Maple–when bigger doesn’t always mean betterBy Clinton Palanca
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The ultimate dream of almost any chef is to have that single, out-of-the-way restaurant that’s booked up months in advance and where people travel to rather than stop by. But if common sense and accountants had their way, these restaurants would never exist: They’re high-risk projects whose rewards are vanity and ego and self-fulfillment.
Find a good intersection and get yourself a Jollibee franchise, or better still, a gas station. Remember that the Buko King stand at the corner makes more money than El Bulli ever did.
Treading the cautious middle ground, and ultimately the most profitable, are restaurants to which customers are willing to come back again and again.
Apart from KFC, which powered my brain for lunch and dinner while living abroad, and which still has a strange pull to me, the restaurant where we end up with the family usually turns out to be Pancake House.
I didn’t know that Pancake House had anything to do with Maple when I decided to try the latter after a long time deriding its name. Why would anyone put up a restaurant named Maple, anyway? Are they Canadian? Do we have maple trees in this country?
My wife gently removed my ’70s-era, post-colonial nationalist hat from my head and the soapbox from beneath my feet and reasoned that if Filipinos born and bred could put up Ramen Yushoken or Wee Nam Kee, there’s no reason why someone so inclined should put up a North American-named and -themed restaurant.
Our former colonial masters, after all, left us with a taste for consuming gluttonous amounts of sugar, butter, eggs and meat, which is what one does at Maple. The governing idea behind the place is that one can have breakfast food at any time of the day or night, which is something I thoroughly agree with, because I feel that breakfast is a meal that happens far too early in the day to get up for.
There was a sneaky, roguish, transgressive frisson about having savory country pancakes, eggs Benedict, and prime rib tapa at 5:30 in the afternoon.
I can’t fault anything about the prime rib tapa, which is exactly what its name promises: the flavors of tapa without having to chew through overcooked brown wrinkled bits; prime rib that wasn’t just a browned slab of meat but juicy and spicy and served with relish and dip. It’s served with two eggs and a token spoonful or two of rice in case you want to sprinkle it over your protein.
The slab of meat is about as perfect as beef tapa can get. The eggs Bendict arrived as two impeccably poached eggs with smoky bacon and lovely soft pillows of starch, but suffered from the usual problem that yolk on fat on carbs with fried potatoes on the side sat very heavily in one’s stomach even after just a few bites, and there was far too much of it. The country pancakes, unfortunately, were a morass of fluff and grease and creamed butter and sticky, sickly-sweet syrup.
The food was delicious enough when it arrived, but we couldn’t finish any of the dishes and spent a bit of time in a stuporous state, probably when the fat content of our meal traveled upwards and replaced the blood flow to our brains.
Stimulated but not satisfied
Like sodas and junk food, which are carefully engineered to stimulate our senses in a complex manner but not enough to satisfy, one leaves Maple (after coming to one’s senses) feeling completely stuffed but with the weird feeling of not having eaten enough, as if someone else had eaten a large meal and then swapped it into your stomach, leaving you full yet wanting to eat.
But even as the food left me, or at least my stomach, puzzled and dissatisfied, it must be pleasing to at least some people because a branch has opened at Shangri-La Mall and the owners are hiring for yet another in Alabang; and it was buzzing and crowded even at an odd time to be having a meal.
But perhaps that’s what all-day breakfasts are all about: the subversiveness of eating when you want to, and of liberating breakfast food from the confines of breakfast. But ideally, the way to preserve the spirit of breakfast, but make it more so, is not to make it bigger, richer and sweeter, but to bring to it the refinement and discernment that chefs usually bring to a “proper” meal.
Maple makes a valiant attempt but goes overboard with the calories, cholesterol, and the gleaming but deadly syrup they use which is maple-flavored but definitely not maple, which is unfortunate for a restaurant that goes by that name.
Maple, as it turns out, is Pancake House gone extra-large, but unfortunately not extra-good. For the moment I’ll stick with our local branch of the original—and for dinner, I’ll eat a proper meal.
Maple is at the 2/F, San Antonio Plaza, 50 McKinley Road, Makati City; tel. 6216211.