Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sans Rival Shootout

A slice from Red Ribbon on the left, a silvana from Goldilocks on the right.

Sans Rival.

Nothing warms my heart more than this classic Filipino dessert. It's what I grew up dreaming about. Crispy sweet, baked meringue layered with sugared butter and chopped cashews. Immense. So good and so desired that for many years I was forbidden to eat it. It's that good.

As I got older and started leaving the nest of home for the great expanses of the world, my dreams of Sans Rival went with me. During my years in Hawaii, I would have the odd occasion to sample it here and there. Then I started traveling to the Philippines and found it occasionally there as well. Typically, I'd find it in the form of something called "silvanas," a sort of mini-Sans Rival. One of the best I found there was at a cafe called Figaro.

Fast forward to today. I haven't had Sans Rival in at least a year. Last year, we introduced the Sans Rival to our customers at The Spro. It sold decent numbers and we'll re-introduce it again this fall. I can't wait.

But today, we've decided to have a Sans Rival Shootout.

In Manila, one of my favorite bakeries is Red Ribbon. I just love their ham and cheese ensaymada. It's killer. In fact, whenever someone comes to visit from the Philippines, I always ask them to bring me a few. Please. Some people are fanatical about Goldilocks, but for my money, I prefer Red Ribbon.

While driving around Cerritos, I spotted the Red Ribbon and we stopped in to see if they had the ham and cheese ensaymada. No luck. Evidently, they just don't make the ham and cheese ensaymada in America. Bastards. But they do make Sans Rival and for eleven bucks you can have one to take home.

How could I say no?

With Sans Rival in tow, we pressed on and happened upon the local Goldilocks. Unlike Red Ribbon, they make ham and cheese ensaymada in the United States, but you've got to get here early because they sell fast. Too late for us. And while they also sold whole Sans Rival cakes, I thought that bringing home two would just be gluttony - even though it was in the name of science. We opted for the small, single serving Silvana instead.

Back at the house, it was time to put these two rival Sans Rivals head to head. Which one would prevail? Freshly brewed coffee was at hand and we were ready with our forks.

The Silvana from Goldilocks had more of a dry texture. Crumbly with a light sweetness but a waxy finish. The Sans Rival from Red Ribbon had a more pronounced butter flavor but also a light sweetness. It's meringue texture was softer and slightly chewy.

Truth is, both had their pluses and minuses, but neither emerged as the definitive leader.

To my mind, the perfect Sans Rival features chewy layers of baked meringue, with just a slight crisp resistance and is layered with sweet butter frosting that leaves a clean finish on the palate and some bits of cashews to chew on. It's addictive and evil in it's intent to lure you to continue eating the whole thing. It's sinful pleasure that you fantasize about after without guilt because you covet it so.

Someday, I'm going to find Sans Rival perfection. Until then, I'll be forced to make it at home.

Red Ribbon Bakeshop
11900 South Street 106
Cerritos, CA 90703

Goldilocks Bakeshop
11489 South Street
Cerritos, CA 90703

Valerio's Bakery

Pan de Ube and Special Pandesal

My brother was probably too young to remember this, but when we were children on a family trip to the Philippines, we stayed at my lolo and lola's house in Tondo, Manila - a veritable "hood" of rascally characters, hooligans, rough kids and the like. Our father grew up in Tondo, around an area known as Triangulo, which is considered to be the world's most densely populated district.

While we were shielded from any of the rough life existing outside the family compound, a small bakery sat on the property and every morning the smell of fresh Pandesal would emanate from the small concrete bakery. It was this flavor of freshly baked pandesal and butter that would forever tie me to happy memories visiting Tondo, always reserving a special place in my heart for this simple bread of the people.

That's why I found it so exciting to be in Cerritos today visiting Valerio's Bakery. It's chock filled with good memories - even though I've never eaten any of their breads. Coming from a culturally void place like Baltimore, it's nearly shocking to see entire towns filled with ethnic communities, restaurants and bakeries, like you find here in Southern California. Looking for serious Japanese? No problem. Hawaiian? Got it. Korean? Of course. Filipino? You bet you're ass.

Pan de Siosa

And when it comes to Filipino bakeries, SoCal has them in spades. Whether it's Pandesal or kutsinta or otap or bibingka there's a place somewhere here that you can buy it baked fresh today. It's lovely.

If only I lived here, pops to mind. Not because I'd really like to live in SoCal, but rather because it would be nice to have this available at any time I desired. Like Polly, I could stock up on breads and have them for breakfast all week long. Suddenly, visions of hot pandesal slathered in butter are dancing in my head. I must have some now!

I better get outta here before it's too late!

Valerio's City Bakery
17210 Norwalk Boulevard
Cerritos, CA 90701

Salo Salo Grill

Table Snacks

Sago at Gulaman, Melon and Buko drinks

Fresh Lumpia

Kare Kare

Adobong Vegetable

Garlic Fried Rice

Crispy Pata

Salo-Salo Grill
18300 Gridley Road #A
Artesia, CA 90701

Breakfast Hermosa

Honey Bread from the local Japanese Bakery and some heavily toasted buns.