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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Classic Filipino - Marison's


Fishballs, pig's ears, and intestines aside, Filipino cuisine is first known for its classic soulful dishes. There's the Kare-Kare or oxtail and tripe stewed in peanut sauce usually served with bagoong (sauteed shrimp fry) on the side.  There is also the smoky, comforting aroma of Chicken Binakol, or chicken stewed in coconut water.  Of course, no one is to leave out our Adobo, arguably said to be our national dish.  All worthy restaurants serving traditional Filipino dishes cook these viands according to a well-kept ancestral secret, and all of them really good.  But it is in Marison's that, I think, and to borrow Dean Martin's phrase, I truly have a party in my mouth.


Marison's is one of the newest restaurants that have sprouted up in this city.  But unlike the newest restaurants, it did not plant itself along the main roads of Antipolo, but tucked itself away on the second floor of Mille Luce Village Center, or better known as where the second Pure Gold supermarket here can be found.  It's a quiet place during the lunch hour, but we've noticed that they are usually crowded during dinner time.


As of this writing, it is the only commercial establishment on the second floor, still waiting for its neighbors, but you get a simple welcome as you go through its doors.  Marison's has sturdy wooden dining tables and comfortable chairs, accented by overhead lamps with wooden shades.


The kitchen counter is backed by cabinets with cathedral windows to give it a colorful character.  Service is attentive to details - paper placemats inspired by how Paris bistros would do it, proper and complete utensils to the side, napkins, and goblets of water served without being asked.

We started with Fried Kesong Puti (Php260/USD5.78) as our appetizer which came to us as triangles of the local soft cheese wrapped in lumpia (or riceflour) wrapper and garnished with sprinklings of parmesan cheese and parsley.  The sauce that was served with it hit me with just the right savory, tangy note.  A welcome change from the heaviness of the mayo-ketchup combo (of which I am guilty of serving as well).


Marison's boasts of its Kare-Kare, and so we had that (Php330/USD7.33 good for 2-3 persons).  Instead of the usual bowl of oxtail and tripe swimming in the peanut sauce and then topped by a mound of vegetables, the oxtail portions were deboned and placed in the center and the slices of eggplant, pechay (swamp cabbage), knotted sitaw (snake beans), and tomato wedges (a surprise mix in this stew) fanned around the plate.  And the tripe?  Oh, it was cut as you would a shoestring potato and cooked crisp on top of the whole shindig. With the fried tripe, another dimension was opened.  It was a simple twist on the classic that is worthy of a smack on the forehead (of the Why-didn't-I-think-of-that? variety).  


And the peanut sauce.  If you are a Filipino, you would know what I mean when I say that it was made from scratch.  (a.k.a. No peanut butter in sight)
 
To balance this meat dish, we tried the Miso-Glazed Salmon served with a slice of roast peach at Php330/USD7.33.  The fish was perfectly cooked and the miso could do no other than be a beautiful complement to it.  Worth every grain of the steamed rice (Php30/USD0.67/cup) we got.


Marison's does not have a fixed dessert on their menu, as they serve different ones each week.  For this visit, we had a slice of Gateau Sans Rival, a Filipino dessert with a French name and is thus called because it simply means that it is a dessert without rival in sweetness.  This version is mild, however, and garnished with macadamia nuts.  The layers of meringue wafers, sandwiched the equal layers of vanilla buttercream that had the right amount of sweetness.  Come to think of it, consider it as a French macaron served cake-style.  Perfect with their excellent coffee.  And when I say excellent, it means that the senior citizens out there may need to dilute their cup with enough hot water and share it around. 


Our bill, with a glass of Mango Juice (Php80/USD1.78) and soda (Php50/USD1.11) totaled Php1300 (around USD29).  This may be a wallet-full but when you think about it, its the going price for its equivalent snazzy Filipino restaurants in Metro Manila.

Nevertheless, Marison's menu will require you to come back for more.  Well, there are many reasons.  One of them is the Chicken Binakol (Php330).  Let the earthy, smoky coconut-flavored soup coax your soul and lull you to nourishment, or the homey Pork and Lamb Adobo, another specialty.  Next reason would be their bowls of salads (Php160/USD3.56) that have varieties of texture and is good for sharing, and then the other items on the appetizer list such as the Sisig Tacos (Php280/USD6.22).

Proudly Philippine-made.

Marison's
2nd Floor Mille Luce Village Center
M.L.Quezon Avenue Brgy. San Roque, Antipolo 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Street-Smart Korean - Jang Ga Nae

We were really hungry when we arrived at this nondescript commercial building along Escriva Drive in Pasig.  This was for a late lunch, and were looking forward to a cheap but filling meal at Jang Ga Nae, a Korean restaurant, recently discovered by the husband who was, on this occasion, ecstatic to share the experience with our daughter and me.



Upon entering the sliding doors, we passed by rows and rows of tables already filled by diners with an overhanging telephone-style ventilators to address the smoke from the table top grill for barbecue.  While the place does smell of meat and fish grilling, it wasn't that overpowering.  Jang Ga Nae specializes in Korean-style barbecue, but we were there for comfort food.

Once seated, we were served with their house iced tea, which truly refreshed our palates and prepared us for the series of side dishes called banchan that are traditional accompaniments to any Korean meal experience.  While it is expected that you eat these banchan with your main dishes, we can't help but dig our chopsticks in and treat them as appetizers.  There was kimchi, poached cold bean sprouts, pickled radish and tofu in red bean paste, 


fresh green salad with sesame-soy dressing (my instant favorite),


and kimchi pancakes. 



Remember, if you want more servings of any of the side dishes, you can ask for it at no extra charge.  For me, I asked for another big bowl of salad greens :-).

The Kalbi Jim (Korean Beef Stew) is a homey brew of chunky beef ribs with a thick broth.  An order of one is good to feed 2-3 people.


And we can't really do without being Japanesey by ordering Ebi Tempura too.  Their tempura sauce though, has a hint more of sweetness than what you get in a Japanese restaurant.  


We felt pleasantly full after finishing everything, and the slices of sweet, ripe pineapples capped the lunch well.  For the two dishes with short-grain steamed rice and soda, and unlimited servings of banchan, the Php800 (around USD18) bill is still good value for your money.

Jang Ga Nae
Ground Floor 8137 Plaza
Escriva Drive, Brgy. San Antonio,
Ortigas, Pasig
Landline:  +63 2 633-6960 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dining Under the Stars

"All dreams, at least the ones you really want to come true, begin with work.  
And so one invents the next thing to do.  And the next one after that.  Simplicity
is not for the faint-hearted.  Nor for the feint-hearted either."
                                                                                              -Marlena de Blasi (Talking about her 
                                                                                              novel A Thousand Days in Tuscany)

This particular piece of the author's interview caught my eye, and became engraved upon my heart.  It's been a year since I took that leap of faith and finally retired from work - well, office work that is.  I am no longer subject to a bundy clock, or fingerprint scan to evidence my appearance in a cubicle, nor to the strangulation of traffic jams and an hour and a half's daily commute to the office and home, and the daily morning mantra I say to myself that all that crap at work is a beautiful tapestry that makes life engaging and fulfilling.


There were friends at the office who meant well.  One half knew I didn't feel I belong anymore and had to move on, the other half thought I was giving up.  But the real motivation for this big move is that ache and longing I have had for a simpler life, a life that I would like to take control of; to take a different direction and achieve more worthy things.


And so I did. But retirement from the office workforce isn't all a fairy tale, I knew.  As Marlena pointed out, it required work too.  It demanded longer waking hours as I became more hands-on in my food business.  There was no regular flow of income every 15 days, so every income that's turned in is more prudently saved up.  (I am not there yet, but getting there.)  Dining out, shopping and movies are very nearly out of the picture (the last time I bought a new blouse, dress or shoes was two years ago).  But I am more content, even happier at the turn of events.  

The reward?  Many.  For one, there is more freedom in being disciplined; more fulfilled in having less. (Throwing out my office suits, except for two good ones just in case, was liberating).  For another, I have more time to spend with my family, including visits to my mother, listening to them talk even about the most mundane of things; to hear their laughter at stupid jokes and funny accents, but still learn something new from each other.  More time for friends too.  Funnily, it is at this time of my life that I have more resources to travel, try out new dishes or places to eat, read, watch movies, and even write (things I love to do).  These things are savored and appreciated for each of its worth, to nourish me and my loved ones.


Idle hands?  Not in the least.  Idle minds?  Far from it.  In fact, having gained a bit more perspective on things, I am confirming that spending more time than necessary on Facebook is more idle than spending time with oneself, building a sound interior life.


Then, there is a house that is better taken care of, walks in the rain, and impromptu grill dinners.


Out of such meals, came more elegant spreads each time coals are fired up. 

From charming makeshift dinner tables


to nosy pets


to a more mindful diet,

even sinful burgers every now and then,


and cocktails while the sun goes down.


Yes, this kind of life is not for everyone.  It calls upon your responsible nature. And courage.  But, you have the wings of freedom, the breath of being ageless, and the heavens your laurel as you dine under the stars.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Food That is Heaven-Sent - Angel's Kitchen

One of those quiet, tiny cafes I like in Metro Manila is still around, thankfully. Although I have dined here since the early '90s when it was called My Angel's Kitchen, it is only now, with a new name and look, that I am writing about it.  It is long overdue, I suppose, but I'm glad that with the proliferation of so many good places to eat these days, Angel's Kitchen is still around.


Angel's Kitchen is best known for its Pinakbet Rice with Lechon Bagnet and Chocolate Bagoong.  Arguably, they're the ones among the first to deconstruct a Pinoy dish with a witty twist on how to serve the bagoong or shrimp fry.  Another reason for Angel's Kitchen's fame is its pretty, cozy and quiet interiors.  I have always liked the homey, country feel the cafe had before, but its present interiors are equally comfortable.  They have already expanded by having another branch in Rockwell Makati called the AK Bistro, but I still prefer going to their Greenhills abode just because that's where it all started.


My friends and I started our meal with its old standby of Baked Artichoke Dip with Parmesan and served with Crostini (Php268/USD6), perfect to whet the appetite for more good things to come.


Then this was followed by the Waldorf Salad in Honey Calamansi Dressing with Boursin and Grapes (Php268/USD6).  The crunch of the lettuce and fresh fruit does well to showcase the citrusy freshness of the salad dressing. You will definitely know that the dressing was made from scratch.  The serving is good enough to be shared by 2-3 people and give you room to try out other offerings on the menu. At another time, I had the Soft-Shell Crab with Mango Poppyseed Dressing (Php288/USD6.40) which I also recommend highly.  Enjoy the succulent taste of the sea balanced well with the sweetness of local mangoes. 

Of course, we had to get the Pinakbet Rice, but I won't highlight that here.  It still took center stage, especially how the chocolate tempered the in-your-face saltiness of the bagoong and transform it into a mild-mannered companion to the vegetable rice and crispy pork belly.


There were other dishes that stood well on their own too, like the John Dory in Parmesan and Caesar Glaze (Php408/USD9) - baked creamy goodness of cheese covering the fish fillet, with the shredded lettuce on top acting as a gremolata to give balance.


And there was the Homey Tinapa Rice with Tocino Barbeque (Php388/USD8.62).  I love tinapang bangus (smoked milkfish) on everything - pizza, springrolls, pate, and especially in fried rice that only a Pinoy can think of and do.  The salty, smokey flavored rice paired well with the sweet marinade of the tender pork barbeque.  Indeed, a comfort dish that you keep going back to refresh the soul.

And what of dessert?  There's their best seller, the Banana Cream Pie of which layers of fresh bananas, custard and cream tower well above the dessert plate,


and the eternally comforting carrot cake.  Need I say more?


Angel's Kitchen
57 Connecticut Street, San Juan, Metro Manila
Landline: +63 2 744 1018
(best to call ahead to reserve your table as they get a full house easily)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

THE Katsu To Go For - Yabu House of Katsu

I don't usually get the Tonkatsu (Japanese Breaded Pork) or the Torikatsu (Japanese Breaded Chicken) when I'm in a Japanese restaurant.  I usually have the dishes that I can't make myself.  But had to go to Yabu (we went to the branch in Alabang Town Center).


Yes, you may think that I'm kind of late in the game for the art of eating (and appreciating) the true katsu (and there have been lots of fellow bloggers out there who have raved and written about this new restaurant already).  Nevertheless, I would like to join the mix - it is that good.


We had to wait 15 minutes to be seated, since there are quite a number of us who are favoring our dinner to be taken there.  However, time flew fast and we were seated in a comfortable spot.  For the first timers like us, we were briefed on the row of dressings and condiments that are on the table.  There are the Goma, Shoyu or Wasabi dressings for your organic shredded cabbage, the katsu sauce, Japanese chili powder, pepper and oil and an earthenware pot of salt in case you need some more.  



Next, we are given each a small bowl of black and white sesame seeds which we have to grind well enough before pouring in the katsu sauce - a necessary condiment to truly enjoy your katsu.


Yabu recommends its Kurobuta pork or the black Berkshire pig for your katsu for its marbled succulent and juicy flavor, but there are cheaper but equally excellent alternatives for the diner like the Rosu (US porkloin) or Hire (US pork tenderloin), chicken, and seafood like the ebi (prawns), salmon and cream dory.  There is even a vegetarian katsu.


Each katsu you order comes in a set.  Thus, my 90-gram chicken breast katsu came with unlimited servings of pickled raddish, miso soup, shredded organic cabbage, a choice of either white japanese or organic brown rice and a cup of fruits for dessert.


I chose chicken breast because its usually quite hard to retain the tenderness of this white meat when fried, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Yabu retained the juiciness and tenderness of the breast meat while retaining the crispiness of its breadcrumb crust.  No wonder a good katsu is raved about.  It's not just a breaded and fried morsel, there is religion behind it.  (For more of the Katsu story, go here.)


The Rosu Katsudon is also a good dish to order.  The US pork cutlet was also battered and fried to tender perfection then poached in donburi sauce, capped with egg and served on top of a bowl of rice.


There is a Kid's menu too reasonably priced at Php210 which is also served as a set that includes edamame, unlimited shredded organic cabbage, Japanese rice and fruit cup.  Perfect to keep brattiness at bay ;-)

Our meal cost us Php1,300 (around USD30; 3 adults, 1 child), and the service was courteous and efficient.  Truly a memorable find that must be shared with friends.  Will certainly come back for more.

Yabu: House of Katsu
2nd Floor Corte de Las Palmas, Alabang Town Center
Commerce Ave., Alabang, Muntinlupa
Landline: +63 2 551 4195 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Traditional Cantonese - Comida China de Manila

There may be a lot of Chinese restaurants to choose from in Metro Manila itself, but my list of establishments to go for is quite short.  One of them would be Comida China de Manila found along E. Rodriguez Avenue that connects to C-5.  Not very easy to miss - it has the Mom & Tina Bakery Cafe as close neighbor, and you are first greeted by ample parking space as you cruise along the highway.


Before it was called by its present name, it used to be known as Panciteria de San Jacinto, and even before that, the place where the restaurant now stands used to be a bowling alley.  Thus, the floors leading toward the back are all made of polished wood panels.




Despite the change of name, and more inviting interiors, the service is more friendly and efficient than ever, and they still serve the same delicious Cantonese fare they always have.  There are three things we go for here - the Bird's Nest Soup, the Camaron con Jamon, and the Salted Fish Fried Rice. 


We also like their Pork and Shrimp Siomai presented the old way - large pieces that wont even fit your mouth.  This is cheap eats too as you dine in warmly lit, homey interiors.  For everything that we ordered plus a dish of beef and onions and pata tim, all in poquito sizes (also comes in small, medium or large servings depending on your crowd), with drinks, this feast only cost us Php1,373 (around USD32).  

But you'll have to forgive me for my inadequate photos here.  By the time I realized that I should take shots, we were halfway through everything!


Comida China de Manila
Grd. Floor FRDC Building
106 Eulogio Rodriguez Avenue, Jr. Brgy. Ugong, Pasig
Landline:  (02) 671-5941 to 42
Open 11am-10pm

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Cool Vegetarian Dessert

We are well into the summer months already when I realized that it has been quite some time since I last wrote A-NY-Thing here.  I have to admit that it has been quite a hectic 3 months for me since 2014 started.  We at Heaven's Country Kitchen had to go through a cleansing, if you will.  It was time for a fresh start, and it was all worth it.  (And so, my thanks to you, dear reader, for continuing to drop by this site and taking time out to read my older posts.) 

Most Filipinos are also almost halfway through the Lenten season, and there are some out there who still follow tradition by abstaining from eating meat every Friday until Easter.  But Filipinos are not likely to give up their iced desserts, especially during the hot and humid weather we've been getting.  Of course, there's the Halo-Halo (mixed sweetened fruits and beans with evaporated milk, sugar and shaved ice), but a cheaper alternative is the Guinomis and it only takes a few ingredients to assemble.

                                                     (photo courtesy of www.pinoywarrior.com)

Guinomis is a Hiligaynon or Ilonggo word (from the Western Visayas region) for what we in the Luzon area refer to as Sago at Gulaman or sago't gulaman (for short).  Sago refers to large tapioca pearls and gulaman is a plant-derived gelatinous ingredient which is really seaweed that is pounded and set in bars, then cooked in hot water and set into containers at room temperature.  These are then cut into cubes.  It is considered a carbohydrate, unlike the gelatin which is a protein and animal-derived.  (gulaman photo courtesy of  www.blog.junbelen.com)


While the Sago't Gulaman is usually mixed into brown sugar water flavored with pandan (or screwpine) leaves, the Guinomis is suspended in coconut milk (I use the Buco brand of coconut milk, available in SM supermarkets).  Stir in some sugar, shaved ice and topped with pinipig or glutinous rice crispies, it is a refreshing dessert.  Great for vegeterians too.  Grab a glass now!