Monday, June 28, 2010

On the Agenda: Shinjuku

My favorite cuisine is Japanese and it's no secret that Pasong Tamo Avenue in Makati is a haven for authentic Japanese restaurants. I've done a little research and this place seems promising, therefore, I'll add it to my list.

Discalimer: FAVS Scorecard

DISCLAIMER: It is a coincidence that the factors used to conduct my reviews may become similar to other websites who have the same purpose. However, I clarify that it is in good faith that the factors chosen are based on my sole personal preference and shouldn't be considered any other way. These factors have been chosen by me independently without the intention of copying the style of any other individual or organization.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ristra's Mexican Food, San Juan

Name: Ristra's Mexican Cantina
Location: San Juan
Google Maps: Ristas
Must Know: Small place, indoor and alfresco, Pay-as-you-order, Dishes good for sharing
Date: June 26, 2010, Dinner Time

This was strongly recommended by my sister, Kathleen, who drops by the place once in a while with her college friends. It was also recommended by some friends and also backed-up by a few word-of-mouth recommendations from other people. After putting this off for some time, I finally found the perfect timing to visit this place - which is by no means near my place.

Ordered from the menu:
Margarita Shake PHP 125.00
Sugar Cane Shake PHP 125.00
Barbacoa Burrito PHP 340.00
Baja Fish Tacos PHP 320.00

It was dinner time although we weren't really that hungry because we had a very late lunch earlier that day so we decided to make our way to Wilson Street to kill some time until our appetite kicked-in. Actually, I knew the approximate location of Ristra's but wasn't certain of the exact location so we did a little searching for this place - although in the end it wasn't really hard to find. Take note, this place isn't yet searchable in Google Maps.

The location is small but sufficient to probably fit 20-25 people inside, plus they have a few tables outside although I wouldn't really recommend staying out as the place is by a busy road and you wouldn't want to dine in a somewhat pollution-prone area. Unfortunately, we didn't have a choice because the place was packed so we found a table for two (2) outside right in front of their air cooler.

We first ordered our drinks which were Sugar Cane (PHP 125.00) and Margarita Shakes (PHP 125.00). The sodas and iced teas seems too 'ordinary' nowadays so we opted to try their signature drinks. I don't really drink margaritas so I wouldn't know if it's supposed to taste really sour. It wasn't bad, although it also didn't do much to quench my thirst or refresh me. I really didn't like it. Moving on, I took a sip of the sugar cane shake and it tasted like a fermented drink - which I didn't really like. It may seem refreshing, but I can't be a fair judge on that seeing as I couldn't manage to make myself drink more than the sip that I took. Putting the drinks aside, I thought it was somewhat disappointing. I should've opted to stick with the ordinary sodas or iced teas.

We were in a Mexican cantina so we just had to order burritos so our pick was the huge Barbacoa Burrito (PHP 340.00) which is described in the menu as having meat which was marinated for hours - it looks promising as I was looking for something really tasty. This is also good for sharing so we took the liberty of ordering another dish which ended up being the Baja Fish Tacos (PHP 320.00) to balance the meat with a seafood dish.

They prepare the burrito right in front of you, while ordering in front of the counter. It took roughly 2-3 minutes to prepare the entire thing, excluding the time it took to slightly cook the pita or burrito wrap. You get to choose your ingredients but since this was our first time, we just said "everything on it". The Baja fish tacos was still being prepared so we were given a number and started walking back to our table with our burrito and drinks.

Barbacoa Burrito (PHP 340.00)

Bon apetit! So we first started with the Barbacoa Burrito which was huge. It is served plain and simple, wrapped in foil and a small bowl of tomato with hot sauce. It looked stuffy so I was really hoping to savor that marinated beef to stand out above all the other ingredients. The burrito is probably about 3-4 inches in diameter so the first bite I took didn't really give any of the rich flavor which I was expecting, I was hoping to get there after a few bites as I made my way to the beef. However, almost halfway through my burrito and I was still playing the waiting game. Note that the burrito didn't taste anything special and I was still waiting to taste the marinated beef. Sadly, I was almost done and never really got to taste what the burrito was made for. Okay, so I got one half of the burrito - so I asked my girlfriend if she got to taste the beef that was putting all the hype on this dish. Sadly, she didn't taste it also. We ended up finishing the burrito, not enjoying it, and just feeling stuffed with no satisfaction of tasting anything special. I don't wish to be harsh to Ristra's but I was sorely disappointed.

After about 5-8 minutes from the time was started taking on the burritos came the Baja Fish Tacos. This one looked different from the burrito so I was a bit more optimistic and hoped I was just unlucky with the first dish. The dish looked really plain although it was served with brown rice and brown beans so this one offered more options on how you'd want it to taste.

Baja Fish Tacos (PHP 320.00)

So I first tried eating the tacos plain - big mistake as it tasted as it looked, very plain and very dry. The fish is fresh but it just lacked any kick in flavor - so I started to reach for the beans and a dash or brown rice. It improved as it added some juice to the tacos but nothing to put a smile on my face. Then I remembered, I'm eating Mexican food but I haven't even tasted any chunk of cheese which is typical for nachos and other famous Mexican dishes. I started to think it was cheese which was missing to make all of these dishes good but I found no self-serve containers so I said to myself that this is probably how they planned to serve it. Again, I found myself disappointed to how this 2nd dish turned out and it was just unlucky as we didn't really have anything else coming.

After all the hype, recommendations and anticipation, I find myself twice as disappointed had I come here with no expectations. I really didn't see how they could justify pricing those dishes which tasted really dry and bland. Also, as this place is not really all fancy and more of a casual date place, I don't see much appeal to bringing someone here to impress or be impressed.

I'm a bit confused as to how all the hype on this place was built. However, I'm still open to coming back with someone to try the proven great dishes. Still, this visit was probably one I'd wish to forget. Until the next time, this is how it ranked up against our FAVS scorecard.

3 - Food quality was okay, even though I was disappointed. To be honest, I expected a lot so tasting it and not getting what's so special about it puts it at this score.

2.5 - Ambiance was a big no for me. The counter was confusing and the pay area was small and was often crowded. It also didn't help that there were kid beggars outside somewhat bugging you while eating. Pollution doesn't help their cause as well.

2.5 - Value for money is bad. Out total damage was PHP 910.00 and for a place like this, you'd have every right to expect more for the buck.

3 - Service was normal as the counter was a bit confusing with the server taking the order of the party behind us instead of following the order of first-come-first-serve. I just let it pass as we weren't decided on what to order anyway.

Definitely no x-factor here.

TOTAL = 10.5 sums up really a fair review for our experience today. I have no intention of putting down this place but I believe I was fairly objective with all of my ratings. Until I come back, I believe this is how it fairs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Zao Vietnamese Cafe, Eastwood City, Libis

Name: Zao Vietnamese Cafe
Location: Eastwood City, Libis
Google Maps: Eastwood Mall
Must Know: eVAT and 10.00% service charge.
Date: June 20, 2010, Lunch Time

Ordered from the Menu:
Crispy Spring Rolls PHP 195.00
Deep Fried Catfish PHP 195.00
Vietnamese Beef Stew PHP 345.00
Saigon Fried Rice PHP 215.00
Jasmine Iced Tea PHP 95.00
Tamarind Iced Tea PHP 95.00

Let's start-off with these two flavored refreshments. The Tamarind and Jasmine Iced Teas (PHP 95.00 each) were very refreshing. I think it's perfect for a warm, humid and overcast day like this Sunday. Reminds me of a mint drink which we tried in Discovery Shores, Boracay. Our sentiments were confirmed when we overheard comments from the party at the other table how refreshing the drink was. The best thing is, it's bottomless, so don't hesitate to ask for that refill. I'd probably go back here just for these iced teas on a warm day.

Up for starters is the Crispy Spring Rolls (PHP 195.00) which you wrap around with lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber slices and other garnishes. The first bite lets you know how fresh the ingredients are - the lettuce is crispy and the cucumber is refreshing. Adding the right amount of meat balances out this appetizer. Over-all, the dish is a great way to get your taste buds acquainted for the Vietnamese dishes which are about to come.
The staple is Saigon Fried Rice (PHP 215.00) which is basically rice in a bowl which is good for 2 persons. Honestly speaking, it looked very much like ordinary rice with margarine, herbs and eggs. In detail, tt is mixed with yellow flavoring, herbs, chinks of scrambled eggs, spices and a few chunks of beef. At first glance, it gives off nothing special. However, this is just rice so it's meant to be enjoyed with some of our main dishes. Moving on..

Saigon Fried Rice

Next up is the Vietnamese Beef Stew (PHP345.00). It looked normal with no fancy preparation, just served plain and simple in a white bowl of steaming beef in sauce. However, once eaten the taste and the flavors are very rich which suits the very tender beef - you know it was slow cooked in order to pack-in all that taste. Mixing it with the Saigon rice then answered my question - I started to think that all dishes in this joint are meant to be enjoyed with each other, not alone.

Vietnamese Beef Stew

Last served was the Deep Fried Catfish (PHP 195.00) which actually looked scary when I was taking its photo. Unfortunately, it also didn't leave any surprises as as it tasted quite plain as if it was cooked in a camp fire with shortage of spices. There wasn't really any rich flavor of anything on it, and I can't put a finger on what ingredient they might have used on it as well to make it worthy of a restaurant dish. Its was cat fish, nothing more nothing less. To make matters worse, the fish wasn't boneless so I had to stop chewing once in a while to take out the tinik. Over-all, I found myself disappointed with thus dish, its wasn't even normal. I just really didn't like it.

Deep Fried Catfish

So I end my Vietnamese Cafe experience with somewhat mixed feelings. The ambiance is great with great music, and so is the service. I find myself confused, somehow, with the dishes. Do I need to know the good combinations from the bad? I'd recommend this place to couples but would somehow be hesitant that they might not be so lucky with the dishes they pick together.

Here's how it faired our scorecard.

3 - Food Quality started off good with the iced tea and spring rolls starting off with a bang. However, the rice and cat fish just didn't live up to its potential.

4 - Ambiance is a red themed cafe with cozy and classy music. It's a really nice place. The only downside is that you can smell what's cooking in the kitchen - and I mean the whole restaurant. It's probably because the place is small.

3.5 - Value for Money was average. You'd expect something like that in a lot of paces these days, just be ready for the VAT and service charge to add to your tab.

4.5 - Service was excellent as they served all the food together in fairly reasonable time. The staff was also very courteous refilling the refreshing iced teas.

No x-factor for this place.

Total 15.

Recommended Dish: The Vietnamese Beef Stew is a must-try if you do drop by this place.