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Going for the Gold

A pair of culinary outposts bring the taste of the Philippines to the Medical Center

Located approximately a half-mile south of the Medical Center on Fannin, the Gold Basket is tucked away in a tiny strip shopping center next to Gold Video. It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that the place is closed; a banner hanging loosely from the store front proclaiming "Oriental lunch buffet" is the only sign that there's a restaurant here. But the pearl inside is well worth discovering. The decor is a clinical white, broken up by gold accents. The place is immaculate. It is easy to tell that the owners take great pride in their jewel. On my visits, the room was filled with Filipinos -- businesspeople, engineers, medical staff still in their green scrubs and Army officers in their green uniforms.

I have never been a fan of buffets, but the buffets at the Gold Basket -- which change daily, and are the only way the food is served -- have changed my opinion. At $4.50 per person, the bountiful array provides the best food value this side of Manila. Although a short-order menu appears on the wall behind the main counter, none of the traditional dishes are prepared on request anymore.

Mondays are seafood buffet days. (As with the Gold Ribbon, the serving is an early-to-midday affair, with the restaurant opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m.) And on this day, as on others, no concessions are made for non-Filipinos -- there are no names or signs describing the food, although assistance is readily available if you ask for it. As I surveyed the compact buffet, my gaze was quickly drawn to some shrimp freshly delivered from the kitchen. People quickly lined up behind me in anticipation. After my first taste, I understood why. The shrimp were first seasoned with a mild pepper marinade, then enrobed in a whispery-light tempura batter and gently fried. The result was a two-texture, two-taste sensation that's hard to beat. The other dish that drew the crowds was a whole red snapper, head, tail and bones included, drowning in a tomato sauce resembling the orange-brown atrocity served over enchiladas at some cheap Mexican joints. The silver color of the fish glistened through the red sauce whenever the light struck it at the right angle. The fish is baked with onions and red and green bell peppers. The sauce, which turns out to be sweet and sour, gives the dish an interesting character.

An industrial-sized rice cooker sits perched on a table, along with a huge serving ladle ready to dish up the plain, white, fragrant rice that makes a perfect accompaniment to soak up the juices of all of the offerings.

The friendship between Beard and Mangahas that led to the stringing together of their two Gold successes suggests a Midas touch. And it appears to be one that hasn't stopped working, because early next year the Gold Ribbon will be moving to even larger facilities across the street from its present location.

Gold Ribbon, 2401 Holcombe Boulevard, 665-6464;
Gold Basket, 7235 Fannin, 795-4255.

Gold Ribbon:
halo halo, $3;
sagó, $1;
combination plates, $3.50.

Gold Basket:
buffet, $4.50.

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