Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Where are the masks you had on on opening day?
A few weeks back, a well-travelled friend was so excited to announce that Crystal Jade, one of her go-to restaurants when in Hong Kong and Singapore, was opening its first Philippine branch in Greenhills soon. She urged me to try it. She was really enthusiastic about its xiao long bao and la mien, items both made part of the restaurant’s name. I also heard that there was usually a one-hour line to get a table and the only way you could get a reservation was if you were with a party of at least 8. So I suggested to my Monday Talk Holes Dinner Club that we try this much-anticipated restaurant out, and I reserved a table for 8. I was told that they take reservations only for 6 pm or 8 pm. I chose the latter.

The best show in Greenhills these days
The restaurant was crowded outside with diners waiting for a table and kibitzers checking out the goings-on in the kitchen, viewable from the sidewalk. It reminded me of the old Shakey’s, where one could watch how his pizza is made. We got a table for 10 and I was told by our friend who got there first that the previous occupants of our table were told that another group was booked for their table at 8. We got our table just before 8 pm.

Diners with no reservation
The restaurant was crammed with people: waiters, busboys, diners milling about and it was not at all a relaxing feeling. I did not even bother going to the bathroom, lest I be rudely bumped into again by the manager (who did so without stopping or apologizing. I guess he felt he was too busy running a busy restaurant to be bothered).
The famed xiao long bao came. And we ate our share right away. Our common verdict? Where’s the broth? Xiao long bao (or siaolongpao in the Binondo restaurant where I first tasted this amazing delicacy) ought to have broth in it. We thought it was just this batch. We ordered a total of 3 baskets, and none of the baos served us had broth. And the wrapper was undercooked.

Going out with a big group is a great help when assessing restaurants because you have the convenience of ordering a lot of dishes. Here’s what our party had:

• Sauteed String Bean & Minced Pork With Olive (P249) – My Lola Tacia used to cook this and it is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I liked Crystal Jade’s version. Without olive. Like Crystal Jade's.
• Noodle with Beef in Spicy Soup (forgot the price) – This one was a real winner. I don’t know why we Filipinos love soup so much even if we’re in a tropical country. Great broth, great noodles. What’s not to like. The broth was especially rich and I would go back for more of this delight.
• Poached Beef in Spicy Sauce (P290) – another good choice. Unthinkable that we finished this without having any rice with it. This dish is really more of a soup, rather than beef with some sauce.
The really bad order of salted duck that we got
• Nanjing Salted Duck (P198) – Really, really disappointing. This is a chilled dish that was tough and rancid. I removed the skin from my second piece, but the fishy/rancid taste prevailed.
• Crispy Eel in Wu Xi Style (P288) – I can imagine eating bowl after bowl of this scrumptiously crunchy dish with lots of ice-cold beer. Really good. Dangerous for those who are on a low-carb diet as this one calls for an equal quantity of rice. But we held fast to our no-rice vow.
• Braised Pork Knuckle with Pancakes (P888) – Crystal Jade’s take on hong ma and pata tim. A bit small for a big group, and can be consumed by 3 PG guys. Comes with small white buns with an unusual shape. The sauce calls for rice. Again, we did not succumb. Despite it being so good and fatty and sheeny and…
• Xiao long bao (P158) for 5 pieces – as mentioned, a great big fat disappointment
• Radish pastry (P98) – I think this restaurant has a good pastry chef. Except for one of our desserts, all the other dishes that required fried crusts turned out good. This one was very savory, with a filling that was redolent of that sweet, pungent smell characteristic of friend scallion.
Bean curd skin shrimp roll, part nang: bad compared to part chit.
• Deep-fried bean curd skin roll with shrimp (P135) – another favorite of mine is bean curd skin. Our first order was so good we asked for two more plates. After all, who could resist perfectly fried bean curd skin with a perfect filling of shrimp paste? Perfectly fried food should not have a greasy mouth-feel. If fried food comes out like this, it means the oil was at the right temperature when the food was fried. Sadly, our second orders were just the opposite: greasy, flat and limp.
• Fried pancake with scallion (P98) – this reminded us of fried Malaysian flat bread. Really savory but must be eaten when hot. Once this cools down, the flakiness disappears and is replaced with an unpleasant tough texture.
One of the saving graces: good pata tim
• Deep-Fried Souffle Ball with Red Bean Paste (P128) – this was also good. A filling of mongo paste with some mashed ripe banana, enveloped in a golden flaky crust.
• Red Bean Paste Pancake (P128) – this one was sad. Really sad. The pancake (more like a crepe, really) was overcooked and dry. The filling suffered as well.

Our group gave an 8/10 rating. I liked it that save for the dessert, Crystal Jade’s food did not have a sweet tinge to it, as in some Manila restaurants. The braised pork had just the right balance of sour and salty. I did not like it that our waiter forgot to place our dessert order, twice. Or that the air conditioning conked out.  And that the food quality varied from order to order.

Crispy Wu Xi-style eel. Yum!

Will I give it a second visit? Probably, when my friend arrives from her trip. Would I recommend it? For its la mien and pata tim, yes. But definitely not its brothless xiao long bao. If you must go, go early and get a reservation (5706910 and 5706912). If your party is small and are told that you’d have to wait for an hour for a table, don’t bother. It’s not that great of a deal. As one friend of mine said, “We should have just gone to Gloria Maris.”

Friday, September 17, 2010


It was my Kumpare Stephen Choa's birthday last Saturday and he rounded up the Monday Night/Talk Holes Club for dinner at one of our group's favorite restaurants: LAU CHAN SHABU-SHABU! It started out as a hole-in-the-wall on Mabini St., across the Hyatt Casino. We had been there about two to three times, had a good time each time, which is why we have become repeat customers. I have recommended this restaurant and this has never failed to satisfy everyone. And why not? The service is great, the food is good, the prices are good, but the parking sucks. And they don't charge their sukis corkage so you could actually have good chablis with your Chinese food. However, they allow smoking and this could be a big no-no to those with kids, allergies and issues with the supot national anti-smoking law.

Lau Chan has prospered and has decided to open a new branch: on Mabini Street. Now how odd is that, right? The new digs is fancier, parking is less of a hassle and everything else still satisfies. Best of all: NO SMOKING! And oh, the wait staff now wears fancy red-motifed uniforms. Plus, an ala carte menu is on hand to complement the photocopied (mimeographed?) menu for the shabu-shabu treasures.

The satay broth to me is still the best. But they also have seafood, beef, chicken and vegetarian. Inexpensive to the point of mysterious, the menu is exhaustive: kidney, chicharon, polonchay, mushrooms, beef, pansit, tito, bola-bola: name it, you can shabu-shabu it. (Shabu I was told is an onomotepeic of the sound that one makes when swishing ingredients in and out of the hotpot). From the ala carte menu we ordered spicy ribs, fried dumplings (must-try) and the mundanely named but divine-tasting bacon shrimp, which reminded me of the camaron con jamon of Star Cafe in Baguio.

Part of the shabu-shabu experience is the fun one derives from mixing your dipping sauce out of the toyo, satay, minced garlic and chili that is given to you, plus the custom-made dinner that each one can derive from the ingredients boiling away in the pots. At the end of the meal, when you think you've had your fill, try sampling the broth from each pot and you get a very complex and hearty soup that's been flavored with every vegetable, meat, noodle and intestine that had been cooked in them. Truly a fun and worthy experience. I'm definitely going back!

The new Lau Chan is on the western side of Mabini in Ermita, Manila, between P. Faura and Arquiza streets. Street parking is available.


It's quite a tall order for a restaurant to call itself THE FRENCH CUISINE RESTAURANT for so many reasons. For one, you present yourself as THE one. Therefore, anyone going through its doors would understandably have very high expectations of such a restaurant, especially if you have seen its stall at the Salcedo Saturday Market and heard of its formidable reputation as a foodie's stall.

Belying its tiangge origins, La Cuisine Francaise is decked out as a full-on restaurant with a menu that features bistro fare. I was excited to see cassoulet, pot au feu and bouillabaise. I was determined to order one and encourage my lunch buddy to order one of the two others. When he asked what pot au feu was and I told him it was bulalo, he smirked. But when I told him that cassoulet had duck, he then got excited. We were given a plate of four canapes as the amuse bouche and we found the bread bad. Not bad as in off, but hard, dry and generic. Not too worry, I ate only the pate and the sausage and skipped the bread. We were then given a bread basket with pretty curly butter with our order of tri-colored fish pate, pork pate with blue cheese and duck-orange terrine. Bad, good, ok.

For our main course, I had the bouillabaise and my buddy the cassoulet. I have had home-made and restaurant bouillabaise. What I like in a bouillabaise is the earthy and robust flavors provided by the spices and citrus, with the added punch coming from the rouille, to complement the fresh flavors of the seafood used in the making of the broth. Sadly, the bouillabaise in La Cuisine Francaise is big disappointment: it had no character, no flavor and no fresh seafood. The scallops were especially tough, rubbery and stringy. And don't get me started on the dismal broth.

My friend was unhappy with his cassoulet, although I thought the duck was ok.

The dessert on display in the chiller looked interesting though. Were I to give this restaurant a second visit, I would probably stick to coffee and cake. Too bad, because the service was very friendly and efficient, and the location is good. If Gordon Ramsay were to come to this restaurant, he would probably suggest that it rethink itself as a simple bistro: no fussy color schemes and potted plants and synthetic fabric for its linens. A more simple wine list (and why is THE French Cuisine Restaurant parlaying American beer?!), a more simple menu, and a more simple look.

La Cuisine Francaise is on the Sedeno side of the first floor of the Paseo Parkview Condominium in Salcedo Village, Makati City.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Since I was a child, I have always had a sweet tooth. I think I took after my Mom in this regard. I remember she would actually eat a teaspoonful of sugar if there was no dessert or fruit to be had. I never got that bad, but I do remember that Mommy used to take orders for birthday and wedding cakes and I was the unofficial "finisher" of whatever batter or frosting was left in the mixing bowl or spatula or mixing spoons. After the cakes were baked, I would scrape the crust that was left on the baking pans. And this did not stop me from eating the finished product either.

I was also very fond of salty stuff as a young boy. I wouldn't/couldn't eat anything without ginamos, the Bisaya version of bagoong. At that time, ginamos was ambrosia, the one element that completed each meal that I took. My yaya 'Nang Carmen tried to get me to stop my ginamos habit, but she failed, notwithstanding the fact that she was a tough cookie. So tough that among the help, she was the only one who could get away with talking back to Mommy. Exasperated, 'Nang Carmen took me to the mercado (palengke) one day and took me to the smelly dried fish section, where the ginamos was also sold. She pointed to me row upon row of recycled Baguio Cooking Oil cans, filled to the brim with the fantastic and familiar fermented aroma of my beloved ginamos. Never mind that the surface was bubbling (I now would like to think from the ongoing fermentation), or that the color was an unappetizing brackish puce-grey blend.

Ginamos sold by the taro in a wet market. In my childhood, the ginamos was stored in huge recycled Baguio Cooking Oil cans
(Image courtesy of vjsaintz.candijay.com)

None of this mattered to this (erstwhile) diehard ginamos fan. Until 'Nang Carmen pointed out the rust that line the cans, inside and out, and told me, "Tan-awa nang mga lata, gipang-taya tungod sa ginamos! Gusto nimo tayaon imong tinai? Na hala, kaon pa ug daghang ginamos!" (Look at how badly-rusted the cans are! That's because of the ginamos! You want your insides to rust away? Go ahead and eat more ginamos!) Well, that was my first does of aversion therapy, and 'Nang Carmen was not a good yaya for nothing. From then on, I have been avoiding ginamos and nothing can make me touch it now. Unless there's ginamos, biyasong (Bisaya lime), siling kaguko and nilung-ag nga saging hilaw (boiled unripe banana). Otherwise, when I look at ginamos now, it doesn't look so appetizing anymore, on a plate, much less when it is in a plastic pail (the Baguio Oil cans have since been phased out in favor of plastic).

A typical Bisaya painit (merienda) of boiled unripe banana with a ginamos-sili-biyasong/kalamansi dipping sauce
(Image courtesy of webbistro.blogspot.com)


Sorry to have been away for far too long. No excuse. No excuse at all. But can I just tell you that I forgot my password? And that it took a long time for me to figure it out? Thank God google simplified its password recovery protocol.

Will be posting stuff soon!


If you like to eat well, live well, listen well and have the patience to go through my kilometric but hopefully entertaining blogs, then this is the page for you. I chose EATERSHIP because it sounds like "leadership," and because if you jumble it up, it could also read "hip eaters." Eat and read on!