The prodigal son has returned.. and boy is he hungry!
I've declared my love for Chinese food time and time again, so it comes as to no surprise that this is the cuisine that has the most posts here in my blog. Given that I have so many other cuisines to explore, I decided to take a break from Chinese for a while, to give myself a chance to explore other cuisines. At the same time though, I felt it was a travesty that I had not yet included one of my all time favorite Chinese restaurants, North Park, in my posts.
My love for North Park goes back to the mid-90's, when I first got back to Manila. I just graduated High School from Cebu and my sister wanted to take me out. She knew I formed a band in high school, so she started taking me out to watch rock bands, in order to meet some new people. She took me to the old "Weekends Live" at The Atrium to watch bands like "Advent Call" and "The Breed" and to "Kalye" along Palanca St (which is, coincidentally, where I work now), where she introduced me to Wolfgang and Razorback. After a long alcohol infused night (I was designated driver so because I don't drink), everyone would get hungry, we would usually end up at the 24 Hour North Park branch along Makati Avenue.
On our way there, my cousin Raffy suggested two things for me to try that he believed I would love. And to this very day, there hasn't been a time that i've gone to North Park, and DIDN'T order those two dishes. (Far away look, followed by a single tear down my cheek)
The first time I went there, I was amazed that there were so many customers at that late in the evening (or early in the morning, depending how you look at it). Remember I had just come from Cebu, where everything at that time was usually closed at around 10pm, so walking into a jam-packed restaurant at 4 in the morning was quite a big surprise for me.
After awhile, I got tired of the rock band scene. I realized the only reason I was going out with them was for the promise of North Park at the end of the night. Soon after that, my cousin Raymond and I would skip the going out all together, stay home to play video games and (at that time mIRC), but still make a 2am run to North Park. When they opened their branch in Banawe that was nearer to us, we started going there. The head waiter that came from the Makati Branch recognized us and the frequency we would go there, so from then on, we would get a 10% discount for every meal!
But that was then, and this is now. It's been a while since I'd been back there, so when Rina and I went to Market! Market! in Taguig for grocery shopping, I knew I could no longer resist the call of North Park.
It was a real sleepless in Seattle moment for me walking in.. It was like coming home, but to no home I ever knew.
The best Pinsec Frito ever
The first thing my cousin Raffy told me to order was the Pinsec Frito (8 pcs, P109). I've mentioned in my old Harbor City post that Ever since I was a child, I've been quite fond of any form of meat wrapped in a wanton wrapper, and deep fried. among all that I've tried, this is perhaps the most addicting. It's served with a sweet and sour sauce on the side, but of course I found a way to change it up a bit, to make it even more awesome.
North Park's legendary Siopao sauce
You see, apart from their fantastic dishes, North Park makes THE BEST SIOPAO Sauce known to man. This sauce, you can eat with practically anything on the menu, and guess what? I do! I first got a taste of it back in the day when they used to serve Duckpao. (yes, it is actually as awesome as it sounds). Unfortunately they don't serve the Duck Pao anymore, and have since replaced it with the weirdly named "Tai Pao". (Can you imagine this conversation?: What's in your sio pao, pare? Asado, what's in yours? Umm.. "Tai." Dude.. gross) Nevertheless, the sauce has remained. It has a wonderful touch of sweetness that doesn't overpower the flavor of the dish, but enhances it. During my discount days at North Park, my friendly head waiter friend would leave me the squirt bottle of Siopao sauce on my table. Unfortunately now, they don't allow that anymore. Instead, my waitress gave it to me in a tiny bowl meant for soy sauce or Patis. When the waitress said she couldn't leave the squirt bottle with me, I said, "Well, I hope you're ready, because you're going to be making A LOT of trips back and forth to my table." After a third trip, she wisened up and brought me my Siopao Sauce in a bigger bowl. (She can't say she wasn't warned, though)
Coat the Pinsec Frito in the sauce...
Set aside the Sweet and Sour sauce, or send it back if you want. I guarantee you, once you've bathed your Pinsec Frito in the Siopao sauce, you can't go back. (And this is coming from a guy who loves sweet and sour pork, so you know it's awesome)
You say "Yang Chow", I say "Fookien".
I always get a headache when choosing which rice dish to order from North Park, simply because they are all really fantastic. Their standard Yang Chow (P138) is one of the best here in the country. Apart from that, people are always baffled when I order the Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice (P138), because I have to admit, it doesn't sound like something that would appeal to me, but the truth is, I love it (Especially when you mix it with Siopao Sauce!). I decided to order the Fookien Style Fried Rice with Sauce (P140) because I hadn't had it in years, and not to mention, it would look better in pictures hehe.
Bubble Bubble, toil and trouble..
The Fookien Style Rice actually uses the Yang Chow fried rice as its base. What sets it apart from the others is, it comes with a thick sauce that is packed with flavor, as well as vegetables, like peas, carrots and mushrooms. When you order this, I strongly suggest you have the sauce separated (They put the still-bubbling sauce in a little hotpot), and you be the one to mix it yourself, for two reasons. Based on my experience, when you take home leftovers of the Fookien rice with the sauce mixed in, it tends to spoil faster. Another good reason to have it separated is, it's quite likely you'll have a lot of left over sauce after the meal. You can take the sauce home and do a mixed fried rice of your own, and create a whole new dish!
A meal in itself (to some.. not to me)
When you have it separated, just get spoonfuls of the sauce and douse it all over your rice. It is quite, heavy, but who cares (Not me). If I wanted a light meal, I wouldn't have gone to North Park in the first place, right? Rina had the leftover sauce mixed with plain rice for dinner, and she still thought it was great! (Funny story, The first time I went to North Park with my brother Ryan, I told him to order the "Fukyooin" Rice. You can imagine my burst of laughter when he told the waitress, "Can I have Fukyooin Rice, please?")
The Lone Disapointment
Though I knew what I wanted to order before stepping into the restaurant, I decided that I wanted to try something new as well. When I saw the Boneless Honey Garlic Pork Spareribs (P195), I decided I wanted to give it a shot, hoping it would compare to the one I had a few weeks earlier at Yakimix. It wasn't what I was hoping for. The meat was a little bit tough, and It was alot "saucier" than I had expected it to be. I couldn't really find the taste of Honey in it. The soy sauce overpowered it. Although it wasn't a horrible dish, in the end, I realized that I should have ordered something else, like the tried and tested Lemon Chicken or the Beef Hofan. (You can't blame me though.. it did sound awesome)
I'm drooling just looking at this.
Talk about the best comeback of all time. After being disappointed with the Honey Ribs, they place the Sweet and Sour Fish Fillet (P228) on my plate, and suddenly everything was right again in the world. Just how good is it? Think about this.. I'm a notorious carnivore, with sweet and sour pork as one of my favorite dishes of all time. But when I'm at North Park, I order the Sweet and Sour fish. Believe you me, that speaks volumes. The Sweet and Sour Pork of North park is cheaper (P198), but it doesn't matter. The fish is just too good to pass up. The beauty of the dish lies in the fish fillet itself. It is so soft, it practically melts in your mouth with every bite. The blend of sweet and sour is perfect, and when mixed with your rice - you will lose your fricking mind. Hands down, the best sweet and sour fish I've tried.
As great a dish as it is, it just misses the cut for the, "One of the Best things Ever" list. As much as I love North Park, is there any dish here that can be added to my elite club?
This is actually the first time I've noticed there was Pechay on the plate.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet North Park's Double Pork Rib (P134 w/ plain rice), one of the BEST THINGS EVER. This is the other dish that my cousin Raffy said he thought would be something I would go crazy for, and boy was did he hit the nail right smack on the head. The Double Pork Rib, is basically a lightly breaded deep fried pork chop that is served with Oyster Sauce. Eating in "stock version" would give it a solid B+. But when you modify it by throwing away the oyster sauce and replacing it with their vaunted Siopao sauce, we're talking Summa Cum Laude honors right there. Drown it in the sauce, if needs be. The dish is simple, but flavorful, and its one of those things that might not wow you on the onset, but you'll be craving for it for days after (Like I am now). My favorite part is the fatty area of the pork, that has a crispy exterior, and melts in your mouth when you bite into it. (I know I said that about the fish as well, but there's no other way to describe it) I have no clue why they call it the "Double" Pork Rib though.
I was so full, I thought I was going to pass out
I was so stuffed by the end of the meal, I needed a few moments to gather myself. I refused to leave any leftovers of the double pork rib, knowing I would regret it later on. Hell, there was one leftover Pinsec Frito that went untouched, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.
Hhmmm... I don't remember having a problem sliding into the booth..
But sliding out was a different story..
My only qualm with North Park was that, the booth we got was kinda cramped. I had no problems going in, but going out - that's another story. All of a sudden my stomach was wedged between the booth table and the backrest of the chair. Rina, naturally took much delight in my plight, and couldn't resist this photo opportunity.
North Park is definitely worth every peso. And please, whatever you do.. Don't forget the SIOPAO SAUCE.