January 15, 2008

Restaurants to visit, revisit in the New Year

Jan. 11, 2008

First of three parts

THE new year is a good a time as any to sample the new restaurants in the market and revisit a couple of established ones for their new offerings.

Some of these restaurants are outside Metro Manila, such as Verbena in Tagaytay, as well as Al Andaluz and barLo on Boracay Island, Aklan, while two are in a new thriving mall in Quezon City. What they have in common are chefs or professional cooks who like to take chances in creating fabulous new dishes, or are just trying to break out of the usual mold of what a fine-dining chef and his restaurant are supposed to be.

MADISON GRILL, TriNoma, Quezon City

AFTER impressing diners with his Nori Crusted Black Cod with Soy Yuzu Glazed Sauce, one of his signature dishes at M Café, then a New York-style menu at Chelsea’s in Serendra, Chef Sau del Rosario is now at the helm of—my gosh!—a steak restaurant. And in Quezon City to boot!

“People living in Quezon City need a good restaurant. [TriNoma] is a good site as it’s a catchbasin for all sorts. So on my menu I have dishes that are affordable, such as the P450-Madison petit tender [275-gm certified Angus beef],” Del Rosario says in a recent interview with the BusinessMirror.

Just opened last November 21, Madison Grill is not your usual steak house with a log-cabin look. The interiors are pleasant, with walls painted in a pale yellow, and tables and chairs in dark chocolate brown. Cylindrical lamps hang across the center of main dining area, giving off an inviting glow to diners. It’s definitely a place where one can bring a date, or the entire family.

In the middle of the kitchen with see-through glass windows is a wood-fire oven to bake thin-crust pizzas to a crisp. Right in front of it is a long table laden with all the ingredients possible you can choose for your pizza. Your best bet is the five cheese, arugula, granny apple shreds and walnuts pizza, or the Lucban longganisa, salted egg and quesong puti pizza. You may also create your own from the available toppings.

The prepared pizza selections are reasonably priced (P295 to P360) for a 10-inch size, but for P420, you can choose two toppings, vegetables and mozzarella cheese; and P595 for four toppings, plus the veggies and cheese. The pizzas also come in a 16-inch size.

While there are other selections available on the menu (pasta and house signature dishes), I would go to Madison Grill primarily for the salads, steaks and desserts. The crab Caesar salad with baby romaine hearts, bacon and boiled egg is just divine, with the dressing just enough to tie all the flavors of the different ingredients. It doesn’t overwhelm, unlike commercial Caesar salads where the dressing just suffocates the vegetables.

My food buddies and I were served an American-style Kobe rib-eye (P2,180 for 275 gm), which was cooked medium-well and just deliciously tender to the core. The fat was quite adequate to give the meat some heart-stopping goodness. I enjoyed it, considering I’m not really a steak eater. Other steaks offered include Australian and US Wagyu cuts, pork ribs and kurobota pork belly, and certified Angus beef choices. Some of the cuts are available in 400 gm and 800 gm (US Wagyu black tenderloin, P9,280). All grilled items are served with a choice of starch (potatoes or rice), vegetable sidings and sauce.

For dessert, I raved quite a bit over the strawberry trifle, amaretto crumble and mascarpone (P280). The fresh strawberries just lent it a burst of color and tartness to balance the overall sweetness of the creamy dessert.

AL ANDALUZ, Fairways and Boracay Golf Resort and Country Club,Boracay Island, Aklan

IF you’ve enjoyed the Filipino-Spanish cuisine at Dos Mestizos in this beach playground, you will likely relish the Spanish-Moroccan offerings at Al Andaluz.

Also owned by professional cook Binggoy Remedios, Al Andaluz serves interesting Mediterranean fare with a touch of spice and some color in a delightful setting.

The walls are washed in beige, with the deep brown shade of the wooden furniture giving the interiors a stark but pleasing contrast. The walls are accented by large framed portrait prints and decorative ceramic plates, which Binggoy purchased during a recent trip to Andalusia in the southern tip of Spain. These Spanish ceramic tiles best represent the fusion of flavors in Al Andaluz’s dishes, as the plate designs show the remarkable influence of Arab culture on Spanish products.

Binggoy’s young nephew Andre Malarky whipped up a few dishes exemplifying Spanish-Moroccan cuisine and I came away with a newfound respect for it. The cuisine makes use of a lot of seafood, Morocco being bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. So the dishes are quite light but titillating from the gamut of spices used.

For appetizers, my gang of foodies were served a delightful tapas of peppery Gambas Al Pil Pil (sizzling chili shrimp) sans the sizzle, and tender Beef Salpicao served with a long curly string of potato.

For the main course, we had a slice of Charmoula Fish. The charmoula is a Moroccan sauce or marinade made of lemon, garlic, spiced with some cumin and cilantro. Andre also added some paprika, parsley and a touch of tomato to the marinade for extra kick. The fish, a lapu-lapu, was served on a bed of couscous, with dates and nuts. It was flaky and flavorful with the couscous blend quite splendid.

Langostinos Al Ajillo (marinated tiger prawns in garlic) with pesto couscous

Also on the plate was Langostinos Al Ajillo (marinated tiger prawns in garlic) with pesto couscous, which turned out to be my favorite. The prawns was just succulent with the couscous providing a good complement with its intense basil garlic flavor.

Under the watchful eye of his uncle, Andre—who grew up in Canada and only moved back to the Philippines two years ago—has been able to please the discriminating palates of his guests in Boracay. He grew up in a family that loves to cook, and was heavily influenced by his mother whom he used to watch often in the kitchen. “While living in Toronto, I was exposed to many different people and cultures. I have been working in kitchens since my co-op program in high school, and have learned under great chefs since I was 17. Their influence has really helped me along my way.”

Encouraged by his mom, Andre enrolled and completed a culinary management course at George Brown College and earned a diploma from the George Brown Chef School, whose graduates include the top chefs of Canada like Mark McEwan, Jamie Kennedy, Chris Boland and Bonnie Stern.

More delicious entries in the BusinessMirror, this Friday, Jan. 18, 2007.

No comments: