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A full circle journey

If you search for the best Chinese restaurants in the metropolis, the results would—inevitably, definitely–include Gloria Maris and Choi Garden.

The two restaurants not only share the spotlight when it comes to serving authentic Chinese dishes, they also have a shared history.

In 1993, a group of Chinese friends set up Gloria Maris under the culinary genius of Hong Kong-based chef Mr. Choi Tak Pui at the Cultural Center of the Philippines grounds along Roxas Boulevard. They eventually expanded and set up a branch near Greenhills Shopping Complex in San Juan—becoming one of the biggest fine dining locations in the capital with two floors catering to banquets.

OLD MENU GETS NEW DISHES. Gloria Maris, which is now under the management of Frank Lao, rolls out new dishes as well as improved items in the old menu, including Australian wagyu in black pepper sauce, lechon Macau, and a dim sum sampler of har gau, siu mai, and egg tart.

Years later, Mr. Choi formed his own Choi Garden, also in Greenhills, bringing together a Cantonese culinary team that spoiled customers for choice—roasted pigeons, chili crab, three-way lapu-lapu, and more.

Fast forward to January 2020: the soft-spoken, self-effacing restaurateur Frank Lao, now owner of Choi Garden, has bought out the owners of Gloria Maris—marking a full circle journey for Greenhills’ biggest Cantonese restaurant.

“We are tweaking the menu in the sense that we are improving the taste of the dishes. We are looking at the items and deciding what to retain and what needs to be improved,” said Gloria Maris chief operating officer Janica Lao.

There is no reinventing the wheel, she said, nor is there a need to erase Gloria Maris’ past even as they hired five new chefs from Hong Kong to replace the old culinary team.

“We are retaining the name. We are not bringing Choi Garden’s menu here. Both brands have separate characters,” Janica added.

There are new dishes, though, according to operations head for banquets Angie Tan, such as the Australian wagyu in black pepper sauce, pan-fried lamb chops, Alaskan king crab served three ways, as well as Chinese fried rice named after Frank himself.

A waiter skillfully prepares the Peking duck which is served two ways: in Chinese wrapper with cucumber slices and leeks and slathered with Hoisin sauce; and sautéed with vegetables and served on a bed of crispy rice noodles with lettuce leaves on the side.
During the media launch of the new and improved menu, the new management pulled out all the stops to induce near-food coma among the invited guests.

Aside from the new dishes, they also served two-tone almond and pumpkin seafood soup; salt and pepper prawns with garlic crisps; Peking duck served two ways—thin slices in Chinese wrapper along with slices of cucumber and green onion slathered with Hoisin sauce; and minced duck meat sautéed in vegetables and served on a bed of crispy rice noodles with a plate of lettuce leaves on the side (a la samgyupsal); taro baskets with prawns, scallops, asparagus, and straw mushrooms; roast pork (lechon Macau); dim sum sampler of har gau, siu mai,and egg tart; and birthday mee sua.

The more than three-hour long lunch was a feast, a toast to the unrivaled experience of Gloria Maris of old and a peek at better, more delicious things to come, and perhaps a testament, too, as to how Frank Lao is the undeniable king of Chinese restaurants in this part of the metropolis.

I’m at joyce.panares@gmail.com.

Topics: Chinese restaurants , Gloria Maris , Choi Garden
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