Wednesday, February 16, 2011

OBB crashes a Table for Three

Thank you to my dear friend- food blogger Sanj- for the feature on One Big Bite and yours truly in what is undisputedly one of Manila's most respected food blogs, Table for Three, Please. Hopefully, people would still follow their blog despite my corrupting it with my nonsense.

To read, please click on the link below:

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Love Letter to My Constant Dining Companion

Dear Matt,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I remember a couple of weekends ago, we were lying in bed one afternoon- jetlagged, a bit bored, thinking of something to do to amuse ourselves with minimum physical effort. You said you loved me, and I asked why. Around twenty times. And you gave me around twenty different answers. When you asked me the same thing, I could only come up with weak, uninspired reasons on why I think you’re the most amazing man in the world. You pretend to be offended, but forgive me soon enough. Its sometimes difficult for me to express my feelings, coming from a family that loves each other to pieces but rarely articulates it. Anyway, you know that, that’s why you sometimes say that it is highly possible I was a German Nazi general in my past life.

But, it is Valentine’s Day, and during these times of economic recession, one must find creative ways to express love. So, here is my list of Reasons Why I Love You.

I love you, because…

… You’re kind and good, even when sometimes people or situations make it hard. Behind all the snarky remarks and constant teasing is a genuine and sensitive man who has solid values and is very protective of the ones he cares about. When caught in a dilemma, you always follow your conscience. That’s hard to find these days, and I admire that about you. But, in no way are you a pushover, which brings us to the next thing.

… You’re strong, in every sense of the word. Yes, I tease you about your “Heidi Klum” arms, but you know I’m well aware that you have the physical strength of a silverback gorilla. I remember early in our relationship, we were having a tickling match, and you effortlessly gripped one hand around both of my wrists, pinning me down defenselessly. That was hot.

Aside from the physical, you’re also strong-willed. You stand by your beliefs to the point that you can be stubborn, but you are never arrogant. I can also be strong and defiant, so I appreciate the challenge. People have the misconception that we fight a lot. No, we argue. There’s a difference. And how sad it is to be in a relationship where two people would rather not discuss their discrepancies just because they do not want the hassle of a “discussion”. Thank you for always wanting to fix things, even when the process is not always easy. I truly love you for that.

… You’re incredibly good-looking. Come on, it had to be said. It’s really not a bad deal to wake up next to a man with nice bone structure and freakishly-long lashes. Any woman who says it does not matter is either a liar or a lesbian. Of course it’s just a bonus. But still, lucky me, I guess.

… You always smell good. Ok, this is shallow. So shoot me.

… You always make an effort. With everything you do and everything about us. From the start you made sure you had a good relationship with my family since you knew how important they are to me. You never disrespected my parents, and you always made sure to make things right when you do something (unintentionally, of course) to displease them.

From the beginning, you were the rock of this relationship. You made sure that things worked out, from the minute you decided to stay in the country. That was quite a commitment, I truly appreciate that. I really have you to thank for believing in what we had, even when there were times that I didn’t.

… You are ridiculously funny. I really enjoy your humor, which is both devilish and self-deprecating. That’s why I suppose we’re almost never bored, because we always manage to find something to laugh about, even if it’s at ourselves.

… You’re so supportive of me and everything that I do. Even when I’m an emotional mess, you are always there to give me the pep talk (or the slightly verbally-abusive wake-up call, whichever is appropriate) I need to get me out of a funk. I do appreciate that I can rely on you during those times when I just cannot be strong anymore. You never question, you never judge. You’re just there. Thank you also for believing in me and my capabilities. You have become that reliable voice in my head telling me to be strong, pushing me to do my best.

… I know that, after being presented with this cheap-ass excuse for a Valentine’s Day gift, you will still bring me to Antonio’s for lunch and wine this weekend. That’s just how awesome you are.

I hope you liked my gift, babe. You know it wasn’t easy. You were always the one who was more generous with the “I love you’s” and the “Hab dich Lieb’s”, but I just want to gently remind you that I love and cherish you always.

Love, Chi

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quick Bites: Arepas

After a night of drinking in Orlando, we were all struck with the munchies and looking for a quick bite before heading home. Matt and I were with A & J, and we were accompanied by J’s cousin Carlos, his girlfriend Deyra, and their friends. Carlos and company, like J, have Hispanic roots, and luckily they know where to go for some Latin-flavored midnight snacks.

We headed out to the more industrial side of town, where- at 3AM- everything was pitch black save for street lamps and the head lights of oncoming traffic. Later on, I discovered that the spot where we ate was actually across a BMW dealership, and that it was on one of the busiest streets in Orlando. But, being completely unfamiliar with the area, everything looked dark and a bit daunting.

Carlos wanted to bring us to his favorite taco joint, but unfortunately they were closed for the night. Instead, we just went to a food truck which was parked nearby. “Cool! A taco truck”, the silly chinita exclaimed. Carlos answers, “Nope. We’re having arepas.” Fine, I think to myself. Tacos, arepas, same thing. Of course, I soon discovered, that they are indeed two completely different things.

An arepa is a dish made of ground corn dough popular in Columbia and Venezuela. The dough is shaped into a disc and either baked, grilled or fried, and then topped or stuffed with meat, seafood, salad, tomatoes or cheese.

We walked towards the truck and tentatively weave through the crowd. I look at the menu on the side of the truck and tell Carlos that I’m having whatever he’s having. I was thinking that this could be the last time I’m having an arepa in a very long time, so I might as well make it count. While we patiently wait in line, I watch the spunky Latinas, probably inebriated after a night of drinking, make fiery exchanges in Spanish. A particular one catches my eye, really pretty and loud. A 200-pound Rosario Dawson. I subtly tell A to take a look, but she averts her eyes to the ground and whispers, “Dude, I’m trying not to make eye contact.” Probably a good idea.

It was below 30 degrees and it started to drizzle, so A and I ran back to the van and let the boys wait for the food. Carlos came back, minus Matt and J, and he said that they walked a few meters to the Chimichurri burger stand. We drove closer to the burger stand and prepared to devour our arepas wrapped in aluminum foil.

Mine, like Carlos, was stuffed with shredded beef, shrimp and yellow cheese. “Oh, it’s like a donner kebab”, the silly chinita mutters under her breath. Exasperated, Carlos says, “Nope. Totally different”. I finally take a bite and then discovered what Carlos meant. It surely is not a taco, and it most definitely is not a donner kebab. The arepa, slightly crunchy from the grill, has a slightly chewy, lightly grainy, consistency that is unlike any pita or leavened bread I have ever tasted. The subtle maize flavor perfectly borders the essence from the meat, the fresh zest of the salsa verde and garlic sauce, and the mild creaminess of the yellow cheese. The shrimps, just quickly heated on the grill, pop like cherry tomatoes in my mouth when I bite into them. “It’s (expletive deleted) delicious”, I say over and over again.

A few days after, I am already craving for arepas again. Matt and J go out with the boys, and they bring some arepas home for me and A. I was a bit skeptical, thinking that I might have been a bit tipsy the first time around and I could have overrated it. Everything tastes good at 3 AM after a night of wine and beer, the silly chinita thinks to herself. I take a bite.

Nope. It’s really good.

Thanks to A & J for the photos.

Arepas truck (near Tacos del Rio,
Right across the BMW showroom)
Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando, FL

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Modern Japanese in Orlando

Matt and I were invited by Tito A and Tita B to spend the holidays with them in Orlando, Florida. It was going to be six weeks of relaxation in what is, literally, America’s playground. Orlando is famously known to be the home of the grand Disney parks and resorts, Shamu at Sea World, a wide assortment of water parks, and of course, the glorious Florida sun. Being the food-crazed person that I am, I was excited to sample the gamut of delectable dishes the southern US has to offer more than anything. I was not expecting the variety that bigger cities have, but I opened myself to the possibility of being pleasantly- surprised.

Luckily, there was plenty of interesting food haunts in the Dr. Phillips area where we stayed. One of them which we went to more than once was Dragonfly- a cool, lounge-y place that describes itself as a “modern izakaya”. An izakaya is defined as “a casual place for after-work drinking” or “a Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks”. Anthony Bourdain’s tv feature on Japan’s bountiful culinary landscape gave me a visual of an izakaya- a variety of meats on a stick roasting on the robata grill, while salarymen, hunched over their sake or beer, muse over the long day at work, either by their lonesome or as a rowdy group.

But walking into Dragonfly with Matt, A and J, you know immediately that this is not the izakaya of the Japanese middle-class. The crowd during dinner is Orlando’s young and well-heeled (Tiger Woods owns a home nearby), where the women are Pilates-skinny and they like to show it. The hidden speakers provide the hip soundtrack of chilled-out electronica as the cute receptionist walks you to the bar or directly to your table. I recommend ordering a cocktail while you ponder over the menu- I recall having a delicious cucumber martini at one point.

The decors are neo-Japanese with a contemporary use of bamboo, dark wood, granite and glass. The lighting is expectedly subdued at the bar, but the dining area is well-lit, which encourages family dining. During the few dinners we had there, I spotted a couple of tables with children, who were thankfully at their best behavior.

The food in Dragonfly ranged from the traditional to the “inspired”- from their grilled items that were simply seasoned and perfectly- cooked over charcoal, to the sushi rolls that contained cream cheese or octopus. The unanimous favorite was the Miso Yaki Black Cod with Wild Mushrooms and Chrysanthemum Leaves. The naturally-oily fish is literally like butter, complimented by the sweet miso sauce and earthy mushrooms. A perfect dish. So perfect I failed to immortalize it with a photo and even J’s photo of it I cannot save.

Being an izakaya, we had to try items from the robata menu, or what is more commonly-known as yakitori. The meat and vegetables are austerely seasoned with salt and pepper, and then grilled. You can eat them as is, or dip them in Dragonfly’s trio of sauces- teriyaki, spicy miso and orange yuzu. Aside from the chicken wings and bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, the stand-out would have to be- surprise, surprise- the wagyu rib-eye. Soft and juicy and smoky, you chew a little bit slower to savor the decadent meat macerating in your mouth.

Dragonfly introduced me to Orlando’s love affair with the sushi roll. It is literally everywhere- from grocery store chains to Polynesian-inspired hotel lobbies. And purists beware, because Dragonfly (as well as a few other sushi places we checked out) have a taste for the outlandish. Some of my favorites are the Cobra Kai (red onion, snow crab, tempura flakes, lemon slices, Loch Duarte salmon, garlic-shiso pesto, balsamic) and the Salmon Skin (toasted smoked salmon skin, kaiware (sprouted daikon radish seeds), scallions and roe). For those who care for more traditional sushi and sashimi, their sushi bar offers beautiful fresh seafood.

After dinner, and if the weather allows it, you can relax at the outdoor patio where they have a full bar and a DJ on weekends. We got to sample some of their craft beersand cocktails, and they also had some top-shelf Japanese whiskey.

Thanks to A & J for the photos.

800 W. Sand Lake Rd.
Orlando, FL
Tel. no. (407) 3703359