Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Gerry’s Grill, Mangoes, and the Boys (Subic 2)

BY JEREMY C. MALCAMPO - Manila Bulletin

woke up on the right side of the bed on the morning of my second day in Subic, after an overload of a fine, Mediterranean multi-course dinner at Aresi Restaurant. With all the Filipino male foodies I was with, everybody opted for the heartiest of cuisines: Pinoy comfort food. And everyone agreed that Gerry’s Grill Restaurant along the Waterfront Road was, indeed, the best hub for Filipino cuisine in Subic.

Our companion, Jerome Ngo, who’s a true-blue foodie took the lead and ordered appetizers for the group. Everybody agreed on having a platter of nilasing na hipon, oriental tuna sashimi from Gen-San, lumpiang shanghai, and crispy crablets for hors-d-oeuvres.

Gerry’s Grill along the Waterfront Road is the best hub for Filipino cuisine in Subic.

The lumpiang shanghai and crispy crablets stood out with the vinegar-chili-pepper dip and started everyone’s appetite. The same goes with the oriental sashimi, and though it had a strong Japanese influence, the herbs, tuna meat and spices mixed with the Japanese mayo yielded some distinct Filipino aftertastes.

Famous culinary marketing specialist Francis Villaluz insisted on having gambas so as to maximize our taste for fine Pinoy food before we could even settle on what entrées to have. Besides, it was difficult for everyone to decide on what main course to order due to the vast expanse of natural sea-grandeur, and the countless female jet skiers in our view.

Sir Tony, who’s also a food connoisseur, and an expert on Visayan cuisine, thought it would be better to decide with fresh buko juice. Then, our group ordered exactly that and had an ultimate tropical relaxation, knowing that we would be going back to Manila later in the afternoon.

"Okay why don’t we try char-grilled Pinoy style seafood this time, since we are on the beach by the sea," said Christian Cheng.

Again, everybody agreed that it was a great idea. Ivan Sy—businessman and potato fries distributor to the country’s top fast food chains—signaled a waiter and requested home groomed grilled marlin steak with a side order of ginataang kuhol with finger chilies. Francis and Sir Tony asked for sizzling pla-pla, tuna belly, and sizzling lumot squid doused with soy-lime pepper sauce. However, I ordered a Davao-style specialty of sugba-kilaw, which was a combination of kinilaw na tanigue with char-grilled liempo with a lime-pepper marinade on a sizzling plate.

When everyone’s orders were served on the table with a cup of rice each, there was momentary silence. I fancied how everybody really had his own affinities for simple, honest and straightforward fares. My sugba-kilaw was indeed, in a sense, haute cuisine as I enjoyed it with steamed rice and side-sauced with soy-vinegar. The perfect infusion of the light coconut milk’s richness in the kinilaw na tanigue gave the liempo’s rustic taste profile another dimension. And everything went well with my buko juice. The good thing about it was when everybody started sharing their food with everyone else on the table: the festivity began, and the talks started to rule the afternoon under the Subic sun.

Francis shared his squid lumot, and I had it with my dipping sauce. The pla-pla and tuna belly were also good and had very aromatic marinades that weren’t meant to destroy the appetite but to encourage it.

And though I find it common to sample kuhol (escargot) in a Westernized restaurant in Metro Manila, the one in Gerry’s Grill was superb not just because of its rich concoction but also because of its authentic Filipino profile. I tried the ginataang kuhol, and dipped it in vinegar—it was indeed heaven.

After just a few minutes, everyone talked about the game of golf everyone just played earlier in the morning at the Subic Country Club. Ivan Sy was teasing the person who lost the game and it was followed by a big burst of laughter from the gang. Then Jerome abruptly asked, "Oh, who wants dessert?"

Everybody got a tall margara-glass of ube leche flan shake. As I savored the coldness of ube ice cream and ice milk, I realized that I certainly woke up pretty well that morning; I wanted to go home.

Ivan and Francis noted what places to visit first for pasalubong along the way. We dropped by a road-side kiosk for sweet mangoes in Zambales, and buko pandan torte in San Fernando, Pampanga.

However, Jerome again invited everyone to eat an early dinner. Everyone had dimsum. Then someone from the group asked, "Do you know what’s the best thing about having an all-boys food adventure?" Then someone answered: it’s the idea that you always go home to your family. It’s like Pinoy food, its best with people you love. Then there was another comment, "Oh, for those who are thinking of problems right now, stop worrying, your girlfriend will love the mangoes."

"I know," I answered.

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