Episode 58: A Meal In Memory of Dolphy at Za’s Cafe

Filipinos marked the first death anniversary of the Comedy King, Rodolfo Vera Quizon AKA Dolphy, last July 10. The day he died – and the days that followed up ’till then – was a short but solemn time for everyone to remember the life of this legendary icon as a comedian, artist, and father to a nation entertained by his antics and driven by his simple wisdom.

What better way to remember this great man but by looking back at his movies, his performances, his impressions on others and Filipino culture in general, and of course, his favorites.

One of the most resounding slice of life stories about Dolphy involved a small restaurant called Za’s Cafe, along with its neighbor, Hizon’s Cakes and Pastries, neatly tucked at J. Bocobo corner Arquiza Streets in Ermita, Manila.

It’s said to be Dolphy’s favorite (and probably secret) hideout where he enjoyed his favorite ensaymada and chocolate cake, as well as some of its main courses.

After Dolphy’s death, this 65-year old establishment became something like a pilgrimage site for foodies who wanted to walk in Dolphy’s footsteps, so to speak. It’s a bit hard to spot, but once you find the place, the long walk or ride will feel worth it.

One weekend, I made sure I’d make time to visit and dine in Za’s Cafe, especially since it has been my target for a while now. Over an hour of driving from work later, I found what I was after.

Za’s and Hizon’s is a simple establishment from the outside, but once you come inside, you’d feel very relaxed with its refined yet homely ambiance. The scent of freshly baked bread is invigorating, and seeing all those cakes, breads, and pastries lined up on its shelves is food for the senses. The place was old, but what dear memories it surely held!

As I mentioned, Dolphy had a bunch of favorites from both Za’s and Hizon’s, so I took the opportunity to try out some of them.

Before entering the cafe, I bought a slice of chocolate cake and a cheese ensaymada from the bakeshop. It’s said Dolphy liked his ensaymada grilled, but this is for take-out, you know, and starting with the basics is a must for me.

In the cafe, I had hoped to order the baked turkey with glazed camote, a specialty that I heard was also made in honor the comedy king’s honor, but sadly it was only available every Thursday. The braised ox tongue wasn’t available too, so I had to make do with what’s left of his favorites: the hamburger steak.

The hamburger steak was as simple as it gets: a thick Salisbury burger patty with a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, a few slices of sauteed sayote and carrots, butter on top of the patty, and gravy. This came with a small cup of rice (a separate order), and mushroom soup, their Soup of the Day.

Finesse and nostalgia-borne civility flew out the window as I dumped the rice and potatoes over the hamburger steak, poured the gravy on top of everything, and ate the mush like it was a kid’s meal.

The meal was capped with dessert: Chocolate Cake a la Mode, a slice of Dolphy’s favorite cake with vanilla ice cream, and a cup of brewed coffee to wash it down.

The whole course was quite expensive but pretty much worth it. The hamburger steak was juicy and filling, and the cake-and-ice cream combo was delicious though not too sweet. I felt like a revived being after that sumptuous meal.

As I ended my meal, I could feel nostalgia pouring over me. I could imagine Dolphy quietly sipping his drink while munching on a toasted ensaymada, chatting with his family or other companions over cake, or just staring at the window and his surroundings in peace while savoring his dinner.

There are so many things to try out in both Za’s and Hizon’s, but it will take a while to try their bestsellers, even the ones that aren’t in Dolphy’s menu. Still, I’m glad that for once I’m able to relive Dolphy’s gustatory memories, and know why the comedy king loved this place – and its food – so much.

Episode 57: A Limited Edition Challenge – Turning Chinese at Lugang Cafe

If there’s one thing I love about eat-all-you-can promos, it’s that you get a chance to try out a restaurant’s specialties. Such was the case one weekend, when I decided I go splurge a bit and dine at Lugang Cafe, one of the Asian restaurants at the SM North EDSA area. They still had their eat-all-you-can promo, so why not give it a try, I thought. (It already ended as of this writing.)

Lugang Cafe is actually the Philippine branch of the Shanghai-based Bellagio Restaurant. Known for its wide selection of authentic Chinese dishes, it became a quick favorite among foodies, soon becoming a recipient of Philippine Tatler’s 100 Best Restaurant Awards. The ambiance gives the place an impression of a fine-dining restaurant. That much should alert a gourmand that the food there is world-class and high-class.

I’ve passed by Lugang and noticed their promo several times, but I a;ways held myself back. The reason for this is that I don’t get to eat out with other people, and Lugang gives this air of a for-groups-only type of dining place. Not to mention that it’s gonna be expensive for me if I bring in just one or two people with me, as if anyone would want to dine with me in the first place.

On the other hand, an eat-all-you-can promo is an eat-all-you-can promo, and a one-man battle like this is what I love to do.

The dishes in Lugang’s eat-all-you-can menu is just about the same as the regular menu, so it gives you a preview of what to expect when you bring your family, your girlfriend, your boss etc. out for some fine Chinese cuisine.

The first wave of my raid featured a big platter of tofu with preserved egg, pork xiao long bao, a bowl of golden fried rice with shredded pork, velvet chicken and sweet corn soup, and a tall glass of aloe honey lemon juice.

The xiao long bao packs a lot of flavor in its thin skin. The soup’s not that warm, though. The chilled tofu was very filling on its own since it’s a large serving, so I guess on a normal dinner this should be shared. The soup and fried rice actually taste, well, normal.

Round Two had Taiwanese omelette with preserved turnip bits, boiled pork dumplings with its own dipping sauce, and steamed crab roe and pork xiao long bao.

The dipping sauce tasted like red wine. The steamed crab roe was the best dumpling variety I’ve ever tried, with its light and curiously seafoody flavor blended in the fillings and soup. The great thing about Lugang is that it serves different variations of xiao long bao, and there’s a lot to choose from. Xiao long bao lovers will have to compare Lugang’s varieties with those from other restaurants.

For Round Three, there’s steamed angled loofah (that’s patola for you) with shrimp xiao long bao, pork wontons in spicy chili oil, and black pepper beef fried rice.

Next up was a plate of Vietnam egg rolls, a big bowl of Taiwanese pickled cabbage, and steamed kimchi xiao long bao.

At this point I have to admit I made a mistake. Those cabbages overloaded my taste buds, and along with it, my stomach. Halfway through this course, I realized my body has malfunctioned and would not accept anymore food. Onore, Taiwanese cabbage.

But I had to press on. The eat-all-you-can promo allowed you to choose a Lugang house specialty: roasting, chicken, pork, beef, seafood, vegetables, or noodles. And choose I just did.

The final round had me going face to face with a plate of chicken topped with scallion and ginger oil, pork spareribs and turnip soup, and a bowl of plain rice.

The chicken was the proverbial cherry on the cake – gingery, flaky, crumbles in the palate well in all its steamed-like glory. It was worthy of being called a house specialty, all right.

Challenging all those dishes was worth risking my budget and intestinal fortitude. I’ve basically eaten my fill of great Chinese cuisine, and it was exactly what a heavy eater like me would ask for. I’ll definitely have a hard time deciding what to eat there the next time in a regular meal, though, but that will have to wait. Now if they bring back that eat-all-you-can promo…

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Lugang Cafe

GREENHILLS :
115 Connecticut Street, North East Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila
Tel. Nos. : +63 (2) 542 – 0196 / +(63) 917 6992254
Seating Capacity : 300 PAX

SM MALL OF ASIA :
G/F 136-137 Main Mall South Wing, SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City
Tel. Nos. : +63 (2) 555 – 0219 / +(63) 916 2140822
Seating Capacity : 220 PAX

THE BLOCK, SM NORTH EDSA :
2/F The Block SM North Edsa, Pag-asa 1, Quezon City
Tel. Nos. : +63 (2) 332 – 8725 / +(63) 915 7469693
Seating Capacity : 130 PAX

SM AURA PREMIER (OPENING SEPTEMBER 2013) :
Skypark, Level 5, SM Aura Premier, 26th Street corner Mckinley Parkway, Taguig City
Mobile No. : +(63) 906 4555873

GLORIETTA 2 (OPENING OCTOBER 2013) :
Glorietta 2, G/F, The New Ayala Center, Makati City
Mobile No. : +(63) 906 4555879

For more information, visit:
http://www.lugangcafe.com.ph

Episode 56: Dinner at Our Kitchen

A few weeks before our raid at Vikings, my dad took me out for dinner at a restaurant that he discovered recently. For days he had kept on bragging about how fancy the place is, and how good the baby back ribs there are. This would be the first time we would have dinner together after God knows how long, so I obliged.

The restaurant in question is Our Kitchen, an Italian restaurant at the edge of Metro Manila, along McArthur Highway at Meycauayan, Bulacan to be exact.

Our Kitchen has been open since around 2011. It’s jointly owned by a French and a Filipino, and specializes in Asian Fusion cuisine (which probably explains the tagline “where East meets West”.

Their menu particularly consists of French, Italian, Japanese, and Thai -inspired dishes, and their specialties include pasta and pizza, but the rice meals are worth trying out too.

The restaurant is cozy and simple, aside from a few artworks that decorated the place. It may look like a simple cafe from the outside, but it’s large enough to accommodate large groups and even reservations for parties, plus there’s space for outdoor dining too.

It was a Friday when we got there, which is why there was a jazz singer entertaining diners on a stage outside (I hear they have live performers every Friday and Saturday).

And now, let’s talk about the food.

My dad’s favorite baby back ribs came with a cup of rice and nothing else. The sauce is sweet, and the meat is so tender, it falls off the bone like every classic, well-made ribs should be. Maybe some vegetables or mashed potatoes on the side is in order, just to make it a complete meal, though this is good enough for me

I ordered white wine to go with my ribs because they ran out of red wine.

Check out that juicy chunk of meat.

Our side dish, baked mussels, were cooked with cheese and a lot of salt, which ended up becoming too salty for my taste.

The White Pizza was a first for me – it’s made of a white, creamy sauce, bacon bits, and a raw egg, which got cooked poached-style if you let it sit for a while. This lightly flavored pizza surely won my approval.

For dessert, we had a simple cheesecake…

…and a really sweet cappuccino shake to end the meal.

I forgot to mention that they serve this really nice version of chili oil that is, for lack of a better description, made of real, spicy, super hot,  chili peppers. Just a few drops and everything tasted great, even the super salty mussels.

What we had was enough to satisfy me, but there’s a lot of stuff to choose from, so a repeat visit is a must.

Now that I think about it, good hangout spots are now opening like mushrooms around Bulacan. It’s probably because Bulacan’s so close to Metro Manila, but it’s too much of a hassle to travel. Most, if not all, of the spots I see are the typical watering holes with live bands, which are good enough if you’re craving for dinner and a drink or two with friends and family.

Which goes to show specialty places like Our Kitchen are quite rare this side of Bulacan, and a  nice alternative if you want a more quiet place where you can hang out. There should be a few more like this around, and if I get to have the time, I’ll make sure to explore and seek them out.

In the meantime, I’ll have to thank my dad again for showing me this place.

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Our Kitchen

2/F Esperanza Mall, McArthur Highway 
Meycauayan, Bulacan

Contact Details
Phone:    0917 874 9703
Email:    ourkitchenresto@gmail.com