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Ukokkei is Open Again!


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It’s official! I just called and confirmed that Ukokkei is open again on Pasay Rd. in Makati despite rumors from the mayor’s office that they had no plans to reopen.

Please go and report back. I’ll be going in for a long awaited bowl of tan tan men very soon.

Edit, after visiting:

So I heard from Twitter that Ukokkei was open, picked up the phone and called. Indeed! They are. I was wrong in my earlier conclusion that they had closed for good.

I didn’t waste a minute from there. Traffic was grid-locked, as usual around dinner time in Makati, so I just hoofed it. When I arrived I was greeted by this sign, kind of explaining the closure.

The same chef was at the helm and an older Japanese gentleman was there that I presumed was the owner. I was one of the first to arrive but before long the restaurant filled up.

As much as I missed the tan tan men, the most classic ramen was what I really craved. In just a few minutes I was staring down at a steaming bowl of Shoyu Chashu with a cold Pale Pilsen on the side. There was an old man sitting next to me at the bar loudly slurping his noodles, eating it with rice. For just a fleeting moment, everything seemed right in the world.

After I finished my ramen, the waitress brought over a bottle in a paper gift bag. “Bottle of wine, sir” she said awkwardly to me. I was confused so I asked. She explained that they are giving a bottle of wine for each bowl of ramen today and tomorrow. Clearly they have responded to the negative press they have suffered from in recent months.

Welcome back Ukokkei.

Linamnam sa Pampanga, Bale Dutung-Angeles City

Seafood Kare Kare, very photogenic and delicious. Again this would have been a great meal on its own and we were all painfully full at this point.

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Bale Dutung

Villa Gloria Subdivision,
Angeles City, Pampanga

Mobile: 09175359198
(02) 6684038, (02) 5024527

Often the question has been posed to me by Filipinos, why is it that Filipino food isn’t popular internationally? I do have opinions on the matter, but I won’t feign a response just yet. I’d like to hear the theories of those who visit Clearly you’re here because you like food and particularly food in the Philippines, so you probably have an opinion on the matter. You’re certainly not here because of my photography skills.

Claude and Mary Ann Tayag are working to change that. They are fighting the good fight and getting recognized for it. Famously they were visited by Anthony Bourdain to shoot No Reservations in the Philippines. I first learned about the Tayags when I was moving to the Philippines and started researching the local food scene. I’ve yet to encounter anyone else who embodies this philosophy like he does. Natural and local foods, slow cooking, he is a true champion for the cause of Filipino cuisine.

Claude is an artist, his work heavily influenced by his travels and Filipino folk art. I find the notion of a chef/artist interesting as food is often, I believe wrongly, called a form of art. Though that’s a discussion for another day…

The garden behind Bale Dutung is beautiful with the serene feel of a Japanese zen garden

Claude’s art work is beautifully integrated throughout the dining space and garden amongst rustic wood and abundant flora. Combining this with Mary Ann’s acute sense of detail, the pair have created an atmosphere that prepares the guest for what is to come, and there’s a lot to come.

Communal tables are set amidst rustic wood and traditional fabrics

Ten courses, with a few added demi-courses, and they’ll even threaten you with seconds. The food is really delicious but thing I will say about Filipino food: it is not light.

With each course Mary Ann diligently explains not just the dish, but the significance of the dish. Mary Ann is able to learn the names of all of her guests and is an incredible hostess. She is coyly enthusiastic with the underlying mannerism of a school teacher that you probably shouldn’t cross.  I really enjoyed her contributions and the information she provided really enriched the experience.

Claude’s nuanced style was characteristic throughout each course. His food is understated in a way that that never distorts the purity of its heritage. Each plate is simply presented and very satisfying.

Claude shares my passion of fermentation. Some of these sugar cane vinegars are more than a decade old.

Beginning with a Pako Salad, very light and fresh. Pako is a wonderful and abundant native green that I just discovered this year.

Chicken Inasal with Talangka Rice. Ironically in school we were taught to throw this part in the trash. The French are not fond of the chicken butt.

Adobong Pugo, this was one of my favorite dishes served. The quail was more subtly seasoned than most adobos and the liver and pan de sal were delicious together. I would be more than happy with just this.


Crispy shredded lechon with Claude’s homemade kimchi, absolutely brilliant! He’s ushering in a new generation of halo halo Filipino cuisine, incorporating Filipino, Mexican and Korean and it’s really damn good. Photo credit: Gen Enriquez-Gerodias (thanks!)

This pig made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Claude’s knife glided through the crispy skin, which he served to enthusiastic diners.

Bulanglang Kapampangan, similar to sinigang but with very different flavor from the ripe guava. The soup is traditionally thick and it was garnished with prawns, bangus belly and pork spare ribs as well as sinigang vegetables.

Sisig, mmmmm… sisig. Claude and his family are champions of this traditional kapampangan dish. They pan fry it and offer an assortment of condiments and garnishes, pineapple juice, chilies, onions, sea salt and of course, pig brain.

The Bone Collector, beef marrow one with adobo XO sauce. Gratuitously carnivorous and my first experience sucking bone marrow through a straw. Why didn’t I think of that?

Seafood Kare Kare, very photogenic and delicious. Again this would have been a great meal on its own and we were all painfully full at this point.

We finished with a carabao milk Maja Blanca and a local barako coffee also with carabao milk and muscovado sugar. We had mostly sworn off food forever by this point.

By the end of the meal our host, my brother-in-law, Jardine began to succumb to abdominal bloating and dangerously high cholesterol levels, fading in and out of consciousness.

I expected great food at Bale Dutung and I was certainly not disappointed. Where they really won me over was in the experience they create. It’s not enough to have good food without ambiance and it’s not enough to have passion without execution. The Tayags have set the bar very high for the rest and good for them.

Claude spoke few words during our meal but his knowledge and his intensity and spirit showed through his art and his food. I look forward to returning and would love to bring visitors from outside of the Philippines to show them how great Filipino food can be.

Thanks Chef!

Ukokkei Closed!


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Update: Ukokkei Ramen Ron has reopened!

What’s this? Ukokkei closed by the Makati government?

The notice couldn’t be worded any more cryptically but it smells fishy to me. We had our issues, but this makes me sad. Anybody have some information on this?

I want answers!

Nolita, 8,000 Miles East of Little Italy-Taguig


It’s like being in New York, except the guy across the counter isn’t Middle Eastern

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2nd Level, Bonifacio High Street Central


They were indeed fond memories brought back to my mind entering Nolita. 3 a.m., wandering the streets if Manhattan after visiting three or four bars, the hunger begins to hit. It’s time to make some bad decisions. That’s when it appears, a glowing mirage of reddish-orange grease and semi-coagulated cheese, incubated under high-voltage lights to perfect danger zone deliciousness. This is New York style pizza and I’m drunk. I’ll take two please.

This time around was a little different. In the newer portion of High Street in the Fort, the location has more resemblance to Disney Land than New York. Also I was sober.

Nolita offers seven different varieties of pizza, all by the slice. The slices are huge and loaded with toppings, just like it should be. There’s an efficiency to there ordering system that I would love to see in more Manila eateries. You simply line up, order and sit down and wait for your food. Casual joints like this don’t need waiters to complicate and screw things up.

We had three different kinds of pizza, two of which were nothing short of deadly. The Chicken Parmesan Pizza is a brilliant idea. Chicken on a pizza is just boring, unless you bread it and fry it first! Then there was the Cheeseburger Pizza. Another great idea, but it would have been better with bacon (do I have to think of everything?) We rounded out our third choice with the more sophisticated mushroom, goat cheese sort of thing so we could pretend for a moment that we weren’t disgusting gluttons, and of course onion rings.

Despite interesting toppings, it’s the crust that makes or breaks pizza and they nailed it. It’s a great NY style, a little bit chewy, a little bit crispy and perhaps most importantly, foldable. In true New York fashion you fold the slice lengthwise to contain all of the toppings when eating it.

The Chicken Parmesan was awesome and that will bring me back. The onion rings were also done perfectly. They were crispy and the batter adhered properly to the onions.

The menu also includes burgers, sandwiches and “grub” but I don’t see ever gong for anything but the pizza. Drinks include imported sodas and craft beers.

If the only competition in town is to be the like of Shakey’s and Yellow Cab, Nolita will firmly secure its niche in the Manila food scene for a long time to come, and rightfully so. So far this is my number one.

Still Looking for the Foie, Lusso-Makati



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Greenbelt 5

I generally avoid fine dining perhaps because I’ve been around it so much. It kind of reminds me of work, I spend more money and quite often leave disappointed. There are plenty of casual spots in town I would much rather go to.

Too often they will capture the look of a fine dining restaurant but not the substance, the meat of it. Manila in particular still has a long way to go to start opening true fine dining restaurants. Too often they capture the look of a fine dining restaurant (and the price) but when it comes to the substance, the meat of it, they ring hollow.

Lusso was opened Margarita Fores in Greenbelt 5 in 2009. The name is Italian but the menu reflected more of French or even American slant with a number of classic brasserie foods and sandwiches.

The interior is really well done by Jorge Yulo in beige and amber tones, featuring a large chandelier from the ballroom of the Peninsula Manila. There are nice cushiony chairs and the waiters and the napkins are both starched and pressed.

The service was well-meaning. They clearly had some training and had the best of intentions (which really is the most important thing). However from a technical (timing, communication, service technique) standpoint they were a bit awkward.

I actually got a little bit excited when I saw some of the items on the menu. Foie gras everywhere, bone marrow, confit de canard (duck confit), what’s not to love? First to arrive were the Truffle Chips. It’s an old trick but a good one. Even with the fake truffle oil they just taste good.

I’ll take a bag of these

Someone at our table ordered the Bone Marrow Vol-au-vent. It really seemed more like a passed hors d’oeuvre than a plated appetizer. I also stole a bite of the Demi Pound Burger (foie gras, cambozola bath, prosecco onions) that Lusso is known for. The burger was good but the foie was also not really detectable. I’m starting to notice an alarming trend develop here.

The Demi Pound Burger (only half shown here). I wish they spent less on expensive china and more on foie gras.

Of the two dishes I ordered both were disappointing. I began with the Foie Gras Brûlée. Maybe I was expecting something different and maybe I should have asked first, but it was really just a crème brûlée with the addition of a barely detectable quantity of foie gras. The foie was in small pieces in the center of what was otherwise a dessert. It was served with toast points but did not go well with bread. This dish suffers from a clear identity crisis.

Foie Gras Brûlée

So, a swing and a miss. Fine, let’s move on. I was still quite excited for my Confit de Canard. It looked really nice when it arrived and just as I was about to ask for Dijon the waiter brought some French whole grain mustard. Galing! The salad greens were very fresh and dressed perfectly with a nice pungent vinaigrette but the potato purée was completely unseasoned and had a bit of a gloppy texture.

But then I cut into the confit. The skin peeled off in one limp swath. Grrr! Now it’s personal! Clearly the skin had been fried, but then something else must have occurred. Either it was covered and allowed to steam soggy or it was microwaved. Either way I don’t care because they’re both amateur mistakes. The meat was also quite salty.

Confit de Canard, the color indicates it was fried crisp, but then allowed to become soggy.

All mistakes were forgivable up to this point but now they’ve ruined my favorite bistro dish. I guess now I should get to work on a confit de canard to redeem this experience.

In conclusion Lusso might be a nice place to go for a glass of wine in the afternoon with some light snacks. The ambiance is nice and they do have some good small dishes to have with drinks. I would not order the more expensive dishes on the menu because they make big promises they can’t keep. In keeping with the name, Lusso’s menu showcases a number of luxury ingredients. Unfortunately these luxury ingredients don’t really carry a presence to the plate.

Independence Day Disappointment, Garage 88-Makati


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Last week I became enthralled with Vietnamese food and started experimenting with all sorts of exotic flavors and combinations with charred ginger and Chinese spices. Then Wednesday rolls around. Holy shit it’s the 4th of July! I can’t eat Vietnamese on the 4th because that means the commies win.

I panicked. I needed to find some red meat and cold beer to reaffirm my patriotism and only a burger would do. I heard about Garage 88 from a few different sources and had been meaning to check it out. This was the time.

The patio is a pretty cool place to hang out for drinks

We found a seat on the patio which overlooks the Fort. We settled on a few things from the menu. We were a little intrigued by the sisig-esque appetizer called Mighty Hog’s Head. Sold. A couple burgers and some beer and we were ready.

The service was a little confused. They dropped off our appetizer with no plates. We ordered two beers, they bring one. At one point they brought a half glass of water. Did he get thirsty on the way?


The appetizer was OK. The flavor was fine but it would have been ten times better if they just served sisig instead of trying to reinvent something that’s already good.

Served in a room temperature ceramic dish this quickly cooled and did not sizzle

Then the burgers arrived. I had the Bacon Mushroom Chili Burger. Again the flavor was OK but by my count there were five major things wrong with this burger.

Count the fries!

1. The bread sucked. Bread is the most important part of any sandwich.

2. The hamburger patty was dwarfed by the bread. At the end you’re stuck with a big piece of bread without any burger.

3. Canned mushrooms. There are high quality and inexpensive local mushrooms available here. If you still use canned mushrooms you’re just lazy.

4. Cheez Whiz. Cheese should be real, and should not spelled with a ‘z’.

5. Seven French fries. I shit you not, I counted. You could take one look at me and tell that I will not be happy served seven fucking French fries.

So Garage 88 was a swing and a miss. I would go back for beers and once properly lubricated, I would probably order another Whiz-Burger. But I sure as hell won’t do it sober.

Burgers are such a simple thing and I truly don’t understand why so many places screw them up. Keep it simple and use good ingredients. But anyway, I regress. On this 4th of July the commies won.

Paris Délice, Francofication-Makati


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Paris Délice
1 Juno Street, corner Makati Ave.
1209 Makati City, Manila

Phone:+(632) 798 0740
FAX:+(632) 421 0162

Situated on Makati Avenue, Paris Délice sits amongst a thousand fast food restaurants like a tiny oasis of French-ness. Though it is a self-described “alternative fast food” it is without a doubt a higher quality option than its neighbors. It’s not just fast food. It’s le fast food.

There are a couple of things that make this place a stand out against Coeur de France, which is more of a perverted mutation rather than an oasis of French-ness. Paris Délice imports their bread and croissant dough from France. Though I would love to see a good local option, as far as I can tell this does not exist. So perhaps their importing solution is still best.

When I first moved to France I didn’t understand why anyone would ever get excited about a plain butter croissant. But when you try a good one, you understand. In the hands of a skilled baker they have a flaky, crispy exterior with a soft, buttery interior.

My favorite breakfast

Paris Délice is French-owned and the authenticity is evident. Though a very simple café concept it is very simple and focused. They offer sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries and a few pastries. The sandwiches are exactly like what I used to eat about 5-7 times a week when I lived in Paris. The one I keep going back for is the Napoléon, which is Rosette de Lyon (a dried saucisson or French salami) with cornichons and butter on baguette.

Butter is indeed a wonderful condiment

They also offer free WiFi and have a delivery service. The minimum order for delivery is p300 and there is an additional p30 delivery fee. I think it’s really smart of them to offer this service because good bread can be difficult to get in Manila.

If you find yourself experiencing any French withdrawal symptoms this is an easy and inexpensive fix. Bravo for making high quality convenience food. Combined with free WiFi and strong coffee these poor people will never get rid of me.

Nihonbashitei, My Silent Scream of Joy-Makati


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Isakaya Nihonbashitei

Arnaiz Rd. (formerly Pasay Rd.) Corner EDSA




On May 30, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) released this video, titled “Silent Scream”:

My first reaction, as usual when I see the trash propaganda these people produce, was a tinge of anger, but that always quickly subsides when I consider the source. It’s PeTA after all, they’re a little difficult to take seriously.

I have something really important to say!

My second reaction was an intense craving for sushi. A couple text messages later and we’re on for Nihonbashitei.

The servers at Nihonbashitei are a little bit inept. My favorite part of dining in restaurants in Manila is when they hand you a 15 page menu and then stare at you with a pen and notepad, ready to take your order. I said something to the effect of “would you kindly fuck off?” and we studied the menu.

I came on a mission. I wanted little more than raw fish. We settled on an assortment of sushi and sashimi and even added in some cold soba with tempura.

The salmon sashimi arrived first. Now I realize that all salmon in the Philippines arrives frozen but often the difference is how it was handled between arriving and being served. They do a pretty good job here.

Salmon Sashimi

I made sure to include several uni nigiri in our order. The uni here is really good, squishy and umami. All of my favorite sensations.

Also of note was the unagi. Clearly not all unagi is the same but this was another score for Nihonbashitei. It had a good texture and wasn’t too sweet.

Unagi, Uni and Aji

Nihonbashitei is a great place to go for sushi on the cheap. The quality to price ratio is very favorable and it’s pretty authentic.

I wonder what my next PeTA-inspired meal will be. They have recently been on a kick attacking chefs and purveyors of artisanal products, which is peculiar because these are some of the most responsible and ethical stewards in the meat supply chain. Though it should not be surprising given the group’s stated mission of “total animal liberation.”

Who says modern day pork is too lean?

I think I will need to discuss this topic more. For now, I leave you with a quote from Ingrid Newkirk, PeTA’s founder when she was explaining to the New Yorker why the world would be a better place without people.

“Having a purebred human baby is like having a purebred dog; it’s nothing but vanity, human vanity.”



Va Bene Pasta Deli-Makati


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Va Bene Pasta Deli

2nd floor Petron Services Corp.

EDSA corner Pasay Rd

Dasmariñas Village


556 9442 (coming soon)

As a westerner living in the Philippines there are times when I can simply take no more rice. When I first arrived I was very curious about this rice thing and I would ask people if they ever get sick of it, eating it 2-3 times a day. Now I know better.

This particular night was a much needed break from rice so we settled on Va Bene.

Va Bene is a small casual Italian restaurant and pastaria with a very peculiar location sharing a building with the Petron station just outside Dasmariñas Village at EDSA and Pasay Rd. I was happy to see given its location it was still mostly full on a weeknight and had a good energy.

Chef Massimo Veronesi and his wife Carolyn own and operate the restaurant. When we were there Massimo was on the line and came out to ask how our food was after our meal. It has long been one of my biggest criticisms of restaurants in Manila that with so many chains they often lack soul and personality. Chef Massimo has created a noteworthy exception.

Chef Massimo spent five years at the Manila Peninsula as chef of Mi Piace Italian. Also on his resume are the Ritz Carltons of Naples, Florida and Dubai.

Chef Massimo watches every plate leave the kitchen

His food at Va Bene is centered around fresh pastas and he also offers a daily special menu. His northern Italian roots are reflected in his cooking style with lots of stuffed pastas and in our raviolo with its brown veal reduction sauce.

We shared several dishes and were quite happy with each one.

We started with the Seafood Salad, which was very fresh and simple.

Seafood Salad

We tried two different pasta dishes. First was the Chicken and Egg Yolk Raviolo with Braised Veal Cheek. I firmly believe the cheek of any animal to be the tastiest part of the whole beast. This large raviolo is stuffed with shredded chicken meat and topped with an egg yolk so that it oozed out when its cut. This dish made me happy.

Chicken Egg Yolk Raviolo with Braised Veal Cheek

Look at that damn sexy oozing egg yolk!

And again but in Instagram, fuck yeah!

Our other choice was the Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta Tortellini with Arrabiata Sauce and Pecorino. It was a little bit spicy and quite good.

Eggplant and Ricotta Tortelini

We finished with the cheese plate which was a steal at 250 pesos. It consists of four Italian cheeses, topped with honey and crushed walnuts with a dollop of fig jam. I’ve seldom finished a meal with wine and cheese since leaving Europe so this was a joyous moment.

Got my Taleggio fix right here

For killer Italian food in Manila to me there is only one choice now. Look past the gas station location to find a true gem.

Ukokkei Ramen Ron, Soup with Spite-Makati

Ukokkei Ramen Ron
G/F Tesoro Bldg., 822 A. Arnaiz Ave.,
San Lorenzo Village, Makati City
856 4588
Fortunately the food is in better taste than the décor

If there is one thing I have learned in my nearly two decades in the restaurant industry is that hospitality is the number one priority. It’s even called the hospitality industry. Why then does a business like Ukokkei exist and even thrive? To call the service bad is an understatement. It’s contemptuous.

Look on and you’ll see the two most consistent remarks about Ukokkei are great ramen, crappy service. The chef, as RichieZ from so poignantly said “is a total prick.” I couldn’t agree more. They exert a lot more energy in enforcing the house rules than they do on providing quality service.

On one visit I practically needed a flare gun to get the servers attention. We didn’t have enough chopsticks or plates. Drinks were empty and no napkins were provided. But the moment you break one of their rules, this is when they finally notice you. I got barked at by one of their inept servers for putting my foot on the lower step of the elevated dining area to put my shoes back on. And don’t even think about taking any pictures!

No pictures, huh? Suck on it!

I understand that the Japanese take ramen very seriously and I have the utmost respect for their craft. But I’ve also met numerous chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants that were much humbler-spirited than this asshole.

I hate myself for going there. I hate myself further for going there a dozen or so times. But I have yet to find better ramen in Manila. I need ramen. So I keep going back like a desperate junkie only to be further violated.

The soup is really that good. I’ve heard many complain about the prices but I have no doubt that every ingredient in the broth is real and not cheaply produced. For a value comparison I tried the $68 soup at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas when I staged there. It was good, but no Ukokkei. The noodles are consistently great. They have a springy texture and I have yet to have them over or under cooked. The broth is awesome. It’s meaty and sticky, everything a good broth should be. I highly recommend the Shoyu Chasu ramen.

Shoyu Chasu

Then there’s the elusive Tan Tan Men. On my last visit I made sure to arrive at 6:00 so I could secure a bowl. With the restaurant almost empty the I had about six servers standing at attention awkwardly staring at me while I ate. Tan Tan Men is a spicy chicken and sesame based soup with ground pork. It has a layer of oil from the sesame that floats menacingly on top. It is incredibly delicious and spicy but will make you sweat mayonnaise through your pores. He only serves ten bowls per night, not because he can’t serve more, but because he’s a total prick.

Tan Tan Men

So please manila, give me a better bowl of ramen. Give me better ramen and I will drop you, oh Ramen Nazi, disloyalty redeemed with disloyalty. Until then I dutifully return to my pusher. I hate you Ukokkei!

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