Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Brunch-ing Manila: Masseto

I love brunch, I really do. I just realized that I actually partake of it quite often, although it’s not always about perfectly-poached eggs and bottomless pours of bubbly. Most days they are just literally the meal I consume when it’s too late for breakfast and it’s just about noon- it could be anything from a ham and cheese omelet with a slice of whole wheat toast, to “freshly-made” Nissin Cup Noodles. Yes, these are my realities- sometimes I just have to eat what is easy and what is “there” (or what can easily be prepared with a massive hangover).

So, one Friday, Matt and I decided to stay in so we can have a proper weekend brunch the next day. While browsing through the net, I discover through Masseto’s website that they actually have a brunch menu. This upscale restaurant with the beautiful interiors and accomplished chef is typically the venue of choice during special occasions of Manila’s posh crowd, so I was delighted to see that their brunch items are actually reasonably-priced. For Matt, the deal-maker was the first item on the menu- Corned Beef Benedict. “Book it,” he said. If you think I’ll say no to that, you must be crazy.

The next day, we arrive at a nice, quiet resto, just a few servers spiffying up the place, while my hubby and I were enjoying the polished but comfortable surroundings. As we waited for our good friends Sanj and Cutie to arrive, we order some refreshments and an appetizer- a Bloody Mary for me, freshly-squeezed OJ for Matt and Chanterelles with Egg en Cocotte (one of their specials) to share. When our companions arrived, they requested for the same drinks. Sanj- quite the Bloody Mary aficionado- noticed that his drink needed a little more kick, so he requested for an additional dash of Tabasco. I should have done the same, but was halfway through my own drink that I decided to just go with what I got. Thinking back, I guess I should have- I would have definitely enjoyed it more. Remind me to be more demanding when it comes to my cocktails.

The Chanterelles and Egg en Cocotte was a light but flavorful start- the aromatic, meaty mushrooms beautifully-framed with the richness of the barely-cooked egg. It is simple but mystifying, even without the suggested shavings of black truffle (which was in season, along with the chanterelles).

My dish was the Pancetta, Gruyere and Shallots Frittata with Salad Greens, which sounds like a mouthful and I was expecting it to be. It was just alright for me, since the dish left me wanting- not just because it was quite minuscule (by my standards, at least), but also because I would have wanted to bite into little chunks of pancetta and bits of shallot, and maybe get a taste of melted, stringy gruyere. The ingredients seem to have liquefied into the egg (which, at least, was nicely puffed and airy) and I was left with just a nuance.

Fortunately, Matt was very happy with the Corned Beef Benedict. He offered me a bite and I loved the combination of the soft, flaky beef with the unctuous, runny yolk. I will never exchange the traditional ham for corned beef, but this a great alternative for those who do not eat pork.

Cutie ordered a starter as her main- the Chanterelles Puff, Jamon Serrano and Mixed Greens. It was a wonderful showcase of the ingredient in season, with the chanterelles being allowed to shine.

But, the hands-down favorite- without a shadow of a doubt- was Sanj’s dish- the Poached Eggs, Bacon, Mushrooms, Red Wine Sauce and Hollandaise. (Sanj requested for the bacon to be replaced with another cured meat, and Chef Tippi Tambunting- without batting an eyelash- suggested Jamon Serrano. No problemo.) One perfect bite (actually, I believe I had two)- a piece of bread, soaked in warm egg yolk, with a bit of flavorful mushroom, salty jamon, and the rich, mouth-filling flavors of the two sauces combined- is enough to render everyone speechless. This dish- and I rarely say this, if I do at all- is pure genius. I will happily walk the sizeable distance (fine, it’s probably just a kilometer) from my condo to Masseto for this dish.

True, there are quite a number of restaurants out there who offer better value for money, but Masseto has never been for the thrifty. The experience of dining on good food in the midst of beautiful things- on a gorgeous Saturday, with beloved friends- is definitely something that you should do once in a while. It’s good for your soul, someone once said. I believe it.

SB Card Bldg., Mezzanine
114 Valero St. Salcedo Village
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 810 3565
338 0929

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Chihuahua's Got Cojones

Funny how just five years ago, I remember noticing a void in Manila’s foodscape and found myself asking: Where did all the Mexican restaurants go?

I have been alive long enough to see how the common Pinoy’s fascination with Mexican food has evolved. The early incarnations were nothing great- quite edible but never beyond mediocre, to say the least. These Mexican joints of the 80’s and 90’s were mostly either dark, cavernous drinking spots, which are actually more popular for their pitchers of Zombie than their food (think Tia Maria’s), or small fast-food-type stalls that churn out soft tacos with microwaved ground beef (think Miggy’s). With globalization acting like a nuclear bomb, our exposure to what is deemed to be proper Mexican (or its half-breed cousins, Baja-style and Tex-Mex) virtually wiped out Mexican food as we knew it. We began looking to the American franchises as the benchmarks for what Mexican food should be- Friday’s fajitas, Taco Bell’s soft tacos and Chili’s Margaritas.

But any self-respecting Mexican food lover would soon realize that these bastardized recipes are not the real deal, not even close. Soon enough, even the dizzying allure of Chili’s softball-sized sour cream just does not cut it.

Enter the new breed of Manila’s Mexican restaurants. Mostly run by actual Mexicans or Filipino balikbayans, these restauranteurs claim to know what real Mexican food should look, smell and taste like. Terms like “carne asada”, “chipotlé” and “molé” have now become part of the local vocabulary, having been introduced as some of the major components in Mexican cuisine that we previously knew nothing about. Every newly-opened Mexican joint promised to be more authentic than the last, offering something fresh and exciting that Manila’s food addicts have never seen before.

Chihuahua Mexican Grill is part of the Mexican “boom” that has infiltrated the metro. Owners Elian and Ines are prominent personalities in the local food industry, having published a coffee table book together called Manila’s Best-Kept Restaurant Secrets, and each doing their own thing that keeps them constantly in the scene. It’s always fun bumping into them at food and wine events, with their animated storytelling and easy-going personalities. It is almost no surprise that they have decided to open a Mexican resto since I imagine them being perfectly at home in the middle of a crazy tequila-laced fiesta.

The food is decidedly Tex-Mex (Elian, although of Lebanese descent, grew up Texan), so the food is quite familiar. The difference lies, I believe, in how these simple dishes were prepared.

The Nacho Grande, for instance, although served in a utilitarian stainless mixing bowl, is out-of-this-world- crisp corn tortillas topped generously with chili con carne, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, jalapeños and cheese. It doesn’t matter if the chip you got had more chili than guac, or more salsa than sour cream. Every inch of that bowl was packed with flavor, and I had to restrain myself from finishing the entire bowl on my own.

Matt and I shared the basket of tacos, which came in threes. The chopped chicken and pork came topped with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and sour cream. If it looks spare, no need to worry- take a pit stop at the salsa station and you are free to load it up with as much sauce as you wish. There is also a selection of hot sauces to choose from, but I believe only a few bottles are opened at a time.

Although the tacos weren’t my numero uno dish, it was not lacking in flavor, therefore I could not help but enjoy the tacos nonetheless. The fresh habañero salsa was spot-on and gave the dish the kick it needed.

The burrito bowl with grilled chicken is another dish I liked a lot- I loved the moist, aromatic rice and the dense texture of the refried beans.

Something that is a universal favorite is the steak burrito, which my friends and I are hooked on. The thinly-sliced beef is tender and tasty, and the burrito as a whole is deliciously moist. This I will order for myself on my next visit. No sharing, Matt.

And, of course, a self-professed lush cannot step foot into a Mexican joint and not have a Margarita. A good one, in my opinion, has to be strong and tart- Chihuahua’s version delivers on both counts. Their frozen Margaritas have quite the knock-out punch, and even I- quite the ‘rita expert- had to restrain myself from ordering more than one since I did not want to lose that delicious dinner. It was hard to hold back, though, because those things are pretty darn good.

Another thing that is so awesome about this place is that they are open until the wee hours. So, those looking for a Mexican fix after a drinking binge in Makati can happily munch on a burrito at 3AM.

From the onset, Chihuahua seems to have all the components that make a successful Mexican resto- deliciously-potent Margaritas, addicting bowl of nachos, familiar and tasty dishes done right. These guys know what they’re doing and I believe the good food and the little details- special hot sauces, Mexican-sized (yes, they are almost the height of an actual Mexican) tequila shots- are those things that will keep people coming back. I, for one, am one of those people cheering them on, because God knows we all need a burrito at 3AM once in a while.

Chuhuahua Mexican Grill
7838 Makati Ave. (right across A.Venue)
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 897 0087

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Life is Sweet

The Dallas Mavericks just won the Western Conference Finals so Matt felt like celebrating. And to the biggest Mavs fan in Manila, nothing enhances the sweet smell of victory more than pizza, beef ribs and ice cream. And I knew just where to take him.

Unfortunately, the pizza and beef ribs at the restaurant we ate at were quite forgettable. They were not bad, and Matt was happy to have found a place where he can eat decent beef ribs in a country ruled by pork, but not really worthy of a recommendation. So, immediately after settling the bill, and with the fervor of a woman on a mission, I take my husband by the hand and make the short walk to Bar Dolci.

A few days before, after a sumptuous seafood dinner at Seaside Macapagal, Sanj and Cutie introduced me to this dessert haven/café. The second you walk in you somehow feel ten times hipper- everything is shiny and bright and delightful. The orange acrylic walls covered with scribbled names of regulars, the brightly-lit glass cases housing freshly-baked scones and pizza bruschettas, the pricey-looking espresso machine behind the counter, and over a dozen flavors of gelato- these guys are not playing around. Having already had dessert before we went there, I did not purchase anything. But, right there and then, I vowed to return with Matt.

Fast forward to dinner with Matt- we walk into Bar Dolci, and I watch my husband’s eyes widen as he sees the cornucopia of gelato flavors. There’s something for everyone: Stracciatella, Pistachio and Chocolate for the classicist; Tiramisu, Salted Caramel and Mango Mumbai for the adventurous. I leave Matt to ponder over his sweet predicament, as I zero-in on the Salted Caramel. I grab my cup and head up to the comfortable couch area upstairs.

The gelato at Bar Dolci is rich and smooth, as it should be. This Italian-style ice cream has a higher sugar content than most ice creams which acts as an anti-freeze to prevent the gelato from freezing solid. That gives you a more velvety texture, as opposed to other ice creams that do end up developing ice crystals. Aside from the consistency, gelato was way ahead of the pack in developing exotic and avant-garde flavors. From the two visits I have made with Matt, some memorable flavors I have spotted are the Walnut Torte and White Chocolate Wasabi.

Baked goodies do not play second fiddle in Bar Dolci, as their scrumptious sweet and savory scones have proven. One glass case is dedicated solely to their brightly-colored Macarons (a sweet and airy French confection made of egg whites and sugar), which is innovatively used in one of their frozen delights as a sort of ice cream sandwich.

On our next visit, I will surely have to try one of their alco-popsicles, which are displayed like prized trophies in a custom-made glass freezer. I had a bite of Mark V.’s Strawberry Daiquiri from my first visit, and the texture is again unlike the commercial stuff- the microscopic ice granules are more creamy than frozen, almost like a good cocktail fresh out of an industrial blender. Amazing stuff.

Bar Dolci
Forbeswood Heights cor. Burgos Circle
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Tel. no. (632) 8468245