Friday, October 29, 2010

Bubbles and Tea

It's pretty cool when a couple works together well. Reagan and Aileen Tan, the founders of Bubble Tea, are a shining example of that. While Reagan works out the café's fun, quirky menu, Aileen brings a touch of sweetness to the meal with her pastries. Their culinary creations match each other perfectly, like their bubbles (chewy tapioca balls) and tea. It's a marriage made in heaven, especially for my taste buds.

They make a really cute couple on camera, too!

Lauren and I are avid fans of Bubble Tea. Their branch along Tomas Morato is one of our favorite haunts, both for the tantalizing tea drinks and the creative Japanese food. Being the creatures of habit we are, however, we tend to order the same things: a serving of Takoyaki (seafood balls) to start things off, the Aquarius sushi platter, and maybe some Chicken Teriyaki Doria, if I'm feeling famished that evening. Lauren often gets some Strawberry Milk Tea (with extra bubbles!), while I satisfy my sweet tooth with a Double Chocolate Milk Tea. We close out the meal with a delightful slice of Matcha Green Tea cake. It's pretty much the same thing over and over again, but we get the same items for a reason – we can't resist them.

It was high time that we tried out the other fun items on Bubble Tea's menu, and so we set off for the restaurant eager to explore some brand-new flavors. What we didn't expect, however, was the sheer amount of food that was going to be served that evening. Rather than bore you with a 10,000-word monstrosity about me stuffing myself, I've decided to highlight my favorite dishes of the night. You can check out the rest of the feast (along with quickie reviews) here. Read on for my top choices.

Things kicked off with an ample serving of sushi. If you've ever been to Bubble Tea, you'll know that they have some of the more creative rolls this side of the Pacific. Between the eye-catching presentation and the wonderful mélange of flavors, you'll probably find yourself coming back to Bubble Tea just for the sushi. Among the many different varieties served (I can count at least 4 from memory), my favorite definitely had to be the Dragon.

A thick chunk of prawn fills the center of the roll, and a sliver of unagi (eel) accentuates the seafood flavor. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top added a bit of smokiness. The entire roll is drizzled with teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayo. While the teriyaki sauce lends some savory sweetness to the rolls, the Japanese mayo adds a creamy texture that makes everything blend in your mouth just beautifully. Although it really isn't needed, I like dipping the rolls in some soy sauce to give the teriyaki sauce a little pop.

The Vancouver was a very, very close second. Like the Dragon, its main filling is breaded prawn, while teriyaki sauce is its chief accent. Instead of unagi, however, the Vancouver is topped with some spicy raw tuna, which adds a much-appreciated bite to the roll. I really enjoyed the combination, and rate it second to the Dragon only because I didn't find the tuna spicy enough. Of course, my tolerance for spice is a little high, so I'm guessing this dish has the perfect amount of mild heat for the average diner.

It looks like I forgot to copy a photo of the Vancouver from Lauren's camera, so
please enjoy this image of Bubble Tea's awesome lighting fixture instead. Hehe. :D

While we were enjoying the appetizers, our drink orders came in. Bubble Tea's concept is built around their beverages, as Reagan really wanted to bring back one of his favorite hang-outs from Canada: a café where you could enjoy your bubble tea and some food while lazily sitting around, instead of standing by the many kiosks we see in the Philippines. At Bubble Tea, you get to choose from a wide variety of green tea, milk tea, and milkshake flavors, each served with bubbles at the bottom. The end result is a titillating treat that goes incredibly well with the selection of Japanese food the café serves.

Pictured: Chewy, milky, drinky goodness.

With our adventurous mindset, Lauren and I decided to try two of the more interesting flavors being offered: Azuki Red Bean and Black Sesame. The Azuki Red Bean tasted exactly like the red beans I enjoy on top of some mochi (chewy rice cake) or green tea ice cream – sweet and somewhat chocolatey. The shake itself had a bit of a gritty texture which probably comes from the skins of the beans, but that's part of why I enjoyed it. The bubbles at the bottom did a fine job of substituting for mochi, making the drink a dessert in itself.

The Black Sesame shake, on the other hand, reminded me of another Asian dessert. It tasted like buchi (chewy sesame balls), but not quite so – the drink is topped with ice cream, which turns the flavor into a whole new concept. I quite enjoyed the taste of "buchi a la mode", but I'm afraid I'm too much of a chocoholic to have it replace my usual order. I'll definitely order this if I ever need a change of pace, though.

Apparently, my nostrils flare up when I am confronted by black sesame milkshakes.

We didn't get to try their new flavor, Honeydew Melon, which is a real shame because Reagan was really proud of it. Peter agreed that it was to die for. Maybe on our next visit?

A veritable avalanche of entrees came next. My personal stars of the night were the Yakiniku Beef Rice, the Japanese Fried Chicken in a Basket, and the Salmon Foil Yaki.

The Yakiniku Beef Rice had everything going for it. The cuts of meat were thin, soft, and flavorful, with just the right marbling of fat. The sauce was a sweet barbecue-like glaze, while the sesame seeds that topped the dish added a toasty taste that I very much enjoyed. Even rice was cooked to perfection, with a sprinkling of garlic flakes pulling everything together.

When I tried the Japanese Fried Chicken in a Basket, I learned one thing – these people know how to fry chicken. The very first thing you notice about fried chicken, the skin, had just about everything I was looking for: a crisp, flaky texture that isn't over-battered; a light seasoning that doesn't overpower the senses, but is just enough to keep your mouth watering; and a golden-brown appearance that just pulls you by the eyelashes and screams "Eat me!!!" When you finally sink your teeth into the meat, you're rewarded with this juicy explosion of chicken, an all-too satisfying bite of poultry that needs absolutely no rice.

The chicken was served with two sauces: the very same teriyaki glaze I loved all through the night, and a unique nori-ginger sauce. I do love my ginger sauces and enjoyed this one, but I couldn't help but wonder where the nori was. It certainly colored the sauce, but I think the ginger may have overpowered it.

The Salmon Foil Yaki came at a later portion of the meal, and I have to apologize right now for not taking a proper picture of it. There was just so much food to enjoy that I kind of got lost in the moment. I'll do this dish some justice on my next visit, though, and get a proper picture for this post. For now, here's a shot of its menu entry:

Honestly, I wasn't all too impressed when I first saw the Salmon Foil Yaki. By the time it arrived on the table, I had grown accustomed to the vivid colors that came with every dish. To my surprise, it ended up being one of my absolute favorite parts of the meal, so much so that it's going to be a guaranteed part of my next visit to Bubble Tea. The salmon is cooked just right – it was cooked just enough to feel meaty in the mouth, but still capture the flakiness that I love so much about fish. The fish was rested atop a bed of shiitake mushrooms, which added a lovely chewy texture and a sweetness that lingered in the mouth. I'd say it was a party in my mouth, but not the kind that involved kegs of beer and frat boys; this was a sophisticated party, where epicurean members of high society greeted each other with bows and curtsies. It was a classy, undeniably delicious dish.

We ended the meal with a sampling of Aileen's desserts. My favorite still ended up being the Matcha Green Tea Cake, but the two types of cheesecake served – mango and oreo – were also pretty good. The cheesecake was very smooth and creamy, and had the amount of tanginess that every cheesecake should had. It wasn't overpoweringly sweet, which is the case with many local restaurants. My one critique is that it's a fairly light cheesecake; I enjoy the thicker, denser type that makes you feel like you're engorging yourself with every mouthful. Of course, that type of cheesecake probably wouldn't mesh with the bubble tea, so I'd wager this kind's just right for the café. Aileen's pastries go so well with Reagan's dishes, I never really move on from Bubble Tea to another place for dessert, like I usually do. That's my kind of chemistry.

The desserts also go really well with striped dresses.

There was a lot more food served that evening, and I haven't even touched on Lauren's favorites. Needless to say, the meal reinforced the fact that Bubble Tea is one of our go-to places for dining. Its fun, youthful ambience and enjoyable menu items are worth every peso. The only difference now is that we'll probably have a harder time ordering something, since there's just so much to choose from.

Bubble Tea currently has three branches at SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, and Tomas Morato. Reagan and Aileen are also opening a new branch at Wilson Street near Greenhills soon. If you plan on visiting them between now and November 20, you might want to join their Pichur Pichur contest, in which you can win a brand-new Nikon S230 touch-screen camera. You can also Like them on Facebook for even more bubbly fun.

Most photos by Lauren.

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