The influx of cheap fares definitely changed the travel culture here in the Philippines. Post the advent of Über low promo fares, going to Boracay, Palawan, Kuala Lumpur, and wherever else you fancy within this region in Asia is a cinch. With trips that would practically cost you less than a thousand-- or even less than P500 if you're a patient promo watcher, don't be surprised if a handful of your Facebook friends has the underground river, Merlion, Angkor Wat, and windmills shuffling in the background of their profile pictures. And oh, how can I miss mentioning those quintessential jump-shot pictures amidst the pristine white shores?
Who else has this obligatory picture with the Merlion?
During these times when a trip to Singapore is merely as demanding as a trip to Boracay, don't you wish those budget airlines would add a little more to their destination lists? Say, Paris? Vienna? Or what about Santorini? But, meh! Who am I kidding? Of course that isn't happening--at least, not yet. And if you're just like me (i.e., a mere mortal, heavily dependent on the bold promo advertisements which don't include the above said destinations), try scratching that travel itch with the latest from the metro's burgeoning restaurant industry like I do. I know, I know. Nothing beats the real deal of sitting in a cafe in Paris, eating a steamy croissant, while gazing at the Eiffel. But in the meantime-- at least while waiting for more promo destinations from the airlines, I'll just be contented, feasting on the supposed authentic fare offered by the following restaurants that represent my destinations in mind.
The recently concluded World Cup finals shone some spotlight on the lesser popular (in an average Pinoy's point of view) part of the EU called Netherlands. Though the team didn't win, the hunky Oranje boys sure caught the attention of many Filipinas, me included. As far as I know, the Dutch people are the tallest in the world, and many of them are good-looking. But a trip to Van Marley's in Loyola Heights taught me so much more.
For instance, I learned that unlike the usual potato croquettas, they favor their Kroket (P135) filled with a mixture of chicken, pork, and beef. The 3-piece, medium sized krokets served in Van Marley's seem too few and too small to fill-up a hungry tummy. However, when done eating the dish, you'll realize that how heavy it actually is. The crunchy krokets filled with a satisfying mush of assorted meat are good hunger quenchers. So, too, is the Flying Dutch Wings (P155), which is one of my favorites in the resto.
The 5-piece dish instantly gained my approval upon serving as I immediately took note of the familiar tangy aroma of the sauce used. A bite into it and I was sure that they got my favored lip-smacking flavor for buffalo wings. I've noticed though that unlike in the other restos that serve the same wings, the Dutch wings are not swimming in too much butter-- a little thing the health conscious part of me thanked for.
Flying Dutch Wings
Apart from the lesser oil content in most of their dishes, one should also take note that sauces in Van Marley's are bought separately. Kuripots may be appalled by this, but I guarantee you that you won't be paying extra for something cheap tasting. I personally love the Ranch dressing (P33) together with the Dutch wings, though most people find the authenticity of the Bleu cheese sauce (P40) makes it worth picking. Also, don't miss out on the Joppie Sauce (P33) when ordering for the Kroket. Its curry and mustard mixture makes the fried goodies even more appealing.
Original and Nutella-Praline Dutchkins
But a trip to this resto isn't one without tasting their bonbons selections. Sure, Bram's Praline Fudge Brownie (P120) and White Praline Brownie Pie (P120) aren't like anything else you've had in the metro as both are almost like lava cakes in terms of richness. But the Dutchkins (P125)... oh the Dutchkins, are so good, it's a sin to leave Van Marley's without tasting one! And if you ever get a bite of these springy, amazingly moist, and buttery little pieces of heaven? I'm betting it won't be your last.
Before I started watching Man Vs. Food on the Travel Channel, I never thought that such humongous-- ludicrous even-- burgers existed in America. And although the Philippines' food culture is generally close to the westerners', fact remains that our food here remains tiny in all aspects. Why, even our supposed quarter pounders do not even come close to the average burgers there! That's true, until, BRGR: The Burger Project in Maginhawa St. came into existence. This not-your-typical-burger-joint's claim to fame is their make your own burger scheme, where, well, you are to make your own burger.
In BRGR, you'll be given a clipboard containing a checklist at the counter. The process is simple, much like an exam. First, you are to choose what type and how many burger patties you'd want in your burger. You may either go with 100% beef or the healthier tofu patty. One burger can have as much as three patties. Next are options for buns, cheeses (eg., Bleu, Mozzarella, Gruyere, Cheddar) toppings (eg., bacon, chili con carne, pepperoni, guacamole, tomatoes, egg, kimchi, etc.). Finally, you'll be asked to name your burger as they total how much you'd pay for.
How no one else thought of this concept before, I have no idea. But personally, I think that this is a crazy breakthrough in the local burger scene. During my first time there, I created my "Four-cheese Burger," (P305) putting in all the available cheeses, one beef patty, mushrooms, bacon, and the usual veggies. It was so rich, so huge, and so heavy that I thought I'd slip into a food coma halfway through finishing it! Until now, I cannot fathom how people manage to finish their triple patty burgers alone.
If you're unsure of what works as a combo, designer burgers are scrawled in their black board menu. These are pre-thought combinations which you can just point at when ordering.
So if you happen to be craving that monstrous burger you've just seen on TV, there's no need to cue for visa approval to visit the US. Just head to Maginhawa for that ultimate burger that is as good as your imagination and budget permits.
You've eaten in a Japanese restaurant, but have you eaten in a ramen bar? Apparently, those two are different. A ramen bar, where very minimal items are listed in the menu-- sometimes with only 1 or 2 ramen options, is typical in the provinces and suburbs of Japan. In a ramen bar, the good old ramen, naturally, is king.
This is what the group behind Ramen Bar in Eastwood City had in mind when they put up the barely a couple of months old resto. Tired of flying to and fro Osaka seeking the authentic taste of Ramen in the different provinces there, they decided to bring the concept of the Ramen Bar to Manila.
Super Chasyu Ramen
Also with a very limited menu, Ramen Bar offers 5 ramen dishes and a couple of small plates. Best-sellers include the RBS #1 (P380): a soy based Tonkotsu ramen, Sapporo Miso Ramen (P320), and the Super Chasyu Ramen (P380). I've sampled the Super Chasyu Ramen which came across to me as clean tasting, with a pronounced pork broth flavor, and is not at all cloying to the taste buds. The pork strips were aplenty; the noodles were properly prepared. The included tamago, which is an egg marinated in a special sauce for 48 hours, was something I found remarkably tasty. I also took note that the entire bowl was more than enough for myself, therefore, is something I'll be happy to share with another person the next time.
Other items I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend are: Kakuni Buns (P180), which I fondly remember as "siopao-- only a hundred times better" (thanks to the generous slices of very tender pork strips smothered in equally generous hoisin-tasting sauce) and the Yakiniku Beef (P195), a fatty, but nevertheless awesome version of the typically bastardized dish in the Japanese fast food restos in the metro.
Do not leave without having some tempura ice cream!
The view from the balcony of Va Bene Pasta Deli is nowhere near the view from a trattoria in Roma-- not with a Petron gas station situated below.
Although he cannot promise the breathtaking view of the Colosseum, the Italian chef of Va Bene Pasta Deli promises to take you to the streets of Italy with their Pizza Al Taglio. The square pizza, he relates, is a typical casual snack among the locals there, much like what hotdog buns are to the Americans. These thick and soft crust pizzas, with crunchy, almost toast-like bottoms are available daily in Va Bene. For mere 50 pesos, one can get a huge square of Chorizo pizza fast, and head home or to work properly filled.
Pizza Al Taglio sliced into two
Their pizza is great, but pasta is their pride. Va Bene Pasta Deli's claim to fame is their freshly made, hand rolled pastas.
Prior to my dining in Va Bene, I was not that concerned with my pastas. Of course I'd like them al dente but that's about it. Several pasta dishes in Va Bene after, I'm much more knowledgeable to discern the difference of a freshly made pasta as opposed to the boxed ones.
Know the difference, too, as you order for their best-selling dishes. The I Canelloni (P280) is my favorite among their recommendations. It's in that dish that I discovered the delicate feel of a freshly made pasta upon a bite. The pasta, spinach, ham, tomatoes and cheeses literally melts into one in your mouth! Same goes with the Salmon Canelloni (P280), which is a great choice for a light tummy-filler. I was informed that the Spinach Ricotta Ravioli, presented like little dumplings, is also crowd pleaser.
I think that the best thing about Va Bene is that they offer pre-made, dried pastas (100g for P65 to P85) for people to take out and cook at home. They even have some suggested recipes on how to cook the different types of pastas and which sauces best complement them. They have these take out pastas in basil, olives, tomato, mixed herbs and saffron flavors.
Who better to cook paella, the authentic Spanish way, than a chef who's been making paella in Spain since she was nine?
Chef Alexandra of Gaudi fame put up Tapella a year ago to present Spanish fares in a more laid back and personal way. If we've gotten the idea that Spanish fare is usually in fiesta style with large servings and family style set-up, Tapella deviates by serving smaller portions for casual lunches good for 1 to 2 people.
Manchego Cheese Paella
As everybody is entitled to their opinion I personally vouch that the best paella in the metro is Tapella's Manchego Cheese Paella (P500). That's true, at least, in my book. I actually fell in love the first time I tried it that I literally drew a heart beside its name when I noted the Manchego in my pad. The rice alone-- which I believe should rightfully be the vocalist in paellas, with the toppings just there for back up, is enough to write home about. Never had I tasted so much richness in the far from dry grains before trying this particular paella. Never, also, had I tried a paella and almost disregarded the toppings which I thought weren't needed for extra flavoring anymore.
I was also able to sample some of its newer dishes such as the Pollo Morcuno with Couscous which also was superb, the Pasta with Chistorra or chorizo, and Carpaccio Beef, again, with Manchego Cheese. All of these, I found, are good orders in addition to the Manchego Cheese Paella.
Desserts in Tapella are also not to be missed. The Tocino del Cielo (P100) or Fat from Heaven is an aptly named dessert of the leche flan vein.
Tocino del Cielo
Imagine the richness and of eating Foie gras and translate it to something sweet fit for dessert. That's the experience you'll get from this sinful delicacy which according to Chef Alexandra was passed on to her by her grandmother. Tapella's Cheesecake (P100) and Crepe (P150) are also some of the best-sellers.
Cheesecake and Crepe
Up until I find myself able enough to fund for the travel expenses to the above said countries, I'd continue 'dining around the world' without leaving the metro-- searching for the closest ones to approximate the real deal. And yes, I'd also be praying for a lengthier list of promo destinations.