Mogo and Cubacan – Eating at Asbury Park

Mogo – Korean Fusion Tacos

Boardwalk and First Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ 07712

Monday – Thursday and Sunday 11am-10pm (or later)

Friday and Saturday 11am-3am (or later)

eatmogo.com

and

Cubacan Restaurant

800 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park, NJ 07712

(732) 774-3007

Open 11:30am – 10pm

cubacanrestaurant.com

I was recently at Asbury Park, somewhere I haven’t visited in more than twenty years. The boardwalk is still there but with some new storefronts and eateries. The Stone Pony, of course, is still there. So, too, is Convention Hall. What wasn’t there twenty years ago, however, that is there today are Cubacan and Mogo.

We were there as part of a mini-weekend getaway, staying at a friend’s place in Sea Girt. The weather wasn’t conducive to the going to the beach so we ventured into Asbury Park so my wife and son could experience a Jersey–perhaps, The Jersey–boardwalk. The rides and such weren’t too keen on our son’s list of things to do but the mini-golf was. We were also pressed for time and the weather wasn’t on our side so we made it a quick visit. During our time there, naturally, we got hungry so we perused the boardwalk and examined a couple of menus until we decided upon Cubacan for lunch. I’ll discuss more on that later.

As we strolled along the boardwalk, our son became famished and needed an immediate snack–or so he said. We came upon a small takeout stand called Mogo, which my wife and I had both heard of but never tried, so we decided to give it a go. Our son is not very adventurous when it comes to food and less so when he’s almost hangry (extreme hunger that leads to anger that turns a person into Karen Black a la The Exorcist). Our son has not yet exhibited hangriness (yet) but my wife has on occasion so it’s natural that one day he might. As for now, he takes after me–just deal with it.

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While Mogo was intriguing to my wife and I, my son didn’t want to have anything to do with it so he settled for an orange soda. So much for being famished. My wife and I, on the other hand, ordered one Bulgogi (beef) taco, one Sae Woo (shrimp) taco and one Jae Yook Bokkeum (pork) taco. Before I go on, let me say that I love Korean food. Ever since I first tried Bulgogi at Arirang Restaurant in Hong Kong–once in Causeway Bay but now in Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui­–to today when I go to Palisades Park, New Jersey or K-Town in Manhattan or Keo Ku Restaurant in Parsippany, New Jersey, I’ve had a love affair with Korean food. In fact, I count Kalbi Chim as one of my all-time favourite dishes. However, I also have to confess that, while many fusion dishes do succeed, I am, generally, not a fan of fusion cuisine. I was excited to try Mogo for the first time but, I’ll admit it, I was also apprehensive.

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Mogo Tacos; bottom to top, Bulgoggi, Sae Woo, Jae Yook Bokkeum

As tacos go, they were okay. I might even say they were good. They had the requisite taco trappings–vegetable garnish, some kind of salsa, the taco and the protein filling. Unfortunately, as a ‘fusion’ taco, I was a little dissatisfied. I was very excited as I bit into the first taco–the Bulgogi–and I wanted terribly to be knocked off my feet. I wasn’t. The beef itself was very tasty and comparable to most Bulgogi I’ve had at other Korean restaurants. Unfortunately, and here’s one reason why I don’t typically dig fusion cuisine, the tastiness of the meat and the sweat renderings of the Bulgogi marinade and seasoning were overshadowed by the pico de gallo and romaine lettuce. I didn’t taste the meat until several chews into my bite and this wasn’t because I’d bitten off only a small chunk of meat. It was like having a salad followed by the main course in one bite instead of having the two tastes come together in culinary harmony. With the Sae Woo, the shrimp itself lacked any kind of flavour. It was simply some kind of cooked shrimp buried under the toppings of its taco. The menu description says “tangy sweet and sour shrimp” but I tasted neither sweet nor sour in the shrimp when I pulled a piece out of the taco and ate it by itself. Lastly, the Jae Yook Bokkeum taco offered some redemption. The pork was delicious and something I’d like to have over rice. In its taco, combined with citrus-mayo slaw, there was something in each bite that the other two lacked. Each part expressed its own identity and they combined nicely with each bite. Unfortunately, the beef took a backseat to the pico de gallo and the shrimp just kept silent.

I’m not panning Mogo but I’m also not giving it raves. There was a long queue when we stopped by and there are days when things don’t always go right. The beef and pork, by themselves, did have tremendous flavour and as victuals, on a whole, there was some spicy kick and a nice contrast of crunchy and soft in each taco. As Korean fusion cuisine, however, at least on that day, it didn’t work for me and I really wanted it to. As a result, I’m still not a full-on convert to fusion cuisine. I would like to try Mogo again. Perhaps if the line isn’t long or maybe I’ll go to their sir-down restaurant, which is also located in Asbury Park. Unfortunately, I live a little far from Asbury Park so my next taste might not be for a while; but, hopefully not for too long a while.

As an Asian, good or bad, I’m naturally drawn to Asian and Pan Asian things. As a longtime student of Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, I have a pull towards Korean things as well. From both viewpoints, I wanted to love my Mogo tacos. I truly did but, alas, that didn’t happen. My experience with Mogo reminded me of something Bruce Lee said to Dan Inosanto, his best friend, student and training partner about martial arts and, specifically, the Filipino martial arts. He’d told Guro Inosanto, who is Filipino American, not to embrace the Filipino martial arts just because they’re Filipino. Bruce Lee was a pragmatist and examined many different martial arts and combat systems to develop himself into the best martial artist and fighter he could be. He took from (western) boxing, fencing, non-Chinese martial arts and Chinese martial arts to express himself. The same concept can be applied to cooking.

It was after our Mogo experience that we walked up and down the boardwalk, peered in storefronts and examined menus. The most interesting was from Cubacan–the first restaurant whose menu we looked at– and it was there where we decided to have lunch. Having had tacos to tie us over, we skipped ordering any starters.

For drinks, my son, whom I already mentioned is obsessed with orange soda, tried Cubacan’s version. It was house-made and not a Fanta or Sunkist and tasted more like an Italian Blood Orange Soda but with less fizz.

 

My wife and I weren’t sure if our son was going to like it but he did and gave it a ‘thumbs up’. For my wife and I, we tried the Red Sangria. It wasn’t as sweet as the Red Sangria I make, the recipe of which I stole from a Spanish restaurant on West 4th Street in Manhattan’s West Village. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing fruity drink that, if you’re not careful, you’re going to feel when you stand up. It wasn’t one of those cocktails that hide the alcohol but it wasn’t overbearing either. Regardless, it was delicious and perfect for a summer shore getaway.

For lunch, my wife had the Mejillones; blue bay mussels in a green jalapeno soup with fennel. There was, as expected, a hint of fresh garlic in the salsa.

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Mejillones

Mejillones is listed in the menu as an appetizer which, after having the Mogo tacos and scheduled to attend a dinner party later, was exactly the kind of healthy, light and extremely tasty lunch my wife was looking for. While it was very tasty, it wasn’t different from many of the other mussels in green sauce I’ve had at other Spanish or Hispanic restaurants.

I was a little nervous that our son wouldn’t be inspired by anything on the menu. He’s very picky and only eight and I thought it was going to be bread and butter for him but Cubacan has, also as a starter, Sliders de Cubana.

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Sliders de Cubana

He ordered that and he thoroughly enjoyed it even though it was a touch spicier than he would have preferred. The sliders at Cubacan aren’t made just from beef. They’re made with beef and chorizo (Spanish sausage common in Spain, South and Central America and Mexico), which is on the dry side and tangy. (Don’t confuse the Spanish-style sausage with the Filipino kind, which I knew growing up also as chorizo but is more commonly referred to as longanisa. Of the Filipino chorizo, there is a sweet variety and a spicy variety.) Although he had his without it, the Sliders de Cubana also comes with Manchego cheese. Accompanying the mini burgers on the plate were some very tasty, freshly made French Fries.

For me, I was torn between a traditional Cubano or the Choripan, a sandwich made of chorizo, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato. I asked our waitress which she recommended but she informed us that doesn’t eat meat and hadn’t tried either one. She did say that the Cubano was very popular so I went with that.

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Cubacan’s Traditional Cubano

I’ve had a Cubano before but here it was elegantly balanced. Between the roasted pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, each bite blended each flavour perfectly so I could taste each part by itself while chewing the sandwich as a whole. Compared to other Cubanos, the pork in this one was not dry and it was thinly sliced. It also tasted like the Roast Pork my college girlfriend’s mother would make during the holidays. My ex-girlfriend’s mother was from Spain but her husband was from Cuba and I have to say, to this day, hers is still the best Cuban Roast Pork I’ve had. Cubacan’s comes close. The pickles with Cubacan’s version were also thinly sliced which prevented it from overpowering the entire sandwich. Overall, the Cubano at Cubacan was a near perfect sandwich and one I highly recommend. My son tasted it and it also received his approval so it must be good and kid-friendly.

Accompanying our meal, we ordered two side dishes–Garlic String Beans and Yuca Fritta (Yucca Fries).

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Yuca Fritta

The only Yucca dish I’ve had previously and subsequently made on many occasions is boiled peeled yucca that is drizzled with olive oil and fresh garlic; another dish I learnt from my college girlfriend’s mother. So, when I saw a different yucca option, I ordered it and, boy, am I glad I did. To be honest, I still haven’t worked out if the Yuca Fritta is dipped in batter before it’s fried or if the batter effect is a natural result of the yucca when it’s deep fried. Either way, it’s an excellent side dish. Adhered to the surface of some of the yucca fries were crystals of rock salt or, perhaps they were some kind of garlic rock salt (Is here such a thing and, if so, where do I get it?). This, for me, made the dish. Accompanying the Yuca Fritta was a small dish of what tasted like a garlic pesto dip.

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Garlic String Beans 

The Garlic String Beans were equally as tasty, sautéed lightly in olive oil and chopped garlic. They were cooked just right, maintaining their crunchiness without being hard.

Overall, our trip to Asbury Park was a successful one. We enjoyed some down time, away from the mundane monotony of our lives, our son enjoyed some mini-golf and we all savoured some new dishes. As a result of this experience, I may begin a third culinary mission–find the best Cubano. I’m already on a quest for the best New England Clam Chowder and a search for a version of the Monte Cristo my father introduced me to at The Holiday Inn in Hong Kong. On my last trip to Hong Kong, in 2007, the Monte Cristo was no longer on the Holiday Inn’s coffee shop menu and the coffee shop itself was very different from the way it was in 1978. Back to the present, I give kudos to both Mogo and Cubacan for their innovations in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Mogo didn’t deliver its best but Cubacan did and I’m looking forward to my next meal there.

My ratings:

Cubacan – 1 1/2 bites

Mogo – 1 bite

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 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!

 

 

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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!

Just Add Soy Sauce

I recently watched a live cooking demonstration given by a home cook, a retired chiropractor who’s taken to cooking to promote healthy eating. He presented his demo in front of some Health and PE colleagues and to our department head as a precursor to a similar demo that is going to be given to our sixth grade students in the fall. The demo will tie-in with the Nutrition part of our Health curriculum. The presenter had fantastic cutting technique and, while the dish contained foods I don’t eat (like kale), it smelt great as he cooked it. After talking to those who tried it, I can report that his sautéed veggie combo over pasta and kale and bean salad was tasty.

Throughout his demonstration, he’d rubbed me the wrong way. It’s an unfortunate thing in human beings but as soon as I saw him he was instantly not one of my favourite people. There was an air or vibe about him that didn’t sit well with me at the off. Then he did his demo which, and and this is purely my opinion, was given arrogantly and condescendingly. He insisted that in every commercial cooking show the chefs use butter, especially when sautéing or searing shrimp. When he said that, my friend and I glanced at one another quizzically. I’ve watched plenty, and do watch plenty, of cooking shows and I can honestly all the searing and stir frying and sautéing is done with olive oil; mostly, with extra virgin olive oil (evoo) at that. But it wasn’t until he had his veggies in the pan and they were gently sizzling in olive oil did he make a horrendous blunder – a blunder that insulted me on a personal level as well as on a cooking one.

Here’s what he said: “And if you want to give it an Asian flavor, just add soy sauce and throw in some baby corn and broccoli florets.”

WHAT?!

On a personal level, I’ll say this: Most stir fries that I’ve encountered in my life – I grew up in Hong Kong and travelled around Asia – are not just flavoured with soy sauce and have broccoli florets and baby corn. If anything, those are staples of Asian American cuisine found in takeout joints and geared to American/non-Asian palates. I can’t, honestly, recall a stir fry in Hong Kong that I’d eaten that had baby corn, broccoli florets, and sliced button mushrooms. On a cooking level, and also on  a personal level since I am an Asian home cook, I took offense in how he reduced Asian cuisine to soy sauce. Forget about the other aspects of Asian cooking for now. Since we’re taking about sauces what of patis (Filipino fish sauce), oyster sauce, red chili oils, sesame oils, peanut sauces and oils, bagoong (Filipino shrimp paste), Sriracha, just to name a few? Adding any of these to his sautéed veggies would’ve given it an Asian flavour, too. And of the non-sauce flavours, what of lemongrass, tamarind and, good old fashioned, ginger?  I can cook a stir fry without using soy sauce and it’ll be just as tasty – or differently tasty – and authentically Asian. Following his advice would be akin to simly adding tomato sauce and garlic if you wanted to make something Italian. But, wait, isn’t garlic also a large part of many South American cuisines, Spanish cooking and, oh my goodness, Filipino food. And, yes, Filipino food is a kind of Asian food.

I doubt that he meant to be ignorant and offensive and exhibit a kind of unintentional racism. I think he’s trying to promote something he believes in (healthy cooking and healthy eating for kids) while, at the same time, making a name for himself. I have nothing against either. I’ll completely in favour of self-promotion. Just be less ignorant about how you do it.

So, having said that, if you’re new to Asian food, whether  as a foodie or as a cook,  remember that there’s more to it than soy sauce. If  soy sauce was all there was to it, there’d be a billion bored eaters in this world and Asians, well, we’re not about boring.

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.

The Best New England Clam Chowder In Montauk

Montauk’s Best New England Clam Chowder

Before I ruffle any feathers or am accused of being unscientific and completely biased, let me clarify that my search for the best New England Clam Chowder in Montauk began as an impromptu pursuit and is based solely on the places at which I ate. I hadn’t done any kind of pre search research either. I’ve always liked New England Clam Chowder and as part of our first dinner, I decided to have a bowl. We were vacationing in Montauk, after all, where fresh seafood is in abundance.

The following day, we had lunch out as well and I decided to have a cup of the second eatery’s version. I hadn’t eaten any kind of New England Clam Chowder in ages (other than the night before) and I guess it was on the brain. So, after the second taste, I decided to make it a fun holiday mission – my New England Clam Chowder Taste Test. Wherever I ate, that had New England Clam Chowder on the menu, I had a cup.

Here are my, completely unscientific and biased, results.

1. Gosman’s Clam Bar (www.gosmans.com)
At Gosman’s Dock, 484 West Lake Drive, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-2447

Well, this isn’t THE Gosman’s restaurant. It’s from one of the side counters in the Gosman’s waterfront complex. It’s a counter that serves up burgers, fries, chicken fingers and, of course, an abundance of seafood dishes; things like soft shell crab, lobster roll, seared flounder, crab legs, etc. Around the corner is another restaurant and counter where you can get various alcoholic beverages (I treated myself to a Piña Colada) and sushi, maki, temaki and sashimi.

It’s summer and the weather had been in the high 80s to low 90s so you might be wondering why I’d have soup; least of all a thicker, hot and heavier variety. Well, right by the water, we were treated to a refreshing breeze that brought the temps down to a cool 70 something. Plus, as I mentioned in the intro to this piece, I hadn’t had any kind of New England Clam Chowder and I don’t think I’d ever had one until my early years in the United States. I’ve been in somewhat of a nostalgic, melancholic frame of my mind lately and reminiscing with the New England Clam Chowder was my form of ‘comfort food.’

Anyway, back to the soup. The Clam Bar’s version was very tasty with large chunks of clam. It was a little thick – dense might be a better word – but it wasn’t clumpy and it wasn’t the usual white one associates with New England Clam Chowder. It had a hint of grey to it, which detracted neither my desire nor enjoyment of the soup, but it did lack some kick; at least in terms of basic flavour. A little (more) salt might have been all it needed. The difference in flavour though – the kind that’s expected of a New England Clam Chowder – may actually be a plus for the Clam Bar’s version, however, making it different from most of the varieties I’ve had. This, in turn, is due to a smokiness that, I think, came from some kind of bacon infusion. I didn’t detect any bacon pieces in my bowl so I think some kind of blend of bacon grease may have been added to the base broth.

Chowder Rating: 1 bite

2. Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe (www.crabbycowboy.com)
435 East Lake Drive, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-3200

Sitting outside with a constant cooling breeze, the weather was prime again for a cup of soup. With New England Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder the only soups on the menu, and having never been a true aficionado of the red variety, my decision was made for me – New England Clam Chowder it was! Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s variety was more like what I am used to. It’s not like they opened a can and simply nuked it in their microwave, however. Unlike the Clam Bar’s variety, Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s was thinner but without being watery and its consistency was the perfect balance of milk or cream and broth without turning it into a condensed, over starchy starter; all perfect for a light, seafood lunch. Without being pedestrian, Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s had small pieces of diced onion and smaller chunks of clam, more similar to a diner soup than that from a five-star restaurant. It had, though, a touch more bite than the smoky offering of Gosman’s Clam Bar. After the soup, we had a serving of Steamers that came with the usual melted butter and a green dipping sauce, made with crushed garlic, wine, and clam broth. Tasting the green sauce by itself, it was very similar to the soup but without the cream and chunks of clam which, in addition to being a dipping sauce, makes me think it’s the base for their soup. Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s New England Clam Chowder was so good that my wife, who enjoy a creamy Brie with a nicely chilled white wine, after tasting the soup said, “It’s like eating cheese.”

Chowder Rating: 1 1/2 bites…nearing 2 bite territory

3. Duryea’s Lobsters (www.duryealobsters.com)
85 Tuthill Road, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-2410

This was our third trip to Montauk; the first was in 2010 and the most recent was last year. Coincidentally, in 2010, we’d just discovered Lobster Roll and when we were planning our first Montauk holiday, naturally, people recommended that we go to Duryea’s for theirs. We did and we enjoyed it so we’ve been back since. This time, however, I made it a point to try their New England Clam Chowder and, unlike with their Lobster Roll, I wasn’t thrilled with it. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. Immediately, just looking at it, I was on the offensive when I got my bowl. A good New England Clam Chowder should, generally, be white in appearance but it should possess some kind of graininess and even a hint of off white or even greyness to its color due to one of its flavoring ingredients. A hint of curry powder or turmeric, for example, would give the broth a touch of orange and a subtle kick. The New England Clam Chowder at Duryea’s, however, was milk white. Perhaps, milk is the broth and not an added ingredient or even the base of the broth. As a base, you’d add clam broth, white wine perhaps, a little water to make the soup. In some cases, I believe there are variations with sherry added. In this case, it tasted as if the solid ingredients and barely a touch of clam broth was added to a quart of milk. The soup did have large chunks of clam, however, including the siphon, and diced potato giving it some body. Drinking the soup, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients but, from this untrained blogger’s palate, Duryea’s New England Clam Chowder is the closest one can come to making canned soup from the day’s catch.

I’m glad to report, though, that everything else I’ve had at Duryea’s has been more than satisfactory. In fact, everything else has been outright delicious. Their Lobster Roll is, so far, the second (or third; see The Lighthouse Grill review below) favourite I’ve had and their Cole Slaw is, according to my wife who is a self-proclaimed Slaw expert, the “best in the world.” This post, however, is about the soup I tasted and, unfortunately, while I will return to Duryea’s again, I won’t be having the chowder.

Chowder Rating: 1/2 bite

4. Inlet Seafood Cafe (www.inletseafood.com)
541 East Lake Drive, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-4272

Although not strictly a New England Clam Chowder, I decided to include Inlet Seafood’s Montauk Chowder in this review since it’s a blend of New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders and I have to say I enjoyed it. The blend of the two versions was well balanced, overall, resulting in a light soup that served its purpose nicely as an appetizer. The lightness was also a welcome touch being that I’d just come off the beach, in 90 plus degree heat. In fairness, though, I have to say that all the chowders I’d had up to this point on this trip were on the light side and none of them sat, overly starched or too creamy, in my stomach. The combination of the two versions of clam chowder allowed for the lightness to happen – the consommé effect of the red Manhattan version cutting some of the heaviness from the New England – but the influence of the Manhattan was more noticeable in appearance and taste than I would have liked. Like I said, the balance was well-proportioned, but I would have preferred a tad more New England influence.

On a side note, Inlet Seafood’s Kani Salad was absolutely sublime. It wasn’t overly ‘mayonnaised’ and it had a spicy kick most Kani Salads I’ve tasted don’t possess. The spice, though, didn’t overwhelm the salad allowing the crab (albeit fake crab) and the cucumber to compliment each other perfectly. Lastly, it had Panko, not just sprinkled on top of the salad as a garnish, but into the salad. Other varieties of Kani Salad also have a little roe sprinkled on it, each bite crackling in your mouth with an explosion of moist fish taste; an accent, if you will. Sometimes, though, there is too much roe added which takes over the subtlety required of a Kani Salad. The Panko, however, added the crunch
needed without altering the overall taste.

Chowder Rating: 1 bite

5. Lighthouse Grill
1900 Montauk Highway, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-2058

From the outside, The Lighthouse Grill looks like a sit down restaurant with wait staff and white table cloths. Once you go in, however, you discover an easygoing souvenir shop with a counter, complete with a bar, and a one cook/one station kitchen. There are also a gift shop, a sofa and some round tables that made the single room make me think of the gift shop cafe at the Caticlan Airport in the Philippines where I waited to board my plane back to Manila from a week in Boracay. Outside, there’s a veranda that offers one of the best views of the Atlantic Ocean. It was extra exquisite when I was there because the sun was setting. In addition to the view, there are tables and, on this particular night, The Lifeguards, a trio of men ranging from late 30s/early 40s to 50s, were performing. They offered some acoustic bluesy/soft rock/country entertainment.

Anyway, back to the chowder. The soup was a little too hot when it was served, burning my tongue just slightly, but the taste was spot on. Offering a near perfect balance of the soup base and the cream, the Lighthouse Grill’s New England Clam Chowder, had just the right amount of celery to give the green’s flavour without bossing what touched my taste buds. Additionally, the amount and size of the clam pieces were very generous. What I liked best about this chowder was that it – or rather its creator – gets it. Some New England Clam Chowders are too involved, their chefs trying to hard to be different and trying to do more than what is asked of a New England Clam Chowder. This version was humble – simple even – without being unsophisticated. It felt like it came from a mother’s kitchen.

At this meal, my wife had their Lobster Roll, which I got to taste, and, much like the chowder, the Lobster Roll got it. Some Lobster Rolls I’ve eaten have either too much dressing or are too seasoned that the taste of the lobster is dominated by the other flavours. The lobster is always evident – the chunks are usually pretty large and it’s cooked just right so you can enjoy the shellfish’s texture – but at The Lighthouse Grill the lobster remains the star of the dish. Here, the dressing is minimal at best, offering the slightest hint of enhancing flavour, but what you get here is a true Lobster Roll.

Chowder Rating: 1 1/2 bites

I’ve never made a New England Clam Chowder – although after this trip I vow to give it a go – and my introduction to it came in 1985 from, I believe, a diner or the Chunky line of Campbell’s soups so, for some of you, my opinions here are without foundation. On some level, I might agree. I’m not a trained chef and I have no sense of what making a New England Clam Chowder entails. I am, though, a consumer who has taste buds and likes to enjoy a good meal. In no way have I intended to offend any of the chefs or establishments whose New England Clam Chowders I’ve written about. What I hope I have achieved is give a reader or two, with a palate similar to mine, a hint of where to find New England Clam Chowders he or she will enjoy in Montauk.

Thanks for stopping by and, if you try one of the chowders I’ve reviewed, come back and give your review. I might have missed a subtlety and need to retry it the next time I’m in Monauk. Or, perhaps, you’ll agree with me.

Rating System:

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 iI 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 that 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!

Lobster Roll

It’s that time of year – summer, barbeque, beach and seafood season – and with that comes a change in how we dress, where we go and, of course, what we eat. One of the things popping up on menus these days is Lobster Roll and I had my first of the season at, of all places, a Nathan’s counter at the food court at The Livingston Mall in Livingston, New Jersey. And, it wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was surprisingly good.

You’re probably wondering why anyone in their right mind, and a self-proclaimed foodie at that, would even dare to get something as delicate as a Lobster Roll at a fast food counter in a mall’s food court. Normally when I’m there, after a trip to the attached Barnes and Noble or from perusing seasonal sales with my wife, I’d grab a couple thighs and a side of Rice and Beans from Popeye’s or a two item rice combo meal from Master Wok. This time, however, those items didn’t appeal to me and neither did anything else that’s there – Burger King, Sakura, the Italian joint, Subway. The Bubble Tea counter didn’t call to me either and I’m always up for boba.

Then, in the same corner and with the same employees as Nathan’s, I saw Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips. Having grown up in Hong Kong during the 1970s and 1980s, I’m very much an Anglophile. So, you can imagine my excitement at the thought of Fish and Chips. (Doing a little research writing this post, I discovered that Arthur Treacher’s is a Florida-based franchise and not an English one.) When I got to the counter, I checked out the menus. Treacher’s had, naturally, Fish and Chips. There were also Clam Strips, Fish Sandwich, Clam Strips Sandwich and Lobster Roll, among the other items. The Nathan’s menu had a Lobster Salad Sandwich with bacon. I love a good Lobster Roll but I’ve had some great ones that I’ve really enjoyed – Duryea’s in Montauk, St. James Gate in Maplewood, Stony’s in South Orange – so I opted for the Nathan’s version with bacon and I’m glad I did.

It’s likely the lobster salad used for the sandwich I ate is the same stuff that’s used for the Arthur Treacher’s offering and chances are it’s shipped in daily, probably from a mass produced food plant. Regardless, the sandwich was super tasty. Lobster is a delicate meat. I’ve grilled, boiled and steamed lobsters myself and, on occasion, I’ve kept them cooking just a tad too long. And that can turn the lobster from something that should melt in your mouth into something a little more than rubbery. Well, I am glad to report that the lobster I ate wasn’t rubbery at all. The salad was light on the mayo and seasoned with what I think was some kind of dill dressing but perfectly balanced so I could still taste the lobster and enjoy its texture. The bacon added a nice touch of saltiness and it wasn’t grilled too crunchy so that it crumbled at the slightest touch. There was a touch of smokiness to the bacon that blended well with the sweetness of the lobster and the dressing’s mild tang. Finally, there’s the roll. Many sandwiches live or die by the bread they’re made with. Well, this sandwich does more than live. Most Lobster Rolls I’ve had are served on a hot dog bun. The Nathan’s sandwich was served on a round roll, lightly toasted, but not to the point where it scratches the roof of your mouth or loses the softness inside the crust. It completed the sandwich nicely, a compliment to the bacon’s mild fire and the lobster’s subtle sweetness.

So, as Memorial Day leads into July Fourth into Labour Day, I’m sure I’ll have my fill of Lobster Rolls, Steamers, battered cod, you name. I may even report on each one, coming up with my top five list or something like that. But, the season’s only just begun and it’s fair to say I’m off to a good start. If you’re a lobster fan, I suggest you give the Nathan’s version a try. I give it, until I come up with my own rating system, two thumbs up.

By the way, anyone with ideas for a rating system I can use, please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message via the Contact Panlasa page. Thanks for stopping by.
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