Chinese cuisine’s greatest hits, all good and well-priced
Not too long ago I was writing skeptically about the possibility of a restaurant flourishing in the warren of residential streets that make up Addition Hills in Mandaluyong. At some point, it was a genteel, middle-class neighborhood clustered around Waterous General Hospital, where many American families settled before the war.
Recently it has gotten a bit down at the heels, and the area developed a reputation for a high rate of crime along its poorly lit streets. Despite this, the place has been sprouting a few cafés and neighborhood businesses, and it was the last buffer between the madness of Shaw Boulevard on one hand, and the overdeveloped Wilson Street on the other.
I’d previously written about Francesco’s, the Italian restaurant that felt like a throwback to the 1990s, but in the best way possible. We visited for dessert, and were happy to see that the place was thriving.
But the main event for the evening was Tomo, yet another house-turned-restaurant. It had a queue stretching out the door, on a Sunday night. As I heard, the chef of Tomo was formerly with Sugi. I don’t know how true that is, but the place had the vibe that the Sugi branch in Greenhills once had: lots of Chinese-Filipino families in casual clothes with expensive jewelry, ordering sensibly luxurious (as opposed to outrageously luxurious, like in Inagiku) meals and whipping out senior citizen discount cards.
The food was, well, rather like Sugi’s. That’s not a bad thing at all. The older generation will probably remember a time when Sugi was about as good as one could get in terms of Japanese fine dining—perhaps not as authentic as a hole-in-the-wall place in Little Tokyo, but refined and proper, and definitely more upstanding than Kimpura, which I’ve never liked.
These days, we have impossibly delicate and authentic kaiseki meals like those at Kyo-To, with correspondingly eye-watering prices. Sugi has maintained its quality and relative pricing, but now occupies the middle, as far the Japanese food scene is concerned.
At Sugi, as at Tomo, you don’t feel the sushi chef giving you a baleful look and sharpening his knife with excessive emphasis if you’d be so base as to make a slurry of wasabi and soy sauce in which to dip your sushi. This is laid-back and relaxed Japanese food—perhaps a little too much so. I would have appreciated it if the sukiyaki hadn’t come first before the sushi and sashimi.
Moving on to the other side of the Sea of Japan, one of the best Chinese meals I’ve had in town recently was at S’Maison’s Paradise Dynasty.
We had just finished watching “Blade Runner” and were still recovering from three hours’ worth of fantastic visuals to the soundtrack of electronic synthesizers and a futuristic whirring sound that we, at first, thought were the spinners that whizzed around the futuristic LA in the movie. It turned out to be giant Iwata fans that drowned out the dialogue as well and provided a constant and annoying draught.
I wanted to try the collagen hotpot at Bijin Nabe, but I was voted down and we settled for Paradise Dynasty.
As it turned out, it was very good. We were about to go to Hong Kong for four days’ worth of eating, but our Chinese food odyssey started that night—and it was an auspicious start.
I would even compare the xiao long bao favorably to that of Crystal Jade in Hong Kong, whose wrappings all broke immediately upon picking it up.
Paradise Dynasty had an enticing picture of a xiao long bao hanging triumphantly unbroken from a pair of chopsticks like a tea bag, or perhaps a testicle, and indeed they were properly thin, elastic and full of soupy glory.
They also had spicy Sichuan chicken, a variation of the traditional zi ji, which tends to be a mountain of chili and very few bits of chicken which are usually full of bone shards.
The chili (which you’re not supposed to eat) was a more modest and manageable quantity, while the chicken came as plump, little fried nuggets, spiced with just a bit of cumin along with the usual blend of sichuan peppercorns.
Posh pocket mall
The dishes came from all over the place. This is modern Chinese cuisine, authentic to the region, but with all the greatest hits of the various places all jumbled up—wheat buns and pulled noodles from the north, xiao long bao from Shanghai, fiery dishes from Sichuan and Hunan, and dim sum from Guangdong seemed to be the most dominant.
As I understand it, Paradise Dynasty restaurants are a chain that stretches from Singapore to Shanghai, but much of the best eating in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan is dominated by big food conglomerates, which you can’t really get away from.
By 7 p.m., there was a long line waiting to be called, in parties of three or seven.
The food is good and well-priced, with the caveat that you have to go S’Maison, which is not easy to get to—not the location of SM Mall of Asia per se, but the labyrinthine passageways that lead you to this posh little pocket mall underneath the Conrad Hotel.
But the thing about Filipinos is that it really doesn’t matter how unexpected the location of the restaurant is. As long as the food is good, we’ll find our way. —CONTRIBUTED
Tomo, 137 Araullo St., San Juan; call 5325729.
Paradise Dynasty, S’Maison, Conrad Seaside Boulevard, Pasay City; call 8288333.
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