Food Tales

DINNER WITH CHEF SUN

Chef Sun Kim and the Arts Cafe team
Chef Sun Kim (L) adds the final touches to the dishes.

Dinner is nothing different. It is as mundane as lunch, and alleviating the humdrum of dinner in Bekasi means facing the derrière – numbing, bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to Jakarta. The very thought of traveling is off-putting, but curiosity about Chef Sun Kim spurred me to book a table for one at Arts Café by Raffles. He was cooking dinner that Friday night.

Art Cafe Raffles
a view of the open kitchen and dining space from my table

Chef Sun, head chef of Meta, a Michelin- star rated restaurant on Keong Saik Road, Singapore, opened his dinner with a trio of canapés. Canapé 1: tapioca fritters topped with roe and octopus, and sprinkled with seaweed. Crunchy, juicy two bites! Canapé 2: mushroom tart with broccoli and parmesan cheese. The first-and-only bite had me thinking of pizza except with a tantalizing flavour, and left wishing pizzas tasted like his mushroom tarts. Canapé 3: amaebi with tartar sauce. The cold canapé exploded in a burst of juicy flavours in the mouth punctuated by the garlic-onion toast it was served on. It did the trick of whetting the appetite for Sun’s six-course meal.

tapioca fritters by Chef Sun Kim
canape 1: tapioca fritters
mushroom tart by Chef Sun Kim
canape 2: mushroom tart
amaebi with tartar sauce by Chef Sun Kim
canape 3: amaebi with tartar sauce

Chefs are akin to magicians except they dazzle their audience – seated at their tables – with culinary magic. Sun Kim didn’t disappoint as he pulled one kitchen trick after another with aplomb. His first culinary trick was surreal in plating and taste. Resting in a rock-designed bowl was sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang that offered a unique taste of seafood and pomelo which did a little tug-of-war on the tongue with the freshness of the seafood, zestfulness of pomelo, and a touch of spiciness.

sashimi of kampashi
sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang

He followed it with scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar in a warm, glazed, black-and-white cup. The chawanmushi was soft, blending smoothly with the fresh scallop at bottom of the cup. Caviar on chawanmushi is a definite first for me and it elevated the flavour to a luxurious height.

scallop chawanmushi
scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar

Sun Kim went for something far from nondescript for his third course. He upped the ante with slow-cooked octopus with homemade X.O. sauce and Jerusalem artichoke sitting on a warm, black bowl. It was like unwrapping a parcel with this dish. Lifting the bokchoy leaf (am guessing) revealed the octopus that cut easily into pieces and a succulence commingled with a piquantness that rolled around the tongue. The spiciness of the X.O. sauce slowly creeps up your taste buds which doesn’t numb them but ignite them. A palate-tickling surprise was the puréed artichoke (reminiscent of molecular gastronomy cuisine) in squid ink that added a soupcon of saltiness to the dish.

slow-cooked octopus
Peek-a- boo! Find the slow-cooked octopus with homemade XO sauce and Jerusalem artichoke.

Sun Kim’s fourth dish, grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip taking centre stage on a huge white-black plate, was a new palate teaser. The tender quail tasted similar to chicken teriyaki, but the taste takes a different direction to a new, ineffable yet flavourful taste enhanced by the tangy parsnip.

grilled quail
grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip

The guests at the table to my right finally arrived, and I unintentionally caught snippets of their chat. The yarn went something like this: Sun Kim was treated by the male guest to an Indonesian Padang dinner that he enjoyed immensely given its similarity to South Korean cuisine in terms of spiciness. It was not the case with his sous chef Jared who couldn’t handle the chilli, and was sweating buckets.

As the guests to my right started their dinner, I was on my second to the last course which truly showed why Sun Kim is a Michelin-star chef. Called 40-hour cooked beef short rib shiitake mushroom purée, pickled shiitake, and buckwheat, the beef, hiding underneath yet another leaf, fell into bite-size pieces with a mere touch of the knife. Sliding the beef, pinned with mushroom and onion bits, across the buckwheat sauce and popping it in your mouth, everything melded into a perfect blend of tenderness, juiciness, and well-prepared beef.

beef short rib
Peek-a-boo 2! Lift the leaf to discover the treasure called 40-hour cooked beef short rib.

Sun Kim’s magical culinary show closed on sweet, fruity note. Sitting prettily in the middle of a chilled bowl was mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint. My notion of dessert is something chocolaty so I was bit sceptical about Kim’s choice, but part of Kim’s magic is making your scepticism fade away and pushing you to embrace confidence in him. Spoon in hand, I glided it from the coconut cream, crowned with mint syrup, down through the sherbet and the mango cubes. It was a beautiful salsa of seamless tanginess and sweetness with every bite.

mango salsa
mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint

Dinner with Sun Kim was one amazing experience, and facing Jakarta’s traffic was worth it. There was always a treasure to discover in each dish, unearthing it as you go through the layers of the ingredients aesthetically plated in stunning crockery.

*Standing ovation*

“The Star of Singapore” Wine dinner list

Dish Wine
sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2011, Alsace, France
scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar Chateau Villa Bel Air blanc 2014, Graves Bordeaux, France
slow-cooked octopus with homemade X.O. sauce and Jerusalem artichoke Domaine Anne Gros 50/50 Cotes du Bris 2015, Minervois, France
grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Les Theurons 2012, Burgundy, France
40-hour cooked beef short rib shiitake mushroom purée, pickled shiitake, and buckwheat Chateau Malmaison 2007, Medoc, Bordeaux, France
mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint Diel Riesling Kabinett 2012, Nahe, Germany

 

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Food Tales

LUNCH, ANYONE?

Lunch in Bekasi has become a humdrum affair as the choices remain the same and predictable. At Grand Metropolitan Mall, for example, you have fish porridge and fried shimeji mushroom at Tawan; Hainanese chicken set at Imperial Kitchen; teriyaki chicken at Yoshinoya; and salmon-chicken set at Pepper Lunch. A new Vietnamese restaurant has opened, but eventually the fresh spring rolls lose its appeal. Kenny Rogers closed shop while a shabu-shabu restaurant has yet to open.

An exciting lunch means braving the traffic to get to Jakarta and drown in the myriad choices confronting your senses. Nomz Kitchen & Pastry was a suggestion from Kelvin Gotama who has combed Grand Indonesia for worthy restaurants. The open-restaurant concept of Nomz Kitchen & Pastry where potential diners can see through the restaurant – the traditional walls are gone – lends it a warm, cosy café vibe completed by the earthy interior and furnishings, and a counter display that would make gourmands salivate. Its menu truly overwhelms one with choices so much so that it takes a while to order. The choice must be right because getting to Jakarta is no walk in the park. Following my rule of thumb when I dine in Jakarta, which means selecting a dish that is not regularly found in Bekasi or a dish that would better be interpreted, I opted for Chicken Katsu while my lunch partner, KG, went for the all-day Sunday brunch choice of Nomz Benedict. Our shared appetizer was Crumbed Escargot.

cake display 1_Nomz
an array of pastries await diners at Nomz
cake display 2_Nomz
more cakes and pastries to choose from

My rice bowl was a satisfying melange of crunchy chicken, egg, and soft rice drizzled with sweet sauce and mayonnaise. The portion was huge, but a long lunch had it finished down to the last morsel. As for the escargots, they provided a nice contrast to the Chicken Katsu particularly when dipped in the balanced sweet-sour-spicy dip sauce. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the escargots, which have a tendency to become tough when overcooked, were soft underneath the coating of crumbs, which I believe to be the kind used in cooking tempura. Meanwhile, KG’s Nomz Benedict was a filling and flavourful split bagel topped with poached egg, roe, arugula, and drizzled with hollandaise sauce.

chicken katsu
Chicken Katsu by Nomz Kitchen
Nomz Benedict
Nomz Benedict for brunch
crumbed escargot ver 2
Crumbed Escargot for appetiser

It goes without saying that an exciting lunch is far from rousing if it only focuses on food. A huge part of the excitement is the conversation, in which KG is adroit at much like the older brother Kelvin, with topics running the gamut of everything under the sun, including, naturally, gorgeous men with the initials of TH.

Toby’s Estate at Grand Indonesia is next on our list for another exciting lunch at the city. It is another suggestion from gourmand Kelvin.

Food Tales

THE CAKE TRAIL

It was the ube flower icing that rekindled the hunt that ignited the cake trail. The ube flower icing added that punch to the palate after every bite. It was a must to have my fork glide down the slice from top to bottom because leaving out the ube flower icing completely marred the cake experience. To the uninitiated, ube (pronounced oo-beh) is roughly translated as yam, and back then in, I believe, the early ’90s, Red Ribbon was indubitably the ube cake maker. A craving for its ube cake meant popping by the nearest branch and getting a slice. But I lost my craving for it after being given a pitiable excuse the one time I set foot in a branch after years of being away that having a slice was no longer possible because there were no ube cakes that had been cut up.

Classic Ube Cake
Classic Ube Cake by Cara Mia & Gelato

Fast forward to now, thanks to Instagram, I was put on the ube cake trail. Prior to the launch of their Classic Ube Cake last August, Cara Mia Cakes and Gelato in the Philippines teased cake lovers with videos of the ube cake being made from scratch: the main ingredient, halayang ube, or boiled yam, spinning away in the mixer. No shortcuts for this baker! No instant ube mix being peddled in the market for this ube cake! Joy! The hype lived up to its name, as every bite was a palate- satisfying bite that didn’t leave one cloyed, but sweetly satiated down to the last ube icing swirl and a promise to come back for more.

Meanwhile, an outing Jakarta put me on a different cake trail – I was just looking for a very good cake which Bekasi is mournfully bereft of. The first serendipitous find was the Banoffie Pie from Nomz Kitchen and Pastry, an eatery with a warm café-vibe to it at the East Mall of Grand Indonesia. Ordered post-lunch, the bowl, which was good for sharing, was a merry mix of graham bits, slices of banana, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings, and caramel sauce that completed the sweet coup de grace.

Banoffie Pie
Banoffie Pie by Nomz Kitchen & Pastry

Rounding off the cake trail was another stupendous find within the same mall but at the ground floor of the West Mall this time. The Greyhound Café had this Choco Banana Crepe that partnered well with the lemon grass tea thus making for a perfect high tea selection. The cake is two alternating layers of bananas, chocolate, and custard that ends with glazed bananas on top that – contrary to first glance – are not chips but soft – not mushy – bananas. Just like with the ube cake, it is a must to have the fork glide down the cake to get all the layers and savour all that thrilling choco-banana goodness.

Choco Banana Crepe
Choco Banana Crepe by Greyhound Cafe

The cake trail is far from over because there are still a lot of untrodden cake trails.

Food Tales

STOKED ABOUT PURPLE OVEN

the new Purple Oven at Rallos

 Purple Oven came much later in my life. In fact, we just got reacquainted on New Year’s Eve thanks to my mother who was stoked to track down its new branch in Quezon City. She had heard about Purple Oven when a long-time friend asked if they could drop by its outlet in Makati so she could get some cookies. The place was packed to the rafters when they got there. Apparently, Purple Oven’s fantastic cakes and pastries had been drawing in crowds for quite some time. I was hopped-up because I am always keen to try out new – it is for me – cake shops.

Estrella’s, now rebranded as Estrel’s, was the go-to cake shop in my youth even though its only outlet then was somewhere in Laperal, Manila. Their caramel chiffon cake with butter icing flowers was the cake for all occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, family get-togethers. I strongly recall the “fights” to get any one of the four corners of the cake which had two sides of caramel icing unlike when you just get the middle part. Second go-to cake shop was the dubbed “national” bakery of the Philippines, Goldilocks, famed for its brazo de mercedes (soft meringue roll with custard filling), ensaymada (the Philippines’ version of the brioche baked with butter and topped with grated cheese and white sugar), egg pie, and moist chocolate cake.

Then Red Ribbon came into the picture, providing very stiff competition to Goldilocks. Estrella’s remained unfazed, focusing on its exclusive clientele. Red Ribbon blazed into the cake scene with an array of newfangled cakes: ube cake (it was the first yam cake), black forest (the thick shavings of chocolate and cherries were quite a sight), coffee crunch (the honeycomb crunch topping provided that sweet crunch to the palate), and chocolate mousse (the usual mousse in a cup had turned into a cake). Red Ribbon cranked up the competition by offering pastries such as bite size chicken empanada (chicken pie) and banana crunch loaf.

Sombreros, an independent cake shop on Pasay Road and relatively near to the defunct Celebrity magazine, was another go-to shop particularly for their crema de fruta or layered cake of cream and fruits topped with gelatin. Unfortunately, they closed shop after a few years.

pay and collect your cake at the counter of Purple Oven at Rallos

Cake or pastry from Purple Oven?

Cakes are placed in Christmas box and, for a fee, in a purple cloth bag.

Purple Oven’s Classic Chocolate cake

ready to dig into my slice of Classic Chocolate cake

The cake shops are still going strong, but my interest in cakes had petered out until I took a bite of Purple Oven’s Classic Chocolate cake. It was the simple but palate-tickling chocolate taste of my childhood, which was neither too sweet or bland, that I had been missing for ages. The cake had the right level of moisture which meant it didn’t rely on the icing for the flavor and texture. Each bite – cutting through with the fork from the top to the bottom of one’s slice – was precision in flavor, texture, and moisture. After the Classic Chocolate, we went back to get Grandma’s Classic Chocolate, a cake done with milk chocolate, and a dozen chocolate crinkles. Now, I am stoked to try Chocolate Campfire during my next vacation.

chewy chocolatey crinkles by Purple Oven

Stoked to have a slice of Grandma’s Classic Chocolate cake

Purple Oven at Rallos

F7 Building Scout Rallos St. Quezon City

Tel: +63 631 4221

Hours: 7am to 9pm

Price list: 

Classic Chocolate cake               PhilP725

Grandma’s Chocolate cake       PhilP750

Chocolate Crinkles (12 pieces) PhilP365

Food Tales

VIOLET’S HIGH TEA

Welcome to National Kitchen by Violet Oon! Your table is ready.

The meeting happened this time unlike my unsuccessful Sunday Brunch get together. Her suggestion was high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon. I was game because I hadn’t seen her – her is my former-freelance writer-now-friend Marguerita Tan based in Singapore – in ages and I have always been partial to high tea since Bekasi is bereft of it. There is also this inexplicable elegance in sipping tea (or coffee) in fine china and nibbling bite-size delicacies. Curiosity was another factor. The Peranakan restaurant, nestled nicely in the refurbished City Hall building which is also the new home of the National Gallery, is new to me. There were truly a lot of things to look forward to.

Look at the exquisite chandeliers! Check out the mirror ceiling!

For the uninitiated, Violet Oon is a household name in Singapore being a food critic, author, cooking show host, restaurant owner, and former journalist. Her National Kitchen by Violet Oon is drawing crowds that it is a must to reserve a table because it is impossible to just drop in and dine. Our meet up was propitious; tables were available, but we had to get there before high tea. No problem. Both of us were ready to savor the pre-high tea menu and waiting an hour plus was a walk in the park.

To get to National Kitchen, one is advised to enter via the Coleman Street entrance. The restaurant is at the corner of the City Hall wing of the National Gallery on the second floor in which you get to by walking a bit and turning here and there. The strategically placed signs easily gets diners to the eatery. It is small establishment yet not cramped although you will hear cachinnations from the tables around you and see what the others have ordered. Still, it is a cosy venue to catch up on each other’s lives. Plus point: the service crew is polite without being too unctuous and well-versed in the dishes. One recited the items of our high tea set without skipping a beat!

It was still early for high tea so Markie, as she is called, and I went for two popular starter dishes on the menu: chicken satay (S$15) and kueh pie tee (S$17). These we complimented with the hot and cold versions of Kopi VO “C” or coffee with evaporated milk. The chicken satay was generous in terms of thickness and number of pieces skewered on a stick. Tender too and with just the right level of spiciness, meaning the satay doesn’t “burn” your tongue. It is served with spicy peanut sauce with grated pineapple (a new take for me), steamed rice cake, cucumber, and red onion. Meanwhile, the kueh pie tee never fails to capture my attention. First, I am taken by the esculent cup masquerading as a “top hat” and, second, I like how the flavors come together and end with a crunch. The deep-fried cup-top hat holds the julienned bamboo shoot and turnip poached in prawn bisque which is topped by prawn, and can be dipped in chili sauce or sweet sauce depending on one’s preference.

The chicken satay is good for one or two diners.

Kueh pie tee – split it with a friend or have it all

Hot Kopi VO “C” goes well with the satay and kueh pie tee

Kopi VO “C” Peng or coffee with evaporated milk and ice with satay? Go for it!

KWe were finally able to sink our teeth into the Singapore High Tea by 2pm. Priced at $56++, the three-tiered serving stand showcased savory and sweet bites along with Kopi VO or teh (tea). Counting from the bottom, the first platter held the pulled beef sambal in steamed bun and hae bee hiam sandwich or spicy dried shrimp floss finger sandwich. The second platter highlighted the nasi kuning serunding, glutinous rice with turmeric and topped with spicy fried coconut flakes; kueh pie tee; otak crostini, spiced coconut cream fish quenelle on a buttered crostini; and buah keulak crostini, buah keulak infused with spices, minced prawns, and milk on buttered crostini. Skipping the pulled beef sambal, each savory delight was a bite of piquant flavors rolling in the mouth.

The top tier held the sweet stuff of which I instantly checked these two as my favorite kueh or cake: kueh lapis legit (layered buttery cake) and roti jala (traditional Nyonya laced pancake served with gula melaka – dark palm sugar – and banana coconut sauce). The other kueh included kueh beng kah, tapioca cake with coconut cream; kesturi pie, citrus curd on a a buttery shortcrust base topped with papaya and limau kasturi (golden lime) compote; kueh dah dah, grated coconut cooked with gula melaka wrapped in crepe infused with pandan; and kueh lapis sago, pearl tapioca multi colored layered steamed cake infused with pandan.

the piece de resistance – Singapore High Tea for two

Meet ups with good friends are never unpleasant events. The hours go unnoticed with the exchange of stories in between sips and bites. Undoubtedly, the whole experience is ameliorated with a good selection of a restaurant for the recollection of the past, talk about the present, and musings on the future. Indubitably, high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon made the meet up even memorable.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon at National Gallery Singapore

1 St. Andrew’s Road #02-01, National Gallery Singapore 178957

E-mail: eat@violetoon.com

Reservations: +65 98349935
Lunch: 12pm – 3pm (last order 2:30pm)

Dinner: 6pm – 11pm (last order 9:30pm)

Veranda: 5:3m – 11pm (last food order 10pm)

Food Tales

SUNDAY BRUNCH FOR ONE 

cupcakes and meringues
The plan was a meet up, but it fell through because she got caught in traffic at the opposite side of Jakarta. So I ended up enjoying Fairmont Jakarta’s Sunday Brunch alone one November. It was not a sad affair as a table for one normally impresses upon others who are with friends, family, or a special someone. I wasn’t really all by my lonesome self. The crew of Spectrum came up every now and then to inquire about how I was doing or to suggest something that I should try. On two separate occasions, two trolleys trundled up to my table: caviar and liquid nitrogen ice cream. I just let the caviar chef do her magic with the multi colored caviar likewise with the one making the liquid nitrogen cheese ice cream. At that time, too, I was accompanied by Italo Calvino whose book “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” I went back to after putting it down for a while. 

Spectrum’s Sunday Brunch is a grandiose affair compared to its regular buffet. The dessert station burgeoned into a station plus a long, tall table teeming with sweet delights and a medium one across it with cupcakes and meringues guarded by superheroes. Another station that whets the appetite is the seafood laden with fresh shellfish – clam, bamboo clam, mussel – ready for the picking along side lobsters and its cousins. Sauces are below the seafood waiting for be slathered on the chosen seafood. For meat lovers, the piece de resistance is the huge leg of roasted beef that is immediately seen when one emerges from the entrance into the dining area. Behind the roasted beef is a long array of Chinese and Indonesian dishes ending with a turkey ready to be carved at one’s bidding. A second long table features a wide assortment of salads and appetizers. Parallel to this smorgasbord are several open-kitchen stations viz. Japanese, noodles, grill, and Italian which ends, on a diner’s right side, with the open-kitchen dessert station overflowing with ice cream, cookies, bread and butter pudding, waffle, etc.

Enjoy your “frozen” cheese ice cream
Caviar on wheels right at your table
bite-size caviar
Grilled shrimp and chicken satay
Get your fill of dimsum.
Clams, mussels, and lobster from the seafood corner

Sunday Brunch for one is, as I have discovered serendipitously, far from an affair of solitude. Mine turned into a time of being away from the general melee of society, narcissistic individuals, and everyday struggles. It was just me, my book, and excellent food.

Clockwise: orange cheese tarts, apple crumble cake, zepote, and salted caramel popcorn cake
Food Tales

MORE LUCE, PLEASE 

Luce and Attems wines waiting to be poured

History has seen King Henry VIII making heads roll for whatever he deemed were their transgressions. But somehow the Luce Estate escaped his edict related Peter Ferguson. Apparently, there must have been something in their wines that he enjoyed, continued Ferguson, as laughter erupted from the cordoned off room. This was fact number one that had me intrigued me about the red and white wines my friends and were all set to taste that night. Continuing with his annotation about Luce Estate, fact number two was completely unexpected. Ferguson revealed that their wines are organic – meaning pesticides are not used to ward off the bugs and whatnot that ruin crops. They use earthworms which are then hunted by birds. The winemaking process is all natural, he emphasized.
Mr Ferguson is the Global Sales Director- Commercial Director of Luce Della Vite and Attems, wine brands of the Luce Estate. He presided over the Luce Wine Dinner at il Mare of Hotel Mulia on September 26. It was a night of unforgettable gastronomic culinary experience with special thanks to Chef Roberto who, in the words of the Ferguson, “did a magnificent job of pairing the dishes and wines.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Chef Roberto’s opening salvo for the five-course meal was cod fish tripe, green peas, Chilean sea bass confit that he paired with Attems Pinot Grigio 2015 with its crisp citrus alternating with ripe apricot bouquet. The vibrant fruitiness of the wine proved an excellent partner to the fresh, flavorful fish: it was a smooth tango of sipping and dining.

First dish: cod fish trip with Attems Pinot Grigio 2015

Second dish: Don’t call me lobster soup paired with Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato 2015

Following up the energetic opening that greatly stoked the diners’ palates, Roberto served up a whimsically named dish that belied a taste that one would seriously relish. He was on a roll as he partnered Don’t call me lobster soup with Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato 2015 and its aromatics of fragrant strawberry and wild cherry mingled with roasted espresso beans and ginseng. The lingering crisp finish ending on a tasty bitter note on the palate combined effortlessly with the succulent seafood trying hard not to look like lobster. Scooping from the bottom was a secret on how to enjoy it that Maurizio, head of il Mare, shared with us as he table-hopped making certain everything was fine.

We were then immediately introduced to the next two stars of the night, Lucente Tenuta della Vite 2013 and Luce Tenuta della Vite 2006. Lucente, sourced from the same vineyards as Luce, arrived first and was a perfect companion to the truffle scented duck tortelli, mushrooms, and foie gras. Its underlying crisp balsam taste blended with the succulence of the roasted duck, tickling the palate to no end. Close at the heels of Lucente 2013 was Luce 2006, the first wine created in Montalcino by blending Sangiovese and Merlot. Its rich aromatics of red berry fruit, dried plum, and blackberry plus pungent balsam and sweet vanilla provided the flavorful backdrop for the charcoal grilled lamb rack served with eggplant and sesame to further dazzle the diners.

Third dish: truffle scented duck tortelli paired with Lucente Tenuta della Vite 2013

Fourth dish: charcoal grilled lamb, eggplant, and sesame paired with Luce Tenuta della Vite 2006

As the hours moved towards the new day, the conversation at our table grew animated and so did the laughter. Yulianto, a non- wine drinker, was taking to the different wines poured into the glasses like fish to water. The creases on his brow had vanished and his thoughts on work were eclipsed by deciding on which bottle of wine he liked the most. Meanwhile, Theresia was comparing notes on the previous wine dinner she had attended and was discovering Luce was more to her glass of wine. 

Enjoying my first glass of Luce wine

Good friends, Luce wine, and good food – simple pleasures of life

Chef Roberto, like a maestro of the orchestra coming to the conclusion a moving music piece, closed dinner on a soft, elegant note with the creamy strawberry mille-feuille, leaving an audience fully satiated but sans the uncomfortable heavy feeling in the tummy. A wine pairing dinner can be an easy affair to conduct for professional chefs, but it takes a maestro of the kitchen and a top quality wine maker to create an unparalleled dining experience. My glasses are empty – I need more Luce, please. 

Food Tales

PINOY NOODLES

Noodles are very much part of the Filipino diet. They can be eaten as lunch, merienda (snack), or dinner.  There are myriad noodle dishes in the Philippines, but I’m partial to only a few. One of them is pancit bihon – thin vermicelli noodles topped julienned vegetables and meat – which is a staple dish during celebrations like Christmas and birthdays. The other two are my very favourite. First is pancit malabon or thick rice noodles with shrimp sauce and topped with squid, egg, and crushed chicharon (fried pork crackling). I always order pancit malabon without the chicharon from Ang Tunay na Pancit Malabon on Tomas Morato in Quezon City.

Second is pancit luglug which is slightly more difficult to find than the other dishes. Goldilocks was one place I could find it when I used to frequent the place. There was also this eatery at National Bookstore building in Quezon City but it has since folded shop. Pancit luglug is like pancit malabon in terms of the basic ingredients namely the noodles, shrimp sauce, and toppings. Its name derives from the method of cooking the noodles which is dipping, or blanching, the noodles in hot water until they are cooked. Gourmands would point out that pancit luglug is the answer of the Pampangueños’ to another all-time favourite noodle dish pancit palabok, which has thinner noodles.

pancit luglug by Razon's of Guagua
pancit luglug -without the chicharon – by Razon’s of Guagua
Razon’s of Guagua satisfied my craving for luglug at their branch in Greenbelt, Makati. The restaurant, according to their website, “is home of the best Kapampangan dishes in town”. Its menu runs the gamut of Kapampangan specialities such as sizzling dishes viz. bulalo (beef soup made from shank and the bone marrow), sisig (chopped pig’s head and liver, and seasoned with Philippine lime and chilli), and bangus steak (milkfish). Noodles include the luglug and a pancit plus. There are rice- combo dishes and rice cakes too. For dessert, there are the silvanas, empanada, and halo-halo.  Dessert was truly satisfying when I tried their halo-halo for the first time. Halo-halo literally translates to mix-mix because when you order it you have to mix everything from top to bottom inside the parfait glass. Razon’s halo-halo is simpler and less colourful than, say, Iceberg, but which belied a terrific punch to the palate. It’s a merry mix of sweetened Saba banana and macapuno (coconut), which are at the bottom of the glass, evaporated milk, finely shaved ice that melts in your mouth, and leche flan.

halo-halo by Razon's of Guagua
Razon’s halo-halo features sweetened Saba, macapuno, and leche flan
Lunch of luglug and halo-halo with an uncle was a pleasant experience peppered by scintillating conversation. After all, nothing can go wrong with a meet up over Pinoy noodles and a Pinoy dessert.

Food Tales

FRAP HAPPINESS III

It is a love affair with Starbucks that raises from eyebrows but who gives a hoot. Others go for the lattes as they chill on the sofas; some get a kick from collecting the destination mugs or tumblers which I completely understand. I did get myself a tumbler from a Starbucks outlet in Ubud, Bali and a decorative mug from Disneyland, Anaheim. An old university friend gifted me with a San Francisco mug. Right now, I am on a frappuccino trip. This month I trooped down to my favorite Starbucks outlet at Tomas Morato in the Philippines where the baristas are warm and get my name right all the time. Moreover, they engage in friendly banter about almost anything under the sun. My last conversation was about my tattoo on my inner forearm that he found cool.

There are two new frappuccino flavors to add a zing to that hanging out-at-Starbucks routine. First is the Banana Split and the second is the Irish Cream Coffee Pudding. The former is a reworking of the all-time ice cream dessert favorite, the banana split. As you sip through the frap, it is a smooth sensation that starts from the bottom of which is strawberry whipped cream followed by the mocha frap – caffeinated or not, your choice – whipped cream drizzled with chocolate sauce and banana syrup. The crumbled waffle gets caught up in the swirl through the straw. The Irish Cream Coffee Pudding, on the other hand, is something new on my palate particularly the coffee pudding that was velvety with every sip. Like its sister-frap, it is available in regular or decaffeinated. But unlike its sister-frap, the ground coffee is sprinkled on the whipped cream for that wee-bit of caffeine kick. 

Banana Split frappuccino

Irish Cream Coffee Pudding frappuccino

Crank up the sugar rush with the new chocolate marshmallow cake – with a caramel middle – and your Starbucks routine is complete.

Chocolate marshmallow cake
Food Tales

A JOURNEY WITH MATHEW

Katnook wines

I would like to think that Chef Mathew Macartney was preoccupied with the food prep during his one-night culinary event that he could only address one section of the diners at Il Mare at Hotel Mulia. It would have been nice to exchange pleasantries with him even just to say how I enjoyed his dinner. Nonetheless, Theresia and I did have the pleasure of meeting Alison from Katnook vineyards, the night’s supplier of red and white wines for the five-course wine-pairing dinner. I am not much of a wine lover, but Katnook took my palate by surprise. Unfortunately, Katnook is not yet available in Indonesia said Alison. However, she assured us before moving on to the next table that their wines will be on the shelves of stores, bars, and hotels in Jakarta soon.

bread

A bowl of an assortment of freshly baked bread got the ball rolling for the 7 pm culinary journey. Chef Macartney’s opening salvo was Eggplant “Tofu” with pickled vegetables and burnt bread paired with Katnook Founders Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015. Creativity is a strong suit of Macartney. I was fooled by what I thought were mushrooms, which turned out to be cream cheese balls after I’d popped them into my mouth. His creative juices went into high gear in the next course. The plating of the Shiso Cured Salmon with kohlrabi, passion fruit, and roasted sesame resembled a miniature Japanese garden that had me forget my heart’s ache. Its taste had a light, minty flavour to it that complemented the Katnook Founders Block Chardonnay 2014 that was light on the palate as well.

Eggplant tofu
Eggplant “Tofu”
shiso cured salmon
Shiso Cured Salmon

Segueing into the third course, the strong – at least to my taste – Katnook Estate Merlot 2014 provided a good partnership to the succulent Canadian Lobster with avocado, chicken dashi, and kombu. There was this unfamiliar, but merry tap dance of flavours on my tongue that egged me on to take sip after sip of the merlot.

Canadian lobster
Canadian lobster

Chef Macartney veered away from seafood for the fourth course, opting to serve duck that brimmed with succulence just by looking at it. The Roasted Grimaud Duck Breast with banana purée, foie gras, and Pedro Ximenez glaze had this sweetish taste that jived well with Katnook’s stellar wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

duck breast ver 3
Roasted Grimaud Duck Breast

As the night rushed through the hours, my table teemed with glasses of white and red wines that Akhsin, a staff of Il Mare, made sure was never empty. At one point, I forgot which wine paired with which dish, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Each sip of wine and each bite of the dish engaged in a thrilling dance of flavours that put a zing in Macartney’s culinary journey. My conversation with gal-pal Theresia circumvented the tedious trials at work – without effort – and focused on the positive such as the food, the ambience of Il Mare, plans for the future, and hopes as well.

Keep the wine coming

Akhsin
Akhsin made certain our wine glasses were always full.
Katnook ShirAZ
Akhsin presents the Katnook Estate Prodigy Shiraz 2010

Chef Macartney wasn’t done yet. His second main course was Char-grilled Black Angus Sirloin – the braised short rib with morel purée and onion jus was any meat-lover’s delight with its juiciness. This dish was partnered with Katnook’s Prodigy Shiraz 2010, which went well with my alternative dish of chicken. The kitchen was, unfortunately, way too busy to even tell me how the chicken was done. Was Chef Macartney miffed that I eschewed his Angus sirloin?

chicken-alternative to Angus sirloin
an alternative to the Char-grilled Black Angus Sirloin – chicken

The chef brought his culinary journey to an end close to 10pm with his sweet coup de grace of a quartet of desserts that would more than satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. Led by the caramelised white chocolate mousse, the foursome was completed by the chiboust, Mandarin, and chocolate sorbet. It was a merry-go-round of taste – chocolaty, fruity, and creamy – finished with any sip of wine of your picking.

quartet of dessert
the quartet of dessert

Bottoms up

Despite being unable to meet Chef Macartney, it was a flavourful, palate-tickling experience that changed my perception of wine as my last option for drinks. Katnook’s wines are now part of my to-go-to drinks alongside vodka and champagne.