Yup, I didn’t get to blog much again in 2015 — 2 entries, to be exact. Instagram killed my blogging game, I tell you. But then again, I got myself a new camera for Christmas so who knows. Maybe taking better pics might just resuscitate this blog.
To make it up to all of my 8 readers so here’s my second-ever annual compilation of the awesomest things that I put in my mouth in the year that passed:
1. Chocochurros — La Lola Churreria
If you’re the type who finds dipping a deep-fried dough in a cup of molten chocolate too tedious, then La Lola’s Chocochurros is for you, you lazy bastard. The Chocochurros is basically La Lola’s already awesome churros fully pre-dipped in dark chocolate. The dark chocolate sets and adds a rich, decadent coating to the crispy-edged pillowy churros.
Ay, que rico!
2. Custard Cream Bun — Hattendo
Think Pastel de Camiguin in a sexy cocktail dress. I like those local pasalubong treats but these buns are something else! Light, airy, and not overly sweet, slightly chilled Hattendo’s Custard Cream Buns paired with a nice cup of hot coffee make an excellent merienda.
3. Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf — The Bald Baker
The Bald Baker made a name for himself in 2015 with his playful and unique cookie concoctions — Chocollows, Matchallows, Orange Miso, and Compost Cookie, to name a few.
But for me, the one thing that stands out among the baked goods that he churns out from his condo-based bakeshop is his Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf. The loaf is moist, the bananas are sweet, and the chocolate chips are generously scattered. But it doesn’t stop there. The whole loaf is topped with brûléed slices of bananas, which gives each slice a thin crisp layer of sugary banana goodness.
A nice thick slice of this loaf for breakfast should give you your daily recommended dose of potassium. And sugar. And chocolate.
4. Asian Pork Empanada — Mama Empanada
In a time of a “culinary revolution” *rolls eyes* where everything needed to be “cronutified,” Mama Empanada didn’t bother reinventing the wheel. They stuck with traditional, time-tested recipes and techniques to create straightforward, delicious products.
While their Classic Chicken Empanada remains to be their best seller, I personally like their Asian Pork the most. Different yet still familiar. How can it not be familiar? After all, the general Red Ribbon pastry recipe has been handed down from grand mother to mother to the current “Mama” who makes everything fresh from her home kitchen.
When it comes to Empanadas, it seems that Mamas really know best.
5. Bread and Butter Pickles — Mr. Delicious
Yes, there’s a pickle on this list.
Live with it.
These things are crack!
6. Nose To Tail Sticks — Kafé Batwan
I’ve heard nothing but praises for Chef JP Anglo’s Sarsá, so my friends and I were psyched to try it’s (then) newly-opened sibling — Kafé Batwan.
Long story short, meh.
Don’t get me wrong, the experience wasn’t bad. The dishes were actually OK. OK, but nothing great. So I didn’t expect one of the more memorable dishes on my Favoritest list to come from this restaurant.
Check out Chef JP’s take on Manila’s grilled street food — Kafé Batwan’s Nose to Tail Sticks.
True to it’s name, each stick is composed of a piece of a cow from each end and something in between. The grilled —lengua-tripe-oxtail— sticks are smothered in a sweet and slightly tart tokwa’t baboy glaze and topped with crushed pili nuts. Each piece has it’s own texture and flavor but the glaze brings it all together and the nuts give it a nice crunch.
If the goal is to elevate Filipino cuisine, then I think that this dish is a step in the right direction.
7. Taco-maki — Ooma
If I had to guess, I would say that Chef Bruce Ricketts was an arsonist in a former life. This guy just looooves his Iwatani. Just when I’ve gotten used to Aburi-style sushi, this dude decides that he wants to torch the bottom too!
One day in the kitchen, Bruce was like: “So yeah guys, torching the top is soooooo early this year, what if we start torching the base, too?!?” And his assistants were like: “Sure, why don’t we burn the rice too while we’re at it?” And Bruce was like: “No dummies! Let’s see what happens if we burned the seaweed a bit.” And his assistants were like: “WTF, Bruce?!? Have you been sniffing the propane again?” Then Bruce was like: “Hey look! It curled up and actually became a bit crunchier like a small black taco shell! Let’s see what we can do with this.” And his assistants were like: “Stop waving that torch around, Bruce! You just singed your bangs!” And Bruce was like: “That’s ok, I’ll just get a mohawk. Now let’s work on this Japanese Taco thingy. Don’t forget to torch the top again for good measure.”
I’m sorry, that story just got away from me. I really didn’t know where I was going with that when I started…but dude really has a mohawk now so I don’t know…
Whether or not R&D went the way that I described, they eventually ended up with 4 awesome Taco-maki dishes. Soft shell Crab Taco-maki, Spicy Lapu-Lapu Taco-maki, California Taco-maki, and Uni Ebi Tamago Taco-maki with the first two being my personal favorites.
Remind me to tell you about the time he came up with the Salmon Tataki and his fascination with sharp and shiny things…
8. Salmon Roe Calamansi Ponzu Oyster — Ruby Jack’s Steak House
Ruby Jack’s Salmon Roe Calamansi Ponzu Oyster is an excellent example of the KISS principle in food. Take a fresh plump oyster, add a generous portion of salmon roe, and finish it with a nice tart ponzu sauce. None simpler. None tastier.
9. Wagyu, Uni, Truffle, Cabrales Cheese, and Oba Leaf — Mecha Uma
Black Truffle? Gooood.
Cabrales Cheese? Gooood.
What if you put them all together? Good lord!
Chef Bruce Ricketts — the master of controlled excess. And fire. Did I mention that he likes playing with fire?
10. Hamburger/Cheeseburger — The Beef
Call me old but I’m soooooo over the build-it-yourself-quadruple patty-heart stopping-secret sauce which is actually just thousand island dressing with garlic powder and paprika-charcoal bun type of burgers. Just give me at least a quarter pound of quality beef, fresh onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, a slice of processed American cheese, a squirt of ketchup and/or mustard and/or mayo, in a nice buttered grilled/toasted bun and I’m a happy man. Fine, maybe some bacon. But that’s it. That’s as far as I would go.
So yeah, that’s my beef with burger trends these days.
Speaking of “beef” (SEGUE!!!), have you tried The Beef? They have one item on their menu… a Hamburger. Ok, 2 if you count the Cheeseburger but that’s more of a variation, technically. Ok, 3 if you count the fries but those are sides. And no, soda doesn’t count. My point is, these guys do one thing and they do it well. Very very well. Among all of the old and new burger places in Manila that I’ve tried, I found The Beef’s burger patty the tastiest with a nice lean-to-fat ratio.
Maybe I’m just nitpicking here but I’m also getting tired of sloppy, poorly built burgers. You know, the ones where you start off with a really Instagram-friendly sandwich which slowly falls apart as you progress and you end up with the bottom bun and a piece of meat in your hand while the rest of the sandwich is scattered on your plate.
Here’s where The Beef’s Cheeseburger really stands out: Structural Integrity.
As I took my last few bites of my Cheeseburger, I was pleasantly surprised to find the whole bun-onion-tomato-lettuce-cheese-patty-bun assembly still intact. Nothing was sliding off and the brioche bun was moist from all the juices but not soggy enough to collapse.
Twenty fifteen has come and gone and the closest Shake Shack is still roughly a 4-hour plane ride away. Thankfully, The Beef is here to keep this grumpy old man sane in the meantime.
P.S. Their hand-cut fries and dip are pretty awesome, too.
11. Chocolate Lava Xiao Long Bao — Din Tai Fung
Among all of the new imports in 2015, Din Tai Fungi is probably my favorite. But then again, the other much-anticipated big names that opened their doors last year were pretty much disappointing and failed to live up to their hype.
Yeeeeees, the soup dumplings are good! Pork XLB, Crab Roe and Pork XLB, Truffle XLB… yes, yes, they’re all as good as expected. Even the Sweet & Sour Pork and Crispy Beef Strips are pretty good. But what really xiao longed my bao was the Chocolate Lava XLB. Yes, a xiao long bao for dessert. Warm, sticky, gooey, sweet, and extremely chocolatey! Imagine a chocolate mochi but better. Much much better.
12. Apple Pie Soda — Mr. Graham’s Sandwich Shop
When I was living in New York, I loved winter not only because I’m a polar bear but also because that’s when Starbucks comes out with my favorite Warm Apple Cider. The blend of steamed apple cider, caramel, and cream was perfect for the cold weather.
I’ve tried replicating that same drink at home but it just wasn’t the same. I mean, it tasted good, but given that we live a few blocks away from hell especially during summer, I could never get that same experience.
Enter Mr. Graham’s Apple Pie Soda. It’s a locally-made carbonated soda that tastes exactly like… you guessed it… apple pie. I like watering a bottle down a bit in a glass of ice since it’s a tad too sweet for my taste (they use cane sugar) but other than that, it’s awesomeness in a bottle. While I still prefer winter over Manila’s climate, at least I’ve found the perfect beverage to go with this heat.
Kaki Papaya Maki — Minami Saki
The Cebuano — Mr. Graham’s Sandwich Shop
Chicken Bun — Ippudo
Hanger Steak — Ooma
There you go, another 12++ most favorite things that I put in my mouth in 2015.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without my most disappointing dish of the year.
Gyro Platter — The Halal Guys
I believe that these guys are, unfortunately, a victim of their own hype. From the numerous opening delays, which amped up the anticipation, to the fact that the franchise came from no less than New York, where many consider the food capital of the world. The Halal Guys was possibly the most awaited, much talked-about, most lined-up-for-in-the-first-few-days foreign import of 2015.
And the hype lived on for weeks as hours-long lines were formed daily just to experience this New York phenomenon.
I was able to try the Gyro Platter on a slow Tuesday late-morning. Slow, meaning the line was just 20 people deep at 10:30 am. Even with just 20 people in line, it took me about 45 minutes to get back to my table with my platter. Weird, considering there were at least 4-6 people working the assembly line. Sadly, the New York minute has been replaced with Manila time.
Even with the unnecessary wait, I was still excited to finally have the gyro platter that I longed for. Despite looking pretty much the same as the gyro platters I’ve had in NYC, it didn’t taste as good as I remembered. Was the rice too buttery? Was the meat too bland and finely chopped? Was the white sauce the same? I couldn’t put my finger on it. It just wasn’t the same. Good. But not the same. Decent. But not the same.
I share the same sentiments as most comments I’ve heard about The Halal Guys from some people who’ve tried it for the first time and from some folks who’ve tried the original from New York — “Yun na yon?”
Like I said, this was a disappointing dish, not a bad dish. Just disappointing.
Just like before, let’s end on a happy note. So here’s a picture of my youngest daughter trying (and loving) ikura for the first time…