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Fine dining on a budget

(First of two parts)

MANILA, Philippines - Fine dining on a budget almost sounds like an oxymoron because fine dining is synonymous to expensive. Every now and then though some fine dining restaurants will offer items on the menu at a bargain for a limited time.

One fine dining Chinese restaurant used to advertise Peking duck at half the price until the resto ran out of it. I believe its supplier from China had a Peking duck excess and sold it to them at half the price.

Two of my favorite fine dining restaurants have specials which I have enjoyed regularly and are highly recommended.

All-You-Can-Eat Wagyu steak and prawns for P1,320 at Lolo Dad’s Brasserie on Ayala Ave.

 I have been a regular Lolo Dad’s Quirino Ave. client for almost a decade and was delighted when it opened shop on the ground floor of 6750 Ayala Ave. where Giraffe bar used to stand. Lolo Dad’s at 6750 Ayala is co-owned by business tycoon Tony Boy Cojuangco and restaurateur Ding Ayuyao, the son of veteran racer Dodo Ayuyao. At the helm of the kitchen is celebrity chef Ariel Manuel. The ambience and the simple decor of Lolo Dad’s interiors exude elegance. There is no entree or appetizer on the menu that doesn’t taste good. Therefore, you can’t go wrong whatever you order.

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There is a setback though — the pricing. A normal dinner for two without wine would cost at least P5,000 which is unaffordable for most foodies like me. Then last year, it introduced the Eat-All-You-Can Surf-&-Turf for P1,320. Borrowing a catch phrase used by Air Asia, “Now Everyone Can Fly,” “Now Everyone Can Eat Wagyu Steak” at Lolo Dad’s.

Besides Wagyu steak, the other choices for the “Eat-All-You-Can-Surf-&-Turf” are Australian Sirloin and USDA Rib Eye. The prawns are cooked to whatever style you wish — grilled, baked or steamed. The price also includes truffle infused mashed potatoes or mushroom risotto, french beans and freshly-baked buns. The initial serving is three slices of steak and three prawns after which you can specify how many more steak slices or prawns you want. Even if I starved myself the day before, I could never go beyond the initial serving. Some people I’ve dined with could go beyond three servings of steak like my compadre Johnny Cesar despite the fact that he’s 40 lbs. lighter than me.

Lolo Dad’s also serves gourmet meats like Prosciutto de Parma, Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico and dozens of cheeses imported from France and Italy. Within the restaurant is a coffee and dessert bar that offers one of Italy’s best coffees — Illy to cap a belly-busting dinner.

Angus prime rib dinner with wine for P980 at I’m Angus on Yakal St., Makati City

Another favorite of mine is I’m Angus on Yakal St. It is part of the award-winning Australian chain of steak houses and is managed by the people who used to run Gold Ranch Steak house on Pasay Road. I discovered this wonderful steak house on one of bi-monthly visits to my favorite deli store Santi’s. The I’m Angus motif is warm and homey with a Western feel. Their menu features all types of imported cuts of meat and seafood.

As in any fine dining restaurant, the prices are not cheap. A typical steak dinner for two without wine will set you back at least P6,000 to P7,000 but it’s worth every peso. Their steaks are meticulously cooked and well-prepared. As the saying goes, “Quality always commands a premium price.”

But don’t despair because dining at I’m Angus just became affordable. It now offers an Angus prime rib dinner with salad, sidings and red wine (or iced tea) for the unheard price P980. At that price, I could now afford to treat my friends regularly to Angus prime rib. The generous serving of Angus prime rib (ample enough to be shared by two) is always juicy with a little marbling of fat and the Caesar salad that accompanies the dinner although very simple is robust and flavorful. I always choose shredded corn as my side dish because its the best I’ve ever tasted. Sweet and tender!

A variety of steak sauces is available upon request. Note that you are only allowed one type of steak sauce. If you order two kinds, you pay extra. I recommend the Forest Mushroom sauce which compliments the beef well. The Angus prime rib dinner is only available on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Although unadvertised, the special is so popular I’ve been turned away countless times because the restaurant is always full on these days. I recommend reserving at least a day ahead.

In the event I’m Angus is full when you visit, a trick I’ve learned is to go to the sister restaurant Bianca’s which is just a few steps away and order the Angus prime rib dinner there which they will gladly accommodate.

As I compile the pictures for this article, I’ve noticed some salivation from my mouth. I think I’ll have steak tonight.

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