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

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  1. #31
    Newfound favorites: chili-garlic ‘lechon,’ oyster cake and empanada–a different take on old-time classics

    By: Reggie Aspiras -Columnist Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:20 AM March 22, 2018

    General’s was one of the first to offer lechon in different flavors.

    My memory of its garlic variant is vivid. I recall how the whole room smelled of it when the knife pierced through the lechon. It made us very hungry!

    Apart from the cavity stuffed generously with garlic, the pig’s skin is rubbed with more garlic before roasting. This step gives the crisp skin a distinct quality.

    Another creation by General’s is the curry lechon, infused with yellow Thai curry and coconut milk. Clearly not for everyone, this variant is unique.

    Aromatic and made sweet by adding coconut milk, it is complex yet subtle compared to the garlic and the chili-garlic variants. In 2013, I was told that though not as popular as the garlic, the curry lechon has gained followers who repeatedly request for it.

    Rightfully so, as it pairs perfectly with bold-flavored viands.

    This time, I was pleased to have tasted the chili-garlic. I was in awe when I unraveled it, impressed by the level of skill of the lechonero. I was happy to see how lechon has evolved over the years for the better.

    What I had before me was sheer perfection—glistening, evenly browned and a feast for the eyes. I was euphoric. It looked terribly delicious!

    As my guests and I dug in, we were even more pleased. Our tastes buds came alive. On the palate it was vibrant, fragrant, garlicky, spicy, tart, salted to perfection.

    Not only was the skin very crisp, the meat was flavorful, too. The rib portion was to-die-for. I collected the drippings to spoon over the meat.

    It is the type of lechon that is good for lunch, dinner, after-dinner and most perfect for happy hour!

    General’s Lechon owners Bryan and Lynn Ong claim the pigs they roast are free range, of the native black variety, and given no injections nor boosters.

    I was most amused by its logo, which is attached to the snout. It caught everyone’s attention. A novel marketing strategy!

    Call General’s Lechon at 09178532466.

    Interesting menu

    As a huge fan of oyster cakes, I’m glad to report that I’ve tried a really good one at Shi Wei Jie Fang Cai restaurant.

    It was simply delicious.

    Served on a sizzling plate, the omelette had a crunchy bottom and a gooey top. It teemed with plump, fresh off-the-sea-tasting oysters.

    Another dish worthy to mention is its pork vinegar—a deconstructed, colorless, variation of sweet-and-sour pork.

    Thin strips of tender pork, lightly battered and fried to golden are tossed in a thin sweet vinegar glaze, served with fruits on the side—an interestingly delicate dish. It was good with mustard rice.

    The mustard fried rice was given texture by its ingredients—ground meat, pork floss and preserved mustard greens. It was rounded in flavor, mildly salted and spiced.

    Shi Wei Jie Fang Cai is worth a visit. Its menu is an interesting mix. Many of its offerings are familiar yet interpreted in their own style. There are many other dishes that are foreign and waiting to be savored.

    Apart from the food, the restaurant’s ambiance was impressive. It was designed by one of the partners, Wang Liang Ting, who was inspired by “The Dream of the Red Chamber,” also known as “The Story of the Stone.” I didn’t expect to walk into such a plush place in Binondo. I was pleasantly surprised.

    Shi Wei Jie Fang Cai, 1080 One Soler Building, Soler St. Binondo, Manila. Call 2756666.

    Chicken empanada

    Sweet Taste, makers of tikoy, now makes empanada, too.

    According to Jocelyn de Joya, “our tikoy sells well during Chinese New Year, but in between, I developed a product that will sell throughout the year.”

    Her baked empanada were first made solely for family and friends, before gaining popularity for its distinct, homemade appeal. Simple, easy to eat, yet satisfying. Each bite, for some reason, reminded me of cheese pimiento with chunks of chicken.

    “Our humble empanada are all home-baked and made from the choicest ingredients. No preservatives or additives have been added,” said Jocelyn.

    Sweet Taste has chicken and tuna empanada; call 09178370529, 7317147.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  2. #32
    7 chic restaurants housed in former gas stations

    Susan Shain, CNN • Updated 27th February 2018

    (CNN) — The sea-salt flaked biscuit overflows with decadent scoops of jam and butter.

    The cappuccino, made with locally-roasted beans, comes complete with a flawless flower swirled in the foam.

    Filled with light, subway tile and loopy hand-lettering, Tandem Bakery in Portland, Maine has all the hallmarks of a hipster enclave. Heck, it's even named after a type of bicycle.

    But its location might take the cake. Few things could be more hip -- more industrial chic -- than its home in an old gas station where a "treat" might have once meant a stale doughnut or endlessly-rotating corn dog.

    These days, corn dogs are out. Converted gas stations are in. From Burlington to Biloxi, entrepreneurs are refurbishing old Shells and Standard Oils, creating trendy spaces to eat, drink and mingle. Here are seven worth checking out.

    Tandem Bakery, Portland, Maine

    From gas to laundry to pastries: This 1960s gas station was first converted into a laundromat before the current owners got their hands on it.

    "It had been sitting empty for years," said co-owner Kathleen Pratt, who also runs Tandem Cafe and Roastery. "It actually was slated to become a bakery opened by other folks. That fell through, so they asked if we wanted it. We immediately jumped on the opportunity -- the building was too cool to let go."

    Today, the hot spot nearly always has a line, with patrons jostling each other for a look at the elegant display of baked goods.

    The breakfast sandwiches are rightfully popular, but first-timers should give the aforementioned "loaded biscuit" a try. It might settle the sweet-versus-savory breakfast debate once and for all, proving that the answer is not one or the other -- but, rather, a combination of the two.

    Tandem Bakery, 742 Congress St, Portland, ME 04102; + 1 207 805 1887

    Tank Garage Winery, Calistoga, California

    When oenophiles picture sipping wine in Napa, they probably picture something a bit upscale, even bougie. Not, say, a gas station.

    Tank Garage Winery's founders wanted to bring a different vibe to the valley -- and, according to co-founder James Harder, "liked the idea of doing something nostalgic."

    For several years, he and business partner Jim Regusci searched for the perfect location, until, finally, they came across a 1930s service station with the art-deco shape they'd envisioned.

    After two years of restoration, they started serving their small-batch California wines in 2014. The grapes come from all over the state, and each blend is unique: Once it's gone, it's gone. Right now, it's the Chrome Dreams blend that's receiving buzz, thanks to its one-of-a-kind chromed wine bottle.

    Continually inspired by its location, the winery has vintage gas pumps out front and a '20s-style speakeasy out back. A shiny Indian Chief motorcycle is also on display; a tribute to the station's original owner Eddie Bratton, who raced and repaired the classic bikes.

    Tank Garage Winery, 1020 Foothill Blvd, Calistoga, CA 94515, + 1 707 942 8265

    The Gold Fish, Corpus Christi, Texas

    A recent addition to the scene, The Gold Fish opened its doors in 2017 -- in a station that had been built 80 years earlier. Turning it into a bar took five months of "relentless" restoration, according to co-owner Robert Cooper.

    The result is a lofty space filled with rustic painted brick, metal accents and a wooden bar top whose pine was salvaged from a 1930s cold storage facility. Eleven-foot French doors flood the interior with light, leading out onto a roomy patio that has fire pits, long picnic tables and live music. Specialties include craft cocktails -- with many of the all-natural juices squeezed in-house -- and an extensive selection of whiskey.

    "We weren't searching for a gas station," said Cooper. "All we knew was that we wanted a building with character -- and we found that here."

    The Gold Fish, 724 N Mesquite St, Corpus Christi, TX 78401, + 1 361 980 7171

    The Spot, Burlington, Vermont

    Surfing and Vermont aren't two things that usually go together -- but try to tell a Southern Californian that. When Roxanne and Russ Scully left Santa Barbara for Burlington in 1997, they found neither waves nor a breakfast spot that was up to snuff.

    California swells could not be found, but breakfast? They took care of it.

    "We purchased this gas station knowing it would be a perfect place to run a restaurant," said Russ Scully. "And when it came to decor, we poured our stoke for surfing into the place."

    Housed in a 1950s service station, the Spot does feel like an oasis from the harsh Vermont winters. Surfboards, plants and ocean blues light up the beachy interior, and the locally-sourced menu has a Hawaiian bend, with fish tacos and sandwiches named after surfing terms and destinations.

    The Spot, 210 Shelburne Rd, Burlington, VT 05401, + 1 802 540 1778

    The Fillin' Station, Biloxi, Mississippi

    For a diverse, homegrown crowd, head to this joint in downtown Biloxi. It started as a Standard Oil station in the 1920s, fell empty in the '80s and then reopened as The Fillin' Station in 2008; a welcome part of Biloxi's revitalization.

    The restaurant focuses on southern cooking with a creole flair, and is known for its shrimp and grits and unique cheeseburger po-boy. You also can't go wrong with the daily blue plate special for $8.95, which includes local favorites like a bowl of gumbo and fried shrimp po-boy.

    When it's not screaming hot outside, the doors roll up so everyone can join the party -- including the descendants of the building's original owners, who remain patrons to this day.

    The Fillin' Station, 692 Howard Ave, Biloxi, MS 39530, + 1 228 435 2522

    Olio, St. Louis, Missouri

    Those who've never felt beckoned to a gas station before should take a look at this cozy restaurant when it's lit up inside.

    Housed in a 1930s Standard Oil station, Olio bursts with charm: the interior paneled in subway tile, the garage doors that roll up on pleasant evenings and the patio strung with romantic white lights. Patrons linger over wine and cocktails served in antique glassware, and a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean small-plate menu starring olives, eggplants, nuts, cured meats and bread baked fresh with Missouri wheat.

    "The gas station was an opportunity to have an interesting space and also help renew the neighborhood," said chef and owner Ben Poremba. "The aesthetics matched the theme of the decor: found objects, rustic, urban."

    Poremba owns several other restaurants in this historical area of South St. Louis -- including the adjoining Elaia, located in an 1890s house where the gas station's owner used to reside, now known for intimate multi-course fine dining.

    Olio, 1634 Tower Grove Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, + 1 314 932 1088

    Fuel, Charleston, South Carolina

    On a nice day, head straight to the spacious, dog-friendly patio at this former Esso. It's got bocce ball and cornhole, plush seating, palm trees -- and one nod to the venue's practical past: a rusty fuel pump.

    The restaurant has catered to a laid-back, local crowd for nearly a decade. Highlights of its Caribbean-inspired menu include jerk chicken sandwiches, braised pork tacos and rum drinks.

    When he first toured the space in 2008, owner Joshua Broome said he "immediately fell in love" with its history and architecture.

    "The building clearly had a story to tell," he said. "The fact it's always been a blue collar space helped shape what we've become... We're continuing the tradition of 'fill-er-up' -- just with jerk chicken and cold beer."

    Fuel, 211 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403, + 1 843 737 5959
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  3. #33
    Can Venice turn the tide on 'tourist trap' restaurants?

    Adrian Mourby, CNN • Updated 4th February 2018

    (CNN) — So-called "tourist trap" restaurants in Venice have long been a bone of contention for visitors to the Italian city.

    But in recent months there's been a sea change in attitudes towards these establishments with locals and officials looking at ways to help travelers avoid rip-offs.

    Previously, despite some protestations, the city seemed largely indifferent to their plight.

    When a British tourist publicly complained about being charged €526 ($653) for a light lunch for three people in November 2017, the city's mayor immediately went on the offensive.

    Famed for his Trump-style outspokenness, former businessman Luigi Brugnaro took to Twitter to announce that the complainant, a university lecturer, was a "cheapskate" for objecting to the charge of 297 euros ($369) for a one-person platter of grilled fish.

    "Shameful episode"

    Brugnaro also mocked tourists who arrive in the city with so little knowledge of Italian that they cannot understand they are being conned until the check is presented.

    Widespread condemnation of the mayor -- and of the restaurant, Trattoria Casanova -- followed on social media, so much so that Brungnaro tried a different tack when a similar incident happened in January.

    On this occasion, four Japanese students filed a complaint after being billed €1,100 ($1,366) for four steaks, a plate of mixed grilled fish, and bottled water at Osteria da Luca, another "tourist trap" restaurant, near Piazza San Marco.

    "If this shameful episode is confirmed, we'll do all we can to punish those responsible," the mayor tweeted.

    Although no action was taken on the actual issue of overcharging, City Police Chief Marco Agostini quickly uncovered breaches of health and safety, and food hygiene regulations at the restaurants.

    Commercial code infringements -- such as the inaccurate description of dishes -- were also leveled.

    Faced with fines believed to total at least €14,000 ($17,303) Osteria da Luca is expected to close temporarily.

    Shift in attitudes

    The mayor's shift in attitude brings him in line with many Venetians and top restaurateurs who hope to re-establish their city's reputation for fine dining and reasonable prices.

    Marco Gasparinetti, spokesperson for the Venetian civil rights association Gruppo 25 Aprile (April 25 Group), has announced the publication of "a user's guide for visitors on how to survive in Venice, with details on what kind situations to avoid."

    According to Gasparinetti, only 1% restaurants in the San Marco area are owned and operated by locals, which has led to a rise in tourist trap restaurants.

    Among those Venetians running well respected restaurants in the city center are Benedetta Fullin and her brother Luca, who recently opened Local, a trendy and stylish new restaurant in the Castello area.

    "I have been getting very upset about all this negative press on Venice," she says.

    "There are many tourist traps and they are not run by Venetians. Most of the time they are run by foreigners who don't know what being a restaurateur means.

    "They don't have a kitchen, they don't have chefs, or use local suppliers. All they have are tables, cutlery, a microwave to heat up a frozen lasagne at ridiculous prices -- and boards outside with pictures of the food.

    "These are the places to avoid! They have never been reviewed by any guide and never been visited by any journalist, because they are not restaurants. You can recognize them because there is always someone outside trying to get people in".

    Venetians and restaurateurs are growing frustrated by the negative stories on the city's restaurant scene.

    Benedetta advises visitors to use guide books rather than sources like TripAdvisor when looking for a restaurant in Venice.

    This point is echoed by Raffaele Alajmo who is the co-owner of Ristorante Quadri, a famous Michelin-starred eatery on Piazza San Marco itself.

    "Personally, I suggest using established guide books rather than the web," he says.

    "These guides are produced by professionals and not your average Joe with a computer and internet connection.

    "If you use a reputable guide, you have almost no risk of ending up in a tourist trap. And I am not just talking about the guides to fine dining restaurants, but those for osterias or "lower cost" establishments as well."

    And according to Benedetta, the best restaurants are always very happy to recommend other good places to eat.

    "Once you find a place you like, run by a Venetian, don't be afraid to ask for advice on where to go next time!" he adds.

    "We are always full of suggestions as we want our guests to leave with a beautiful memory of their trip, and come back many times because Venice is a city to love!"

    But in the short term, the best advice seems to be -- if there is a man outside urging you to come in, walk on by. Especially if there are photographs of food.

    Where to eat

    While Venice's restaurant scene may have attracted a wave of bad press, there are many eateries in the city that offer good food at affordable prices. There are also plenty of fine dining establishments worth the hefty price tag.

    Here's our pick of six of the best:

    Expensive but worth it

    Antinoo's Lounge and Restaurant at Centurion Hotel, Dorsoduro, 173, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 34281

    Club del Doge at Hotel Gritti Palace, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, 2467, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 794611

    Cheaper but not cheap

    Al Giardinetto da Severino, Salizada Zorzi, 4928, 30122 Castello, Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 528 5332

    Local, Salizzada dei Greci, 3303, 30122 Castello, Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 241 1128

    CoVino, Calle Pestrin Castello, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 241 2705

    Antica Locanda Montin, Fondamenta de Borgo, 1147, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy ; +39 041 522 7151

    Adrian Mourby is an Oxford-based novelist and broadcaster who has traveled the world writing about his experiences for the last 25 years.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  4. #34
    Cloud 9: A floating pizza bar in the middle of the South Pacific

    Kate Springer, CNN • Updated 2nd March 2018

    (CNN) — As our two-engine speedboat starts the journey back to Port Denarau Marina, a major port on Fiji's main island, we lurch to an unexpected stop.

    A seal on the fuel injector on the engine has loosened, so we sputter back to the mainland at half the usual pace.

    But the possibility of such a transit hiccup is the chance you take when visiting a floating pizza bar in the middle of the South Pacific.

    Opened in 2013, Cloud 9 bobs above Roro Reef in the Mamanuca archipelago, about 45 minutes off the west coast of Fiji.

    "Prior to Cloud 9, Fiji was famous for family getaways and swaying palms, but it was really, really quiet," Bar'el Wachtel, co-founder of Cloud 9, tells CNN Travel.

    "There's still not a lot to do, but Cloud 9 offers a gathering spot for people to come from all the hotels and experience a different kind of place."

    If a buoyant bar in the middle of the ocean sounds like someone's pipe dream -- that's not too far off the mark.

    An Australian DJ, sailor and avid surfer, Wachtel dreamed up the remote bar with friends during a surfing trip in Fiji.

    "I'd always been from a marine background -- my father is a yachtie and circumnavigator -- and the sea has been my home for a very long time," recalls Wachtel.

    "Surfing brought me to Fiji as a visitor about seven years ago. It's a really tricky place to surf, because the breaks are so isolated. You really need a boat to access everything. We thought it'd be amazing to have a meeting place, closer to the breaks."

    When scouting locations, Wachtel and his business partner chose the spot carefully.

    They finally settled on a crystal-clear lagoon, about nine miles southwest of Fiji's famous Cloudbreak swell.

    Thanks to surrounding islands, the relatively shallow water is generally protected from the strongest winds and waves.

    The restaurant has one mooring, so it sways gently in the breeze and, in case of a storm, a boat can tug it to safety in about one day.

    Build it and they'll come

    Designed by Fiji-based architect Lisa Philp, the floating restaurant was constructed using three different types of local wood: mahogany, raintree and treated pine.

    The two-story structure sits atop two pontoons, while sun shades protect guests from the intense rays and solar panels power the entire operation.

    "We wanted people to be able to move easily in and out of the water, to have some dry areas, and also plenty of shade," says Wachtel.

    "The over-water structure allows guests to access the reef in a way that's not possible if we were to have just set up on land."

    The most complicated part of the process wasn't in the restaurant's construction, but in the building of relationships with various local stakeholders.

    "Here in Fiji, there is the government and then there are the land owners, the indigenous custodians of any area. Gaining their support is crucial to being able to operate everywhere in Fiji," explains Wachtel.

    The hardest part was about six months after opening.

    "We encountered a lot of hurdles," he adds. "I needed to move to Fiji and take over the operation, because my first business partner, who was the original manager, didn't get it right."

    Cloud 9 was mostly a hangout for serious surfers when it first opened, but the guest list has expanded considerably over the years to include young couples, groups of friends and even a few families.

    With two daily sessions, Wachtel estimates that the place welcomes roughly 200 visitors a day during peak season.

    When guests disembark from the ferry, they tend to find their own little nook.

    Each level offers varied seating arrangements, including large day beds, shaded communal tables, bar seating and rows of sun-soaked reclining chairs.

    Once settled, you can rent snorkel gear, jump from the top deck and swim around the reef, where you'll find colorful coral and a smattering of fascinating fish.

    "A lot of places offer a party on an island, but I was attracted to this project because it's unique and it's authentic," says Wachtel.

    "You get the feeling of being really far out, but you still have a sense of proximity to a lot of important tourist destinations, such as Port Denarau."

    “It allows guests to access the reef in a way that's not possible if we were to have just set up on land.”

    The floating paradise also lures music lovers from all over the world, thanks to a rotating roster of guest DJs, including international DJ Ant J. Steep -- an Australian DJ and composer who fills the air with mellow, moody electronic beats.

    "Since I was coming from a music background, it was important for me to figure out a way to throw parties out here and provide a cutting-edge music policy," says Wachtel.

    Following each guest DJ performance, Wachtel uploads the set to Cloud 9's Soundcloud account so visitors can tune in at home.

    How's the pizza?

    Served on thick wood butchers' boards, thin crust, wood-fired pizza is the order of the day.

    There are about six options available, including classic Margherita and Hawaiian (topped with ham and pineapple).

    It's maybe not the best pizza we've ever had, but we were impressed with the homemade dough (made fresh every morning) and crispy crust.

    "Pizza was an elegant solution, because we have environmental considerations out here," says Wachtel. "With a full menu, you need to have a full kitchen."

    "Waste is obviously a very important logistical consideration for us -- we have to transport everything back to the mainland and we want to preserve the beauty of the area, so we do everything we can to minimize waste."

    At the bar, day drinkers can order tropical cocktails from every shade in the rainbow, a few local beers like Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter, and a handful of wines and bubbly.

    "Obviously having a fully stocked bar was very important," recalls Wachtel. "We wanted to have the raddest lounge bar in the world -- a meeting place in the middle of the ocean."
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  5. #35
    Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants: Why we should look beyond controversy

    ‘Since it started, there has been so much more dialogue between chefs from all over the world...’

    By: Angelo Comsti Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:25 AM April 05, 2018

    Awards usually come with controversy. There will always be people who will dispute and doubt the win and/or the process. The sixth staging of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, at the Grand Theater of the Wynn Palace in Macau last March 27 again raised questions and some eyebrows.

    However, the chefs being given recognition apparently know better and prefer not to be affected by issues. Instead, they focus on the value of such an undertaking in the restaurant industry.

    “Being awarded the best in anything related to gastronomy is very subjective so I choose not to focus on a label or title, but instead on what it can do for the Thai culinary scene,” says Paste Restaurant’s chef Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun, who was named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018.

    “I was not expecting this award at all so it came as tremendous shock. But I’m tremendously happy with the exposure it gives Thai cuisine, Thailand and female chefs so I take this award as a great privilege.”

    The winners of the Highest Climber Award, Mume from Taiwan and The Neighbourhood from Hong Kong, both climbed 22 spots to land No. 18 and No. 22, respectively.

    The chefs of both restaurants welcome and acknowledge the recognition, but for them, Asia’s 50 Best is really more about the event than the award itself.

    “One great thing is that it gets all like-minded people together,” says Kai Ward of Mume. “You get all these great chefs around Asia and the world, and bring them together. It’s a great way to exchange ideas and to look towards collaborations, or see how we approach different things, especially since we’re too busy cooking in our restaurants and we don’t get to travel to Macau or Japan or see each other.”

    David Lai of The Neighbourhood says, “A lot of us chefs do what we do independent of these lists. It’s not a primary motivation but it’s good that sometimes we get recognized. Since Asia’s 50 Best started, there has been so much more dialogue between chefs from all over the world. That, in itself, is very good.”

    If anything, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants can help raise the standards of the food business, especially in the Philippines.

    This year, no Philippine restaurant made it to the list. Rather than questioning the winners and the award-giving body, it might be better to ask, what else can we improve on, not with the intention to be noticed and land on the list, but to simply be better.

    Top 10 winners:

    1. Gaggan (Bangkok)

    2. Den (Tokyo)

    3. Florilege (Tokyo)

    4. Sühring (Bangkok)

    5. Odette (Singapore)

    6. Narisawa (Tokyo)

    7. Amber (Hong Kong)

    8. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet (Shanghai)

    9. Nihonryori RyuGin (Tokyo)

    10. Nahm (Bangkok)

    Special individual awards:

    Andre Chiang, winner of The Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award

    Bongkoch Satongun, elit Vodka Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018

    Nicolas Lambert, Asia’s Best Pastry Chef, sponsored by Valrhona

    La Cime, Highest New Entry Award, sponsored by Aspire Lifestyles

    Yoshihiro Narisawa, Chefs’ Choice Award, sponsored by Estrella Damm

    Ultraviolet, Art of Hospitality Award

    L’effervescence, Sustainable Restaurant Award - CONTRIBUTED
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  6. #36
    The best tacos in town are in Sucat

    By: Clinton Palanca Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:40 AM April 19, 2018

    While attending the pompous, vainglorious, glamorous and utterly enjoyable ceremonies in Macau for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, we filled the time between delectation and mastication with speculation as to which of the current generation of chefs would get on the list next year.

    It’s almost certain that Chele Gonzalez would return to the list once the renovated Gallery Vask reopens. But which new chef would be next to sidle in? For most of us gathered in Macau, two names kept cropping up: Josh Boutwood and Bruce Ricketts.

    Ricketts invited me and a few other friends down to La Chinesca in BF Homes Parañaque, a few doors away from where his first restaurant, Sensei, opened. He is obliged to be present at Mecha Uma at night, which only makes sense because it is such a chef-driven experience that it wouldn’t run without him.

    So we went to La Chinesca for lunch. Logistically, it’s also the best time to go if you live anywhere north of the Sucat interchange. The idea is to take advantage of the traffic lull after the morning rush hour, and leave before the afternoon rush hour starts.

    I don’t normally drive that far for tacos, or pretty much anything at all, but I was happy to make an exception for Ricketts’ food. Everyone who had been there said it was worth the journey.

    I also don’t know much about Mexican food, which is one of the reasons I’ve felt ill-equipped to review the place. And no, having grown up with Pancake House tacos (best eaten with the head tilted at 90 degrees) doesn’t count. The crisp, boat-shaped taco shells that form the basis for the American taco originated in the earlier days of the 20th century, when cross-border interchange between Mexico and Texas influenced foodways in both directions.

    Crisp taco

    The earliest crisp taco was most probably closed along the edges and fried, rather like an empanada. Glen Bell, of Taco Bell fame, ran with the idea of a crisp-fried taco shell and filled it with the ingredients that are found in a McDonald’s cheeseburger: ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheddar cheese.

    At La Chinesca, they make tortillas from real Mexican corn, in-house, and by hand. Although for the new branch set to open in the food hall at Rockwell, they will be investing in a machine to do the heavy lifting, or rather rolling. The avocados are also flown in from central America, and join the rest of Ricketts’ cargo of seafood destined for Mecha Uma, which is delivered by courier to Manila in time for the weekend. (Considering that the avocado is one of the oldest fruits still around, it’s odd how difficult it is to find good ones that don’t go from rock-hard to overripe without ever being edible.)

    We started with a ceviche taco that was a bit drippy to eat but well worth the mess. Ricketts said he uses a technique borrowed from the Japanese to keep the vinegar from attacking the proteins in the fish and turning it into little white rubber bullets. We had beef tacos, fish tacos, beef intestine tacos, and lamb tacos. “This is food I could have every day,” Ricketts said.

    Inevitably we talked about the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Ricketts outlined his dream of having a number of small restaurants which operate almost guerilla-style, doing a taco restaurant along with a tiny, boutique sushi restaurant.

    I reminded him that the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants was awarded to a restaurant, not a chef—with the exception of the Best Female Chef award, and as far as I know, Ricketts is not a woman. But I also pointed out André Chiang’s advice not to play to the awards, but to just follow your passion and do good work. Chiang’s recalcitrance has been rewarded with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the age of 41.

    Working the line

    Ricketts likes to draw comparisons between cooking and his other passion, martial arts. He is that increasingly rare chef who likes working the line. The irony of the restaurant world is that generally, you spend many years as an apprentice peeling potatoes and juicing lemons to work yourself up to the glamour of working the line. And then, once you get there, the only way to rise among the ranks is to become head of a section or of the kitchen, which involves not working the line.

    Chef de cuisine is, ultimately, a managerial position that makes sure everything works together synchronously. There is very little sparring going on there. And beyond that, chefs and restaurateurs don’t have the same job description.

    In the old days of classical French ascendancy, there was only one kind of high-end cuisine that might have been possible. But in today’s world of the “concept restaurant,” the restaurateur needs a degree of imagination, a sense of the market, and the ability to explain what the place is trying to do in soundbite-sized chunks.

    There’s an element of Hamlet in whether or not he is to become Bruce Ricketts—’tis this question. Or perhaps whether he will become the Bruce Ricketts we want him to be—at the helm of the creative end of things, dreaming up crazy good food.

    If this sounds very far from being able to cook a perfect yakitori, or balance the spices in a salsa just so, that’s because it is. Many people, including myself, are waiting for Ricketts to settle down, weave the disparate strands of Japanese, Mexican and Filipino influences together in a signature style, and open a tentpole restaurant that embodies his philosophy.

    But it sounds like he’s too busy having fun working hard right now. In the meantime, don’t wait for La Chinesca to open in Rockwell and get yourself down to Sucat for the best tacos in town. –CONTRIBUTED

    La Chinesca is at 248 Aguirre St. BF Homes Parañaque. Call 7380724. (No reservations; also take note: closed Mondays and Tuesday morning.)
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  7. #37
    Perfect dumplings, spareribs with Batangas coffee sauce, ‘malunggay’ sorbet–a virtuoso performance by chef Jereme Leung

    By: Norma Chikiamco -Columnist Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:20 AM April 19, 2018

    I winced as chef Jereme Leung demonstrated his knife skills in rapid-fire movement. There was a rhythm to his motions, the Chinese cleaver pounding on the chopping board like the steady beat of a drum.

    But there was also danger. He was slicing a piece of char siu pork into thin strips without looking at what he was doing. His fingers seemed perilously close to being cut by the knife, yet he kept on talking to the class, as if unaware of any potential harm.

    Fortunately, no such harm befell him, and in hindsight I shouldn’t have worried. After all, this was Jereme Leung, the renowned chef-owner of China Blue restaurant in Conrad Hotel Manila, and other restaurants all over the globe. He has been working in the kitchen since he was 13 years old, rising from the ranks to become one of the most prominent Chinese chefs worldwide, and a true pioneer in modern Chinese cooking.

    He has won a number of awards—the Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Science, and the XO Hennessy Culinary Award, among others—and now runs his own company, the Jereme Leung Creative Concepts, which offers food and beverage consultancy services.

    Hence, chopping a piece of meat while giving a lecture was, for him, probably just another easy task at the office.

    Dumplings

    That day, he taught us the intricacies of making two kinds of dumplings: a savory dumpling with char siu pork filling, and a sweet one, filled with purple yam. To the class, it seemed like a complex task, but for him, a no-brainer.

    Working deftly, he mixed glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, fine sugar, pumpkin, boiling water and vegetable shortening into a smooth dough, which turned into a shiny golden color, with flecks of pumpkin which he said will make the dough taste even more delicious. Afterward he made us feel the dough, which was sleek, well-polished, with no rough surfaces.

    Filling the dough and sculpting them into pumpkin and carrot shapes was another thing. Leung rolled pieces of dough into smooth balls, then flattened them to form a kind of bowl to hold the filling. He then used a stick to mark indentations on each slice of rounded dough, then stuck a stick of clove on top to serve as a stem.

    And, like magic, the dumplings turned into pumpkins. Then Leung wrapped char siu pieces into elongated shapes and stuck some leaves on top. Presto: instant carrots.

    I managed to approximate the procedure and made dumplings that remotely resembled the ones he made (with a lot of help from executive Chinese chef Khor Eng Yew). Then we fried the dumplings in carefully tempered oil (60°) for three to five minutes. The dumplings are done when they start to float in the oil, Leung said.

    The best part, of course, was the tasting. The dumplings were a seamless blend of yin and yang: magically crunchy, yet meltingly smooth. The char siu filling in the carrot dumpling was rich and tasty, while the purple yam was like the best ube jam I’ve ever tasted.

    Summer offering

    Yet all that was just a prelude. With obvious enthusiasm, Leung served us a five-course set menu, which he has specifically created as a summer offering in China Blue. The menu was of special significance to him, said Leung, because he created it based on the indigenous ingredients he has discovered in the Philippines.

    “I want to explore these ingredients and see how I can use them in my restaurants in other parts of the world,” he told us.

    True enough, our pre-starter was braised beef with native eggplants encased in popiah wrapper. The starter of barbecued chicken, on the other hand, was flavored with tamarind sauce, while the wok-fried spareribs were laced with Batangas coffee sauce and topped with native pili nuts.

    As good as they were, Leung really outdid himself with the soup. He was so proud of it, in fact, that he insisted on pouring it himself into each of our bowls. Kept piping hot by a flickering flame underneath the bowl, the consommé made with local kamias had a fullness of flavor that had just a wisp of the kamias’ sourness. In the soup were a large disk of poached scallop and fish lips, a gelatinous slab that reminded me and my seat mates of sinfully rich beef tendon.

    Equally impressive was the main course: deep-fried fresh lapu-lapu fillet with mango calamansi sauce, a finely nuanced interplay of textures (crisp, flaky fish) and flavors, the sweetness of the mango cubes alternating with the tangy calamansi juice and the slightly spicy flecks of red pepper.

    As we feasted on it, we could hear the crackle of something frying in one corner of the room. The sound was meant to be heard, said Leung, to heighten the anticipation of what was to come.

    And what came was an enormous, fat prawn with an upturned tail, studded with a black rice coating. With a crunchy texture, the coating reminded us of the popped rice we used to eat as kids, which added a childish nostalgia to the appeal of this dish.

    Refreshing dessert

    For dessert, we had a refreshing chartreuse-colored sorbet made with malunggay leaves and cucumbers, surrounded by cubes of strawberries, melon and honeydew. Again, Leung insisted on spooning the topping of chia seeds personally on each of our sorbets.

    It was a virtuoso performance by a master chef, one who had never wavered from his love of the culinary arts, his fame notwithstanding. In hindsight, I think we should have given him a big, resounding applause.

    The tasting menu is P4,000 net per person, for lunch and dinner until April 30 in China Blue, Conrad Hotel Manila.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  8. #38
    Café Sansó–where the famous artist indulges his sweet tooth

    Churrasco pork belly, ginger-infused Paella Valenciana–the resto offers Spanish fare with a Pinoy twist

    By: Raoul J. Chee Kee Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:05 AM April 19, 2018

    Tucked in a narrow street in San Juan, Café Sansó has been quietly operating for three years, offering a selection of Spanish-inspired dishes. Next to it is Fundacion Sansó, a multilevel museum highlighting some of the works of Catalonian painter Juvenal Sansó.

    The frail 88-year-old artist was at the museum during our recent visit, quietly painting a page torn out of a coloring book of his works. His caregiver held a tube of green paint that Sansó took a dab of now and then, haltingly applying it to the elongated leaves outlined in black.

    The artist seldom goes to the café, but when he does, he likes to indulge his sweet tooth, head chef JB Calungcaguin said.

    The café’s churro cups with ice cream have been a crowd pleaser since it opened. The batter is made fresh daily, cooked on order, and topped with scoops of vanilla, double chocolate and salted caramel bacon ice cream.

    The residual heat from the just-cooked churros gently melts the ice cream, making it easier to spoon into one’s mouth.

    As part of the café’s starting team, Calungcaguin conceptualized the menu, which includes Francesinha, a hefty sandwich with layers of jamon Serrano, chipolata sausage, wild mushrooms, and three kinds of cheese on sourdough bread.

    “It’s a sandwich famous in Portugal that nobody else makes,” he said, adding that he gave it a twist by concocting a beer-infused tomato sauce to go with the seasoned fries.

    Calungcaguin’s version of Pinoy fave lechon kawali is Churrasco Pork Belly served with sautéed haricot verts and marble potatoes. His paella Valenciana is given some local flavor with the chicken and pork pieces cooked in gingery tinola broth.

    Another paella, Chorizo y Quezo, combines homemade chorizo with melted manchego and mozzarella. “One couple who ordered it had just been to Spain. They told the staff the paella was not traditional but that they liked it,” he said.

    “Our vision for Café Sansó is to focus on Spanish food—since Señor Sansó is from Catalonia —but not limiting ourselves to just that. The food has to be relatable to our customers, many of whom are families with children in tow.”

    This week, the café is rolling out a new menu that now includes a selection of steaks and chops, as well as a kids’ menu with fried chicken and sweet meatball pasta.

    Don’t miss out on the churro ice cream cups.

    Café Sansó is at 32 V. Cruz St. Little Baguio, San Juan.
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI

  9. #39
    Josh Boutwood cooks with primal instinct at Savage

    Eschewing high-tech kitchen equipment, the young chef is going back to basics with food finished over embers from an open fire

    By: Angelo Comsti Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:15 AM April 19, 2018

    Josh Boutwood always swings for the fences. At 31, he has collected golds, silvers and bronzes at the Philippine Culinary Cup—even the Chef of the Year award, not once, but twice.

    He has supervised kitchen operations of 14 casual dining brands under the Bistro Group, with branches that are just too many to count. And his restaurant, The Test Kitchen, has rightfully exposed the capacity of his skills and genius, still leaving enough room for people to wonder about the other tricks up his sleeve.

    His notable streak continues with the opening of Savage, a 60-seater casual dining, open flame restaurant in BGC. With this new project, he is going back to basics, with food finished over embers from an open fire, adding that smoky essence to every dish.

    “Cooking with an open flame is not a gimmick for us,” he says. “It is really about returning to the fundamentals of preindustrial cooking: old-world techniques coupled with quality ingredients. In the end, we just want to make good food with a unique flavor.”

    It’s quite a departure from The Test Kitchen, where he got extra help from multiple burners, a sous vide machine and other kitchen gadgets.

    At Savage, there’s no gas or electric stove. His only sources of heat are burning wood and charcoal. There lies the challenge, as tempering the fire can be tricky. There’s no telling where the hot spots will be, or what the temperature of the grill is, after some time.

    Boutwood and his team of young chefs are forced not to rely on technology and the typical industrial cooking equipment they are used to. They have to depend largely on their experience, gut feel and intuition.

    All about grilling

    “This is leagues apart from The Test Kitchen,” he says. “It was fun for me to step out of The Test Kitchen’s constraints, even though there weren’t that many. We could do whatever we wanted to. Here, it’s all about grilling, the wood and the embers. It’s challenging, but definitely more rewarding. The reward is bigger because of the challenge that’s being given to us. When we come in every morning, it’s like lighting a campfire.”

    At Savage, the main dishes are grilled upon order. And since food cooked the preindustrial way takes time, guests can first enjoy snacks from the cold section as they patiently wait. The menu lists deviled eggs with smoked oil and ash, head cheese terrine with cornichons and house pickles, local and imported cheese, and cured duck breast with Kalamata olives.

    An alternative can be the salads, like the grilled pear and capicola, and the heirloom tomato with fresh mozzarella.

    Sticky toffee

    When it comes to grilled meats, there are 10 to choose from, plus a handful of options for the sides including charred leeks, grilled corn and roasted baby potatoes.

    A whole barramundi comes with a blanket of arugula and preserved lemons, salt-baked prawns are complemented by a rich crab fat emulsion, and monk fish tail is served with two types of garlic: confit and wild. The lamb chops are dressed with mint and malt, the King Edward pork chop with mustard leaf chimichurri, and the flank with pickled ramps.

    Imparting its flavor in every dish - including desserts like sticky toffee pudding - is the oak wood used to fire up the grill, which lends a lovely, sweet aroma and a rounded smoke flavor, not acidic like a lot of the fruit-bearing trees.

    For someone who thrives on challenges, Boutwood couldn’t have picked a better battle. - CONTRIBUTED
    FRIENDS LANG KAMI


 
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