Dining Out

A night in the city: good eats and dining disasters

A night in the city: good eats and dining disasters | casaveneracion.com

What I really wanted was to spend New Year’s Eve cooped up in a hotel room in the city, the room on a floor high enough to watch the fireworks with no cables to distract my view and take photos galore. But I couldn’t get a reservation for New Year’s Eve so I settled for the December 27-28 weekend.

There were fireworks displays on the night of the 27th but they were too far away to photograph. But that was okay. The flickering city lights and the streets down below looked pretty from the 15th floor so I settled on the couch beside the glass windows and started shooting.

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Without a tripod, it was tricky. I used stacks of throw pillows to prop my camera against the glass window to prevent the camera from moving. It took several attempts but I did manage to get a few decent shots.

But this isn’t really about city lights. This is about what we ate over the weekend. Since we couldn’t get a room for New Year’s Eve, I figured that the December 27-28 weekend would be a good opportunity to try some restaurants, discover new flavors and learn a few tricks.

The food trip began even before we checked in at the New World Hotel. Speedy and I ate no breakfast; Sam and Alex had a very light breakfast. With the distance between our suburban house and the hotel, we knew we’d have to grab lunch somewhere in between. I suggested Tiendesitas with its numerous eateries and restaurants. But not one served a single meatless dish. Not one. Even the vegetable dishes had some pork or shrimp and that wouldn’t do for vegetarian Sam. We exited the Tiendesitas food court and checked out Ho Galbi, a Korean restaurant. No vegetarian dish either.

Kanzhu Hand-Pulled Noodles

We crossed the street and entered SM Hypermarket. Speedy immediately saw Kanzhu Hand-Pulled Noodles. Kanzhu has a branch in Antipolo, Speedy and I had been there and we knew that they have vegetarian items in the menu. We took a table and ordered. Sam chose plain noodle soup and steamed vegetable dumplings. We had a jellyfish and wood ear mushrooms appetizer, Hainanese chicken, Chinese olives rice and beef with mushrooms. They were all good. Our only issue was that the female attendant who took our orders never bothered to write them down and, as a result, Sam’s plain noodle soup was served late because we had to re-order it. Crap, we didn’t go there so that some attendant could try to impress us with her memory skills which turned out to be defective after all. Still, the food was good and we were okay.

New World Hotel

christmas-trees-new-world-hotelWe resumed our drive, reached the hotel and checked in. Almost as soon as our bags were laid down, the girls took out their crochet needles and threads. Yes, that was part of the plan. Sam had been asking me to teach her how to crochet so she could make fancy socks, Alex caught the fever and wanted to learn too so she could make hats for the cats. So, we had a crochet session for a couple of hours. Just the basic things. I told the girls that crocheting is really about practice, practice, practice. It may be frustrating at the start, fingers will cramp and the first few yards of the thread will turn filthy but, after that… It’s a skill and it takes practice.

Bizu Patisserie

By 4.00 p.m., we were starting to feel hungry. We crossed the street to Greenbelt for coffee and snacks. All the coffeehouses were full. Not a vacant table anywhere. Wasn’t there a branch of Mary Grace in the area? I asked Alex because she’s the one who goes to Greenbelt all the time. We walked and walked. We reached Mary Grace and it was packed. Speedy walked straight to Bizu next door. Oh, why not? We love Bizu cakes but with no lasting impression of the coffee. Was it bad, was it good, was it forgettable? I didn’t care much at that point. My legs were tired and I’d settle for fantastic cakes and so-so coffee so long as I could sit in a comfortable chair.

I checked out the cakes, saw none that we hadn’t tried before and while I dilly-dallied, Speedy took the initiative and asked if we wanted the English Tea package instead of ordering individual cakes. The package comes with pastries, mini sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and jam, and tea of our choice. It was really the choose-your-tea part that got me. I looked at the list of teas, saw one called Wasabi Strawberry and I wanted to try it.

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Bizu did not disappoint. It never has as far as I’m concerned. The scones were especially good.

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I did not regret my choice of tea. The Wasabi Strawberry tea was delicious.

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We walked to Landmark to buy chips to munch on while watching movies at the hotel room. Just chips, we said, but then we passed The French Baker and couldn’t resist. Then, we passed Hizon’s and couldn’t resist either. With so much food, I don’t know why at 8.00 p.m., we wanted to go out for dinner but we did.

Amici

makati-amiciI heard about Amici almost as soon as it opened at the Don Bosco Makati campus. At the time, I was writing for a magazine published by the Salesian Brothers, my editor told me about Amici, a brainchild of an Italian brother at Don Bosco. Authentic Italian food, she told me. But Makati was a long drive away, traffic at the Makati Central Business District was always horrendous and we just never found the opportunity to go.

A few years later, I heard that the Amici business was sold and the Italian brother was no longer involved in the operation.

To make a long story short, our Amici dinner was a huge — HUGE — disappointment. We should have saved ourselves the trouble of looping all over the one-way streets looking for the entrance to Amici and ordered room service instead.

What was wrong with the food at Amici? To start with, the Italian chips described in the menu as a “specialty” were crisp but that was all. I guess we were just really hungry so we devoured them. And we probably didn’t want to pre-judge the rest of the food we ordered by the mediocrity of the chips. But Alex’s penne rosa and bacon came with CANNED mushrooms.

The pizza al quattro formaggi was barely passable.

The artichoke and portobello flatbread pizza was better but the artichokes came straight out of a can too.

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Granted that the pizza crust was good but what’s pizza crust without good toppings?

And Amici isn’t cheap. Canned mushrooms and artichokes are simply out of proportion with the price.

So Amici was our hugest dining disaster over the weekend? Oh, no. We had something even worse the next day.

Fely J’s

fely-jNo one woke up early enough for a proper breakfast the next day. Not even early enough for brunch, in fact. So, we chose where to eat lunch very carefully especially after the Amici fiasco the previous night. We chose People’s Palace. But, at 1.30 p.m. when the lunch crowds should have thinned, People’s Palace was still full. And we were really hungry. So, we looked for a decent place with at least one vegetarian dish.

Fely J’s at Greenbelt 5 is next door to Damaso. We looked at the menus of both restaurants, Fely J’s was promoting “new” dishes that included a shiitake mushroom and broccoli stir fry. Speedy and I liked Damaso’s menu better but Sam wanted the shiitake and broccoli stir fry. So, we went to Fely J’s.

We were shown to a table and we looked at the menu. I asked the waiter if they had vegetarian dishes other than the shiitake and broccoli stir fry and he started enumerating dishes with seafood. All meatless, he assured me. WTF. Did he even know what vegetarian meant? Exasperated, I dispensed with his advice. We ordered the shiitake and broccoli stir fry, lengua rendang, Hainanese chicken and a seafood and vegetable soup. I told the waiter to serve the seafood in the soup separately. And could he please give us water immediately because we were so thirsty?

We waited. And waited. The water did not come. Meanwhile, two Causacian women who came in after us were given their glasses of water — with a whole pitcher of water — while Sam watched in disgust. I had to wave over another waiter for our water.

The food arrived. A plate of broccoli with thickened sauce was placed on the table not by the waiter who took our order but by a supervisor (or maybe a manager) based on her attire. “Where’s the shiitake?” I asked. She was apologetic while explaining that they were out of shiitake. “Why didn’t you let us know earlier?” I asked her. That bloody shiitake and broccoli stir fry was the only reason we chose Fely J’s over Damaso and there was no shiitake? She was about to remove the plate when I stopped her. Never mind, I said. What the heck was Sam going to eat if I sent the broccoli back?

fely-j2The rest of the food arrived. We ate. I saw Sam struggling with what looked like tough-as-a-leather-boot broccoli stem and I asked how her food was. She said the broccoli tasted like it got stuck at the back of the fridge because the florets were soft and slimy while the stems were tough. In short, the broccoli had been sitting in the fridge for far too long and the florets were starting to turn watery. At that stage in the life of the broccoli, the stems turn tougher and chewy in bad way.

And the rest of the food? The Hainanese chicken was served with chicken rice and broth. The broth was cold. The chicken was so tough and dry. It wasn’t overcooked, however. How anyone can manage to dry out chicken meat without overcooking it is beyond me. It takes a really, really bad cook to achieve that level of disaster.

There were three slices of beef tongue in the lengua rendang dish. Each slice was about a quarter of an inch thick. For PHP399.00. The sauce was so sweet, I could have had it for dessert.

The soup was served last, believe it or not. And then the supervisor/manager/whatever took it back to the kitchen because, obviously, the clams had been stirred in and I specifically asked that the seafood be served separately. The funniest thing? A few pieces of shrimps had been served on a separate bowl already. So WTF? They didn’t know that clams are seafood too? Should I even be surprised when the waiter who took our order was so confident that seafood dishes are vegetarian?

The bill amounted to over PHP1,500.00 and Alex commented, “Ang mahal namang laman tiyan n’yan (too expensive for a mere tummy filler).” And she was so right.

Later on, Speedy commented that he noticed how, with a full house, half the staff was having their lunch at one corner of the restaurant. WTF, really.

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