Photo- and grease-heavy post. Look away now if you’re on a diet, plan to go on a diet or have ever been on a diet.
The C/W mega-lab had its inaugural Cheap-and-Cheerful Dinner Club meeting this Sunday past at Max’s of Manila in Glendale. To which Chotda replied:
Why indeed? It came recommended by a friend of the organiser, and good words were said about its deep fried chicken by our very own Pinay expert, whose family hits the joint when the cravings kick in. We were warned that there isn’t much competition in terms of Filipino cuisine in LA-ish area, and the classic dishes could be somewhat lackadaisical. No matter. Apart from our very own Pinay expert (OVOPE), myself and another European-of-Pinay-descent, no one else at the table had anything to compare it to.
First impressions of the place were pretty good; they allowed us to sit at our long table even though we were half an hour early and half our party hadn’t arrived yet. I suspect this laxness resulted from a slower than usual evening. I’m reliably informed that it’s heaving on Fri/Sat nights, with the karaoke bar being exceptionally popular. On Sunday, the karaoke bar was taken up by the appropriately named Melodie’s birthday bash, which was a good thing given these labs’ propensity for bursting out into song. Enthusiastic, but tuneless in a couple of instances.
Righty ho, enough back story; now to the food. The drinks menu was short but tropical enough to amuse all: calamansi, mango, coconut, pineapple, guyabano (soursop to me, which I often mix up with custard apple/chirimoya – a sweeter cousin), and sago gulaman (which I now find too sweet, but would have fought off all-comers for as a child). All the fruit juices tasted as they should, but with a liberal hand on the sugar. I suspect these weren’t freshly squeezed, but waddya expect thousands of miles away from the fresh fruit? And as expected, the sago gulaman was ghastly sweet, which pleased its drinker no end. Not for drinking unless you’re a bit quirkier than quirk itself were the ubiquitous bottles of banana sauce instead of ketchup. I don’t understand the need for condiment manufacturers to colour their products some ghastly and unnatural shade, but E-number the otherwise innocuous banana sauce they did.
Without anyone else at the table willing to split some piggy snout (sisig) with me, we settled for lumpia. The “shanghai” version of ground pork was delivered in a cute fried pastry skin basket, but without the atchara I was expecting. Personally, I prefer the fresh lumpia with julienned hearts of palm and other fresh and crunchy veggies. Verdict: 2/5 – close but no cigar.
A much better impression was gained from the signature dish: deep deep deep fried chicken. Fried to crispy perfection on the outside, but still moist and lovely jubley on the inside. Two whole chooks for a table of 12 was about right. I don’t remember it arriving with any special sauce, but we probably all had it with lashings of banana sauce. Yum! Sweet banana-ness. The only thing tomato ketchup could have added was a hint of tartness, but we had other supplies of tart for the night. Verdict: 4/5 – whisky and a cigar.
Garlic rice.Fried garlic in rice. ‘Nuff said. Verdict: 4/5 – whisky and a cigar with garlic on top.
Tamarind soup. Tart sour. Tongue scruncher. I think you have to like tamarind to like tamarind soup. And speaking as someone who does (this is an Asian woman thing), it was pretty good. Not too greasy, not too sour. A light broth with some vegetables thrown in for a touch of sweetness. OVOPE gave it a thumbs-up. Verdict: 3/5 – hits the spot.
Kare-Kare, which is an oxtail stew made with a peanut base. While I like peanut-based sauces, sometimes it can get a bit too rich. This version was thick and rich and on top of all the other dishes, it was an over-kill. We should have ordered another light broth to counteract the deep-fried platters on the table, but the temptation of oxtail was too much for us. Perhaps we can try it again another time without grease-lined mouths. Verdict: 2/5 – a bit thick.
Chicken adobo. As one colleague put it, the simplest dish in the world to make. But little does he know, it takes more than a recipe to make it right. It’s all about matching the vinegar content to the salt and sweet, plus the chicken has to be cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection. Best results come from years of cooking it and hence, years of complaints from your family until you get it right. This chicken adobo was OK, but I still hanker for the adobo of my childhood. Verdict: 2/5 – not left on the stove for long enough.
The outright winner of the evening: crispy pata. Pork knuckle deep fried to give a crispy yet chewy skin that hid succulent pork juiciness within. And as a bonus, the chewing around the jointed parts of the knuckle revealed mochi-like cartilage and fat that was good a several minutes of happy, contemplative chewing. While I’d like to say we cleaned the plate, there were only 5 of us able or willing to dig in. I think we gave a good account of ourselves (see evidence below). Verdict: 5/5 – was 4.5 but jumped up an extra half point because it looked so good that knuckle-sceptic, Mr P, was enticed into eating a hefty portion of it. Two drams of smoky whisky without a cigar indeed.
Besides, we had to leave some room for dessert. Choices weren’t many, but like the drinks menu, sufficiently Filipino to give us a taste of tropical flavour. There was plain ol’ ice cream, but in coconut and ube and Buko Pandan (lower photo of the two), which to me is chendol in disguise. But I think I prefer the buko pandan because it lacked the aduki/red beans that I’ve never fully enjoyed in my chendol. But anything with coconut milk in it has to be good. Both weigh in at 3/5 – tongue cleansers.
And finally, the classic halo halo. So good they named it twice.
Overall normal person rating for Max’s of Manila: great for deep fried anything, might want to leave off the adobo and work on it at home, desserts best shared between friends.
D+P (what? drive on a crazy LA freeway?) verdict: We’ll go back for the crispy pata when we’re given the all-clear by the cardiologist. I dreamt of that crispy pata. Gnomed gnomed in my sleep and all…