Monday, February 07, 2011

Trying to be a foodie

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

The controversy around Big Bad Blogger has refocused attention on bloggers. Since I do not blog anymore (I don’t know if my absence from the blogosphere is temporary or permanent), friends and former readers of my blog are forced to read my column on paper or online. But I do continue to read blogs. And many of my former readers continue to leave messages in my blog or send me e-mails. This piece was requested by a reader of my blog.

A socialite blogger who is now referred to as the “housewife blogger from Dasmariñas Village” is the current toast of the blogosphere. Her blog is now one of those I check regularly (www.tinatagle.blogspot.com). If one has the patience and, okay, the fortitude to see through and beyond the dresses and the shoes and the bags and the sunglasses, one will actually find some substance. Reading her blog entries, particularly the ones that talk about her children, is a heartwarming experience. Mothers are truly amazing creatures; they do not always makes sense but they are always wise in their own unusual ways.

Tagle may reside in the enclave of the rich and famous and goes around town lugging bags, each one costing double what a middle manager earns annually, but her daily aggravations are practically the same as those of other mothers elsewhere. She just does them while balanced precariously on Manolo Blahnik shoes. And writes about them with dry wit and humor.

Anyway. The Big Bad Blogger controversy was particularly about food bloggers. Food blogging is a distinct specialization in the blogosphere and there are very few respectable food bloggers out there. Connie Veneracion, also known as The Sassy Lawyer, former columnist of this paper, is one of them (her blog is www.houseonahill.net). But there are a few others. Two of my favorites are www.marketmanila.com and www.dessertcomesfirst.com. I am sure these people are not in the same league as Big Bad Blogger.

I’ve never blogged or written about food and restaurants directly because I have always thought that it takes a particular expertise to be able to do justice to it. My taste for food and restaurants are decidedly simple and practical and I am a creature of habits —very bad habits. This doesn’t mean I don’t go out and try new things; I do that too, but only after someone I know has already been there and makes a good recommendation.

But someone asked me to weigh in with my own two cents worth on restaurants “to illustrate that writers don’t necessarily write about them because they are asked to or because they are paid to do so.” So here goes.

My all-time favorite restaurant is a simple no-frills café in Malate that’s been there for as long as I can remember. It’s called Adriatico Arms Hotel Café and as the name suggests, it’s on Adriatico Street and it’s part of a small hotel. The café does not even have linens on its glass-topped tables and most of the chairs are wrought iron pieces but the place has its own charm. The house special is Iberian Chicken, which you have to order at least three hours in advance. Yes, you have to call them, leave your name and contact numbers at nine in the morning to order it if you intend to have lunch there.

But it’s really worth it. My friends and I have been coming back to this place for more than ten years now – it’s almost like a monthly tradition. We go there to celebrate occasions, when we are trying to impress someone, or when we crave for honest-to-goodness mouth-watering food, glorious food. I am told that the chicken can also be had at Café Armas but my friends who ate Iberian chicken there swore the taste wasn’t the same. I guess ambience really has a lot to do with the dining experience. The café also serves other fare. If you failed to order in advance, you can take your chances, walk into the café and ask if someone ordered the chicken and failed to show up. It happens once in a rare while. But there are always other things on their menu. I recommend anything grilled with Cajun pepper.

I’m a Manila boy through and through so it is expected that some of my favorite restaurants would be in the Malate area. The original Café Adriatico near the Remedios Circle is still being renovated after it caught fire a couple of months ago. This restaurant has always been my “default” restaurant. If we’d have difficulty choosing a restaurant, we’d be sure to end up here because it is open practically 24/7 and it serves comfort food.

Fortunately, there are now many variants of the Café Adriatico franchise and they are all over Metro Manila. The names of the restaurants vary—Abe, Lorenzo’s Way, Fely J, Café Havana—but one can always find in the menu old favorites such as butterflied plapla (which is really deep fried tilapia) and Claude’s dream (which is buko pandan served with a twist).

My all-time favorite Italian Restaurant is also in Malate. It’s also been there for ages; the lone waiter is still the same old Manong that took our orders and brought our food to the table 20 years ago. The restaurant still has the same menu from way back. They have around ten tables and if you come late and a table is not available, it’s probably best to just go elsewhere because this isn’t a place for a quick meal. Diners linger for hours and for good reason. The food is good and served in a no-nonsense way and the ambience is homey. The restaurant is called Cosa Nostra, and it’s located on Adriatico Street just farther along towards Quirino Avenue. It’s a very small place—actually the ground floor of a two-storey apartment so it is easy to miss.

For Chinese food, we go to Binondo. These days, we go to Sincerity Restaurant (my all-time favorite Chinese restaurant - Smart Restaurant - has moved somewhere else). But going to Binondo requires major planning and lots of resolve so my kith and kin troop to Hap Chan whenever we feel a hankering for fried squid heads, steamed fish with garlic, and noodles. Hap Chan used to be this hole-in-the-wall along Malvar Street in Malate. It was a place where one dined surrounded by vats of steaming broths—the kitchen was where the restaurant was. It had no air-conditioning and the menu was plastered on the wall along with calendars of senators and congressmen that came with special handwritten dedications and messages. Hap Chan has grown into a chain with a number of branches located strategically all over the Metro. We go to their branch at the Cultural Center complex because it’s the one that is least crowded.

For very, very special occasions and when I have a craving for food that has obviously gone through a lot of thinking process, I go to Uno Restaurant along Tomas Morato in Quezon City. It’s futile for me to try to describe the kind of food serve there because I’d probably end up just putting exclamation points at the end of each adjective. Uno changes its menu often (there used to be two specials for the day which diners could choose from) and serve the best bread (they bake the bread themselves) and iced tea in town.

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