Wednesday, June 5, 2013

F1 Hotel Manila: LUZVIMINDA - a Filipino Festival of Flavors

Buffets - they're more fun in the Philippines!

In honor of June being the month of our independence, F1 Hotel Manila is holding a month-long buffet - the LUZVIMINDA Filipino Festival of Flavors. Delicious Filipino favorites are given an upgrade, with mouthwatering darlings like the Sisig Foi Gras, Whole Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves, and Garlic Steamed Curacha, are featured along side a wide variety of Filipino recipes that originate from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 

A concept of the new Executive Chef, Sau del Rosario (whose infectious grin is shown above) and Chef Willie Ertez, they sought out and put together the best chefs in the country who had a passion for their regional cuisine. Chef Martin Jickain, represents good ol' Luzon cooking, Chef Karl Noel and Chef Paul Sidney represent the flavors of Cebu, and the lovable Chef Ed Tuazon brings the best of Davao to the table.

The first time I heard of an all Filipino food buffet, I felt excited and apprehensive at the same time. In my convoluted mind, living in the Philippines, it doesn't make sense to go to an all-Filipino food buffet. What was the point? It would probably be the same old dishes presented in a larger scale: some kind of adobo, sisig, pinakbet, and so on. But then again, this was Chef Sau we're talking about, and he's not one to deliver anything half-assed.

After meeting the rest of the all-star culinary crew earlier that morning, my taste buds were practically tingling, with each chef describing the flavor of their regions and their specialties. All the chefs are excited and proud of each dish they put out, even bringing in hard-to-find ingredients from their hometowns just so they could share their love and passion of their food with us.

I know zilch about Filipino food other than what I would get at your usual Filipino restaurant chain, and this dining experience just goes to show how little I know of our country's cuisine as well as how diverse it really is!

I dipped my toe in the Filipino Festival of Flavors at the raw fish station. No, I passed on the maki (it was just too pretty not to take a picture of), but went back for seconds for the salmon sashimi. Old habits die hard. 

Check out that huge Gen San tuna sitting on the station just minding its own business. There were also freshly shucked oysters and mussels that were perfect as is, or topped with one of the colorful Filipino ceviches, err, I meant, kilawin. I especially loved the spicy seafood ceviche, that didn't skimp on the shrimp, the mild spice titillating my tummy for all the other good things to come.

I came back twice for the very colorful Maya-Maya Mayonasa that was covered in finely diced carrots, eggs, olives and capers. This very simple dish reminded me of my dad in a way. When I was younger, he would fry up a big ol' snapper and we'd have it for lunch with a mayonnaise dip on the side. Not really one of the most healthy dishes, but this just brought back really good memories. Who'd think a piece of fish could make you tear up?

We caught Chef Sau mucking around with the 'small' Gen San tuna waiting for its demise (sashimi or sisig?). Isn't he just a cutie patootie? Chef Sau, I mean, not the tuna.

I absolutely loved just how fresh and colorful this Pomelo salad was! Whoever would've thought that pomelo and shrimp would've made a great combination? I guess the guys in Davao did, and they were right.

I'm kicking myself in the imaginary 'nads for totally forgetting about these guys. I was too busy stuffing my gob with fresh mussels that I totally passed over the baked cheesy mussels over on the other station. Check out how big the meat on those guys are - it's as big as a baby's foot!

Davao represents at the Malagos cheese station for those who need their cheese fix. There's Fresh Goat Cheese, Chevre, Goat Cheese and Blue Pepato, and Edam. The cheese station may be pretty simple, but it was put together with a lot of love, with the cheese flown in for everyone to savor and enjoy.

Moving over to the mains, there were trays upon on trays of dishes from all over the Philippines for us to sample, it was overwhelming! There were so many delicious entrees to choose from, I didn't know where to start.

I was surprised to find Chicken Pastel on the buffet line. Is this considered to be a Luzon dish? I'm a sucker for anything that remotely has pastry, so I got myself a serving. The chicken pastel was ok. The creamy soup enveloped the bits of chicken, carrots and peas, with the puff pasty sopping up the milky golden sauce.

The Crispy Fried Catfish with Spicy Pumpkin and Coconut Shrimp is a must try if you see this on the buffet line. Imagine fried strips of hito bathed in a spicy, creamy, coconut sauce, with chunks of sweet pumpkin in between to take the heat of each bite. I bit into fine slices of green chilies a few times and it temporarily set my mouth on fire. I loved it. I love the heat, and the crispness of the fish, and the soft, sweet pumpkin that almost melts in your mouth, leaving it with a gata aftertaste.

Luzviminda's Pochero is extra special, as the dish is made of decadent rib-eye chunks. The big slices of carrots and plantains give the dish a layer of sweetness, and the meat was so tender it broke off with little resistance from my fork. This was one of my favorite dishes - it's such a wonderful gift to share with the rest of the guests at F1 Hotel Manila.

Of course, no Filipino festival is complete without lechon, and that's exactly what was expertly being chopped up at the carving station. You aren't truly Filipino unless you have tasted lechon from Cebu!

And what about lechon's cousin, the bagnet? At a glance, they almost look like little chubby loaves of bread in a banana leaf basket, the glint of their crispy skin being the only thing that gave them away.

Thank you, Chef Sidney, for the exquisite work you did on the lechon! The crisp skin crackled once it passed through my lips, the melodious crunch with every bite was like music to my ears - the sign of lechon done right! The meat was juicy and tender with no need of sauce, and the bagnet was just as good.

My tummy was quite full by the time I got to the other side of the buffet line, which held the wonders of Visayas and Davao. There were a lot of seafood and vegetable dishes, but a few interesting ones stood out. At this point, I was fighting a losing battle and just accepted the fact that I couldn't possible taste them all, so I zeroed in on a few unique looking ones instead.

Kambing sa Nangka is a specialty from Davao. I'm not a huge fan of eating goat, as I find them to be too bony, but this was really good! The goat is stewed in a tomato-based, caldereta-like sauce until tender, with the pieces of sweet jackfruit giving the dish a whole different dimension.

I made a beeline for the Tuna Sisig, a healthier take on the otherwise greasier alternative. The dish is stripped down to its bare essentials and put back together to make a classy, filling entree, this time with a bit of heat from the green chilies. If a Bicol Express and Tuna Sisig checked into a motel for a night of debauchery, this would be the morning after result.

If you're not a fan of tuna, or allergic to seafood in general, don't fret. Chef Sau also serves a Foie Gras Sisig! Be still, my heart. My arteries will be working overtime for the rest of the month, with the very decadent slivers of foie gras added to the sumptuous sisig dish. Holy shiz.

The dessert station at the Luzviminda buffet holds your usual Filipino favorites, with a make-your-own halo-halo station, as well as turon, light and fluffy Brazo de Mercedes, leche flan, an assortment of puto and kakanin, as well as tablea chocolate to wash it all down with.

The king of Pinoy desserts, at least in my opinion, had to be the Durian Panna Cotta. Yup, you read it right: durian frickin' panna cotta. Now, I've never been one of those durian monsters - I can't get over the pungent smell, the weird texture, and how it just slips and slides in your mouth as you figure out whether to swallow it down or spit it out, leaving you with a very weird aftertaste. But I fell in love with this little invention. The flavor of the durian is sweetened considerably, and the passion fruit syrup on top adds just the right amount of sourness to bring the whole thing together.

If you would rather eat the Durian Panna Cotta in its purest, most natural form, they also serve it right out of the fruit's husk. And according to Chef Sau, they apparently make for cute ear baubles, too.

I left the buffet 10 lbs heavier, with Durian Panna Cotta and Maya-Maya Mayonasa coming out of my ears, and a new appreciation of Filipino food. Luzviminda's buffet spread may not be as diverse as those of the other hotels, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in the quality of the dishes that leave their kitchen. Would I come back here again? Without a doubt, it would be money well spent.

When mucking around Manila in search of a unique buffet concept, go to F1 Hotel Manila's LUZVIMINDA (At P1,399++ per person). It's a buffet that features every native taste from appetizer to dessert - the kind of meal every Filipino, and Filipino guest, would enjoy! Treat your kids or spouse to a culinary geography lesson and re-discover the flavors of the Philippines. With Chef Sau at the helm, you're assured everything is organic and locally sourced. Seeing this much Filipino heart put into one hotel has left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling - the  nationalistic pride of being truly Filipino.

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Images taken by Jericho San Miguel

F1 Hotels and Resorts
+63 2 928 9888
32nd St.,
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig