Since I turned 40 last month, I’ve been on a food binge. As a result, I feel I’ve gained so much weight. I didn’t wish for this to happen; I only wanted to taste as much flavors, smell as much aromas as I could, but not see the tragic result of my own undoing right there, across my belly. Happily, so many new restaurants have been popping up here and there and I’ve become, for the most part, a willing victim. Among the ones I’ve tried are:
H Cuisine. Tucked in a little corner near T. Morato Avenue (along Scout Rallos), H Cuisine has been the talk of the town for far too long, but it was only recently that I actually experienced it. It has the appeal of a small, neat Baguio cottage cafe. Their specialty is Angus Beef Belly, and as soon as I tried it (they served it over a tealight candle to keep the killer beef fat from solidifying), everything else didn’t matter. It was, as advertised, melt-in-your-mouth, and the gravy was unpretentiously good.
Served with rice, buttered veggies and baby potatoes, this single-serve slab of goodness had hints of basic spice and rubs, and was easy on the palate. It looked like it was slow-roasted, and tasted like it. But, as with everything that tastes great, it reeked of sin. Health freaks, avoid at all cost–except during cheat days. My cheat day, in case you’re asking, is every day. Priced reasonably: it’s Angus.
Brotzeit Bier Bar. Oh, the wonders of EDSA Shangrila mall never cease. With the recent opening of its East Wing, the mall promises new delights and flavors for every discerning patron. On the ground floor, and accessible from the street, is a huge, decently designed restaurant called Brotzeit (German for ‘Bread Time’). Oddly named like a bakeshop, the brand is actually an international franchise, and the handsome menu features several German-sounding dishes, complemented by its selection of imported biers.
The prices were a bit steep. We ordered an apple strudel, a serving of chocolate cake a la mode, and Illy coffee, and tried out our friends’ order of sausage and sauerkraut. It was okay. Not good, but okay. (Okay, I was being nice: it was a bloody culinary snoozefest in here.) Also, a bar-restaurant that’s a bit bright and closes at 11pm is unheard of in this side of the metro. I can see good and happy things happening in here in the future, though. But for now: it’s a big X.
Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen. The East Wing is virtually empty save for a few new restaurants which I and my friends were dying to try, and we chose Ikkoryu first.
Why did we choose it? The queue, my friend. There were just too many waiting customers packing into its 160 square meter space, and it simply wasn’t enough to accommodate everyone. Meaning, it had to be that good. So we waited. About 10 minutes later, our friendly waitress gaily ushered us in, while the rest of the Ikkoryu workforce (including the dashing Japanese chef who bowed at each one like a human C3PO) shouted an enthusiastic ‘Irishaimase!’ as we settled down.
My friend Jett was a ramen freak (that’s him in the violet shirt; the one in grey is MJ), so when our orders came, I waited first for his reaction. In between groans of satisfaction, he gave it his seal of approval. It was indeed quite good, I forgot to take a photo of it! The steaming, seductive broth had character and body, and each of our orders tasted distinct–no two ramen bowls tasted the same. The egg noodles were firm and delicious; its thin pork slices combined with seaweed and bamboo shoots offered a harmonious, savory melange of flavor. For added aroma, we sprinkled drops of spiced sesame oil into our bowls…
…and washed everything down with complimentary cold rice tea. We ordered buttered clams on the side (which was just a few small pieces of clam, sauteed in butter–thumbs down on this one, as it obviously wasn’t their specialty) and their heavenly gyoza. It was a truly hearty, satisfying experience. Prepare to shell out at least 500 bucks per head.
Toast Box. I’ve always loved the food in here, and the country-style feel of the interiors since it opened.
Their coffee had always been deliciously different, and their Hainanese chicken was just one of the best I’ve tasted. A few days ago, though, I decided to go lite, and ordered kaya toast with a slice of cream cheese, and a cup of coffee to-go.
The sweet-coconutty taste of the kaya provided a gentle balance when paired with the salty-sour taste of the cheese (and the bitter/sweet coffee). It could have been a perfect afternoon of people-watching and toast-chomping, except that I had it, sadly, in their Trinoma branch, where the cashier doesn’t pay attention and the waiters work with nary an ounce of inspiration in them. Thumbs up for everything else.
Elias. Boni High Street is just a beautiful place. It glitters at night, and I could say the same for their concept restaurants: Elias, a modern Filipino restaurant, happens to be one of them. At the helm of it all is beloved Chef Florabel Co-Yatco, who has whipped up an inventive lineup of dishes for the curious tourist and the Pinoy foodie, which both abundantly litter the Fort Boni landscape. I loved the restaurant: everything in it was a delight to see, and, needless to say, its homage to more discriminating Pinoy tastebuds was worthy of note. Jett and I had a LOT: a gigantic grilled bangus with the biggest, thickest, fattest black-grey belly I have ever seen…
…the essential lengua estofada for me…
and fried balls that resembled squidballs in look and taste, except that they’re bigger.
The service was sprightly and quick. And the dishes? Very, very good. It would not be an embarassment to bring a balikbayan or a nice French hottie date in here. Sarap!
Barcino. The woodsy, musky, heavy interiors of Barcino feel lived-in, almost vintage, and in fact, it is worn out in some places–it is just that famous. This is almost always the last frontier of choice for me, as it’s never as crowded as those places noisy, miniskirted kids flock to. They serve Spanish wines and hearty Castillian dishes, plus of course, their freshly-baked happy bread…
…and the woopee! sangria–theirs has to be among the freshest-tasting sangrias I’ve tried, a perfect, happy way to end a long day.
Their scrumptious desserts, also, are a surprise treat and cannot be ignored. You just have to experience them.
The Malt Room. Surprisingly, this discreet bar located at the basement of Hotel Rembrandt in Morato Avenue is a wonderful addition to the ever-evolving bar/resto strip, one that doesn’t need a lot of gimmicks in order to survive. It’s spacious, chic (by Quezon City standards), and plays the best retro-pop music this side of Morato. The crowd is not really young, but suits the bar’s mature appeal.
For a moment I could see teeny-weeny hints of Giraffe in here (and for those of you unfortunate souls who haven’t experienced Giraffe while it was still the most magical place to go to in Makati, I look at you with pity). Try the crispy tempura sushi…
…not bad with Long Island Iced Tea (or their accidental mintless version of the mojito, accidental because there weren’t any mint leaves available that night, much to our amusement).
Closes a bit early, which is a sad thing, but it could be great to have a party in here soon.
Tapeo. Tucked in an alleyway fronting NBC Tent in the Fort (which I heard is closing down anytime soon) is a tapas buffet bar called Tapeo. The layout is interestingly narrow, which you’ll pray would be a bit more packed (it’s pretty new, and judging from the interiors, deserves a lot of beautifully dressed people sliding and gliding against each other during the weekends).
The idea is simple: for 400 (or is it 450?) pesos, you stuff your wanting soul with assorted tapas, fruit, olives, cake, paella (come over before dinnertime: the paella cools pretty fast, and doesn’t look too delectable to have when cold), and whatever’s there on the bar–non-stop, unlimited, bottomless.
Minus points, though, for the actual bar where the tapas are: I’d rather have mine warm, with the bread tasting fresh and crisp, rather than crunchy (because of the airconditioning). Their wines are kept in a pseudo-cellar (that used to be the ATM corner of the bank that previously occupied Tapeo’s space), and they have a pretty good selection.
This place is a good option when you need a decent place to chat and hang out with friends or your significant other. The presence of chefs around the bar, eternally fixing their tapas plates (the Jamon Serrano was to die for), makes the entire place feel legit. Try it soon.
Desserts and Coffee
Green Coffee. If you’re just so tired of Starbucks, or the likes, and of loud kids hanging out too long in these places, Green Coffee in Morato Circle should be your coffee-fix destination. The place is oddly sleek for a coffee shop, something you’d rather see in Nathan Road in Hong Kong than in unruly Quezon City. Almost mausoleum-like in feel (which appeals to me a lot, mind you), Green Coffee serves serious coffee, and great pastries.
I always order the Oreo cheesecake–so thick and lumpy and good. It has wi-fi, too, is open 24 hours, and has an al fresco area for light chats, smokes, and people-watching (funny drunk girls in late-90s-style clogs, cheap lipstick and fishnet tops, spitting bad English back and forth, while dragging themselves out of Padi’s Point are always a people-watch highlight). Their nice industrial-feel restroom could use a quick cleanup, though. It’s always awful-smelling. But otherwise, nice place.
Cobo Milk Tea. I’ve never been bubble tea or milk tea-obsessed, but Cobo (also in one of those sidestreets along Morato Avenue) is really good. You could almost feel a brick of sugar, bad and fatty cholesterol, and caffeine running down your helpless throat with every sip of their milk tea (have yours accessorized with add-on pearly goodies, and feel like a hero), and they are served with a smile.
Just avoid having to sit next to chicks exchanging stories about last night’s conquests, because the place’s bad acoustics drills their sorry stories down your skull. That’s worse than any milk tea brainfreeze.
Cioccolata. Hidden from the polluted bustle of civilization is a ‘tsokolate ah’ place located in ancient Intramuros called Cioccolata.
It’s the first coffee shop you’ll find to your right upon entering the old welcome archway of the fabled Walled City. With ample parking and a relaxed, chill, modern atmosphere, Cioccolata serves honest-to-goodness, freshly fried churros with pure, high-grade chocolate as dip.
Take a sip of their thick tsokolate, and feel like a fraile while looking out the centuries-old streets.
Since it’s new, the place isn’t as crowded (yet); it’s perfect for meetings, or when you’re feeling like Jose Rizal to your Josephine Bracken (or Joseph, if you please).
These are just part of my foodie shortlist. For being good places to go to, they’re the most at fault for this paunch I’m seeing right in front of me, as I sit while tapping my iPad… In yet another coffee shop. Excuse me, as I cheerfully dig into my cream-cheese and walnut carrot cake. Join me next time?