A New Year’s Congee Angst at the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant

Interior of the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant along Malakas Street, Quezon City

(Disclaimer: No consideration, financial or otherwise, was solicited, offered, nor accepted for this blog entry. Plain English: I paid for the food that I ate.)

It was a slow day.
The waiters could sense that more than anyone else.
The streets were deserted, the surroundings were quiet, and virtually everything stood still.
It was no different indoors.
The restaurant was empty and no amount of cool, processed air and loud, tacky music could ever hope to fill up the tables. It was as if it was already the wee hours of the morning except that the sun was up and its rays brought a patina of sadness, of desolation to the dining area.
But then again, all this was expected.
After all, it was New Year’s Day.
And on that late afternoon, it was assumed that corporate bigwigs and cubicle warriors alike were still taking it easy, spending additional hours in bed, reading, watching television, or hanging out with their families and friends.
However, employees at the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant along Malakas St. in Quezon City’s central district had no such privilege.

The only setback of this delicious-looking congee? It didn't use ground rice.

On that day, the restaurant was open and workers were expected to fill in their regular hours.
Good thing that their duties were light, thanks to the inactivity, the general ennui, and the lack of traffic — vehicular or otherwise — during the first day of 2011.
At the same time, this was no excuse for lower food and/or service standards.
Fortunately, I had none of that when I paid a visit at the establishment on the same day.
Which is not to say I didn’t have any misgivings about their offerings.
I did, as I usually do with many other things which, in turn, are best discussed in another blog entry.
I took issue with the restaurant’s Pork and Century Egg Congee (P135).
For its price, the ingredients — raw egg and slices of pork and century egg  — were just about standard, no better or no worse than those served elsewhere.
Except that the congee itself didn’t use ground rice — the not-so-secret ingredient behind the dish — making it no different from nor better than those offered by more inexpensive establishments.
That’s all — end of congee angst.

Red Palace's asado siopao looked so yummy the idiot picture taker was prompted to take a bite first before attending to his duties.

Meanwhile, the two-piece asado siopao (P80) that I ordered was great.
It was larger — and arguably even tastier — than those served by its rivals, including Kowloon House, which has a branch around the corner along Matalino Street, and Jade Valley in the Timog Ave. area.
But next time I drop by for a visit, I’ll try other rice dishes, hoping that the cook has come around to realizing that ground rice makes for excellent congee.
Until then, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Kissing the cook is optional

Kiss The Cook Cafe seems too upscale for its location.

Or so it appears to customers who may find parking difficult, tricycles irritating, and the neighborhood itself unsettling.

After all, KTCC is situated along Maginhawa Street in UP Village, an area not exactly bursting at the seams with coño kids, socialites, and moneyed executives. (But then again, it could be argued that the neighborhood is getting trendier by the minute. About a dozen or so decent-looking, medium-rise structures are currently being constructed in what still primarily is a residential area, no thanks to record-low interest rates and Quezon City Hall’s spot zoning policies.)

In any case, of all UP Village’s establishments — from cafe cum bars to hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop operations — KTCC stands out.

Sliding glass doors, coupled with al fresco seating in front, lends some degree of charm and sophistication to the place, bringing it a notch or two above restaurants located just less than a kilometer away down the same street.

That’s not all.

KTCC’s overall decor and its dining implements indicate good taste; none of the bright and gaudy distractions plastered on fastfood outlets found on every city corner.

Of course, the ambiance is provided at a premium, which is fortunately within justifiable levels.

Besides offering impressive service — uniformed waiters are always on alert to fill customers’ goblets with water — KTCC’s food is, simply put, good.

Take one of its starters, a set of eight bite-sized spinach feta dumplings, which goes for P145.

Considered too salty by one foodie blogger, the dumplings — which consist of approximately five parts spinach and only one part feta cheese — prepares patrons for better things to come.

At first glance, the entrees appear no larger than the size of fastfood value meal servings.

But looks can be deceiving.

KTCC uses plates as big as steering wheels of regular, run-of-the-mill Isuzu Elf delivery trucks.

With more than enough breathing space between say, the brown rice and the salad, diners are given the first — but nevertheless false — impression that KTCC skimped on their servings.

That notion would be dispelled soon enough.

One of its basic entrees — the five spice pork spare ribs (P185) — manages to exceed expectations, both in size and taste.

Once dipped, bathed, or soaked in vinegar, the crispy brown tender meat morsels are filling. However, they may be too hot for those with less adventurous palates.

If that’s the case, then you can’t go wrong with the Asian braised pork belly (P285), served with a slightly sweet thick, brown sauce.

Since it is packed with flavor, every slice must be accompanied by a spoonful of rice, if only to distinguish and savor the essence of the sauce.

Gourmands, gourmets, and gluttons will hardly bother leaving any leftovers but those easily cloyed by rich sauces may find it a challenge to finish off an order.

In the meantime, those with temporarily overloaded palates can try a sip or two of KTCC’s fruit coolers. Priced at P80 a bottle, the coolers allow for temporary respites between bites, whether its lemongrass, calamansi, lemon iced tea, or passion fruit.

To provide a fitting end to a hearty dining experience, patrons are well-advised to partake of KTCC’s yogurt ice creams, perhaps among the tastiest in the city.

The dessert has one drawback though.

Of its five flavors — strawberry, chocolate, mango, vanilla, and pistachio — only three can be accommodated in a single order.

This is reason enough to get seconds or perhaps merit another visit.

Visitors may get to meet the cooks next time. However, kissing them for an excellent meal is entirely optional.


Photo courtesy of Didang Alvarez. Thanks, Ma’am.