Food and Leisure

How Spiral ended my search for the best buffet

Mary Ann Quioc Tayag - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - About 500 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, was sailing for Spain because King Manuel I of Portugal refused to finance his voyage to the Spice Islands (then the East Indies and now Indonesia). En route, Magellan reached the Philippines and, as we all know, he was killed in Mactan by Lapu Lapu. He died without completing his voyage and finding his spices.

How lucky for us that we no longer need to conquer and extend territories just to flavor our food. But still there is a Magellan in all of us.   There are those, like hubby Claude, who excitedly transform themselves into performing artists in the kitchen, experimenting with old and tested flavors to reinvent or   discover anew. His family’s “mmms” and “yums” are enough reward.  Or like our favorite doctor, Dr. J.Y. Perez, who explores the metropolis every Sunday in search of the latest restaurant.  It is a culinary adventure he enjoys doing regularly with his family, especially because his son, Jonathan is a foodie.

Many post and write about their discoveries on their Facebook page.  Some write blogs. Some whisper to those who care to listen.  Claude and I decided to write all our discoveries and favorites in the entire Philippines in our Linamnam book.  It became a bestseller! It broke all book-launching-day sales records and is now still selling briskly in all National Book Stores.  It only proves one thing: that people’s search for great food is never-ending. 

But Claude complains that I am a certified sucker and he is a certified enabler.   Once I heard Korina Sanchez over the radio mention Shangrila restaurant to be the favorite place of Tita Cory and Cardinal Sin for shabu-shabu.  “It is in Quezon City and I remember the name of the street starts with letter ‘T,’” I said to hubby.  So we drove to Quezon City from Pampanga and traversed the entire Timog.  Unsuccessful, we went to the next T — Tomas Morato. (There was no Google yet then). 

After over an hour on the two wrong T streets, Claude, the enabler, was fuming and hungry. We wanted to crumple each other’s faces. He drove fast to a drive-through burger and sped back all the way to Pampanga.  I was in complete silence.  We found out that evening that the T stood for Times Street! And indeed we drove back again from Pampanga the following day to continue our search. This time we knew exactly where we were going.  So, was the shabu-shabu worth it? Hmm, it was good but certainly did not end my search for the best shabu-shabu in town.

I am sure Tita Cory had happy family moments in Shangrila (the Aquinos live on Times St.), which is why it was special to her.  Often it is not the real flavor of the food that we like but the good feeling we get because of the memories we have connected with that dish. For the heart and the taste buds are so tightly intertwined.  That is why which dish is the good and correct version of a dish is highly debatable. Our son, Nico, loves Cadbury Fruit and Nut (while I detest any choco with fruit) because it was their prize in grade school every time their football team won. One bite and he feels victorious!

I am continually searching all supermarkets for the very hard-to-find, expensive Mabuti brand sardines of my late Apo (grandmother). Every time she shared her favorite sardines with me, I felt special. Interestingly, in one Oprah show, the guest doctor said that eating sardines is a good way of acquiring endorphins, which send happy signals to the human brain. No wonder my sardine moments with my apo were all happy.  Here, we give sardines to calamity victims because it’s cheap and ready to eat.  Maybe sardines are the reason why our people can still smile and wave at the TV camera despite the calamity — a very Pinoy behavior that puzzles foreigners.

Last week, Claude and I succumbed to the temptation of the much-talked-about Sofitel Hotel buffet. It was my first time and the newly renovated Spiral is indeed very impressive and likely to have cost $11 million. As if all the 21 food stations, from the spicy Indian to the chic French stove, were not enough, we had 21 excellent Italian wines imported by IPHOR Trading Inc., a Philippine corporation organized by four people from different countries.  We had it all, from Chianti to merlot to chardonnay to rosé, masterly paired with our dishes. We started at 6:30 p.m. with a sparkling Papi Dolciato and chicken pops. Wine kept coming and we kept on drinking, naturalmente. I stopped at wine number seven when I was told that the red wine I was enjoying the full, sapid and rounded flavor of was called Conio. Either I had too many wines or it was a sign to stop. (Apparently, it was Colio and not Conio.)

As expected, we were awed and all praises of the place and the glorious food — even the most jaded foodies.  It has a controlled-temperature room with aged cheese and an excellent cold-cut selection, from jamon Serrano to the expensive and rare salami with hazelnuts. One remarked that that room alone was to her worth the price. (Spiral is the most expensive buffet now.)  One said don’t miss the sweetish, creamy uni and make your own chirashi sushi.  Claude got me a teacup full of uni and if he told me they got the sea urchin from the hotel pool after salting the water, I would have believed him.  Another insisted I should head straight to the pan-fried foie gras and grilled prime rib with bone. Forget the greens and bread; they are a waste of space in the stomach.

With my little tummy and being tipsy from all the wine, I chose to get the steamed crab.  It was all right but lacking the succulent taba we are all after. Our 13-year-old nephew, Anton Cruz, had the lobster grilled with lemon and butter and had a lobster feast, eating four pieces. So be creative. The chefs will be more than glad to make you happy. 

In the Chinese section, the roast and wrap duck are surely worth the long line. If the xiao long pao have been sitting in the steamer for a long time, ask for new ones.  And yes, open your secret tummy compartment for the freshly made assorted chocolate chips with various nuts, which are stored in an outstanding Prizmic & Brill chest of drawers. I love the brilliant idea of opening drawers and discovering chocolates.  Now, that is my idea of a treasure chest! The Magellan in me came out and Spiral indeed ended my search for the best buffet in the country.  And, like MacArthur, I vow, “I shall return.”

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