Monday, August 31, 2015

Apartment 1B: Gourmet Comfort Food

If you’ve been following my blog or Instagram account, you’ll know that comfort cooking is the quickest to my heart. Trendy, cutting edge cooking has its place but they tend to come and go. Feel-good foods are forever.

One restaurant whose menu epitomizes home cooking is Apartment 1B, which earned its repute nine years ago as a neighborhood joint offering “gourmet comfort food” in Salcedo Village, Makati. It has since opened another branch in One Rockwell.

Its exhaustive menu is filled with much-loved standards such as meatloaf, beef pie, macaroni and cheese, and grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.

Judd keeps going back for the narcotizing embrace of its mushroom-gravy-laden meatloaf while I like hopping from one classic to another, like the roasted chicken and the three-cheese lasagna.

I always shied away from the osso bucco because I thought it was overly expensive at P1500. I finally succumbed and found it to be one of the best I’ve ever tried (the best so far being the version I tasted last year at Dante’s in Florence). The fork-tender, delectable parcel of Australian veal shank sprinkled with gremolata was sitting on a bed of saffron risotto rimmed by a pool of rich, luscious sauce. I could do without the risotto but the osso bucco was a triumph for meat.

For dessert, I often opt for the spongy cakes over cheesecake but the waiter assured me that the white Toblerone cheesecake is one of their best cakes. Delivering delightful bits of white Toblerone chocolate with every bite, it was a showstopper.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dean & DeLuca: Fine New-York-style Pizzas and Pastries

Dean & DeLuca’s Rockwell branch is making New York proud, thanks to the beautifully blistered crust of their pizzas and their uber-moist cakes and pastries.

Dean & DeLuca is a prominent gourmet food chain dedicated to all things delicious. While the Rockwell branch offers a selection of bottled specialty items on sale, it really is more a restaurant.

The smoke and heat of Dean & DeLuca’s wood-fired brick oven work their magic in their pies, giving the thin crust a chewiness and char that go so well with the oozing mozzarella and acidic tomatoes. Their Margherita Parma is spruced up with Parma ham, a mound of arugula leaves drizzled with sweet balsamic vinegar, and finally topped with shavings of Parmigiano. It was lip smacking.

I’ve also tried the braised US Angus beef short ribs during a previous visit, which grew more delicious with every bite. I wanted to order it again but I had to force myself to try other items in their menu.

I thought they made a good attempt with their grilled cheese sandwich, which had a sweet note from the apple chutney. However, I’ve had better (hello, Wildflour).

What I thought was a miss was the gratinated baked oysters, which didn’t taste fresh.

Dean & DeLuca must have a pastry whisperer in the kitchen because their desserts were top-notch. The banana quinoa bread is perfect with coffee for breakfast. I loved the buttery sheets of their flaky kouign-amann. Their carrot cake was enticingly moist and nutty.

I do hope Dean & DeLuca brings in their full range of gourmet food items and make it easier for us to do our own deli dining at home. I also hope they would improve their spotty service. Their waitstaff were well-trained and attentive but the ones manning the takeout counter weren't fully acquainted with what was on their menu. I'm sure they could do better.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Grace Park: Farm-To-Table Comfort Cooking

I am at the risk of looking like a Margarita Fores groupie but I simply need to write about Grace Park, her farm-to-table restaurant at One Rockwell that scores points for its food as well as its rough-hewn organic-industrial-eclectic interiors.

Gaita is one of the country’s most recognized locavores who rely on area purveyors for the ingredients that go into their food.

For me, I rely on Gaita for flavors that hit my comfort spot.

Take this three-cheese meatballs spaghettini. Those who like meatballs as I do would know that good meatballs are hard to find beyond the confines of our own home. My version is crusted with garlic, and toasted on the outside, moist in the inside. Gaita’s is the Italian version, soft and moist all over and with just the right amount of fennel. I really should try other items on her menu but this is the one I always end up going back for, again and again.

This recent visit, I got to try Grace Park’s rendition of the classic grilled cheese sandwich. Slathered with butter, the sourdough bread offered a satisfying crunch. Each bite provided an interplay of sharp gooeyness and tiny daggers of tanginess from the mix of cheddar, Asiago and Fontina. A tiny canister of honey is served on the side if you need something sweet to dip into, but you won’t need it. I would, however, have loved an accompaniment of thick roasted-tomato soup for perfect rainy weather grub.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Manila Hotel's Cowrie Grill: A Fine Dining Classic At A New Location

I love dining at old, familiar places almost as much as discovering new ones. When I’m in the mood for a quiet dinner, Cowrie Grill in Greenhills is one of the places that immediately come to my mind. It’s near enough my place of work and I always get attentive yet unobtrusive service.

I usually go there with company and, when I do, I like to split a New York cut steak with someone.

The steak is served with a choice of mashed potatoes or baked potato, and three sauces—béarnaise, peppercorn, and mushroom. But they always season the steak to my liking that I usually don’t feel the need for any other flavor.

I’ve dined there alone once when I needed to continue working past my regular hours. I picked a seat in one of the private dining alcoves and was left in the company of my own thoughts for two blissful hours.

I had a serving of baked oyster Rockefeller with a glass of Chardonnay, and then a bowl of penne con salmone affumicato e panna. Thanks to the alcohol, bivalves, carbohydrates and solitude, I went home very relaxed.

I returned to Cowrie Grill today with my foodie family. We ordered the usual, plus a Caesar salad, which was prepared tableside. You could tell a good restaurant by how well they do something that is so simple.

Cowrie Grill is known for their tableside preparations, which are always fun to watch, especially with the youngsters in our family who love to learn how their food is made.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Restaurant Recommendations in South Triangle, Quezon City (A Series): Terrace 45

We were driving around almost every block in the Scout Area in Quezon City in search for a fine place to eat where there’s a table for seven and vacant parking, but it was the night before a mid-week non-working holiday and, evidently, everyone was eating out.

We saw Terrace 45 but drove past it because we couldn’t ascertain if it was a restaurant. When we saw it in Booky’s list of new places to try and Joanna thought it was worth checking out, we retraced our course to the corner of Dr. Lazcano and Scout Santiago where it is located. Joanna and I gamely scoped out the restaurant. Only one table was occupied, which fanned some doubts, but it had a cool, young, inviting vibe. “Maybe not a lot of people have seen it because it’s right across an abandoned property,” Joanna said. We looked at the menu and agreed that it was nice enough to try.

I call this the pumpkin soup of hope. It was the first thing on our table and it gave us hope that we were about to have a very good meal. It comes very close to Cibo’s version, which sets the bar, according to my foodie family.

The Caesar salad was not bad either, although I would prefer that the sweetness of the honey glazed bagel crouton be a little more subdued.

Terrace 45 went big with their poutine by topping it with crunchy pork rinds. Theirs departs from the original Québécoise version, which consists of French fries smothered by a ladleful of gravy and sprinkled with cheese, by replacing the gravy with a fantastic aioli. A definite must-try.

If you’re like me who loves slow-cooked anything, you’ll find pleasure in the beef belly, which was simply melting into lusciousness. By the time we had this, we were convinced that the chef knew what he/she was doing.

I must salute the restaurant’s effort to make callos because it is tedious to prepare and takes a lot to perfect. This was a good take but I’ve tried better ones so I’d say, skip this. Or, if you must, pair it with rice, not bread, which is their standard.

I prefer my ribs smoked than glazed so the spice rubbed ribs wasn’t my thing but the kids really tucked into this and were licking their fingers while at it.

Joanna wanted pasta so we went with the prawn thermidor, linguini swathed in cream and topped with chopped prawn meat encased in their shell. A good pick.

The waiter offered the lengua, which was not yet on the menu. It turned out to be moist and flavorful but it was paired with potato chips (crisps) while the Pinoy in me was screaming for rice.

Our foodie family was so psyched about “discovering” Terrace 45. This five-month-old casual dining restaurant offers delectable, updated comfort fare that is as hearty as your favorite home-cooked meal.

Note: This is part of my continuing South Triangle Restaurants Series. I promised to write about Sauté Restaurant but I discovered recently that the restaurant has been closed for good.)  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Duck & Buvette: Small Plates, Big Flavor

You can certainly cobble together a fine, grown-up meal from Duck and Buvette’s small plates. The selection is substantial and the tasty morsels are well conceived.

The name is derived from the restaurant specialties—crispy duck confit and buvettes, small bites (to be more precise, the French version of a tapas bar). Because I had another full meal in my schedule, I came for the buvettes.

I enjoy this type of dining because it allows me to sample a variety of flavors in a single meal without having to overindulge.

I began my grazing with a serving of grilled Black Angus meatballs, nuggets of beautifully smoked beef stuffed with feta cheese sitting in freshly crushed tomato sauce. I wish they served this in full portions.

Another winner in my book was the crispy potato pavé and salty duck egg, a novel combination that works. The cubes were made of potato layers that became crispy and chewy with the frying. Be generous with the crème fraîche and salty duck egg, and you’ll have a perfect bite.

I always enjoy cheese and charcuterie so I ordered Duck & Buvette’s Le Deli Slate, which was a well-curated serving of Grana Padano cheese, prosciutto, brandade de bacalao dip, herbed feta with olive and garlic confit and warm bread.

The char roasted cauliflower with white truffle oil and garlic olive oil was a hit at our table but I was looking for a little more crunch and smoke.

I met my match with the maple candied bacon drizzled with lemon juice. So much goodness in such an abbreviated slice of sticky, caramelized meat. I am coming back for this and the three specials—duck confit, slow braised beef Burgundy and steaks & frites.

Buvettes Menu

Mains, Baked Goods and Specials
Duck & Buvette
2/F Main Wing Shangri-La Plaza Mall EDSA
Mandaluyong, Philippines

Monday, August 10, 2015

La Cabrera Grillado & Bar: One of the Best Steakhouses in Manila (Ojo de Bife and Cuadril That Will Make The Argentinians Proud)

Dining at La Cabrera Grillado & Bar is not for the faint-hearted. The whole point to coming here is the steak, and the different cuts are often served in half a kilo hunks. Come ravenous, as I did, which allowed me to do justice to the feast that was served on our table.

Our meal that night was a carnivore’s dream come true, the type I could imagine having at the original La Cabrera in Buenos Aires, named one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America. It started out with provoleta con jamón crudo, provolone cheese bubbling on a hot plate topped with translucent prosciutto. It was a standout and a portent of things to come.

Watch out for my La Cabrera dining experience in a future issue of Mabuhay magazine.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza

Don’t be fooled by the name. The real star here is the burrata caprese—rich, refreshing, and primal—the essence of Capri on a plate.

The burrata is homemade, its outer curd of fresh mozzarella bursting with cream and kesong puti. It had a little more body than most of the burrata’s I’ve tried but it was perfectly seasoned, and beautifully served on a bed of aromatic pesto and ringed by slices of cherry tomatoes. It alone was worth the trip to Katipunan. But why stop there, right?

Thankfully, the pizza did not disappoint. We ordered three kinds—the buffalo chicken, Bianca verde, and SMEGG.

My favorite was the Bianca verde, with olive oil, kesong puti, ricotta, Parmesan, basil and arugula. I liked the way the creaminess of the cheese mingled with the spiciness of the arugula.

What makes pizza, however, is the crust. And I am happy to note that the dough at Gino’s delivers. The crust was crisp, chewy and charred, with a smokiness that can only achieved with a brick oven. I loved the blistered edges, although I would have wanted a little more air, like the puffed up crust as Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza in Singapore.

The pizza fillings were spare with the number of ingredients but generous with the amount. Fresh out of the oven, they were soggy in the middle like other Neapolitan-style pies so the best way to enjoy them is to roll the wedge from the pointy end and cut or bite across.

The kids enjoyed the buffalo chicken (tomato sauce, mozzarella, buffalo chicken, blue cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano). It was deliciously piquant and went quite well with the spicy honey, one of the condiments at the table (my nephew, Joaki, however thought that honey on pizza was so wrong).

Gino's Spicy Honey

We also ordered two pastas—the carbonara and bacon sausage. They were good; you can tell that the noodles were fresh. But I didn’t think they were outstanding. A friend suggested we order the salted egg pasta next time. And there will be a next visit because I have my eye on the bacon Gouda and BOMB pizza.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Maginhawa Street, Quezon City Restaurant Row: Make Your Own Degustacion

Maginhawa Street is the ideal place to practice the art of grazing. You can create your own tasting menu by walking the length of the street, stopping at spots that draw your attention, picking up a few bites, and moving on to the next one. I knew the perfect company for such an adventure—my foodie family consisting of my nephew Joakim and nieces Joanna, Jenna and Julia.

We checked out the area last Saturday evening when the rains stopped. Parking is limited and mostly street-side so my brother had to play driver.

Our first stop was Sancho, a churreria that, I was told, is a fixture at school fairs. I found the chocolate dip a bit watered down but the churros were reminiscent of Dulcinea’s (the standard, as far I’m concerned). That is to say they were good. When we later joined my sister in law at the same place, she said the hot cocoa was remarkably good.

We walked to the next establishment that caught our attention, Theo’s, a café with a good selection of baked goods. I chose the cookie shots with milk, remembering Chuvaness’s blog feature on Dominique Ansel’s cookie shots in Tokyo. Now I must go to Cookie Bar in Kapitolyo to sample what is considered our best local version.

My foodie family finished off every single shot, even what was supposed to be my share, but I managed a bite of the cookie, which was crumbly and sweet. It’s a fun way to enjoy dessert and a sure hit among the kids.

Our main agenda that evening was StrEAT Maginhawa Food Park, which featured an assembly of food trucks offering a variety of snacks that were impossible to exhaust on a single night. The place appeared like a social hub of sorts among those so-called millennials who must have seen the Instagram potential of the spot.

Even before we arrived in Maginhawa, Joanna had been talking non-stop about a milkshake topped with cotton candy that was available in one of the snack joints on StrEAT. She immediately spotted  The Lost Bread, and joined the long queue together with Jenna. After 15 minutes or so, barkers announced that they had to allow their machine to rest and cut off the line at the customer just in front of Joanna.

Luckily, I had Joaki and Julia line up for the hotdogs at Schimdt’s, which had a manageable and fast-moving queue.

We tried each hotdog variety. I liked the wagamama, although I would have wanted some wasabi kick. Julia loved the Seattledog. My brother preferred the Julius, which was also Joaki’s choice. I don’t remember having a taste of the Coney Island chilli dog and the Aucklander.

Joanna and Jenna found a calligrapher and had their names done.

After StrEAT, we headed back to Sancho’s where my sister in law was waiting for us and for the Paella Valenciana she ordered. We found the paella to have a nice crust (socarrat), which my brother and I enjoy. The lengua was tasty as well; we took some home, together with an order of beef salpicao.

My foodie family can’t wait for our next visit. We'll try to come earlier and allot more time for grazing.

I really wanted to try the poutine but they ran out of gravy.

I'll make time for a cappuccino.

Or some pasta and a glass of white.
If you decide to go to Maginhawa, don’t tackle the street by your lonesome. Bring an appetite and a throng of people with the same, and have a bite each of your picks for a degustacion of your own making, done at your own pace.


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