Monday, May 27, 2013

Yabu, Best Dang Katsudon....So Far!

The Katsudon invasion has begun!  I had my first Katsudon way back in 1994 in Komoro Soba, Megamall. I don't remember exactly but it was something like 70 pesos back then and it had pretty much all the good stuff rolled into one.  Breaded Deep Fried Pork, check!  Egg!  Check!  Lots of rice?  Check!  Its a combination of all good things rolled into one, a Japanese Arroz ala Cubana if you will, basta masarap pagnakahalo lahat!  I had Katsudon in Metro Manila a few times since then and once abroad.  Katsudon is a staple in most Japanese restaurant and having everything a Filipino likes: pork, rice and egg I will be its a best seller everywhere.

The thing is, there is katsudon and there is KATSUDON.  While an unassuming me thought of Katsudon in Metro Manila to be a pretty straightforward thing with no differentiation boy was I wrong.  I heard of this place called Yabu "the Katsu" House (correction: "House of Katsu") and dreamt of going there to see what the fuss was all about.  I passed by Yabu in Magnolia mall at 3:30 pm and the place was packed!  Unbelievable, but what else could be expected in a place dedicated to Katsudon, other places have it as just another menu item but in Yabu its the star and everyone is lining up to have it.


My only picture.  The Kurobota Pork

I have no other pictures.  We ordered a Kurobota Pork (the Mercedes Benz of Pork?  Ah, the Black Angus Beef of Pork?  Here!  The Kobe Beef of Pork!).  I had a taste of the Kurobota pork and some of the rice and that was it, I was going nuts.  Service was quite slow in the Southmall branch and when you are starving you really don't take pictures of good food.  Needless to say this is the best dang Katsudon I have ever had. At 315 for the regular pork Katsudon which comes with UNLIMITED rice, salad and miso soup plus a fruti dish, this is the best bargain I can think of.  The pork is delicious, soft, golden breading and tender.  The rice is plentiful and soft, the Japanese salad sauce makes the cabbage a great way to line your stomach with fiber.  I did salt everything to my taste though.

You have a choice of a few different Katsudons, I went for the Rosu (the 315 I mentioned) which was supposed to have more fat.  As I believe fat makes food good, that is what I had.  I must say though, the Hiru my sister got seemed to be more tender even though it was supposed to be a leaner cut.  Either way I enjoyed my food immensely and could have gone back every day this week.

The Katsu wars have begun, I know two new chains are coming and Saboten had just opened.  Good times ahead for me and my favorite Japanese comfort food!

Edit: I went back exactly a week later to share the delight with my girl.  I call my girl "Kurobota" now, as it is the finest of all pork, she is the finest of all women. We went to the Yabu branch in Magnolia and in comparison with Southmall, the service is levels higher, all unlimited items were quickly replenished, we were seated right away and the servers very attentive and enthusiastic in their explanation of the "ritual" of grinding the sesame to prepare the sauce.  5 stars to the Yabu Magnolia branch!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tonchaya Japanese Restaurant at the Fort Strip

Irassyaimase! (irrashaimashe?) is the Japanese word for "welcome" and is globally used to welcome customers into Japanese restaurants.  Naturally we were not surprised by the still sleepy waiters and waitresses jumping up and screaming "Irassyaimase!", "Irassyaimase!" at us like parrots in a jungle.  We were in the Fort Strip on a Saturday evening and my girl decided to treat me to Japanese food and we saw Tonchaya for the first time and decided to give it a try.  We then made our way past the first table were management seemed to be accounting the day's tally to the inside section which had what looked like several Japanese dining.  There was an outdoor al fresco area where several members of today's youth were enjoying cigarettes and the P320 buckets of beer.  We sat ourselves right smack in the middle with our backs to the wine selection.

It is always a welcome sign to see nationals of the cuisine of the establishment you are dining in actually eating the food.  I don't remember what used to be in this spot but I hope Tonchaya lasts longer.  Scanning the menu for something healthy to eat after the recent excesses found us ordering the following:

8 kinds of Seafood, Chirashidon P395
Tonchya Special Okonomiyaki, P300
Sashimi Shake, P250

Okonomiyaki - pork, pancake batter, bonito flakes (dried fish flakes), fish bits and some squid.  This is the best Okonomiyaki in this side of Kagura of Little Tokyo which my gosh is a must go for any Japanese food afficionado.  The Chirashidon is a healthy mix of seafood on a bed of truly excellent lemon flavored Japanese rice.  The Sashimi Shake is well raw fish, not too much you can do there and it wasn't fresh enough for me to take notice.  For fresh seafood you should go to Izakaya Snowman in Polaris (link to short review I made before).  I saw the owners of Snowman carrying fish in coolers they heroically caught themselves, now that is fresh.

Now our Tonchaya experience was very positive on the whole.  Food took a bit long to come which is odd considering you are supposed to get fresh raw fish.  Again, the Okonomiyaki was phenomenal and did satisfy my craving for one of my favorite Japanese dishes.  In case you are wondering I love Katsudon, Shrimp Tempura and Okonomiyaki.

The funny part came after we paid and stood up to leave.  There was a hushed silence and no one even looked at us and then we unceremoniously left without a goodbye.

click to get Japanese Restaurants in Metro Manila listings.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Brotzeit! Sausage Fest at Shang Mall, Mandaluyong

A meeting brought me to Shang Mall in Mandaluyong.  What I remember the most about Shang Mall is the nutty parking.  You have one parking building that is quite steep and alternates between large parking spaces and narrow parking spaces and then you have another building with the narrowest lanes to go up.  I feel my heart jump every time I see how narrow it is as I don't drive the narrowest of cars.  Lo and behold, the landscape of Shang mall is forever changed by their recent expansion.  Inspired I supposed by what is happening at SM Megamall's growth the Shang itself has ponied up on anabolics and now looks twice as massive.

After my meeting my girl met up with me and mentioned to me she was starving.  She knew exactly where she wanted to eat, in Brotzeit, a Singaporean German Restaurant franchise in that little strip of restaurants outside the mall facing the hotel.  She had eaten in Brotzeit Singapore and was craving German beer and food fare.  I was going to write sausages instead of food fare but I changed my mind last minute.

The thing is with me, I am a forced foodie because my girl is a full on foodie.  If I am by myself I usually grab a bite in the food court.  Sausages for me are of the in a bun variety but now I was about to indulge in sausages the German way, with sauerkraut (needed spell check for that), potatoes and mustard.

 Du'oh!  Missed Happy Hour!  Achtung!  300 for a half liter?  How does that compare to a pint?  So I can compare against draft beer at Draft.  Metric vs English skills went down the minute I left grade school.

 One of the draft beer stations with their house Paulaner Beer
The Paulaner Light and Medium Beers (light for me and medium for the girl - don't laugh, you'll get it once you have abs to care for too)

Immediately I thought of Draft when I entered Brotzeit.  Obviously both had the German tavern concept with long benches, wooden tables and long bar going on.  What interested me immediately was the beer.  They had Paulaner on tap and a few other things.  I ordered what looked like the palest because we Pinoys have a crazy ability to imbibe beer and I didn't want to rack up a thousand calories in two hours.

The waitress was steering us towards a sausage sampler platter for P960 containing about four varieties of sausage but it didn't have the curry sausage my girl wanted.  Seeing as how the cheese sausage platter I wanted is 430 and the curry sausage platter she wanted was 430 there fore 860 total it didn't compute to get the 960 sausage sampler so I told her with finality that if she wanted curry sausage then she should have it!  We tend to overorder as a couple and this was one way of curbing the expanding growth of my belly.

What we first noticed was the somewhat quiet ambiance at seven.  Unfortunately as the crowd poured in it became increasingly difficult to hear each other at around 7:30.  This place gets packed!

 Cheese Sausages
 Curry Sausage
Apple Strudel

The food is good, not spectacular but quite enjoyable.  What I liked best were the fries that came with the curry sausage.  The sausages themselves were so so.  The curry sausage was merely topped with a thin curry sauce and I found that the curry flavor didn't continue past the skin.  The cheese sausage was mild, there would be a spritz of liquid with every slice but I couldn't taste the cheese notwithstanding, the sausage was still good.  The portions are good and you will feel quite full afterwards.

I know people who absolutely love this kind of eating and I would recommend this place to them in a heartbeat because there are very few of the type.  Other places like this I would recommend are well, Draft, the Appenzeller and Chateau Europe over at Bf homes.  

As to be expected there were quite a few expats there for just the beer.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Degustation Menu at the Tivoli, Mandarin Oriental Manila

Hotel fine dining, something I never really understood.  I am no true foodie, I rather spend my money on something I can see tomorrow whether a small item or by saving.  I always thought of food as an expense and not as an investment to increase my psychic equity.  I know that other people gain much happiness from eating well and good for them.  Don't get me wrong, I too enjoy new experiences, its just that I do not want to pay for them.  But luckily my wonderful girlfriend was gifted with coupons for the degustation menu at the Mandarin Oriental Manila so off we were.

Service was impeccable, I cannot rave about it enough.  The menu and bread were served instantly, the waiters were extremely pleasant and well versed with what was to be served and were generous with their inputs (when asked by a food neophyte like myself, I bet they can sense who doesn't need or want information).  What never ceases to impress me in any restaurant is when they come over with those table squeegee things and silver dustpans to collect the crumbs after the bread plate.

The portions are substantial (although not "lamon" substantial) this is a great place to bring a date for a special occassion.  If you go on an off peak period it shouldn't be too crowded with the usual foreign businessmen and tourists seeking first class accommodations in Makati.

 As to be expected even the bread tray was fancy.  I love carbs so I finished it all.  There was garlic butter and a pate of some sort.

 Our menu at the time, please not that the menu changes.  Click  three course menu to see what is current.  Pricing I believe will be the same.

Palette Cleanser

 Oxtail Consume 

 Dungeon Crab Cakes
 Blood sausage and foie gras

 The dessert, chocolate, mousses and fruit

We had the P1,800 three course menu (click to see what is currently there, it changes).  We both had the blood sausage as the main.  I had the dungeon crab (seriously, what is that?  Sounds like they caught it climbing upside down on the ceiling, straight out of a sorcerer's castle - just kidding, its some North American crab, see wikipedia).  The oxtail soup my girl got is something I guy would never order - at least if he is paying for it.  Soup is never substantial, the only exception to soup are mushrom, preferrably of the Campbells variety and Clam Chowder, a very good one is always appreciated or if you make it yourself mami (luckyme) with Ma Ling or Spam and a fried egg on top - yeah thats right, see here).

The desert is absolutely heavenly.  I am not a fan of white chocolate (just because its white, for me chocolate should always be brown or even black) but the white chocolate mouse was awesome.  I am not fond of fresh fruit and chocolate although I love nuts and raisin IN chocolate so I separated the fruit and ate the chocolate and fruit separately.

I was a cheapo and didn't have any drinks with the meal so my Friday night date was almost free.  I felt compelled to give a good tip as the service was very pleasing.  I like this place a lot.  In stark contrast I did not at all enjoy Prince Albert over at the Intercon (ate there with my family on coupons).  But Tivoli I really liked.  Great service, great food - found out they have some Michelin Star working French Chef - points with the date you bring (I was the date and I was impressed).  Five stars!

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

1521 Restaurant - Great Filipino Food Restaurant

1521 restaurant, a wonderfully Filipino Restaurant that even takes the names of regular Filipino dishes and further Filipinizes them with colloquial phrases to create names such as Sisiga Sisig, Laing ni Popeye and Hari ng Lechon Kawali - the three dishes I ordered during a Filipino Food craving.  There are times that I just have to have my fried, salty and very crispy pork whether sisig, lechon kawali or crispy pata.  There is not taking that away from any Pinoy.

 Cute murals depicting Filipino festive meals adorn the walls

It was my second trip there and coincidentally again it smelled like they just sprayed insecticide.  My girl asked the waiter if they did just spray some Baygon and the waiter's deadpan reaction is testament to their zest towards the regular destruction of all Phyllum Anthropoda that had taken up residence in their fine establishment.

 I love the woven fan display

 Yes, Christmas in May, that is a giant Capiz Parol

 Delicious Laing

 Lechon Kawali with Burro and a single slice of bacon

 Ah, the Sisig

The very generous single serving of Garlic Rice

The service is great, food is served fast and the waiters and lone waitress are smiling and polite.  Pricing is not bad too, the sisig was P215, Laing was P280, Lechon Kawali was P290 and the rice P65.  And all were generous portions, I could have shared this with two other people.

1521 is an awesome Filipino Food restaurant (click for more) the kicker is how they innovate, plate and improve classics.  The sisig for example is served on a long ceramic plate and generously topped with crispy chicharon.  The 1521 flavor is spicy, rich as you can see from their generous application of green pepper and sili labuyo.  I love it there and will be back, my one itsy bitsy complaint is that the sisig was a bit too salty but heck, that is what the garlic rice is for.  Five stars!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Greeka Kouzina - A Greek jewel in Metro Manila

Last Sunday after mass my family and I made the trip to San Juan to eat in the much talked about Greek Kouzina restaurant along P. Guevarra.  Greek Kouzina is famed to be a worthy alternative to Cyma the biggest name in Greek cuisine.  We took Wilson Street from EDSA then turned right to P Guevarra and its on the right side.

Greek Kouzina has absolutely no trouble attracting patrons, packed to the brim at 1:30 pm on Sunday we were told we had a twenty minute wait.  Parking is limited and there are no reservations on weekends.  Someone told me the best is to go on an odd hour on a weekday if you have the time.

Having made our way there and not wanting to head back to Wilson we decided to wait.  There were several families there and what impressed me the most is the huge portion of roast lamb everyone seemed to order.

 Very pretty multi colored lamps famed in the Greek Turkish regions hang from the wall

 First time I took a picture of any floor for these rather pretty tiles

 Another shot of the lanterns

The first dish we ordered was the Fig Roka salad, I have no pics because we started eating at past two and when you are used to eating at twelve sharp and you get food at two, trust me, taking a picture of the food is not a priority.  I am not a salad guy, for me the only salad I can name is Caesar Salad, preferably the extra fattening kind at Friday's or Chili's but as of then there is the Fig Roka salad in my vocabulary.  Yes, it is that good.  Good portions of fried figs, tomato and nuts with arugula and other levaes.  It is something I will order again without hesitation and something I could have as my main course.

Hummus and Artichoke spread for pita and bread.  So-so.  Not bad but not stunning.

 Here is what you come here for, the lamb neck.  Yes, under that juicy mutton is the vertebrae of baa baa and it is delicious with the sauces.  On its own it lacks flavor but it really comes alive with the gravy sauce.  I have no idea what the lighter colored one is but the brown one is much better.

 Beef Souvlaki



The Greek lemon potatoes

The kicker is that Greek Kouzina's main courses come with a generous side dish and potatoes. The Greek macaroni, moussaka and potatos were all side dishes.  Greek Kousina is actually pretty good value and we over ordered thinking the portions would be puny but instead the food portions were worthy of Sparta!!!!

The Souvlaki was smoky and flavorful.  We had the Kalamari, you all know what that is, that was ok.

My mine takeaway from the experience would be to go to Greeka Kouzina for the meat, Cyma has nothing on their meat.  But if the clam pasta, hummus and artichoke means a lot to you go to Cyma.

On another note, if you want good Greek Yogurt, go to Market Market ;)

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Exotic Food in Beijing

These pics aren't mine but of my sister on a Beijing, China tour and well I just want to share my shock with what passes for street food there.

 These look illegal, but one can never be sure, maybe they are a common species and farmed somewhere.

As a admittedly advanced petkeeper back in the day I can say that the ones on top are Asian Forest Scorpions (Heterometrus Spinifer - naks) which we actually have here.  The ones we see in exotic petshops are from Palawan.  Now these scorpions are not too bad as pets, they use their claws primarily and rarely their sting, but not that I recommend keeping scorpions for anyone - a) its still dangerous b) they are really boring pets.  Now the critter below is far more dangerous, you can tell how deadly a scorpion is by the proportion of its tail to its claws - big claws and small tail means less venom because the scorpion uses its claws to hunt and defend itself while little Tyranosaurs like hands means that big ole tail of its packs quite the sting and most hobbyists should avoid it.  As for eating it, my sister passed but I imagine you would get a bit of a reaction if you ingest it even if the venom wasn't injected into your bloodstream.

No idea what this is, my sister didn't know either.  Actually looks yummy.

Well if you do get a hankering to checkout China give a few travel agents a call and see what packages there are.  In case you didn't know the place that inspired the floating islands in the Avatar movie are in China, check out this link to see pics.