When I was working in advertising, there was a series of panda commercials that left me absolutely mesmerized. I don’t know if it’s the size or the fluff or how unmistakably harmless these bears appear to be but yes, this panda’s a bully and I like him.
Speaking of other pandas, my friend, Mara told me about this Schezuan place called Panda’s Kitchenette tucked around Makati so we ventured to try it. The closest familiarity I have to Schezuan food is the spicy option meant to slather on a bowl of Mongolian rice. Spicy and Chinese were the only clues I had for the meal to come and since I’m fond of both, it was already a winning combination.
If you’re familiar with Makati, finding Panda’s isn’t too difficult because the SM Hypermart next to Cash and Carry along the South Luzon Expressway is the kind of landmark you can’t miss. When you’re at the Cityland building (“In God We Trust”) and see the glowing SM sign from the other side of the street, you’re there. Panda’s Kitchenette is a small, simple place with just about 9 tables. There’s a big red banner outside in Chinese with a graphic panda head next to the name. Inside, you’ll find different variations of framed panda photographs, a Kung Fu Panda movie poster and some stuffed toys.
The staff inside is friendly and service is quick. We flipped through a menu and pointed our way through orders since most of the main dishes had photos. Everything looked red and spicy and only one dish was familiar to me, Mapo Tofu.
To start us off, the owner or manager of the place gave us a pork satay stick each for free! She was really nice. I had to ask if these were free though because somehow restaurants fool me into paying for things I don’t necessarily ask for. Once in Singapore at a dimsum place, a waitress put boiled peanuts and wet wipes on the table before we ever asked for anything and we got charged for it. But anyway, the folks at Panda’s are generous. These were excellent, the spices were distinct but not overpowering and I don’t think I’ve tasted anything like it. It’s just not the typical satay.
The orders came in at around the same time. I ordered the Wuxiang Beef (Php 180) because it looked like a safe, stir-fried option. This was mildly spicy and hit all the right notes. I’m not well versed in spice but the meat in itself was thinly sliced and tender. I don’t know what those greens are called but they definitely added a fresh kick.
I was afraid to try the Shiu Zin Fish (Php 450) at first because it looked like a big bad bowl of spicy oil soup. Eventually, I braved the mental fear when Mara and Delfina said they were used to eating a variation of this dish in Australia. Taste-wise, this was the kind of spicy that could make your mouth forget it could ever taste anything else. It’s that hot. We all got sweaty and had to deal with runny noses thanks to this dish. It was good but we all have no idea what kind of fish they used, it was really boney and resembled aquarium fish which kind of freaks me out. All the meaty parts of it seemed to look like stomach, it was slippery in the mouth. I wish they could use tilapia or lapu-lapu next time or another meaty alternative.
I thought the Bao Eggplant (Php 260) was the most familiar dish of all. To me, it was exactly like Mapo Tofu except with eggplant. Somehow, this managed to stay piping hot all throughout the meal. I think the pot they put it in was magical or something.
The Zhaijang Noodles (Php 100) weren’t spicy at all so Stick enjoyed this the most. The noodle dish boasts a generous helping of marinated ground pork bits which were salty at best. I think they used rice noodles so they ended up absorbing all the soup and just getting tastier. I liked this a lot and at just a hundred bucks, it was such a steal.
We sat around really full for a while and the table of grown Chinese guys next to us, had beer and offered us some rabbit which we politely declined. The waiting staff said this was grilled and fried and tasted like siling labuyo. She noticed our mouths were bored and offered us some Chinese dates, which tasted like blunt pears and something like grilled siopao bread. This was nice of her.
We left the place completely satisfied and our bill amounted to Php 1070 for everything, including 5 bowls of white rice. I’ll definitely be back to try the other grilled stuff and the rest of the dishes. Service was great and it’s authentic as it gets. Our table was introduced to the chef who doesn’t speak a word of anything else but Chinese! And they have Chinese beer too, which I’m pretty curious about.
Panda’s Kitchenette is at 7667 Dela Rosa corner Medina St., Brgy Gen Pio del Pilar, Makati City. Phone: 0916-3357938 / 0927-3501470