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Friday, June 21, 2013

A Celebration of Life

A few weeks ago, my family and I were in for a dinner treat in Manila.  It has been eons ago since we stepped foot in the capital so that the invitation from my sister-in-law on the occasion of her birthday was welcomed.
Thus, on a rainy evening, we trooped over to the Paco Park area and stepped into the charming enclave of Oasis Hotel, and crossed the open air patio and swimming pool area towards My Kitchen by Chef Chris with Chef Chris Locher at the helm, of course (of C'Italia fame in Angeles, Pampanga).  The restaurant staff were all gracious and attentive as they opened the doors to a casual dining scene that evoked stepping into a lanai of someone's house (in this case, let's pretend its the Chef's house), and led us to our long table, all set for feasting.
Crusty wheat bread slices with olive oil and pesto dip opened our palates, along with a reasonable selection of wines.  The Spizza Original, or the panizza, said to be Chef Chris's own creation, came next.  We had two kinds - the cheese and the one with ham and mushrooms. We had fun assembling our spizzas with the alfalfa sprouts and rucola or arugula that came with it.  The spizza dough was warm, thin and crispy at first bite, but gets chewy onwards, and the bitter nutty blend from the greens with the salty flavors of the toppings came together for that satisfyingly fresh mix.  There is indeed reason to believe this as the house specialty.
More greens came with the Caesar Salad, served large for our group.  There was no scrimping on the quality of ingredients there.  Then our first plates came which composed of the Chicken and Mushroom Risotto, Pasta Calabrese (tomato-based oxtail), and the Pasta Carbonara.  This is where dining as a big group comes in handy since we all get to try  varying  dishes all in one sitting.  My husband and I were ecstatic with the risotto, since we rarely get to find someone who gets to cook the dish correctly in the local scene.  Despite the creamy texture, there was no heavy feeling.  We knew then that the Arborio rice was devotedly coddled with the broth, one ladle at a time. 
The Calabrese, on the other hand, was rich and heavy.  I'm not much for chunks of oxtail in a pasta sauce, but it certainly satisfied the men in the group.  Then there was the Carbonara which was fit for a Filipino palate, not too eggy, and probably had more cream in the mix.
And as if that were not enough, our second plates arrived:  the Whole Slow Roasted Chicken presented over a chorizo pilaf and roasted vegetables, and the 1000-gram Bistecca, also served with roasted vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin and Italian broccoli and which we asked to be cooked medium rare.  Both items can be found in the Chef Chris's Family Style Special section of the menu. 
Normally, one has to reserve the chicken in advance before coming over for your meal, but we were lucky - there were two left in the kitchen and so the logical thing for us to do was to find out for ourselves why it's famous.  We certainly found out why - the skin was perfectly browned and crispy, and the simplicity of the lemon-olive oil marinade shone through the meat that kept its juiciness.  Having eaten our risotto beforehand though, we didn't see the need to have the chorizo pilaf accompany the chicken.  Nevertheless, this special was designed so that it's the only thing you eat if you want to enjoy this dish.  It is said that this is good for 3-4 persons, but considering our other dishes, it satisfied a table of 12.
In the meantime, the Bistecca certainly stood on equal footing with the roast chicken.  We asked for medium rare and we got medium rare; no overstaying in the fires here.  The beef was tender and excellent to be eaten with just its own juice.  The roasted pumpkin particularly enhanced the beefy taste.
At this point, Chef Chris himself took a turn in the dining area so that we had an opportunity to thank him for a great meal.  He did not need much evidence considering we also killed 2 bottles of the house shiraz and 1 bottle of the house sauvignon blanc to accompany our meals.
Of course, the evening will not be complete without greeting our hostess a happy birthday, to which she received a complimentary slice of Chef Chris's creamy and light tiramisu.  On our end of the table though, we enjoyed our own dessert of the Lemon Lime Cheesecake and the Decadent Cake, where the latter was, as you guessed it, a rich chocolate cake served with a side of caramel sauce.
As an "ethical disclosure", we did not pay for this meal.  This particular visit was fully paid for by my sister in law, and so we thank her for introducing us to Chef Chris.  We will certainly come back for more, whether there is a special occasion or just to enjoy really good food.

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