Last Thursday I was invited to my first ever foodie/blogger's event by a longtime online pal. At first, I was hesitant because I don't know anyone who would be there, and also because I haven't really validated ToT's position as much of an influence to be hobknobbing with seasoned bloggers who know much more than basic html. Heck, I don't even know html! I just eat a lot, and I spit out words as fast as they come out of my head.
But I knew I'd feel right at home once the DSLRs and the LX3s came out of the purses and messenger bags, all laid out on the table next to the drinks, and people began standing up taking pictures of every imaginable subject. I was one with my people!
Our dinner was held at the famed Mario's Restaurant in Tomas Morato, a staple of my childhood memories, Sunday family lunches, and my 9th birthday. See, I remember! Our hosts were Tita Nenuca and Fil Benitez, the dynamic mother/son duo who have established Mario's as one of the most well respected and loved restaurants in Manila and even in Baguio, where the original Mario's began. This year marks the restaurant's 30th Anniversary in the business, talk about staying power. In the middle is Foodie Spanky aka Manila Boy, close family friend and organizer of the lovely dinner at this classic resto.
As I met the other foodies, overflowing wine was being served, and I knew that wine + food + talking about food = ToT heaven. Above is a smiling Jane, who makes me wonder how she could eat so much and stay so tiny...
While we waited for the rest of the party, we had some Oysters Rockefeller, freshly flown oysters from Mindanao baked with spinach and mozzarella cheese. I remember that this was a staple appetizer for our family when we would dine at the old Mario's branch in St. Francis Square across SM Megamall. Now it's gone and I wish there was a Mario's closer to home.
Alongside oysters, Baked New Zealand Mussels with Garlic Herb Butter & Cheese was being passed around as appetizers. The thick sauce was delicious but at this point I was a little over my shellfish limit...
I shouldnt've allowed it to go this far..
To familiarize everyone with one another and their respective sites, a little presentation was involved complete with screen and lcd projector. I did not sign up for this! To make up for lack of preparation, I just dazzled my viewers with posts from my Palau trip. That always seems to do the trick. Lol. Here is Foodie Fritz with his awesome site and his equally amazing photos, mostly taken with (wait for it) a camera-phone. They are unbelievable!
I was able to get a pic with Tita Nenuca, who is fresh into Facebook, and now excited to read all our blog sites. Yay to cool women who know how to go with the sign of the times! She was also very gracious to let us try the new additions to their menu, which would complement their existing classic menu of tried and tested dishes.
The wine selection of the night featured bottles personally picked by Fil, which makes them all the more special because there is usually a story that accompanies each particular wine. The Culemborg Cape Red in the middle was my vino of choice. Dry and mellow, it paired well with my (yay!) steak dinner, which followed shortly.
Wild Mushroom Smothered Steak with Pepper Sauce
Since Lent is over, I've slowly incorporated meat back into my system, so I was excited for their steak. A nice portion of fillet served with a generous helping of mushrooms, this steak had everything a meat lover could ask for.
Cooked medium-rare as I requested, the steak held its own over the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the depth of the pepper sauce. This is surely going to be a nice addition to their new menu for those seeking a nice steak dinner.
Santol Chutney Glazed Pork Chops with Cajun Rice
I was shameless enough to try some of the other dishes from my seatmates, and was glad that I mustered up the courage to do so. The Santol Chutney was a hit! The sweet and sourness of the fruit balanced out the richness of the pork, and made it moist and tender. And with the generous portion of the chop alongside a heaping of Cajun rice, this dish can make any grown man's tummy happy.
Turmeric Chicken with Pandan Rice & Pomelo Salad
This dish is really unique, with the turmeric completely enveloping the chicken with flavor and lending a middle-eastern flair. I love that it was juicy and cooked just like a roasted chicken should be. Yum!
But the rabbit-out-of-hat dish has got to be the Fillet of Pampano with Chive Butter. I was about to order this one, but retracted because I just ate pampano the other day for lunch. This was as close to the Buttered Fish dish that Julia Child and her husband had in the first minutes of the movie, Julie & Julia. Mindblowing, flavor-infused, and flaky perfection all in one dish. I was too shy to steal a second forkful from my seatmate, must come back to order this again!
It was so comforting to be amidst people who have the same fanaticism as I do when it comes to good food, and good company. Now I will never be embarrassed to pull out my cam and make the whole table wait as I take a shot of my dishes in every angle imaginable!
When dessert time arrived, everyone stood up and positioned their cameras around the small chef's valet to witness the long standing tradition of Mario's which was not just a culinary delight, but an artistic, auditory, olfactory and sensory experience all at once. I was channeling my pre-teen days.
The Mango Jubilee Experience.
It starts out with melted butter and brown sugar, and seems like a normal syrup mixture, but then the party starts when...
BAM! A splash of Cointreau and we're in flambe' heaven!
The addition of local limes enhances the aroma as it wafts around the room like a hypnotic blend of vanilla orange. We were all snap happy and ready to go back to our seats.
A little butter and a lot of mangoes later...
Mangoes Jubilee seals any meal at Mario's. I don't think I've ever dined at Mario's without having the Mangoes Jubilee for dessert; it's almost a crime to skip that tradition. I'm so glad I got to revisit Mario's after a long absence since my childhood days. I hope their new dishes entice me enough to go back and try them all again, especially that Pampano fillet... mmmm
And I'm glad that I've been welcomed to another tradition, that of camaraderie amongst fellow culinary enthusiasts and online wordmongers. I hope next time, I won't be the newbie blogger in the table.
Visit the new & improved, but ever classic Mario's Restaurant
And here are some of their sites! Don't forget to visit them all coz they are all quirky and interesting
Azrael's Site: http://www.azraelsmerryland.blogspot.com
Between Bites: http://www.janedchua.com
Karen's Lovely blog: http://burymeinthisdress.com
AJay's Writings on the Wall: http://www.annalyn.net