Just because I told you that my Manila trip was more business than pleasure doesn’t mean that I didn’t have fun one way or the other. Because I had a few high school classmates living/working/studying in Manila, we just had to meet up a few hours before my flight home. Going to the carnival was at the top of my friend R’s list of things to do before leaving.
But since it was too much of a stretch to carry our bags to Star City then to the airport, we decided to join the rest of the people at Eastwood’s Sambo Kojin – a grill-all-you-can Yakiniku resto.
My stomach wasn’t cooperating with me when we got there. I didn’t even know it was a Japanese resto. When we sat down and I took in the spacious surroundings filled with families, friends and everyone in between, I had the feeling this place was a crowd favorite. But they didn’t have hot tea on the menu to quell my stomach, so that was hopefully my only disappointment.
“Are we supposed to eat all of this raw?!” “Why is there so much raw BACON?!” “Do the Japanese actually eat RAW BACON?!” I mentally cursed.
But then I was relieved to find out that the tables all had a smokeless grill. Sambo Kojin was a smokeless grill resto afterall. I put two and two together and inwardly gave myself a facepalm. Yes Virginia, you use the smokeless grill to cook the raw food.
I didn’t know/recognize 97% of what I got from the spread. But let me just put it out there: Sambo Kojin made me feel like a kid again. I had the time of my life with the smokeless grill. You can actually ask my friends; they felt my joy.
I had so much fun using the smokeless grill that I didn’t even bother to eat the raw fare. Looking back on the experience I should have appreciated their sushi and sashimi more but the grill takes the cake.
After getting over my initial ‘eat it raw’ scare, I happily filled my plate with the different kinds of raw marinated meat. It was too bad there was so much of it spread out and they didn’t even have labels to distinguish one from the other. That would have been so helpful for a newbie. This was probably my second disappointment.
But grill the meat I did and that was a great way to start our course. The meats were perfectly seasoned that I didn’t even see the need to dip it in their sauces. I was practically smiling on the inside.
But another revelation that I had was their ebi tempura. Now it can be said, that the bar for an absolutely amazing ebi tempura has been raised, and Sambo Kojin takes the top spot (!). Theirs was all about the shrimp. It was perfectly cooked and so tender; light years away from ATOA’s version, which I can now describe as eating leather (I’m sorry, ATOA). Sambo Kojin’s tempura was like cotton. The shrimp sizes were reasonably smaller than ATOA’s, but the taste made up for it.
Another equally satisfying dish was the skewered fish belly. I didn’t know what kind of fish it was and I just assumed that I was fish belly because it was so fatty. I only had two skewers before I surrendered. Like the meat, there was no need to dip it in sauce because it tasted great on its own. Fatty, but extremely satisfying.
The last surprise that we had at the end of the meal was that we got more food than we can finish! There was still a plate full of meat rolls that was left untouched. I regret not getting a little of everything and just go back to the buffet if we need refills.
You pay 595php (exclusive of drinks, their bottomless iced tea was pretty pricey at 92php) not just for the food but for the experience as well. Dining there made me think of more possibilities that can ‘nurture’ an appreciation for Japanese food. If only I can master using chopsticks to pick up food instead of using it to skewer meat.
But thinking about the experience, it can wipe any form of regret off your plate. Sambo Kojin had a lot of options to share, and if resisting the natural impulse to get what looks safe and familiar can be helped, then I believe it can make a fan out of you.
And strangely enough we weren’t charged for the leftovers. Lucky us. But instead of taking the risk, take only what you think you can consume. The buffet isn’t going anywhere. We went home extremely full and satisfied. We were happy campers that night. Never mind that they didn’t serve hot tea.
I didn’t just fall in love with Sambo Kojin – I married it that night. And so the long distance affair has begun.