The "New" Gloria Maris Shark's Fin Restaurant in Greenhills, San Juan

"Change is always good."

This is what my Mom would always tell stubborn little me as I used to be really resistant to change when I was much younger. I guess it's the OC-side in me that I just like things done in a routine and in a definite process that a little change in that can really throw me off-track. Little by little, I learned to adapt, to bend, to be more flexible. Not physically but emotionally and mentally. I've learned to embrace the change and see that sometime's even when one thing is not broken, there are still more ways to improve.

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Such is the case for our well-loved Gloria Maris Seafood Restaurant. This restaurant has been a permanent fixture in the Greenhills Shopping Center and has played a huge role in my life growing up in this area. It's the place where we would go for our Mother-Daughter dim sum date, the place where my in laws would go for their hotpot, the place where my sister held her beautiful wedding reception and engagement party, it's also here where we've celebrated countless birthdays, weddings and all sorts of occassions. Throughout the years, there were more players that entered the scene and have played a part in elevating the quality and standards of Chinese cooking at least when it comes to the restaurants in San Juan City. After all, we are not called little Chinatown for nothing. It's here where there's a growing community of Filipino-Chinese residents who are always in a look out for good, authentic Cantonese fare. From the best dim sum to the most comforting congee, to the tastiest hot pot and of course, the most impressive fine dining dishes. These are also well-traveled patrons so they're not easily pleased with mediocre quality.

Choi Garden has been a strong contender in this front. They're consistently been serving top quality Chinese dishes and boy, I never fail to salivate at the thought of their lechon macau. It truly is the best in town. From their fine dining restaurant along Annapolis, they've expanded to creating a dim sum place inside the Greenhills Shopping Center followed by Choi Hotpot which I feel is one of the best and totally bang for your buck especially with their ongoing promotion and just recently, the Choi Garden group has announced that they are the new owners of Gloria Maris Greenhills and before you all conclude that the majestic Gloria Maris complex will be given a new name (hello Choi Maris? haha), there won't be any big changes except for one important thing -- big improvement on the current food quality and taste of Gloria Maris' specialty and once again, change is indeed good as it gives us the chance to do better.

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Say Hi to Mark of.Eatsplorations, Ro of Animetric's World, Didi of Candishhh, Birthday boy Nat the Hungry Chef, me and Tina of The Phenomenal Mama
For lunch one rather happening day, I joined some of my foodie friends as we sampled some of the signature dishes of the new (and improved) Gloria Maris Greenhills. I do hope you're hungry as you're in for a feast below.

Here goes:

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We started our meal not with the regular cold cuts platter but with a warm bowl of Two Tone Almond Seafood Soup. I love pumpkin soup and I enjoyed this so much. The almond soup was very mild and subtle and what I love is the generous amount of seafood inside. The reason why it's called two tone is because it's part almond, part pumpkin. It's so yummy!

Halfway while enjoying my soup, I noticed that everyone else in the room has stood up and shifted to one side of the room. "What's going on?!" I peeked and saw the server skinning the Peking Duck in one fluid motion. I love watching this as the servers are so precised with their cuts and I enjoy the sound of the crunch. The next dish was Peking Duck - 2 ways. This is a popular lauriat dish and one that never fails to elicit a lot of excitement from both the young and old. This is like the chicharon of the Chinese. One that's oh-so-good and addicting but you know you can't just have too much of.

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The first way is the crunchy skin wrapped in thin tortilla wrapper with cucumber, spring onions and hoisin sauce. It's the best! I also liked the fact that the platter also has thin slices of duck meat too.

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The second way was Minced Duck with Lettuce. Another dish that requires wrapping but this is probably one of my most favorite Chinese dishes ever since I was a kid. What's there not to love? Flavorful stir-fried minced duck with veggies on a bed of crunchy fried bihon noodles and what you do is you mix all that together, fill a good serving into a lettuce cup and add a generous amount of hoisin sauce. OMG..heaven.

Man, I can't stop imagining all these dishes again and I can feel my tummy rumbling! 

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Following the Peking Duck was Choi Garden's specialty -- Lechon Macau. This is THE BEST. Crunchy, roast pork served with yellow mustard. It's a very simple dish but one that's super satisfying too. I love the smokiness of the pork followed by a thin layer of fat and a crunchy skin that crowns the whole thing. Dip it lightly into the mustard before taking a bite and be sure to just take it all in one go. This is the only way for you to enjoy all the different layers and textures.

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Normally, we would go for Steamed Suahe whenever we dine at Gloria Maris. This time, we tried the Salt and Pepper Shrimps with Garlic. It smelled so good but after having a piece, I sat out on this one as I'm so lazy at removing the shell and somehow the shell got stuck to the shrimp while frying. Okay, next!

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Oh, be still my heart. I love taro and Gloria Maris' Mini Taro Basket with Prawn and Scallop is the BOMB. It comes with a thick savory sauce for the taro and a small saucer of Chinese bagoong for the seafood. If you ask me though, I'm happy with the savory sauce on everything. I love the creaminess of the taro, the juiciness of the prawn and how the scallop has the perfect bite. This is another stellar dish that you have to order.

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For dim sum lovers, here are some of the best dim sum items that I noticed has been greatly improved. Like I've mentioned, Mommy and I love going to Gloria Maris for dim sum breakfast but after having the Dimsum Sampler, I noticed that the siomai has became more meatier and the Hakaw has a nicer texture too. I can't wait to go back for our next Mommy-Daughter date.

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One thing that I love about the Choi group is how they continue to innovate and taking a step away from the usual Cantonese fine-dining fare, they have the Fried Lamb Chops with Mint Jelly. One that you would probably have at a western fine dining restaurant but hey, you can have your wonton noodle and your lamb chops all in one place. This one was a surprise and a good one at that. I love how amazingly juicy the lamb was and of course, I can never have my lamb without mint jelly. This was one of our table's unanimous favorites.

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If lamb is not your thing, then you can try the Australian Wagyu Beef in Black Pepper Sauce. At this point, I got to warn you that... you will definitely want some rice! It was hard to resist not pouring a bit of that black pepper sauce onto some white rice while allowing the beef to melt in your mouth. So delicious!

For seafood lovers, here's one dish that you can easily overlook but please, do not ever leave Gloria Maris without ordering this -- Steamed Apahap with Taoso (photo above). It was only that day that I found out that apahap is apparently the name of our local sea bass and taoso is fermented yellow bean paste. Put it together and you get this amazing dish that will leave you daydreaming about for days. Believe me.

Before I start gushing more about the fish, let me tell you a short back story. When Paul and I started dating sometime 17 years ago.. we would frequent this Chinese restaurant that now has just one branch in Manila and is named after the father of a famous ballad singer. Anyway, we would travel the distance for one thing -- their signature lapu lapu with special sauce. No one knows exactly what goes into that special sauce but it has a very distinct taste and it's so good that you'll unbashfully ask for more rice. For many years, this has been our #1 choice when it comes to the best steamed fish in town and we would often compare others to this one too. Then, one day, I tried Gloria Maris' Steamed Apahap with Taoso and just like the guy at the movie Ratatouille, I had a sudden flashback of that particular fish dish and realized that while it wasn't 100% the same, I may not have to travel that far anymore as the Steamed Apahap with Taoso comes really really close to that.

Similarly, I reached out for a bowl of rice and pour a generous amount of sauce on top. The fish was so tender and fresh. Everything about this dish screams perfection and I would gladly go back to Gloria Maris just for this.

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Oh wow, I just said a whole lot about the fish. Guess it's obvious how much I love it. To balance out all the meats and fried dishes, we had the Braised Homemade Spinach Skin Beancurd with Enoki Mushroom I am a huge fan of beancurd and I love how super silky this was. The spinach skin also gave it an interesting texture and flavor and well, the enoki mushroom on top was definitely a welcome treat. I wasn't so sure what the reddish sauce was but it was yummy.

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Of course, with all these delicious dishes, you gotta have rice. At Gloria Maris make sure to order Frank Fried Rice which I assume is named after the new owner perhaps? It's a mountain of fried rice with ground meat, veggies and raw egg which you have to quickly mix into the hot rice. The consistency reminds me of my favorite Fookien Rice Rice minus the overload of starchy sauce. I'm so sure my kids will love this too.

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For dessert, we had Special Buchi and Almond Shake with Mango Cubes. The buchi has salted egg filling inside and according to my table mates, was very very good. I was so stuffed already that I opted to just enjoy my bowl of cold Almond Shake with Mango Cubes. So good that I forgot to take a photo. Oops!

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Anyway, here's the inside of the buchi. I'm glad that my seatmate was so nice to allow me to take this photo as you can see she's halfway through enjoying her dessert. Every time I see buchi, I always remember how my Kuku would tease me and would never fail to recount the story of me as a toddler who suddenly cried after he took and bit into the last piece of buchi. This was even after he asked everyone on the table if they want the buchi and since no one wanted it, he got the last piece and there I was wailing and crying my eyes out. He wasn't sure whether he'll give me his half-eaten buchi or to stuff the whole thing in his mouth. Haha! Poor Kuku! Since then, he concluded that I love buchi and he would never fail to offer me an extra piece whenever we're dining at a Chinese restaurant.

This was our feast at Gloria Maris and I love how the new management really made it a point to improve and to continue to innovate. I will definitely be back for more of the Apahap and more!

Visit Gloria Maris Shark's Fin Restaurant at Greenhills Shopping Center, Missouri street, Greenhills, San Juan City. Call them at (02) 8570-0921.

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