At Large

Food tripping

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You always know you’re entering a P.F. Chang’s when you pass between two “terra cotta” horses flanking the door. Modeled on the handsome steeds found in the famous imperial tomb complex of China, the horses accompanied thousands of stone warriors and other members of the Emperor’s entourage that were found buried alongside the ruler’s remains.

More such replicas of the buried warriors can be found in strategic corners of the latest P.F. Chang’s in Bonifacio Global City, the second outlet after the first local restaurant in Alabang Town Center. On the walls, replicas of ancient Chinese murals, another trademark of the P.F. Chang’s global network, brighten the dark wood interiors. Despite these classic touches, however, P.F. Chang’s exudes a very contemporary vibe, attracting a younger, more sophisticated market seeking a middle ground between low-end greasy spoons and upmarket palaces of Chinese cuisine.

Indeed, the owners describe their food as “modern Asian-inspired cuisine.” “Asian-inspired,” take note, since the offerings don’t ape the staples of what has come to be known as “Chinese food” in these parts (sweet and sour pork,  lumpia  Shanghai,  pancit  Canton and shark’s fin soup, to cite a typical “comida  China”) but rather have been tweaked to combine other types of cooking as well as other ingredients to appeal to younger palates.

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Older patrons may miss the rich, oily and salty characteristics of Cantonese cooking, which is the most popular school of Chinese cuisine here. On my first try, I found the food at P.F. Chang’s rather bland and lacking in “bite.”

This may be due, as publicist Jingjing Romero suggests, to the “no MSG” mantra that rules every P.F. Chang’s kitchen. Or it could simply be because we ordered the “wrong” items, as Jingjing helpfully adds.

At the media lunch to mark the opening of the BGC outlet, however, we had a go at what presumably were the tastiest items on the menu. And I must admit I have modified my verdict. The dishes we had were flavorful and had interesting textures. My favorite was their version of the popular “hot prawn salad,” with the cool balls of honeydew contrasting pleasantly with the fried shrimp balls bathed in a mayo sauce.

Younger diners may also want to try their signature cocktail mixes, their extensive menu of beers from all over the world, and the dessert lineup. We tried two such desserts when we were there: fried bananas in rice wrappers paired with cream sauce and served a la mode, and a multitiered chocolate cake aptly called the “Great Wall.” Scrumptious!

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To celebrate a birthday in the family, my son and his wife brought us to Marikina where, down a side street off the town center across the church, we were transported to a quiet, almost provincial locale.

It’s called “Isabelo’s Kitchen” and is part of the rising trend of family homes transformed into public restaurants, combining the comforts and familiarity of home with the adventure of dining out. Isabelo’s Kitchen hosts “Rustic Mornings,” featuring a brunch-to-lunch menu that covers such staples as cereals, pancakes, waffles and “Filipino breakfasts,” to offerings like sandwiches, pasta, entrees and even desserts.

Because our hosts had highly recommended them, most of us chose the waffles which come with a wide variety of toppings and sides, whipped cream and butter. We preceded the waffles (which took some time to come) with a basket of breads (all excellent) that came with sweet and herbed butters. Also highly recommended are fruit juices, slushies and fruit-flavored iced tea, plus very good coffee.

But more than the food, I enjoyed the ambience. Isabelo’s Kitchen is found in a large-ish cottage-type home amid a gracious garden. Homey touches like broken-tile-and-mirror mosaics, Moroccan-inspired lamps, shabby-chic furniture, and painted bird cages add to the overall charm.

Indeed, the Sunday morning we visited, we found many other groups of diners early in the day, with a large family party unwinding inside. As noon approached, many other groups came streaming in, probably coming straight from Sunday Mass.

We could all have been part of a large clan gathering, comfortable in each other’s presence, if only we were related to one another.

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Another weekend, before we went down to Manila from Tagaytay, the hubby and I decided to try out the newly reopened “Breakfast at Antonio’s” in the same white wooden house by the ridge.

The interiors seemed roomier than we last remembered, but maybe the impression was created by the use of long trestle tables in the main dining area, with smaller round tables on the covered porch. Despite the fact that the place had opened to the public just a few days before, Antonio’s was fairly full that late Sunday morning, with several long tables occupied by multigenerational family groups.

Maybe it was just opening (or just-opened) blues, but we were disappointed by the food, to put it gently. I had ordered a rosti (Swiss pancake made from fried potatoes) with bacon, but when it came to the table, I got  chorizo  instead. I was waiting for the distinctive bacon smokiness and saltiness to manifest itself, but it was all chorizo, which was not bad, but not what I ordered.

Hubby ordered “tapsilog” but when he bit into the beef slices, he found them so salty his face crunched up into a mass of wrinkles. Halfway through my “rosti,” I complained about the mix-up, and to the server’s credit she offered to replace it. Though still disappointed, I declined the offer.

The hubby, though, set aside a sizeable portion of the tapa and asked the server to give it to the chef so he (or she) could (hopefully) adjust the taste. For the price, not quite an enjoyable experience.

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