TOP 10 INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANTS IN METRO MANILA
MANILA, JULY 19, 2008 (STAR) By Scott & Therese Garceau -BEST FILIPINO: With its retro-modern décor (aged photos of the resto’s inspiration, Larry J. Cruz’s mother), you know you’re in for home-cooked Filipino goodness at Fely J’s Kitchen. At Fely J, the maternal counterpart to Kapampangan restaurant Abe in Serendra, what may surprise you is how sophisticated those tastes are. Freshness and appealing presentation are what make dishes like Fely J’s Temple Crab and fresh lumpiang ubod real treats. There’s also a pan-Asian thread to the menu — dishes like Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai shrimps with pomelo — but the real flavors are all Pinoy: the sinigang is fresh and vibrantly flavored, the way it should be; the sizzling sisig looks as luscious as it tastes, and there are regional specialties like Camaru Mekeni from Pampanga — that’s roasted mole crickets to you, Anthony Bourdain. If the No Reservations chef ever travels to the Philippines, Fely J’s should be his first stop.
Fely J’s Kitchen is on the 2nd level of Greenbelt 5, Legaspi St., Legaspi Village, Makati City, 728-8878 or 728-8858.
Also check out: Felix in Greenbelt 5, serving Pinoy Asian bistro creations by esteemed chef Florabel Co; Sentro in Greenbelt 3 for their catfish, sinigang corned beef, garlic-fried galunggong and coffee pie; Mangan and Ebun in major malls like Robinsons, SM and Glorietta for yummy yet affordable Pinoy food; and Gerry’s Grill for bar-type chow that tastes great with a cold San Mig: don’t miss the tuna panga, soups and grilled items.
Thanks to the lingering Spanish influence here, there’s still plenty of Spanish restos that offer the best of food, period. Imported ingredients usually make the biggest difference. The all-time classic remains Casa Armas. It specializes in paella, naturally, and the paella negro is a wonder, as are the suckling pig and the Iberian chicken, which must be ordered a day in advance: the delicious glazed lechon flavor and layers of roasted garlic, herbs mixed with succulent, juicy chicken makes it worth the dial.
Casa Armas has seven branches including Malate, Manila (tel. 523-0189), Greenbelt 3, Jupiter St., Makati, Paseo Center, Tomas Morato, The Podium and TriNoma Mall.
Others worth checking out are Alba Restaurante Español, which brings a traditional approach to their branches in Bel-Air Makati (tel. 896-6950), Tomas Morato, Quezon City (925-1912) and Westgate Center, Alabang (771-2178); La Tienda (Bel-Air, Makati, 890-4123), known for its romantic ambience and great food; Cirkulo (Pasay Road, 810-2763) with its bewildering array of tapas, though it’s more of a bar; and recent fave Terry Selection Deli, owned by Juan Carlos de Terry and located in The Podium, Ortigas Center (636-351), with signature dishes like shrimp risotto marinated in Cognac and the Chorizo Piggyback. Also drop by Dulcinea for their churros con chocolate — a classic merienda treat loved by Filipinos and Spanish alike.
Let’s be honest: there’s very little authentic “American cuisine” because America is a melting pot of tastes and cultures. But nothing beats a good hamburger. I’ve sampled delicious, overgrown burgers here, but the best to my taste is the fare at Burgoo. Everything’s big — portions you’ll be savoring for a few extra meals, at least — but it’s surprisingly hard to get a delicious patty of ground beef just right, and Burgoo manages it. The Grilled Chicken American and buffalo wings are standouts, and the fries, onion rings and milkshakes are a delicious treat as well.
Burgoo branches are at Gateway Mall, Greenhills Promenade, Tomas Morato, Robinsons Galleria, Power Plant and SM Mall of Asia.
For other great burgers, go to Chili’s (an American franchise, locations in Greenhills and Greenbelt 2, Makati), try out the exotic Wagyu Burger at Malcolm’s Place, Makati, and savor the reliably wonderful Americaine at Café Breton (SM Mall of Asia, Greenbelt 4, The Podium).
Asia has arguably the best cuisines in the world, and one restaurant excels at most of them (the Southeast Asian ones, anyway). Banana Leaf dishes out greatest hits from Malaysia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam with flair and the stamp of authenticity only chefs native to the region can give. If you doubt, just peer through the kitchen window at the Malaysian and Indian cooks tossing roti canai like pizza. At Banana Leaf, the recommended mode of eating is pan-Asian, letting your taste buds travel like a parachute journalist. Sample Singapore in the mussels or clams stir-fried in chili sauce. Visit India through tilapia fish drizzled with Assam sambal. Taste a bit of China in that comfort-food classic, Hainanese chicken rice. Banana Leaf deflates the myth that Filipinos don’t like spicy food. And the atmosphere is strictly casual, communal and laid-back — eating from a banana leaf (with your hands, preferably) tends to reinforce a relaxed vibe.
Banana Leaf is on the 2nd level of The Podium, Ortigas Center, tel. 687-6808 and 687-6818, with four other branches in Greenbelt 3, Makati; Power Plant Mall in Rockwell, Makati; The Block in SM North Edsa; and Robinsons Place Manila.
For Thai food fit for royalty at decidedly non-royal prices (P200 to P470 for family-style dishes), head to Thai at Silk at Serendra. At Silk, if it’s not authentic, chef-owner Cecille Ysmael won’t serve it. The proof is in the phad Thai — Ysmael flies to Bangkok almost every month to restock ingredients and train with her private teacher, Tim, a former cook for the Thai royal family. Consequently, you’ll find Thai Embassy officials here dining on fine cuisine like Salad Poo Nim (soft-shell crab in a Thai lime sauce), Vietnamese whitefish steamed with lemongrass and ginger, and Mieng Kham, an amazing appetizer of palm sugar, ginger and grated coconut wrapped in betel leaves that, in its dense, exotic flavors, is like a trip to Thailand in itself. “The spicier it is, the better it tastes,” said Ysmael with obvious relish as we gorged on new dishes like Thai shrimp cakes, eggplant salad with minced pork and beef Penang curry.
Thai at Silk is located at Unit 1C12, G/F Serendra Piazza, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, 856-0386 to 87, and 0917-822-9818.
Also check out: People’s Palace in Greenbelt 3, which puts a hip, modern spin on traditional Thai specialties, and Benjarong at Dusit Thani hotel, which also offers authentic royal cuisine in elegant, more formal surroundings.
With over a dozen Indian-related eateries in Metro Manila, the difference often comes down to exotic ambience. But for family sitdowns, Kashmir is a familiar taste favorite, offering delicious spreads of curry lamb, gohst vindaloo, dinghra matter and other curry dishes. Try the excellent samosas, chicken curry and refreshing lassi drink, plus awesome buttered naan bread.
Kashmir is located at 816 Pasay Rd., Makati, Tel. 844-4924.
Other Indian faves are Prince of Jaipur at The Fort (tel. 884-1692 to 94) and new contender New Bombay Canteen (Dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati, 819-2892).
There are dozens of passable Italian restaurants in Metro Manila, and a few really good ones. I’ve always been happy with the consistency of Cantinetta Italian Cafe & Vinoteca (at least the Pasong Tamo branch). A wide range of antipasti and secondi dishes includes seafood, chicken, lamb and veal. The pizzas are thin-crusted and heaped with cheese — especially the quattro formaggio. Mushroom dishes are particularly good, like the soup and porcini ravioli. There’s an adjacent wine bar, so it’s easy to find a good Italian wine to pair with your meal. And the meal ends on a blissful note with the homemade gelato.
Cantinetta is located at Karrivin Plaza A, 2316 Pasong Tamo ext., tel. 892-9873/892-9873; and Rockwell Center, Makati, tel. 403-0145.
Also check out: Caffé Caruso (Nicanor Garcia St., Bel-Air Village, tel. 895-2451) for its terrific pizza and pasta. High-end foodies also swear by Paparazzi (inside Edsa Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong, tel. 633-8888) and L’Opera Ristorante Italiano (Anson Arcade, Paseo de Roxas, tel. 844-3283/887-5158).
For classic French cuisine, the new player in town is Aubergine Restaurant and Patisserie. It boasts a show kitchen, a great wine bar and excellent pastry, of course. But you’ll come back for classic favorites like seared duck foie gras, Russian Osetra caviar, or to try surprising items like the duck consommé (served with a foie gras ravioli at center) or Chilean sea bass on pumpkin Mousseline. Pricey, but worth the experience.
Aubergine is located at 32nd and 5th Bldg., Fort Bonifacio. Tel. 856-9888.
Other options for French classic cuisine include hotel eateries such as Prince Albert Rotisserie (Hotel Inter-Continental, 815-9711 loc. 571) or Red (Makati Shangri-La Hotel, 840-0884), or Billy King’s old staple, Le Soufflé, at The Fort (887-5108 to 09), Rockwell (890-6543) and Citibank Tower, Makati (750-5810). Despite its Pinoy-sounding name, Lolo Dad’s Cafe on Quirino Ave., cor. Leon Guinto St. Malate, serves up classic French cuisine ”with gusto” like panfried duck liver, roast rack of lamb, steamed seabass, duck confit and double espresso soup.
Food-loving Japan-ophiles dream of eating the catch of the day at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market in Tokyo, Japan. You can get that dream experience without ever leaving Philippine shores at Tsukiji restaurant in Makati, which actually imports produce from its namesake three times a week and flies it in chilled to maintain the utmost freshness. Foodies, return to Tsukiji time and again for their delicious crab salad and hamachi, buttery-soft slices of yellowtail fish. Meat lovers can worship at the altar of Wagyu beef — Tsukiji is the only restaurant that serves Omi Wagyu, the singular beef served by the Japanese imperial household, according to general manager J. Gamboa. Though Gamboa is an accomplished chef in his own right, Tsukiji boasts its own Japanese chef, ensuring authentic, exquisite, and yes, pricey-though-worth-every-peso food that is a favorite among Japanese nationals and loyal Pinoys alike.
Tsukiji is located at the Milky Way Bldg., 900 Pasay Rd., Makati City, 843-4285, 812-2913.
Also check out: Sugi at Greenbelt 2 and Greenhills, a bastion of Japanese cuisine thanks to its genuine flavors, consistent quality and accessible prices (try the Japanese pizza, chicken wings and cold soba). Another institution is good old reliable Kimpura in Greenhills for its gindara, tempura and Angus rib-eye teppanyaki. A new contender is Kikufuji along Pasong Tamo beside Makati Cinema Square — fresh seafood (like huge, grilled tuna heads) at reasonable prices keeps crowds coming back for more.
For the best Chinese meal you’ll ever have, do as the Chinese do and order off the menu at Gloria Maris Greenhills. As humongous as Hong Kong’s jumbo restaurants and just as efficient, the families that crowd Gloria Maris (especially on weekends) testify to the excellence of the food. Our in-the-know Chinese connection recommends the fried pigeon, cha misua, shrimp and scallop in taro basket, fish in hotpot with lechon kawali and beancurd skin, and mini T-bone in black pepper sauce. If you still have room, the unanimous favorite dessert is taho, a light end to the meal that comes in a family-sized bucket. Intending to treat us to an unforgettable laureate, our friend ordered precisely this menu for us one night, and we can say that — in the Philippines, at any rate — it was the best Chinese meal we’ve ever had.
Gloria Maris is on Club Filipino Avenue, Greenhills Shopping Complex, San Juan, 722-5508 to 10, 721-3504 and 722-5760.
Also check out: Makati Shangri-La’s Shang Palace, Edsa Shangri-La’s Summer Palace, Mandarin Oriental Manila’s Tin Hau, and Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila’s Li Li — these five-star hotels offer similarly five-star Chinese dining experiences. Best Chinese restos on a budget, according to STAR food expert Claude Tayag, are LaiLai Palace on Ongpin St. and Ang Tunay na Beef on Sabino Padilla St. (formerly Gandara St.) in Chinatown.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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