Monday, August 26, 2013

An All American Food & Wine Festival at Diamond Hotel

When I was invited to the Diamond Hotel's All American Food & Wine Festival at the Corniche, I was looking forward to one thing: Turducken! Yup, the poult-ception of a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey was enough to keep me up all week in giddy anticipation of the big day. For P1,780++ per person, my goal was to stay at the Corniche 'til the cows came home! You can also opt to add an extra P495+ and savor your lunch or dinner buffet with a free flow of Beringer Wines - but I figured that would hasten the said cows returning and skipped it this time around.

Braving the downpour, the flooded streets, and Friday traffic, I slowly made my way to Manila at the only place in the area where it doesn't flood. Not even the basement, thanks to the Japanese and their super pump technology (insert dirty joke here), gets flooded - so no floating cars here. Nothing was going to stop me from experiencing the magical Turducken!

To commemorate America's endless culinary creativity, Diamond Hotel Philippines is holding an "All America Feast" U.S. Food and Wine Festival, running from August 22 - September 1, 2013. Bringing in the big guns for the big celebration, the hotel borrowed international Chef Christopher Gallaga of Fat Angelo's to whip up some of America's best mouth-watering dishes.

Chef Christopher is such a cutie patootie! He was incredibly friendly, coming by the table more than once to check up on everthing and getting everyone's reaction to the food, urging us to eat more, and try more, and have more.

I brought Jericho with me so he could do all the exhausting work of taking pictures of the food, while I piled my plate sky high with all sorts of gastronomic American delights. Unfortunately, Jericho only managed to take a few photos since he also wanted to stop with the shooting and get to the eating. With the smell of all that good food wafting in the air, who could blame him?

I started dinner with their specially-made salads for the night, my favorites being the Pickled Beetroot, Green Bean and Arugula Salad, and the Fig, Fennel and Potato Salad. The Corniche also served Cobb Salad, a Wedge Salad, and a "Waldorf" Cole Slaw. I was thinking of trying the Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup and New England Seafood Chowder as well, but both soups looked so thick and creamy, I decided to skip it to make room in my poor tummy for mains.

Moving on the appetizers, I really liked the delicate patties of  Maryland Crab Cakes with a smokey tartar. These little babies were no bigger than a P10 coin, but man, were they heavy on the tummy! The taste and texture of crab really came through and could very well be eaten on it's own or with a light cocktail sauce or the smokey tartar.

Other classic seafood appetizers were the Oyster Rockefeller - oysters stuffed with herbs, ham and bread crumbs and broiled, and the Codfish Fingers that were just perfect served with a spicy cocktail and tartar dipping sauce.

A complete sucker for chicken wings, I gravitated towards the Chipotle Smoked Hot Wings - my love affair with Buffalo style chicken wings was taken to new heights that night with the Chipotle sauce. Two other Southern favorites were the Southern Fried Chicken and Shrimp and Grits - they took me back to Houston, Texas! I had a hankerin' for cornbread after.

Also on the buffet line was Russet Skins - potato skins stuffed with bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives, and Country Cured Ham on Biscuits with the dry-cured, peanut-fed ham imported from the USA.

The New York Style Pizza didn't look that appealing, I'm afraid. In fact, it didn't look like a New York-style pizza. Although it did come in big slices, the base just wasn't thin enough, and the cheese gooey and melted enough for you to be able to fold it and eat New York style. But then again, it's probably just me being biased towards my favorite city.

Although they didn't come out with a Chicago deep-dish pizza (that would be tough to execute for the buffet line), I found the Chicago Sliders to be too cute! Flame-grilled upon ordering, the patty was still hot and the cheese being at just the right temperature of almost-melted-down-but-not-quite when it reached our table.

For a New Orleans vibe, Corniche also serves Crab Rolls and Oyster Po Boys at the lunch buffet, for those looking for a seafood option to their sandwich.

If you're looking for some TexMex, then the Fajitas are a must try. Strips of grilled skirt steak and an assortment of colorful, crunchy vegetables are wrapped in a flour tortilla. Top them with your favorite combination of tomato salsa, cheese and guacamole and you're all set.

If a good ol' American barbecue is what gives you butterflies and curls your toes, then the grilled Rack of Lamb is a must on the buffet line, best had with a Chili Orange and Mint sauce. This was unbelievably good, and the meat didn't have as much of that gamey aftertaste we're so used to having with lamb.

Sirloin Steak is also on the menu at the All American Food & Wine Festival. After all, what would American cuisine be without steak? Boring, that's what. Steak and potatoes are the classic combination, and for the buffet Chef Christopher took the spiffy spud up a notch by serving a cheesy Potato Gratin. It was straightforward, cheesy comfort food and something I could very well eat on it's own all night.

With that of the porcine persuasion not wanting to be left out, there is the Sous Vide Pork Loin with a Pear Cranberry and Raisin sauce. The pork was fork-tender, with a delicate flavor from the sous vide and sauce.

The star of the All American buffet is definitely the Turducken - something completely unheard of in the Philippines. What is it exactly? It's a turkey stuffed with cornmeal, stuffed with a boneless duck, some more cornmeal, and and a chicken, rolled and roasted with cranberry dressing and served with gravy.

In this Turducken's case, the chicken was bigger than the duck, so it was more of a Turchuck, really. If you look closely at the cross section you can see the layer of duck underneath, with the white strip of chicken in the middle, and the turkey keeping everything together. Isn't she a beauty?

Another beautiful sight to behold was the pink and brown hued Roast Beef. It looked so perfect with its blushing center, it almost made me want to cry. Smothering my piece of beef with horseradish, I had half with the Potato Gratin and the other as part of a sandwich.

When dining at the Corniche, one thing not to be missed out on is the dessert station! This was obviously Jericho's ice cream as I don't like ube - which is what the purple scoop is. In lieu of the American Feast they also served a special Sunkissed Sherbert flavor - a citrus sherbet ice cream that was a mix of grapefruit and orange. It was tart, and sour, and sweet all at the same time.

I, on the other hand, went straight for the little cakes and pastries. The Diamond Hotel had everything from macarons, to lemon meringues, miniature versions of their signature cakes, mousses, panna cottas, and pralines. Not to be missed is the Chocolate "Pudding" Cup, the Strawberry Cheese Cake, and the Apple and Raisin Pie, which are part of the American food feast.

I had two regrets that night: one was I wish I could have tried the wines that go with the food fest, and the other was I wish I had more space in my stomach for the roast beef, potato gratin, and more dessert.

The food festival was made possible in partnership with the U.S. Meat Export Federation, USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, California Raisins, Beringer Wines, and Happy Living Fine Wines.

When mucking around Manila, stop by Diamond Hotel to experience all the great eats the All American Food and Wine Festival has to offer. There's Roast US Prime Cut Steaks, Chicago Burgers, Country Cured Ham, Southern Fried Chicken, Apple and Rasin Pie, and Strawberry Cheesecake! Oh, and while you're there, don't forget to hug the chef!

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Images taken by Jericho San Miguel of The Pixel Project Manila

Diamond Hotel
For reservations at Corniche, call +63 2 528 3000 ext. 1121
Roxas Boulevard cor. Dr. J. Quintos St.,