Dining Out

Hai Chinese Restaurant and Chill-Out Bar

We were at SM Marikina City last night to buy external hard drives for the girls which they so desperately need because of the amount of photos and videos in their MacBooks. We weren’t planning on having dinner at the mall — in fact, the original plan was to go to a restaurant in another part of Marikina. But mall hours are not within our control and the urgency to get the hard drives was paramount. So, I told Speedy we could have a light dinner at the Chinese restaurant that I spied on last week. I couldn’t even remember the name but I knew exactly where it was located.

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Last night, I learned the name. The place is called Hai Chinese Restaurant and Chill-Out Bar and, based on the information printed on the disposable paper place mats, there are branches in Global City and the Mall of Asia. Why was I attracted to the place? Well, I love Chinese food, that’s one reason. Another reason is that when we first passed Hai a week earlier, it didn’t look crowded. See, I never base the quality of a restaurant’s food by the size of the crowd that dines in it. These days, dining has a fashion angle to it so that being seen in a hip place seems more important than how good the food really is.

I was hoping for decent food; I wasn’t expecting fine dining quality. After the North Park Noodle House disaster last month (in front of Medical City along Ortigas), I’ve learned not to expect much when dining out. At North Park, the attendant put the plates, stacked one on top of the other, on our table and left them like that. Wow, so the service didn’t include having the plates placed in front of each diner? And the food was so never mind that I swore never to eat at any of its branches. Have you ever been served cold dim sum? I thought it was just the food and service at the TriNoma branch that was bad but it seems all branches serve the same lousy food.

I wish all restaurants in shopping malls were like Il Pirata where both the service and the food are superb. Of course, the prices are in the superlative range too… Too bad I didn’t have a camera with me when we dined at Il Pirata a couple of weeks ago. The potato gnocchi that Alex ordered was simply divine.

Anyway, I was talking about Hai Chinese Restaurant and Chill-Out Bar at SM Marikina City. We had pork siomai, soup, quekiam and bola-bola siopao.

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When the siomai arrived, I was almost expecting to bite into something cardboard tasting. To our surprise, the siomai was good. The filling was not an undistinguishable ball held together by starch and laced with MSG. On the contrary, the filling had discernible pieces of minced meat, was not too salty and did not taste of MSG.

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When the soup was served, we were really impressed. The menu said it was fish lips soup with Chinese celery but it was more of fish soup with coriander leaves and we liked it so much that I deconstructed it and cooked my version earlier today. Lots of fish but not overly fishy in taste or in aroma. The greens were fresh and their flavors could be distinctly perceived among the gamut of flavors and aromas in the bowl.

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The quekiam was the dish that we liked the least. Too greasy (was it reheated by deep frying?) and the accompanying (peanut?) sauce was much too sweet.

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And then there was the bola-bola siopao. Huge, I tell you. When I first saw them, I wondered if they were 90 per cent bread and 10 per cent filling. But I needn’t have been worried.

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The siopao was bursting with filling — meatball, salted egg and chicken meat. The bread was light and soft. And it was so huge we could only manage to eat half. We brought home what we couldn’t finish. Later last night, we got hungry, we reheated the leftover siopao in the microwave and they still tasted good.

How much did we pay? P544.00. Not bad at all. Next time, we should try the other items on the menu.

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