Jan 29, 2008

I Thought It Was Just Good Enough.

"Ma'am, Try our Strawberry Shortcake. Isang slice na lang yan."
"Oo nga eh. I'll think about it."
"Sige na, Ma'am. Bihira lang kami may Strawberry Shortcake kasi special 'yan."
"Kasi bihira at seasonal ang strawberry kaya bihira 'yan di ba?"
"Ay oo nga naman, Ma'am."

So goes a conversation I recently had with the vendor in Bizu Alabang Town Center. I just shake my head and laugh while the vendor sheepishly scratches his head. I order the cake together with Bizu's hot chocolate.

The Strawberry Shortcake (Php195 per slice) is the kind I like. Not too sweet on the overall taste, but the freshness of the cream and the strawberries come out. The cake is fluffier than the usual dense shortcake and it feels very light on the tummy as I slowly melt each forkful in my mouth. Good, but not oh so good that I will crave for it, but good enough.

I wash this down with Bizu's Hot Chocolate Grande (Php160). It was okay. I still think Bizu's hot chocolate is overrated. Its thick consistency is appealing, but the body that I look for in chocolate is just not there. I am not so happy with my hot chocolate, but it is good enough.

I was ready to call it a night, but Dex definitely was not. After drinking his capuccino (Php105), he calls the waiter and orders this:

Which came out looking like this (A spoonful less from each since I forgot to tell Dex I would be taking its picture after all.):

He tells me that this (Chocolate Souffle with Madagascar Vanilla Sauce at Php285 per order) is one of his favorites and, being the occasional food snob that I am, tries a spoonful with much skepticism (Prior to Dex taking a bite, the souffle was flat and looked more like a chocolate cake).

Okay. It was good enough.

I take another bite, this time with the vanilla sauce, hey, hey, this was good! This time, I couldn't get enough. I really wouldn't call this a souffle, but this wasn't just a chocolate cake either. It had the chocolate taste that I so longed for (Think back to the days when homemade chocolate cakes tasted like homemade chocolate cakes.) --- rich, bittersweet, with a nutty note. And it had a subtle crust that added chewiness to the very moist albeit underbaked cake (Lava cake comes to mind.). Just to make sure you don't get satiated, pouring in a bit of the vanilla sauce in between bites deliciously cleanses your tastebuds, preparing you to crave for the next bite.

"O, kala ko ba ayaw mo," Dex teases me.
"Did I ever say that? Can I have more?"
I got to have the last bite.
This is what I call a HAPPY ENDING. : )

*Prices are exclusive of 10% service charge.

Bizu is in Ground Level, Corte de las Palmas, Alabang Town Center. Phone numbers: +632 809-BIZU, +632 7721917, +632 7721918. Click here for the other branches.

Jan 25, 2008

Buying DVD can be delicious!

It was really the call of buying DVD in Makati Cinema Square and getting to eat some fresh Jap food that made me go all the way to Pasong Tamo. I knew just the perfect lunch mate to bring along --- someone who loves films, food, and is available almost all of the time ("foodie kaladkarin" comes to mind). Prior to meeting up with Migmig, I already informed him that I wanted to try out the specialized restos in Little Tokyo so he better decide if he wants sushi or noodles or some other Jap dish, but it had to be specific.

Walking to Little Tokyo, Migmig tells me that he wants noodles or curry. I try to discourage him nicely by saying that curry is usually made from paste and not made fresh. I unintentionally distract him as we exchanged asking and explaining what paste was. This banter went on as we trudged along under the sun and were led to a small place that said "Okonomi-yaki Restaurant". Migmig asks what it was and I tell him that I think it's some kind of omelette. Migmig says "Game! As long as there's meat!". Yay! No noodles or curry!

As we enter, we see Japanese-style tables on our right and a sushi bar format (No sushi here!) to our left. Migmig says, "I'm not taking off my shoes." Before I even get to ask what he's hiding in his shoes, the waitresses swiftly seat us and give us our menus.

The menu says it all.

Opening the front menu already corrected my omelette explanation. Seeing the cooks in action made me doubt if I was reading the English definition correctly (Yes, I stereotype a bit, but it's only because of my past experiences with Japanese-English translations. Migmig says, "Ang dami namang cabbage niyan. Cabbage and cabbage," then he quickly follows up with "Uy okay yan. Tara. Order na tayo!" I am distracted with reading the menu because Migmig keeps saying "Okay 'to!" "Wow! Chicken skin!" "O, what will we order na?" alternately. I decide to hold back my laughter and concentrate. I choose the okonomi-yaki with pork, squid, shrimp, and egg. Migmig goes for the Soute Scallops. "Miss, ano ang ibig sabihin ng soute?" I ask. She says, "Soute? Yung sino-saute." Wow. Deep.

Okonomiyaki (My research shows this word spelled without a dash, but the resto had a dash. It's really how you like it, I guess. : ) ) has been called Japanese pizza, but I think it really is only because of how it looks like and not how it tastes like (Can you imagine eating pizza with steamed rice?). Okonomi means "whatever you like" and yaki means to "grill".

While waiting for our orders, I try to make a joke out of the word okonomiyaki. I shouldn't have told Migmig my plan because he told me, "It took you so long, Pam. You just lost the moment." Oh well. I look around and find so many cute curios. I know I am in Japanese territory when the interiors are peppered with cute character stuff and am watching a cute Japanese kid blinking and blinking her eyes to some Japanese music. None of which have a theme, save for all of them being Japanese.

Here comes performance time.

I get hungry as I watch the cooks pour batter on the teppanyaki grill, then fill it up with cabbage, bacon, shrimp, squid, and egg. The grill smokes up and smelling the creamy fishy aroma, I knew we ordered the right thing.

The cook proceeds to cover the okonomi-yaki with a kaldero (cauldron) top, reminding me of a game show. She goes through the same procedure as she creates another okonomi-yaki, this time with yakisoba. I wish we ordered that, too, but I promised myself not to overeat. Besides, we had another order (Soute Scallops), which, when being cooked, looked pathetically miniscule beside the large okonomi-yakis. I couldn't resist ribbing Migmig. "Parang ang konti ng order mo. Hahaha!!!"

The cook proceeds to uncover the okonomi-yaki and puts it on a pan that resembles the pans used for pan pizzas.

Ah here comes the verdict.

Taste it to believe it!

The first one served was the Soute Scallop (Php258, 3 bigger than the usual scallop pieces) that did not taste pathetic at all! They were grilled and salted to tastiness. These scallops were heavy duty and oh so delicious! Chewing each morsel had to be followed with the good quality rice (Thank God, the steaming white Japanese rice was perfect!) so as not to waste the overflowing tastiness of this dish. "Mmmmmmmmm," loudly declares Miguel in the small place where just a whisper can be heard. He offers to share the third piece, but I could see the joy in his eyes when I told him that he could have it all to himself.

Next comes the okonomi-yaki. I forget the name given to our okonomi-yaki, but as previously mentioned, we ordered the one with pork, shrimp, squid, and egg (Php385) plus a generous topping of bonito shaving (+Php35). It looks huge, but the moment I put a piece in my mouth, I knew we would finish it. It reminds me of the takoyaki of Samurai balls that I loved so much, but this one had a less fishy taste and had more bite into it. Each ingredient's taste was highlighted by a sauce that tasted like A1, but was less acidic. What A1 does to steak, this sauce does to everything else in it.

The whole thing

Wanted to show the layer, but...

While I wonder if my tummy can hold more food, in comes Sharma.

I guess Migmig was thinking of the same thing because we both told her to order and we can all share. Yay! More to order. Being her gracious self, Sharma asks us what she should order instead of pushing for what she wants. Migmig encourages her to order the okonomi-yaki with yakisoba. He tries to push for the one with chicken skin, but Sharma chooses the Modern Mix which is okonomi-yaki with soba, pork, and egg (Php248). The guy who looks like the owner asks Sharma something in Japanese, but backs off and translates in English "With mayonnaise?". "Yes." Guy who looks like the owner must've thought Sharma was Japanese. Can't blame him. Sharma had the most wonderful creamy skin and a pool of light brown eyes.

Looks like spaghetti pizza!

While Sharma tells us a story which gets us all heated up ("Gusto ba niya basagin ko itong baso sa noo niya," exclaims Migmig in his jolly voice. If Migmig weren't a big guy, I'd think he was just kidding.), the Modern Mix is served. I am not a multi-tasker and I thought that I would have to finish hearing Sharma's story first before I could eat the next order. Call it a miracle, but I was able to eat the Modern Mix while still being very involved in the discussion. Yup, it was good and it didn't taste like the other order in spite of the similar ingredients, which in my books, was a good thing. I mean, how many can you order in one sitting if they all taste the same? One order may be good for the Japanese, but I'm PinoyChi in the company of friends (one of whom has an appetite that competes with mine). I must order variety. : )

Juicy little devils, aren't they?

The food was so satisfying that, for the first time, I did not mind being served fruit after a Japanese meal. It was a perfect ending to a very tasty and satisfying lunch and the refreshing chilled bottled black oolong tea (Php50).

We left the place with me thinking of when I should go there with Dex. Would tonight be too soon?
When you see this poster outside, you're in the right place.

Kagura The Okonomi-yaki Restaurant is inside Little Tokyo in Pasong Tamo, beside Makati Cinema Square (MCS). Parkin MCS, go out to the Pasong Tamo side (where the BPI ATM is), cross the road beside it, go towards the Seryna restaurant and go inside the path after it. When you get to the compound, it's almost across Niko Niko restaurant. Enjoy!

P.S. The nice pictures are from Migmig, this really talented photographer. The ordinary ones are mine. : )

Jan 24, 2008

Don't Be Fooled by the Boring Menu!

It has been quite some time before I was moved to write again about food. Call it overexposure to too much food. Call it taste fatigue. But last week, I call it falling in love.

I fell in love with the color of violet.
I fell in love with the master chefs who were mentors to some of the best local chefs.
I fell in love with Aubergine.

Aubergine is French for eggplant. A vegetable I so love for its flavor and versatility (Smoked eggplant, fried eggplant, sauteed eggplant, cream of eggplant, eggplant Parmigiana, eggcetera, eggcetera), but not one that moms would prescribe for their kids because they hardly have any nutritive value (as of today. Who knows what will be discovered a few years from now?).

Aubergine is a restaurant created by ISCAHM which did not open with much fanfare nor carefully crafted marketing. It promotes itself matter of factly --- a restaurant that showcases the talents of the ISCAHM masters and their wards. Still, a restaurant named as such would catch my attention any time of the day.

So onwards I volunteered to go with our Test Kitchen girls to try out the restaurant just around the corner of our office. I looked forward to what they can do with the aubergines.

Aubergines I found not, but what I tasted more than compensated for my expectations. The moment I went inside this restaurant, I knew I would be back.

I forgot to take pictures of the place, but I like its interiors which was a balance of the old and the new. Vintage, '50s nightclub, and French dining rooms come to mind as I observe my surroundings. I love how they put pizzaz in their open kitchen which did not look like your usual sanitized kitchen (Oh, but it was spic and span nonetheless.).

But let me tell you about the food.

Upon seeing the menu, I wanted to order everything, but I could only suggest. Unfortunately, none of my suggestions were included. I remind myself that this is not my occasion. I am but a volunteer to a learning event for our Test Kitchen.

I liked Aubergine more when we gave our orders. Since this was a tasting experience for us and would be charging this to the company, we had to be discriminating with our spending, but not sacrifice the reason for being there. T did the ordering and told the Captain Waiter that we were splitting all the dishes among the 4 of us (Note that most of the dishes are for single serve.). With hardly batting an eyelash, Captain Waiter even gave his suggestions on how the split the dishes so we will all be satisfied with the orders. I found this very thoughtful and professional.

While waiting for our orders, a waitress approaches us with a bread basket, asking us to choose which bread we wanted (I couldn't remember the options, but I do remember choosing the carrot bread.). I was surprised to be given just one piece instead of having the bread basket on the table, but it was not an issue because the bread was not spectacular nor was the butter, but the basil tapenade (I'm not sure if this is what they call it, but this is how I tasted it.) was quite tasty.

Now comes the Baked Oysters (Php480 for 6 satisfying pieces) which exceeded my expectations! Being an oyster lover, I never like my oysters baked because the ones other restos serve overcook the oysters to rubber and compensate by drowning the oyster morsel in cream or cheese. Aubergine rose to the challenge and offerred oysters that were succulent and warm, with the spinach, bacon, and champagne sauce pushing the delicious oysters to its maximum tastiness instead of distracting your palate to have other tastes. Oooooh.

Up next is the Wild Mushroom Froth (Php240 per order) which didn't excite me when I was reading the menu, but, lo and behold, with my first mouthful, this soup came alive, the linamnam of the mushroom teasing my tastebuds to want more and more of this concoction. I cannot believe that a mushroom soup can taste this good! By the way, did I mention that these are fresh mushroom which have not been drowned in cream? I cannot help but say, Oooooh again. Oooooh.

Pasta was served in the form of the Tagliolini (Php420). It was pasta well done, but not up to my Ooooh-ing. Maybe it doesn't help that I'm not fond of cream sauce when it comes to my pasta.

The next dish is one that I was dreading to taste just because I have tasted one sea bass too many. By now, I should have learned that Aubergine does not do things in the usual way. The Grilled Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass (Php920) was a very good catch (Oh, was that a pun? Hehe.)! You knew it was sea bass, but whoever created this dish knew how to bring out the best in this popular fish. The fish itself was flaky but very tender and, unlike most sea bass dishes, it was not dry nor did its taste separate from the other elements of the dish. Instead, the broth used was almost like the sea bass' juice, tasty, tasty, tasty, making the fish juicy, juicy, juuuuuuicccccyyyyy.
This baby packs a wollop!

And juicy it went til the French Duck Confit (Php 740). One of the reasons I hesitate ordering duck in European/Continental-style cooking is because it is never as juicy as the way duck is cooked by the Chinese. Once more, Aubergine proves me wrong as the duck was moist, tender, and of the fall-off-the-bone quality.

The sauce has to be there!

Finally, we get to the steak. I have this habit of always tasting my dishes prior to mixing it with a condiment or its accompanying sauce. For me, it's a test of good cooking. The Australian Beef Tenderloin Steak (Php1,180) was cooked medium well (I prefer my meat medium rare to rare.). It tasted how steaks taste like in fine dining restaurants, cooked in the right method, but not so tasty. I had to dip it in the green pepper sauce that accompanied it, expecting to just moisten the steak. Boy, was I in for a big surprise when bursts of flavors exploded in my mouth! The combination was nothing short of spectacular. This I find hard to describe. I sought to look for the right word that would describe meaty, fresh, tasty, rightly salted and peppered all in one? How oh how? This I pondered while repeatedly telling my officemates how wonderful the steak tasted with the sauce. My officemates probably decided to give it a try (See, the pepper sauce looked deceptively ordinary.) because I was pestering them on how good it was. I see their faces and see that they agree with me, giving themselves another forkful of steak dipped in that fab sauce. I salivate just remembering it. Ooooh.

I was so satisfied that I didn't even want dessert! Now that is a major breakthrough (On hindsight, I remember not craving for dessert when I was in the throes of Singapore cuisine ecstasy when I was in Singapore. I think if you get that much flavor, you don't need to have sweets to add to what was lacking.). We tried the cakes and pralines (Turns out, we didn't have to order the latter since we were given complimentary samples.), but it was not something to rave about.

A glance at the menu would make you think that it is expensive, but note that ordered 1 of each, sharing them for 4 healthy appetites and we came out of Aubergine full and very, very satisfied. I'd call this great value for every peso spent. I can't wait to go back to Aubergine to try out the other dishes. This time, I will spend for it. I just hope someone writes their menu better. The dish descriptions can bore you to sleep, but the food is all you need to wake every single part of your body.

Aubergine is at 32nd and 5th Building, corner 32nd Street. It's in the building across S&R, where McDonald's is. +632 856 9888. www.aubergine.ph. dine@aubergine.ph