I do get the chance, though, brunch could be pure bliss. In Manila- where tapsilog (beef tapa, garlic fried rice and fried egg) continues its reign as the ultimate all-day breakfast meal (and for good reason)- brunch is quickly becoming a favorite weekend past time. Several restaurants have decided to jump on its popularity and are opening their doors a couple of hours earlier to serve their versions of several breakfast favorites.

Mamou has been serving brunch for a couple of years now and are still packing them in. On Saturdays and Sundays, they open at 10 AM to offer a few brunch menu items along with their regular menu.

Matt and I have decided to stay in one Saturday, and so we both had the energy to rise from bed at 9AM the next day. I called before 10 to see if we could be squeezed in for their second seating, and Annie- Mamou’s charming sister- said that she can easily get us a table for two. Great! Yaya Del also decided to take the day off, so it was perfect timing for a little weekend pampering.

When Matt and I arrived, we were quickly led to our table, which- curiously- had both of our names on it. Matt thought it was cute and told me later on that I should have taken a picture of it, since normally they just put the name of the person who called to reserve.

As we checked out the menu, I was tempted to try the new dishes in their regular line-up of Mamou’s specialties. We have not been back for quite a while, so I found myself being lured towards the Bottarga pasta. But, I quickly reminded myself that we were there for brunch, and so I returned my attention towards the brunch menu.

While waiting for our dishes, I sipped on a Mamou’sBellini- a refreshing mix of sparkling wine and either orange or grapefruit juice.

First to arrive was Matt’s order of Pappy’s Toast- smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, capers and cream cheese on top of toasted wholewheat sourdough. We were pleasantly surprised by the mountain of smoked salmon which, for the price, is really a good deal. Matt loves his smoked salmon, and oftentimes he is disappointed when he is presented with a flimsy portioning of the stuff. Luckily, Mamou delivered.

I willed myself not to order the Eggs Benedict, and got myself the Rau’s Platter- Two slices of French toast, two tiny “pancakes”, and some Neurmberger sausages. If I must nitpick, I have to admit that the description of this dish on the menu was a bit difficult to understand. Despite a long consultation with the waiter, I was still pretty confused about what I was getting. In the end, I just said, “Er, Ok, I’ll have the sausages with it”, just to move things along. Good thing I was happy with what came out. I loved how whole eggs were integrated into the toast, and how the bread was soft and fluffy, melting in my mouth after being doused in syrup. The sausages were delicious- juicy, garlicky, peppery. Everything good sausages should be.

When we were done with our plates, we were quickly tempted by the server with dessert. Matt and I decided to share their Pecan Pie with Schlagzhane (sweetened whipped cream), something we have had a few times before. Warm, sweet, gooey- it was the perfect ending to a really good Sunday brunch.

Serendra Piazza
Bonifacio Global City
Taguig City
Tel. no. (632)8563569