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Thursday, June 19, 2014


A FEW weeks ago, I was invited to attend the opening of Carmen's Garden Bistro on Quirino Street in Davao City. Although it was a weekday, I decided to go since I had nothing to do that night anyway.

The dinner was supposed to take place at 7 pm but I decided to go earlier. I was surprised that there were many people inside the restaurant already. Most of them around were members of a blogger organization, although I saw another media personality.

The eatery, our host said, offers European and Filipino dishes based on the home recipes of a French family and a Filipino family who have come together for the love of food. "Here, we serve good food in a cozy and posh but homey atmosphere where you can also dine al fresco in our very own 'secret garden,'" she explained.

I learned later on that those fresh ingredients were used for those mouthwatering dishes. They were freshly prepared, cooked and immediately served at our table.

First to be served was the delicious French onion soup. It was so good that I asked the waiter to bring one more cup. There were two other kinds of soup (cream of crab and corn and shrimps in tamarind) but never bothered to try them.

While waiting for our main course, I decided to take some from the colorful smorgasbord salad bar. As in most buffets, you can mix your own salad by choosing what ingredients and sauces you want. Since the fresh vegetables were organically grown, I relished it with much gusto.

As I was about to finish my salad, the main courses arrived one after another: Pan-Seared Rib-Eye Steak, Porter Steak, and Pan-Seared Pink Salmon Steak. All came with sidings of mixed veggies, French fries and mashed potato -- and rice, if you want.

I am not really fond of steak but I did try Porter Steak. The taste was good but since it was cooked medium-rare, I really didn't go for it. I remembered that when I was in the United States, my uncle Carl Day always ordered his beef steak medium-rare. As for me, I wanted to be well-done. "Cooked like charcoal," he jested.

Filipino foods like kinilaw na malasugue, crispy fried chicken, and lumpia shanghai were also served. But the food that caught my attention -- and taste -- was beef kaldereta. When I tried, I was reminded the way my mother cooked a kaldereta.

But our favorite is Carmen's Paella. I have eaten paella before but this one tasted so good that as I wrote this I feel hungry again. I want to eat it again. Made only from fresh seafood and a touch of saffron, the paella is a mix of love. You can order this traditional Italian paella either family (good for 6-8 persons) or fiesta (good for 10-15 people).

We ended our dinner with Davao cheesecake trio medley. It is composed of mango, durian and Hi-Ro cheesecakes. If you're not from Davao, try the durian cheesecake.

Carmen's also offers these appetizers: grapes and cheese; baked shells in herbs, cheese and olive oil; basket of baked imbao; cold cuts (European ham), and Carmen's Belgian fries. The Filipino counterparts are: beef lumpia Shanghai with sweet and sour sauce; sizzling pork sisig; roasted mixed peanuts; and fried lobster chips.

If you love pork, you can order the Western-style pork chop with herbs and cheese; grilled pork chop in Asian marinade; flambéed pork ribs in white sauce; traditional pork humba; skinless pork chorizo; and crispy pata.

The seafoods are also served: fish croquette with tartar sauce; shrimp in butter and herbs; sizzling tuna belly in lemon butter sauce; grilled salmon steak; shrimp in salted egg butter sauce; fish fillet in escabeche-style sauce; and fish tenders in black bean sauce.

Beef lovers, aside from those mentioned earlier, can have any of the following: grilled beef ribs with tausi sauce; sizzling bulalo steak with gravy; traditional beef kare-kare (beef with peanut sauce); sweet and sour meatballs; and traditional beef tapa.

Chicken comes in different forms: homestyle fried spring chicken (can be ordered in whole or in half), garlic crispy fried chicken, and traditional chicken adobo.

If you're not really hungry, you can order any of the following sandwiches: tuna cheese melt in ciabatta bread; Carmen's ultimate clubhouse stack; and beef mozzarella burger.

Wines and cocktails are also served at Carmen's for those who would like to end their gastronomic adventure with a zest. Its cocktails include Davao fusion drinks such as Davao punch and Pomelo de Davao. Mocktails like toothless shark and cucumcooler are also served. For the less adventurous, classics such as margarita, cubalibre, and mojito are mixed fresh and served fresh from the bar.

Happy eating!

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 20, 2014.

Lifestyle

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