Earlier this year, I received an email from a blogger in the Philippines named Mila. After reading one of my adobo posts, Mila (who writes the blog, Watergirl) kindly offered to send me a cookbook comprised of nothing but adobo recipes. I replied to Mila and, of course, accepted her generous offer so that I could further my research into the salty and tangy subject of adobo cookery.
After exchanging a couple more emails, Mila informed me that she and some of her friends (other Pinoy food bloggers and readers of my blog) happened to be chatting one night and decided that they all would like to meet me if I ever made my way to Manila during my trip to the Philippines.
Upon reading this bit of information, I was initially excited at the prospect of meeting people that I had become acquainted with via their own wonderful blogs and through their helpful comments left here on my own blog. But then my ego slowly started to deflate as my inherent sense of suspicion kicked into high gear. Personal experience dictates that when a group of women talk about me when I'm out of earshot, the conversation usually revolves around how huge of a dork I am, followed by giggling, more conversation about my dorkiness, and then ending with uproarious side-splitting laughter while fingers are pointed at me from afar.
In spite of (or maybe because of) my dubiousness and low self-esteem, I cautiously wrote Mila back, said it would be wonderful for all of us to meet, then closed my eyes and hit the SEND button. Because this was still a few months before my trip to the Philippines, I promptly forgot about this whole exchange no more than 30 seconds after hitting said SEND button (my short-term memory is lacking in, I forget).
A couple months later though, I received "The Adobo Book" in the mail. Inside the book was a short note from Mila reminding me that everyone would still like to meet me and my wife for dinner in Manila.
By now, I had come to grips with the fact that perhaps there does exist a type of person who would actually want to take the time and meet other human beings in a friendly atmosphere rather than incessantly mocking them. These people are called "normal", whereas people like myself are referred to as "anti-social," "paranoid," or "surly hermits". Despite my usual status as a "surly hermit," I was again excited at the prospect of meeting other bloggers and lovers of Filipino food.
So, after much planning and organizing on Mila's part (thanks again, Mila), I was able to wine and dine with a wonderful group of people on one of my last nights in the Philippines.
The meeting place of choice was Chef Laudico's Bistro Filipino--a Filipino-Fusion restaurant in Manila that everyone agreed would be a fitting place to meet me in the flesh. In addition to my wife and myself, two of my cousins and my mother were also in tow. Considering the circumstances, I was already a bit nervous about meeting everyone. But because my mom was with us, I was doubly (No, triply. Nay, quadruply!) nervous as I was afraid she'd say or do something crazy to these strangers we were about to meet (I'm joking, of course! Well, partly joking. And yes, I'm a grown-ass man 30 years of age and I still worry about these things).
Any heightened notions of nervousness were quickly melted away though as soon as we walked into Chef Laudico's. Everyone that was there for our little get-together greeted us and gave us all a very warm welcome. After some hellos, handshakes, and howdy-dos, our dinner party sat down to a long rectangular table at the center of Chef Laudico's dining room. Who else was seated at this rectangular table of awesomeness you ask?
Mila, was there of course. Also joining us for dinner that night was Joey (of 80 Breakfasts) and her husband; Socky (of Tennis and Conversation); Katrina (a fellow food lover and frequent commenter on this blog) and her boyfriend; and Marketman (of Market Manila) and his wife. Needless to say, it was a wonderful feeling to finally be able to put faces to the names of these previously-mysterious internet denizens. I could post pictures of the group from that night, but then we'd have to hunt down and kill all of you reading this (well, at least make you all pinky-swear) to protect our super-secret blogger identities. Instead, I'll subject you to crappy pictures of dimly lit food:
Our table ordered a number of starters that night, one of them being the Crispy Kangkong you see above. Kangkong is a type of water spinach grown in the Philippines, and Chef Laudico's take on Kangkong featured the leaves encased in a type of dough and deep-fried. It was almost like a kangkong-filled fried wonton, or maybe that's exactly what it was.
We also ordered the Ubod Spring Rolls, which were cone-shaped lumpia filled with chorizo, shrimp, and other goodies which I do not remember. The kicker with these lumpia cones though were their topping of Sinamak Sorbet, or frozen spicy vinegar, that the diner is to spoon into the opening of the cone. The frozen vinegar proved to be a very nice and elegant touch to this unique and tasty version of lumpia. I thought the Ubod Spring Rolls were wonderfully executed.
There were also a few other appetizers from that night such as some little sisig tart thingies that were served with a quail egg. However, I didn't get to sample the other apps, and if I did, I don't remember them. It's not that the other appetizers weren't good, there was just a lot going on at the rectangular table of awesomeness--but I'll get to that later.
For the main courses, one of my cousins and my mother each opted for the Paella Stuffed Squid pictured above. I had a taste of this dish and thought it was just OK.
My wife had the Duck Two Ways, which was a dish of duck served, uh, two different ways on a taro cake. If I remember correctly, one of the ways was Duck Inasal, and I don't know what the second style of duck was. Either way, my wife loved this dish.
A popular choice at our table that night was the Adobo Overload--which is what I and my other cousin chose, as well as a couple others from our group. The Adobo Overload featured a huge (HUGE!) plate of pork adobo flakes, chicken adobo flakes, coconut sticky rice (at least I think I tasted coconut), kangkong leaves, and a giant hunk of foie gras on top--perhaps the biggest piece of duck liver I've ever had as part of a dish. Even without the slab of foie, this dish was already quite rich--which is why I guess it was called the "Overload".
I started off enjoying this dish very much, especially because I attacked the foie right away. But then I realized that the foie served no real purpose in this dish other than to say "Hey man, there's some expensive duck liver on this plate, so you better like it, sucka!" Maybe it's just me, but I thought the foie was overpowered by the adobo, so I ended up eating the foie by itself (Yum, sucka!) and then eating the rest of the dish. And on top of all that, a special dessert of Spanish Chocolate ganache/mousse/(insert rich chocolate something or other here) was served to those who ordered the Adobo Overload. Ugh. The chocolate dessert was good, but it was just overkill for me at this point--I was ready to burst. Overall, I still liked the Adobo Overload, but in the end it was a bit of an overindulgence for me. I would definitely try it again, I would just share it with someone else and keep all the foie to myself.
If that all seemed like a terribly unclear description of the food I had that night, it's because, try as I might, I really couldn't focus on what I was eating because I was preoccupied in my attempts to follow all the conversations at the dinner table. Because there were so many of us there that night, it was difficult for me to fully interact in each and every conversation going on (there were a lot of them). And it may be an obvious thing to say about a gathering of food bloggers over dinner, but most of the chatter centered around food (GASP!).
In the end, the food at Chef Laudico's was wonderful, but the true highlight of that dinner for me was getting to know (if only the smallest of details) Katrina, Mila, Socky, Joey, and Marketman.
I found out, for instance, that Katrina is as opinionated (I mean that in a good way!) and knowledgeable about food in real life as she is in the comments section of my blog and countless other food blogs.
Aside from being a super generous giver of cookbooks, and organizer-extraordinaire, Mila joked with us that she gets a strange feeling towards the back of her head whenever she eats too much foie gras or bone marrow. I get that same feeling too, and I call it "me want more".
Socky seemed to be the designated wine afficionado of the group, as no one wanted to order wine until Socky arrived. And when she did arrive, Socky picked out a great red wine and told me that there are some wonderful up-and-coming producers of biodynamic Rhones (at least that's what I think she said to me from across the table, for all I know she was probably telling me I had something in my teeth).
Marketman regaled us all with the latest findings of his ongoing Lechon experiment. He even gave me some tips on how to make my own bagnet at home, something I hope to do in the near future.
And Joey, lover of chicharron and brussels sprouts, asked me a burning question that she said she had been wondering about me for the longest time: "Do you like hip-hop?" she asked me. I then proceeded to pour some of my wine out onto the restaurant floor, fashioned some W's with my hands, and screamed "Thug Liiiiiiife!"
Thanks again to Mila, Joey, Katrina, Socky, and Marketman, for letting me into their inner circle--if only for one night. By all accounts, I think everyone had a wonderful evening. I didn't even have to kick my mother underneath the table, and no one pointed and laughed at me. Good Times.