By Gene Gonzalez
Abad Santos St. in San Juan City is a very interesting area, representing a lot of Chinese flavors and community favorites.
There’s Little Store and their authentic Binondo flavors, from their maki, machang, and their daily homecooked dishes with a Tsinoy flare, to one of the best Amoy style lumpia in the country. Shuin, meanwhile, is known for its Taiwanese-style smoked chicken and duck, and their bestseller fried pork chop. There’s stews and braises, where you can create your own mix and braise, Taiwan style. Serenity, which is homegrown but takes from the Taiwanese beverage model, churns out freshly brewed tea concoctions. Eat Fresh, which represents Hongkong street food, offers freshly made juice and other beverages, plus their claypot rice variants. There’s also Kanzhu, which specializes in hand-pulled noodles or lamien, with side dishes akin to those enjoyed in Mainland China. And there’s Country Chicken, best enjoyed for their fried chicken with Chinese hints.
Those are just a sampling of the relatively good selection that one can choose from in this area. What tickled my curiosity is the new kid on the block, on the corner of Wilson and Abad Santos, called Xing Oriental Bistro. The place is decked with tablecloth, showcasing the more modern approaches to eating Chinese, in a more upscale setting but without the uppity prices. This is the brainchild of Dado Ng, who has been in the food equipment supply business for quite a while, with Kenny Yu and Chef Ernie Monzon. Chef Monzon takes from his Chinese upbringing and his culinary studies in Taiwan, as well as in a number of other Asian countries.
In the three visits we did to sample Xing’s menu items, such as those dishes by Chef Ernie that we sorely missed since YenYen restaurant left San Juan. Ernie has snapped back with more vigor and a bigger kitchen. His mainstays in his former resto, like the meaty quekiam and spareribs, appear on Xing’s menu. Chachang noodles of minced pork and finely diced tofu, plus the Taipei Braised Beef noodle soup with fragrant aromatic wood spices, are absolute comfort. A similar comfort dish, which can be enjoyed when one orders alone, is their Pork Chop Rice that is as good as those from the small eateries that dot Taipei.
Also for individual orders is the chef’s newest dish, which is the Custard Chicken with salted egg that is an umami bomb and best taken with plenty of steamed rice. A light highlight of curry leaf tumbled with the chicken pushes the subtle flavors of the salted egg forward. This, I would think, could be another best seller like their Pork Chop Rice, but for those who like poultry.
A recent addition to their noodle selection is the Laksa, which has a pleasant chili heat aside from the curry and coconut in the soup. Chef Ernie shows his keen interest in Taiwanese cooking through his house-made fried radish cake with its crisp exterior glazed lightly and topped with pork floss. Another recommendable dish, with a very crunchy texture and a subtle sweet sour coating, which I think is a caramelized glaze with rice wine, is the Crispy Ginger Beef. I have already ordered this dish twice twice, and it’s also a consistent favorite among friends.
One evening, I ordered the Boneless Braised Duck, which had a tender melt-in-the-mouth quality. It is bench-marked from a Kyochu specialty, popularized in Singapore. The sauce evoked the rich flavors captured by low and slow simmering, and the very essence of the duck was not covered up by strong spices. Most probably on my next visit, I would bring a Pinot Noir for this dish.
For veggie lovers, a recent introduction of sambal vegetables that sends one back to Singapore and Malaysia, with their spicy aroma exuding from the stir fry, is a great alternative to the stereotypical vegetable dishes in oyster sauce.
After a meal, one can hang around and look at the selected items in their deli, such as imported beef, frozen dumplings, and—at last!—an outlet for Holly’s milk and dairy products, which produces one of the best, smooth, and silky quesong puti around, as well as their well-aged and sharp Laguna Gowda.
As I said one can hang around and discover the deli items after eating. That is, if you can still move.
This article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
Photos courtesy of Xing Oriental Bistro‘s official Facebook page.