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Thread: WAITER! The Restaurant Scene, a Thread for Restaurants and Eateries

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  1. #1

    Exclamation WAITER! The Restaurant Scene, a Thread for Restaurants and Eateries

    I think it is time we created a separate thread for restaurants and eateries of all types.

    Post your eating-out experiences here, from raves to rants, and let's give local (and locally-based) restaurants and eateries their day in the Gameface sun!

  2. #2
    Delicious 2014: Filipino diners spoiled for choice–and variety

    Raoul J. Chee Kee, Vangie Baga-Reyes |

    Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:35 AM |

    Thursday, January 1st, 2015

    Filipinos were spoiled for choice when it came to dining in 2014. Popular foreign restaurant chains opened one after the other, brought in by local restaurant business groups.

    New local restaurants also opened, spurred on by new malls. Diners willing to pay the price, meanwhile, booked tables at the high-end F&B outlets found at the integrated casino resorts in Pasay and Paranaque.

    Foodies have the Moment Group, Food Link, Relish Group, Standard Hospitality Group, and businessman Ben Chan to thank for bringing in a slew of restaurants, coffee shops, ramen joints and tea houses last year.

    Remember those never-ending lines at Tim Ho Wan and Ippudo at the Mega Fashion Hall? They were brought in by Food Link’s Rikki Dee and Standard Hospitality Group’s John Concepcion, respectively.

    Meanwhile, Moment Group has been quietly and steadily building up a stable of popular restaurants including Manam, ‘Cue and 8Cuts Burger Blends. Moment is also behind Phat Pho, Linguini Fini and Mecha Uma. This year, it is reportedly bringing in Taiwan’s Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung.

    Columnist Clinton Palanca heralds the return of high-end dining (see his column in this section) with the opening of the Tasting Room at the Crown Hotel at City of Dreams late last month.

    The restaurant is geared toward high-rollers with money to spend.

    Nobu Manila, in the same complex, has opened a few days earlier. It caters to the same crowd although a recent visit saw groups of families and friends enjoying the Japanese fare with a Latin American twist.

    We were given the chance to sample signature dishes such as the Black Cod in miso, perfectly cooked bone-in steak, and a plate of assorted sushi, among others. Each course was then paired with sake with varying alcohol contents. The price for this gastronomic meal? Around P8,000 per person.

    Almost anyone with some savings and the desire to explore did just that this year. They booked seats on budget carriers that took them to their dream destinations such as Japan, Thailand, Korea, the Middle East and Australia.

    Aside from literally broadening their horizons, the trips afforded them the chance to sample different types of cuisine. Fans of Japanese, Thai or Korean fare can now tell whether a local restaurant is better than another because they’ve tasted the cuisine right at its origin.

    It turns out that there’s more to Japanese food than sushi, sashimi and tempura.

    Filipinos make it to World Pastry Cup

    For the first time, Filipino chefs passed the qualifying round to enter the prestigious World Pastry Cup in Lyon, France, touted as the Olympics of pastry professionals.

    The unprecedented feat came after the team of Rizalino Mañas and Bryan Dimayuga, with coach chef Romain Renard—all from Makati Shangri-La—and all chef members of Pastry Alliance of the Philippines—won in the Asian Pastry Cup (APC) in Singapore last April.

    APC functions as the official contest to preselect Asian teams to compete at Coupe du Monde de Patisserie (World Pastry Cup).

    Of the eight competing teams, five were chosen to compete in Lyon this January— Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, China and the Philippines.

    Mañas and Dimayuga impressed the judges with their four pastry preparations, all done in eight hours and in front of a live audience: two classic chocolate cake desserts, 18 plated desserts, a chocolate showpiece and a sugar showpiece.

    Local delicacies grab international spotlight

    From dried mangoes to coco sugar, Philippine food products were a big hit at the Salon International de l’Agroalimentaire or Sial Paris, one of the biggest food trade shows in the world, held last October in Paris, France.

    Deliciously presented in various forms, flavors, colors and purposes, the local produce brought a steady stream of foreign buyers and potential long-term trade partners to the elegantly designed Philippine pavilion. Traders and guests bunched up around the pavilion to sample a merry mix of dried mangoes, banana chips, virgin coconut oil, glazed pili nuts, coconut water and coconut sugar, super frozen yellow fin tuna products, ice pops and jellies, concentrates and instant mixes, to name some.

    The mix of products was designed to position the Philippines as an important global source of specialty, gourmet and artisanal food and terroir (environmental) food products.

    The Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (Citem) has been doing its best to boost the Philippines’ image as a top sourcing destination of premium specialty food products.

    This year, the 15 participating Philippine exhibitors garnered $24.4 million in sales over the five days of the food expo, with frozen tuna as the best-selling item.

    More and more restaurants to choose from in 2014

    Restaurants come and go and those that have opened last year created quite a stir on the food scene, both for international franchises and home-grown restaurants.

    Here are some of them:

    Todd English Food Hall (SkyPark, SM Aura Premier, Taguig) has a New York ambience that features live cooking stations for pasta, flatbread pizzas, a sushi bar, a dessert and bread bar, to name some.

    St. Marc Café (SM Megamall Fashion Hall) offers Japan’s to-die-for chococro, a croissant-like pastry with melted chocolate bar inside.

    Chef Colin Mackay’s aviation-themed Blackbird (Nielson Tower, Ayala Triangle, Makati City) serves extensive gastronomic fare from continental and Southeast Asian dishes to premium burgers, pizza and pies.

    Purple Yam (Bocobo and Nakpil Streets, Malate), the Manila branch of Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa’s main site in Brooklyn, New York, pays tribute to local, sustainable and organic Philippine food.

    Bianca Araneta-Elizalde’s The Wholesome Table (30th St. Bonifacio High Street Central, BGC, Taguig) promotes healthy eating by serving all-organic food such as free-range chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef and wild-caught seafood.

    Johnlu Koa’s Lartizan (Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig) does not only bring in the best of French cuisine, but also the experience of dining in a real Parisian restaurant.

  3. #3
    High-end dining is back with a vengeance

    Clinton Palanca

    @inquirerdotnet

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    3:18 AM | Thursday, January 1st, 2015

    There are no two ways about it: The Tasting Room is a restaurant in the grand sense of the word, with plush carpets, starched white tablecloths, and crystal stemware.

    It’s a welcome antidote to the downmarket drift of most hotel restaurants, as well as the slew of “hip,” too-cool-to-serve-proper-food restaurants where everything is studiously casual and understated.

    This is the high end back with a vengeance, so it’s time to polish off the cuff links, oxford brogues and table manners, and be prepared to open your wallet wide.

    Our previous encounter with City of Dreams had been as guest in one of its many press launches off-site before the actual opening. That made us curious to visit the complex, as a customer. We wanted to see, among other things, what three hotels, a casino, and a giant golden egg on the strip of reclaimed land on Roxas Boulevard looked like.

    It was every bit as enormous, extravagant and over the top as I imagined, and more. We wandered through cavernous, empty, sound-deadened corridors full of staff in full regalia. We didn’t need another Nobu experience, but The Tasting Room at the Crown Hotel came recommended.

    After being asked by the guard, the lobby footman and the maître d’ if we had a reservation, we were shown into a completely empty restaurant.

    “We have a completely new dining experience,” announced the maître d’ as he handed us the menu, which in itself set off alarm bells in my head, because every other restaurant we’d been to last year had trumpeted an entirely new way of dining. We’re actually quite satisfied with the ordinary way of dining, but there appears to be a crusade to make menus less and less comprehensible.

    The “completely new” concept at The Tasting Room is, essentially, to blur the distinction between appetizers and main courses. This way, your five (or six, seven or eight) courses could follow a classical progression, or you could, conceivably, order five main courses and no appetizers, or for suicidal diabetics, five desserts.

    We went the traditional route with an entrée, a seafood dish, a lighter main course followed by a heavier one, and then dessert.

    ‘Best’ dishes

    Listening to someone describe their meal in excruciating detail is about as enticing as hearing someone else’s chewing, so we will just suggest what we felt were the best of the dishes, which we would have if we were to return.

    The 52-degree egg with various umami bits and bobs thrown in was a bit of a cliché, but that didn’t make it any less delicious. This could then be followed by the lobster bisque, which served as both soup and seafood fare. The pigeon was perfectly cooked, bloody and red on the inside (though not frighteningly rare, as the French like to serve it).

    Even if you think you’ve tasted all the wagyu variations possible, the complexity of flavors of the wagyu main course with truffled mashed potatoes still made it the best item on the menu. (The lamb, which was finished in a censer of smoldering dried rosemary leaves, would have been a close runner-up if it had been left slightly pink; it was dry and gray.)

    For dessert we all had the pistachio soufflé, so we couldn’t really compare it to the other choices, but a very well-made soufflé it was indeed, with a somewhat superfluous shot glass of cardamom milk to accompany it.

    Powers of suggestion

    Because we were clearly not mainlanders flush with casino winnings, we weren’t subject to the powers of suggestion of the maître d’, who left us alone with our bottle of San Pellegrino. But as a few other guests drifted in, we overheard snippets of conversation in which he waxed lyrical about Burgundy vintages, tiptoed around the touchy subject of new world wines, and gently derided Italian wines and produced bottle after bottle.

    A good sommelier is not just one who can pair wine with food, but pair wine with people; and a skilled one can add significantly to a restaurant’s revenue, while not alienating the customers on a budget.

    Our meal was by no means inexpensive, but as far as restaurants like these go, it’s like getting a 3 series BMW or a made-to-measure rather than bespoke suit: an entry-level nibble that gives just a taste of the high end.

    For people like us, it’s as far as we’ll go, but we can imagine others easily dropping three times or more what we spent on the full eight courses with wine pairings, aperitifs and digestifs, and an exorbitant bottle of champagne.

    The cost of luxury

    There is plenty to criticize—from our main courses arriving a few minutes apart to a heavy hand with the emulsifiers to an annoying flicker in the light source.

    But the biggest negative for us, which is not something that can or should be fixed, is the sense of impersonality. It’s a luxury dining room that could be anywhere in the world, hermetically sealed off from the outside world—but then that’s the point of this place.

    The chef, who is not named, cooks modernist food, but doesn’t go too wild with the spheroids or disappearing textures. All we can tell is that apart from being extremely liberal with the truffle shavings, he seems to have a predilection for sweet pairings (beetroot, glazed Iberico ham, lattices). Most of the clientele that the restaurant is aimed at will not mind; the chartered planes of high-rollers will not want a reminder that they are in dingy Manila.

    Visiting the complex is like a brief sojourn to another world, not necessarily one we would like to live in, and much less one we could afford. But once in a while it’s nice to get away, just as once in a while (a very long while) it’s nice to pretend to live a lifestyle that we don’t have. Despite the prices, you do get what you pay for, and you don’t leave the restaurant hungry.

    For those with the money to spend, this is as good a place to burn it as any. The high end is back in town.

    The Tasting Room is at G/F, Crown Hotel, City of Dreams, Manila; tel. 800-8080

  4. #4
    Can Danny Meyer Do for Pizza What He Did for Burgers?

    BY ALAN RICHMAN

    December 2014

    Somewhat like cake and icing, pizza is divided into two parts.

    There's the crust, and then there's the topping. I suspect that normal eaters, a category that excludes food writers, care more about toppings than whatever regional style of crust they're eating. I seldom feel that way, unless pepperoni is involved.

    I consider myself a pizza obsessive, one who participates in the critical analysis of crusts. Such studies have something to do with urban sociology, something to do with food science, and much to do with history. Crusts differ, usually in admirable and fascinating ways, wherever pizza is beloved. When thoughtfully prepared, the pizza crust is a simple food that pleases a majority of our senses. Inasmuch as it's a cousin to warm bread, the earthy fragrance triggers memories of pleasures past, while the texture, be it crunchy, soft, or crackling, provides primal bliss. Toppings are an indulgence, somewhat like your choice of syrup on an ice cream sundae.

    There is little in the food world that compares with the thrill of a well-prepared pizza arriving at your table. Pizza is a harbinger of happiness.

    The crust, to get back to business, comes in at least six fundamental forms, by my reckoning. To begin, there is Neapolitan-style (fast-cooked, very thin on the bottom, with a bulbous, puffy, outer rim), pan-style (sometimes called Sicilian and similar to a flat-topped focaccia with caramelized, crunchy edges), and nouveau-American-style (closer to bread-baking than pizza-tossing, resulting in an airy, light, aromatic crust). New York has an admirable style that deserves a subcategory of its own, a pie with a fairly thin and appealingly droopy crust. The New York pizza is best enjoyed when purchased by the slice, deftly folded, and consumed while walking along an overcrowded street.

    These days, the New York slice is in decline, often sold in a sorrowful state. New Yorkers, always eager for something new, are looking elsewhere. We already have an abundance of Neapolitan, pan, and nouveau-American pies. Now two other styles have reappeared, their popularity restored. In pizza, we are like one of those Pacific islands populated by non-native species of wildlife that wash ashore.

    Receiving considerable attention of late is deep-dish Chicago-style (very slow-cooked, sometimes flaky and sweet, but usually rather hard, and always a carbohydrate bomb), and thin-style (sometimes called Roman-style, but known as tavern-style in Chicago when it is sliced haphazardly, as though a slasher and not a pizzaiola were at work). Chicago-style deep-dish gained fame when Pizzeria Uno arrived here a few decades ago. The pie was a sensation at first, but the thrill faded. Thin-style pizza, which has a bottom crust even thinner than what you'll find on a New York pie, first received attention in 2003, when Mario Batali opened Otto to cries of dismay, including mine. His early crust was barely edible. It's now much improved.

    The pies at Marta, the first pizza enterprise from Danny Meyer, who we all thought was too busy making Shake Shack burgers to care about much else, are being classified as Roman. This style of pie has never been unarguably defined, and Meyer's are somewhat different from others I've encountered. Marta, in fact, is an odd sort of pizzeria. Located on the ground floor of the Martha Washington hotel on East 29th street in Manhattan, it's vast, clearly the showpiece of the new and extensive renovation. The restaurant has more in common with the Roman Coliseum than with a Roman pizzeria.

    The two oversized ovens are wood-burning, which always makes the heart race with joy, but in truth a couple minutes in a wood-burning oven does not add a great deal of flavor to a pie. There are two dining levels, as well as chandeliers that resemble giant pick-up sticks. Should you happen to be seated facing away from the ovens, you will actually have no idea that you are in a pizzeria. In fact, while Marta is being categorized as just that, the menu offers far more. The wine list is outsized, with ten Champagnes for $90 and under, and more than a dozen better-than decent bottles for less than $40, a pleasing variation on the theme of Manhattan sticker shock.

    The sad truth is that the thin-crust pizza remains the most inexplicable of all pies. The crust is often flat, flabby and flavorless, which means without merit. Or it might be flat, flavorless, and crisp, which some find pleasing, although I do not. At Marta, the bottom crust is soft, supple, and very thin. The outer rim that rises above is crackling and crunchy, reminiscent of matzo.

    The toppings are for the most part complex and inventive. My Patate alla Carbonara had very soft potatoes (verging on smashed), an almost-uncooked egg, guanciale (cured pork cheek), pepper, and pecorino cheese. Regardless of what pie you select from Marta's list of eleven, you will not be bored.

    At the tiny Emmett's, on MacDougal Street just outside the official limits of Greenwich Village, Emmett Burke makes both deep-dish and thin-crust, tavern-style pies. His undersized spot, which seats about 30, including 11 at the bar, possesses a charm that puts most establishments located within the Village proper to shame. It's a lovely throwback to what New York used to be. The entire front-of-the-house staff the day I went consisted of one young woman who took orders, carried pies to the tables, worked behind the bar, and remained cheerful throughout. Inasmuch as deep-dish pies can take more than 30 minutes to cook, her work load was not excessive.

    The tables are barely large enough to hold a single pie plus a couple plates, and the dining area lacks an entryway, which means the front door opens directly to the outside. Whenever a customer enters (usually to inquiry about the wait time for a table), a blast of cold air also arrives, dropping the room temperature about five degrees. I recommend the following toppings: the crumbled sausage and a warm, woolly sweater.

    Emmett's deep-dish pies are conventionally round and come in four sizes, eight through 14 inches. The optional toppings are fundamental and few, a touch of old-world simplicity. The tavern-style pizza—not on the written menu—is square, comes in one size, and is particularly lovely when topped with sausage, the red, brown and orange hues a welcome sight to a hungry man stopping by after a night of bowling.

    All of the Emmett's pies are attractive, and the tomato sauce is herbaceous and spicy. The problem here is the crusts. They are not good. In fact, they are depressing. The tavern-style crust was very thin and slightly doughy, as though it was supposed to rise but did not. Any crust this tasteless should at least be crunchy, but mine was not. The deep-dish crust was nicely browned but totally bland, with the flavor profile of a thick, dry, unsalted cracker, one of those English things. The several-inch-high crust encircled a reservoir filled with too much cheese and even more chunky tomato sauce. Emmett isn't to blame, for such a filling is an essential component of every deep-dish pie. One might as well drink tomato sauce directly from the can.

    I don't think either of these establishments, despite their virtues, offers the best pies in New York. They are in business for several reasons: Danny Meyer has always been fascinated by all things Roman, and Emmett Burke hails from the suburbs of Chicago. A fundamental reason for the early success of both places is that New Yorkers are forever after what is new, not what they have always known and loved. That's not how pizza is enjoyed in the rest of America.

    By my count, five of the six fundamental American pizza options are now ensconced within the city. Yet to arrive, to my knowledge, is grilled-style pizza (a specialty of Providence, Rhode Island, and tastier than you might think). We are close to having it all, and, to be honest, New Yorkers demand nothing less.

  5. #5
    Are Tasting Menus Tapped Out?

    BY ALAN RICHMAN

    I was standing outside Contra, jotting down notes, although not many, I admit. The exterior of this new Orchard Street restaurant consists of a bare, black façade plus a tiny, orange, neon sign that spells out the name from high above. A fellow wearing a yarmulke was closing up the shop next door and asked me what I was doing.

    I explained that I was a food writer hoping to dine there for the first time and asked him if he had tried it. “I’m kosher,” he said, which meant he never could. He was curious, though, so I told him everything I knew.

    I said a couple of guys—one 23, the other 28—were in the business of serving tasting menus. He’d never heard of anything like that. I asked him where he was eating that night, and he said his wife was making dinner. I explained that he was getting a tasting menu, too, since he’d eat whatever the person in charge wanted him to eat.

    “There’s democracy in my house,” he said. “My wife isn’t a dictator.”

    I replied, impressed, “So sometimes you tell her you don’t want to eat what she’s cooking?”

    He shook his head. “I have to live with my wife.”

    “Same with us,” I said. “We have to live with our chefs.”

    ···

    I hear a lot of restaurant customers have issues with tasting menus. They’re too long, too restrictive, too presumptuous, too expensive. I enjoy them most of the time, endure them the rest. I figure the chef is giving you the best he or she’s got, which is good. But I also think they‘re less fun than conventional menus, where picking, choosing, and sharing is part of the experience. There’s another drawback: I’m waiting for the accountants at GQ to order me to eat alone whenever a restaurant serves only tasting menus, cease spending money on food for others that’s exactly the same as what I have on my plate.

    I didn’t get in that first time. Nobody was answering the phone, no matter how many times I called, so I went down there, figuring it would be empty and I could walk right in. There was room, all right, but I was turned away, same as everyone else: plumbing problems. You want old buildings with plumbing problems, look no farther than the Lower East Side.

    The second time I went, this time with a reservation, I was immediately recognized by the sommelier, Linda Milagros Violago, who used to work at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. I said to her, wise-guy fashion, “Hmmm, what shall I have for dinner?” She replied, with equal sarcasm, “You’re having the menu whether you like it or not.”

    I ate three such menus. Never was I able to learn in advance what the food would be—nothing was posted online. Twice I was served a dessert called “apple oat caramel”—semi-oxidized apple granita, toasted oats, and caramelized bits of chewy apple. I rather liked it, particularly the funky granita, but a guest with me called the dish “a horse’s breakfast.” (Note to GQ accountants: Cut back on guests and I can no longer promise insights like that.) I wasn’t thrilled to have that dessert twice.

    Twice the menu included monkfish, although the accompaniments differed slightly. Jeremiah Stone, 28, and Fabian von Hauske, 23, the co-chefs, are masters of this profoundly ugly fish. Their versions were the best I’ve tasted since the opening days of Le Bernardin, about a quarter-century ago, when chef Gilbert Le Coze turned it into a prized menu item. The fish itself appeared to be cooked the same way each time, coming out plump, sweet, gauzy with olive oil and entangled in vegetables, as though the fish hadn’t been caught with a hook but ensnared by menacing greens. Those included leafy Piracicaba broccoli, mustard greens, and some other farmer’s market plant that seemed to have been nibbled on by grateful beetles in another life. Both presentations were sensational versions of avant garde French, maybe more French than avant garde, because of the softness and the near-transparency of the fish.

    I got squab once. If allowed, I would have ordered it on every occasion. It was available one evening as an extra course for $15, or as a replacement for another course for an additional but unspecified sum. (The pricing policy is a little nutty, but that’s what happens when chefs rise to absolute power.) The portion consisted of a breast (juicy, succulent) and a leg (crunchy, tender) with one foot attached (odd, captivating). This was a bird beyond belief, a squab in metaphorical flight. It came in a luminously light cherry-squab jus. It was gone too soon.

    A friend ordered it in place of the uncommonly moist chicken breast that was part of the menu of the day, chicken accompanied by sweet and lovely onion petals. My squab-eating friend left nothing on her plate but that bare foot. It was predatory eating. She devoured the dish in the style of an army ant.

    If you think a squab foot on a plate is a little scary, greater terror lies ahead.

    ···

    The tasting menus at Contra generally consist of five courses for $55, although during Thanksgiving week it was upped to six, with a main course of turkey and a price of $60. The meals developed a rhythm, too: One simple starter, two sturdy and generous proteins, two desserts. Within that format, I noticed improvements in the starters as the weeks went on, absolute and well-deserved confidence in those brilliant and blissful main courses, and desserts as the weak spot. They tasted improvisational, not sophisticated at all.

    My problem with this particular tasting-menu format is that 40 percent of the dishes you’ll eat are desserts, and Contra’s aren’t especially interesting. They include plenty of ice cream and sorbets, if you admire those. One such dessert per meal is plenty.

    The evolution of the starters over the course of several weeks was compelling and promising. The first starter at the first meal consisted of silver-dollar-sized rings of raw squash, a few bits of excellent guanciale (not enough to amount to much), toasted rye crumbs, a mild housemade cheese reminiscent of queso fresco, and a cute leaf that was probably chysanthemum. I had no idea what to do with this collection of seemingly incompatible foodstuffs until a friend exclaimed, “Tacos!” That’s what we did, made mini-tacos using the squash rings as tortillas and stuffing them with everything else. The result: Pretty darned good.

    At the next meal those squash rings were sliced thinner and came with cashew bits, a cashew-milk dressing, soft cheese, plus more of those little leaves, all adding up to a juicy, maverick salad. The last starter, really quite smart, offered marrow for spreading on maple-glazed Japanese sweet potato slices that came sprinkled with toasted-rice powder. More onion petals, always welcome, decorated the plate.

    It was at this third meal that a dish, probably not French and certainly never served at Versailles, made an appearance: half a goat’s head, bisected, a skull out of Alien. It was another of those supplements, and again I have no idea of the cost. It was worth its weight in creepiness.

    The idea, we decided, was to eat the brain—creamy and soft and just the way brain should be. There were other interesting parts: teeth, tongue, eyeballs, cheek. One of my guests had been to medical school, and he carved with pleasure. We tried a little tongue (tough), a little eyeball (you might want to pass), a little cheek (so-so). The brain was the best part. Needed a little salt.

    The wine list at Contra is small, simple, reasonably priced, ever-changing, and more interesting than you might think at first glance. Your best bet is to ask Violago for suggestions. She’s good. The restaurant does not have a cocktail program. One was promised for December, but when I went back in December, Violago told me, “We’re going to say January.”

    The room, which seats about 40, is fundamentally simple, a shotgun-style space with a small bar up front and a semi-open kitchen to the rear. You can see into the kitchen easily enough, watch a surprisingly large cadre of youthful cooks in baseball caps working industriously. Nobody is taking it easy back there. There’s one fabulous table large enough for four that’s made from a huge slab of varnished wood. It comes with a perfect view of the entire room: the front bar, the single restroom (so you can time your dash for when it’s unoccupied), and the kitchen.

    The walls are made of just about everything, the floor is cement, the chairs minimally cushioned. Contra feels like the bare-bones atelier of young artists who occasionally open up their premises so they can welcome appreciative guests.

    One decorative item entranced me, a painting of what I took to be a Prussian general but later learned was probably Maximilian I, ill-fated emperor of Mexico. I was hesitant to make a positive identification because the top third was obliterated, painted over. I liked it because it was the kind of worthless article—my mother would have called it hazarai—that shoppers picked up cheap on Orchard Street back in the days when the neighborhood was filled with men in yarmulkes.

    My parents were born on the Lower East Side and used to take me there, thinking I would learn something about my people. They were right. That’s exactly what happened at Contra a couple of weeks ago.

  6. #6
    Are Tasting Menus Tapped Out?

    BY ALAN RICHMAN

    I was standing outside Contra, jotting down notes, although not many, I admit. The exterior of this new Orchard Street restaurant consists of a bare, black façade plus a tiny, orange, neon sign that spells out the name from high above. A fellow wearing a yarmulke was closing up the shop next door and asked me what I was doing.

    I explained that I was a food writer hoping to dine there for the first time and asked him if he had tried it. “I’m kosher,” he said, which meant he never could. He was curious, though, so I told him everything I knew.

    I said a couple of guys—one 23, the other 28—were in the business of serving tasting menus. He’d never heard of anything like that. I asked him where he was eating that night, and he said his wife was making dinner. I explained that he was getting a tasting menu, too, since he’d eat whatever the person in charge wanted him to eat.

    “There’s democracy in my house,” he said. “My wife isn’t a dictator.”

    I replied, impressed, “So sometimes you tell her you don’t want to eat what she’s cooking?”

    He shook his head. “I have to live with my wife.”

    “Same with us,” I said. “We have to live with our chefs.”

    ···

    I hear a lot of restaurant customers have issues with tasting menus. They’re too long, too restrictive, too presumptuous, too expensive. I enjoy them most of the time, endure them the rest. I figure the chef is giving you the best he or she’s got, which is good. But I also think they‘re less fun than conventional menus, where picking, choosing, and sharing is part of the experience. There’s another drawback: I’m waiting for the accountants at GQ to order me to eat alone whenever a restaurant serves only tasting menus, cease spending money on food for others that’s exactly the same as what I have on my plate.

    I didn’t get in that first time. Nobody was answering the phone, no matter how many times I called, so I went down there, figuring it would be empty and I could walk right in. There was room, all right, but I was turned away, same as everyone else: plumbing problems. You want old buildings with plumbing problems, look no farther than the Lower East Side.

    The second time I went, this time with a reservation, I was immediately recognized by the sommelier, Linda Milagros Violago, who used to work at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. I said to her, wise-guy fashion, “Hmmm, what shall I have for dinner?” She replied, with equal sarcasm, “You’re having the menu whether you like it or not.”

    I ate three such menus. Never was I able to learn in advance what the food would be—nothing was posted online. Twice I was served a dessert called “apple oat caramel”—semi-oxidized apple granita, toasted oats, and caramelized bits of chewy apple. I rather liked it, particularly the funky granita, but a guest with me called the dish “a horse’s breakfast.” (Note to GQ accountants: Cut back on guests and I can no longer promise insights like that.) I wasn’t thrilled to have that dessert twice.

    Twice the menu included monkfish, although the accompaniments differed slightly. Jeremiah Stone, 28, and Fabian von Hauske, 23, the co-chefs, are masters of this profoundly ugly fish. Their versions were the best I’ve tasted since the opening days of Le Bernardin, about a quarter-century ago, when chef Gilbert Le Coze turned it into a prized menu item. The fish itself appeared to be cooked the same way each time, coming out plump, sweet, gauzy with olive oil and entangled in vegetables, as though the fish hadn’t been caught with a hook but ensnared by menacing greens. Those included leafy Piracicaba broccoli, mustard greens, and some other farmer’s market plant that seemed to have been nibbled on by grateful beetles in another life. Both presentations were sensational versions of avant garde French, maybe more French than avant garde, because of the softness and the near-transparency of the fish.

    I got squab once. If allowed, I would have ordered it on every occasion. It was available one evening as an extra course for $15, or as a replacement for another course for an additional but unspecified sum. (The pricing policy is a little nutty, but that’s what happens when chefs rise to absolute power.) The portion consisted of a breast (juicy, succulent) and a leg (crunchy, tender) with one foot attached (odd, captivating). This was a bird beyond belief, a squab in metaphorical flight. It came in a luminously light cherry-squab jus. It was gone too soon.

    A friend ordered it in place of the uncommonly moist chicken breast that was part of the menu of the day, chicken accompanied by sweet and lovely onion petals. My squab-eating friend left nothing on her plate but that bare foot. It was predatory eating. She devoured the dish in the style of an army ant.

    If you think a squab foot on a plate is a little scary, greater terror lies ahead.

    ···

    The tasting menus at Contra generally consist of five courses for $55, although during Thanksgiving week it was upped to six, with a main course of turkey and a price of $60. The meals developed a rhythm, too: One simple starter, two sturdy and generous proteins, two desserts. Within that format, I noticed improvements in the starters as the weeks went on, absolute and well-deserved confidence in those brilliant and blissful main courses, and desserts as the weak spot. They tasted improvisational, not sophisticated at all.

    My problem with this particular tasting-menu format is that 40 percent of the dishes you’ll eat are desserts, and Contra’s aren’t especially interesting. They include plenty of ice cream and sorbets, if you admire those. One such dessert per meal is plenty.

    The evolution of the starters over the course of several weeks was compelling and promising. The first starter at the first meal consisted of silver-dollar-sized rings of raw squash, a few bits of excellent guanciale (not enough to amount to much), toasted rye crumbs, a mild housemade cheese reminiscent of queso fresco, and a cute leaf that was probably chysanthemum. I had no idea what to do with this collection of seemingly incompatible foodstuffs until a friend exclaimed, “Tacos!” That’s what we did, made mini-tacos using the squash rings as tortillas and stuffing them with everything else. The result: Pretty darned good.

    At the next meal those squash rings were sliced thinner and came with cashew bits, a cashew-milk dressing, soft cheese, plus more of those little leaves, all adding up to a juicy, maverick salad. The last starter, really quite smart, offered marrow for spreading on maple-glazed Japanese sweet potato slices that came sprinkled with toasted-rice powder. More onion petals, always welcome, decorated the plate.

    It was at this third meal that a dish, probably not French and certainly never served at Versailles, made an appearance: half a goat’s head, bisected, a skull out of Alien. It was another of those supplements, and again I have no idea of the cost. It was worth its weight in creepiness.

    The idea, we decided, was to eat the brain—creamy and soft and just the way brain should be. There were other interesting parts: teeth, tongue, eyeballs, cheek. One of my guests had been to medical school, and he carved with pleasure. We tried a little tongue (tough), a little eyeball (you might want to pass), a little cheek (so-so). The brain was the best part. Needed a little salt.

    The wine list at Contra is small, simple, reasonably priced, ever-changing, and more interesting than you might think at first glance. Your best bet is to ask Violago for suggestions. She’s good. The restaurant does not have a cocktail program. One was promised for December, but when I went back in December, Violago told me, “We’re going to say January.”

    The room, which seats about 40, is fundamentally simple, a shotgun-style space with a small bar up front and a semi-open kitchen to the rear. You can see into the kitchen easily enough, watch a surprisingly large cadre of youthful cooks in baseball caps working industriously. Nobody is taking it easy back there. There’s one fabulous table large enough for four that’s made from a huge slab of varnished wood. It comes with a perfect view of the entire room: the front bar, the single restroom (so you can time your dash for when it’s unoccupied), and the kitchen.

    The walls are made of just about everything, the floor is cement, the chairs minimally cushioned. Contra feels like the bare-bones atelier of young artists who occasionally open up their premises so they can welcome appreciative guests.

    One decorative item entranced me, a painting of what I took to be a Prussian general but later learned was probably Maximilian I, ill-fated emperor of Mexico. I was hesitant to make a positive identification because the top third was obliterated, painted over. I liked it because it was the kind of worthless article—my mother would have called it hazarai—that shoppers picked up cheap on Orchard Street back in the days when the neighborhood was filled with men in yarmulkes.

    My parents were born on the Lower East Side and used to take me there, thinking I would learn something about my people. They were right. That’s exactly what happened at Contra a couple of weeks ago.

  7. #7
    A resto and haven for folks of a certain age

    Micky Fenix

    @inquirerdotnet

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    12:51 AM | Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    One tends to chuckle at the name—“Senior Hub.” But it describes well enough a place where senior citizens can meet, eat, relax, exercise, have a massage, play mahjong or cards or scrabble, watch DVDs, have a party, attend art lessons, even have their hair done.

    Though everyone is welcome to the place to do all of the above, seniors will feel extra special because there is a medical staff just in case they are needed, plus an elevator to get them from floor to floor. The elevator is wide enough for several wheelchairs.

    There are also restrooms on every floor, again wide enough for wheelchairs to get through.

    Healthy should be the operative word in the restaurant. My friend was disappointed when she couldn’t order her usual soda because “we don’t serve that,” she was told. But she liked the pitcher of guyabano juice, freshly done, thick and creamy.

    Organic food

    The restaurant is called “Kitchen 56,” probably to differentiate it from its mother resto “Earth Kitchen” on White Plains.

    I first tasted its food at a meeting of friends, where our host ordered the spring rolls packed with vegetables and shrimps. The Senior Hub offers the spring rolls as well, huge pieces cut in half, presupposing sharing, which is a senior thing.

    Chef David Hizon of his family’s Hizon’s Catering takes charge of the kitchen, where he continues the commitment of his group (Got Heart Farms in Tarlac) to serve organic, sustainable food.

    From Tarlac, the movement has extended support to local farmers and indigenous communities throughout the country.

    A small garden viewed from the dining area has herbs growing in pots in wooden plant boxes suspended on one wall, and other greens growing beside the fence.

    Some diners were delighted that the edible electric blue flowers called ternate included in the salad were picked right before the preparation.

    We didn’t notice it right away, but a look at the menu revealed very soft renderings such as pasta, risotto and soft tacos.

    Worth ordering is the mushroom ravioli with a filling of kesong puti, shiitake and button mushrooms, pili nuts and a light cream sauce that my friend who liked soda said she could finish all by herself.

    My choice was the sweet potato tops ravioli with white cheese, pili nuts, pomodoro and basil sauce, and lots of grated parmesan cheese. How’s that for healthy?

    But because the restaurant is also for everybody, there are more hefty dishes such as beef and chicken kebab, both of which give you a choice of organic Ifugao rice or flour tortillas to go with them. Grilled short ribs, braised bacon and chicken breast cooked Hainanese-style are also available.

    Dessert is mostly ice cream done on site, in flavors such as green tea, tsokolate tablea, milky pastillas and “Milo.” Kitchen 56, however, is known for its goat’s cheese-frozen cheesecake with wild honey, dried figs and cashew nuts. It’s not cheesecake as we know it, but ice cream; I do wish they had the regular cheesecake and other pastry choices in case you’re not up for something frozen.

    Special area

    Yet while the restaurant is open to everyone, it does close early. It’s not open for dinner because seniors prefer to retire early. My friend let out a laugh when I told her.

    But you can have an evening party or an event at any time of the day on the fifth level, which is equipped with a piano and audio/video equipment, and also a chapel if you need it.

    The fifth level is also a music center where anyone of any generation can learn to sing and play musical instruments.

    A special area, the second level, is for the exclusive use of members. It has an electronic mahjong table, home theater, library, computer and iPad tutorials, and consultation with a specialized medical team.

    A third of the membership fee is consumable in the restaurant, in classes such as dance, fitness, arts and crafts, pop music lessons, rental of social areas, and personalized nutritional counseling and diet plans, where the regular 20-percent senior citizen discount applies, plus an additional member’s discount.

    Senior Hub is a project of SM Corp. Its name may change, I was told, though the primary concept will still be the same: An adult day care center for those “of a certain age.”

    56 Jupiter St., Makati City, tel. no. 8564162, 8564144, 0917-5155656. E-mail: pinoyfood04@yahoo.com.

  8. #8
    A resto and haven for folks of a certain age

    Micky Fenix

    @inquirerdotnet

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    12:51 AM | Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    One tends to chuckle at the name—“Senior Hub.” But it describes well enough a place where senior citizens can meet, eat, relax, exercise, have a massage, play mahjong or cards or scrabble, watch DVDs, have a party, attend art lessons, even have their hair done.

    Though everyone is welcome to the place to do all of the above, seniors will feel extra special because there is a medical staff just in case they are needed, plus an elevator to get them from floor to floor. The elevator is wide enough for several wheelchairs.

    There are also restrooms on every floor, again wide enough for wheelchairs to get through.

    Healthy should be the operative word in the restaurant. My friend was disappointed when she couldn’t order her usual soda because “we don’t serve that,” she was told. But she liked the pitcher of guyabano juice, freshly done, thick and creamy.

    Organic food

    The restaurant is called “Kitchen 56,” probably to differentiate it from its mother resto “Earth Kitchen” on White Plains.

    I first tasted its food at a meeting of friends, where our host ordered the spring rolls packed with vegetables and shrimps. The Senior Hub offers the spring rolls as well, huge pieces cut in half, presupposing sharing, which is a senior thing.

    Chef David Hizon of his family’s Hizon’s Catering takes charge of the kitchen, where he continues the commitment of his group (Got Heart Farms in Tarlac) to serve organic, sustainable food.

    From Tarlac, the movement has extended support to local farmers and indigenous communities throughout the country.

    A small garden viewed from the dining area has herbs growing in pots in wooden plant boxes suspended on one wall, and other greens growing beside the fence.

    Some diners were delighted that the edible electric blue flowers called ternate included in the salad were picked right before the preparation.

    We didn’t notice it right away, but a look at the menu revealed very soft renderings such as pasta, risotto and soft tacos.

    Worth ordering is the mushroom ravioli with a filling of kesong puti, shiitake and button mushrooms, pili nuts and a light cream sauce that my friend who liked soda said she could finish all by herself.

    My choice was the sweet potato tops ravioli with white cheese, pili nuts, pomodoro and basil sauce, and lots of grated parmesan cheese. How’s that for healthy?

    But because the restaurant is also for everybody, there are more hefty dishes such as beef and chicken kebab, both of which give you a choice of organic Ifugao rice or flour tortillas to go with them. Grilled short ribs, braised bacon and chicken breast cooked Hainanese-style are also available.

    Dessert is mostly ice cream done on site, in flavors such as green tea, tsokolate tablea, milky pastillas and “Milo.” Kitchen 56, however, is known for its goat’s cheese-frozen cheesecake with wild honey, dried figs and cashew nuts. It’s not cheesecake as we know it, but ice cream; I do wish they had the regular cheesecake and other pastry choices in case you’re not up for something frozen.

    Special area

    Yet while the restaurant is open to everyone, it does close early. It’s not open for dinner because seniors prefer to retire early. My friend let out a laugh when I told her.

    But you can have an evening party or an event at any time of the day on the fifth level, which is equipped with a piano and audio/video equipment, and also a chapel if you need it.

    The fifth level is also a music center where anyone of any generation can learn to sing and play musical instruments.

    A special area, the second level, is for the exclusive use of members. It has an electronic mahjong table, home theater, library, computer and iPad tutorials, and consultation with a specialized medical team.

    A third of the membership fee is consumable in the restaurant, in classes such as dance, fitness, arts and crafts, pop music lessons, rental of social areas, and personalized nutritional counseling and diet plans, where the regular 20-percent senior citizen discount applies, plus an additional member’s discount.

    Senior Hub is a project of SM Corp. Its name may change, I was told, though the primary concept will still be the same: An adult day care center for those “of a certain age.”

    56 Jupiter St., Makati City, tel. no. 8564162, 8564144, 0917-5155656. E-mail: pinoyfood04@yahoo.com.

  9. #9
    The side dishes alone are worth the trip to this Korean charcoal-grill resto

    Reggie Aspiras

    @inquirerdotnet

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    12:44 AM | Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    Totally refined, delicious and reasonable. These are the reasons I have been to Masil three times between Christmas and New Year.

    Masil is a Korean charcoal-grill restaurant that offers a wide, interesting assortment of ban chan (side dishes) to go with its food. In the mix are the kimchis; myulchi bokkeum (stir fried anchovy); namul (sautéed sayote and spinach); tangkong jorim (stir-fried peanut in soy sauce); dubu (steamed tofu with house sauce); and green salad with a dressing made of bananas.

    Other side dishes are added if you order char-grilled meat, like mussam (thinly sliced radish wrap); jangachi (pickled cucumber and radish); a spicy soup with tofu; and my favorite, tasty steamed egg—an airy scrambled egg-like custard with a broth.

    Aside from the ban chan, there are many other reasons to love Masil. It has an efficient exhaust system, clean and grease-free floors, and the fact that from the time you set foot in the restaurant, you know that it aims to please.

    The times I was there, it gave me more than what I expected—occasional surprises such as little dishes made from fresh finds found in the market that day.

    Not only is the resto generous with its side dishes, the food is also of high quality, with utmost attention given the process and the detail. From the way the food looks and tastes, there is no doubt that it is carefully prepared.

    Authentic taste

    Credit should go to Korean lady cook JS Yoon-Lim, who moved to the Philippines with her family in 1997. It was her friends who noted her culinary prowess and urged her to open a restaurant.

    Now, every member of her family is working at Masil. The cooking, of course, remains the woman chef’s sole responsibility.

    According to Sarang Lim, JS’s daughter and Masil’s manager: “From a dipping sauce like ssamjang (soybean paste) to our main dishes such as yangnyeom galbi (premium beef short ribs marinated in sweet house sauce), everything is controlled by my mom to keep the authentic Korean taste of our food.”

    The restaurant’s menu seems typical, but there’s nothing ordinary about dining in Masil. When it comes to the galbis (barbecues), the flavors are simple and clean, prepared with the intention to enhance the meat rather than mask it.

    The yangnyeom galbi (premium beef short ribs), though marinated, is so beef-y.

    The samgyeopsal (pork belly) is sinful, though not much is done to it. It is the careful selection of the meat and the proper cooking that make it magical.

    In my opinion, Masil has one of the best tasting kimchis, perfectly balanced and visually appealing. It is exactly how I want my kimchi to be—fermented yet fresh-tasting.

    Sarang described their food as “conservative when it comes to taste and yet very creative in finding the right flavors, making use of a variety of cooking methods. This makes us unique.”

    An example is the ingenious execution of the potato salad called heokimja gamja—thinly shredded raw potato served with black sesame seed dressing.

    Another interesting dish is jokbal, pork leg simmered in an herbal sauce for almost three hours. It is then thinly sliced and served with ssamjang and shrimp bagoong. The best way to enjoy it is to wrap the thinly sliced pork leg in lettuce with sesame leaf. If you wish, add mustard sauce and naengchae (assorted pickled vegetables). Eaten this way, jokbal is a culinary delight.

    Also on the menu is grilled mackerel. Even if this is all I had, I would be so satisfied. The fish is good, but with the dipping sauce, it is excellent.

    An interesting culinary feast I wish to try soon is han jeong sik (a full-course Korean meal with savory side dishes, which used to be served in the royal palaces or homes of aristocrats). The simplified fusion version of han jeong sik served with charcoal-grilled meat is Masil’s specialty. But this should be after I grow tired of its regular fare, and that might take a while!

    Masil’s recipe for bulgogi

    Prepare 300 g of thinly sliced sirloin, further sliced into bite-size pieces. Leave the beef on a kitchen towel to drain off the blood.

    Mix the following ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl: 2 ½ tbsp soy sauce, 1 ¼ tbsp sugar, 2 tsp minced garlic , 1 tbsp minced spring onion, 1 tsp sesame seed, ½ tbsp sesame oil, pinch of black pepper.

    Put the prepared meat in the bowl with the marinade and mix well. Marinate the beef for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

    Cook the beef in a frying pan with a little oil over high heat and serve.


    Sarang’s tips:

    To fully savor Korean barbecue, grill it on your table. The smell and sight alone whets the appetite.

    Korean barbecue is best wrapped in lettuce, sesame leaves, even petchay Baguio. You may add pickled vegetables such as radish for a twist in taste.

    “We simply love vegetables. So everything we eat, we add fresh veggies to, not just for better taste but for good digestion.”

    Thanks to my dear friend Vivian Go for taking me to this Korean food haven.

    Masil Charcoal Grill Restaurant is at 100 Oranbo Drive, Barangay Oranbo, Pasig City. Call 6342010, 6312173.

  10. #10
    This made for very interesting reading, and since this is the restaurant thread...

    http://awareness-time.com/17-dining-...-knew-about/4/

    To help us all out when dining, especially in public, and most especially on very important occasions.


 
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