Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Good Deal on a Great Piece of Meat

Ask anyone who knows me, and “bargain hunter” will most definitely NOT fall under a long list of glowing descriptions. Not because I have money coming out of my nose- no, not at all. Thing is, I do have the general qualities that make a bad shopper- I am famously impatient, as well as dreadfully impulsive. When I walk into a mall, I quickly pick up the things I need- along with a few pieces I don’t- and proceed to reward myself with some food. I barely have the fortitude to whittle down my choices from 10, to 5, and then to 1 (something Matt does, to my irritation)- much more find sales and promotions in Manila’s hundreds of mushrooming malls.

But, once in a while, a good deal falls squarely on my lap without my looking. As I do my daily Facebook routine, I discover I’m Angus’ Prime Rib Dinner on Säntis Delicatessen’s page. Check this out: a thick slice of Prime Rib (prepared to your liking) with salad, baked potato and a glass of Argentine red wine. For Php980.00 net. Immediate reaction: Holy sh_t! My thought after a few minutes of cynical pondering: Too good to be true.

So, the only way to find out for sure is to try it out. Matt and I arrive at the polished but cozy restaurant- with its modern take on the classic western steakhouse (inclusive of female servers in cowgirl garb)- and were immediately seated on our reserved table for two. Tables were quickly filled up as dinner service progressed, and we discover through Gail (Chesa Bianca’s manager, who was also overseeing I’m Angus’ operations which is currently without an OIC) this promo has been on-going since the resto opened three years ago. It was so successful that they decided to keep doing it twice a week- every Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The salads came almost immediately- along with our glasses of Misterio Cabernet Sauvignon- to get our dinner started. There was a choice between Caesar salad and mixed greens with orange vinaigrette- I opted for the latter. It was simple and refreshing- not overtly tart or sweet.

After a quick rest, we were served our orders of prime rib. The first thing we noticed was the size- they obviously did not scrimp on the beef. Worried about getting a miniscule serving in accordance with the price, I asked the receptionist when I called to reserve how big the servings of beef were. “250 grams”, she replied without hesitation. But, what we were served that night was definitely more than that, Matt observed. He wanted to confirm it with the waitress, and I immediately stop him with my most piercing glare. “Why would you want to do that?” I hissed. Their portions are perfectly fine, thank you very much.

Their baked potatoes were a treat, and I had them pile on the sour cream, bacon and chives on mine. We requested for all our favorite condiments along with their peppercorn sauce which, in my opinion, is the best one out there. Most peppercorn sauces I have tried are basically brown sauce with some whole peppercorn in it. I’m Angus’ version is heavily infused with that spiced, earthy flavor of good black pepper, and it was the first time that I truly enjoyed pouring sauce on my steak since I was a gravy-crazy child. Another note-worthy condiment is their freshly-grated horseradish. They could have easily served a bottled-variety from Säntis, but opting for the fresh, crisp version was a nice touch.

I would highly recommend this promo to the hardiest of carnivores out there. The quality of the meat is exceptional, although if I must nitpick, the problem I have always had with this steakhouse is their consistency in terms of doneness. My supposedly medium-rare steak was more medium, even medium well on some parts. Good thing the meat was still juicy and tender that I could not complain. Next time, I suppose a better option would be to have a rare piece of meat seared quickly over the grill to the desired doneness. But, other than that, I would surely make several more visits, as long as supplies (and my health) will allow.

I’m Angus Steakhouse
Yakal St. San Antonio Village
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 892 6206

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dimsum- All Day, Everyday

My cravings are usually broadcasted all over the internet. I don’t really know why I do that. Seeking moral support from enablers? Or is it an attempt at taking the world down with me on my undertaking to make my giant ass even bigger? I don’t know. But I do know how I feel all warm and fuzzy inside when like-minded individuals reach out through cyber-space with the ubiquitous “yum!” or with a useful dining suggestion.

Recently, I got the latter from Mao- a friend from my Goethe Institut days, when I was desperately trying to learn German (and failed)- who suggested I check out Suzhou after I posted a photo of xiao long bao (a delicious parcel in the form of a Chinese dumpling, its thin wrapper filled with flavorful broth) on Facebook. I do remember eating at the branch in Mandaluyong, but with my working arrangements now, the original Malate branch was a more appealing option. Besides, 92% of the time, the original branch of a restaurant served far more superior food than the newer ones. (Note: That is just a figure I came up with on my own. I like giving out fake percentages because it makes me feel smart and important.)

One weekday lunch, Matt, Mark V. and I went to check out Suzhou. Hungry (as our threesome usually is), we ordered a plethora of dimsum, soup, a beef dish and rice. Most of the dumplings were just so-so, but there were some standout dishes we will be happy to come back for.

Like the Spicy Sour Soup (or hot and sour, as it is commonly known). There was a good, clean balance of tangy, savory and spice, plus good texture with the mushrooms and tofu.

The server recommended the Steamed Beef with Chili Garlic, and honestly I did not know what to expect. Good thing we ordered it, though, because it was tender and expertly-seasoned. The marbling of tendon is gelatinous and adds richness to what could have easily been a very dry dish if it wasn’t done right.

I have had better Xiao Long Bao (locally, it’s still Lugang Cafe’s version for me), but Suzhou’s was quite good. The wrapper was thicker than what I would have preferred, and the broth a tad sweet, but it was warm and flavorful and satisfying.

I saw a photo of the Mustard Vegetable Fried Rice on a blog (sorry, I forget which one) and I knew I just had to try it. Again, really good idea- the rice was packed with flavor from the aromatic vegatables, and the small pieces of pork did not hurt, either. I loved it- one of the better fried rice dishes I have had in that price range.

Mao told me that maybe I should Google the place first before I go, but it really was not so bad. It seems to be a mom-and-pop operation, with the cook (and probably owner) casually lounging around and sipping tea when we walked in, and then quickly tucked into the kitchen to prepare our orders, then sinking into his chair once again to continue animatedly chatting with his mother (I assume). Far from the sparkly Chinese restos most go to for family celebrations, but a good place for a quick meal at a very reasonable price. We over-ordered and ended up paying P1300 for the three of us- not bad at all.

Suzhou Dimsum
A.Mabini St.
Malate, Manila
Tel. no. (632) 302 4347

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Sunday with Friends and Masala

Matt and I have wanted to try Al-Shams ever since we saw friends posting about it on Facebook. My husband is particularly fond of spicy dishes, and he has since introduced to me the rich masalas of India and the pungent kebabs of the Middle East. My stomach has become weak- thanks to years of using ice-cold Coke as a hangover cure- and could not handle too many spices, but once in a while I do develop a craving for rogan josh or chicken makanwala. Finally, one sleepy Sunday, Matt, Mark V., and I traverse a short length of the SLEX to get to the emergent foodie destination in Parañaque.

Al-Shams’ interiors are brightly-lit and modern- no kitschy murals of the Taj Mahal or saris draped on the walls. Instead, framed photos of enticing curry dishes and grilled meats act as guide and a visual amuse bouche for guests.

The menu is a mix of Middle Eastern, Indian and Pakistani. The original Al-Shams had branches in both Makati and Manila decades ago, but only re-opened recently in BF Homes with partners Adil Khan and Ali Atienza (old friends from their Taekwondo days) at the helm. Adil is the son of the previous owner, and the current chef was part of the original kitchen. Therefore, what you get in the current incarnation are all authentic Al-Shams dishes, prepared the same way as they did in the old branches.

We started with our favorite Indian staples- Vegetable Samosas and fried Papadum. The samosas were warm and aromatic, just the right size for an appetizer, while the papadum (which can also be toasted) was light, crisp and delicate. These were both enhanced by a trio of sauces- sweet tamarind, parsley and garlic yogurt.

For the mains- first to arrive were the Chicken Makanwala (chicken cubes cooked in a rich butter and yogurt sauce), Seekh Kebab (grilled ground beef) and naan (flat bread).

The chicken makanwala has always been a favorite, and I like Al-Shams’ version because it is not overly gee-d. There was a pleasant tanginess which I suppose can be attributed to the yogurt and the whole tomato (which I stabbed with my fork to release some of its juices). This I sopped up with pieces of naan.

Freshly grilled, the seekh kabab was tender and full of flavor, and delicious with the tzatziki that it came with. If you want your kababs with a more pungent garlic sauce, ask for the one that was served with the appetizers.

The Ran Masala was a popular dish at the old Al-Shams, and I remembered Sanju’s nostalgic post about it in his blog so I decided it was worth a try. I am so happy that I did because that was definitely the dish of the evening- tender leg of lamb cooked in an unctuous brown sauce, the meat’s mild gamey flavor was deliciously enhanced by the robust masala. It was so good that we ordered more of the equally tasty biryani with it.

And, since we had more of the long-grain rice, Matt thought, “What the heck… Might as well get an order of rogan josh.” Which we did. The mutton was tender and tasty- a pretty good dish. But then, that ran masala is a tough act to follow.

By then, Ali and Adil have arrived at the restaurant for what apparently is their traditional Sunday ritual. Ali, an old family friend, invites us to join him and Adil for a short chat. He himself orders his own ran masala with roti- a partly flaky, partly elastic bread- but made extra spicy. After our nth “I’m-sooo-full”, Adil decided to give Mark and I some Persian tea, which helped bring down the unbelievable amount of food we just consumed (Ali: “Umm… yeah… Medyo nagulat nga ako sa in-order niyo.”). After a round of scotch and some animated conversation about food, friends and bullies, we have decided to leave the old friends to enjoy the rest of their Sunday, with the promise that we will be back soon for more of that delicious ran masala.

Keep that pot of Persian tea boiling, guys.

Aguirre St.
BF Homes, Parañaque
Tel. no. (632) 5004399