Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cafe Juanita: A Melange of Colors and Flavors

No. 2 United cor. West Capitol, Bo. Kapitolyo, Pasig City

The Bait: Good reviews from friends and media
The Line: Eclectically Romantic (according to Awesome Planet)
The Hook: Simply good cooking
The Sinker: Less than stellar service
The Catch: P400++ per person

This is the opposite of zen. The beyond-kitsch, bordello-like decor is a minimalist's nightmare. Gordon Ramsay would have a fit with the fusion-confusion of its ultra eclectic menu, which mixes Mediterranean with Asian. Cafe Juanita is a visual melee but a gustatory delight.

My husband, knowing I've been wanting to try the place, decided to treat me and my mother in law on the eve of my birthday. But he was noncommittal about the time so we weren't able to make reservations. And the place, with two floors and several family size dining tables, was packed. We missed the chance to dine at the main dining rooms. Instead, we slummed at their meriendahan. That there was no a/c on that hot March evening would be enough reason for me to go for a plan b resto. But I really wanted to try it, so we chose a table close to the blasting electric fan and ordered from the main resto's menu.

My husband will never pass up on his national flower, the Chicharon Bulaklak (P189), so we started with that. What can I say, it's good. Hard to go wrong with that.

That was followed by Sinigang na Corned Beef with Chorizo (P389). What's great about the dish is that before they served it, the server came out with a little cup of the broth and asked us to sample it the way they'd ask you to sample the wine before serving. You can ask them to adjust the acidity or the sourness. So the soup they delivered was just perfect. As sour as we wanted it. We rarely have this kind of sinigang broth, thickened by gabi. Really good, or it also could be that we were very hungry when we got there. There was nothing extraordinary with the corned beef, but the chorizo gave it a unique twist.

My favorite dish was the Tinuktok (P199). I suspect a lot of diner miss this as it is on the bottom of the comprehensive menu. Imagine this: crabmeat and buco wrapped in taro leaves topped by two sauces -- coconut and crab fat. Something I would definitely order when I go back.

Hubbalicious wanted Thai Style Crispy Dalag (P295), but they didn't have it that night. So we settled for Sole with Lemon Butter Sauce (P368). Faultless. Perfectly pan-grilled -- crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

The Spicy Spare Ribs (P160?) was not listed on the dinner menu, but I saw a picture of it and ordered. The ribs have the kind of sneaky spiciness that creeps up on you, seems mild at first and next thing you know you're sneezing as the well hidden labuyo pepper bits tickle your nostrils and taste buds.

For dessert, Hubbalicious and Mom in law split a halo-halo. I sampled it but did not detect anything special about it. Plus it seemed to have too many beans, which I don't like in my halo halo. I don't like beans. Period.

My Cafe Juanita experience was capped by the famous Sticky Toffee Pudding (P89). This affirms what I've always known -- giving up dessert for life is just plain wrong. The pudding was very moist. The caramel sauce could be too sweet for others, but for me the combination of pudding, caramel sauce, and vanilla ice cream was just, uhm, I'm struggling to articulate how good it is. It has an old-fashioned, homemade appeal to it, but it is exceptionally good.

Our server was very pleasant and helpful, but she still needed a bit of training answering some of our questions. In fairness to her, I was inquisitive and my husband was determined to charm her with his corny jokes. She was very patient with both of us.

After dining, I checked out the main dining area again, and I think it's worth a second trip to have the full experience next time.

More photos at:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Running Away from Carbs at Italianni's

Why is it that whenever the universe hears I'm going low carb, it sends me the most irresistible combination of carbohydrates? But I persist despite the odds.

When I got invited to a blogger event at Italianni's, I hurled my splenda packets in exasperation thinking Italianni's is really just a synonym for pizza and pasta.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the protein seeking diner actually has a lot of options, especially with their summer line-up of dishes.

Five dishes comprise their Small Price for a Big Lunch Promo. It doesn't surprise me that my favorites are the ones that are most appealing to carnivores. The Costina Brasatta, loin back ribs braised in tomatoes and red wine; and the Manzo di Arrosto, Roasted rib eye, are my top choices.

The braised ribs are so tender, literally falling off the bone and melting into my mouth in a delightful medley of herbs and garlic. Really. Just don't get any of the perfectly al dente spaghetti, and the carbs are kept at bay. Not bad at P395.

The rib eye. I like the rare in the inside and medium well on the outside doneness of this dish. I can't believe it was slow roasted for 8 hours. I also can't believe that it is only P350. The mushroom topping is also very good. Good carbs come from the grilled zucchini and capscicum bites that go with the steak.

The Pesci in Vino Blanco is a crowd favorite. This dish uses local dory fillet simmered in white wine and herbs. The fish is just the right side of tender. Flaky but in a good way. Again, stay away from the spaghetti aglio e olio if you want to go low carb. Otherwise, have a lot of it because it's really quite good.

The Pollo con Rucola, Chicken with Arugula, P295 is an interesting take on the usual herbed roasted chicken. I really love how the arugula is not merely a garnish, but the flavor really rubs onto the chicken skin, giving it a nutty taste. The flavor, however, doesn't seep into the rest of the chicken meat, which could also do with a bit more tenderness.

What I thought would be my favorite, surprisingly lands at the bottom of my fave list. The Spiedo del Pollo e Dei Pesci, Fish and Chicken Skewer P295. But it could be just me. I am not fond of white chicken meat. It's a well seasoned dish, but some kind of sauce would probably make this tastier.

If you're seriously avoiding carbs, I suggest you leave after you've had the entrees. Go. Now. Go. Because it would take the willpower of a monk to resist the desserts. One dessert, in particular, tested my carb-free resolve. Sadly, okay, I wasn't really that sad, I failed, and the Tartufo, (P450) won. In my defense, no one with functioning taste buds can resist this 3-layered chocolate cake with dark and white chocolate mousse and fudge frosting. It has this amazing flavor where the salty and the sweet tastes alternately titillate your palate. To quote my friend, twitchmimitwitch,
it's abso-bloody-lutely delicious.

Did I mention this is a summer promo? So the good times will end, so better head over to Italianni's now.

Photo lifted from Italianni's press kit.

Nestle's Pops

That previous post about the ensaimada, that description -- I take it back. This is the real, ultimate, ooh-aah-yeah-baby-baby-who's your daddy, oh-so-yummy delicious bite of pleasure. Scrumptious. Insert more superlatives here.

If you're familiar with the Dove ice cream bar, Nestle's Pops taste like it. It's not a very complex flavor. Just comfort food vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate. Ice cream you can eat as finger food. You pop each kiss-shaped pop into your mouth, and the flavor pops as the chocolate breaks and the vanilla ice cream melts onto your tongue. Then you close your eyes and contemplate the perfection of the universe and the sublime beauty of being alive.

I kid myself that the vanilla is mostly protein and the chocolate is mostly anti-oxidant, so having a dozen pops in one sitting is actually a healthy thing.

Take note the brand name is a plural noun. Because only one with an extremely high EQ, one who grew up in the misery of war, only one who can't understand the concept of buying all colors of great shoes, can have just one. It's very good and addicting.

I like it when the vanilla ice cream is slightly melted, so wait a few minutes after you pull the tub out of the freezer before you pop one. If you can.

Tender Trap Ensaymada

Parmesan Ensaymada
from Tender Trap Bakeshop
at 681 Lee Street, Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City
(a new shop at Virra Mall according to the owner's blog:
P240 per dozen

So much deliciousness packed in these little balls of eyes-closed, ooh-ahh-yeah-baby-baby pleasure. Super moist ensaymadas topped with parmesan cheese. Though I like my ensaymadas smothered in butter and sugar and these aren't, the taste of the dough and the cheese makes up for the absence. I'm not an ensaymada connoisseur so I can't tell if it's the best in the city, but I wager it's in one or more of those "Best of" lists.

The bummer: it's a messy eat because the cheese is dry, and you end up with a sprinkling of cheese on your shirt.