Noms

Main Street: Canadian Comfort Food in Tuscany

Nestled in the residential/commercial McKinley Hill, Tuscany Estates is one of the newer spots for dining in the Taguig area. A row of small cafes and restaurants line the little street and because there are offices nearby, the area is always a hub of activity. Main Street is one of the busier restos in the area and we decided to find out why.

We got there around dinnertime on a Friday and as expected, it was jampacked. The wait time took about fifteen to twenty minutes and even then, we had to settle for an outside table. Al fresco dining in this humid country can be uncomfortable but it had to do, we were hungry and there were other patrons waiting after us as well.

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Main Street Tuscany McKinley Hill

A big cheeky sign in the middle of the resto that says “Free Beer Tomorrow” catches your attention from the get go. Although the space is small, it would have been nice to be seated inside to fully absorb the ambiance of the resto (also, aircon). The outside area is just as tiny as the inside and was poorly lit that we had to squint to read the smallprint in the menu. They seemed a bit understaffed for a busy Friday night, with only three servers manning all areas- upstairs, downstairs, and outside. Calling one needed a little practice in patience, although given how busy they were, it was almost forgivable.

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Poutine (p145)

For starters, we got the Poutine. Poutine is a classic Canadian dish of fries soaked in gravy. I’m not the best person to judge soggy fries, I’m just not a big fan (unless it’s Everything At Steak’s Moo Fries). Main Street’s Poutine was soggy and less tasty than I prefer. The serving size is a bit small for sharing, and thats considering I don’t like the stuff (and don’t hoard). If you’re wondering what the white clumps on the picture are, they’re cheese curds. It’s not something to write home about.

The main dishes at Main Street make up a good list of comfort food including the Classic Fish & Chips. Served on a slab of wood, the classic dish of fried dory fish paired with tartar sauce and a mountain of rice is as reliable as it gets.

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Classic Fish and Chips (p240)

Another comfort food on the list is the Grilled Pork Chop. According to the servers, it’s one of the specialties of the house and the best seller. I ordered it of course. By the time it was served to me on a heavy wooden slab, the rest of our party was about done with their meals and ready for dessert.

The dish is not for the light eater (or -hearted). Although I’m neither, I had trouble finishing the big plate. The meat is thick and it came with a mountain of herbed rice. Although it was delayed, the dish was thankfully tasty, healthy, and comforting. That kind of made up for it being ultra-late.

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Grilled Pork Chop (p280)

Also one of the best sellers, if we’re basing it off the menu, is the Wagyu Cheeseburger. A thick Kitayama wagyu beef burger is sandwiched between two sesame buns and relished with cheese, tomato, special house sauce, and served with a side of fries. You can also add as many bacon strips for fifty bucks apiece. Bacon!

The patty, which is what everyone judges burgers on, was thick, tasty, tender and juicy. The added bacon gave the burger extra oomph. (And just like that, I want a burger right now).

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Wagyu Cheeseburger (p390), additional bacon (+p50)

The thing I was super excited about Main Street was dessert. Like Mad Mark’s, Main Street offers homemade ice creams in various interesting flavors. One of the flavors is Organic Maple and Candied Bacon and as soon as I found out they had bacon ice cream, even before finding out their menu choices, I was good as sold. When I did try it, I liked it, but I didn’t love it? I couldn’t really taste the bacon in the ice cream. I knew there were bacon bits, and I felt that there was a fair amount of bacon bits in it but it seemed like the flavor of bacon was overpowered by the sweetness of the base ice cream.

It deserves a second taste test to say for sure if it’s a win or not, it wasn’t love at first taste with Mad Mark’s ice cream either.

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Smores and Organic Maple and Candied Bacon Homemade Ice Cream (p95/scoop)

*Dark photos are dark, I’m sorry!

The good

  • Large servings.
  • Homemade ice cream is interesting.
  • Good, comfort food.

The bad

  • Really small dining area.
  • Slow service.

The bacon

3 out of 5 bacons! Main Street is usually full at peak hours, their tiny dining area barely enough to accomodate human traffic and you usually have to wait awhile to be seated. When you do get seats and noms though, you’ll be happy to know that their servings are pretty hefty and will satisfy a bigger than usual appetite. Comfort food indeed.

Main Street

Tuscany Estates, Upper McKinley Rd
McKinley Hill, Taguig

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Travel

Tokyo Eats: Ichiran’s Ramen Is The Answer To Life

Unfortunately, my visit to Japan happened at that unfortunate time between the end of winter and the start of spring. This meant some muddy snow, winter coats, near empty sakura trees, and people with face masks everywhere. Thankfully, ramen is all year round.

We arrived just in time for lunch, freezing our tropical toes off. As soon as we had checked in to the hotel and played with the famed Japanese toilet bidets, we were already hankering for some ramen. No trip to Japan is complete without getting to taste actual Japanese ramen after all. The staff of Best Western Astina (a hotel I highly recommend if you’re staying in Shinjuku area) were really nice and helpful, they even printed out maps and painstakingly wrote down directions to help us get around the city that day. Best of all, one of them pointed us to his favorite ramen place, which was gladly within walking distance away from the hotel.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Ichiran in Shinjuku

Ichiran can be found in the heart of the shopping district in Shinjuku, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the massive five-floor Uniqlo in the area (boy, we had a lot of fun here). Given that most street and store signs were in kanji and none of us could speak or read Japanese, it took us some time to find the place. Believe it or not, we had to rely on gut feel and checked each place that looked remotely like they serve food.

Ichiran has a large round black and red signage at the entrance in kanji so we couldn’t read it, we weren’t sure until we saw a small sign to the side that actually had the word “Ichiran” in letters on it. The dining area is in the basement and can be accessed by either a narrow flight of stairs or a tiny building elevator.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Ichiran in Shinjuku

The first thing you see when you reach the basement is a couple of vending machines for ordering. I had read about vending machines in Japan beforehand and was looking forward to order a hot meal on a machine. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined it to be.

For one, I thought it would at least be a touchscreen with language options and food selections in my preferred language and mayhap a holographic image of a Japanese waitress in a cat costume asking me how my day was. Alas, there was none of those things. Instead, the vending machine was an old-fashioned grid of illuminated printed photos with labels in Japanese and clunky buttons below each one. Because I was so hungry, I picked what looked to be a safe choice and prayed that I wouldn’t accidentally order whale meat or something. Thank heavens for pictures.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Your seatmate won’t get to watch you inhaling your ramen.

Another assumption I got wrong was the arrival of the food. I was half-expecting my food to magically be given to me by advanced AI, ala robo-maid Rosie of the Jetsons but with curves and anime eyes. (What? It’s Japan, I have high expectations of their technology.) Instead, the food is boringly served by a human. The vending machine is merely an ordering tool that is seemingly aimed to limit human interaction.

The theme of the whole restaurant feels the same. This dining area seems to be designed for individual diners hoping to get a quick, hot meal privately. Stools are positioned in a row and a long table is divided into single booths for the individual diner. To order, you fill up the paper survey on the table (you can specifically ask for English forms) to customize your ramen, ring an old-school bell and give your paid stubs to the server behind the flap in front of you whose face you can’t see.  

Ichiran in Shinjuku
1. No, he’s not Harry Potter. I checked.
2. Tap water is potable in Japan. Including the tap water from the bathrooms.

Five minutes later, your food is on your table through the flap, served by the faceless server doing hand gestures and stuff. Human interaction or not, I’ll take it. Ichiran ramen? Best. Goshdarned. Ramen. In. All. The. World. I swear I’m not exaggerating. The meat in particular was outstanding. The thinly sliced pork was the melt-in-your-mouth-please-have-my-babies kind of meat. The entire meal was so tasty and happy that it had my belly gurgling in joy all throughout lunch hour and then some. It’s sooo good it could be the answer to life.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a survey form for customizing your order. This is one thing I wish we had here (among others, like discipline for instance). In Ichiran, they let you specify how you want your ramen to be cooked. You have options for flavor strength, garlic, onion, meat, chili, and most importantly, noodle texture. This gives you the flexibility to make you ramen suit your own personal preferences. If you’re undecided, you can pick medium for all anyway and it would still be a win. The basic bowl has soup, noodles, and a couple slices of (melt-in-your-mouth) meat but you can also get add ons to well.. add on. Eggs, nori, meat, and additional noodles are available for an additional cost.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
The beautiful Ichiran Ramen

All Ichiran ramen have the same basic ingredients but with the available options, you can customize it to satisfy your picky tastebuds. If you like dining alone but do not like the awkward stares, you’ll enjoy the design of the place. They take your personal space seriously, the division between customers effectively separates each single diner from the next and gives you some privacy while inhaling your beautiful, beautiful ramen. I guess the only drawback is for those when you actually want to enjoy your food with company. But for this kind of ramen, I’ll take it any which way. I’d be more than happy to savor every last drop of Ichiran ramen alone and in bliss.

Take a closer look and be jealous-

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Ichiran in Shinjuku

The good

  • Customizeable ramen.
  • Quick, hot meal available right in the heart of the city.
  • You can dine alone in peace.
  • Best.

The bad

  • Not anywhere close to where I currently am.
  • No seating available for groups.

The bacon

5 out of 5 bacons! Ichiran quite honestly deserves all the bacon I can give it.  The best thing about them is the customizeable ramen. We all have personal preferences after all. Having options to add noodles, as many eggs or nori as you want, or have the broth made less tasty makes sure you get YOUR perfect ramen in every bowl.*Apparently, they have a branch in Hong Kong! At least that’s only an hour and half away from us. 😛

Ichiran

3-34-11 Peace Building-B1F
Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku Tokyo-to

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Noms

The Ryu Way To Ramen

Before my Japan trip this year, I thought it best to prepare my tummy to the onslaught of Japanese food I planned to gorge on. To get my belly started, I decided it best to stuff myself full with a bowlful of hot ramen the night before my flight. Please don’t question my logic (I surmise it doesn’t really have an answer).

I heard a lot of good things about Ryu Ramen and have wanted to try it long before I found out that they recently opened shop at SM Jazz Residences (at the rate I get to write, ‘recent’ usually means a couple of months ago). And since I was already familiar with the area thanks to Hai Chix & Steaks, Ryu Ramen was penciled in right away into my list of restaurants to try next.

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Ryu Ramen

As soon as you are ushered to a table, a menu is handed to you and this is the first thing you read-

Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a a meat- or (occasionallly) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (chashu), dried seaweed (nori), kamaboko, green onions, and occasionally corn. Almost every locality in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu to the miso ramen of Hokkaido. Ours is the RYU way!

Nice! Restaurants with details more than just food and the corresponding price always gets plus points in my book. That someone took the time out to personalize the menu says a lot about the care and detail that went into the planning of the restaurant and I find that this also usually translates to well-thought of nomz. I was very eager to try ramen the Ryu way.

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Chasyu Ramen (p390) – Soy based broth with 5 slices of chasyu.

Here’s Ryu Ramen’s Chasyu Ramen. The order came in a large bowl looking like a belly filler. And it was.

I’m guessing it was concocted with the meat lover in mind. A typical ramen would usually have one to two thin slices of meat, the Chasyu Ramen has five slices swimming in a soy based broth with noodles, soft boiled egg, nori, and green onions. It’s your typical ramen with more meat than usual. While hot and comforting, the soup isn’t anything to rave about. For the price it goes for, it felt like they scrimped on the budget a bit- the chasyu (boiled/roasted BBQ pork) was a little dry with hardly any marbling that’s expected from it.

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Ryu Ramen Curry (p380) – Our very own creation, bringing the best of our signature dishes.

Another bowl we tried for the night is the Ryu Ramen Curry simply because it looked interesting. The taste of delicate ramen mixed in with the harsh spice of curry? Sounds interesting. The menu said it’s a Ryu specialty, a mix of their signature dishes. That thing was spicy! Good thing we had it prepared less spicy than normal thanks to the recommendation of the staff otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to sip more than a a few spoonfuls.

It’s different, but I think I prefer my ramen simpler. The Ramen Curry tasted like Singaporean Laksa with more noodles and less meat. I like the latter better. The curry made the soup thicker and richer than I would have liked and it was too rich that I felt I should have eaten it with rice.

The good

  • Unique ramen flavors.
  • Ramen is good-sized.
  • Nice staff and nice ambiance.
  • The area is relatively remote and isn’t as crowded as others.

The bad

  • Too expensive for average nomz.
  • Ramen is meh.
  • Parking isn’t free (if it’s near Jupiter, I’m expecting there to be free parking provision).

The bacon

2.5 out of 5 bacons! It’s probably just personal preference, but Ryu Ramen & Curry’s ramen isn’t my favorite. For the price of ther noms, I was expecting ramen that would blow me away. Theirs didn’t even ruffle my bangs. They offer pricey okay-sized ramen that tastes okay. In a different scenario, okay is a good thing, it’s good enough. But in a time and place where competition is stiff and choices are TMTM, being simply ‘okay’ isn’t exactly what you should aim for.

Ryu Ramen & Curry

SM Jazz Mall, Nicanor Garcia St.
Bel-Air, Makati

Noms

The Whimsical Mary Grace Cafe

Belated happy mama’s day to all mamas out there! To mine, thank you for being my mama. I wouldn’t be who I am today (and I’m not so bad) if it weren’t for her (this message is not from a card, promise!).

Although my photos leave much to be desired, I just had to write about Mary Grace Cafe. I have to settle with these grainy ones I took with my phone when one afternoon, my mama and I decided to have a quick bite at their SM Aura branch. The cafe is but a tiny area on the ground floor of the mall, but what they lack in space, they more than make up for in food and decor.

Handwritten notes and quotations give you something to read and think about.

Mary Grace’s whimsical theme draws you in to the little cafe. The walls are wooden and give off a warm vibe, the ceiling glows a mystical green, lamps that twinkle merrily hang from above, and providing steady ambient noise are a bunch of mechanical birds squeakily flapping their metal wings. All of it feels so magical that you’d half expect fairies to come flying out and sprinkle you with fairy dust, I know I was (but then again, I’m a child at heart and attention span). Although adorable during the day, all the elements that make Mary Grace quaint while there’s people around would most likely make the place creepy eerie when empty.

Mechanical hanging decor creak merrily as you eat.

The dining area fits in perfectly with the magical theme. The wooden tables are inlaid with handwritten quotes and notes from guests or from Mary Grace herself, hand knitted doilies make for dainty coasters, and pastel tinted seashell bouquets serve as pretty table top decor. Since it’s a cafe, entrees are limited to pastas, salads, and sandwiches. But the food they have is delicious and well-made, although the servings are a much smaller than ideal, even for my mom who has an unusually small appetite. They serve it so cutely that it’s easy enough to forgive.

The Chorizo Perfect Plate with Wild Mushroom Soup (p361 + p70 for the soup)

The Chorizo Perfect Plate is a mix and match of a variety of noms- chorizo & green olive pasta, local greens with chili daing dressing & crunchy garlic, wild mushroom soup, and slice of cake. If ordered with a drink, this particular plate will set you back about five hundred bucks.

It’s a little expensive for a daily meal for a struggling yuppie like me, especially because the portions are extra petite (except for the slice of cake that comes with it, which is regular sized). By petite, I mean anyone with a normal appetite would probably need at least half a serving more. Mary Grace isn’t where I’d go when I’m starving, it’s a place I’d go to when I want to spend an afternoon with a good friend to have a deep conversation with over light dinner or a heavy snack.

As is the food, the decor is warm and homey.
Noms

Mad Mark’s Man Sandwich + Frozen D

You’ve probably been to Mad Mark’s already. Most of you have probably tried their Half-Baked Madagascar at one point or another but did you know that they have an alternate name? They’re usually called Mad Mark’s Creamery and Good Eats but what some are not aware of, this little diner is also called Mad Mark’s Man Sandwich + Frozen D. I’m not new to Mad Mark’s (their ice cream is to die for) but I didn’t know about their more.. playful name until fairly recently.

One thing I also didn’t know about Mad Mark’s is that besides Man Sandwiches and Frozen Ds, they also serve full meals, including good old steak. How.. manly. We had dinner at their newest branch in Glorietta 5 and tried their cheapo steak and other nomz.

Mad Mark’s Herb Parmesan Fries (p160)

We started with their Herb Parmesan Fries- a basket of fries doused in herb-y sauce and sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese. One order is big enough for sharing, unless you have a particular fondness for soggy potato sticks and/or are selfish. The drizzled sauce made the fries all soggy and limp within a few minutes of serving, not exactly very.. manly. The best kind of fries for me are the scalding hot and crispy ones, imo.

While the fries are not my favorite, it’s not a showstopper. We’ll reserve judgment for the main event- Mad Mark’s Grill Works. Mad Mark’s offers custom entrees- you choose your meat, sauce, and sides to make up a hefty personalized meal. You get to pick from Signature Steak (Healthy – 150g/Regular – 200g/Feast – 300g), Creole Grilled Chicken, or St. Louis Prime Grilled Ribs (Regular/Feast/Extra Feast) as your meat. Then you pick the sauce to go with it- Bootstrap Steak Sauce, Cream Mushroom Sauce, Ragin’ Cajun, Roasted Nut, or Johnie Double Black.

Protip: Ask them to serve the sauce on the side, so if you end up not liking it, you can just opt to not use it.

Mad Mark’s Creole Grilled Chicken with Tenn Slaw and Garden Grains (p195)

And then you pick the side dishes to go with your meat. The hot sides options include Smashed Potato, Plain Rice, Garden Grains (my favorite fried rice), and Grilled Corn Cob. The cold options are House Salad, Bacon Potato Salad, and Tenn-slaw. You can choose any two from these. I personally like Healthy Signature Steak with either the Garden Grains and House Salad or the Grilled Corn Cob and Tenn-slaw combo. 150g of beef is more than enough to tide me over, and I have a healthier appetite than most.

By default, the steak is cooked to medium but you can specify how cooked you want your meat to be. On most steaks, I normally prefer medium doneness but Mad Mark’s beef is a little tougher than ideal and I recommend having it cooked to medium well instead. The cut is about an inch thick and is well seasoned. Good enough to satisfy your steak cravings for cheap!

Mad Mark’s Healthy Signature Steak with Smashed Potato and Grilled Corn Cob (p225)

For dessert, Mad Mark’s homemade ice cream leaves no room for criticizing. My all-time favorite is the Half-Baked Madagascar, which is in that list of noms I can eat forever. It is a stellar piece of work. And although “man sandwich” seems a tad chauvinist, it sounds like something I’d want to try (and conquer) next time. Is there a sandwich deemed fit for a man that a woman can’t take? I believe not.

Photo credits go to The Pickiest Eater

This “man sandwich” looks fantabulous. I’m definitely getting this next time!

The good

  • Affordable steaks.
  • Large-ish servings.
  • Amazing ice cream flavors.

The bad

  • Stringy beef, but not completely bad considering the price.
  • They run out of Half-Baked Madagascar regularly.

The bacon

3.5 out of 5 bacons! Thanks to Mad Mark’s, there are affordable steaks within the confines of the city. The beef isn’t all that great but it’s passable, and in all fairness, excusable. It could be better but for “budget steak”, it’s not all that bad. Their delectable Half-Baked Madagascar more than makes up for their beef and should be available by the gallon.

Mad Mark’s Man Sandwich and Frozen D

2/F Glorietta 5, Office Drive
Ayala Center, Makati City

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