Anything that seems to be out of the ordinary these days just adds to noise that we consider normal. SSDD as one well known author puts it. To any destination a journey must be taken, and the first step is what gets us going. Waking up to the day will either strike fear into your heart or jumpstart your egotistical ‘can-do’ attitude into overdrive. A good cup of joe, cradled in between your hands, warming up to the idea that maybe something remarkable will happen today. And so it did on this ironically rainy day. Through torrential rains and massive traffic the restaurant beckoned, that welcome respite for indulgence which promised to be what the culinary doctor ordered. As you will see, the day did not start for me on time. Come to think of it, it never did. Not in my profession. As they say in the industry, holidays and weekends do not belong to us cooks. It was on this rainy June afternoon that I find myself just off the beaten C5 highway just before Eastwood. A right here, then a left, then through an obscure gate, the car settled in front of a quaint little place that, were it not for the signage, the trail of bitter chocolate aroma would weave its wispy fingers around me and slowly entice me through the threshold.
Quite a discovery this was for the personal chef, and it is with intrepid curiosity that I believed today would definitely be encoded into my journal as a day that my journey takes a detour from the humdrum and sundry. For that is what Xocolat appeared to the weary traveler that braved the ludicrous traffic the rainy days normally generate. Curb-appeal aside, the place had a certain draw. The kind you dream about on a rainy day. Quiet. Warm. Inviting. Rustic. Though it was only a few million hours since the sun rose on the east, breakfast was the order of the day. Could this place be a welcome choice? I braved the rain and the puddles to find out.
I was not alone. A place like this deserved that I bring someone along. Although from the looks of it, under other circumstances, it is a great place to be alone. I digress. And so I did bring someone along. My little Maxine, who has the same penchant for trying something new at least once. As my date, she had equal opportunity to appreciate what I was about to have that day. We sat at the comfortable sofa by the window, not watching the outside world go by, not remotely concerned what would be our next destination. Perusing the menu, we were pleasantly surprised. Of course were indecisive over what chocolate indulgence we would be laying our grubby hands on. After all, what can you expect from a place named Xocolat. Apparently, a lot more.
Arroz a la Cubana
The classic Spanish dish was, for all intents and purposes, true to what it says on the menu. The chorizo sausage added to the sweetness, helping to counter the tartness of the sauce. The raisins were so tender, it actually competed with the supremacy of the beef that normally would dominate most cubana recipes. This is the kind of plate where it is not a sin to mix everything up into one inviting heap. Cut up the egg, let the yolk flow just a little bit, and with a big spoon scoop up the meat and indulge. Although we would have welcomed the roasted bananas that usually comes with this menu selection, it was not missed. The mashed potato we thought was a good sub.
Spicy Beef Flakes
Pulled beef never looked so good and inviting. Fork tender, very little effort is needed to make that solitary table knife feel unwanted. This is good when you are nursing a hangover. The last thing you want is to wrestle with is a tough cut of beef. The flavors were close to smoky, but not quite. By itself it would have made a good tapas offering, downing chocolate laced tequila shots. Surprisingly, the flakes seared pleasantly down to the back of my throat, adding a final kick to all those flavors that lingered in my mouth. What was that yellow dab of sauce? Curiously it looked like cheese. But having beef and cheese would scream bloody murder on rabid fans of the famous hoagie from Philadelphia. But this was goat cheese. Local goat cheese mind you. From the farms of Laguna. The only drawback was that I wanted more. Caramelized tomatoes add that sourness to balance out the richness, making the egg and rice just a necessary accessory.
What is breakfast in Manila without tuyo, that veritable salted and dried sardine that graced many tables over a millennia. The local vinegar really cuts into the flavors of the fish, though mingled with the capers and olive oil. Garlic rice notwithstanding, I would have loved some hot pan de sal to sop up the remains. This dish is a classic. The craving for pucker-inducing saltiness has easily been tamped down. I would be hard pressed for anyone to go wrong with this plate.
We were at a crossroads an hour and a half later. By all accounts, this was lunch to a casual observer. To us this was breakfast. A conflict of interest, if you will. To Dessert or Not to Dessert. It was going late into the day. It was a satisfying petit dejouner sojourn. Something sweet to end the meal with. Something that would allow the remembrance of dishes past, at least the last three that I can remember. Besides, it was still pouring out. Menu please…
This the White King package did not make. Three uberfluffy pancakes stacked one on top of the other. It was not enough that they were obviously brown to denote what was incorporated. It was not enough that fresh slices of banana were tucked into every nook and cranny. It was not enough that whipped cocoa butter slowly melted into an inviting heap around the plate. It was the chocolate sauce and the choconut. Dark Belgian chocolate sauce at the top dripping out to the sides. Choconut from Davao just coming along for the ride. Despite the pancake being a little too cakey for my taste, it gave me the opportunity to soak up as much of the sauce in each bite as I can defy the laws of physics with. Don’t get me wrong. I do not intend to use superlatives here, as it would be inaccurate. The sauce was just that good. Bitter from start to finish, with the just right amount of sweetness. And to freshen the palate between each bite, chunks of peaches and fresh pineapple were at the ready.
The rain has stopped. We did not notice when the last drop hit the pavement, but the sun started shining. Maxine had her sugar fix with a mudslide, so I was destined to handle a hyperactive six year old for the rest of the paseo home. Like I said, this was going to be a different day. It was the few hours spent at Xocolat that made it DSDD. A few other guests huddled over their warm mugs of hot chocolate and coffee while we gorged ourselves. Loners perused the magazines, leaning back and just zoning out. Though the restaurant was a wifi hotspot, not one guest pulled out a laptop to update their statuses. Perhaps it was a place with an unwritten rule that when you ease into that chair, you either disconnect from the outside world and enjoy the solitude; or focus on that person that is seated across you, having a meaningful conversation, engaging in playful banter. Over a cup, over a slice of chocolate cake. Sigh. Don’t leave. Not yet. Lunch will have to be enjoyed another time. Their pasta dishes and Panini's guarantees a trip back. Check please…
Economia corner Calle Industriya