Archive for the food Category

Lugang Cafe: A culinary innovation that doesn’t work

Posted in food on March 7, 2012 by gohelpyourself

The Lugang Cafe at SM Mall of Asia is a tony but underwhelming restaurant.

Here’s why.

First, the food. Because there were only three of us — me, my wife, and 1 ½ year old baby — we ordered only the following:

Pineapple Fried Rice (P280), Three-Cup Chicken (P290), and Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao (7 small pieces, P188).

The Pineapple Fried Rice was surely something new for us. As you can see in the picture, it looks yummy. It has some ham in it, some green peas, some bits of pineapple, some cashew nuts. The pineapple bowl deserves an “A” for presentation.

This Pineapple Fried Rice doesn't taste as great as it looks.

The taste, however, is an altogether different thing. It was not bad. But it was unsatisfying, weird, and, well, sufficiently underwhelming. The sweet taste of the pineapple did not go well with the rice. This innovative dish was clearly a disappointment for me.

Now I’m not a connoisseur with highly evolved taste buds. I’m just a culinary poseur whose opinion on food matters in the kingdom of my household. In any case, just to be sure that my judgment was sound, I gave my little baby Aria some of the rice.

I was surprised she did not say a word. She just stuck out her tongue and grimaced. And she wouldn’t let me give her some more.

So the Pineapple Fried Rice, despite being considered a bestseller with a star marking in the menu, gets 2 stars out of 5  for me. I have to give credit to the cute pineapple bowl and the cashew nuts. I love cashew nuts.

Now for the Three-Cup Chicken. I can say that the dish is pleasing to the eyes and to the taste. But the big turn-off for me was that the dish has too many bony parts of chicken. The ribs and the spinal cord are there to assault your teeth and jaws. I do like to munch bones sometimes and I eat them occasionally. But I’m not about to jump for joy for more chicken bones.

The Three-Cup Chicken could have been a winner.

There are some meaty parts but it’s not enough, at least for me. I like to taste juicy flesh, and I like to know that I’m paying for the protein, not for bone minerals which I can get from my supplements. Why don’t they put real meat in there anyway?

This dish I give 3 out of 5 stars.

The Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao was marvelous, very tasty. The juices of the meat collect inside the siomai wrapper, awaiting to startle your taste buds with delight. This is a winner. Aria and my wife Em loved it. It gets 4.5 stars out of 5.

Eat this Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao. You won't regret it.

When we were finishing our meal, we decided to get some dessert. The variety of enticing desserts will greet you as you open the dessert menu. Sadly, however, we didn’t get to taste any, and our satisfaction levels plummeted even further.

We did call a waiter to place our order. He said, “Ok.” After 10 minutes of waiting and we still had no dessert, we asked a waitress to check. We told her we already placed our order and she said, “Ok. Sandali lang po.” (Ok. It will arrive shortly.)

After another 10 minutes, no dessert came. So we asked another waiter to check. He said, “Na-order na po ba?” (Did you order already?) We said, “Oo kanina pa. Dun sa waiter at dun sa babae.” (Yes, we told the waiter and the waitress.)

Ganon po ba? ‘Di pa po kasi na-order. ‘Di nakasulat dito,” he said as he showed us a piece of paper. (Is that so? Your order is not listed here.)

At that point, I just asked for the bill.

And here’s the clincher. When the waitress gave our receipt and change, I counted the money and realized that they shortchanged us by 75 centavos. Is that standard practice at Lugang Cafe?

I know it’s just 75 centavos. But with the incompetence of the waiters, the long wait, and the mostly unsatisfying meal, I asked for my 75 centavos. The waitress gave the money to me without saying anything, not even sorry.

Some of you may have tried other superb dishes at Lugang Cafe, and some of you may have been treated well. But not me and my family on this particular visit.

I give service a -4 out of 5 stars. I think that averages to 1.375 out of 5 stars. Wow, this is the lowest rating I’ve given, not that it matters to Lugang Cafe and its other patrons.

Oh well, now you know what not to order when you visit this restaurant — not unless you’re adventurous and prepared to be disappointed.

Aria and Em think we should've ordered something else, or perhaps went to another restaurant.



Ristorante delle Mitre: Eat like a bishop

Posted in food on January 10, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Carding's Crispy Pata (regular). You can literally die eating this. At least you die happy and content.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

If you want good food fit for a gourmet, tag along with a bishop and you won’t be disappointed. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many bishops out there willing to dine with you. But good thing there’s Ristorante delle Mitre.

The restaurant is located just across San Agustin Church in Intramuros. In this restaurant, you eat what the bishops love to eat. The menu will show you the favorites of the bishops, exactly how they want them cooked.

So the first thing you do is to think of your favorite bishop. Then you look him up in the menu. No, they don’t serve bishops there. They serve dishes based on the bishops’ favorite recipes. You will see the description of each dish and the bishop responsible for putting it on the menu.

If your favorite bishop isn’t on the menu, well, he probably doesn’t care much for good food. Too bad.

Another option is to scan the menu and ask the waiter for the best sellers or his recommendations. In our case, we asked for the best pork dish and the best fish dish in bishopdom.

Voila! We have Carding’s Crispy Pata (regular). It’s the favorite of His Eminence Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu.

One look at this dish evokes images of gustatory bliss. It didn’t disappoint. After eating a piece of the crispy pork skin, I gasped and suddenly poured out hyperboles of pleasure. And after chewing lazily on a piece of meat, tears of rapture almost dropped from my eyes.

The special mix of soy sauce and vinegar and spices added to the heavenly taste of this dish. I can now conclude that Bishop Vidal has awesome taste buds. Not bad.

Grilled Salmon and Chicken Arroz Caldo. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo also has an entry that we liked–Grilled Salmon. The presentation is nice. The sculptured tomato is something I’d like to learn how to do. On top of the salmon is a slice of lemon with a slit three-fourths through and twisted.It’s a great-tasting simple dish.

For our baby Aria, we ordered Chicken Arroz Caldo, an epiphany of the recipe of Bishop Edgardo Juanich, Vicar Apostolic of Taytay. It was very flavorful, not the usual arroz caldo on the streets. The chicken is tasty, too. And judging by the smacking I heard, the dish hurdled the high standards of Aria. Or was Aria just hungry?

Anyway, the price was reasonable:

P288 – Carding’s Crispy Pata (regular)
P238 – Grilled Salmon
P78 – Chicken Arroz Caldo
P604 – Total

If you have P1,000 for a date, you’ll have enough left for your fare going home.

Originally, Ristorante delle Mitre is a place where Bishops dine. And since Bishops feed their flock spiritually, and sometimes with crispy pata and grilled salmon to nourish their bodies, they thought of opening a restaurant to let ordinary people “partake of the Lord’s bounty.” It started as an outreach program of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

You will see a few miters on display in the restaurant.

The text on the menu describes the restaurant as a “place of dining and relaxation after a day’s toil.” It provides “affordable menu for Intramuros workers at lunch break and fine dining for discerning patrons in the evening.”

Another thing I liked about the restaurant is that they provide equal opportunity employment. They have deaf persons as servers. So don’t be surprised if a few people there communicate with hand signals.You may like to tip them generously. In any case, the service is excellent, the food, heavenly, and the ambiance, redolent of Spanish times and religious fervor.

Mitre, after all, is the Italian word for miter, the headdress worn by bishops.

My rating? An enlightening 4.5 stars out of 5.

Spiritually and physically sated. Aria also gets a lollipop from the lady at the cashier.


NAPA, please

Posted in food, health and fitness on October 4, 2011 by gohelpyourself

NAPA me, Lucky Me!

By Anthony O. Alcantara

I haven’t been eating grains since October last year, except for my cheat days. I’ve been following a semi-caveman diet that seems to fit me so far.

On my cheat day recently, I suddenly had a longing for Lucky Me! pancit canton. There were a few varieties I could choose from in the store at our condo. I settled on the chilimansi flavor.

It says, “NEW LOOK. Same Great Taste.” I had vivid memories of how it tasted like years ago. Another label caught my eye: “USES NATURAL GREEN TEA EXTRACT. NO ARTIFICIAL PRESERVATIVES ADDED.” In the middle of that label is “NAPA,” a convenient acronym.

“Hey buddy. This is NAPA. No artificial preservatives added. Eat this. It’s good for you.”

This is excellent, I tell myself. I felt like giving Lucky Me! a high five. So I buy two small packs, just for me. NAPA is the best.

When I got home and read the text at the back of the packaging, I learned that the product used green tea extract as a natural and healthy preservative. Nice.

It's best to read the fine print.

But when I read the list of ingredients, I discovered some artificial-sounding names: monosodium glutamate (MSG), maltodextrin, tartrazine, and sunset yellow.

Well, MSG is naturally occurring in food, but it’s not naturally occurring in pancit canton unless you add it. I guess this could pass.

Maltodextrin is a food additive produced from starch through partial hydrolysis. It is commonly used in sodas and candy. While it is easily digestible, it’s a synthesized substance.

Tartrazine is also synthetic and is used as food coloring.

Sunset yellow is used in fermented foods that must be heat treated. It’s derived from petroleum, which happens to fuel your cars, too.

So can someone please explain to me how Lucky Me! Pancit Canton Chilimansi Flavor can claim to be NAPA?

To Monde Nissin, the manufacturer of Lucky Me!, I say, “NAPA, please.” No Asinine Puffery Allowed.


Food Review: No joining fee for the Kanin Club

Posted in food on June 20, 2011 by gohelpyourself
Kanin Club has four branches so far: Ayala Triangle in Makati, UP-AyalaLand Technohub in Quezon City, Paseo de Sta. Rosa, and Westgate Center in Alabang.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Just as Filipinos were celebrating Independence Day recently, I celebrated my temporary freedom from a self-imposed semi-caveman diet. I have my cheat day after all. This caveman diet, or what others call the paleolithic diet, allows you to eat anything in sight, except grains, which contain lectins, some hideous proteins that no one has actually seen face-to-face but can cause post-paleolithic age diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

That means no rice, no bread, no pasta and no oatmeal for me. This diet also prohibits dairy, but I really can’t give up my cheese just yet. I’m no ascetic saint.

Anyway, since it’s my cheat day, I was allowed to eat any grains I want. So my wife and I, together with my 9-month-old daughter, hunted for a restaurant at the Ayala Triangle.

Then we saw Kanin Club. I heard rumors that eating there could reduce your life span by as much as 30 years depending on the dish. It was good enough for me.

When we went in, some folk music was playing, making me feel like dancing tinikling to show people that I haven’t forgotten Independence Day. The Filipino theme inside the restaurant appealed to me too.

When we looked at the menu, I was surprised to see the restaurant’s long list of specialty dishes. How are we going to try all these in one visit? We had to choose.

After a brief deliberation, we settled on three dishes and one dessert:

1. Crispy Liempo (Price: Php142). We thought this would be perfect as appetizer. We were not disappointed. It’s indeed crispy and it tastes like chicharon but better and meatier. The thin, brownish and convoluted slices of pork belly, with the fat part just as wide as the meat part, conjures images of abstract sculptures. In a way, they’re like Mobius strips you can eat.

The crunchiness and chewiness are just right, I believe. It won’t give your jaw muscles much of a workout, and it’s not too oily. You will feel a tinge of the oiliness in the fat part. The best way to eat this dish is to dip it into some vinegar.

You have to eat this while still hot. Otherwise, they turn rubbery and your dentures will be in trouble.

2. Loaded Fried Rice (Price: Php179). This, according to Kanin Club’s menu, is a “heavy hitter”. It’s fried rice with Chinese sausage, crab meat, ham, green peas, pork and topped with minced scrambled eggs, roasted garlic and spring onions.

It’s a complete meal in itself. With this dish, my longing for grains is easily extinguished. The variety of tastes can fill your senses too. Oh, a slice of sausage, yum… oh there’s some crab meat, mmm… wow, there’s ham too. You’ll think, “Why can’t I have this kind of rice every day? Why do I have to endure bland white rice?”

Of course, the answer is that you’ll get bored with the rich flavors in the long run. But if you haven’t had delicious and satisfying fried rice for some time, this is the one to try.

3. Nilagang Tadyang ng Baka (Price Php343). The menu describes this dish as, “tender beef ribs slow-cooked to make a hearty beefy broth. Warms you up.”

I’m attaching my imprimatur on that description. Every word is true. The full flavor of beef evokes feelings of carnivore nirvana, making you live in the present moment to savor this death-defying dish. It will certainly make you feel proud that you are a carnivore.

I felt like going to the kitchen to thank the chef for changing my outlook in life. But then my daughter can’t stop wriggling in her seat so I decided to do that in my next visit.

4. Turon KC (Price Php90). This is halo-halo in a deep-fried rice paper roll. It’s a creative take on the turon. Instead of only the usual bananas, the restaurant included purple yam jam, coconut strips, and monggo beans.

This dessert is filling and would be good for two, unless you have a big appetite. I’m not giving this turon a very high grade, though. Not because it’s not delicious, but because it doesn’t have kaong and nata de coco.

I love kaong and nata de coco. And if somebody from Kanin Club is reading this, I humbly suggest that you include this ASAP.

Since this is my first food review, I’m setting up a rating system. My ratings will be on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. This will be determined by how many years you will reduce your life span if you eat at this restaurant, and some complicated differential equations that compute well-being.

I give Kanin Club a whopping 4 STARS!

This may not mean much to Kanin Club, but hey, my loyal followers (my imaginary friend, my wife and my mom) can easily spread the word.


How to enjoy a buffet

Posted in food on April 19, 2010 by gohelpyourself

I guess you pay more for the art than the drink itself.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

No work, no engagements, no chores, nothing to do… but eat. It was April 9, a holiday here in the Philippines, and a perfect day for a buffet.

Early this year, I got two free buffet vouchers for Circles Restaurant in Shangri-La Hotel in Makati. It was my reward from a bank for zapping P25,000 worth of purchases using my credit card late last year.

When my wife and I got to Circles, there were only a few people. Soon enough, however, people started to arrive. I suddenly felt like meditating and saying,   “Ommm….” I’ve never seen so many Buddha-like figures in my life.
Fortunately, I snapped out of my trance and we started to survey the beautiful gastronomic landscape.

After 15 years of no-holds-barred buffet experience, I’ve come up with a few guidelines on how to enjoy buffets without appearing to be PG, or patay gutom, or famished. I can’t think of a better translation right now.

1. Learn about the terrain.

That’s rule number 10 in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. You have to know the exits, the weak spots, the points of entry, anything that would make your movement easier. We were near the Chinese section. Lots of dimsum, Peking duck, white chicken, etc. So we started looking there. Our eyes glowed like a lamp. Then we went on to the Indian section with all those spicy food, the Italian section with the pastas, the grilling section with the roast beef and pork chops, the salad and appetizer section with the vegetables and cheeses, the deserts section with all the sweet stuff, and the Japanese section with all the delicious raw food.

Learning about the terrain is important. You have to know how to get around and plan your attack.

2. Unbuckle your belt.

Wearing a tight belt won’t allow you to get in all the food you want in your stomach. So before you begin, it might be a good idea to loosen up your belt a bit. I used to wear my belt tight even though I knew my waistline grew by 2 inches. I was in a state of denial. Besides, I really thought I could reduce my waistline by keeping my belt tight. I also used to have a “high waist” before, wearing my belt 2 inches higher than narrow part of my torso. So if you have this same fashion sense as I did, forget it. It will ruin your enjoyment of the buffet.

By the way, wearing tight underwear is also a bad idea.

3. Remember the 80/20 rule.

I just love this rule. You can apply it with almost everything in life. And we have the Italian sociologist and economist Vilifredo Pareto to thank. It simply means you get 80 percent of your results with 20 percent of the effort, 80 percent of your revenues from only 20 percent of your customers, 80 percent of the important stuff from only 20 percent of the book, 80 percent of the country’s wealth belong to 20 percent of the population, 80 percent of your enjoyment from only 20 percent of the dishes. Of course, the percentages could vary.

For me, the salmon sashimi, baked salmon, roast beef, and the cheeses make up that 20 percent. They’re much more expensive than the other dishes, too. So go for the dishes that you really like.

I love roast beef. I think this is my 5th plate.

4. Eat with other people.

Some research show that people eat 28 percent more when eating with a companion. This increases to 35 percent when eating with a large group. So if you want to eat more, or if you’re a fierce advocate of the so-called “see food” diet, bring along the gang or your family. Since I was with my wife, I probably ate only 28 percent more.

5. Don’t order special drinks.

If you’re going to fill your stomach with only the good stuff you enjoy, don’t order juices or other high-calorie drinks. Drinking lots of fluids make you feel full faster. And they sometimes make you puke, too. With all that food in your over-extended fist-sized stomach, adding rich juices will make you feel worse. Besides, they’re expensive, too. We paid P300 for a fruit shake with a slice of pineapple shaped like a rooster, which, I think, made up 80 percent of the price.

Sipping a little water from time to time is the best thing to do.

6. Don’t fill your plates.

As I said, you wouldn’t want to look PG. So try to make it appear that you’re an abstemious food lover who only enjoys eating small amounts. You will enjoy your food more that way. Some people get overwhelmed with the food on the buffet tables. Why overwhelm yourself more with too much food on your plates?

The trick is to get a little food at a time and savor them while thinking, “This is the good life.”

7. Savor the food.

Oh, I think I just repeated myself. So there, savor the food. Try to identify the tastes in your mouth. Sometimes, we just gulp down the food without trying to really enjoy them. Savoring is enjoying the moment, enjoying life. There’s no need to hurry, except of course if there are a lot of PGs around.

My wife Em certainly knows how to savor the food.

8. Have a good conversation while eating.

Our parents taught us not to talk while our mouth is full. So make sure you talk when you’re mouth is only half full. Be careful not to be overeager when talking and inadvertently launch a morsel of half digested or half-chewed roast beef to your companion.

Talk about the food, your hopes, your dreams, your frustrations, your dog, your cat, the people around you. Having a good conversation while eating is very enjoyable for me.

In other words, act like a dainty aristocrat and keep the conversation going.

9. Reserve some room for dessert.

I sometimes forget about this. And I regret it afterwards. Desserts complete your buffet. In order for you to truly exercise your tongue and your taste buds, you have to complete the spectrum of tastes. Sweet is the perfect finale.

Cakes, chocolates, tarts, etc… they all help complete your buffet experience.

10. Have a stroll afterwards.

When you’re sated to the max and feel you’ve had enough, you can try strolling afterwards. Of course, that is after you pay. Otherwise you’ll be made to stroll into the kitchen instead and asked to start washing 1,000 plates and 1,000 sets of cutlery and glasses. It could be worse.

Having a stroll helps you digest. Walking probably helps push down the food into your convoluted intestines faster.

Eating at buffets can be truly enjoyable, provided you don’t do it too often. All that rich food could be cloying, too, you know. But we don’t have to be a PG. There will always be another day.