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[FOOD PORN] Food Sanctuary

Robert Uy
O Kitchen is home smack in the middle of Libis that offers the juiciest tapa

HOME. O Kitchen is a sanctuary and haven.

I’ve always said that food is a social thing. It is. Flavors seem more robust, taste buds kick up a gear and the experience moves from being an act of survival to a celebration of life when a meal is shared with friends and family.

Having said that, social does not necessarily mean loud and noisy. A party is always a fun thing – but there is merit to a meal enjoyed in a quiet and relaxing setting. Quiet and relaxing comes in many forms – from the rustic outdoor charm of a Sonia’s Garden or Ninyo Fusion to the more speak-easy type hideaways like Elbert’s Steak Room and Chef Laudico Bistro Filipino. They all speak less but actually say more.

Amidst the hustle and honking of Metro Manila, sanctuary becomes even more valuable. We live in fast times…we measure things in milliseconds. Doing two things at the same time does not qualify as multi-tasking…that’s the new normal. We zip through life as fast as our broadband speeds will allow us to.

We need to stop and smell the roses more often.

Home takes on a new meaning – a place to let your guard down, to be with family, to kick back, to lay out…to commune, to be still. Stripped of the trappings of “life,” we enjoy quiet both within and without. Dining out is the new normal. Home cooking has turned into the new luxury – an ironic twist.

Imagine then, discovering a place right smack in the middle of Libis, Quezon City that is quietly and confidently tucked away just a few meters behind the madness of city life.

This isn’t some “worth-the-drive” sort of place…it’s there…just inside the Padre Pio Compound on C5 Libis (right after Honda Cars Libis), E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, Pasig. Look for the Petron station and turn into it. Tucked behind the station is the St. Pio chapel.

Hidden place

O Kitchen. That’s the name. Glass windows all around bring a Mad Men retro sense of design – one that isn’t conjured by a sense of wanting to be trendy but rather because that is who they are. A classiness born out of simplicity, a lack of trappings that is comforting and simplicity that exudes confidence – these are the first impressions of O Kitchen. Just like home.

Table settings that make sense (have you ever wondered about just how many utensils there are at formal dinners), tableware that fits comfortably in your hands, and a printed menu that doesn’t pretend to be a coffee table book.

And the food – real food…simply presented in a way that allows you to grab a serving without worrying that you’re breaking up hours of work. The place just screams “real.” This is home cooking.

Where does one begin? Of course…with tapa! O Kitchen has triggered a personal dilemma for me. I am now torn between tapas. I have now sinned. I am a tapa. O Kitchen tapa will now be my tapa mistress.

FORBIDDEN DELIGHT. Beef tapa oozes with flavor.

This has danger written all over it – well sourced choice cuts of beef that have been allowed to leave just a bit of fat on it, oozing with juiciness and raring to go. It looks good, it smells great and it tastes other worldly. The marinade darn works!

I hate it when it does that, when the perfect ratio of tapa marinade comes together and tempts you into spoonful after spoonful of rice and tapa. O Kitchen tapa is a forbidden delight and one that requires a public confession of this sort to expunge any tinge of gluttonous guilt. I see friends and family have their first bite of O Kitchen tapa and that would be the last that I would hear from them for the next 10-20 minutes.

SUCCULENT. Crisp, crackling lechon kawali invites the sinful.

As if that wasn’t enough, O Kitchen serves the crispiest lechon kawali I have ever had outside of our home – one with crisp, crackling skin that isn’t so thick as to be a hazard to brittle teeth – and yet surprisingly succulent and juicy…with a scary, scary kicker. Bagoong balsamic vinegar.

I mean…seriously, bagoong vinegar – a proprietary blend of subtle shrimp paste sauce, some balsamic vinegar and sugar cane vinegar that is really designed for pako salad (Fern salad) but has been given a new vocation as a sauce for the lechon kawali. I have not encountered this anywhere else and I fear I have developed a habit that will be hard to kick.

Endless choices

There is the pinakbet topped with a generous portion of chicharon, there is the roast chicken that takes me back to my mom’s kitchen and there is the fluffy, puffy rice that goes with the meal. There is the kare-kare that I swear uses some gata which provides this nuanced sweetness combined with regular bagoong.

The kare-kare sauce is thick, hearty and delightful. The ratio of vegetables and oxtail is perfect. A piece of oxtail, some veg and a generous serving of the sauce over rice is a meal itself! The last time I tasted that blend was when we could still get our hands on Alavar’s bagoong in Cebu.

CATFISH. Combined with dips and sauces, crispy fried catfish is even more delicious.

There is the fried hito (catfish) with balao-balao and mustard leaves. Balao-balao or buro, a local delicacy made from rice and shrimps, comes from Pampanga. Also known as salted shrimps, it is tastier when eaten with eggplant, lettuce, mustard, and other vegetables. I could never understand how fermented shrimp and rice could work so well with deep fried catfish…but it just does.

FINALE. The perfect ending to a sumptuous meal.

And there is dessert – home-made suman with the world famous Philippine mango and a dollop of vanilla ice cream marked with strands of chocolate sauce.

Home means many things to many people – as does the term home cooking. So when one finds a place that feels like home, looks like a home and tastes like home, one can’t help but be home. A minute turns into an hour, an hour into two and a meal into a memory. This is the enigma of O Kitchen. The next time you pass that busy stretch of C5 and hear the dinner call from home, don’t say I didn’t warn you. And don’t resist the call. For it is a call worth heeding. – Rappler.com

Tell Robert of your food memories and adventures via foodpornwriter@gmail.com


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