Yesterday's weather report told me that summer is officially over. The all-day ashen Thursday sky, my once again broken umbrella, and the flooded streets of the metro, rubbed in that bad news to my unwilling summer-loving self further. Bitterly, I bid summer goodbye.
Armed with an umbrella (my nth one, by the way) and a trusty jacket, I went out of the house this morning only to be greeted by a surprisingly clear sky and the warm smiling sun -- a picture perfect summer day. I went back in, ditched the jacket but kept the umbrella. I won't be surprised if it turns out stormy after an hour. Oh well. Could the weather be more erratic than this?
Thanks to the rain-shine-rain-shine pattern (or the lack of one), I had to change the intro I already planned for this article. I was supposed to vouch and highlight Bistro Mateo's giant and “jologs” (to quote owner Marivic Estrada) halo-halo as the huling hirit and best way to cap off this year's summer, but as you see, the weather isn't exactly that cooperative. Instead, I'm now vouching Bistro Mateo as the place to be, rain or shine. And as I think about it, that phrase suits it even better.
From Mario to Mateo
A year ago, the address: Tiendesitas, Frontera Verde Ortigas Avenue corner C-5 would lead you to Mario's Kitchen, a cozy restaurant where countless people savored and favored the Mario's Caesar Salad, Lengua, Callos, Salpicado, and of course, Kare- Kare. Now, the address will still lead you to the same cozy place, and even the same consoling dishes, with some new and exciting additions.
However, it's name has changed to Bistro Mateo, a transformation owners Ray and Marivic Estrada deem necessary. Marivic shared that the name “Mateo” perfectly encapsulates the cuisine expected from this resto. “It can sound Spanish, Italian, and even Filipino. It appeals to all,” she explained. “It used to be mainly Spanish- Filipino fare but now, it's more like Filipino- Continental,” Ray added. Hmm... Filipino- Continental sounds good. I'm sure it tastes even better.
That given, lunch for the day comprised of the newer dishes as well as old time favorites we were very happy they've retained.
Let The Feast Begin
You wouldn't commonly read Nilagang Corned Beef (P260) in menus elsewhere. That's exactly why the uniquely named dish ranks as one of Bistro Mateo's best selling items. Most customers, myself included, first thought of shreds of canned corned beef swimming in a bowlful of pinaglagaan soup upon reading it. Not exactly an appetizing sight, but still enough to induce curiosity.
Nilagang Corned Beef
However, upon arriving at the table, customers would notice that it isn't exactly the red shreds type of corned beef they visualized, rather it is comprised of regular looking chunks found in normal nilaga.
Upon tasting, that's when one discovers what Marivic and Ray mean by "corned." And that discovery doesn't disappoint. This bowl, fit for 2 to 3 people, has some good stuff in it. By that I mean: extra tender brisket swimming in a sweeter than normal soup, wherein the richness of ginger permeates. Ahh, nothing beats the humble home-cooked nilaga as a meal starter.
The next dish served has an interesting story behind it. Two lents ago, Marivic came up with the Bangus Sisig a la Mateo's (P200) just so people can have an alternative to the sinful but oh so good pork sisig they offer in their restaurant. After the resurrection of Christ, people continually asked for it. And yes, even two lents later, it is still offered in Bistro Mateo.
Bangus Sisig a la Mateo's
You cannot blame Bangus Sisig patrons, myself included. This dish deserves the biggest and brightest five stars. I personally don't miss the grease and flavor of the pork sisig every time I eat its fish counterpart. What makes this extra special is the mango salsa which provides the right amount of sweetness to contrast the saltiness of the sisig. It is also moderately spicy so your taste buds will surely enjoy the hodgepodge of flavors.
If you ask the regulars, Kare-Kare (P420) in Bistro Mateo is also a must.
You don't need the palate of a culinary expert to discern the difference of kare-kare with ready-made powder mix from kare-kare which is product of 3 days of love and labor. Bistro Mateo's falls under the latter so expect the flavor to be as rich as possible. They do things the hard way. They even roast their own peanuts and rice, thus the obvious difference in the thickness and flavor of the sauce.
It's been a while since I tasted their Kare-Kare so having it again induced almost the same memory I had when I first tasted it. After a bowl, I wanted another, but Ray warned us that the next one's a bit heavy so we should save space.
I could see why Ray was very much eager for us to try the Tenderloin Hot Pot (P205). It was after all, his favorite.
Tenderloin Hot Pot
The pot looked like a serving of mashed potato fit for one very very hungry person. Once sliced, it looked like a typical shepherd's pie, only this one wafted an insanely mouthwatering aroma of cheese, beef and potatoes. The taste? Oh my. That's all I can say. This, along with the bangus sisig, are my ultimate favorites in Bistro Mateo.
After all of these, I was ready for the finale, the best-ever-churros-I've-tasted-yet, the Churros con Chocolate (P105) . But Marivic said that I'd have to wait a little longer because I still had to taste her Mediterranean Burger Bundles (P195) and Halo Halo (with ice cream P125, without P115). Just as long as I'd get my hands on those churros right after, I have no qualms.
The Mediterranean Burger Bundles landed on our table. I thought we could finish these uniquely flavored but definitely enjoyable burgers without feat but I guess I underestimated it. They're heavy, even heavier for those who had nilaga, sisig, and kare-kare before hand.
Mediterranean Burger Bundles
It's not only these little burgers that we underestimated. For the price of P125, I expected something the size of the single 'fiesta' serving in a more popular halo-halo joint, but wow. The halo-halo was a huge bowlful! A heap of crushed ice lay neatly atop all the nata, beans, langka, jelly and what not. This, according to Marivic, is how she likes her halo-halo. The 'jologs' version -- all the ingredients we're accustomed to in our neighborhood halo-halo stand. I know she did the right thing coming up with this because I also know that deep inside, all Filipinos love their halo-halo the way it is in their neighborhood, void of all the frou frou of the higher-end versions.
At last, the churros. I've never liked churros so much before tasting Churros con Chocolate. I remember the sudden craze for a more popular chain's churros but I don't really get why. And because I haven't tasted better churros elsewhere, I resigned that maybe churros are really meant to be that way: flour tasting, crispy and empty. That is, until I tasted Bistro Mateo's.
Luckily, Marivic had the same idea as mine of how churros is supposed to be. And thankfully, she's really good in executing it. Her version is crisp in the outside but very, very chewy in the inside. And can you believe 8 pieces of this with a dip only costs P105?
Churros con Chocolate
As of the moment, it hadn't rained yet. Maybe today is a good time to recommend their halo-halo? And as for tomorrow, let's see what the weather brings us. At least now you know, come rain or shine, there's always something comforting at Bistro Mateo.