Restaurants

Dark humor, rich flavor

Wrong R a m e n gives us a decidedly different take on the r a m e n experience.

he recent surge in the popularity of r a m e n has restaurants competing in terms of authenticity. Not Wrong R a m e n.» Its cramped interiors are flanked by black brick walls decorated with oddball paraphernalia. Scrabble tiles spell out, «The only thing hotter than our r a m e n is you.» Another wall has a list of imaginary overseas branches. One look at the interiors and you immediately know what you’re in for.

This black sheep of the r a m e n scene gleefully bends all the rules. They do not think twice about putting Spam and bacon in your broth, or stuffing pinko-crusted pork with bacon and cheese. Depending on what you’re up for, Wrong R a m e n has all forms of hybrid concoctions to offer. C h a s h u and lettuce shreds gingerly wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper are refreshing, especially with its tandem p o n z u dip. Sink your teeth into the Bacon and Cheese K a t s u, a must for fans of Adam Richman’s Man v. Food. Crisp on the outside with a mushier center that oozes out, think of this as a Japanese cordon blue, but with the zing of w a s a b i and alfalfa fluff on top.

While other r a m e n places hold their recipes sacred, Wrong R a m e n plies a more liberal take. The F U R a m e n is as hearty as any lumberjack’s breakfast. Bacon strips, Spam, and fried egg in a noodle soup might give you pause, but the savory, salty, and peppery combo works. The Sea Men (try ordering this with a straight face) is a semi-clear chowder that is packed with flavor and teeming with baby shrimp, squid, and clams. The thin and wiry noodles give back respectable bite and chew. The restaurant’s u b e r rich T o n k o t s u remains its house special, with a fatty white broth so thick you might as well be slurping cream. A spoonful packs a punch, but fortunately, there’s a toned- down, lightened-up version for the less inclined. Spice lovers will find the Tantanmen a match for their taste buds. The yellow-orange noodle soup comes loaded with stallions, chillies, garlic, and black pepper—all of which go down scorching in your throat. Finally, something sweet: Never mind its name, the Poop of the Gods is a welcome sight in a selection of salty and savory dishes. A big dollop of chocolate mousse gets special treatment: A shallow pool of olive oil below, sea salt crystals sprinkled on top. It’s a simple, clever play on contrasts, despite it being hardly Japanese.

But at Wrong R a m e n, Japanese authenticity is hardly the point. Dark in its sense of humor, but rich in what it packs into each bowl, Wrong R a m e n cares little for traditional rules. If there’s one policy they take seriously, it’s that you leave satisfied and, hopefully, screaming in ecstasy.

Home-grown hits

Nam Nam satisfies cravings for both traditional and modern local fare.

W hen dining out, my friends rarely opt for Filipino cuisine, thinking these are dishes they can easily have at home. But I’m always quick to remind them that their family ‘s a d o b o is unique from those in restaurants, and even in other households. In the case of Nam Nam, it’s their classic Care-Care Oxtail which proves this point. It has the usual suspects—string beans, Chinese cabbage, tender tripe—and that velvety peanut sauce we love smothering our rice in. But what makes it different is the b a g o o n g, which has a punchy, fishy taste that rounds out the rest of the dish’s flavors. It’s little personal nuances like this that make eating Filipino food a unique experience, wherever you happen to be enjoying it.

Other than serving all-time Pinoy favorites, what makes this restaurant worth visiting is the creative spin they put on some of their dishes—introducing another ingredient to the mix, or combining two dishes to form a new one. For instance, the Lamb A d o b o & Flakes is like the famous twice-cooked a d o b o, but here, lamb takes the place of pork. The meat is braised for hours until tender, then a portion of it is deep-fried until crisp and served on top of the stew for a wonderful play on texture.

Visually, the Singing Surf & Turf is more colorful than your run-of-the-mill singing. The addition of rib-eye and tiger prawns makes the dish heartier, and the proportion of meat to vegetables was just right. But as with any singing, it all boils down to the broth. This version doesn’t disappoint as it is redolent of unripe tamarind, so sour that it might make you wince upon first sip. But once I’d seasoned it to my liking with fish sauce and c a l a m a n s i juice, it brought the kind of comfort I usually feel during Sunday lunch with my family.

Given the creativity and the range of variety in the entrees and mains, I was surprised to find only five desserts in the menu. Of the five, the runaway favorite was the t u r o n, covered in caramel sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. Nam Nam’s version has no jack fruit but uses dried mango and k e s o n g p u t i instead. It’s a bit oily, but still satisfying.

You might find yourself in a dilemma, having to choose among Nam Nam’s wide range of dishes. It’s a good thing the restaurant offers portions in different sizes, allowing you to order just enough for yourself or your party. This way, whether you’re dining alone or with a large group, it’s sure to be a satisfying Pinoy feast for the senses.

Rhine and dine

Serving up hearty food and beer, B r o t z e i t proves that German flavors are more familiar than we think.

While we’re no longer strangers to the virtues of fall-off-the- bone Italian o s s o b u c o or a mean French duck confit, German cuisine still draws a blank for many Filipinos. Beyond pretzels, sauerkraut, and frothy beer steins, there’s a rich landscape that we’ve barely explored. New arrival B r o t z e i t draws us a culinary map of Deutschland, with a focus on Bavaria—home to hefty pork knuckles, bratwurst sausages, and the art of yodelling. B r o t z e i t (which, directly translated, means «bread time») was started in 2006 by German expats in Singapore who longed for fare from their homeland. After successfully conquering the Singapore market, they have begun franchising their modern take on the bier garden all over Asia.

Pork is king on the menu. The sausages are plump, juicy, and loaded with spices. Start with the Currywurst, a perennial street food favorite. B r o t z e i t ’ s version is bigger, more for dinner than an afternoon snack, dusted with curry powder and served with a pile of potato wedges. For something traditional, try the Weisswurst (white sausage) made with veal and pork, spiced with parsley, ginger, and pepper, and paired with a chewy pretzel.

Then there’s the Schweinshaxn—a cousin of the crispy p a t a and a sure attention-grabber. Its crunchy outer layer reveals juicy textures and a mildly peppery meat underneath. Rather than atsara, you get a siding of sauerkraut or pickled cabbage shreds. Another B r o t z e i t specialty, Kasespatzle, comes off as a glorified mac and cheese, using gnocchi like egg noodles smothered in a creamy Parmesan, G o u d a, and E m m e n t a l sauce. It’s topped with crisp onion rings for good measure.

Beer plays a big part in German cuisine, and B r o t z e i t makes available a decent selection of imports you’ll want to pair with your meal. For roasted meats, opt for the malt-rich Paulaner D. Miinchner, a hearty lager with toffee tones. Paulaner’s Hefe-Weissbier is an O k t o b e r f e s t standard with hints of banana, apple, and nutmeg. It goes well with salads, cheeses, and fruit-based desserts.

Speaking of dessert, you’ll want a glass of beer with your A p f e l s t r u d e l— stewed apples with cinnamon, wrapped in dough and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. While nothing mind-blowing, it makes for a sweet finish. Chopped-up pancakes thrown in with rum, raisins, and sugar add up to B r o t z e i t ’ s version of the Kaiserschmarren, served with syrupy plum sauce. The «emperor’s mishmash” was accidentally invented by a desperate royal chef for the n i t p i c k y, weight-conscious Bavarian wife of an Austrian emperor.

Good grub, fantastic beer Brotzeit is a solid introduction to German cuisine and a welcome addition to Manila’s restaurant scene. Bottoms up!

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