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.

Everyone’s a food critic

Food reviews are complicated.
How do you even begin to describe the taste, let alone the texture, of substances that we willingly — most of the time at least — put in our mouths?
Is the meat tough, like substandard bubble gum dispensed by a machine older than your pimply-faced teenager? Was that glass of green tea refreshing, like ice-cold beer consumed on a warm evening, preferably in the company of a smart and pretty female?
I barely have an idea.
Besides always eating on the run — supposedly bad for your health — I generally subsist on what are now considered as relief goods.
I am not kidding.
Twice a day for the past few months or so, it’s been pork and beans and meat loaf for me.
Fortunately, my nutritional deficits are covered in one way or the other by multivitamins and the occasional fruit, usually locally-grown bananas. (However cheap and tasty, imported fruit incurs more carbon emissions since these have to be transported at long distances.)
Just about the only domestic privilege I enjoy, food-wise, is coffee, thanks to a machine that keeps on brewing, virtually maintenance-free, six years after it produced its first cup.
Without my dependable Braun coffeemaker, my daily food fare would have shamed displaced refugees, disaster victims, and domestic airline passengers.
As far as I’m concerned, any meal served with china and silver is already cuisine. It can be a hot, smoky carinderia along a dusty highway but if the plates are ceramic and the utensils gleam at the smallest sliver of light, that’s fine dining for me.
Which now explains why I find it difficult to write food reviews.
With my unbelievably low standards, how can readers trust my taste?
Take this establishment I agreed to visit three weeks ago with three co-workers — Jayme Gatbonton, who later wrote the food review; Analyn Perez, who took pictures; and Jonathan Perez, who smiled and ate (and vice-versa) even though I continued to talk to him with my mouth full.
No question about it: the food was great.
The poultry could have been a little tender though — the flesh struggled with spoon and fork inside the small battleground of a bowl.
But the fight was worth it.
Every bite was a winner, allowing sweet, salty, and spicy flavors to slowly come together in the palate, an experience that anyone used to fast food fare would do well to savor.
And so, on that Friday evening, savor I did, knowing that it might take more than a month before I could get my dose of fine dining again.
It was, I am not afraid to admit, an altogether pleasant experience — good food taken with good company.
Had alcohol been served after the delicious yogurt dessert, it would have been perfect.
After all, man — especially this one — does not live on good food alone.
But then again, that’s a completely different story altogether, best told after work in the company of like-minded tipplers.
Anyone up for a drink later?