Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dining at Paseo de Magallanes : Diwal and other delicacies at Marina Restaurant

Marina Restaurant is a seafood restaurant in Iloilo that has branched out to Manila.
It has quite a number of restaurants in the city but the one in Paseo de Magallanes is a little more casual, a bit cramped, noisy with tables of diners enjoying their meals or their beers.
It's definitely not where you would go for ambience or a quiet dinner date.
However, Marina does serve very good Ilonggo food and if you go at the right time, you might be lucky enough to find some seasonal Visayan delicacies.

Diwal or angel wings clams are native to the waters surrounding the Negros provinces and this delicate but very delectable seashell is in season only from May till October. When the waitress at Marina said that diwal was available the evening we dined there, I didn't hesitate to put in an order.

We ordered diwal soup, lightly seasoned with just some ginger, onions and tomatoes in an almost clear broth. It was heavenly! But then, they aren't called angel wings for nothing.

Aside from diwal, we also ordered a plate of baked scallops -- they were in season too and were plump and fresh. Perfectly baked with butter and garlic -- I poured the melted butter and drippings over rice for a decadent and deadly mouthful.

Marina's other specialty is sea bass -- Ilonggos call it bulgan and we Tagalogs call it apahap.
We ordered grilled bulgan but if you ask for a good sized fish, Marina's will suggest that you have it cooked two ways -- grilled for the body, and a batuan soured sinigang for the fish head.

Small suahe, dredged over a spicy batter and deep fried are crunchy and totally addictive, specially with the blistering sinamak, the Ilonggo version of vinegar with chilies.

With such fresh and scrumptious seafoods, it's only fitting that at Marina, you can eat all the rice you want!
A waiter goes around with a wooden bucket of hot rice refilling everyone's plates.
Seconds or thirds, anyone?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pork Memories ... Guangdong Barbecue Restaurant, Hong Kong

One of my favorite restaurants in Hong Kong is Guangdong Barbecue Restaurant. Every time we find ourselves in Hong Kong, we can't not go to this place -- it's a landmark for good, affordable food that's been there for as long as I can remember.
Guangdong has other branches in Hong Kong but we go to the one along Hankow Road in the Tsim Tsat Tsui area. It's a hop and a skip away from Canton Road where we always stay so it's convenient to pop in and out for lunch, dinner, midnight snack and on the last day of the trip -- for boxes of take home roast meats.

Guangdong serves very good Cantonese roast dishes -- roast goose or duck,char siew pork or asado and roast pig with its crisp, crackly golden brown skin. We order them all, all the time!
Single minded, just pork all the way!

The only other thing we order are platters of yang chow fried rice, glistening with oil from the wok, hot and fragrant with bits of roast meat. As you can see, the table is too small to hold everything!

The last time I was in Guangdong Restaurant was a year ago and I immediately hied off for a solitary midnight meal. I had just arrived on the late flight and was feeling the pangs of Canton roast meat deprivation. I had a single order of crisp skinned roast pig with a cup of rice, doused on top with some meat drippings. A glass of coke that had more ice cubes than beverage completed the meal.
My pork memories are made of meals like this!

Bijan in Kuala Lumpur -- Traditional Malay cuisine in a sophisticated setting

It was my first time in KL and I was excited to finally try "real" Malaysian food. I had always enjoyed Malaysian dishes in Singapore and now, I would be able to enjoy it right where it came from.
My Malaysian friend brought our group to a place that he said served authentic Malay dishes but in a very upscale and expat/tourist friendly setting.
This raised my foodie hackles a bit. I have this pre-conceived notion that when dining abroad, one should look for the simple places that attract the locals -- not the expats or the tourists. The more rustic it is, the more traditional and authentic it should be.

But now, here we were, about to enter Bijan -- a sophisticated and snazzy looking place along Jalan Ceylon Street -- kind of like KL's Timog Ave. -- with rows and rows of restaurants and bars and yes, expats galore! Right above Bijan, you could see the lights of Kuala Lumpur Tower. It certainly didn't look like it served Malaysian food -- more like western or at best, some kind of fusion cuisine.

I was even more skeptical when we entered Bijan -- it was softly lit, there were beautiful starched white tablecloths, elegant place settings and artistically folded napkins, fresh orchids in small crystal vases, and an attractive orange and black menu.
Most of the tables were full -- and yes, they were occupied by Caucasians -- tourists and expats alike.
My spirits sank -- how could I ever hope to experience the "real" Malaysian cuisine in this place?

However, our friend swore that this was indeed the real thing. Then he proceeded to order practically one of everything from the menu. Our waitress was certainly amused.

We started off with a sampler of all kinds of crunchy keropok -- salty crackers, made from shrimps, fish, squid, puffed rice, cassava and accompanied by a sweet, spicy chili dipping sauce. Hmmm, not bad at all! If I closed my eyes, I could actually imagine myself eating this from some ambulant vendor!

Not content with all those appetizers, we also had a platter of popiah goreng or assorted fried spring rolls. Malaysia is a Muslim country and Bijan does not serve any pork, just beef, lamb and chicken. So, no pork at all in any of these fried lumpia.

We had a kerabu mangga salad -- lots of lily buds tossed with chili, ginger, coriander, ground peanuts and spicy green mango. Very refreshing, despite its heat.


Pako or fiddlehead fern is something I truly enjoy -- cooked with river shrimp and coconut milk. When I saw pucuk paku goreng tahi minyak, I figured that it would be one and the same and true enough, it was. Thanks to the many similarities between Malay and Tagalog!
The malaysian version of pako or paku was stir fried with lots of chili and shrimp.

We had ayam goreng berempah which was very crisp fried chicken, lots of onions, red chilies and garnished with basil leaves.

Not yet content with that, we also ordered tiger prawns. Udang galah panggang was chargrilled prawns served with a tamarind chutney and belacan or the malay version of our very own bagoong.

Of course we had to have chicken curry or ayam kampung limau purut. You could taste the kaffir leaves which cut through the richness of the coconut cream.

My Indonesian friend, Amelia was with us and she cooks the best ever beef rendang I have ever tried. Beef rendang is actually Indonesian in origin and is a slow cooked beef dish in a spicy and almost dry coconut cream sauce. It's fork-tender and very delicious. Amelia has given me beef rendang to take home from her kitchen in Jakarta and I have been known to hoard it and dole it out in small spoonfuls.
Would Bijan's Rendang Daging or dry beef curry live up to her (and my) expectations?
Hmmm, it did not. But it was well seasoned and tender nonetheless. However, how can a restaurant compete with a home cook, working from a recipe handed down by her mother?
In the Beef Rendang Battle, it was Amelia - 1, Bijan - 0.

My personal request was for nasi lemak, a rice dish I am addicted to.
It's rice cooked in coconut milk and comes with a side of hot sambal sauce, salted peanuts and ikan bilis or dilis to you and me. Nasi lemak went very well with all the spicy and rich dishes.

No one had room for dessert except for me as I have what my Japanese colleagues call a betsubara or a second stomach specifically for sweets. I ordered the classic Malay dessert, sago gula melaka which is chilled tapioca doused with sweet palm syrup and lying on a puddle of cold coconut milk. What a great ending to a great meal!

After enjoying the meal at Bijan, this is what I learned.
I really should be more open when traveling and sampling local cuisine -- sometimes, you can find authenticity and rusticity even in the most sophisticated places.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

DB Bistro Moderne - Splurging at The Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

After a series of posts about Hawker Centers, S$3 Hainanese chicken rice meals, street side kopi shops selling kaya toast -- you know that when I'm in Singapore my proclivities are cheap, good, local food.
What then am I doing blogging about DB Bistro Moderne?
DB, as any pa-class na foodie will tell you, stands for Daniel Boulud - world renowned French chef, tv celebrity, restaurateur extraordinaire. His empire spans across the globe and recently, he opened a restaurant at the chi chi, uber luxury mall, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
Along with Wolfgang Puck's Cut, Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza and a few other celebrity chef restaurants, DB Bistro Moderne occupies prime space very near the Theatre.
My friend and I were at the Sands to see Lion King and we went early to see the place and have dinner.
Since we were completely surrounded by high end, luxury premium brands, it seemed rather inappropriate (and well, kuripot) to have a pre-dinner bite at the Food Court (yes, indeed there was a Food Court at this mall).
So, we decided that we would try DB Bistro Moderne.

While this is labeled a "bistro" don't even think that you will find typical hearty, working class bistro fare as you would in France. The menu may not be high end French cuisine but it still offered more refined dining choices.
Of course, they have the famous DB Burger, a Boulud original that has been touted as the most expensive burger ever -- a towering excess of sirloin, prime rib and foie gras -- try and beat that!

We were lucky to have walked in early since we had no reservations but they gave us a nice table near the entrance.

The interiors are definitely more elegant than you would expect from a real bistro but it was still warm and welcoming and comfortable.

Freshly baked warm bread and light and airy cheese pastry puffs were served immediately after we were seated.

I had to have a glass of cold Tiger beer -- no wine for me! This is still a bistro after all and we working class folks will always have the beer!

I ordered the Slow Baked Ocean Trout and was quite surprised that it was a slab of salmon.
It came with nicely done croquettes, baby carrots, green peas, mushrooms and some kind of hollandaise sauce.

My friend ordered the Yellow Fin Tuna A la Plancha, with corn kernels, mushrooms, watercress and a piquant sauce.
The food was good -- service was quick and attentive and surprisingly, even with a glass of white wine and a beer, the bill was certainly not unreasonable.

It was definitely a different and pleasant dining experience. Not that I will forsake Hawker Centers, street food and S$3 chicken rice meals but once in a while, it's good to indulge and see how the other half eat!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Friday Lunch at Fire Lake Grill, Tagaytay

Fridays tend to turn me slightly freaky and flighty. A few Fridays ago, I decided it would be a great idea to run off to Tagaytay for lunch -- leave work, just up and go. It's just an hour's drive away from Makati anyway! If we felt like it, we could be back in time to still put in a few hours' work.

We decided to have lunch at Fire Lake Grill, one of the restaurants at the tony, upscale Cliff House in Tagaytay. Fire Lake Grill is casual yet chic -- bright, warm colors infuse the dining room. Wide windows look out on a terrace where you can also dine al fresco.
We opted for a table outdoors even if the day was slightly warm -- the view alone was worth any discomfort. Who wouldn't want to have lunch overlooking this great view? Instead of looking out from the window of the office? Or the Food Court?

I started my meal with a bowl of fresh greens -- with generous toppings of walnuts and feta cheese and a sunny raspberry vinaigrette.

Since I don't eat meat and Fire Lake Grill is well known for its CAB - certified Angus Beef steaks, I asked the waiter what he would recommend. He suggested that I try something new the chef had just put on the menu -- asparagus and prawn risotto. It was extremely good! I finished every butil of rice on that plate!

My friend ordered the Angus steak and she declared it as the best she had ever had! And yes, nothing survived on her plate either, except for the bone.

The best thing about that spur of the moment lunch at Fire Lake Grill was meeting up with the Chef and owner -- Paul Huang. Paul and I go a long way back -- I knew him when he was in high school as his older (and only) sister and I are good friends from college.
Chef Paul is an ex-corporate guy, an erstwhile marketing man who has found his true calling.
I envy him -- doing what he does best, loving it every minute, delighting all who dine at his table -- and yes, having that great view from his "office" window every single day!

Cafe Bob's -- Bacolod is alive and kicking at 1 a.m.!

The last time I visited Bacolod City must have been ten years ago. Genteel, elegant, laid back -- it was nonetheless quite "provincial" in its waking hours. Like any area outside of Manila, everything slowed down when darkness fell.
Well that's no longer the case today!
To my delight, Bacolod's main drag -- Lacson Street, is very much awake, alive and hopping even till way past midnight.
There are small bistros and bars in an upscale mini mall called Piazza Sorrento; a newly opened and bigger Calea's (Bacolod's cake heaven) is right across the hotel L Fisher, and there is even a (shudder) Starbucks for the coffee crowd.

But Starbucks notwithstanding, I'm happy to note that the more popular and "happening" coffee place along Lacson St. is none other than Cafe Bob's -- which is really Bob's Version 2.0.
Big, imposing and impressive and right at corner of Lacson and 21st street -- Cafe Bob's is a home grown success story, an offshoot of Bob's Restaurant, that thankfully, is adding spark and light to Bacolod after dark.

We arrived nearly midnight and because it was a Saturday night, the place was full of young people, enjoying coffee and pastries. Art, for sale and made by young Negrenses, lined the walls of Cafe Bob's turning it into a mini gallery. A lot of the art was very reasonably priced -- for a few thousand pesos, you could take home framed original work -- exuberant, youthful and very colorful!

Cafe Bob's had a lot of pasta dishes but we had already eaten dinner.

I was more interested in their wide selection of cakes, pastries and frozen desserts.

There was even a well stocked selection of gelato flavors!

The waiter said their pizza, cooked in a real wood burning oven, was a specialty, so much against our better judgement, we decided to order a four cheese pizza. It was hot, thin, crisp and arrived at the table with bubbles of blue cheese goodness!

Of course we had to have something sweet after that salty, yummy pizza so two small macaroons just had to be ordered. And yes, they were good too.

Cafe Bob's stays open till 2 am. We left a little after 1 -- having thoroughly enjoyed our after hours foray into Bacolod's night life!

Monday, August 1, 2011

El Ideal in Silay City -- Cuisine as Culture

How would you like to enjoy local delicacies, made from recipes handed down from generation to generation, in situ?

Negrenses far and wide would know just the place to do that. El Ideal is a bakery that has been around since the 1920s and is still housed in its original location -- a historic and protected mansion in Silay City (just one of this place's many gorgeous heritage buildings). Now that the airport has relocated from Bacolod to Silay City, El Ideal has become a very convenient stop in the culinary landscape of Negros.

You can't miss it -- this remarkably well preserved mansion sits right at the edge of the main road, Rizal St. and it's very near the city plaza. It's well marked with a sign that I am sure dates way back to when it was first established.

From its origins as a bakery, El Ideal has expanded to include a well lit dining area with some tables and chairs. There are still the old glass escaparates where the baked goods are displayed but now you can also order hot and cold drinks and even other Negrense delicacies like the popular lumpiang ubod, kalamay, even simple sandwiches.

It's a great place for merienda. Even locals can't get enough of El Ideal's homespun goodies.

I wanted to try as much as I could when we dropped by for a snack. I liked the meatless panara, deep fried with togue and potatoes -- oily but crisp and tasty. We also tried the baked chicken pie.

I always love trying the various kakanin that's native to any place I go to. At El Ideal, they had this really good suman, browned and sweetened with, what else -- muscovado sugar.

El Ideal makes great pies -- and I ordered a slice of each! A very delicate egg pie, an old fashioned pineapple pie that brought back memories of childhood panaderias, and surprisingly enough, a lattice topped buko pie that was very good -- even better than what you would find sold along the highways of Laguna. Who knew?
But, the piece de resistance of all their pies is of course the Guapple Pie -- an El Ideal original.
 Large locally sourced guapples made into the pinoy, or rather the Ilonggo version of apple pie. Much imitated but never equalled. El Ideal's guapple pie with its crusty top is a must pasalubong for Negrenses yearning for a taste of home.

And speaking of pasalubongs, El Ideal knows that the best souvenirs are the ones you can eat and enjoy. A portion of the place is devoted to racks and racks filled with all sorts of local biscuits, candies, pastries, breads, kakanin, etc. that you know are peculiar and unique to Negros.
Truly, local culture is deliciously experienced through culinary traditions.