There is nothing more that brings me joy than to dine in a restaurant for the very first time and not know what to expect. It is the thrill of looking at brand new, unfamiliar items on the menu, the anticipation of the dish to come, and finally the excitement of sharing it with my foodie readers.
I experienced two kinds last week. Two bad ones, and a winner.
Let me share the bad ones first. We were driving along the side street of Wilson in San Juan when we spotted this nice-looking restaurant with a very attractive name. It screamed Chinese cuisine. The duck on the menu had no trace of duck in it. The XO sauce on the veggies also had no spice at all; I couldn’t figure out what that dish tasted like.
Another place I tried was a Japanese-theme noodle bar. What I had was a thick noodle dish which I anticipated to be “Japanese-tasting.” It was okay, but it turned out to be just like a lomi guisado. Bummer!
The third was a tip I got from the Persian boyfriend of one of the PAs I worked with at a Lee Kum Kee cooking demo a few months back. Every time I meet a long-time foreigner resident in Manila, I ask which restaurant, to him, serves the most authentic-tasting cuisine of his country, or the closest to it. On this occasion, I was told to try this one.
Any new restaurant with a Middle Eastern name grabs my attention. I love this cuisine. Here and on my trips, I’ve realized that not all of them are good and as authentic-tasting. Dining in a new place is like opening a gift on Christmas day, you don’t really know what to expect. I love it.
Many of the dishes in this place are your usual offerings, but taken to a much higher level. What I had: Mirza Ghasemi—grilled eggplant with garlic, onions and spices. Very garlicky, it was great with authentic pita bread.
The hummus was also at a higher level than what I’ve tried. Both appetizers will awaken your palate.
I ordered two main courses: Koobideh Kabab, which is skewered ground beef char-broiled with Persian spices; and Joojeh Kabab, a skewer of char-broiled slices of chicken fillet marinated in saffron, onions and lime juice. Both were superb.
The beef was so flavorful with a touch of Middle Eastern spices, while the V-shaped broiled boneless chicken became flavorful with a nice squeeze of lemon juice.
One you shouldn’t miss is the Biryani colored rice. This is basmati loose rice with a nice flavor and aroma. I was talking to myself the whole time I was enjoying this, telling myself how good it was. It has to be one of the best-tasting rice dishes I have come across.
I also had the Lamb Shank Biryani—fall-off-the-bone, sticky lamb shank (best part of the lamb, if you ask me) with a nice sauce. I just thought this dish needed a bit more sauce. Just ask for a little more. I was back in that resto a few days later. It’s that good.
I am so excited to try the other dishes on this menu.
I don’t mind taking a gamble on good food. All I need is one great experience to neutralize all these negative ones. What a blessing to find a place like this.
Persian Square Kabab is at 101 Ortigas Home Depot Compound, Julia Vargas, Ortigas Center, Pasig; tel. 4707700 or 4707800.
Wooden Spoon on Katipunan is now open seven days a week, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.