Numbers Don’t Lie

We’ve been worn down by a lot of bad news lately. The long drawn-out impasse between the Senate and the House over the General Appropriations Act is the most worrisome of all. Unresolved, it could mean a deceleration of the economy from 6.5% growth to just 4.2% this year. Add to this the water crisis, the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and the inclusion of two convicted plunderers in the senate’s magic 12. For those who don’t know any better, it’s easy to assume that the country is rowing in the wrong direction, economically and politically.
I’ve been frustrated by the country’s state affairs all week. But having been an observer of national affairs for as long as I have, I know that the spate of bad news, however dire and frequent, is always temporary. It won’t be long before we hear good news again. That’s just the way this country rolls. In the whole scheme of things, the country is still on the path of progress, albeit turbulently and oftentimes, frustratingly. The trick is to wait it out until favorable developments occur again. When they do, frustration will give way to optimism.
Last week, I opted to take a step back, let things be as they are, and simply wait for things to get better. After all, there is only so much a humble columnist like myself can do.
I decided to combat my frustrations by indulging in what I enjoy most…. food and wine. It turned out to be an educational experience. The meal I had was so interesting that I thought you, my readers, would enjoy the diversion as well.
I am part of a small group, the members of whom take turns hosting unique gastronomic experiences. Last week, it was the turn of our Belgian buddy, Harmen Haringsma, the CEO of S&L Fine Foods. Harmen is as much a businessman as he is a cheese connoisseur, having worked as an exporter of European cheeses since 2004.
Harmen’s company, S&L Fine Foods, is one of the country’s largest importers of fine foods from Europe and Australia. Their range of products include a vast selection of European dairy goods, cold cuts, beef, lamb and essential Mediterranean ingredients like oils, dried fruits, spices and condiments. S&L has been in business since 2007 and is one of the foremost suppliers of ingredients to restaurants and hotels today. Some of their products are also available in high-end supermarkets.
S&L has recently opened a restaurant at the Park Terraces, Makati to showcase its products. The name of the restaurant is Brera Delicatessen, and this is where Harmen invited us to dinner. My anticipation was building all week as I looked forward to sampling the meats and cheeses that Brera has to offer. It was the perfect diversion from all the bad news going on.
Friday night came and my wife and I turned up at Brera. It is a sizable restaurant of roughly 300 square meters filled to the brim with food products and wines from Europe. Its dining room is elegant in a rustic kind of way. It reminded me of old taverns in Italy.
For those unaware, Brera is an ancient district in Milan which is also its artistic heart. It is a place where you will find artisan shops and chef-owned restaurants, side by side. The district is quaint, picturesque and distinctly European. The soul of Brera is what the restaurant captures.
Our menu for the night was quite extraordinary. We started off with a platter of rare cheeses to appreciate, then segued to a plate of sausages. The main course was a sampling of four grades of beef, the purpose of which was to “experience” their differences.
We sampled five types of cheeses including French Saint Paulin, Italian Pecorino con Tartufo, Spanish Manchego, French Coulommier and Dutch Gouda with Green Pesto.
Hands down, my favorite was the Italian Pecorino made from 100% sheep’s milk. I liked it for its firm texture, savory aroma and salty-smoky taste. The notes of black truffles made it even more savory, which I like. The French Coulommier was exceptional too. It looks and tastes like Brie but with a markedly nuttier flavor. The cheeses went well with the 2013 Salvano Barbaresco wine, made from nebbiolo grapes. The wine was expertly served at 17 degrees celsius, a telling sign that the establishment knows how to keep, serve and respect wine.
The sausages were served next. On the platter were Rostbratwurstel and genuine Vienna sausages, both imported from Austria. Contrary to the perception of most Filipinos about Vienna sausages, the real McCoy is about six inches long and rather slender. Its distinguishing characteristic is its casing. Made from premium sheep’s intestines, the casing should snap when bit into, allowing an explosion of porky juices in your mouth. The Rostbratwurstel is a three-inch sausage which is similar to an English banger. It was salty, herby and peppery. This is a sausage best eaten for breakfast, I thought.
With appetizers done, we were ready for the mains. As promised, Harmen served four grades of steaks, three of which originated from John Dee of Australia and one from Kiwami of Japan.
John Dee is the oldest family owned meat processing institution in Australia and reputed to be among the world’s best as far as beef processing goes. Based in Queensland, the 75-year-old cattle raiser is an authority in cattle husbandry, feedlotting and grain feed development.
The folks at John Dee have mastered the science of instilling its desired flavor, texture and fat content to its meats. It all begins from the time the cows are weaned from mothers milk. The number of days the cows are fed and whether they are fed grass, grains or some other feedstock determines the meat’s characteristics. John Dee’s cattle are of the black angus breed.
The first steak we sampled was the Premium grass fed striploin. Although an entry level steak, I thought it was equally succulent as those available in most fine restaurants in Manila. It had a clean (not gamey) flavor with a sweetish note. This would be a perfect steak for everyday dining considering its quality and price.
We then progressed to the John Dee Silver tenderloin. These steaks originated from cattle which were put on a diet of grains for 100 days. It was remarkably juicier than the first steak and also more tender. It had a rounded flavor that reminded me of beef cooked in butter. The silver tenderloin is affordable enough to be considered everyday luxury.
The John Dee Gold Tenderloin was the next one served. These steaks came from cattle fed with grains for at least 150 days. It had a marbling score of 3 which indicates a high fat content. It was tender and juicy but still firm to the bite. Its flavor was even more buttery than the silver tenderloin. This is the kind of steak you would serve on a special occasion.
Finally, the star of the meal was laid down before us, the aromatic Kiwami Rib Eye Steak. Kiwami, meaning “outstanding excellence” is a Japanese brand. It is arguably the finest Wagyu commercially available in Manila. The steak had a marbling score of 9+ (very high, with 12 as the maximum score). Coming from cattle of the finest Wagyu pedigree, the steaks oozed with juices even after resting. When I bit into it, a burst of beefy nectar flooded my mouth. I have never experienced a sensation like this before. The meat was remarkably tender but not mushy. I would describe its texture as being silky, if that makes sense. Flavor-wise, it tasted like brown butter sauce — rich, savory and lingering. Bar none, this was the best piece of meat I have tasted, better than the Wagyu I had at the famed Katsura Steak House in Sapporo. This is the kind of steak to enjoy during milestones in your life.
The steaks were complimented by bottles of 2015 Fratelli Vogadori Amarone de la Valpolicella wine, an inspired combination of corbina, corvinone and rondinella grapes. This wine garnered 4.4 stars from Vivino (over 5), a respectably high rating considering its reasonable price.
That night, I ate my frustrations away. The food and wine put me in a better headspace immediately. True enough, a few days later, it was announced that the impasse between the House and Senate over the budget was being worked out by both parties. Things were looking up already. Just like that, my frustration gave way to optimism yet again, as it always does.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist