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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Old French Treasure

Globalization has spurned quite an avalanche of varied dining experiences for the Filipino and even expats here in Metro Manila. Everyone who probably earns a decent sort of income knew how to hold his chopsticks (but would still opt for the Pinoy way of using spoon and fork), what wines (or even brews) to pair with what food, and know the difference between a crepe, a blini, an eggroll and a blintz. Filipinos have already been exposed to Korean, Japanese, American, Persian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Italian, Thai, Indian, British, Irish cuisine and a whole lot more maybe even before any of our Asian neighbors were exposed to. Not so many though, have I encountered about people talking much about French cuisine. Usually, this is equated with fine dining establishments or outlets in hotels. In recent years, though, there have been two or three cropping up that are, shall we say, accessible.

Nevertheless, my family and I have discovered one that has actually been existing in Manila for 28 years. I first heard of L'eau Vive from Robert Hutchinson's book "When In Rome".

This is a restaurant serving French home cooking and run by the Missionary Workers of the Immaculate of "Donum-Dei". They are not religious, but nevertheless, have devoted their whole life in the service of God.

In his book, Hutchinson reveals that L'eau Vive in Rome is found somewhere in Via Monterano, a block from the Pantheon. One will usually miss it because its existence is merely announced by a nondescript door with a lamp. They only serve what has been prepared for the day. Nonetheless, cardinals, bishops and priests haunt the place because of the discretion that is inherent with the restaurant. Few laymen know it, but the place is usually packed. L'eau Vive has 4 other branches all over the world, one in each major continent. So for Asia, L'eau Vive can be found at 1499 Paz M. Guazon Avenue, (formerly Otis Street) Paco, Manila.

Unlike in Rome, the one in Manila has a menu albeit limited. But everyone who dines gets to taste their creamy chicken liver pate - very good on its own or with the baguette slices they serve it with. For our part, we had the onion soup and salade nicoise to start the meal. Then we had the grilled lamb chops and filet mignons as main courses. Our companions had the sole a la menuiere which looked quite scrumptious. We took note that we'll have that next time we're there. The quality of the food served was competent and we were quite content with our servings. I, for one though, wasn't so keen on their version of a profiterole, which we had for dessert. I know a better version. In fact, for those who may be intimidated by the idea of eating French, L'eau Vive will demystify French cooking.

While we had a good lunch, expect service to be long - 3 courses for 2 hours. Expect too, to shell out an average of P700/person, but if you're balking at this price range, consider the fact that the restaurant is being operated as one of the means of their apostolate and in order to finance their various social and religious works. In other words, you know that your money is going to a worthy cause and you get to eat while you're at it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Updating Leftovers

It happened during one Saturday when we handed over the tongs to some other people so they can grill an assortment of meat and fish for our lunch that we were left with a batch of disastrously grilled blue marlin. What to do? was the question for the day. The blue marlin steaks were overcooked, and not even a knife can break it into biteable pieces. (We even seriously contemplated if these can be considered as dangerous weapons - think Oddjob and his bowler hat.) Chewing it should be devoted to a sequel to this story.

I'm quite sure that there are home cooks out there who have been faced with leftovers from their respective refrigerators and serving them as is at the dinner table seemed not quite such a good prospect. Would one just consider throwing these into the garbage bins? Or feed it to the stray cat that acts like your landlord where dominion of your dwelling is concerned? At first, our own experience of these things would be just to give up and throw them in the bin. But considering the economic crisis, that feeling of guilt for wasting good food, and having grown a bit wiser, thinking of ways to giving an old dish a new face turned out to be more fun.

So what happened to the blue marlin steaks? We minced it, sauteed them in sliced onions and simmered in rich coconut milk. We added a few green chili peppers (siling Tagalog) and added some fish sauce and pepper to taste at the last few minutes of cooking. It became a variant of the Bicol dish "Kinunot", which is originally made from minced stingray meat. If neither one of you are allergic to shrimp paste (bagoong), this would be a good salting ingredient when you saute. But since one of the members of our family is, we took this one out.

For bananas that became overripe out of neglect, we use them to make banana cake. If your are not into baking or do not have a good recipe for banana cake, there are instant banana cake mixes that can be bought at supermarkets and can even be baked in the oven toaster. It'll only take 20 to 25 minutes max, from preparing the ingredients to smelling and enjoying the results. Its a good alternative for children's snacks for school recess, or even for your breakfast with coffee. At least you know very well that its made with real bananas and it'll certainly satisfy children's sweet cravings (and yours) in a healthier way.

With supermarket-bought roast chicken or even the prevalent lechon manok you buy on the way home for the previous night's dinner, any leftover meat is likewise minced and mixed with mayonnaise, minced red onions, some pickle relish (if Filipino inspired) or a squeeze of lemon and/or mustard (if deli-inspired) and seasoned to transform into a spreadable chicken filling for sandwhiches for the following day's lunch in the office or school, or snacks for kids in the afternoon. The chicken carcass is immediately boiled with one whole onion, sliced celery and carrots and seasoned with salt and pepper for a tasteful chicken broth that is later bottled and kept in the fridge for later use.

If you had picadillo two days ago, you can use any that's leftover into an omelette filling, or a fritatta that will surely entice kids to eat. We're sure we are not alone in saying that all kids tend to like eating eggs. You can be assured that the children won't notice the peas, carrots and potatoes that came with it.

Waste not, want not.