Beqaa By Golly Wow

I didn’t know Lebanon was moody. Gibran was quite romantic. And Shakira, well. . . The country’s history is marked by rollercoaster periods of political stability, turmoil and prosperity. Still, that doesn’t explain the markedly dark interiors of Beqaa — so named after the country’s vibrant, most important farming region. My pupils fully dilated and the initial surprise at the speakeasy vibe (for a restaurant) fading into the muted atmosphere, I noted the stark grey(?) walls and the sole decorative element in the form of wrought-iron grilles separating the stylish open kitchen and bar from the rest of the restaurant. The floors and tables were done up in matching, unidirectional parquetry. I sniffed the table surface for cedar, Lebanon’s national tree and emblem, but the topcoat didn’t allow a clue. Black pendants cast warm spots onto the surfaces. Then I got it. Highlighting. Well-deserved spotlights as I learned, shortly.

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We started with some mezzes, similar to the Spanish tapas and the Italian antipasto, per maître’s recommendation. Baba Ganoush, traditionally a char-grilled eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic — the menu listing only eggplant, smoked paprika and tahini; all pureed into an emulsion like herbed cream. Their other bestseller, the Mouhamarra, a blend of toasted walnuts and fire-roasted peppers, was unexpectedly mellow with the nutty flavor masking the pepper’s taste. These were served with a condiment trio of Lebanese staples: Tahini – sesame paste, Toum – garlic sauce and a mild Chili sauce. These dips were served with Pita Crackers, looking a lot like Lavosh–thin flatbread crisps, a rather lightweight change from the pita wedges and roti that I’m used to having with my Greek and Indian.

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The Za’atar Salad followed shortly. Medium tomatoes in thick wedges mixed with crispy, fresh cucumber met Manouri Cheese — a creamier, less-salty by-product of Feta, in a wonderful embrace with ribbons of caramelized onions.

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Pops winced and muttered that the Iced Tea was bitter. It was an unusually dark brew which gave the impression of some exotic, traditional Lebanese tea. Without hesitation, the waiter popped my balloon by declaring its brand: Lipton. Hahaha. I did appreciate being given the choice not to edge closer to Type II Diabetes with sugar syrup served on the side. A win for the Green Movement came about my discovery that the glassware was cut and repurposed wine bottles. Genius!

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La Emmanuela immediately scoffed at the Crispy Fried Parrot Fish when I told her it’s the very Bisaya’, Molmol. Isda’s Bato. The alternative Samkeh Harra (Leb.), Sea Bass, aka Grouper, or . . . Kugtong, pegged at more than thrice the price of the former helped her make the more modest choice. True enough, the fish was very crispy, seasoned lightly with black pepper and the very organic texture of rock salt, with the insides cooked to a fish-flaky perfection.

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The Shish Taouk, a dead ringer for the Indian Chicken Tandoori in taste and its preparation in a yogurt and garlic marinade, utilizes only the white meat and is fiery red from what I assumed to be a red saffron rub with the earthy Lebanese all-spice blend. The entire kabob, sans skewer, rests on a bed of Tabbouleh – a lively, diced parsley salad with burghul and tomato with a side of medium-cut, crispy fries.

Cousins in Medditerranea, Beqaa’s dishes were not very much unlike Greek with striking similarities in preparations but with rather less aggressive flavors–the spices only hinting at heat, the sours registering slight tangs and the herbs quite mellow. The copious amounts of garlic used was toned down with mincing and olive oil. The use of olive oil was also limited to a good coating versus the Grecian bath.

Service was exceptionally good in the standard of joints by The Abaca Group. Empty dishes quickly disappeared as if by magic. The wait staff flitted about unobtrusively, almost anticipating their patrons next need. Each one came well-versed with the menu.

Dished out and pushed back from the table, the maitre’d offered dessert. Stuffed, we had to decline. You know? Hips don’t lie.


Note to the ignorant, the reference above is to Shakira’s Lebanese paternal lineage and the fact that too much good food, like at Beqaa’s for example, may contribute to pelvic areas of panoramic arrangements.

Beqaa is located at the second floor of the Design Center of Cebu, P.Remedios St. corner A.S. Fortuna Avenue, Cebu City

Where Is The Love?

Raintree, Raintree, Raintree Mall,
How I love your being small…

So goes an early 2000 radio jingle for this pocket mall complex housing an assortment of establishments that mostly die out soon after they pick up some steam. I just welcome the change.

What caught my eye on many a Sunday drive-through on the way to church was yet another Korean “platform-seating” café going by the name of K-pop Star Psy’s last chart topper, Gentleman. From the glass storefront, it looked like it had everything going on for it: bright lights, bold colors, pillows and giant stuffed toys, a chalkboard menu and high school kids taking selfies over a single order of frappuccino. The more quiet joint right next door gave a shy wave with its cool blue signage simply saying Butter + Love and the promise of some Paula Deen.

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Always wanting to try the bestsellers, my inquiry was met with no recommendations and I was just directed to the overhead menu board and the display. The counterperson confused me if they were fresh out of cupcakes or no longer carry the items. The rice meal sets seemed a little lost there in what looked like an effort to capture the college-student lunch market.

The other waitperson was slightly more useful in her assistance with the breads packed a few pieces too many on the tiny glass display. “Lami ni, sir. Kani lami. Kani sad lami ni. Kani pud lami. Kani lami ni.”, indicating that each one was delicious. That really helped me make up my mind.

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Looking a lot like Kate’s Chococcino Bun baked in a mold, their Choco Chip Bread boasted a good crown of chocolate chips on its fancy finish akin to merengue. I went at it with a fork expecting a buttery softness but had some difficulty even with a knife. It was dry, tough and chewy like stale bread. The chocolate sauce filling was too modest to save even itself.

The Cheese Melt also had the same merengue-like crust but quashed my expectations of molten cheese oozing from the core when it was served lukewarm, also, dry, tough and chewy. Microwave heating on high for a minute would have done a better job than their toaster. Not that it would work on that strip of ordinary block cheddar innard.

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Terribly unhappy, I looked at cakes banking on more sugar to do the trick. They told me their best-seller, Red Velvet Cake, was no longer on their menu. All the cakes looked strangely sweaty in the chiller. Amiga, confirmed what I thought was a S’mores cake by detailing that it was “chocolate cake nga naay marsmalo nya naay kanang kuan…biskwit-biskwit.”

Graham Crackers na’, ‘Miga.

The torched marshmallow topping gave no semblance to its campfire-roasted visual with its cold, gummy texture. The cake base tasted like a boxed, no-bake chocolate fudge mix with its grainy sugar, “chocolate” frosting. I finished it only in consideration of all the hungry kids in Somalia.

Coffee came cheap with their Americano at only P50. Filter-brewed from the dregs that settled at the bottom of the cup. Robusta by my best guess. You could consider this café on that note.

Relatively new and, as I have overheard, already had a change in management, Butter + Love still has a long way to go in coming up to their brand name. I didn’t taste the butter and I didn’t feel the love. As one begets the same, this one gets none from me for now.

Double D’s In Red

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Ahhh, Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins. Bite-sized, sugary balls of deep-fried dough in almost as many flavors as their ring-shaped mothers. The curse of every Pinoy classroom potluck Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Munchkins. I used to mindlessly pop those into my mouth back when, that almost mythical back when, my metabolism was a furnace. I loved Munchkins. Just not when it would seem that half of the moms in class collectively went fuqit-let’s-go-cheap-on-your-classmates. And, boy, could those Munchkin-bearers dig into the real meal items.

Deep-seated, unresolved issues from my childhood aside, it is quite notable that the former “pasalubong ng bayan” is still alive and twitching through heavy reliance on nostalgia, mass market appeal, static pricing and strategic airport boarding lounge outlets. A recent spate of aggressive marketing efforts in the face of the influx of more relevant international players coupled with some surprising new flavors brings the Double D’s back from the brink of relative obscurity.

I rolled my eyes at the box of Munchkins sitting squarely on the kitchen table knowing my mother, Jurassic Carb-ivore that she is, bought those for herself on pretense that my little cousin next door loves them. When no one was looking, I peeked in to see if it had my guilty, little indulgences called Choco Butternut. What I thought was one distinctly had a deep red color under the fluorescent light. Red Velvet Munchkins?! Aaammmbbbrrrooosssiiiaaa!

Well, no. Not even remotely of immortality-granting qualities but quite the novelty, still. I’m just that excitable. It tasted more like a red-colored plain with nary a hint of the chocolate you would have from a standard Red Velvet anything. But, hey. It’s a Munchkin. It was never designed to spark revolution. Pop one in your mouth, chase it with milk then break straight into a haunting rendition of how Justin Bieber would probably sing the late Michael Jackson’s Have You Seen My Childhood.

“Pasalubong ng Bayan”, directly translated means souvenir of the country, actually means: what everyone buys as a take home item.

Dunkin’ Donuts outlets are well-distributed all over the islands. I think I even saw one on Boracay. Donuts on the beach. Woohoo. Now we’ll all have to pull a Hasselhoff.

‘Shroom Soup Cupcakes

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Owing to The Island’s rich Chinese heritage, I grew up well-acquainted with Chinese cuisine, especially Dimsum, and it’s many regional variations and localized versions. The popular dumpling chain Din Tai Fung on Orchard Road in Singapore gave me my first taste of the magical Xiaolongbao. I got hooked.

Xiaolongbao is a type of steamed bun or baozi filled with soup. Xiaolongbao, literally meaning small steaming basket buns, are popularly referred to as soup dumplings in English.

Proof of God’s existence is in the availability of this two-in-one dish at Choi City, an uncompromisingly Chinese restaurant, at the Banilad Town Center. Fresh off an all-you-can eat lunch there, where I had two steamers of Xiaolongbao to myself, I itched to spawn my own bastards.

A Google search presented a quick recipe for soup muffins. Bisquick, milk and condensed soup. My choice was Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. You can’t go wrong with that. Mix, knead in the base, fill with soup, top off with batter, bake and… tadaaa!

Mogu Xiaolong Dangao! Mushroom Soup Cupcakes, directly translated from Chinese.

Just cool enough to handle, I bit into one fresh from the pan. Party in my mouth. Bisquick’s slightly savory taste worked well with the soup filling. It’s like one of those saucy dishes you like to mop off your plate with bread. Each bite dripping with soupy goodness.

That was quite a success for a try. Well, Campbell’s has so many other soups in their lineup. What’s next?

 

 

Credits to my favorite cousin, Pamela, for her able assistance. Don’t worry Other Cousins. You’re favorites at opportune times, too.

The Cookie Monster

I worked today. Not hard but I worked. I worked out after. Killed my back and biceps. Fulfilled my daily protein requirement. Kept the carbs low. Had a bitter gourd omelet for my dinner side. I think I’ve been a pretty good boy today. I should reward myself.

“Do not reward yourself with food. You are not a dog.” — Anonymous, Viral FB poster/meme

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. Arf! Arf! Arf!

Found a tub of Selecta (brand) Overload! Overstuffed Cookies (special series) Cookies & Cream ice cream in the freezer. Dropped a few scoops into my Shake n’ Take. Drowned them babies in milk. Poured the mix over yet another scoop of ice cream in a tall glass. Would have topped it off with a whole Oreo but we’re fresh out.

*thunder rumbles, lightning crackles, sparks fly, smoke billows, pipe organ music swells*

The Cookie Monster!

The Cookie Monster!

The liquefied ice cream with an almost whipped consistency coated the insides of my mouth and gleefully assaulted my tonsils with the sweet possibility of inflammation before taking me into the first circle of fatness hell. I’ll probably regret having that in the morning. And I can’t find my mom’s supply of Xenical. But as sure as the hell I brought myself into, this is one milkshake that brings everyone to the yard. And, “damn right, it’s better than yours!”

 

 

Selecta (brand) Overload! Overstuffed Cookies (special series) Cookies & Cream ice cream is available in most supermarket, convenience stores and your kanto suking tindahan.