Wednesday, December 26, 2007

San Francisco Bay Area, Day 9

Arived in SFO nine days ago, and have been too, um, occupied to blog. So here's a run-down of what I've been not blogging about the past few days.

Day 1 onwards: My Mom's home cooking-- Yes, I only get my childhood comfort food when I'm on vacation in SFO. After all the countries, cuisines, and restaurants I've tried, nothing beats Mom's cooking. So far, I've had pork sinigang, garlic-fried salmon belly, soy-marinated catfish, linguine in meat sauce, and lots of fried rice. Looking forward to the stuffed cabbage, beef mechad or nilaga, etc. Michelin and Zagat have nothing on this.

Day 1: Masu (3rd Ave., San Mateo, CA)-- This is a Japanese restaurant specialising in the quick-fire production of California sushi rolls. It features an all-you-can-eat lunch for $12/person, which of course we availed ourselves of. There is no buffet table here; rather, you order each dish you want after you finish the last one you ordered. As far as sushi craftsmanship goes, Masu will not exactly please the aesthetic sense of the shogun-- the rolls look like they were haphazardly done (something to be expected here) and the rice sometimes falls as soon as you dip into the soysauce. Flavour-wise, it isn't bad with its varied selection of sushi rolls, and the raw fish are fresh enough for the average Joe (i.e., no fishy smell). Aside from sushi rolls, you may also order tempura, ramen, and teriyaki-- the salmon teriyaki is actually good. Service is pretty fast and efficient, and your order usually comes within five minutes, longer if you order cooked stuff. Bottomline, Masu isn't haute Japanese cuisine, but it offers superb value for money and is much better than the average buffet lunch in its price level.

Day 2: Godiva Chocolates (Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo, CA)-- Godiva makes some of the smoothest chocolates I've eaten. Quite pricey, but good. As usual, I prefer the white and milk chocolates over the dark. They also make blended chocolate shakes in this store, which for me defeats the purpose of going to Godiva.

Day 4: Marina Food (Norfolk St., San Mateo, CA)-- No this isn't a restaurant, this is one of the many Asian supermarkets in the Bay Area, and a very well-stocked one at that. The reason Marina made it to this post is because of what it sells-- Victorias Spanish Sardines and Bangus. After weeks of looking for them in Manila (my folks wanted be to bring some to SFO), this is where I find those orange-and-yellow cans. For those who don't know, Victorias are a Filipino company selling goods manufactured in the Philippines. A stocker in Landmark Supermarket (Gateway Mall, Quezon City) told my Dear and me that Victorias have stopped delivering their products to local stores and instead export practically all their stuff. Well, this confirms his story.

Day 6: Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe (Burlingame Ave., Burlingame, CA)-- I've been going here since 2001 usually for coffee and desserts, but this is the first time I had breafast here. People here will find this weird since Copenhagen has been a breakfast institution in Burlingame for decades, with many people walking here from church on Sunday mornings. I got the Veracruz omelette ($8.95)-- roasted peppers, avocados, sour cream, and cheese-- which was that day's special; my Dad got the Popeye omelette ($7.75), which had spinach and cheese; and my Mom got blueberry pancackes ($6.95), which always seem to come in threes. All omelette orders come with country-fried potatoes and buttered toast, which makes this a very hearty breakfast indeed. Copenhagen has a relaxed and casual atmosphere, and, despite its brisk business, has managed to keep its neighbourhood feel. And yes, avocados are a good filling for omelettes, depending on what goes with it.

Day 8: Noche Buena-- I'll have a special post for this. Eventually.

Day 9: Carl's Jr. (Triton Dr., Foster City, CA)-- I got the Portobello Mushroom 6-Dollar Burger. It was very good, I should say. Much better than the restaurant burgers I get in Manila. For one, you can actually taste the beef here, which is thick and juicy, not the anemic and shrivelled patties in most burger places in Manila. They are also generous with the lettuce, tomatoes, and mushrooms (of course). And to think Carl's Jr. burgers only rate 18 out of a possible 30 in Zagat surveys, so at most it is above average and in no way an outlier. So yes, the Americans make a pretty darned good burger.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hong Kong, T minus 2 hours

At the CX lounge in HKG now, the one called The Pier (CX has two lounges in HKG, the other called The Wing). As far as airport lounges go, the CX lounge in HKG is the best in amenities and food. Top marks for design, though, goes to the TK lounge in Istanbul with its palatial interior design.

The food in the CX lounge in HKG is superb, complete with a Noodle Bar where you order freshly cooked noodles. In no other lounge have I seen freshly cooked food; usually the main course is a bunch of cold sandwiches and soups kept on warm. For this layover, I got the following: wonton noodles, spring rolls, fried rice, sausages wrapped in bacon, vegetable tempura, and a fruit plate. And before you start making aspersions about my appetite (which, if you know me, are not necessarily off the mark), the serving sizes I got were very small, like a piece or two of each dish. So, no, I'm not about to burst with all this free food.

Next stop, SFO.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Recipes (not a recipe)

A current favourite of my Dear is Recipes. No, she hasn't suddenly discovered cooking as a hobby; Recipes is the name of a restaurant chain here in Manila, serving dishes from various Asian cuisines (Filipino, Thai, Korean, Chinese). We've eaten at Recipes before, but we rediscovered it last Saturday.

First time I ate at Recipes was in Alabang Town Center back in 2004, courtesy of a friend's girlfriend (now ex) who threw him a surprise party. As with most parties where you try not to look like the resident glutton, I didn't get to eat much so I wasn't particularly impressed. Also, the concept of a resto offering dishes from various cuisines isn't very inviting to me-- those types tend to be jacks of all cuisines but masters of none.

Recipes, however, is not bad at all. I wouldn't go there if I wanted authentic Thai or Chinese food, but their signature dishes are superb. Our favourite dish, bar none, is called General's Chicken (P200)-- crunchy fried chicken cubes (with skin) and eggplants in a thick sweet and spicy sauce. This dish is best described as just right-- not too sweet, not to spicy; the crispy chicken complements the soft eggplant. This dish is always ordered when my Dear and I visit. Goes very well with rice (P35/cup), which itself is quite good and has a very good texture-- I would guess they serve dinorado rice cooked with pandan.

Another good pick, this time clearly Chinese-inspired, is the Spicy Squid (P165). Their squid has the customary light breading, fried with garlic and chilies, but is sliced relatively thin (comapred to other restos), almost like straightened squid rings. But unlike squid rings, their squid is completely cooked yet soft-- not an easy feat when cooking squid.

Not so high on my list is the Lechon Kawali with Kangkong (P200). You'd expect the pork to be hot and crispy in this dish, but when we ordered it last night the pork came out rubbery and cold, as if it's been lying around for some time. The kangkong, though, was freshly-cooked and similar to the kangkong dish in Thai restaurants. I've had this dish before and I remember the pork being freshly cooked and perfectly crispy, which is to be expected. I'm thinking the pork last night was a fluke, a temporary lapse of quality, but it's still a disappointment.

Another signature Recipes dish is the Crispy Tilapia, but we haven't tried it yet because my Dear is still recovering from successive days of eating tilapia at home. At one time we tried the Laing-- the quintessential Bicolano dish of gabi leaves, chilies, shrimp paste, and coconut milk-- I remember it as being ok but not spectacular (serving size was huge, though).

Ambience-wise, Recipes has a modern minimalist look-- practically no decor and no visual clues as to what to expect. You'll really have to look at the menu to see what they have to offer. Service is friendly and efficient. Expect to pay around P300 per person in this restaurant.

Recipes is not exactly authentic gourmet food; don't go here if you're looking for haute cuisine. Its forte is in preparing simple comfort food, something your aunt might cook on a Sunday lunch when she's trying to impress the family.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cyma (see-mah)

Last Friday, a day after that idiotic episode at Manila Pen, my Dear and I ate at Cyma in Trinoma (for those who don't know, Trinoma is a new mall in Quezon City, near SM North Edsa). Cyma is a Greek restaurant owned by a Filipino chef, and apparently it has already carved a name for itself. I actually wanted to go to a Persian resto last Friday, but my Dear wasn't too keen on it so we compromised on Greek cuisine. And it turned out to be a good decision indeed.

First, the non-food review. Cyma has a casual and relaxed ambience, and the decor captures the flavour of the Mediterranean. Being on the 5th floor of Trinoma, an unobstructed view is an added bonus. Service, I should say, is friendly in the American hi-my-name-is-XXXX-and-i'm-your-server-for-today style. But unlike American restos, they don't kick you out the minute you're done with your meal and are unlikely to order anything else. One thing they can change is the layout-- the bathroom door is in plain view of the dining area and it ain't a good sight.

As for the food, here's what we ordered:

Melitzanosalata (P100)-- basically a roasted eggplant and tomato salad served with whole wheat pita bread. Think of a Greek-style ensaladang talong, with olive oil and lemon juice instead of vinegar. Good, actually, although not as "Greek" as I expected.

Dolmadakia (P195)-- grape leaves stuffed with baked rice and pine nuts, served with yogurt. Very tart. And I mean tart. I had something like this when I was in Baku (also called dolma), stuffed with rice and mutton, but it was not so tart as Cyma's version. And for extra tartness, they serve this dish with a wedge of lemon. I don't know if it was supposed to be that tart, but if it was, I strongly prefer the Azeri version. Oh, did I say this dish was tart?

Roka Salata, solo (P295)-- arugula (roka), sun-dried tomatoes, and walnuts with shaved parmesan cheese and a sweet dressing. This was the gem of the meal, and I'm pretty sure we'll order this every time we eat at Cyma. Although parmesan cheese isn't really Greek, it was a very good addition to the salad. Don't let the "solo" fool you-- this salad is good for at least two.

Mixed Meat Gyros (P180)-- a gyros of pork, beef, tomatoes, onions, and some reddish sauce, rolled in whole wheat pita bread. It is very big and filling-- think of an oversized shawarma. It's so big that it's unwieldy-- I suggest against it if you're on a first date. But if you want a hearty meal and don't mind making a mess, I strongly suggest it. I ordered my gyros with a side of roasted potatoes sprinkled with parsley and parmesan cheese (P80), which I barely touched on account of being too full.

Chicken Gyros (P140) with a lettuce wrap (P25)-- my Dear's order. Same as a regular gyro, but replace the pita bread with lettuce. Not bad, but I still prefer bread on my gyros. My Dear also ordered her lettuce gyros with a side of roasted potatoes (P80), which she barely touched.

Refillable iced tea (P80) and lemonade (P80)-- thankfully, not that saccharine mixture that usually passes for iced tea and lemonade.

As it was our first time at Cyma, we got carried away with our orders and ended up spending almost P1,400. A sane meal for two can include a salad, a gyros, and maybe some entree or pasta, costing around P300 to P400 per person, even less if you'll share the hugely-portioned dishes. All in all, a pretty good deal.