The coming week this February is teeming with celebrations. First, the Chinese New Year on Feb. 10 and then one of the hallmark events of the romance-obsessed Filipino society, Valentine’s Day.

Despite this double whammy of bashes and wherever you might find yourself in—dancing with the dragons, out on an intimate dinner, or soaking in a Netflix documentary alone, or both really—there’s always something, somewhere to ring in and ruminate on these yearly traditions.

A strawberry crumble pie for the season

Care for a slice of pie? Or better yet, Crumbs and Grubs’ strawberry crumble pie? Jeanne Marfal Manaois seems to have mastered celebratory food that floods the senses. From strawberry croissants to vegan lactation snacks. Marfal Manois’ plentiful approach is evident in her products.

Crumbs and Grubs' strawberry crumble pie for the Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day celebration? Yes please
Crumbs and Grubs’ strawberry crumble pie

Just in time for the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day celebrations, her strawberry crumble pie made with fresh local strawberries is back with a vengeance. It’s deliciously hefty with the right amount of crumbling and sugary crunch to let the local berries’ true fruit flavor stand out. Top it with vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt if you want an extra dose of mouthfeel and a sure hit for a romantic night in.

Cross the Canton Road for Chinese New Year

On Feb. 10, all roads lead to the Shangri-La The Fort—literally—as Canton Road executive Chinese chef Wang Wei Qing crafts an auspicious feast to ring in the Wood Dragon’s arrival.

The big hits for Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, and beyond: Canton Road's Double Happiness nian gao
Canton Road’s Double Happiness Box for Chinese New Year where you can choose two of the following: 400g coconut milk fish-shaped nian gao, 800g ube and pandan red coconut sugar with almond nuts nian gao, and 800g radish cake

Giving hope to many customers looking for an expressive Chinese New Year celebration, the four set menus (Emerald, Jade, Gold, and Diamond) is a delightful mix of familiar flavors and modern attitudes. Across joyous servings of crispy tiger prawn with fruits, pan-fried mushrooms stuffed with shrimp paste and celery, wagyu beef cubes with black pepper sauce, and Atlantic smoked salmon yee sang, a kind of “Enter the Dragon” quality comes to mind. 

Only that the thrill comes from the abundance in festive food, nian gao “treasure boxes,” and specialty hampers as opposed to the greatest martial arts spectacle seen in Hollywood. Either way, the end result is the same: A life-affirming experience.

For more information and arrangements, email [email protected]

Brace for the big (burger) beast in the south

I remember during the pandemic when I first saw Burger Beast on Grab. Out of curiosity, I decided to try it and surprisingly found myself immediately fawning over the ‘beastly’ creations of chef Carlo Miguel. While I’m a fan of simple albeit well-done burgers, I also am not one to deny the thunderous impact of an artisan American favorite.

Bacon kimchi burger
Bacon kimchi burger

And of course if it’s Carlo Miguel at the helm, it’s natural that he’s dreamed up some exciting flavor combinations that are equal parts chef-driven and accessible—think umami, truffle, and bacon umami burgers paired with bite-sized onion rings or fries that are just the right amount of savory and salty.

Carlo Miguel
Carlo Miguel

“The ethos of Burger Beast revolves around unleashing the inner beast within us all, encouraging everyone to embrace their cravings and enjoy the best and beastliest burgers imaginable,” he says.

Since then, Miguel has opened several locations across Manila with the latest being its flagship at the SM Mall of Asia. Here, there’s no shortage of scrumptious burger experiences seen prominently in its branch-exclusive build-your-own-burger kiosk.

Burger Beast flagship in Mall of Asia
Burger Beast flagship in Mall of Asia

The electronic kiosk offers diners the opportunity to create their dream burger by selecting from a wide range of premium ingredients and flavor combinations. A personal tip: Opt for the secret sauce then sample the fruity craft beer called Beast Brew together with the heaps of hearty burgers and sides.

Pop in at Bruce Ricketts’ kaisendon pop-up

Although Mecha Uma said sayonara in December 2023 after a nine-year run, it isn’t all doom and gloom given that Bruce Ricketts is expected to return with an “innovative” sushi omakase concept called Iai sometime in the middle of 2024.

Until then, Ricketts and his band of “sushi-obsessed misfits” is setting up shop at The Grid in Rockwell to welcome longtime fans and new patrons at their transitional “fast-casual kaisendon pop-up concept” that offers a selection of raw seafood rice bowls.

Hamachi Tataki
Hamachi Tataki, (Aged, shoyu-marinated hamachi tataki, pickled garlic, oba, shari)

“It’s the perfect opportunity for my team and I to practice our fish and sushi rice techniques before Iai opens later this year,” says Ricketts. “We don’t want to get rusty and we want to keep on serving, but we want to have fun with a cool format that’s new to us.”

Named Go Sensei, which can mean either the act of moving or the number five in Japanese as well as depicting Ricketts’ fifth brand under his belt, will run from Feb. 5 to May 31 with a menu that doesn’t stray far from what makes seafood rice bowls a perennial Filipino favorite—the main differences are in the excellent selection of premium ingredients and in the over decades-long techniques that Ricketts has wielded throughout his career.

Salmon Oyako
Salmon Oyako (Shoyu-marinated salmon, dashi-cured ikura, sesame ponzu, yuzu, shari)

“We start with fish that we age depending on the conditions of arrival. We work with local yellowfin and big-eye tuna that we acquire whole and butcher, farmed Japanese bluefin tuna, chilled salmon as well as hamachi that goes through ikejime (a traditional Japanese slaughter method that ‘paralyzes and drains’ fish of blood to extract umami flavors) and dry aging,” he says. 

“We work with a local Japanese rice farm in Canlaon, Bacolod, that provides us with koshihikari (a rice variety), and we manually polish, wash and soak the rice overnight to ensure even cooking throughout the batch. We’re also really proud of our sushi rice vinegar, which is a blend of three types (rice, sake lees, and aged vinegar) that gives our shari a nice richness, color, and freshness.”

Smoked Toro
Smoked Toro (Akamizuke, smoked chūtoro & ōtoro, pickled garlic, shari)

No wonder then that Ricketts’ influence in the industry goes beyond just the longevity of his restaurants. His products speak for themselves but also his work ethic and palatable approach to everything he does. 

“Constantly exploring how we can serve Japanese favorites is how we keep ourselves on our toes, and we hope our customers will appreciate the careful work but still have a lot of fun and not take things too seriously with us at Go,” he says.

A warm protein bowl makes a comeback

Once the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s celebrations are done and dusted, you’ll be relieved to know that a plethora of healthy options are readily available for anyone looking to get back into whatever fitness goals they may have committed to at the start of the year.

The big hits for Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, and beyond: Saikō Warm Protein Bowl (Romaine, red & white cabbage, quinoa, baked salmon teriyaki, carrots, pickled daikon, mandarin oranges, edamame, furikake, and teriyaki Dressing)
Saikō Warm Protein Bowl (Romaine, red & white cabbage, quinoa, baked salmon teriyaki, carrots, pickled daikon, mandarin oranges, edamame, furikake, and teriyaki dressing)

One such option is SaladStop’s Saikō, a Japanese-inspired protein bowl that “fuses the textures and tastes of quinoa, romaine, red and white cabbage, carrots, pickled daikon, edamame, mandarin oranges, and furikake.” 

Originally launched in July 2023, the health-conscious community lapped it up primarily for its powerhouse of protein-rich, heart-healthy, nut-free, and added sugar-free appeal. Now though, the used-to-be seasonal bowl is getting a permanent place on SaladStop’s Daily Bowl Exclusives menu.

Talk about a lasting impression on the taste buds that deserves a Japanese salute.