Tres Leches

A few years ago, while on vacation in Montauk, I wrote a blog post comparing the various offerings of New England Clam Chowder at the restaurants we went to at the eastern end of Long Island. (Click here for that review). A few months before that, I posted about the best Lobster Roll I’d eaten. (Click here for that post). Today, while having an impromptu lunch date with my wife, I decided that I’m going to keep track of the best Tres Leches (Milk Cake; a sponge cake immersed in sweetened milk) I can find. The reason: We had lunch at a Peruvian spot in Union, New Jersey for the first time (Don Alex Restaurant) and among the available postres there was Tres Leches. (I’ll do a review of our Don Alex visit soon but, for those of you who can’t wait, go and enjoy. You won’t be disappointed. We had the Red Snapper, Roasted Half Chicken (which amazingly tasted like my mother’s fried chicken from my youth), Fried Yucca, Beans, Rice and Salad.)

My search for the best Tres Leches is going to be both difficult and easy depending on my level of commitment and when I want to declare my search over. You see, in the immediate area, as far as I know, there’s only Tres Leches at Cactus Charly, the Mexican spot in Maplewood, New Jersey and at Don Alex. I haven’t seen Tres Leches on the dessert menus of other/non-Latino area restaurants. There is  Colombian place, also in Union, called Gusto y Sabor, that might also have Tres Leches. So, I can either leave it at the two I’ve had or I can be adventurous and force myself to go out and about, venturing to Gusto y Sabor, visiting Newark’s Ironbound section, taking a short drive to Montclair where I know there’s a Mexican restaurant and a Colombian restaurant and, perhaps, including New York City in my quest.

Having never heard of Tres Leches (a demerit for a self-professed foodie) until I was offered it at Cactus Charly, I found my ignorance of it to be a little odd and concerning considering I’ve enjoyed Spanish food since I was a kid and I’m Filipino and much of our cuisine is influenced by Spanish cuisine. After all, The Philippines was a colony of Spain for three hundred years and we were colonized by Spain en route from Mexico. So, one would think that with so many South American and Latin American countries having been colonies of or influenced by Spain – especially Mexico – that Tres Leches might be a Spanish dessert and that it would’ve found its way to The Philippines. Not so. It has Latin and South American origins and it’s also popular in The Caribbean. The idea of soaked cake, however, likely comes from Medieval Europe and there is even a version of Tres Leches in Turkey called Trilece. So, it turns out, that it makes perfect sense for me never to have heard of or tasted Tres Leches until I moved to the United States, where I have more exposure to Mexican and other South and Latin American fare.

What I like about Tres Leches is its general lightness without lacking flavour and character. It doesn’t sit in your stomach like a lump of coal the way a cheesecake or overly dense chocolate or white cake with icing do. Additionally, as light as it is, the sponge cake in Tres Leches isn’t excessively airy and unfulfilling. For me, when you eat a slice of cake, you want to know that you ate a slice of cake. A too airy sponge cake almost has the same ghostlike qualities as a spoon of Cool Whip and Cool Whip by itself is a complete waste of a culinary experience. Some would say that of Cool Whip, period.

So, take this post as a preview of what’s to come; a teaser to your palate, if you will. I could review the two Tres Leches I’ve had but I’ll wait to post until I have, say, four or five to report on. A review of my wife’s and my experience at Don Alex will be posted soon as well. In the meantime, enjoy your culinary experiences and share any new recipes you try.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Boracay Food Tour

Boracay Food Tour

This wasn’t realty a food tour. By that I mean, there weren’t specific restaurants I’d planned on going to. Instead, this is a report on what I did eat during my brief but utterly enjoyable visit to the Filipino resort island. This was my third time going there and I knew, after the last two visits, that reporting on the food available was a must. So, here goes. And, if you go there, report back on your own experiences.

Day One:

We caught the first flight out of Manila to Caticlan and were at the hotel, Discovery Shores – Boracay, and in our room by about 7:30am. That, in and of itself, was a surprising treat since check-in is usually at 2:00pm. Upon arriving at the hotel–we took a plane from Manila to Caticlan, shuttle from Caticlan airport to the boat dock, boat to another part of the island, shuttle to the hotel–we were presented with fresh Ginger-Dalandan juice. It was the summer in The Philippines (March, April and May are the summer months there) when we went and the country was experiencing a heat wave to boot. My last two visits to Boracay were in July 2007 and 2003 and it wasn’t as hot.

After settling in, which included changing into beachwear, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel’s daily breakfast buffet. It comes with the hotel reservation but, being that we weren’t officially checked-in, we had to pay for this meal. But it was completely worth it. At approximately 1,700 Philippine Pesos (PHP) for three people (US$1 = PHP 45.80), we were able to sample fresh tropical fruits and fresh tropical fruit juices, continental fare, Filipino breakfast and other dishes. The special juice of the day was Lychee-Watermelon. In urns at the centre table were fresh guava juice, fresh mango juice, fresh pineapple juice and chilled-pressed apple juice. Among the fresh fruit offerings were Filipino mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe.

Of the hot items, there were plain rice, vegetable fried rice, tocino (Filipino cured pork), German cheese sausage, fried Bangus, yellow Adobo made with turmeric, pancit bihon (a kind of pork and veggies lo mein but made with vermicelli noodles), an egg station, a station with French toast, pancakes and waffles, and a station that had hash browns, which were perfectly browned on the outside and tender on the inside. They looked more like larger and flatter tater tots that the hash browns I get at my local diner or the oval-shaped variety served at McDonald’s. Regardless, they were good. On either side of the dish of hash browns were plates of bacon. One side was crispy and the other was soft. This offer of different varieties of bacon is something I’ve never seen before. Bacon is usually cooked somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards crispy than soft. Unless you specify with the waiter or waitress how you like it, the chef or cook will prepare bacon according to his or her tastes which, like I said, tends to lean on the crispier side; at least in from my experiences. This option of being able to choose from soft or crispy was a nice surprise since my son and I like soft bacon and my wife likes crispy.

In addition to the juice bar, there was a milk bar. Carafes of whole milk and chocolate milk were available which, again, I found unusual but thoughtful. From breakfast buffets I’ve had in the US, there might be bottles or cartons of whole milk, skim milk, 2% fat milk and, nowadays, some kind of soy, rice or almond milk available for both drinking and using with cereal. Here, these carafes were purely for drinking. There was another cereal station with pitchers of milk for pouring over whatever cereal you might choose. While we’re on the subject of milk, when we got our coffee–nice, full-bodied Filipino Barako coffee–we were given a small pitcher of warm milk. That’s another thing that doesn’t happen often, if ever. Warm milk. I don’t mind it when it’s cold or cool. My wife, however, she was overjoyed since the milk didn’t cool her coffee down too quickly.

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Breakfast buffet at Disovery Shores. Check out the small carafe of warm milk.

After breakfast, we walked along the beach to d’Mall, Boracay’s shopping centre and kick around spot. There are vendors galore selling local crafts, tourist tank tops and t-shirts, double-locking plastic pouches for your smart phones, selfie sticks, postcards, etc. What we came across, however, and took full advantage of was a licensed outdoor massage parlour. In previous trips to Boracay, we stayed at a hotel that didn’t have its own spa services so the massage therapists were allowed to come onto the hotel’s beach front and give you a massage (half hour, full hour, longer, foot spa, head massage) while you sat or laid down on the lounge chair. Discovery Shores, however, has its own spa services so to enjoy Boracay’s signature beach massage, we had to go to look for them. And we found them.

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Chilling after his first professional massage

All three of us got massages and it was my son’s first time getting a professional full hour massage and he loved it. And he’s only eight. He’s truly a de Leon-Bas and I think we’ve spoilt him. We went back the next day and got another massage and why not? I’m not turning down excellent service at dirt-cheap prices. Since I’m a bigger guy and needed the stronger masseuse, my massage was the most expensive at PhP550 for an hour. That’s about US$13. US$13!!! Beat that. My wife and son were in PhP300 range. Where in the US can you get a quality, professional massage for US$13 or less?

Anyway, back to the food report.

That night, we had an early dinner at the restaurant at Friday’s, the hotel next door to ours. My son enjoyed an order of sliders. Nothing special there except they had that unique Filipino burger taste. The burgers were made of fresh ground meat but there’s something in the seasoning that makes it stand out and, frustratingly, I cannot work it out. It might be that there’s Knorr seasoning massaged into the meat. It might be that there’s some other ingredient added–perhaps pork–or maybe the unique taste comes from the burger’s overall simplicity of just meat with a touch of salt and garlic, made into patties and there you have it. And, the Filipino sweetness isn’t acquired simply by adding sugar. As far as the actual taste goes, a Filipino burger is sweet and salty at the same time, but subtle in both tastes, with every bite and Friday’s did not disappoint. My wife ordered a personal Seafood Pizza, which was absolutely delicious topped with fresh fish and shellfish, including scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels and crab. It was on a thin crust with a sauce that tasted more like a cross between marinara and vodka sauces as opposed to a regular red pizza sauce. This was a difference I liked compared to other seafood pizzas that only use a red sauce.

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Seafood Pizza from Friday’s

I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, a dish I absolutely love but is hard to find here in New Jersey. PapaRazzi, of The Back Bay group, used to make it but the franchise stopped doing so several years ago. My father used to make it once in a while when he and my mother lived in New Jersey but I can’t have his since they’re back in The Philippines. (Incidentally, I did get to enjoy my mother’s Carbonara when my wife, son and I stayed with them for a few days on this same vacation.) What’s really interesting is that Spaghetti Carbonara appears to be popular and readily available in The Philippines. Friday’s Carbonara was balanced nicely with the sweet-saltiness of the cream and the smokiness of the bacon. It was delicious and a touch oily but not to the point where the dish is ruined. I would order it again but I was glad it was served with some freshly made breadsticks to sop up the sauce.

Later, before turning in, and as we enjoyed the sunset at our hotel’s beach front, my wife and I had a cocktail from our hotel’s bar. I enjoyed a blended Pina Colada, which had enough alcohol to remind me it’s an alcoholic beverage and not to down it like it was a tropical milkshake. It was also ‘coconutty’ sweet, which did a good job of cutting the alcohol without suppressing it. I’ve had Pina Coladas at other places that are too heavy on the rum, and sometimes too light, that they’re not enjoyable. Additionally, neither the pineapple nor coconut overpowered the other. It was blended well and if I hadn’t still been jetlagged from my trip from New Jersey, having only arrived in Manila three days earlier, and dehydrated from the scorching sun and afraid of zoning out, I would have ordered a second one. My wife had a Mojito of which she said it was the best she’s ever had.

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Boracay sunset

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Sunset Pina Colada

Back in the room, with our beds turned down while we were out, a saucer with three two-inch squares of Ube Maja (coconut rice pudding flavoured with purple yam) sat on the little reading/bedside table. The addition of ube gave the maja an interesting taste, tempering the usual overpowering sweetness. The combination of ube and coconut rice pudding was reminiscent of a green tea flavor you get with green tea ice cream or green tea mochi. Discovery Shores’ chef and the hotel management are far classier than I am because, with the closeness in taste to green tea, I might have named this dessert Ube Matcha or Matcha Maja. Whatever you want to call it, it was a nice end to the day.

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                                                                                              Ube Maja

Day Two:

 The second day began much like the first–breakfast buffet with fresh fruits and juices, hot food stations, pancakes and eggs stations and so on. The day’s juice special was a Ginger-Dalandan.

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Fresh guava juice (front) and Ginger-Dalandan juice (rear)

The standouts of the day, however, were our lunch and early (first) dinner. On day one of our Boracay vacation, we went Sea Do-ing. That’s an entire blog post in and of itself so I’ll spare you the details but after getting back to the hotel we arranged with the same guide to go snorkeling the next day–today. So, after breakfast, we met up with our guide, hopped on the banka (mostly motorised now but sometimes still powered by sail, this is a Filipino style mini-ferry boat) and motored out to Crocodile Island.

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On the banka about to head out to Crocodile Island

We went snorkeling in July 2007 and it wasn’t that good of an experience for me. The currents weren’t violent but June, July and August are the stormy months in The Philippines so the current’s pull is faster than in April. As a result of that experience, I was apprehensive about going this time–especially with my son­–but I was pleasantly surprised to find the currents were mild and we were able to enjoy a good two hours seeing all sorts of cool marine life. We even saw a Dory and a Nemo! Naturally, swimming around in salt water, we got thirsty and, as industrious as Filipinos are, there were two men on small rowboats carrying fresh young coconut.

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One of the buko vendors

Buko! We bought two of them, one for my wife and I and for our son to try and one for our guide and the driver of the boat. (We were on a banka and not a ship. Is he the captain or the helmsman?)

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Buko

Anyway, there is nothing like fresh anything so having the fresh buko water and being able to get at some of the soft, gelatinous coconut meat inside was the best and most delicious treat and recovery nutrition I could’ve had.

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                                                                                                                         Rehydrating with fresh coconut water

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My son trying buko for the first time and my wife eating the coconut meat

After snorkeling, we ventured to Puka Beach, named for its sand that is made up of naturally crushed and washed up puka shells mixing in with the natural white sand of the island. This was my third time having lunch at Puka Beach. The first two times we went to a no frills spot a little inland of the beach. This time, the eatery was just at the inland end of the beach in a nicely constructed open area with a thatched straw roof, long tables and benches and sand beneath our feet. To round out the ambience, there was the cutest askal (short for asong kalye which means ‘street dog’ although, in this case, it might be more accurate to call it a ‘beach dog’).

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Askal 

What we ate for lunch was, without question, the best meal I had on this trip to Boracay. And, again, the key word is ‘fresh.’ We had garlic-cooked crab, a dish of Inihaw na Baboy (grilled pork), Inihaw na Pusit (grilled squid), Sinangag (white rice either lightly friend with chopped browned garlic or steamed rice with the chopped browned garlic sprinkled on top) and plain rice for my son. The Inihaw na Baboy was good but it’s a Filipino staple so, unless it’s totally charred or the cook doesn’t know what he or she is doing at all, it’s not going to be bad. The crab, however, was something else. It came with a sweetish, yellow glaze and with each bite you could taste the garlic and the butter it was cooked in. Moreover, upon cracking open the shell, there was an abundance of meat for the size of the crab and there was also an abundance of the delicious aligi (crab fat, which is actually the crab eggs).

With each bite, the crab melted in my mouth and I was tempted to order a second one. The pusit came out perfectly as well. It wasn’t rubbery or slimy the way overcooked or undercooked squid, respectively, turns out. The pusit we got gave off its natural flavour with each bite, without being fishy, and combined nicely with the sinangag, crab and pork. In fact, the two inihaw dishes were almost like a Filipino surf-and-turf that, coupled with the rice and, perhaps, the addition of a vegetable would’ve made a perfect meal. To accompany the meal, my wife and I each enjoyed a bottle of San Miguel Light and our son had his first taste of Royal Tru orange soda.

As we were enjoying our meal, another Filipino family arrived. One of the family members was carrying a metal bucket and, as they walked in and secured a table, the matriarch of the group bantered back-and-forth with one of the employees of the eatery in Tagalog. They discussed how to prepare their meal and negotiated a price for doing so since they’d come with their own ingredients. With each sentence, the employee pulled a fish out of the woman’s bucket. Each one looked meatier than the one before it but what really stood out for were the colours. The first one had blue and black and yellow stripes on a silvery grey body. The second fish was, I think, a red snapper but it was the fattest, brightest and most delicious looking snapper I’ve ever seen.

Later that day, after returning to the hotel and enjoying some time in the pool and on the beach, we took the hotel shuttle to d’Mall and had a late afternoon massage.

From there we made pasyal. This is a Tagalog word for ‘stroll’ but it connotes more than simply going for a walk. It has a cultural meaning to it. Yes, you’re literally going for a walk but it’s also social time during which you talk and catch up with the friends and family you’re with. You may or may not actually be heading for a particular boutique or eatery but you will, invariably, enjoy some window shopping and browsing. You may even try clothes on. On your walk, you may be trying to decide where you’ll have merienda (mid-afternoon snack). At the end of your pasyal, you may not have made it to that boutique and you may have decided to snack at home because, like I said, it’s bot the actually walking or the destination that’s important. Instead, it’s the catching up and the being together with your family and friends that takes precedence.

On our pasyal, renewed from our massages and our considering that our early lunch was super early, we got hungry and stopped into another fresh fish joint for a late merienda/early dinner. The restaurant is called Paradiso Grill and it can be found in Station Two.

My wife ordered Grilled Scallops, which turned out to be a total invasion of my taste buds. Served in a half shell, it was grilled with garlic and served with the scallop roe. This was definitely unusual and something I’d never had before. Add to that, the scallops were rather large (I forget if that means they’re ocean scallops or bay scallops) which made for a hearty mouthful with each bite.

The scallops were perfectly cooked with a little crust to the exterior but completely creamy inside. The roe melted in my mouth and tasted like a cheese fondue made from Port Salut or Brie infused with red pepperor some other sweet colourful inredient. For this dish alone, I will return to Paradiso Grill on my next trip to Boracay.

Even though it’s a Filipino staple and hard to ruin, I decided to order Paradiso Grill’s version of Pork Barbeque.

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Filipino Pork BBQ

It was okay–not outstanding or unique–but still tasty. My son was in the mood for something more filling and non-Filipino so he ordered their Spaghetti Bolognese. In true Filipino culinary fashion, it had a unique sweetness to it. It was like the sweet spaghetti of my youth but, again, nothing to go bonkers over. It was more than edible and I would order it again myself if I were in the mood for that taste but it’s not something I would search out at Paradiso Grill. Also, in true Filipino fashion, my wife and I complimented our scallops and pork with sinangag.

Unusual, at least in my experience, is to find New England Clam Chowder on the menu in The Philippines. For the first time ever, I found it on the menu at Paradiso Grill and, as a fan of New England Clam Chowder (check out my review of the NECCs at Montauk; click here) I had to order a bowl. It wasn’t like the NECC one would find in the US. It was less creamy but starchier. It wasn’t starchy to the point of being pasty but it lacked the smoothness that cream or milk offers. The best bites were the ones with a clam in it. Without it, there wasn’t much flavour. The soup included largely chopped carrots and potatoes and diced onions. The clams were served in their shells, which is something I’ve seen before but not something you see all the time. Overall, the soup was good enough but there was no spark. Unfortunately, it’s not something I would order again.

For drinks, my son had an orange Mirinda, which is originally a Spanish brand of soft drink that has lingered in The Philippine. (Paradiso Grill wasn’t serving Royal Tru Orange.)

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Mango Shake

 

My wife had a Mango Shake, which was outstanding. It wasn’t as thick as a milkshake so it wasn’t heavy after consuming it and what they put in it (ice, milk, whatever) didn’t make the shake candyish or take away from the freshness of the mango–and if you’ve had a Filipino mango you know how unique and delicious it is. The closest mango I’ve had outside of Asian to the Filipino mango is the yellow Mexican Ataulfo. For me, I had a Frozen Iced Tea. It came out with a frothy head and tasted like it was sweetened with some kind of honey and had the consistency of a thin slushy. To complete the drink, it wasn’t accented with lemon. It was accented with kalamansi! It was truly one of the most unique iced teas than I’ve ever had and, without doubt, one of the most delicious as well.

Later that night, as I wrote in the hotel room and my wife and son hung out on the beach, I got a little hungry and I decided to order our hotel’s Spaghetti Carbonara. I might have mentioned it earlier in this post but Carbonara is one of my favourite dishes–much like New England Clam Chowder is one of my favourite soups and Monte Cristo is one of my favourite sandwhiches–so I might have to dedicate a separate blog to the Carbonara dishes I come across.

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Spaghetti Carbonara from Discovery Shores

The Spaghetti Carbonara from Discover Shores’ kitchen was tasty, creamy and had a nice touch of smokiness much like Friday’s. It was, as can be expected, a little heavy but not all carbonara dishes I’ve eaten have left me with that ‘brick in your stomach feel.’ This one, while yummy–yes, formal culinary terms are used here)–could easily be shared by two or three people. One thing that made it different and, in a way, better than Friday’s was that it was less oily.

Like the night before, the turn down service left us some sweet samples to enjoy. Instead of Ube Maja, this night we were treated to Chocolate Biko (coconut glutinous rice cake). Regular biko looks like chocolate anyway, since it’s sweetend with brown sugar, so when I bit into my piece I was expecting to taste regular biko. I was surprised when I discovered this was chocolate-infused. It was tasty and I enjoyed my piece but I can’t honestly say if I liked it or not. As a combination, it was good but I think I was expecting and anticipating the regular biko taste, especially since I hadn’t had biko of any kind in years.

Day Three:

On our final day of our Boracay holiday, we had another breakfast buffet at our hotel. The offerings were very much the same as days one and two but this time they had individually wrapped squares of Anchor butter. This is a brand of butter we used to buy when I was growing up in Hong Kong so I definitely got a couple of squares to eat with the freshly baked pandesal (Filipino bread rolls).

Also new this time around, was the inclusion of slices of Yellow Watermelon at the fruit station.

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Yellow Watermelon

I’d never tasted it before and I was intrigued to see what it was like. Well, for those of you who haven’t tasted yellow watermelon, it tastes exactly the same as red watermelon–sweet, juicy and refreshing.

Our flight back to Manila wasn’t until 4pm, the last flight out of Catilcan, and the hotel let us do a late check out so we were able to enjoy some more beach and pool time before having to pack up. We also had a final lunch at our hotel’s restaurant. We weren’t super hungry so my wife and I shared an order of Lechon Kawali (deep friend pork sliced into cubes), served with suka (vinegar) with chopped bits of red and green silis (Filipino chili), and Bistek (strips of beefsteak marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi juice).

 

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Busted from Discovery Shores

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Lechon Kawali

Lechon Kawali is another Filipino standard that’s difficult to do badly and, as expected, the variation at Discovery Shores was delicious. What made this one stand out from others I’ve had were the large cloves of roasted garlic that were served on the plate with it. Oh my! What a treat! Place a piece of garlic on the pork, smear it over the meat and eat it with a spoonful of sinangag. Perfection. The Bistek was tasty as well managing a good balance between the saltiness of the toyo (soy sauce) and the tart of the kalamansi. It also came with large pieces of roasted garlic.

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                                                                             Garlic Rice

 

 

 

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Large delicious piece of roasted garlic that is served with the Lechon Kawali

On our way out, one of the waiters who served us on various occasions throughout our stay, gifted us with a box of Discovery Shores’ homemade chocolate chip cookies, handing it to my son. Such is the generosity of the Filipino.

This was a fantastic, albeit short, vacation to Boracay for so many reasons, not least of which was the food. If any of this blog post inspires you to try something when you’re at Boracay, let me know. It might even inspire you to give Filipino food a shot. I hope it does. And, if you discover anything new and tasty, share that as well.

Thanks for stopping by and happy eats!

My ratings:

Discovery Shores restaurant – 2 bites

Puka Beach eatery – 2 bites

Paradiso Grill – 1 and ½ bites

Friday’s restaurant – 1 and ½ bites

 

0 bites = Don’t bother. I suffered for you.

1/2 bite = I enjoyed it enough – I had to eat something, after all – but I wouldn’t recommend it.

1 bite = Good. I’d have it again but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.

1 1/2 bites = Very good/super tasty. I’m definitely going back and I’m bringing friends. If I weren’t married, it’s somewhere I’d take a first date to. That’s how good it is.

2 bites = Unique, I’ve never had (and probably won’t ever have) better than this, this is what I want if I were going to be executed and I could have whatever I wanted for my last meal, Epicurean Orgasm!

Apple Prumble

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Ingredients

2 9-inch pie crusts (one for the base and one for the top). You can use a thawed frozen store-bought (which I do) or you can make your own. Here’s one from The Food Network.

For The Pie Filling

3 medium Rome apples; peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch strips

1 stick of butter (1/4 lb)

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of ground cinnamon

For The Crumble

1 stick of butter (1/4 lb)

1/2 cup of sugar

1 cup flour

Method

  1. In a skillet, melt the butter and sugar for the pie filling.
  2. Mix in the cinnamon.
  3. Add the apple slices and cook on low heat until the apple slices become tender but not mushy.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the butter, flour and sugar until they clump, using either an electric mixer or mash up the ingredients with hour hands. Do not let this come together in a ball of dough.
  5. With a slotted spoon, remove the apple slices from the skillet and lay them on wax paper. Make sure the apple slices are not soaked and dripping with the cinnamon-butter-sugar mixture.
  6. In your pie dish, lay down the base crust. Cover the pie crust with a layer of the crumble. Then put down a layer of the apple slices. Repeat this two more times.
  7. On top of the final layer of apple slices, put down a final layer of crumble then put the the top crust.
  8. Bake the pie for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F/177 degrees C or until the crust is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean from the centre of the pie.
  9. Let the pie cool for about an hour.
  10. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream

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Recipes

WAAAAHHH!!!

It’s been a busy few days in the kitchen lately. Last night I made a combo Beef/Lamb Curry. This morning, I made a batch of Singapore Chicken Rice (just the rice) and afternoon I made an Apple Primble (my version of a hybrid Apple Pie/Apple Crumble). I’m not yet settled on the name, although I do like the quirkiness of ‘primble.’ My wife, however, suggests I call it an Apple Crumble Pie.

Anyway, the recipes for all three…and more…will be up soon. In the meantime, for those of you who are celebrating on Sunday, Happy Easter!

Interesting Combos

IMG_5771The picture above is a scoop of mango ice-cream (in this case Selecta brand) drizzled with black coffee. It’s a combo I learnt from my dad when I was a kid growing up in Hong Kong. I was about eight or nine when he shared this with me and, at the time, it seemed a little bizarre.  Firstly, coffee is a drink and, as far as I was concerned back then, it was a breakfast drink or an after dinner drink. I remember the first time I saw my dad make this combination was at the old Kai Tak Airport and we were heading off on a trip to Manila. It was mid-afternoon, we were at the old restaurant enjoying a snack before our fight was called. (For you fellow Hong Kongers, yes, Green Noodles was a part of this snack.) So, for my dad to have ordered a cup of coffee at mid-afternoon was a bit of a shock to me. Mid-afternoon snacks – merienda, as we call them in Tagalog – are commonplace but I couldn’t recall ever seeing my dad, or anyone for that matter, drinking coffee at that time. Secondly, it just seemed strange to consume black coffee. I was already a coffee drinker at that time but I’d put milk and sugar in it; something my parental grandparents – my lolo (grandfather) and lola (grandmother) – showed me, drinking our coffees from recycled bottles of Nescafe (which became the drinking glasses of the house). Black coffee, as my dad had it, was something altogether new and even scary. Additionally, black coffee isn’t sweet so adding something that isn’t sweet to something that is made this combo more odd in my mind. In spite of all of this, black coffee drizzled over mango ice-cream is something that I’ve grown to love and, at certain times, something I crave.

Mixing sweet and savoury, however, as I look back on my youth and my culinary upbringing, isn’t something that’s new or unheard of in Filipino and other Asian cuisines. Banana eaten with almost any kind of Filipino dish (Adobo, Asado, Bistek, to name a few)  is something my late father-in-law enjoyed and something my mother still does. Atchara, pickled unripe papaya, is another sweetish Filipino side dish that’s often eaten with pork BBQ or salted fish. Oyster sauce, going purely on its name, sounds like a salty dip that might have a graininess to it. In reality, it’s very smooth and a little salty but with a sweetness to it as well. For those of you who might be sure what oyster sauce is, it’s the brown sauce on top of the steamed Kai Lan (Chinese broccoli) that’s served at dim sum. Indian food is often served with mango chutney which is a little bit sweet and, of course, there’s Raita, a yoghurt-based dish, usually made with cucumber, to add a sweet cut to the spicy yumminess of curries.

Taking a step away from Asian cuisine, my mother used to enjoy her McDonald’s French Fries with a strawberry milkshake. The French (I think it was the French) came up with chocolate covered ants; something I’ve yet to try. Strange combinations of taste and/or ingredients aren’t new but new ones do arise. A few years ago, one of my foodie friends came over with chocolate covered bacon. It came from a shop in Brooklyn, where she lives, and I think it’s a combo that originated at this shop. In fact, what prompted me to write this blog post was a new flavour of Pop Tarts my son and I discovered at the grocery store – Maple Bacon.

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In recent years, salted caramel has been the flavour du jour and it’s lasted making it more a ‘flavour des annees’ (pardon my horrible French, which I studied for four years in secondary school). As if it was just discovered, like some rare valuable commodity, every food merchant and manufacturer was capitalising on its value. ‘Salted Saramel You-name-it’ popped up everywhere; in Starbuck’s Frappucinoes, Nature Valley snack bars, coffees and coffee creamers, pancake toppings, everywhere.

As a foodie, I’m always interested in new flavour combos so if you have anything interest that you’ve created or enjoyed since your childhood, do share. Please. Leave a comment.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and I wish you happy times in the kitchen.

P.S. Another interesting combo I got from my dad – actually there are two – are the following and happened during one of our Christmas dinners in Hong Kong. For reasons I can’t say, because I don’t know them, my dad mixed our Leche Flan (Filipino flan made from egg yolks, condensed milk, kalamansi or lemon rind) with our Fruit Salad (not a fresh fruit salad but more of an Ambrosia, with grated cheese and Nestle cream). The other combo he did was to add our Macaroni Salad (with shredded chicken breast, diced hot dog, mayonnaise) to the Fruit Salad. Hmm. I’ve tried the former but not the latter and I can say that the mixing of the two sweets is okay but not fantastic (I like them both but putting them together is like a culinary identity crisis). When (if) I get to the other one, I’ll let you know.

Serafina

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Serafina
210 West 55th
New York, New York

For many of you reading, you’re probably out and about more than I am (I’m a self-proclaimed homebody but I do enjoy getting out once in a while) so you may already know about the wonder that is Serafina in New York City. Located on the upper edge of the theatre district, Serafina is a casual Italian restaurant that offers a mellow atmosphere with quick and friendly service, perfect for a pre-show meal.

I was in the city with my wife for a matinee of Matthew Bourne’s original adaptation of Sleeping Beauty at City Center and we wanted to grab lunch before the 1:30pm curtain. On the way there, on the NJ Transit, we looked up nearby restaurants and Serafina grabbed our gastronomic attention. We called to make a reservation but, since it was early on a Sunday and we were only a party for two, we were told that a reservation wasn’t needed. So, upon getting off the train, we transferred onto the 1 and ventured uptown from Penn Station.

Getting there at about noon, we had our choice of regular menu options and their Sunday brunch. We didn’t opt for the brunch, although the Poached Eggs with spinach and prosciutto, Pancakes with strawberries, maple syrup and Nutella, and the Three Salmon Benedict did tempt us. We did, though, enjoy a Mimosa (me) and a Bellini (my wife). For our meal, we passed on starters, not because nothing sounded good, but because we were pressed for time. On a future visit, I promise to try either the il Sashimi Di Tonno (finely sliced sushi-grade tuna and avocado, served with their special dipping sauce) or the Il Tartare Di Serafina (tuna and salmon, served with a touch of peanut oil). Instead, what we had were the Jumbo Shrimp Al Cognac (jumbo shrimp sautéed in cognac, served with saffron rice) (pictured above) and Spaghetti All’aragosta (spaghetti with a half lobster in a spicy tomato sauce). Yes, folks, you did just read “half lobster.”

Both dishes were sublime. With the Jumbo Shrimp Al Cognac, they weren’t lying. The shrimp were large, about 2″ to 2 12″ through the centre of their curved ends and the straight tall was another inch or more. Additionally, the shrimp weren’t skinny by any means, offering generous amounts of meat throughout each bite. The cognac sauce was thick, without being starchy, and blended nicely with the saffron rice which, in turn, had a stickiness to it that gave it a risotto quality. Naturally, the saffron gave a nice kick, without being overwhelming, but there was an additional kind of spicy taste – lemongrass, perhaps – that pulled all the flavours together. I may be wrong in suggesting lemongrass but whatever it is the chefs put in this dish, keep doing it.

With my wife’s dish, the Spaghetti All’aragosta, the tomato sauce was spicy, this time I think with a cilantro dominance, but again, not overwhelming. It neither drowned the taste of the fresh tomatoes nor did it burn our palates in a way that would prevent us from tasting anything else. The spaghetti itself was a little stiff for my taste but not to the point of ruining the dish. And, this could even have been a one off. The generosity of the lobster, however, as much as the balance of the flavours was remarkable. In similar dishes in other restaurants, the lobster is typically finely broken up or chopped. It might even be blended into the sauce. Here, it’s not hidden and it is truly a half lobster with chunks of meat from the claws in the sauce and draped over the pasta. It made me think of a traditional Spaghetti with Meatballs dish but instead of meatballs we got chunks of lobster. And, because the lobster comes the way it does, the dish allows the person eating it the choice of how he or she wants to enjoy the shellfish – eating it as chunks or breaking it up into small pieces him or herself.

For afters, my wife and I shared a Tiramisu. It was good, nothing exceptional or unique from others I’ve had but the important thing is that I wasn’t disappointed by it or longing for another establishment’s version. There are other offerings on their dessert menu but, being a Tiramisu aficionado, searching for the perfect one, we went with this traditional Italian treat. Next time, I’ll give Le Crepes Alla Gelato Nutella (crepes served with grand marnier, a touch of tangerine, vanilla ice cream and raspberry) or the Nutella soufflé, Il Soufflé Di Cioccolato Allo Nutella.

The only thing that was a negative, if I can even call it that, about our experience at Serafina was the close proximity of the tables. Being we were just two, we got seated in one of those two-person tables where one side is against a wall and the seats are like a bench and the facing person is in a chair. Granted, it was relatively early and not crowded and we were seated immediately next to two former college roommates, one of whom was visiting New York for work, but I could hear every word of their conversation and it wasn’t like they were talking loudly. That’s how close we were. As a writer, though, I’ll confess that I eavesdropped a little to see if there was anything in their conversation I could use in a future novel.

Other than this, although table proximity is hardly a detractor if the food is good and it’s something New Yorkers are used to and accept anyway, I highly recommend Serafina. It’s a place you can go for a full meal, and not feel like you were overcharged and under served, for drinks (yes, it has it’s own bar) after a show, or for a happy hour cocktail before your evening’s main event. It’s a place where you can take your spouse of significant other and a place where you can take that special someone on a first or second date without looking like you’re trying too hard and without breaking the bank. More than that, it’s a place where the food is good and the atmosphere easy. If you go, I promise you won’t be disappointed.