Dining Out

A post wedding anniversary dinner at Zensho Japanese teppanyaki restaurant and sushi bar

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In my family, special occasions are, well,… special. Meaning, it used to be that when someone in our family of four celebrated his or her birthday, Speedy would take the day off from work and, as soon as the girls were home from school, we’d go out and celebrate. When the girls were toddlers and only had morning classes, we’d have lunch out and spend the afternoon wherever we felt like going — whether it was to picnic, go malling or to go to an amusement park. By the time the girls were in grade school and had morning and afternoon classes, it usually meant an early dinner. Where we’d eat was always the choice of the celebrant.

Those birthday rituals also applied to other special occasions like graduation and our wedding anniversary. Speedy and I have always celebrated our wedding anniversary with the girls. Always. And always on the very day of our wedding anniversary.

That tradition (or, perhaps, it is even akin to a ritual) of celebrating special occasions together stayed the same until the girls went off to college. Because they only came home on weekends, when someone had a birthday or when it was our wedding anniversary, there would be no celebratory dinner until everyone was available. Mostly, it meant waiting for the weekend.

This year, our wedding anniversary fell on a Monday, a day when we hardly ever go out because of the number coding scheme which makes it illegal for our pick-up to ply the streets of Metro Manila between 7.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m. Sam and I made a beautiful cake but we weren’t able to go out to dinner as a family until last night. I know, right, Christmas Day. But such is life. During the two weeks that preceded Christmas, the girls were busy with project submissions and final exams. So, we waited.

When I suggested dinner out on Christmas Day, Speedy said we could go to the restaurant where we had our wedding reception. Shangri-La Finest Chinese Cuisine on Times Street — the same street as the house of the current president of the Philippines. We drove down the boondocks and into the concrete jungle that is Metro Manila.

On the way to Times Street, I peered at every restaurant that we passed. Some were closed and those that weren’t were full. Parking spaces were inexistent. We were getting anxious (our tummies were already grumbling) and we voiced our hope more than once about being able to get a table when we got to Shangri-La.

When we reached Tomas Morato Street (about ten minutes away from Shangri-Law on Times Street), I suddenly remembered Zensho. I said, quite tentatively, that we could go there instead. Traffic was slow and, as we passed Zensho, I looked through the glass windows and saw a few vacant tables while, at the same time, noticing a vacant parking slot in front of the building. In a second, we switched plans. Speedy stopped the pick-up, backed up and took that vacant parking slot. Two minutes later, we were seated at Zensho.

Just like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, Zensho used to be a family tradition. Back when we were still living in the city and Zensho was a mere 30 minutes away from our house, we ate there often. So often that we had a “usual” table that was always miraculously available every time we came in. Our “usual” table wasn’t available last night but the one beside it was. Good enough.

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I wasn’t planning on documenting anything. I didn’t even have a camera with me — not even the small and very reliable Powershot G10 that I like to bring along when we eat out. All I had was my Sony Ericsson Xperia and I really don’t like cam phones especially for taking food photos. But Zensho is such a special place for my family and a story was already writing itself inside my head. So, heck, why not? I took photos with my Sony Ericsson Xperia.

The food is still as good as I remember.

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The mixed vegetables were delicately flavored.

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The tempura had crisp, lighter-than-light and thinner-than-thin coating.

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The bowl of udon noodle soup with beef and salmon was so large that Alex and I shared it. Speedy had tori (chicken) soba; Sam had oyaku don.

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Then, of course, we had sushi. I say “of course” because the girls have to have their respective sushi choices whenever we eat at a Japanese restaurant. Sam chose something with tuna (above) while Alex chose something with salmon (below).

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Both were magnificent. The tuna and salmon were just superb — so fresh and so soft that eating them was like butter melting in the mouth.

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The bill was a little over PHP1,800.00 (about USD41.00) — not cheap but considering how good the food was, and considering that it was a post wedding anniversary and Christmas dinner rolled into one, I’m not complaining.

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