Ristras : Ginormous Burrito. Burp!

A lot of people have been telling me that this is a must-try Mexican joint so when we found ourselves in the San Juan area the other day, we grabbed the chance to check it out. I called my sister Addie who was out of town that day to give us directions going there. She also warned me that their servings are huge so Joel and I can share one order. 

 Ristras is a casual, no-frills Mexican fast food joint which serves everything from burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, fajitas and all the common Mexican favorites. 

Choices, Choices, Choices... As I scrolled down their menu board, I was thinking... Burrito or Enchilada? Cilantro lime rice or Chorizo Brown Rice? Pinto or Black Beans? Jeeez... this is tough! Since Joel left the burden of deciding to me. I narrowed it down to a CARNITAS BURRITO (Php 330) naturally raised pork, seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, orange juice and freshly cracked pepper seared and braised for four hours!) 

Addie was absolutely right when she said that their portions were huge! Their burrito was ginormous. You can see here that the tortilla he is using is as big as a family size pizza crust. Wuh oh!

Oozing contents of our gigantic burrito

Ristras' Giant Burrito vs. Pattie & Joel  = Burrito reigned supreme! We couldn't bring it down! It was a burrito packed with loads of goodness (corn salsa, guacamole, chorizo brown rice and pinto beans). All the ingredients were undeniably fresh - I absolutely loved their extra chunky guacamole! Their avocados were awesome! But in the end it was just too much for our puny tandem (tsk tsk losers!). Joel and I threw in the towel. 

* Beside the drinks chiller was a colorful board filled with names of people who won the battle between the "Godzilla Burrito" which is supposedly three times bigger than the one we just had... along with the their tallying time! I can't stomach how the hell those guys devoured the beast! Crazy! 

Ristras Mexican Grill
Unit 106 J. Abad Santos cor.
Lopez Jaena, San Juan
For Pick Up - 09152573905


Aquaknox Bar and Lounge : Everything from the Name is Lame!

The name Aquaknox itself was kind of questionable because it didn't quite fit a name for a vietnamese bar and restaurant. It sounds more like a spa or a gym (close to Equinox) more than anything else. Nevertheless, we wanted to give it a fair shot. It proved to be an unwise choice because I was two other fellow New York educated chefs (Am and Lisa) with me that night (aside from my hubby and another good friend Karla). We were all very critical about everything from the interiors, to the whole ambiance  and ofcourse more importantly the food. The restaurant failed in all the three aspects. The interiors and ambiance didn't match the Vietnamese concept they were promoting. The food was mediocre. In other words, it was our first and last visit. We, the judges for the night, have spoken and its a complete failure (sorry to be harsh!).

"Goi Tom Cuon" Fresh Prawn Springrolls (Php 145.00) - with lettuce, mint, cilantro leaves and peanut sauce. It was just "ok". I've had better.

"Pho with Raw Beef Brisket" (Php 250.00) - traditional vietnamese noodle soup with rice noodle, beef brisket, scallions, onions, bean sprouts and mint herbs. The broth lacked the richness and taste of many hours of boiling beef bones and meat...the brisket was tender though (one point on that!).

Condiments to go with the Pho

"Cua Rang Moui Toi" - Chef Danny's Special Crab (Php 850.00)- medium pan roasted crab with garlic and special sauce 

The crab entree was the only saving grace but it sure isn't not enough to make us go back there again. Everything else was just too lame. 

Our collective suggestion, start by changing the NAME...

Aquaknox Restaurant
800 Arnaiz Ave (formerly Pasay Road)
Makati City, Philippines


I'm Angus (Steakhouse), And You Are?

Tucked in the small street of Yakal is a rather new steakhouse called "I'm Angus" which is actually an affiliate of Carpaccio Italiano Ristorante and Chesa Bianca Swiss Restaurant, two highly acclaimed restaurants here in the country. 

The place has a contemporary country feel...a lot of wood and thin bricks on the wall. The mood it projects really suits a steak house. 

Seared Mahi Tuna Piri Piri with Wasabi Mayo (Php 250)

Beef Tartare - an interesting take on Beef Tartare because it was zesty and with pickles. Quite strange but good nevertheless.

400 g Medium Rare Prime Rib Eye Steak (Php 650 per 100 g) - I split this with Joel because I wasn't that hungry and was certain I wouldn't a whole order. This was actually the first plate they gave. When I cut through the steak, I knew by the color (light pink)  and the texture that it was medium well. Joel, my sister Addie and brother Hip also shared the same sentiment (they split a T-bone order which turned out to be medium well too instead of medium rare). So we sent it back to the kitchen and told them that we asked for Medium Rare - center should still be red and slightly warm (internal temp of about 130-135 degrees F). Without hesitation, they took the plates back and turned it over to the chef in the kitchen. We watched through the glass window and saw that the head chef took the matter into his hands and grilled the new steaks himself (gulp! sorry chef! we made you work a little harder!). The result was much better although they gave me a different cut. Since we split the order, they cut it horizontally which made the meat much thinner. Anyway, we made sure the head chef saw that we were satisfied with the second cooking. Their mash potato and bernaise sauce which I chose was satisfactory as well. 

Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream (Php 240)- the pie had way too much raisins and the apple sauce lacked the cinnamon flavor I like. The vanilla ice cream was great though (you can taste and see that it was made from fresh vanilla beans)

It's nice to meet you, Angus. 'Til the next time.

I'm Angus Steakhouse
7431 Yakal St.
Makati City, Metro Manila


Mister Donut's New Creation: Donut's N' Dip : Think Donut "Yan Yan"- style

Yanyan, the famous Meiji brand Japanese snack is one of my favorite cheat snacks ever since I can remember. I'm not fond of sweets so much but it's one thing I crave for once in a while (if not Yanyan, it's Hello Panda!). For those not familiar with it (shame on you! haha!) it's a tubular package with two compartments, one for the biscuit sticks and the other one for the chocolate/strawberry/yogurt frosting which serves as the dip. 

Yesterday, my husband Joel introduced me to this new Mister Donut product which was launched last week because he knew very well how much I love Yanyan. He was just certain that I would love this  donut version. 

Donut's N' Dip : a paper cup which like Yanyan has 2 compartments - one side is tightly packed with 5 mini honey glazed donut sticks and the other for the luscious and creamy Belgian chocolate dip. Pretty cool! I got a stick and dunked it on the rich and creamy dip, making sure that the tip of the stick was generously covered with that belgian goodness. Ooooh! So sweet yet so good! I honestly think though that it would work if the donut sticks were kept plain instead of glazed because the dip is sweet enough...just a thought. I'm not saying it wasn't great because I finished all the sticks and licked the dip to the last drop! Yum!

Mister Donut's Donut's N' Dip (Php 45) :
Hey mister, mister that's a DONUT! (sing with me!)

The Original Meiji Yanyan
Calling my fellow Meiji Yanyan and Donut lovers out there, this is a must try! 

*Available at all Mister Donut outlets! *

Dessert Stop at Serenitea

Right after our chicken wing adventure at Chicken Charlie, I told Joel that since we were in the area already, we might as well try the milk tea place that a lot of my tea-loving friends have been raving about...Serenitea. It was about a few streets down from Charlie's. I wanted to just take it out while Joel waited inside the car. The place was very chill with yellow, bright green and black interiors. I went to the counter and was delighted with the long list of tea choices. 

I asked the girl what their best-sellers are and she said the Hokkaido and Okinawa milk tea. But then she said the Hokkaido tastes like chocolate and the other one tastes close to caramel. Hmmm...i want my drink to taste like TEA...not chocolate or caramel! So I took a chance and ordered their Royal Milk Tea because she said its their basic tea with milk (Php 90). You also get to choose the sweetness level (the amount of sugar added to your drink - no sugar, 25%, etc.) I decided to go for the standard which is full sugar scoop. And your last choice would be to put pearls, nata, pudding, etc. I just wanted all pearls since chewing gooey and sticky sago is the real highlight of drinking bubble tea for me!

Inside the car with my Royal Milk Tea with Pearls...just pearls. A refreshing and calming drink for dessert! I'll definitely be back for more. I wish they would open somewhere closer to Ortigas though! My sister said that they have one in San Juan so I will check out that branch real soon :)

N. Roxas St., Banawe, Quezon City


Chicken Charlie : Good Attempt at Bonchon

I read a review about this new chicken place the other day saying that it boasts of their double fry-method technique and their soy glaze. And instantly, one big thought came to mind " BONCHON"! I told my husband Joel about it and he got excited...overly excited that we went there today to have lunch. The place is oddly situated in the middle of all the auto repair shops in Banawe. It's practically a hole in the wall which can seat about 12 people. Their menu is simple; you have a choice of wings and drumsticks or a combination of both. They offer two glazes: soy-garlic and sweet spicy. Each order comes with a free serving of pickled radish (hmm sounds familiar? Well Bonchon also serves the same complimentary siding). So with much enthusiasm and anticipation, we placed our orders in;

Praying and hoping that the chicken will be like Bonchon...

Fries (Php 45) - Nothing really great, it was well...fries! But that didn't matter because we were really concerned about the chicken.

Finally our wings arrived! We ordered the 10 piece wings (Php 235) and made it half with the Soy-Garlic sauce and the other half Hot Sweet. The platter came with an aluminum pail to put our chicken bones in. They also used toothpicks to make the sweet spicy ones. I watched Joel first as he excitedly devoured his first wing. There was a blank expression in his face which confused me. He then took another wing and as he teared the meat out of the bone with his teeth, he dunked the bones inside the pail with force. I could tell this time that it was out of frustration, their chicken failed Joel. It was time to give my judgement. With much anticipation, I bit into my wing...crackle, crunch crunch! I definitely felt the unique Bonchon crunchiness which is a result of the amazing double-fry technique BUT (take note that it's all caps!) the taste fell short of the Bonchon goodness. The soy garlic was a too salty and the sweet spicy wasn't even spicy at all. I had to ask for extra hot sauce to give it a kick. We both sighed. I knew what we were both thinking, "It's still  far from the real deal (Bonchon)". On the upside though, I think it's a good and honest attempt at it.

Try harder Charlie... :)

Chicken Charlie
592a N.S. Amoranto St. cor. Banawe St., Quezon City
(It's near the corner of Retiro and Banawe, on the side near Araneta Ave.)
632 742 3333


Thursday Date Night: Prime 22

Yesterday we made a new and startling discovery at...DISCOVERY Suites which is five minutes away from where we stay. My sister Addie and her fiance Neil recommended we check out this restaurant with a view of Ortigas. They said that their steaks are not bad either. The view and the mention of the word "steak" were enough to convince Joel to try it out. And we were so glad we did!

Complimentary appetizer - bread/breadsticks with a trio of spreads - tomato sofrito, potato-lemon spread which tasted very similar to a hollandaise that's very lemony and chicken liver pate

The ambiance is sophisticated, upscale but steady. I would say a perfect getaway after a stressful day! :)

Their straight-forward menu

Since I was not that hungry, I told Joel that I would just get an appetizer and another small dish because it just wouldn't be a good idea if I ordered a steak to myself. I already knew I couldn't finish it. So we decided to get 2 appetizer plates and split their Prime Rib-eye (350 g). 

Hot Appetizer 1 : Oysters Rockefeller- Php395 well, nothing really extraordinary...and the oysters were puny!

Appetizer # 2: Prawn Cocktail with Grilled Lemon, Baby Greens and Horseradish Sauce Php 395. If their oysters were smaller than average, their prawns were huge. I was just not used to having this starter warm instead of cold.

Their USDA Certified Prime Rib-Eye Steak Php 1,950 - As mentioned, Jo and I split this dish. The two sauces we chose to go with this were : Forest Mushroom and Three Peppercorn. Although we expected the steak to be a lot thicker than what we were serve, we were happy with how it was cooked and seasoned. It takes a certain level of expertise to cook a rather thin piece of meat MEDIUM RARE because there is always that tendency to overcook it. Another thing I liked was the mashed potatoes on the side topped with a spring of fresh green herbs (tarragon, oregano, etc.). The aroma just lingered and made my meal more pleasurable. *sniff sniff*

Although the food was not stellar, we agreed that it's a place we would definitely go back to because of the setting, the ambiance and the Ortigas skyline!

Prime 22
22nd Floor, Discovery Suites
25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Avenue
Ortigas Center, Pasig City


Recipe Request : Aligue (Crabfat) Pasta

I got a lot of requests to post the recipe of this pasta dish I made 2 nights ago so here it is... It's very very simple, you can do it in 15 minutes.

* Note: This is not the picture of the dish I made because I didn't get the chance to take a pic of it. I just wanted to put something visual here so I had to borrow from the net :) haha!

Ingredients :
1 pack of pasta of choice (I usually use linguine or spaghetti for this sauce)
1 bottle Navarro's crabfat (Premium Quality) - this means it's pure (puro) - I'm biased with this brand because after having tried a lot of kinds, this for me is the best! It's available in local supermarkets. For those in Manila, it's available in SM supermarkets now and Tiendesitas.
50 g chopped garlic
30 g of olive oil
Lemon Juice ( 1 lemon)
Some lemon rind (from the lemon you're going to use)
Pepper flakes if you want it spicy (our family loves spicy so I always put)
Pinch of pepper
Basil leaves for garnish

Procedure :

* Before making the sauce, boil water for your pasta of choice. You can work simultaneously so when the pasta is ready and al dente you can transfer and toss it on the sauce already!*

1. Heat oil and saute garlic. Don't let it brown.
2. Add the crabfat from the bottle. To make sure you don't waste anything, put a little water on the bottle to empty it out and add the liquid to the pan.
3. Cook for 3 minutes.
4. Add the lemon juice and mix.
5. Lastly add the pepperflakes and season with pepper (no salt needed!)
6. When your pasta is ready, you can toss it directly to the sauce in the pan. No need to drain the pasta, the pasta water will help blend the sauce and dilute it a bit since it sometimes gets really thick. 

Voila! Serve your aligue pasta and top with some basil leaves. :)

Happy Cooking!

The Perfect KINILAW Moment

My family and I spent a few days in Davao last week to visit my grandparents and other relatives. They were all very eager to meet out little one. Henri was also delighted to meet all his cousins! Everyone was crazy about him :) And as expected, everyday was literally a PIG-out day...there was pork all the time, be it lechon, inihaw, chicharon, etc -- yikes! It's heart attack calling! Tsk tsk tsk...

On the brighter and healthier side of things, was one dish I keep craving for every time I'm there. One of the things I really love about Davao is that I get to eat KINILAW everyday if I want to. When my Lola Thelma was still into cooking (now she's too weak to work in the kitchen), she would make this for me everytime because she knew I loved it so much. Anyway during my recent stay, I was able to satisfy my craving for this. My husband loves it too so we savored each fresh malasugui (kind of white fish) bite together. For those not so familiar, let me share with you what KINILAW is...

"Kinilaw" means to cook in vinegar. The kinilaw moment is the instant when the souring agent (most commonly vinegar) meets the raw fish/seafood/meat and the transformation begins from the raw state. The perfect moment is marked visually with the change of the meat and its translucency without getting to being totally opaque because that means it's overdone already. Texturally, it is a moment when the fish/seafood retains the firm softness of the raw, but reaches a new state of being that has been called niluto sa asim - "cooked", or more accurately transformed, in sourness. It is not an opaque solidity, with the fibres white and the flesh texture that of poached fish. Along the spectrum, it is nearer the raw than the cooked, the flesh just a breath away from the natural state, mediated only by the vinegar-acid. (taken from http://www.coconutstudio.com/kinilaw_art.htm) 

Freshly-made Kinilaw

This kinilaw moment spells comfort and bliss for me every time I visit Davao. Hope you have your "moment" too!