The Black Pig

Suggesting that we try a restaurant in Alabang to celebrate a few occasions was really born out of this feeling I had at the time to just wind-down and escape. Yes, it’s a watered-down concept I know. The three of us (Yedy, Euge and I) are car-less and from the north, so it was going to be a challenge. At least going there on a Sunday isn’t as much of a pain as a weekday trek. The Black Pig was waiting, and we were hungry.
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It’s a bar and restaurant that serves a slew of things, from charcuterie to Holgate beers. It has impressive industrial interiors. But we chose to dine al fresco. The light was so good and it was pretty windy. It was a golden day.

Breaking bread to signal the start of the meal is never a bad thing. And they have good bread.
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The charcuterie board arrives. We order it because it would be such a shame if we didn’t. Across the board (pun intended), the cured meats are all flavorful but the larger lomo, without the waxiness of the smaller cuts, stands out.
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Being a bar, they offer a selection of beers. They have a good sampler, aptly called Beer Flight. If that’s not poetic enough, let me just say that the Road Trip is my hands down favorite. At that point I was tempted to order more beer, but we had meals to devour.
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Pork, beef and fish were in attendance at the table. The pork belly came with marrow. Writing this, it’s hard to be impartial if fat’s the subject. The same goes for the rib-eye. And although pork belly and marrow is a killer combo (literally), it’s the medium-rare rib-eye that steals the show. The gindara is a close second though, because it just crumbles in your mouth. It’s so delicate. Delicate.
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The desserts are a sight to behold. It does my heart good to see playfulness and whimsy in their plated desserts.
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“Which one should we start with?”, I asked one of the owners who stepped in and explained the desserts. She reasoned that we should start with the lighter fare and work our way down to the heavier options. I pursed my lips. So, we were starting with the calamansi crème brulee. Close friends know my extreme, unreasonable aversion to calamansi (and now you do too!) so my excitement was barely a simmer. I let my curiosity override my hesitation though. I was a man on a mission.

It seemed haute enough (also unusual) – complete with sorbet, foam and a tuile peppered with fennel. I use the little spoon to mix everything together, cutting through the custard and into the curd.
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I sample a spoonful and nod my head. It takes a few seconds for me to process that it’s actually pretty good. Very impressive, even. The fennel seeds add pops of depth to a tangy, but refreshing custard. Calamansi never looked this sexy.

Trying the coconut panna cotta after the crème brulee was a disservice to the panna cotta, because it felt as if it paled in comparison. It’s still refreshing, with the mandatory addition of pineapple granite, but I should have eaten this first.
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The rum baba was a slap of alcohol neatly tucked into a yeast cake. As it should be. It wasn’t my cup of tea though. I’d assume that the chocolate praline, a geometric love song to chocolate from the wafer to the ganache, is their flagship dessert. And it’s chocolate, and its execution is in a way faultless. But the nuances of the calamansi crème brulee stole my heart and made me smile.

All things considered, the people behind The Black Pig do their job well. It’s a great place. Nothing mind-blowingly ground-breaking (kids, this isn’t a proper adjective) but the food is good, and in the case of the steak, gindara and the desserts, very delicious.

There might be some leeway for comparison to other similar restaurants. In some ways, you might be partial to the fare elsewhere. But with The Black Pig, Alabang has it good.

A good day at Kettle

I turned twenty-three almost a week ago. It wasn’t a spectacle. I spent it at the restaurant, baking breads and plating a few dishes for a crowd of twenty people (which in my book, is already stressful). My birthday week was my last week interning at The Goose, and as I’m writing this there’s a smile on my face because I survived three challenging months at the restaurant I’ve always wanted to work at. I’m left with a sense of accomplishment, but also uncertainty. I have plans I want to happen, a few paths I want to take but everything isn’t set in stone. Of course I’d love to (finally) earn my keep but more than half of my body and brain is screaming for a vacation. (Am I too demanding, universe? Do I even deserve a vacation?)

I did have two golden Sundays in a row though. The first one I spent with my friends I’ve had since high school at this little restaurant called Kettle. One blog I read about it warned that I shouldn’t make a mistake of ordering one dish per person because the servings are generous to begin with.

It totally makes sense that the five of us ordered six dishes then. Two orders of buttermilk fried chicken, four pieces of boneless chicken thighs and six pieces of cornbread all in all. The chicken was everything good in the world about dark meat – juicy and flavorful.
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The blogs were right. It’s great chicken, partly because of the fact that people actually go the extra mile to serve uncomplicated, boneless chicken and partly because the same people know flavor. It’s not as if demolishing a bone-in chicken isn’t hard. I’ve had a solid reputation of “cleaning” the chicken well, leaving only the bone (sometimes even cleaning up after people’s chicken mess!). But not everyone is gifted with such profound talent.
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The rest of the dishes whizzed by: lamb adobo, a shrimp po’boy sandwich, angus corned beef hash (a great breakfast item that I might go back to Kettle for), and the surprise of the day, seared salmon on a bed of cold soba noodles and a mango relish on the side. I didn’t order it, they did. I had this look on my face that questioned their motives, but I caved in. It was served at an inconvenient time, when we were about to be filled to the brim with all the protein and fat that came before it. I think I said to them, “You ordered the salmon, you eat it”, or something to that effect. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy salmon. But I didn’t condition my mind for salmon, so I was less than enthusiastic.
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They began to devour it, taking the soba by the forkful then piercing the salmon to get shreds of juicy meat. From them came a nod of approval. “Masarap” (delicious). It was my turn to taste it, still on the fence.

Looking back I didn’t see why I was so worked up to begin with. It’s a dish that plays on the richness of the salmon with the freshness of the soba and the cleansing effect of the mango relish. The dark horse was delicious indeed.

We were too hungry that day, so I think ordering too much didn’t allow a lot of savouring to happen. But I was in the company of great people so I didn’t mind it too much.

There’s a part two y’all! Wait for it. Meanwhile, follow me on instagram, because it has more food than selfies. I’m on twitter too!

100 Revolving Restaurant: a room with a view

I looked out and admired the view. It’s not exactly breathtaking to appraise traffic like it was a long congested line of ants.  I tilted my head upwards just a little bit so the concrete jungle is obscured. There were birds and the sky was clear. Now that was a sight.

Then I had a feeling at the pit of my stomach. I could feel the movement of the platform at the fringes of the restaurant. So it does move. It’s not really jarring, but I was queasy to begin with so it took me a while to get used to the movement. At that time of my first visit, it took two hours to complete one revolution. The revolution at the time of my second visit was faster by thirty minutes.
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That’s the first thing you notice at 100, the restaurant with iconic Chef Jessie Sincioco at the helm. She has a flair for grandiosity. The space is easy on the eyes as well. The menu is refined, but strangely enough it’s not as uptight as I thought it was going to be.
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And they make good bread. Really good bread.
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Between the kesong puti salad and the alugbati (which uses fresh, not blanched nightshade), the uncomplicated and familiar flavors of the former drew me in.
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It was a good “caprese” salad, but when the ceasar came out, that was my favorite. It had prawn popcorn, bacon bits over hearts of romaine. It was a good start.
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The dragon maki was hefty enough to be a meal in itself with its shrimp tempura on the inside, and then sprinkled with tempura bits and rich mayonnaise. I’m still learning to use chopsticks properly, and if you see me wield it you’ll notice my hand trembles. But for this maki I’ll brave the tremors.
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The vegetable maki was a surprise! I did not expect that I would enjoy it as well. It’s a notch lower in taste compared to its prawn counterpart, but I still appreciated it.

This sea bass is incredibly delicious. For the price, is it worth the trouble? I’d say yes. It’s drenched in a savory and sweet miso base and gives way to perfectly cooked flesh that holds it shape but it’s still very tender. Yes and yes.
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There’s also shrimp curry and beef roulade, but the seafood gambas is stellar. A medley of fruits of the sea drenched in punchy tomato sauce fits the bill of a good plate of ingredients cooked with respect.
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But the others aren’t rubbish at all! I fact, almost everything that was served to us was great. I’d just like to single out a few things that really stood out.

And I could sing songs about Chef Jessie’s desserts.
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But it’s in a moment of silence that my real appreciation creeps in. I close my eyes and just marvel at how I love a good dessert. In this case, I loved almost everything that was served.

It’s this souffle that made me smile the most. How can something be so light yet so rich? This is a soaring tribute to all things good in life. I am not exaggerating.
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One of my guilty pleasures is peanut butter. But I don’t really enjoy cheesecakes that much anymore because it’s like I’m falling into a pit of heavy flavours that never really take off. With peanut butter however, I can make an exception.
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The revolving tortas are little dense cakes filled with flavoured cream and topped with fruit. At this point I was already coming down from a souffle high but I still made room for this.
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For some strange reason souffle isn’t on your mind, this works. There’s also a delicious chocolate caramel cake that works for lovers of chocolate, but competing for attention against the souffle and tortas is hard.

100 is a posh gem. I’d like to believe you pay not just for the elegant (but also uncomplicated) food but for the great view as well. Who wouldn’t feel good dining with Manila’s shifting skyline as the backdrop?

Right now there are two reasons that compel me to go back: a chance to dine at night, to appreciate pinpricks of light all over the horizon and of course, the souffles. I love their souffles.

100 Revolving Restaurant
33rd Floor, MDC 100 Building, C5 corner Eastwood Drive, Quezon City
+632 962-1016

 

Casa Roces: the bright spots

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I was in the company of good people last weekend. We were treated to festive fare at Cafe Chino @ Casa Roces, a nice little cafe that’s nestled inside the Malacanang compound. Across the street you could already see a part of the presidential palace’s facade, and a part of the cafe itself is like a time capsule that harks back to a time of colonial aristocracy. What used to be a house owned by the Roces clan has been refurbished into a restaurant-cafe that serves an eclectic mix of Euro-Filipino cuisine.
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The interiors and furnishings, especially on the second floor are beautiful no matter how dated the atmosphere is. Kidding aside, at one point I was waiting for an old lady in white to wander/float around as well, just like the movies. Oh well, I can fantasize.
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Now onto the food. The spread was very generous. We had bread, salad, fabada, callos, ox tail, among other things. But there were three things that really stood out with superlatives.

Maybe eventually I’ll stop gushing about this simple plate of pork binagoongan, but right now I’m still floored.
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It’s a blissful moment, really. You eat a spoonful, close your eyes, utter a choice curse word and declare your undying love for it. Crispy skin, salty sauce, succulent meat. I’ll be the first to say the photo does not do it justice.

The Malacanang frozen souffle is another winner, and it’s really sexy to boot. It’s a very light lemon custard, studded with pistachios on the side. It almost melts in your mouth. The prominent, zesty lemon flavor brings it up a notch and the pistachios manage to keep it grounded. Behind me, cherubs are giggling.
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I’ve learned to develop a sweet tooth so I love a good dessert. I enjoy eating a dessert with contrasts in flavour and texture. It just speaks highly of how well the chef executes a work of art like this. It’s pretty obvious that I’m partial to pastries and desserts! But seriously, this was just stellar.

The surprise of the day came from the ensaymada con hamon y chocolate (ham and chocolate), with a little dollop of muscovado butter in top. This was very balanced.
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The obvious sweetness from the chocolate and creaminess of the brioche  plays well with the salty ham. But true to form, after I tried the souffle, this became just a good support to the main actor.  It’s still really good though!

Casa Roces is a beautiful piece of work. What I have are a few of the menu’s bright spots, but I didn’t get to try everything so there’s the open invitation to come back – probably to try new things, but mostly for the pork and frozen souffle. If it rains once again and I find myself pleasantly cloistered, this gem isn’t a bad place to wait it out.

These ribs are real

One of the reasons why I think Big Daddy Jay’s is a favorite right off the bat is the in-your-face, unapologetic scent of barbecue that makes the residential area where it’s at even more homey. It’s a welcome respite, a stone’s throw away from Cubao’s busy thoroughfare.

Barbecue carries with it a universal appeal for good reason: it’s simple, delicious and is almost always associated with family, friends or festivities.
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The resto’s facade is surprisingly familiar. There’s a roadside barbecue stand back home that uses the same tactic of temptation to lure anyone with a nose to do a double take. Growing up, I’d have barbecue from that stand at least once a week. It’s still there and it’s an institution in itself. That’s how good it is.

I’d like to believe Big Daddy Jay’s is destined for a similar kind of following if by some strange reason it hasn’t happened yet. When I arrived, I was greeted by the smell of ribs over a spartan grill and a flaming red smoker, true to form without shortcuts. The fact that it started out as a stall in a weekend food market and has grown into a cozy little restaurant makes it a good success story. They try to keep the recipe within the family. Jay, the “big daddy”, is actually the American brother in-law of one of the owners. The smoked ribs served to us is his own recipe, and even before they started putting it out there, he’s already been feeding the family with lip smacking pork ribs.
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Their specialty, treated with authentic southern American comfort, is a winner. I won’t beat around the bush: it’s really really good.
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There’s no other way to put it. The ribs were treated with love. Meticulous love that goes the extra mile. I’m not exaggerating. The ribs were spiced rubbed twice before being smoked (using locally sourced wood chips) at a really low temperature for a few hours. What that achieves is a slab of tenderness that yields effortlessly to the light pressure of knife. How’s that for a hallelujah?
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It was served with a side of buttered rice. To be fair I never count calories when I eat. There were two dishes served as well, including deep fried chicken wings done two ways (buffalo and honey mustard) and a pasta dish that was good but not really spectacular. But the real star were the ribs.
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People (and by that I mean Yedy and Eugene) told me the photos I take where everything’s blurred are pretty good. I’ll take that as a really great compliment and an impetus to add more of that here. I’m not sure if it’s really art or maybe just a shoddy semblance but either way I’m sticking with it. Here’s a parting shot of Mr. and Mrs. Pickiest Eater with the little one. I like it, and what I did was probably a disservice to them since they’re a good-looking couple but hey, it’s art y’all.
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Ahhhhh, good food.

This is also an open letter to March, the month. What I want March to do is to dispense a few extra hours, even days – whatever it takes just to delay April’s arrival. The days seem too short for comfort, and as much as typing this surprises me, I just want to put it out there that I don’t want cooking school to end. I’m just having too much fun! Too much, it seems, that I’ve been lounging under the radar for a while now.

A change of pace is great. One of the perks of being a student is that once in a blue moon you get to go on a field trip! And how many people can say that their field trip itinerary involves eating at a really great fine dining restaurant? Like I said, I’m having too much fun.
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So I’m just going to devote the rest of this space to the photos, and the little stories along the way because it’s already 1am and I have midterms in a few hours. But still, I’m here!

The Goose Station is tucked in a building and nestled in an area of Bonifacio that is more quiet, and doesn’t get a lot of action 24/7. In fact I would have had difficulty finding it if I went by my lonesome. It’s owned by the same chefs that run the school I go to and most of the staff are graduates of said school. I wouldn’t mind working at The Goose in the future, just so you know. (fingers crossed)

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Now the butter. Then the bread. That’s a mini baguette.
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For the snack we were served foie gras mousse in a flaky cone. It was followed by a lumpiang hubad served on a prawn cracker and a tuna tartare. I wish I could have had a second (and third) helping of the tartare, because it was delicious. It had a little kick of wasabi to it, which was simply perfect. I also keep on remembering how good the velvety foie was, served out of the box and in a nice cone.
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I don’t have much to say about the roasted tomato soup with parmesan foam, except that it hit the spot really well. It’s nothing spectacular…it’s just really good simple soup.
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The salad could be a meal in itself…and here lies its complexity. It’s made up of sweet potato sticks, little cubes of cured bagnet, watercress puree, salad greens, and drumroll…a piece of crisp chicken skin, a perfectly seared scallop AND an egg yolk that has been cooked sous vide (under a vacuum). Mix all of these components together – the smooth velvet liquid from the egg yolk, the crunch and salinity of the chicken skin and pork, the crisp taste of the greens and the juicy scallop… and you get a rich orchestra of flavors in your mouth. I was amazed.

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At this point the main course was well worth the wait: we were served a chicken roulade stuffed with Italian sausage and pistachio, adobo jus, green beans, smoked onion and a squash puree. All the components made sense. A big shout out to the roulade itself, which was made with (and I hope I’m right) chicken thigh, which I hold in high regard. I was a happy camper.

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To cap off our lunch, from Gourmandise patisserie, eclairs and spiked chocolate truffles. I made a mess with the truffles, and my personal favorite among the eclairs was the salted caramel.
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Here’s a parting shot of Gustare, which I didn’t expect to find just beside The Goose. It’s basically a low-profile food and pastry takeaway/commissary + kitchen lab, owned by Ginny Roces De Guzman the author of Bake Me A Cake, one of my favorite cookbooks. I didn’t get a chance to buy anything from the shop, but with products like santol bagoong…I’ll definitely be back.

In more ways than one.
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Coming home to Mom and Tina’s

An evening visit to Mom and Tina’s bakery cafe last week left me wondering why I haven’t heard of and visited them sooner. It took me almost six months and their nearest outlet is a short tricycle ride away.
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What is endearing about the cafe is how they put a premium on detail. The interiors from the plump sofas to the wooden accents remind you of home, or a little cottage in the middle of the woods sans the cannibal witch…take your pick. The ambiance, now that Christmas is just around the corner, is incredibly festive and comforting. I feel that it’s part of the attraction and it works spendidly.
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You go there to soak up as much positive juju there is, and of course, to taste the food which is actually really good. It’s the blissful marriage of form and food that makes Mom and Tina’s a winner.
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The rolls that went with my delicious pasta all’Amatriciana (homemade fettucine with bacon and black olive sauce) were crusty on the outside and light and airy on the inside…in other words, it was the perfect foil.
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Their selections are diverse, which compels you to come back and eat with gusto once again.
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Never leave the place with trying the mini sans rival. Their pint-sized version of the real thing doesn’t scrimp on flavor with its luscious butter cream and nut filling between layers of chewy meringue. It could be a meal in itself given its calorie count, but if you’re like me…I ain’t countin.
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It has only been a week and my recent visit just last Sunday where I ordered their filling bacon and spinach quiche really affirmed that this is a place I’ll frequent. The beauty of it is that sometimes time stands still. It has the kind of laid-back, “I could read a book here all day” vibe you look for when you want to feel like you’re home because the semblance is there.

In a way, when you’re at Mom and Tina’s, you’re essentially coming home.

Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe

FRDC Building
106 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave.
(C-5), Pasig City
Tel: 914-0833 or 571-1541
 
G/F Unit 14
Tropical Palms Condominum
Dela Rosa St. cor. Perea St.,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel: 840-4299 or 894-3598
 
2nd floor,
Regis Center,
Katipunan Ave.,
Quezon City
Tel: 990-2875 or 990-2815
 
58 Sgt. Esguerra Ave.,
South Triangle,
Quezon City
Tel: 332-3080 or 332-3589

A little bit of Subspace

It’s not every day that you get to encounter a cafe or coffee shop with quirk, punch and personality. There’s this little cafe called Subspace that’s been getting much hype lately,  simply because it tugs at the heartstrings of every single k-pop (Korean pop culture) lover in town with its drinks and decor straight out of a Korean Drama (‘Coffee Prince’, not that I would know).
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extremely cool: a chandelier made of wooden chairs

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It reminds of the this great student-centric cafe in Dumaguete (you will fall in love with Dumaguete), called Noriter that is also decked out in quirky Korean-inspired items. Either way, I’ll never be a fan of k-pop but I do appreciate a casual coffee shop with personality when I see one. Subspace doesn’t scream korean pop culture to the highest octave, but it makes good use of these elements, together with other pieces of vintage graphic art to deliver a look that’s fun without being over the top. And yeah, the place is basically Instagram paradise. Go crazy.
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who are these dudes?

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I had the much raved about Purple Potato Latte (140 php cold, 125php hot). There was a debate going on in my head on whether or not purple potato means ‘ube’, but after some research (thank you, Lori), I’m satisfied not to persist on the matter.
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Did it taste like melted ube ice cream? Not quite. Did it taste like kamote? (what?), No. It’s strange that I can’t seem to describe it properly, except to say that it’s good, I really did like it. I’m banking on this distinct aftertaste that I got after every sip, which, even after a few days, still lingers in my memory. That has to mean something good.

I know I’m asking for too much but I’d appreciate my Cream Cheese Danish (70php) to have more of a buttery taste. The cream cheese center was a good mix of sweet and slightly tart, and the pastry was really flaky, which is always good.  They just need to amp up the butter more.
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The Peanut Butter Latte (145php cold, 130php warm), another one of their bestsellers, could probably be an acquired taste. It’s basically peanut butter and coffee, and although it satisfies, it doesn’t have the punch that the Purple Potato Latte has.
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Like the danish, the Ham and Cheese Turnover (80php) is a great snack to go with your hot or cold coffee.
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The selection’s visual appeal is pretty good, although I’m curious to know if they make the pastries themselves or if it comes from a third-party purveyor.  At least there is one more reason for another quick visit.
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The only regret is that I didn’t order the cucumber-kani croissant. Next time.

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Fortune was on our side that day because apparently the cafe has a notorious reputation for being packed most of the time. The place is relatively small – I can imagine it accommodating only around 15 – 20 (probably even less) people at one time, so space is a luxury.

The Subspace experience ended on a high note for me and I’m already thinking of my next visit. You don’t have to be a fan of Korean pop culture to appreciate just how artsy subspace can be. You don’t even have to know that it’s Korean-inspired! It was definitely a feast for the eyes. First impressions matter, and Subspace delivered.

I’m not a fan of putting up personal photos on my blog, but this one is probably an exception. I just really like the shot. Don’t hate.
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A plateful of Katsutei

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I can’t say that I know my tonkatsu well enough to properly describe what it should and shouldn’t be. However, there are certain points that need to be present in order for a piece of breaded pork to be remotely considered tasty, delicious – “authentic” Japanese, even. “Authentic” is used loosely because I haven’t been to Japan to savor tonkatsu the way the locals prepare it.  Basically: the breading needs to take to the meat well. The meat in turn, has to be tender, moist and flaky. Above all, it should be tasty enough to dampen my inclination to dip everything in soy sauce and vinegar just so I can appreciate it. That’s just how I roll!

It also makes sense that katsu places can find their niche in the Metro. It’s a natural tendency for Filipinos to appreciate anything fried and breaded, especially if paired with rice.

Katsutei is a relative newcomer in the katsu area. We just happened to pass by their restaurant without the slightest intention to have dinner there, but my friend was intrigued, especially having dined at Yabu recently, and hey, it didn’t hurt that at the time, they slashed 20% off their meals as a welcome treat for customers!

The industrial-ish theme works well to give off a sense of casual, no-frills dining.
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What drove me to order pork tonkatsu curry (240php with miso soup and a regular sized drink) instead of the usual tonkatsu meal with shredded cabbage? Well, I’ve had a tonkatsu meal at Yabu before, plus Fish and co.’s seafood curry has been on my mind since I tried it. Since my order would still have with it a piece of breaded and fried pork, there was no harm in trying it out.

Basic verdict: The tonkatsu curry is good. The pork is perfectly breaded, soft and flaky, not tough at all. I’m beginning to appreciate curry even more if it’s paired with a breaded piece of happiness. Come on, I love pork! They can get stingy with the side vegetables, but I think that’s expected given its price.
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They serve iced green tea with their combo meal – I like anything remotely related to green tea, so I had no problems with it. I’m not sure if they actually used chilled green tea from actual tea leaves or sweetened green tea powder to make their drink though.
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Sure, 200 – 300 pesos isn’t exactly a budget meal, but what you get with that amount is a plate of what good tonkatsu should be. It’s a notch cheaper than Yabu’s offerings, and strangely enough, after discussing it with my friend (same friend dined with me at Yabu and Katsutei), she would gladly go back to either restaurant. Go to Yabu for an emphasized authentic Japanese katsu experience; go to Katsutei to get your quick and simple katsu fix sans the frills. Either way, you will be satisfied.

I’ll definitely go back to try their interpretation of the tonkatsu meal (215php with miso soup and regular drink), and perhaps the fish katsu with tartar sauce and fries (165php with miso soup and regular drink), and the crispy chicken teriyaki don (185php with miso soup and regular drink). But for now, there’s a steaming bowl of adobo rice with my name on it that requires my attention.
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Katsutei

Upper Ground Level, SM City North EDSA
North Avenue corner EDSA
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

The art of breading and frying at Yabu (House of Katsu)

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When a restaurant boldly decides to give itself a title, the connotation that it carries must live up to the hype. Such is the case of Yabu, “The House of Katsu”, located at the 2nd floor of the SM Megamall Atrium. It’s Japanese all the way, but as the name suggests, the menu is chock full of everything breaded and fried (katsudon). Katsudon derives its name from tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl).

When we arrived, the place wasn’t jam-packed so reservation or no reservation, we were seated right away. The area was still very spacious, with two main dining areas quirkily separated by a glass (or fiberglass) panel decorated with large pieces of comic book pages that detail how a “katsu master” passes on his wisdom to a naïve apprentice. So the place does invite a little bit of casual humor.
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As soon as we settled in, we were given a small bowl with regular and black sesame seeds, together with a wooden pestle. The server assigned to us gamely demonstrated how the dipping sauce is made, which seemed simple enough for someone like me to understand: really grind the seeds until it resembles coarse powder and then add in the thick sauce. The sauce isn’t too sweet, with a tangy taste that reminds me of really thick Worcestershire sauce.
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The menu also holds the “Yabu promise”: if we’re not happy with what we’ve eaten, they will gladly replace it/we get our money back or if the food isn’t served within 30 minutes, it’s free of charge. The confident declaration of excellence doesn’t stop there: Yabu apparently tapped Chef Kazuya Takeda of Tonkatsu Takeshin (in Tokyo) to help train their chefs. With our tummy’s grumbling, our expectations were definitely high.

Our food arrived around 20 minutes after we gave our orders. Not bad at all.

When you order a Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) Set, you can either have the ‘hire’ (flaky pork tenderloin with no fat) or ‘rosu’ (juicy pork loin with a trimming of fat). Prices vary according to the weight of the pork.

We had the 120 gram Rosu Set (355php). It comes with generous serving of unlimited thinly sliced cabbage (according to the comic strip, the cabbage blades need to be exact in thickness) with sesame dressing, unlimited Japanese rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles and a bowl of fruit (watermelon and pineapple – my favorite).
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The problem with cooking pork, especially a cut that doesn’t have a lot of fat, is that it can get very tough if overcooked, and even if it’s cooked perfectly, without the pork fat it can taste bland (I’m a firm believer that pork needs to be served with a generous amount of fat!).

Surprisingly, the pork was juicy and not tough at all. The breading evenly coated the meat well, without it being too crunchy.

You can either dip every piece you skewer in the dipping sauce you made, but I think the katsu can still hold its own without it.

We also had a Hire (tenderloin) and Seafood Mixed Katsu Set (475php) which included a black tiger prawn, scallop, cream dory, eggplant and pepper. This is where things get interesting.
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Of course the hire delivered. It was flaky and had no traces of it being tough, just like the rosu. But when I tried a piece of breaded cream dory, I probably had a foodgasm. My friend felt the same way. Right there I developed tunnel vision and saw only the cream dory which was incredibly soft and flaky without being fishy and slimy. There’s probably no other word to describe it except perfect. It was the perfect marriage of crunch from the breading and silky softness from the fish itself. It doesn’t need to be dipped in the sauce or paired with rice to be appreciated (and loved). But those nuances work, too.
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But I didn’t forget about the other things in the set!

The tiger prawn was cooked perfectly because like the breaded pork, it wasn’t tough at all. My least favorite item on the set would have to be the scallop though just because I would prefer to have it steamed or pan-seared and not breaded. But hey it is a katsu place after all. The eggplant and the pepper were great additions to the set since it offered another “texture under another texture” option.

Both sets had the same side dishes: the cabbage with the sesame dressing duo complimented each other well. Run of the mill coleslaw this is not. But between my friend and I, she liked the cabbage more than I did. The miso soup tasted just the way miso soup should taste like, so no arguments there. I particularly like the Japanese rice, which has a deliciously inviting neutral taste that goes well with the breaded items.
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I ordered shochu (an Iichiko Super, 175php) with my set, which had a great kick to it. Sake (rice wine) is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. Shochu is Japanese liquor made from other ingredients, not just rice: sweet potato, buckwheat or barley. While sake is brewed, shochu is distilled.
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The servers were attentive without being smothering, which is always something I appreciate when dining out.  Although this can be negligible, the chairs a little bit low relative to the height of the table. I’m 5’10” and I did notice that. My friend 5’2” and she was really the one who felt it. But we went through dinner happy and pretty full so it wasn’t that big of a deal!

All in all, Yabu, is the Japanese restaurant that could. I’ve always been partial to all things breaded and fried because that has always been on my list of comfort foods. But this little resto takes it a notch higher by translating authenticity into a casual, no frills dining experience. The prices are a bit steep but I felt that every meal was worth it. I would definitely come back again, if only for the cream dory (haha!) and maybe for more selections next time.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of marketing, I was invited by the brand manager and ordered free of charge. But all opinions are mine.

Yabu: House of Katsu 

2nd floor, SM Megamall Atrium, Julia Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City

(02) 576-3900

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yabuhouseofkatsu

Website: http://www.yabuhouseofkatsu.com