On my first night back in the Philippines for business, my co-worker Adam and I headed over to Greenbelt 2 to check out the restaurants. After walking up and down the row of restaurants, checking out the various menus, we decided on Mezze Restaurant and Bar, a small plates restaurant I had seen on previous trips to Manila, but had never tried.

All of the restaurants in the Greenbelt area are tastefully modern in their decor. Mezze was fairly empty when we arrived, with only two other small groups having dinner. We were a bit early, so the lack of a crowd didn't worry me. After being seated, our waiter brought by the menu. The page of small plate dishes was pretty extensive, and reflected a wide variety of ethnic dishes (Spanish, Greek, Mediterranean, Filipino). We decided to stick exclusively to the small plates, and ordered up a selection for our meal which included patatas bravas, a croquetta sampler, a gambas sampler, spanakopeta (note the generally accepted spelling should be spanakopita) , stuffed squash blossoms, salpicao, and a Mediterranean sampler called hors d'oeuvre mezze. The waiter asked if it was ok to bring out each plate as it was ready, which we agreed would be a good idea.

Hors D'oeuvre Mezze

First up was the hors d'oeuvres mezze, consisting of hummus, baba ganoush, and a roasted pepper dip served with toasted pita chips. The hummus was unremarkable, as was the roasted pepper dip. The baba ganoush, however, was an excellent standout. It was much smoother than most baba ganoush I've had, and it had an excellent roasted eggplant flavor.

Spanakopeta (Their spelling, not mine)

Almost immediately after the first dish arrived, our waiter returned with a large plate full of spanakopita, topped with parmesan cheese. The phyllo was light and crispy. My first bite, however, was also my last. In addition to spinach and feta cheese, Mezze also stuffed their pies with basil, which added a strong bitter taste to what would otherwise have been decent spanakopita. Basil isn't typically an ingredient in spanakopita, and a little might have added an interesting twist to the dish, but Mezze went overboard with it, ruining the dish completely.

Patatas Bravas

The third dish to come out was the patatas bravas, consisting of crispy fried potatoes with herbs and a garlic-mayonnaise (ajo) sauce drizzled on them. These were great. The potatoes were perfectly browned and crispy as advertised. The ajo sauce added a nice balance to the potatoes, providing some additional moisture to the starchy potatoes.

After the potatoes came the croquetta sampler - two each of croquettas tres quezos (three cheese), croquettas jamon (ham), and croquettas chorizo (sausage). The three cheese croquettas contained swiss, edam, and cheddar cheese. They were steaming hot on the inside, and very cheesy. The cheeses blended well together, making it hard to identify the individual flavors. The ham croquettas also had mushrooms and truffle oil. The ham and mushroom went well together, but I couldn't taste the truffle oil. The third croquetta was stuffed with three types of sausage, bilbao, barbacoa, and pamplona. This was by far the best of the three, with the sausages really adding a nice punch to the croquettas.

Gambas Sampler

Our next dish was another sampler. This time, it was shrimp. Four small bowls containing shrimp swimming in various sauces were presented to our table. They were shrimp in coconut curry, shrimp sauteed in spicy chili, garlic, and olive oil, shrimp cooked in pesto, and shrimp in crab caviar. The curry shrimp were good, but the other three varieties were not as exciting - it tasted as though the shrimp were undercooked. Further, the sauces overpowered the shrimp. A few more shrimp in each dish, or less of the sauces would easily solve the problem.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

The second to last plate we ordered was squash blossoms stuffed with chicken sausage, and mozzarella, then breaded and deep fried and served with a romesco sauce. The breading and frying was well executed, but unfortunately, the chicken sausage had an overly livery taste that proved too distracting.

Salpicao Oriente

Our final dish of the evening was the salpicao oriente - sauteed pork tenderloin with garlic and spring onions. The pork was succulent and flavorful, although a bit salty. That's typical for salpicao, though, so I thought it compared well to other salpicaos I've tried.

All in all, our meal at Mezze was ok, but not spectacular. It started off fairly well, but there were enough poorly executed dishes spread throughout the meal that I probably won't be coming back during my next visit. There's definite potential in the menu, so I do hope that the chef comes to the same realization and makes some adjustments in the future.

Before heading to Singapore last week, I had dinner at Red, a restaurant in the Makati Shangri-La hotel. I've eaten at Red twice now, and both times it's been excellent. What impresses me most about Red is the artistry with which they prepare their food. I have been served some of the most creatively plated dishes I've had.

Since I never got around to blogging about my first meal at Red, I'm going to combine my two visits into a single review, but I'll mainly be talking about my most recent visit.

On both visits, a loaf of freshly baked bread with two butters was brought to the table almost immediately. The bread was still hot which made the accompanying sun-dried tomato and herbed butters spread easily. The crust was nice and crisp, without getting crumby and making a big mess when cut. The inside of the bread was dense enough that it wasn't spongy, yet not to heavy. I liked it a lot.

The first time I was at Red, I tried the Red Appetizer Three Ways. The three ways consisted of seared fois gras with caramelized mango, crabcake with mustard aioli, and a "salad of buffalo mozzarella and tomato. All three of the appetizers were excellent. The tomato salad was particularly interesting. I've made this type of salad tons of times before, but Red's presentation made theirs more interesting. Basically, they sliced a peeled tomato in half and inserted layers of mozzarella and basil in between each piece, then reassembled the tomato. This wasn't overly fancy, but it really looked (and tasted) nice.

On my current visit, I was really tempted to get the Red Appetizer three ways again, but I went with the Scallop with Eggplant Timbale instead, in the interest of variety. The eggplant had a nice char to it that gave it good flavor that complimented the scallop nicely. Of the two appetizers, the Red Appetizer Three ways wins.

After the appetizer, my waiter brought out a nice berry sorbet as a palate cleanser. This is a nice touch that I always appreciate, but most restaurants just don't do anymore.

For my entree, I went with the saddle of pork with Gorgonzola. It was accompanied by roasted potato discs and mixed blanched vegetables. The saddle turned out to be a huge chop with a nice big bone curving up. This may have been the thickest cut of pork I've ever seen. It was perfectly cooked, and completely juicy throughout. It's easy to overcook pork, so I was glad to see that this piece had come out so well. With the Gorgonzola, it was fantastic.

On my previous visit, I had the grilled duck breast with gigs, pomelo chutney and smashed sweet potato and rice paper. I ordered my duck rare, but I was a little disappointed when it arrived. The meat itself was rare, but the skin on each piece of breast was very chewy and a bit too fatty. I prefer it when the skin's a little crispier, but this can be tough to do while still keeping the meat rare. The pomelo chutney was a nice accompaniment to the duck. You don't often see pomelo (similar to grapefruit) in the US, so I was appreciative at the opportunity to have the ingredient as part of my meal.

Red has several desserts that look worth trying. On my first visit, I saw they had a frozen blood orange souffle and knew I just had to give it a try. I ended up thinking it was ok, but not nearly as good as I had imagined it would be. I love blood oranges, but the souffle just didn't have enough orange flavor to make me say "wow!"

Since I didn't need to try the souffle twice, I decided to give their bento box dessert a try. I figured it would afford me the opportunity to try small bites of a couple different desserts on the menu. Was I wrong. When the bento box came out, it was a huge square lacquered box containing what looked to me like four full sized desserts. There was vanilla ice cream over some sort of cookie, which was ok, but nothing special. There was also Red's famous chocolate verona cake. The cake was moist and very chocolaty. It was served over cherries, which made it a little too sweet for me, but it was still nice to have a few bites. The next dessert was a piece of cheesecake with mango. I liked the cheesecake, but it didn't stand out from most others I've had. What was most impressive to me was the last dessert, which was a small plate of fresh fruit with a spun sugar basket full of sorbet sitting on top. At first look, I thought the sorbet was probably lemon. It was close, but something tasted different. I couldn't place what it was, so I asked the waiter if he knew. He didn't, but went back to the kitchen to ask the chef. When he returned, he informed me that it was an olive oil sorbet. As it turns out, it was a combination of olive oil and calamansi, a small lime popular in the Philippines which is what I originally thought was the lemon I tasted. I told the waiter that I absolutely loved the sorbet and that it was one of the best that I had ever had. He went back to the kitchen and gave the chef my compliment. When he returned, he had another dish of the sorbet, compliments of the chef. Even though I was completely full, I somehow found room to finish off the second dish of sorbet.

I have two regrets about the two meals I've now had at Red. The first is that both times I've eaten there, I've dined alone. I much prefer to share meals with people as when I have dining experiences like the ones at Red, I love to share them. The second regret is that both times I didn't have my camera with me. As I mentioned, the plating at Red can be quite impressive, and it's a shame I don't have any pictures to show off. Oh well, perhaps on my next visit.

I was walking around Greenbelt shopping area in Makati the other day looking for a place to have lunch before I caught a movie when I happened across Blue Ginger Thai on the second level. The place looked nice enough from the outside, so I headed on in.

Blue Ginger Martini

I was pretty hungry and had about an hour until the movie started, so I figured lunch didn't need to be hurried, but I also didn't have time for a long drawn out dining experience either. While I looked over the menu, I ordered one of my favorite local drinks, a ripe mango shake. I was also interested in the blue ginger martini on the menu, so I ordered one of those as well.

While my drinks were being made, I decided to start my meal with Yam Sam-O (Pomelo Salad) followed by yellow curry with chicken and an order of steamed rice. The pomelo salad arrived first. If you've never had pomelo, it's essentially like a ruby red grapefruit, only a bit drier in taste. The pomelo salad contained pomelo, shrimp, chicken, fish sauce, coconut flake, lime juice, peanuts, chilis, lettuce, and a few other ingredients I'm sure I missed. It was very tasty and something I would love to try to make when I return home. It had a nice balance of sweet, salty, sour, and hot - just as most Thai food does.

Yellow Curry

I was actually just about finished my salad when my blue ginger martini arrived. True to it's name, it was both blue in color and had several match sticks of ginger sitting in the bottom of the martini glass. I was a little disappointed with the actual taste of the martini, though. It tasted to me like it was almost entirely made from blue curacao, with only the slightest hint of ginger, and no trace of an underlying spirit like vodka.

Once the yellow curry and the steamed rice arrived, I was ready to dig in. I had asked for the dish extra spicy, but found to be extremely mild. The pomelo salad was spicier than my curry. Other than that, it tasted very nice, but was no where near as complex and flavorful as the yellow curry at my favorite Thai restaurant in Arizona, Swaddee.

Overall, my meal was enjoyable, and I learned about a new dish that I'll have to look for to compare back home. If you're in the Makati area and looking for a decent Thai meal at very reasonable prices, give Blue Ginger Thai a try.

Dining alone is always an adventure. One night when I was in the Philippines, I found myself needing to dine alone. I didn't feel like eating in the hotel, and I wasn't in the mood to hire a car or taxi to drive me all over town, so I decided I'd check out the Greenbelt area of Makati. It had been almost 8 years since I had been to Manila, and a lot had changed. The Greenbelt area was completely new since my last visit, and I had heard it offered a myriad of shops and restaurants, so I figured it was worth checking out.

After a quick 5 minute walk, and a detour by a bizarre open air church, I was there. There were indeed, a ton of restaurants and shops, including a lot of western chains such as Starbucks and Seattle's Best. After walking around for another ten minutes or so, I settled on a Spanish Tapas place called Casa Armas Tapas Bar y Restaurante, on the third floor of Greenbelt 3.

When I got there, it was still a bit early at about 6:30pm. The place was dead, but I had brought along a book (a constant companion when traveling solo) so I figured I'd be good to go. I was the only person there, so I was curious as to how I'd end up being treated. The waiter promptly seated me at a two top near a window overlooking the city, which I considered a good move.

After a few minutes, the waiter returned with a bread basket and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I ordered a glass of the house red, which ended up being fairly dry, but not particularly good.

There were actually two menus from which to choose, a tapas menu, and a menu of more traditional Spanish (and other) fare. I was in the mood for tasting, so I opted to order exclusively from the tapas menu.

I ended up placing orders for gambas al ajillo (shrimp in olive oil and garlic), an assorted meat/fish/cheese/olive tray, and two pieces each of assorted shrimp, fish, pickles, and toast.

The gambas al ajillo was by far my favorite. The shrimp were nicely done, and the combination of pungent garlic and olive oil was divine.

The mixed plate had homemade chorizo, Jamon Serrano, and what I think was soppressato, along with manchego cheese, olives, and sardines. I loved the chorizo and manchego cheese, but the ham was not nearly as good as the other times I've had it. The olives were also plain and uninteresting. The plate was originally supposed to come with anchovies, but they were all out, so they substituted with large sardines. I'm glad they did, because they were great! I honestly had never gotten around to eating sardines, thinking they were nasty little fish that came in cans, but my opinion is now changed.

The other items I ordered were basically toothpicks containing pickles, olives, and shrimp or sardines, served on toast. They were ok, but nothing worth remembering.

All in all, Casa de Armas was ok. The gambas al ajillo were very good, but unfortunately, the rest of the menu fell a little short of what I had been hoping for. I do have to credit the experience, though, to opening my eyes to sardines, a food I had entirely dismissed until this trip.




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