Monday, September 6, 2010

Great steaks and gruesome tales

Last night, the Travelife Magazine editorial team decided to take a break from producing the next issue (Oct-Nov 2010, out on October 15) to have a very good dinner at the Old Manila restaurant of the Peninsula Manila. Being all foodies, we were looking forward to having great steaks and all the classics on the side: lobster bisque, foie gras, and mesclun salad -- and of course a glass or two of some nice red wine.

We arrived just after 7 and headed straight for the restaurant. I'd had a lunch meeting that day so I'd subsisted on half a turkey sandwich and glasses upon glasses of ice tea and was appropriately hungry; but the rest of the team had actually ordered a bucket of chicken from KFC for lunch, and still they claimed to be famished.

Mi Piace favorites at Old Manila

Everything looked great on the menu. But, as I hadn't been to the Old Manila in a while, I went overboard on a mixture of classics and signature new dishes from Old Manila's new chef, Massimo Veronese, who actually came over from the old Mi Piace restaurant across the lobby. The Mi Piace restaurant closed at the end of May and is re-opening as the Salon de Ning later this year. I'd always liked this restaurant and used to go for lunch several times a week just to have their ravioli of braised veal shank with fresh truffles in a butter and sage sauce. And when it closed, I was quite resigned to never have it again.

Fortunately, when I opened my menu, what did I see but my old favorite? The veal ravioli was one of a handful of dishes that Chef Massimo had introduced from Mi Piace. I'd already made up my mind to start with an octopus terrine with semi-dried tomatos and taggiasca olives (which was excellent, by the way), go on to a black truffle consomme with foiegras raviolini, and then to have as my main the US angus beef tenderloin "Rossini" -- an Old Manila classic of wonderful tenderloin on a bed of sauteed mushrooms and topped with foie gras.

Squeezing in some veal ravioli

However, I just had to have my favorite veal ravioli, so I somehow managed to arrange things so that I would have a tasting portion of ravioli in between my soup and steak. It worked out perfectly and the food was just so good that I woke up this morning with the urge to look at my schedule and see just when I will have time to have dinner at Old Manila again. Even now as I type this, I'm getting hungry just thinking of the menu. And I so regret not having ordered a plate of raw oysters or even grilled oysters with spinach and gruyere cheese!

Meanwhile, Dexter, our creative director, had more or less a similar order; but Jon, our managing editor, and Eunice, our assistant, both decided to have the degustation menu which consisted of five-course dinner with two seafood dishes and a milk-fed Dutch veal tenderloin as the main dishes.

Gruesome tales and great steaks

The evening was just wonderful because of the food and the very nice atmosphere at the Old Manila, which was made even more lively by our rather loud laughter. We all had such a great time discussing all kinds of things, you see, and interestingly, so much of our conversation centered on the rather macabre. I would've thought that the macabre would not go over well with our very elegant dinner, but it was actually a very nice contrast!

The bara-bara murder in Tokyo

It started when Jon asked me to repeat a story I had told him about a sensational murder case in Japan that coincidentally took place in my neighborhood. It was labeled by the press as the bara-bara jiken (cut-up murder). A hotshot young executive at a famous multinational investment bank was bludgeoned to death by his wife after a series of angry arguments, and then she proceeded to cut the body up into tiny pieces and hide them all over Tokyo. The story had the entire Japan in shock, glued to their TV sets for the latest developments, for days. Several body parts were found near my house in Tokyo, including I believe a hand buried along a shady lane, and several fingers in a nearby temple. After she had finished disposing of everything, the wife -- a pretty normal-looking woman in her 30s -- called in the renovation company to change the carpets and wallpaper, and then acted as if nothing had happened and her husband was just away on business.

Body rolled up in a carpet in Hong Kong

Similarly, in Hong Kong, another investment banker was bludgeoned to death by his wife in their ritzy apartment. She'd laced a milkshake with sleeping pills and then she hit him on the head with a statue while he was asleep. Afterwards, she rolled the body up in an old carpet and asked her building maintenance men to carry the rolled-up carpet down to their storage room.

Both women remain in prison to this date, of course.

Online recruitment for group suicide in Japan

I also recounted to them the popular way of committing suicide in Japan recently. People who are afraid to die alone apparently go online and search for similarly-minded people. Then they meet up and plan to kill themselves in the same way that other people would go about accomplishing a project. Each person has an assignment and then they meet on the appointed day to carry out the gruesome deed. Oftentimes it involves sealing themselves up in a van and choking to death.

Gabby and his magic tales

We were still talking about these things when Gabby, our domestic editor at large, walked in to join our dinner. He looked suntanned and very dapper in his Old Manila dining attire of a dark suit, which was quite amazing considering he'd just literally walked off the plane from Cebu after having spent five days learning to surf in Siargao (read more about this in a future issue of Travelife Magazine).

He immediately regaled us with stories of his travel adventures. And since we had just been talking about murders and ghosts (including a couple of haunted hotel rooms I'd stayed in, in the past), he jumped in with a story about the mystical and mysterious island of Siquijor.

A mystical cookfest in Siquijor

He'd visited Siquijor for Holy Week and had witnessed a group of healers and mystics combining their potions, ingredients (including some candle wax from cemeteries, I heard) and creative powers to come up with a reportedly magic concoction that they then divided among themselves.

Black magic under a balete tree?

Then he continued. "Apparently, in Siquijor, all these mystics come together around Holy Week to concoct all kinds of potions and ingredients for treatment or even for black magic. The following day, while exploring the island, I saw a huge balete tree, and directly under it I saw a man dressed in black, killing what looked like a chicken and chopping it up," he told us. We were poised at the edge of our seats, expecting the second part of what sounded like another witches and black arts story.

"I asked him what that was for, expecting this to be another ritual for making a potion," he continued. "But then the man answered, "Oh this? This is for dinner.""

We all burst out laughing at the unexpectedness of it all. And by then it was past 10 pm and just about time to go home.

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