Pino’s 4th, My 1st

It was my first time to attend a quiz night last Wednesday at Pino Bar & Restaurant. It was also my first time at this famous Pinoy Fusion place in Jupiter St., Makati which had a vegan concept called Pipino.

As such, I was excited to try their food and to participate in their 4th Quiz Night.

The place was well lighted, had high ceilings and comfortable seating. It reminded me of resto bars I see in American movies set in New York. Most of the patrons were also corporate Makati and so it has a vibe of a professional, upscale resto bar.

The menu is extensive! There’s just so many items listed that it’s hard to choose. Pipino’s menu is already incorporated to Pino’s. They just give a distinction that the dish is Pipino’s. Pipino is the vegan counterpart of Pino. If Pino serves a Pinoy Fusion food such as Chicken Inasal Caesar Salad, Longganisa Topped Nachos, and Red Wine Adobong Tadyang; Pipino serves fusion vegan dishes such as Watermelon Steak, Tofu Lemongrass Skewers and Wicked Walnut.

Both concept share one resto space but between them – their dishes are just too numerous to be able to choose which is the perfect one suited for my taste.  And since the prices are not that cheap, I opted to do my due diligence and check out what other foodies are saying about their menu.

Yet, I ordered and sampled items far from what they all reviewed. And here’s my verdict:

 

 

 

The Mini Sisig Tacos was weird for me. Normally, you expect to taste beef with tacos so tasting pork – with distinctively pork taste – with your taco shells was not something my palate liked. I am not a big fan of pork but there are times when pork would taste good. This time, sadly, the pork tasted off. To me, it was a miss.

My order – the Tuna Shiitake Pasta (P215) was a hit! The pasta was al dente and the combination of the ingredients created a sumptuous dish. The blend of tuna flakes, shiitake mushrooms, and tomatoes was perfect! Sadly, the serving portions was too little. It’s good for just 1 person on a diet. Seriously! It’s half the serving of most pasta places who also serve great pasta. For the great taste of this food, I could have easily consumed two servings! Don’t expect much of the garlic bread side though.

The Tofu Lemongrass Skewer was one of the more popular item in the Pipino menu. However, to me the taste wasn’t right. It was too bland and stuffy and I can’t quite figure out what it should taste really. It was a miss for me. I’ve been trying vegan food and I have yet to find a vegan joint who’ll serve a vegan dish I’d like.

For dessert we tried the Tablea Cheesecake. It was salty and sour as can be expected from a cheesecake. I didn’t really like it. Another miss.

I didn’t get to taste the Bacon & Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast which my companions ordered. So I can’t give a verdict for it.

Good thing the Quiz Night was entertaining enough. I had a good time learning about random facts such as Nicki Minaj’s first name being Onika. Most of the questions were really random stuff i.e. What is the first property in Monopoly? and though I got most of the items which I do know, I’m afraid I missed out on a lot. Good thing my team mates were veterans in this kind of thing. What the Quiz Night taught me is – you can never be too smart on your own.

Pino vowed to make the Quiz Night a monthly thing so next month there’s another one to look forward to.

For more details on Pino’s Quiz Night and other events, you can visit their Facebook Page.

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Manang’s Chicken: Way Better than BonChon

Chicken places abound in Manila. Some are hits but for me, many are misses. So when a friend told me that the son of so-and-so owned this place, I was skeptical. It’s a chicken place – what else is new?

But like my recent discover and love for Chef Lau’s Pugon Roasters, this place – Manang’s Chicken – would be something I’d be coming back time and again simply because I can’t get enough of how the chicken tasted.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tasted far better chicken and Bigg’s Crispy Fried Chicken still reigns supreme on my list. However, devoid of Bigg’s in Manila, I opted for alternatives.

Manang’s Chicken, every time I bring someone here, is likened to Bon Chon. But unlike the latter, which I hate for the lack of value (too expensive for so little), I liked the taste of Manang’s better.

For the price of P99 (1 pc chicken with rice and chips), the chicken is good namely for the sauce. There’s something unique with how they blended soy sauce to be sweet and how they added sesame seed (possibly sesame oil) to add that unique flavor. It’s kind of addicting really to think they have original, mild spicy and spicy versions. The chicken itself is sometimes a hit and miss – one point it will be juicy and at times it won’t. But the sauce is what I keep coming back for.

Admittedly there are many other items in the menu but I haven’t tried them. Manang’s is the kind of place wherein when I need a budget meal – and Jollibee, McDo, KFC or any other fast food joint is a no-no, then it’s a pretty fair alternative.

I just hope they have a branch near my office so I can eat for lunch every item in the menu.

 

For more info on Manang’s Chicken, check out their Facebook Page.

 

PS – The marketer in me simply loves their marketing strategies. I guess knowing the owner (though just an acquaintance), I feel a kinship with the brand.

Pugon Roasters: An Inexpensive Celebrity-Chef-Owned Resto

When I first discovered Pugon Roasters, it was love at first bite. First, I was amazed that the famous celebrity chef – Chef Lau owned it and that the dishes were surprisingly affordable – even outright dirt cheap! Second, I was amazed at the food choices and more so at the succulent tastes of each. And lastly, it was located in my favorite park in the city.

And so it came as no surprise that every chance I got, I would invite friends to meet at Pugon. I loved bringing them there and suggesting my favorite dishes. But lo and behold not all of them loved Pugon as my as I did. And when I probed deeper, it was because their taste buds cannot appreciate the intricate flavors Chef Lau mixed into his creations.

The flagship product is, of course, none other than Pugon Roast Chicken (P99 with rice). It is actually served with artistic flair as would befit any chef. Their chicken is best paired with the vinegar that comes with it. It actually taste was better than Mang Inasal or any other common chicken place but my friends simply didn’t have the taste buds to appreciate the Indian-inspired cuisine. Their claim is that the chicken is roasted in a pugon and as we know anything cooked in an actual pugon is well-worth the taste (think Pugon Pandesal).

But what I love about them is their version of chicken liver and isaw. The Chicken Liver Surprise (P75 with rice) has this distinctive spice taste reminiscent of Indian cuisine. The liver is so soft you can just bite and swallow. But of course who would do that? Best chew the food slowly first and savor its rich taste. Another rather unique dish is Chikenini (P65 with rice). It’s chicken intestines (isaw) fried then cooked in adobo sauce. There are times when it would be so salty but most of the times the taste is just enough. It’s pretty strong taste but to me it’s what keeps me coming back because I find it ingenuous that there is another way of cooking “isaw” (in fact, I should just refer to it as intestines because it is not really “inisaw” (grilled)).

They have other good menu items like the Chicken Croquetas (P85 with rice) which I recommend you share with a group as one order has 5 big pieces and eating all of them can get “nakakaumay”. The barbeque sauce that comes with it though is divine.

The place also serves alcohol such as beer served really cold and hence dubbed beer zero because it is cooled to almost 0 degrees. Of course the have pulutan like Chicken Sisig. They also carry desserts such as cheesecakes, halo-halo and carabao soft ice cream. If you like dark chocolate, I recommend their dark chocolate cheesecake (P130). I’m sure you’ll love it!.

There are other menu items such as a baked bangus and angus beef. I didn’t really try them hence I can’t give a verdict. I merely go back for the chicken liver and chikenini most of the time but I must make a mental note to go back more often and try the other dishes.

Final note: Pugon is a fantastic resto. Their claim of #FastGood is true. Food is served fast and it tastes – and look – good. I love the food and I love their service. But I know the taste is not for everyone so if you are not that adventurous with your taste buds, or you do not prefer Middle Eastern tastes, then proceed with caution. Yet, as they say, YOLO – you only live once – so why not try the sumptuous meals at Pugon Roasters. (Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored review though it might sound like one because I just so love the place!)

 

Pugon Roasters by Chef Lau is located at Ayala Triangle, Makati and McKinley Hill, Taguig. Visit their Facebook Page at Chef Lau’s Pugon Roasters.

 

 

Wabi-Sabi: Beyond My Imagination

Lately I’ve been feeling more adventurous and more exploratory. Blame it on my new found freedom but I really wanted to try as many things as I can now that I have time in my hands. And so, top of my list is to collate as many unique epicurean experiences as possible. I cannot claim to be a food blogger – maybe not yet – but I can most certainly review food and definitely be on a hunt for the most unique experience I can possibly dream of.

Being adventurous, I decided to try out Wabi Sabi after reading about it from two food guides. I searched the net further to find out what it’s about and came across famous bloggers who attested to its taste. And so together with friends, I decided to investigate.

The evening we were about to try out Wabi Sabi proved to be a dreary rainy one. We were close to backing out but I persisted for the sake of trying out something new.

Wabi Sabi is located in The Collective along Maluggay Street in Makati. At first, I thought The Collective was your usual, typical mall. I was badly mistaken. Coming from Buendia cor. Osmena Hwy, I walked to Maluggay and was glad that I easily found The Collective. Upon reaching the building, I harbored second thoughts. I was the first of our party to arrive and I didn’t know if I was in the right place. It looked like an abandoned warehouse from the front. There were several food joints in front but none of them was Wabi Sabi.

I dared ventured in. Inside were walls covered with graffiti – artistic graffiti that is but to my world, it was scary graffiti. Obviously, it was a hipster – artist place and there was even a newly opened gallery. I wasn’t entirely sure if I’ve come to the right place so I asked someone if they knew where Wabi Sabi is. I asked one of the ladies who appeared to work in one of the food joints and she was quite unsure what I was asking. She merely pointed out that I could try exploring deeper into the building for there are other food joints inside.

I took her advice albeit cautiously and all along, as I explored the narrow corridors whose walls all contained graffiti, I felt like anytime soon I will be stabbed or mugged. It was how I would picture out the Bronx in New York.

Thankfully enough that building wasn’t really that big (or deep) and upon two turns I saw Wabi Sabi. I felt relieved. It was just like Anton Diaz’s (of Our Awesome Planet) description – the place looked like a Kung Fu Noodle House. The place is really small and when I arrived there were two big groups occupying almost the entire restaurant. So, having gained a new found bravado, I ventured to explore the building deeper, only to find out it was actually small, and resolved to wait for my companions in the main hallway.

Surprising, all of us were scared and a bit skeptical when we entered into the building. I had a good laugh looking at their faces when they entered the building only to see hipsters, artists and graffiti – being scientists – we knew we were not in our turf.

So on to Wabi Sabi.

Sadly, the joint did not live up to my expectations. I expected a lot given that they have this concept of Ramen Padilla vs Fernando Pho Jr. Their specialty is noodles and they serve it two ways – Japanese ramen (choice of shoyu (P120) or miso (P130)) and Vietnamese pho (P105). We also tried to order their appetizers yet most that were written on the blackboard menu were no longer available. Most disappointing was that their specialty sample dish which allows you to go back for seconds was also not available. Apparently, it was just a promo 3 years ago and they just didn’t erase it from the menu blackboard.

So we basically ordered what was available. The gyoza (P55, 3pcs) which tasted like crab meat was pretty good. So was their Harumaki (P65, 4pcs) which had a seaweed taste probably due to the prominence of the dried seaweed. What we all love was the Bahn Mi (P150, 12”) which was a sub sandwich filled with pulled vegan pork, cucumber, carrots and some other veggies I can’t identify. It really tasted great and you wouldn’t realize you’re eating vegan meat!

For drinks we had two choices – a refreshing Lemongrass Iced Tea (P50) and the usual Thai Milk Tea (P60). For me the Lemongrass was better even if the lemongrass taste was too strong. It was not at all sweet also.

The main dish – the two noodle soup. I got to try the Shoyu Ramen and the Pho. The Shoyu Ramen to my taste was a bit bland. In fact we all agreed it was bland and we had to add some chili powder to heighten the taste. The meat – which was gluten of course – was average. I did not enjoy it actually so I switched with my sister who ordered Pho. The pho tasted strongly of cilantro and all the while I can imagine I was eating leaves. But I preferred it to the ramen because at least it had a strong taste to it. I also found it more filling.

So my verdict for the soup war – I go with Fernando Pho Jr.!

As for the entire place, it failed my expectations and my friends were generally not impressed. There were products we enjoyed but it won’t be enough for us to come back and relive the experience. We also surmised that since we were not vegetarians, we found the soups bland.

And so, in my quest to find out if I would ever be vegan – I’m sad to say my first attempt at vegan dining out in Makati was a flop.

The positive side to all this though was I got to try a new place and gain a completely different experience. Will I be back? In Wabi Sabi, perhaps but just to eat the B-my or the gyoza. In The Collective, perhaps to try Ritual, an organic store which sells vegan ice cream (P110 per scoop).

Will I continue exploring vegan places? Definitely! And not just vegan places but every hole-in-wall resto in Makati.