Episode 63: Joining The Food Club – Of taking out obscene amounts of five-star quality food

“A new buffet restaurant has opened along Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay. It’s called The Food Club, and it boasts of a five-star experience that can satisfy any discriminating buffet aficionado. Word of mouth and other bloggers have attested to the quality of its wide selection of dishes. But does it really live up to the hype?
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY OPERATION! GET GOING!”
…Is how I ended up at the doorstep of The Food Club that night as I joined the hundreds of diners who visited the place on its soft opening.

After waiting for a few hours for the opening (and getting addressed as “Miss” in front of everyone), it was time for my solo raid at The Food Club. I’ve dined in a lot of buffet restaurants around Metro Manila, so what makes The Food Club different from the rest?
While it looks like nothing more than a plain building from the outside, The Food Club’s interior gives off the ambience of a five-star hotel dining area. One is ushered in to a warm, relaxing atmosphere not far from a typical family restaurant, only classier.
The whole place can accommodate about 150 guests, and it’s spacious enough for anyone to move around from station to station. Reservations are hard to come by, though, so you’d be very lucky to be able to have a seat as a walk-in customer.
The food is continuously refilled so one is assured that the dishes they get are always fresh out of the kitchen. The exception would be the seafood area, which would require a bit of patience; seafood is, understandably, harder to prepare after all.
I’ve been shown a five-star quality ambience, but is the food five-star quality as well? There’s only one way to find out.
First to take note of are the assorted furai and tempura in the Japanese section. They get refilled the fastest since it seems everyone likes the tempura. There’s also some warm miso soup, with separate containers for tofu, nori, and other soup condiments.
The neighboring table houses various Chinese favorites such as their own selection of cold cuts and dimsum. There’s a whole roasted duck hanging at one corner of the area for those interested.
And then there’s the jellyfish. “In the name of the thousands of humans that you and your kind have stung and killed, I will take vengeance! Mmm, chewy.”
DYI and prepared salads are aplenty, along with the ham and other cold cuts, breads, sashimi and sushi served as appetizers. I spotted a couple who ordered temaki (hand-rolled sushi); I should have gotten some.
You can toast your own bread, throw in some jam and cheese, pair them up with your cold cut of choice, and behold! European appetizers! Also noteworthy are the naan bread and dips in the Asian section, cold and tasty and comforting in the stomach.
Speaking of the Asian section, one can enjoy Filipino favorites such as kare-kare and tinola, the typical Mongolian rice bowl, chicken kebab, fried fish with assorted sauces and spices, curries, and stews, among others.
The area I refer to as the European section is a meat-and-potato lover’s paradise. (They have pilaf rice, though.) Beef and chicken dishes are aplenty. I spotted two varieties of potato sidings at one part of the table too.

Then there’s the steak. One can spot the chef preparing big slabs of medium-rare beef and turkey for the hungrier protein lovers in the restaurant. Which now leads me to question why people love to have their meat well-done, when medium-rare is tasty, juicy, and kinda addicting, but I digress.

You can have your seafood of choice baked at the European section. Just give them your plate and a spare one just in case, and they’ll hand you back a plateful of your baked seafood of choice warm, toasted oyster, mussel, or crab topped with melted cheese. (If you feel like it, though, just pick up some oysters and eat them raw for some pure, sea-salty, unadulterated bliss.) Where’s the prawns and lobster, you ask? I got none, unfortunately.
Once you’re done with the main courses, the dessert area would be the most logical place to see. You may get overwhelmed, though, by the large selection of cakes and sweets waiting for you. The more health-conscious people may opt for the fruits, candies or the fondue. Or all of the above. Your mileage may vary. The dessert section also has ice cream, crepes, and Filipino kakanin for those who want their sweets heavier.
Drinks consist of juices, coffee, soda, and beer.  I believe they serve other liquor but I didn’t bother to ask; I’m driving, after all.
The Food Club didn’t pull any punches when they said they’re serving hotel-quality meals. Everything I’ve seen so far in the hotels I dined in, I’ve seen as well here. The difference is the price, which is at the level of other pricey buffet restaurants in Metro Manila, but it’s all worth it.
Price List
Mondays – Thursdays:
*Lunch – P800.00 + 5% service charge
*Dinner – P1,000.00 + 5% service charge
*Kids above 3.5 ft. – P580.00 + 5% service charge
**Kids 3.5 ft. and below – FREE
Fridays – Sundays: 
*Lunch / Dinner – P1,188.00 + 5% service charge
*Kids above 3.5 ft. – P600.00 + 5% service charge
**Kids 3.5 ft. and below – FREE

 

All in all, The Food Club is, so far, your best alternative to the more crowded and pricier buffets around the metropolis. It’s like getting a crash course in classy food raiding, without hurting your budget.
Which now leads to the more pressing question: how much did I enjoy my dinner at The Food Club? Let’s just say I was able to try out a bit of everything at every station, and I can attest that it does live up to expectations. Did I mention that this raid is so sudden, I went there alone? On the flip side, the amount of food (and the number of plates) I had is so obscene for print or TV (unless I’m “Man v. Food”-era Adam Richman), instead of showing how much I vanquished, which is ridiculously plenty, I’ll just post this to drive home the point. Director’s orders.
As if this isn’t good for print or TV either.

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The Food Club
Unit E Bluebaywalk
President Diosdado Macapagal corner EDSA
Pasay City, Philippines. 
Tel. no: (02) 736 8001. 
Open Monday-Sunday from 10:30 am – 10:30 pm. 
Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for promos and other announcements.
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Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 1)

Night 1 – Oct. 4

MC and I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City just before midnight, Vietnam time. (It’s one hour behind Manila time, GMT +8.) The trip took us about three hours, though we actually arrived quite early, notwithstanding the weather.
Kim, our host and a close acquaintance of our father, met us at the arrival area, along with her brother. She’s just as old as me, and owns a store outside the port area where our dad’s ship is docked. She helped arrange our accommodations and our itinerary for the next few days.

After several minutes of going around the city, we ended up at Dinky, one of the remaining open seafood restaurants in the city. It was late, after all. I was expecting a light meal of pho or banh mi, but I realized we were in for a real treat.

For dinner, we first had flower crabs, lightly fried and served with sautéed onions and fresh herbs. These were thinner and lighter than the usual crab, but they were bursting with fat and meat, and they were fresh, sweet, and just as tasty.

These were followed by a plate of roasted rice snails. The snails were tough and chewy and they tasted like a mix of freshwater fish and bland meat. They were easy to eat, though. How compelling.

Next was a big plate of shrimps, along with several bowls of thick soup with crab meat and seaweed. I rarely eat shrimp since they’re expensive, but it was quite surprising to find out that seafood is quite cheap in Vietnam.

What piqued my interest was the assortment of dips served along every dish. There’s vinegar and soy sauce mixed with herbs and spices like lemongrass. One of them was a mix of salt, lemon juice, and chili. The spicy-salty-sour mix was perfect.

“What would you like to drink?” Kim asked.Being the low-self-esteemed guy that I am, I ordered the cheapest drink in the menu – the one worth 15,000 dong.
“I’ll try ba-ba-ba.”

 

I didn’t expect Kim to look delighted that I know 333 Beer. “Ba-ba-ba is popular,” she said. It seems 333 is to Vietnam what San Miguel Beer is to the Philippines. SMB has a heavy aftertaste that suits the Filipino’s taste buds. 333 Beer tastes lighter but just as crisp and refreshing.

The Vietnamese love their seafood, I thought as I looked around. I was not able to read the whole menu, but I could see the place served a huge variety of fish, crabs, and other seafood. They also serve a lot of vegetable and noodle dishes, and the locals eat more of these than meat or rice. This could be why they look lean and energetic. Just what you can expect from a country rich in agriculture.

We were set to stay at the Duxton Hotel Saigon at District 1, Ho Chi Minh’s central urban district. MC said it was one of the best hotels in the city. From there, we would meet up with Kim and go sight-seeing in the next few days.

It was about three in the morning when we arrived to our rooms at Duxton. We were full, a bit buzzed but quite satisfied with our midnight feast. We only have a few hours to rest, but it didn’t matter. We’re going around the city in a while.

Wait, what was I supposed to avoid again when I have gout?
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Up next… A quick tour around Ho Chi Minh City.

Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 1) – Remembering the old days at 50’s Diner!

Among my favorite restaurants in Baguio was 50’s Diner. For me, it was one of the places where I could hang out after school or work, despite being far from home or Session Road.

Visiting 50’s Diner was part of my life in Baguio. It helps that the place was a relaxing place to be in, and that they served (what I consider back then as) some of the biggest and best burgers in town.

This place was one of the places I missed terribly when I left Baguio. I did make it a point to dine there again when I got back. But when I got a chance to see it again, well… Much has changed.

50’s Diner is a retro-style diner, complete with oldies music, waitresses on rollerblades, a jukebox, ’50s style movie posters, and one of those old soda fountains. The restaurant incorporates American fastfood cuisine with the charm of the ’50s.

The diner brings to mind scenes in Hollywood movies where you walk into a restaurant in your leather jacket and jeans, order a milkshake or a burger with fries, and listen to rock-and-roll music while hanging out with your gang. I’m an 80’s person but I can’t help but feel nostalgia in places like these.

 

50’s Diner is smaller now, but it somehow retained its old ambience. The old movie posters are still on its walls. The pictures of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis Presley, and other icons from that decade still adorn the restaurant. The jukebox still had a dedicated corner. 50’s music still plays regularly. The bar was visibly smaller and not as eye-catching as it was before, but the old vibe was still there.
 

 
My siblings and I (along with my sister’s family) had our first night-out for the new year at 50’s Diner. It’s been a long time since we last had dinner together, and this would (probably) be the first time we visited that place after a long time.

The place was jam-packed with visitors when we got there. Thankfully, we only had to wait for just a few minutes to be seated. The service is fast and friendly as well.
 
The menu hasn’t changed much; the burgers and other sandwiches were there; the spaghetti and milkshakes were there; the set meals and steaks were there; the ice cream and desserts that I remember as there too. The food is affordable and worth every centavo, and your order gets out fast.

The Pizza Burger was my favorite at 50’s Diner back then, and it still is now. The burger’s bigger than it looks like. The fries are not too salty but tasty and crispy. The patty is not as juicy as it was before, though. It’s still filling and heavy on the belly; a few bites and you’re sated.

My sister and my nieces ordered the Mamma’s Kid, a set meal with fried chicken with rice, egg, fries, pasta, and potato salad. Carbo loading much? It’s a kid’s meal, but it’s heavy enough for the little ones.

My brother ordered the Gangsta-Gangsta, a marvelously heavy and appetizing meal with fried chicken, grilled porkchop, chicken rolls, egg, vegetables in oyster sauce, and rice. Good choice.

My brother-in-law’s meal was the Swimmers, basically a seafood platter on oyster sauce with rice. Basic as it looks like, it’s light but surprisingly flavorful.

Who could forget the millkshakes? (By the way, I noticed that they serve cocktails now; I remember that they served beer, but not cocktails. And yeah, we didn’t get ice cream. Next time, next time.)

One of my biggest challenges as a newcomer in the City of Pines was eating out. I was unfamiliar with the city’s food spots,and I didn’t have the budget to eat out anyway. When I do go out, I had to travel far just to find that filling, affordable meal.

Back in college, eating at 50’s Diner was equivalent to splurging. A meal would cost me P80 or more, and my allowance isn’t that big. So when I finish an important assignment in school, I look forward to treating myself there. (Otherwise, I would just go there to drink beer. Works the same.)

(FYI, the price range here is actually around P65-230 per person.)

I got a job soon after, so it was easier to spend on dining out. I continued visiting 50’s Diner, this time with media colleagues and friends. Sometimes I would have dates there. Most of the time, I was alone.

Occasionally, my co-teachers (I worked in a Korean school) and I would dine and hang out at the diner’s second floor (the old 50’s Diner had one). That area had a billiards table and dartboards, and it was made for bigger crowds.

There was a time when, after joining a police raid or two around the city, my colleagues would end the night at 50’s Diner with a bowl of arroz caldo and coffee. Oh wait – that was about the same time “50’s Diner” was renamed “My Diner”, though I can’t remember why its name changed for a while. That’s why the place served arroz caldo. (I forgot to check if the present menu still had that.)

Eating at 50’s Diner may be expensive, but I have good memories just from hanging out there. It was easy  to find pleasure in dining in a place that’s friendly, comfortable, and relaxing; not to mention something that reminds one of good things from the past. I didn’t mind eating my sandwich or sipping my coffee by myself; going to 50’s Diner was fine as long as I could spend some quiet time. (Bonus points if you’re a fan of oldies music.)

For me, 50’s Diner was equivalent to splurging on luxurious stuff. At the same time, it is a reminder of the simple things in life worth aspiring for, things that make me happy… such as food.

Speaking of food, here’s a thought: It’s not unusual for Baguio to have a place dedicated to American cuisine. Baguio was established in 1901 as an American vacation spot, after all. And it’s not unusual for our colonizers to shove their burgers and milkshakes into our throats (in a good way).

But Baguio is also a land of inspiration, so to speak, and the same could be said when it comes to cuisine. And what way to tinker with Filipino cuisine but show off something that reflects what Baguio and the Cordilleras are all about, some of which is enjoying a simple life while aspiring for everything good in one package.

Just like what a certain Igorot businessman did with his meal.

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Up next: Inspiration and practicality give birth to a classic, complete Cordilleran set meal.

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50’s Diner

92 Upper General Luna Road, Corner Brent Road
Baguio City, Philippines


Telephone Number: 0916-6595555

Episode 6: Eat-All-You-Can Assault at Yakimix! Biting off more than one can chew?!

It was my turn to invite my brother (and now certified foodie) MC to a buffet dinner a few weeks after the showdown at Café in the Park. Our destination: Yakimix Sushi Smokeless Grill Restaurant at the SM Mall of Asia. Yay, another eat all you can feast. XD

Before going to Yakimix, we read a lot of mixed reviews about it, especially its pilot branch in Hobbies of Asia in Pasay. Much was said about the service, the ambience, the food, among others. Some reviews were dissenting, some were good, while others simply say this was a typical pigging out restaurant, nothing much.

Notwithstanding what local netizens have said about Yakimix, we decide to go ahead. And one Sunday afternoon, after a back-breaking Balinese massage, I met up with MC and went in for the assault. By the way, Yakimix MOA opens around lunch time, closes for a while, and then reopens at 5:30 in the afternoon.

Every customer in Yakimix is seated in front of his own griddle, heated and oiled occasionally for your meat of choice to sizzle on at the privacy of your table. Everything else is self-service, although drinks are a-plenty and are served upon request.
There were so many dishes to choose from, fewer than the ones in Café by the Park but enticing nonetheless. Among the Chinese dishes, we sampled the yang chow rice, sweet and sour pork, and crab and corn soup. The bulgogi and the kimchi were the most familiar in the Korean line-up, although there were more to try such as the beef tripe, some squid here and there, and the octopus.
The Japanese category has its own (by now, already familar) dishes to boast of, such as the sushi and maki, and shrimp tempura. The Japanese dishes run out so quickly, people (including me) actually wait for the chefs to refill the table. The tempura is apparently the restaurant’s best seller. Now why there’s a big plate of crispy pata on the table is beyond me.
One also cannot fail to miss Yakimix’s desserts – cakes of all flavours and mini-pastries, a good way to end the battle of flavours that rage in your mouth and tummy after eating so much.
Finally, there’s the grilled food. Yakimix offers a wide array of raw pork, chicken, beef, and seafood to choose from. Some of them are marinated, while others came with their own sauce. All the customer has to do is pop your seafood or meat of choice into your plate, throw them into your griddle, and dig in. Repeat until pan is non-greased,Then ask for oil and repeat the process all over again.

MC pigged out on the tempura and raw shrimp, which he threw into the griddle to cook with gusto, while I attacked the salmon steak and belly (“salmon is luv, salmon is luv”) and the various meat dishes. There were a lot of grilled fish and fried rice to go after too, and various sushi and soup to follow them up with. We were determined to try out everything Yakimix has to offer heavy eating foodies like us. 
Despite being seasoned eaters who devour mountains like molehills, we ended up overwhelmed by all the meat and other stuff we had. There was so much shrimp and tempura (not enough for MC alone) and grilled meat to deal with, and the fried rice was really heavy. Partly at fault was the tendency to drink a lot of lemonade. The attempt to sample everything went on with hilarious results.
Eventually, MC barely had room for dessert, and I was too stuffed to even move around. We were at least careful not to leave as much left-overs as we could, but to put it bluntly, we’ve eaten more than we expected we could…
In the end, the buffet at Yakimix was a really big challenge for us. There were indeed so much to choose from, all delicious and filling to the extent of making one turn into a glutton or have one’s intestines give up and burst, whichever comes first. Who could blame us? Everything tasted and smelled good.
Still, eating at Yakimix was a good experience. We have no regrets ending bloated there; if there is, it would be the failure to control our urges to take it slow and really savor everything properly . So much for trying to watch what we eat. I on the other hand, am determined to go back there someday and conquer Yakimix’s throng of dishes. Until the next food trip, it would be L-carnitine and lots of work-outs for me and MC. Of course, it would be a while until the opportunity for another food raid came.