Tuesday, September 30, 2008


4 out of 5 stars

The only reason why I rated this 4 stars was due to pressure from Paolo when he insisted that Antonio's still tops the bar in Tagaytay. Not getting a consensus from him and other foodie friends, my lemming self shelved the star down a notch.

Chef David Pardo de Ayala is the corporate chef for the Discovery group of companies, where Verbena is located in their Tagaytay branch called Discovery Country Suites. He was born in Columbia, where he took basic cooking courses, but later specialized in CIA, NY. He then worked in NY restos like Bouley, Le Bernardin and Lespinasse, before moving to the Philippines, where he cooked for Aqua and opened the former Soleil Cafe Moderne. Being the chef who created Verbena's menu, I was excited to try this 80-seater place with Pao on our Tagaytay weekend spree.

Verbena is located right at the lobby of Discovery Country Suites, where the interiors flow into the decor of the bed and breakfast. You don't really know where the concierge area, nor the hallways of the b&b starts or ends, because the restaurant was merged into the whole lobby area. Thus, the main area of the resto is strategically fronting a fireplace, with a huge painting on its mantle. The place is elegant, decorated like a grand living room complete with the armoire and potted plants. Yet, it maintains its rustic feel, with the wooden, log cabin theme and quaint country bric-a-bracs.
Even for its rustic charm, expect five-star service. The waiter was attentive and quick to get our orders, notwithstanding the fact that we were the only customers at that time, haha (it was around 9:30 pm already, past closing). After ushering us to the balcony area (smoking section), he offered us bread and butter with a romesco dip that tasted almost like the tomato and garlic dip of Bravo!.


We were munching on our bread leisurely while we placed our orders. The menu is 2-paged short, but complete, covering appetizers, soup, salad, pasta&risotto, stews (stews, casseroles & classic broths) and main (grilled, roasted & seared). We were quick to choose from this "Contemporary Country" menu, getting an appetizer, pasta and main since it had a short description of the dish (which always helps!).

For appetizers, we had the Pan-Roasted Foie Gras (670PhP). Bernice must've rubbed off her love for it on me, cos when I see it on the menu, it leaps off the page begging to be ordered. Well, only for seared ones like this one, haha. It was cooked with pancetta, prunes and figs in a cognac sauce. And was it ever tasty! The sweetness of the fig and prunes balanced off the heavy taste of the foie gras. They were also pretty generous with the pancetta, which is a bonus. But let me go to the taste of the foie gras. It was melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I'd probably eat a lot of if it weren't so fattening. They deglazed the bits stuck to the pan with cognac, and putting it on liver intensified the taste even more. One thing I did wish for were probably more foie gras, because there was an awful lot of prunes and figs on the bottom.
Pan-Roasted Foie Gras (670PhP)

As for the pasta, we had Black Pepper Fettuccine (360 PhP). It was a pasta mixed with smoked bacon, roasted garlic and seared portabello mushrooms. I love this pasta because it was light (having no sauce, just st olive oil and flat-leaf parsley), yet filling. Garlic can be pretty sweet, especially if it's roasted as in the pasta. There were whole cloves of it, and biting into its sweetness with the smokiness of the portabello mushroom was a great combination. The bacon picked off the flavor of the mushroom, and thank god they used the deli-type slab of bacon and not those instant honey-cured ones. My only comment though was that there was a strong aftertaste from the mushroom that wasn't salvaged by putting something slightly acidic in the pasta, like maybe a hint of lemon.
Black Pepper Fettuccine (360 PhP)

We had Verbena's Sampler Plate (780 PhP), which is a combination of BBQ Lamb Baby Back Ribs, Grilled Norwegian Salmon with Arugula-Mushroom Salad, & U.S. Beef Short Ribs "Goulash." Of the three dishes, the one I expected to taste best was the disappointment of the three. The ribs did not have much of the sweet and spicy bbq glaze it touted to have, and it was awfully tough, as if it had been microwaved along with its polenta "fries" siding. The salmon was delicious, pan-fried in a wine sauce that complemented the vinaigrette of its arugula salad. Finally, our goulash sandwich was rich, tasting like a caldereta that was spiked with the spicy-sweet taste of caraway fruits.
Verbena's Sampler Plate (780 PhP)

This is definitely a restaurant to check out when dining in Tagaytay. The crabmeat and corn ravioli is highly recommended, and I would love to try it again on my second visit!

Thanks, Pao! Our posterity "I was here" shot.

Verbena menu. click to magnify.

Cafe Verbena
Country Suites, Discovery Tagaytay,
300 Calamba Rd. San Jose
Tagaytay City, Cavite
(046) 413-4567
Su, M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 10:00 am - 8:00 pm

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Elbert's 4.5 stars
Red 5 stars

Think of the top 5 upscale restos in Manila, and you're bound to hear either "Red" or "Elbert's Steakroom." I just happened to join these two because they both specialize in steak, and they're both fantastic date places in different ways. Let's compare and contrast (I know it's a redundant phrase, i know, hehe) these two, since a lot of bloggers have already done their own reviews on it, to wit:



1. The Ambience

Red conjures up wide, modern spaces, with high ceilings and wall-to-ceiling glass windows giving a spectacular view of a meticulously maintained tropical garden. Everything is in white, and kept to a bare minimum, from the walls, to the tables, linen and plates. It serves as a contrast to the bold red carpeted pathway and high chairs that aren't only beautiful to look at, but also so comfy to sit in. Certainly, apart from its obvious red theme, this place is the perfect canvas for rich colors brought to life by its food.
view from the bar area
(c/o Allanko)

the lobby

interiors at day

my family being seated

The first thing that comes to mind even before entering this place is their intention to make it obscure, much like an exclusive gentleman's club. The steak room is housed in this dingy old building, where you have to walk three flights of stairs to reach it. The first time I ate here was with my family, and my parents were almost going to walk back down because they started to have doubts about its existence upon trodding on the second floor. But just when you think that you made a mistake, an entire red wall opens to this small, secret room. Albeit its lack of square feet, it is spacious enough to sit 15-20 comfortably. It is literally a room, but the interiors are so rich, from the ornate leather chairs and chandeliers, to the wooden paneling of everything that they can make into wood (ceilings, floors, cabinets, you name it). Since this place already has its own stock of wines to complement the steak, the only thing lacking to truly make it a "man's" room would be a cigar area to lounge in.
Red wall from the outside
(c/o Anton)

Gentleman's Club interiors

Bar Area

my family in the inside corner table

2. The Food

In general, the each food can stand on its own. This place can cater to all types of people, from health-conscious vegetarians to down-and dirty carnivores. The menu is divided into three categories: starters, entrees and desserts, and though most would just head straight for the steak, their other viands are just as good as (but of course never better than) the steak.

Before anything else, their complimentary bread is one whole loaf of crusty potato bread with whole bits of potato and what seems like pimiento inside. It came with a creamy and cheesy spread that fit the bread to a tee, along with butter, if you want to make it even more decadent.

My sister, Gia, got the "Duo of Duck Foie Gras" as a starter. When Gia's foie gras came, she was dismayed that the other piece was chilled, and she ate it quick so that can leisurely savor the seared piece.

As we went on to the entrée, I got the U.S. Chilled Beef Fillet (1980 PhP), Gia got the U.S. Chilled New York Strip (2200 PhP), while the rest of the family (Georgia. Gayle, Mom and Dad got the U.S. Prime Rib Eye (1490 PhP). Gia and I got the chilled steaks because I read about it from Lori’s site who also got to interview the chef, as written down:
“Presently, Red is the only restaurant in the country that serves chilled steaks. How different is chilled from frozen beef? “Like night and day,” affirms Chef Romine. “The most important part about serving a chilled steak is you know exactly the shelf life of the steak. It’s 45 days for a chilled, vacuum-packed steak. With frozen steaks sometimes, you never really know how they were handled. For chilled steaks, you know how long it’s been aged, you know how long it’s been handled, you know how fresh it is. We’re bringing it in (from the US) twice a month because demand’s been so strong. A frozen steak is great if it’s been properly handled and properly thawed out. But with a chilled steak, it’s never been frozen. With a frozen steak, it develops a thin film and when you thaw it out, the blood comes out and the juices. With chilled meat, it never really bleeds when you grill it until you slice it.”

U.S. Chilled Beef Fillet (1980 PhP)

U.S. Chilled New York Strip (2200 PhP)

U.S. Prime Rib Eye (1490 PhP)

The chilled steaks definitely taste different from the normal ones. It tastes fresher, and is denser. When you look at the pic, and when I first saw it, I felt shortchanged since it seemed too small. But actually, it is quite thick, one of the thickest steaks I've ever cut through, and by the time I was finished, I was ready to burst.

The menu is short and simple, but extensive enough to cover a whole gamut of cooking styles. They change their menu after a few months, so it's like visiting a whole new restaurant on your next visit. For example, I've taken a few pictures from Lori's site (http://dessertcomesfirst.com/?p=392) and Allan's site (http://allanko.com/2008/08/11/red-makati-shangrila.aspx) to show you how varied their food could range. Note that most of these weren't on the menu, so we must've all gone at different times:

lobster roll (P325), a visually riveting dish of minced lobster and pear formed into a sushi roll. The individual portions are misted with a hot and sour jus which sit contentedly on mint oil, a flavor component echoed by the garnish of shredded mint leaves. It is at once crunchy, soft, zesty. (c/o Lori)

pan fried foie gras with milk risotto
(c/o Allanko)

Chilean sea bass with cauliflower puree, red caviar and champagne foam
(c/o Allanko)

fried valrhona chocolate moelieux bonbon.jpg
(c/o Allanko)

Red dessert sampler
(c/o Lori)

If you're anything but a carnivore, skip this place. This restaurants centers on one type of food and that alone: steak. (Yes, they do have seafood, but it isn’t listed down, and I’m not sure if they prepare it as well). As a matter of fact, all the other courses just play a supporting role to the steak, which is the climax of this whole gastronomic experience. But of course, since this is a review, I’ll take you through every course leading to their crowning glory.

Their bread basket has one loaf that flutes out like a puff pastry fan, very light and chewy and served with soft herbed butter.

The salad was simple but delicious; mixed greens with bell peppers, onion and cherry tomatoes tossed in a simple Asian vinaigrette with mild ginger undertones.

The pumpkin soup was also thick with cream (yum!) and decorated with seasoned croutons. Really, they tease you with these courses just enough for you to salivate for the steak.

The whole family got the “Super” Prime Grade Ribeye (2,900 PhP), and it was heavenly! It almost cut through like butter, and the meat was velvety when you ate it. It was also huge, and I never got to finish everything in one sitting. Never do you order meat to be well done in this place, because you never get to appreciate the quality of the meat when it’s that burnt. The taste is rich, needing no more additives. But when requested, they still provide you with sauces: (from upper left clockwise) red wine and shallots, béarnaise, au jus, and peppercorn. Because there was a lot of marbling in the meat, there was also more fat, though.

Along with the steak picture are also side dish choices of (from left to right): traditional pommes frites (or French fries, in other words), truffled mash potatoes, porcini mushroom risotto and creamed spinach. Each cost 150 PhP each. And unlike Red, these side dishes are good, but pretty plain and served in small plates which can serve only one. Like I said, if you’re not getting steak, just don’t go here.

food other people got were the following (c/o Anton):
Steamed Salmon (600 PhP)

Filet Mignon (1,600 PhP)

New York Strip (2,300 PhP)

3. The Service


Just like the Shangri-la chain of hotels, Red’s service is impeccable. Dishes are taken out unobtrusively, food is brought promptly and your water glass is never empty. In all the times I’ve been here, I’ve always been treated like a VIP, which is how any other person would feel with that much waiter-to-customer ratio.

The first time I was here was with my family. They were very courteous and prompt, but the food came in so slowly. We even had to talk to the waiter several times so that they’d bring the steak out.
The second time I was here was with a date, and they weren’t as nice; we didn’t even have the free dessert plates they usually give out! Sorry to say, but I think you get better treatment if you look like a CEO or you’re with a huge family.

4. The Price
Red and Elbert’s have one thing similar about them: they’re both heavy on the wallet. Make sure to have at least three thousand per person to make sure you don’t end up washing the dishes. Red’s steak is cheaper than Elbert’s, but their appetizers and soups are understandably more expensive, where the starters don’t even have any price listed in its menu! Elbert’s, on the other hand, already has the soup and salad complimentary with the steak. You only need to pay extra for the sides, your drinks and perhaps your dessert.

5. The Verdict
If I had to choose between the two, I’d choose RED. Not only are the choices more varied for all kinds of palates, but they change their menu every 3 months, so you’ll feel like visiting a new place every time you revisit. The ambiance is also unrestricting, very clean and modern, while the service is a lot better. I’m not discounting ELBERT’S, which I would also rate with nearly five stars. For sure, if you’ve never eaten in Elbert’s, you NEED to go there cos it’s a whole new different experience, from their secret room up to their ginormous steaks.

Hope this article whets your appetites into trying steak that is out of the ordinary. Happy eating!

MENUS (click to magnify)

Lobby Level, Makati Shangri-la, Manila
Ayala Avenue, Makati City

Elbert's Steak Room
3/F Sagittarius Bldg, 11 HV De La Costa Salcedo, Makati
339-3363 or check out www.steakroom.com
info@steakroom.com or reservations@steakroom.com
M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm

Related Posts with Thumbnails