Culinaria: Musings on the Food World

Most of these thoughts were born out of spending my days (and sometimes, my nights) at my new favorite place.

A Place for the Middle Market

Why is it that most food magazines in the Philippines are targeted mainly to married women or mothers? I mean, I get how cooking is a role traditionally attributed to women, but times (and people) ultimately change.

Where is the food mag for the millennial or the twentysomething culinary student? Also, why is it that our culinary discourse seems to be limited to recipes, tips, or restaurant reviews? Filipino cuisine is so rich in history, and we’re missing out on so much by not digging deeper, and looking for the context behind how dishes came to be, how flavor profiles were built, and the overall story of our cuisine.

I’m still waiting for the day when someone will follow in the footsteps of the late great Doreen Fernandez in order to revitalize the archiving of our food story. We are at this point in our history when people are beginning to see the richness of our food culture, and yet there is no one there to chronicle these milestones.

Wake up, Philippine food industry, and write your story. Chronicle your origins, and your progression, your flavor building blocks, and the stories behind your flavor profiles. Your highs, your lows, your bests, and your worsts… believe me, ours is a story worth telling.

Dinner Table Dining Buddies

A favorite question that Bon Appetit magazine posts to its celebrity guests: “Five people you would invite to dinner, and why?” [non verbatim].

My answer:

Ming Tsai, so we could talk Asian food and he could teach me about fusing Asian and French flavors.

Mario Batalli, so we could talk food history and I could pick his brain for pasta and pizza dough secrets

Masaharu Morimoto, because he seems like a rather warm fellow and I’m sure he would share some good stories!

Ina Garten, because she is my comfort food spirit animal

Bobby Flay, because he loves spicy food and grilling!

So, in essence, four Iron Chefs and a Food Network icon. HECK YES.

A Righteous Read 

Thank you Vogue, for keeping Jeffrey Steingarten’s articles on your online webpage. There’s a reason this man is multi-awarded and a bestselling writer. Looking for a witty brand of warm humor mixed with pragmatic wit? Jeffrey’s your man. Key articles to check out are his “Cooking with Pot” piece and his story on going cold turkey with good old gluten.

Best-O Resto Bucket List 

I have read about a ton of restaurants both here and abroad, and I admit I’ve pined for some. Examples include Jiro’s sushi bar in Japan (the subject of the deliriously delicious documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi), Nobu, Noma, Aubergine, Mesa Grill, and perhaps any restaurant owned by David Chang.

A detailed list will follow in one of my succeeding entries.

“Victorino’s”: A Diner’s Review (Part 1)

It was supposed to be just another casual post-dinner affair at the coffee shop closest to our Quezon City home. Instead, it turned out to be a first time experience dining at one of Tomas Morato’s classier hidden gems: Victorino’s.

Ambiance

Victorino’s exudes a very old meets new Filipino vibe. Upon entrance, the diner is greeted by a lavish chandelier that hangs above a mahogany desk. Native wares are displayed alongside vintage photographs of classic Filipina ladies dressed in baro’t saya. The main dining hall mixes antique Filipino with chic bistro, contrasting crisp white table cloth with antique dining chairs.

Service

One might say that it would be ambitious to proclaim Victorino’s service as the best waiting service I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in my dining escapades. Yet, I can’t say I’m wrong. They may not take the time to remember your name and write theirs on your desk with crayon, but the well-dressed wait staff worked and operated with an air of obvious training and experience, something that I rarely encounter.

Food

Our trip to Victorino’s was only supposed to consist of desserts, but we ended up ordering a few savory dishes in the process. I surely didn’t mind.

The DESSERTS

Mango Torte (4.5/5)

Had this been less frozen, I would have given this a five out of five. The Mango Torte from Victorino’s definitely lives up to its name as one of the restaurant’s best-selling desserts.

Things I Loved: golden mangoes- a testament to good sourcing of ingredients, overall taste, balance of sweetness

Things I Didn’t Like: difficulty of consumption, abundance of cream

Chocolate Cake (3.5/5)

Besides its unnaturally huge size (a reason, perhaps, for its unnaturally expensive price), Victorino’s chocolate cake is nothing spectacular. It lacked the heavenly sweet effect that comes after a bite of majestic chocolate cake. Besides that, it was relatively passable.

Things I Loved: not much, really

Things I Didn’t Like: lack of wow factor

New York Cheesecake (3/5)

I have had sufficient experience with making cheesecakes to distinguish between the use of Magnolia Cream Cheese and mascarpone. Lucky for me, this particular cake used a higher quality cream cheese (which I can’t say was mascarpone, lol..). The problem is, that was all I could taste: heavy, boxy mouthfuls of cream cheese. Okay, I get how this is supposed to be a cheesecake, but don’t cheesecakes come with a skillful balance of crust versus cream? I didn’t see that here.

Things I Loved: presentation (cutesy and classy)

Things I Didn’t Love: what’s with the dollop of cream and mint beside all the cakes (not just this one?), aren’t they rich enough?, too much cream cheese

 

 

Stay tuned for part two, where I review the savory dishes and comment on the overall experience of “Victorino’s”!

 

 

 

 

On the Misunderstood ‘Food Selfie’

Taking a photograph of your food has now been equated with bad table manners. It is right next to improper selfies in the category of ‘bad things that have come from social media’. Yet to be honest, the food selfie has been misunderstood, and ultimately misjudged– thanks to a handful of people that have abused the privilege of instant photography and turned the food photograph into a mere footnote in the age of Instagram and Twitpics– by taking the opportunity to tell a story for granted and instead stating the obvious. ‘Oh, this is what I had for lunch’, ‘#lunch #foodporn #food”… all of these may celebrate the beauty and brilliant taste of the magic that is food, but one thing it also does is take for granted the potential that food has for telling a story. 

With the right words, the right inspiration and the desire to explore taste than to merely tell, food selfies can, in themselves, tell elaborate ‘taste tales’. Why not elaborate on the homestyle taste of a good hamburger instead of telling the world that it’s just lunch? Why not use a photograph of a lovely shake to tell the world about your afternoon in a single paragraph instead of an endless row of mindless hashtags? Why not write about how the taste of Jolibee spaghetti has never changed instead of showing your Instagram followers something they’ve probably seen a thousand times before? 

This is what will set the food selfie apart– the story. By taking time to write about the taste and the color of food instead of just burying your photo caption in hashtags, the food selfie will gain importance again. It will become something different. Food is, after all, an aspect of culture. It’s something that goes beyond ‘daily sustenance’ for society. It actually tells something about one’s culture, one’s society. The same cannot be said for the other mundane things people take photos of these days. 

My personal love for food and interest in telling stories has brought me to so much. It is this interest that makes me diligent enough to maintain a food album on my Facebook account. It is my love for talking about food and telling stories that makes me diligent enough to tell one paragraph stories in the captions of my food photographs. I’m the type of person who takes food pictures not just so I can tweet it or post it, I do it because I believe food, no matter how lifeless it may seem… can tell so much stories. And I love to tell stories about food. I believe everyone else can too. You need not be a hardcore foodie in order to be able to tell a wonderful story about what you had for lunch or dinner. All you need is a vivid imagination, a natural love for taste and a willingness to share. 

 

 

 

 

Katakawan: JSEC

In my quest not to seem as though my taste buds were only stuck to the one-dimensional world of chili-dipped siomai, I decided to spend a week trying some random (yet obviously different) dishes at different stalls in JSEC. So, with my tongue wagging and my wallet prepared to take the not-so hard hit/s… oh, anyways!.. just read on. 🙂

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MONDAY.

Buffalo Chicken Tenders with Chili Mayo Dip from Rolling in the Dip

I don’t think I’ve ever loved sauce this much, especially when it seems as though the sauce manages to go with everything. Rolling in the Dip’s buffalo chicken tenders may not be perfect texture-wise, but the use of thick yet not-so rich sauces proves to be what makes the food here taste oh-so good. But don’t get me wrong, the tenders were okay, but just not as ‘soft’ as I normally expect chicken tenders to be. Thankfully, the rice was well-cooked and the side dish (although not really “bagay”, in my opinion. the side dishes are better enjoyed alone), was simply “yum-mee”. Overall, “good good good” is how I’d describe this very sauce-y dish.

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TUESDAY.

Siomai with rice from Hongkong District

I know what you must be thinking… but who could pass up something like this, a very FULL-filling meal at the modest price of P60? Needless to say, it proved to be one of my better investments for the week, as the rice stuffed me perfectly, and the four pieces of well-steamed dimsum were reminiscent of the siomai I had eaten in places like Causeway and Manila Hotel. The best part of it all, though, was the fact that the condiments weren’t pre-scooped and I had my OVER fill of chili sauce, toyo and calamansi! THANK YOU. 🙂

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WEDNESDAY.

Daddy Burger from Burger Bunch.

My wallet didn’t know what it got itself into. :”(. That’s all I can say about having spent pretty much my entire day’s allowance on a burger with two patties. Can’t say it wasn’t worth it, though, as it isn’t everyday that one gets to partake of a delectable burger that proved to be worth more than it’s price (in patty taste and texture). My advice: if you want to eat this, be rich. Be very rich.

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THURSDAY.

Chicken with Japanese Curry (Level 2 spiciness) from the Spice Rack

‘Now here’s the soft chicken I was looking for!’ I found myself thinking as I dug into this tasty rice meal from the Spice Rack, which reminded me of eating curry back at home with the usual block-shaped vegetables. In this case, though, the veggies were smaller but the taste… better. ;). I wouldn’t want to know what happened, though, if I had decided to opt for a higher spice level. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this portion with as much controlled enthusiasm, but I’ll leave that for next week. 😉

 

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FRIDAY.

Chicken Fajitas from Wacky Juanchos.

This was a surprisingly anticlimactic end to a week of unique eats, as the chicken disappointed me once more! :O. Maybe I should just stop expecting uber-soft chicken (except at the Spice Rack) every time I eat at JSEC. *sigh* Oh well… :/. Nevertheless, what the fajitas lacked in softness it made up for in authentic Mexican flavor that made me want to finish what I’d started: which was eat. :)), and that made me forget the chicken wasn’t soft. SORRY na. ;)))

 

Anyways…

I was planning to do a week at Gonzaga Caf, but I’m just too “blinded” by the convenience of JSEC to really make my move so… forgive me. :”).

 

Food Blogging: Canton Soup Kitchen

If you’re looking for a place that oozes with the “family dining” potential, then look no further than Canton Soup Kitchen. It may be hidden somewhere in QC, but it’s a good place to relax, chill and eat.

LOCATION: CSK is hidden somewhere in Quezon City. Landmarks: Pancake House and Figaro. QC residents, you’ve probably seen the place before.

FIRST IMPRESSION: Bearable. It’s clean interior and Asian-inspired interiors give you a good impression of the food to come.

LOOK: An enlarged version of the photo in the menu serves as background art, while the upholstered seats boast of Chinese calligraphy designs. The desired Chinese look is achieved with minimal effort.

STAFF: Slow, annoyingly slow. There wasn’t even much of a rush and yet we were being ignored repeatedly. It took three tries just to follow up a buchi-buchi order. Needs improvement, in my opinion.

FOOD: **

1. Siomai=CSK’s siomai is tasty, soft and meaty, just how a traditional siomai should be. Should’ve been served with chili sauce, though. That was a major turn off for me.

2. Hakaw=Could’ve been better. I’ve tasted meatier shrimps and thicker wrappings. The lack of chili sauce was another major disappointment. I felt as if my dimsum experience was incomplete.

3. CSK Rice Topping=It looked more like CSK soup to me. It wasn’t until after I did dig past the seafood exterior did I realize it looked like lugaw. At least the seafood made up for the dish’s presentation-wise shortcomings.

Overall: ***

Comeback Factor: Half a laugh.

GOOD THINGS: CSK offers a wide selection of food worth exploring. If you’re bent on widening your Chinese cuisine horizons, trying out something new on the CSK menu might do you good. Just be careful and take safe steps in ordering before taking the plunge. Another good tip: be aggressive. The makulit factor seems to come in handy when eating at a restaurant like CSK.

Food Blogging: Greens

These days, meat just won’t cut it. These days, one thing we look for besides a satisfying meal is a healthy one, that won’t add carbs to our system and make us loosen that belt a notch lower. Everyone, introducing Greens Restaurant! (located somewhere in T.Morato!) Greens is a vegetarian restaurant that serves affordable, healthy and most of all good and nutritious foods for our system. Read the review below, which is arranged according to some restaurant-related criteria:)

LOCATION: Greens is hidden somewhere in restaurant avenue (Tomas Morato). If you’re persistent enough, you’ll find it. It’s a little further from Cesar Montano’s Italian restaurant Belissimo [not good], and parking will be quite an experience. Friendly guards to help you out for a space, too.
FIRST IMPRESSION: If you’ve ever seen a Bungalow/Granny House anywhere, Greens resembles such a place. With a small yet pretty garden in front of the entranceway, and outdoor seating as well [there’s an aircon], Greens is a cozy place.
RESTAURANT RESEMBLANCE: If you’ve ever been to Sonia’s Garden in Tagaytay, Greens is somewhat similar, only a more compact, city version. Exclude the farm-like gardens and the fresh air.
INSIDE: The inside is small, but looks good and not shabby. It’s an ideal coffee-shop setting, and offers air-conditioning, art and atmosphere.
NECESSITIES: The bathroom is compact but clean. That’s all you need to know.
STAFF: Friendly, homey people. They work in a more serene setting so I guess that’s why.
ARTS: Paintings hang on the wall and creative pottery. There’s also a fountain outside with carps and of course, the garden which I mentioned earlier.

FOOD: *** and a half
I didn’t really get to see the best-sellers, but here’s a list of what we ordered.
1. SQUASH SOUP
2. MUSHROOM SOUP
3. FRENCH FRIES
4. SISIG
5. SEAWEED STICKS
6. SPLIT-PEA BURGER
7. ANGEL-HAIR PASTA
8. CLASSIC PASTA
9. MANGO LASSIE (DRINK)

Let’s review them one-by-one.

1. SQUASH SOUP-Good and rich. Just how a real soup should taste like.
2 MUSHROOM SOUP-Looked kinda thin.
3. FRENCH FRIES-Your average sliced potatoes still with skin. No bones about it. The platter can feed around three to four people.
4. SISIG-It ain’t crispy. For those people who aren’t fans of crispy sisig, this is your food. Tender and soft meat are tasty and you’ll want to eat more than a single spoonful.
5. SEAWEED STICKS-Healthy alternative to cheese sticks. Carrot and other veggies cut into strips, wrapped in nori and fried. Goes well with ketchup.
6. SPLIT-PEA BURGER-Burger taste, healthy size. Comes with a side of french fries. The burger isn’t meat, I’ll tell you that now.
7. ANGEL-HAIR PASTA-Flavorful and tomato-ee. Is lighter but better than the average Italiannis/Amici pasta.
8. CLASSIC PASTA-Didn’t taste it. =(
9. MANGO LASSIE-Basically a mango milk shake/yogurt drink. It’s thick and yummy. I was tempted to make a pitcher once I got home. Adds on the pounds, though.

OVERALL: 3.5 stars
COME BACK: Yes! I want to try the salads:)

Food Blogging: Omakase

In Japanese, Omakase means “it’s up to you.” Makes sense, actually. :)) The customer is always right, RIGHT? So it’s up to us. And it was up to me to order the damn eel. :PP
At first glance, you might think Omakase is an A-list restaurant. What else would it be doing in an almost-high class resto mall beside 145 Fahrenheit (high-class steak restaurant)? In truth, it ain’t that good.. hehe. If I were to give it a rating out of 5, it would probably place at around 3.95, closing in on 4. We ordered the following foods: Dynamite and Jurassic Roll for sushi, agedashi tofu, chicken teppanyaki, katsudon, unijaru (eel:P) and some kind of Jap noodle (i forgot). Let’s do a dish-by-dish review, shall we? 🙂
1. Dynamite Roll
=> wasn’t that dynamic. I was expecting spicy from it, but I was duped. :)) (kidding). The serving looked pretty small, too, despite the fact that there were ten pieces on the plate. The wasabi was SMALL. I hate that.
2. Jurassic Roll
=> reinvented sushi. Unique taste, but not so wow-za if you compare it outside. over-hyped up food if you ask me.
3. Agedashi Tofu
=> liked this one. It was soft (and soggy) and tasted like geniune tofu (i don’t even know what it tastes like). but i liked it. it made me realize why people wanna suddenly go on soy diets. :))
4. Chicken Teppanyaki
=> didn’t get to eat everything, but the chicken was tender, like the terriyaki i ate back in Zensho. 😄
5. Katsudon
=> no idea how it tasted. ask kp:))
6. Unijaru
=> I WILL NEVER ORDER EEL EVER AGAIN. Mommy blames it on my sensationalized taste buds, but I swear that was as slimy as SLIME itself. I wouldn’t call it worth it for P310 and paltry rice all in a box. Maybe eel lovers would like it, but it isn’t my cup of tea, its someone else’s tea cup. 😛

OTHER ASPECTS
1. SERVICE
=> Considering we came in at the middle of rush hour, it was so-so. I call it “what-polite-looks-like-at-rush-hour” service. Waiters were nice, repeated orders and they took time as we ordered. Advice: things to look for in a restaurant: good service, patient waiters (real ones) and good food.
2. WAITING
=> If you are planning on eating at Omakase, come early, but not too early. We were lucky enough to get a cozy table right before a throng of people arrived. We could’ve been on that long-ass list had we come later. The early bird always gets the worm, or the good table. :)). The hostess looked like Ginger Conejero with a mole. 😀
3. AMBIANCE
=> Leave it to the color black to deceive innocent consumers of high-class appeal. Nevertheless the place was okay. It was just what to expect. The sleek black gave it a more ooh-la-la appeal to people, and it gave me the perception Omakase is no Terriyaki Boy or Karate Kid. 😀
4. SEATING
=> It’s comfy if you get the right chairs.
5. CUSTOMERS
=> It has no specific demographic. Everything from friends on a night out to noisy families were present. You could call it a melting pot of diversity. At least now I know why it was so noisy and someone broke a glass. :))

OVERALL
WOULD I COME BACK?
Yeah, probably. The prices aren’t so bad and the place is fine. I would definitely make better choices in my ordering, though. Damn blog! X(
RECOMMENDATION
Omakase is a good place for those who want a lighter version of Terriyaki Boy and Tempura. It’s almost diet sushi, actually. If there’s one thing that Omakase has that’s worth coming back for it’s a lightly-flavored menu (ACCORDING TO MOMMY). :)) That, apparently, is why my eel tasted like itself (despite the fact that it looked like slices of bangus.

PICTURES: Was too lazy to bring my cellphone and charge it. :D. The presentation isn’t something to write home about, though, so no biggie. 🙂

Rating: ***.95 out of *****

NEXT ISSUE: Buon Giorno at Shaw Blvd. (I HOPE!!! I’ll bring my cam this time. ) =)