By SOL VANZI
Images by NOEL B. PABALATE
It was love at first slurp when we tasted beef barley soup prepared by Amish farmers in Pennsylvania 40 years ago, on a honeymoon trip across the US as Vic tried to familiarize me with American food. A food crawl was how our travel across the US turned out. We ate everywhere: sourdough bread and Italian sausages in his home state California, hams in Virginia, preserves and stews in Virginia, barbecued ribs in Texas, and deli specials in New York City.
But it was the beef barley soup that captivated me. It was hearty and beefy, with more meat than vegetables. Thickened naturally by barley’s own surface starch, the soup and a piece of multi-grain bread sufficed for lunch. It was the best soup I had ever had, a homey soup that very few restaurants list on their menu, especially in Asia where barley, first domesticated thousands of years ago, is not a staple grain.
Last week my search ended when New York City’s famous Wolfgang’s Steakhouse opened its third Philippine outlet at Bonifacio High Street. We were served beef barley soup that’s exactly as I remember: thick broth browned naturally by beef juices, abundantly filled with tender diced roast beef and speckled with tiny pearl grains of barley.
Known for New York City comfort food, Wolfgang’s awakened more memories with its signature crab cake that’s almost pure lump meat attached to the hind leg of the blue crab, the only kind they use. We had the same dish in a quaint little café in Baltimore. Though Wolfgang’s served it that night as a starter, the restaurant chain is famous for crab cake Benedict, topped with poached egg and rich golden Hollandaise sauce.
LOBSTER WITH CLAWS
First course was a seafood platter heaping with lump crab meat, giant prawns, and American lobster with large claws already shelled. The lobsters looked very different from our own Pacific spiny lobster. The local ones have no large pincers or claws, which are full of sweet briny meat. What Pacific lobsters have are spines covering their heads and shells.
Plainly steamed to highlight their natural flavors, the crustaceans were at their best devoured only with a squeeze or two of fresh lemon and drops of Tabasco.
The prawns had thoughtfully been shelled, leaving only the tail intact for easy, no-fuss dining. Large clumps of crab meat,
white and moist, tasted heavenly.
DRY-AGED TO PERFECTION
Wolfgang’s is called a great steakhouse for many good reasons. The chain uses only imported USDA prime cuts of beef, which are dry-aged for 29 days in special aging rooms with controlled humidity and temperature. The process
tenderizes the meat while heightening its beef flavors. The bloody red color darkens, and the juices settle into the relaxed fibers.
Cooking the precious slabs of steak requires a surface heated to 900 degrees Celcius, according to a kitchen staff. That’s more than enough to set off any fire alarm or sprinkler system, but is necessary to sear the steak surface quickly while keeping the center portion rare or medium rare according to the diner’s preference.
The main course became surf-and-turf with the addition of grilled fresh salmon. Side dishes were classic lobster Mac & cheese, German potatoes and creamed spinach.
We ended the meal with memorable desserts: New York style cheesecake, key lime pie, and pecan pie served with a mound of homemade schlag (sweet whipped cream).
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is opening its fourth Philippine branch in bustling Cebu City in the next few months in partnership
with one of the country’s biggest developers. It will be their first venture outside Metro Manila, after their first at Resorts World and the second at The Podium in Ortigas Center.