Somehow, as a food writer, I hardly experience restaurants and discoveries when off the job. I often find new eats by way of PR releases and Instagram tips, but always end up eating at home or visiting new haunts.
I sometimes need to quiet down my palate and dine relatively simply. This week, however, was a strange exception — I found myself dining out almost every day, finding little gems along the way that were both old and new.
Here are several dishes that I particularly loved, from giant xiao long bao perfect for a dimsum lunch, to a late night cheese pastry perfect for a night out.
‘Sliced Braised Pata’ and ‘Giant Xiao Long Bao’ at Bai Nian Tang Bao
Giant xiao long bao has always seemed a little kitschy to me; that it was part of the realm of food made only for photos. It looked like it defeated the purpose of the dumpling, making it so difficult to eat.
I’m incredibly delighted to admit that I am wrong and that the cliché, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” rings true in this case.
Bai Nian Tang Bao, a relatively new Shanghai import located in Bonifacio Global City’s Uptown Parade, is home to the beautiful version that has made me bite my tongue. Their crab roe version is so hefty — it fits snugly into an entire dimsum basket and comes with a straw that makes sipping the broth much easier.
It also has tons of filling — they don’t skimp on the roe, so a little spoonful reveals so much of the orange fat. Miraculously, the skin isn’t made thinner to support the dumpling’s weight; it is still silky and chewy. It can get a little messy, but isn’t all good food supposed to be?
While the restaurant is known for its dumplings, its sliced braised pata is also wonderful, jellied to perfection so that the ratio of cartilage to meat is ideal. The slices are thin and pliant, and taste of Chinese spice. A little dip in some black vinegar enhances the flavor of the cold cut even more. I could order just this starter and some rice and be more than happy.
Bai Nian Tang Bao
Ground Floor, Uptown Parade, 9th Avenue Corner 38th Street, Bonifacio Global City
‘Bonito Tsukemen’ and ‘Almond Figue Soda’ at The Grid Market
Charles Paw has quickly become one of the city’s most enterprising restaurateurs, thanks to his collaborations with some of the Philippines’ best chefs.
The Grid Market in Power Plant Mall is his most ambitious project to date, and is truly about collaboration. Each stall is operated by the people behind establishments such as Las Flores, Bad Bird, La Chinesca and The Curator, so that the place offers a wide variety of cuisines and flavors, from Japanese ramen, to lobster rolls, to Thai pork chops.
The Grid is incredibly far from the food parks around Manila that are the norm (which, funnily enough, Paw and his partners at Hole in the Wall popularized) and instead recalls food markets in Madrid and London. Everything is cohesive in design and highlights the dishes within it instead. It opens tomorrow with five concepts but will be fully operational in August.
On a dry run, I had bonito tsukemen from one of Paw’s homegrown stalls, which also offers gyoza and ramen. While it lacked a little pork, the broth was thick and rich, and chock full of the particular fishiness that bonito imparts. The noodles were sturdy and with the perfect gumminess you’d expect from a good dipping noodle. I also had a craft soda from the folks behind EDSA BDG and The Curator, and almond figue that was surprising and refreshing.
Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Drive, Makati City
‘Cheese Boat’ at Crosta Pizzeria
Crosta Pizzeria is my favorite pizza joint in the whole of Manila, and I will truly stand by my word.
It is because the couple behind it created a crust that combines all the best aspects of stellar doughs everywhere: A perfectly-risen sourdough, with both bite and chewiness that becomes bronzed and crispy when the flame gets close to it.
Their toppings are also often homeruns, like confit garlic, or homemade sausage, or salty anchovies. Their newest concoction is brilliant and probably the first of its kind here. Their cheese boat is basically Georgian khachapuri, an oblong-shaped dough with a well in the middle where an abundance of cheese sits. A golden yolk and a stick of butter also find themselves in this hole and the heat melts everything together. It is glorious, fatty and a stroke of genius. I will be eating this for months to come.
The Social On Ebro, 5770 Ebro Street, Poblacion, Makati City