Japaella, unagi chocolate sushi, and other bold flavors at John & Yoko (GMA News Online)

Uni & truffle on a pizza, oh my!

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last June 23, 2016)

I’m far from being a food purist, as I enjoy bizarre food combinations as much as traditional recipes. My palate gets excited when I’m presented with flavors beyond the typical. That’s exactly what happened during my recent dining experience at the newly renovated John & Yoko.

Creative, cosmopolitan Japanese cuisine

Gone are the restaurant’s dark interiors with purple and red motif. In its place is a lighter look and feel, with a hint of industrial vibe. Instead of upholstered seats with caricature faces, you’ll see warm wooden furnishings accented by modern lighting fixtures. Aside from the change in décor, there were major menu changes as well.

According to Chef Sonny Mariano of the Sumo Sam Restaurant Concepts Group, “It’s the same favorites, but we just innovated it and made it bolder. We just made it more exciting.” He collaborated with the other chefs from the group to revamp the menu of the restaurant, which has been around for the past eight years. “My contribution are all of the desserts and some savory items.”

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Go for healthy breakfast options at Green Pastures (GMA News Online)

Enjoy healthier alternatives at Green Pastures BGC branch

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last June 16, 2016)

A typical Filipino breakfast would include stir-fried beef tapa (or some other viand), sunny-side-up egg, and garlic rice. I used to think that the first meal of the day would not be complete without these three components. We are rice-loving folk—however, many of us cannot afford to eat too much carbs.

Good thing there’s a health trend going on right now and Green Pastures, an advocate of organic food, has started to offer more wholesome breakfast fare in its Bonifacio Global City (BGC) branch, which opened just last February. So far, it’s the only branch that serves breakfast, but restaurateur Chef Robby Goco plans to launch it in his other outlets as well.

Going green

“Who are we as Filipinos and what do we eat for breakfast? You can’t impose Eggs Benedict or Croque Monsieur… We love our breakfast—our tapsilog, our pandesal,” the robust chef said. However, he added, “We need to stay healthy, stay fit.”

In his effort to do so, Goco has made lifestyle changes and has lost around 50 pounds already. Instead of ordering his favorite morning muffin sandwich from a fastfood joint, he now makes his own version: the Sausage, Egg, Ham and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich. The flavors are still there, but the ingredients he uses are more natural. In between the brioche buns, you’ll find some farmer’s ham, custard egg, cheddar cheese, onion jam, and sriracha mayo.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

5 third-wave coffee shops in Metro Manila for caffeine lovers (WayToGo)

(This feature was published in WayToGo last May 2016)

The Philippine capital is at the forefront of the trend for cafés that take the art of coffee making seriously

There are the ubiquitous international coffee chains that serve basic brews. Then there are the independently run, third-wave coffee joints that specialize in artisanal blends made from high-quality beans. These cafés also pay careful attention to the entire production cycle, from where the beans are grown to how they are processed. We’ve selected five of the best coffee shops where you can enjoy a lovingly prepared cup of joe in Metro Manila.

Brown Paper Project Cafe

BPPC is a labor of love for four friends who want to support local coffee farmers and educate consumers about the wonders of the humble bean. The coffee they serve is made from fair-trade, single-origin beans, prepared using hand-brewing methods that include Aeropress, V60 pour-over and Chemex. A bonus: the café also aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible by minimizing waste production during its daily operations.

G/F Warehouse 8B, La Fuerza Plaza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Ave, Makati City; +63 916 570 4713; facebook.com/brownpaperproject

Commune

An advocate of local coffee, this homely, inviting space only serves 100% Philippine coffee beans, working closely with the Philippine Coffee Board to source from farming communities like Bansalan and Kapatagan in Mindanao. Grab a seat at the communal table and sip a cup of joe brewed from the Commune house blend, an aromatic combination of arabica from Benguet and robusta from Cavite.

36 Polaris St corner Durban St, Poblacion, Makati City; +63 933 720 0241; commune.ph

EDSA Beverage Design Studio

This studio has an in-house design team that develops coffee and other beverages like cocktails, sodas and beers from high-quality ingredients. Its coffee label, #YKW Roasters Manila, has collaborated with award-winning farmers and trade partners all around the world to create specialty coffee that’s roasted in small batches in a custom-built roaster. Try the Dark Matter Theory Signature Espresso Blend — made from Philippine, Rwandan and Indian beans — whose rich and dark flavor profile carries hints of chocolate.

209 CLMC Building, EDSA, Mandaluyong; +63 2 631 9035; edsa-bdg.com

Habitual Coffee

What started out as an AeroPress bar in a home-décor store is now a fully fledged coffee shop occupying an old warehouse, serving up espressos brewed with single-origin beans from both local and foreign roasters. The accolades have started streaming in, too — the café won the Philippine AeroPress Championships in 2015, and placed third in the World AeroPress Championships the same year. Order the hand-brew or espresso float, along with savory café fare including baked eggs and a buffalo chicken sandwich.

2135 Chino Roces Ave, Makati City, Metro Manila; +63 2 833 9556; facebook.com/habitualcoffee

Magnum Opus

Coffee connoisseurs south of the Metro can enjoy delicious brews in Magnum Opus, one of the pioneers of the specialty coffee movement. Here, you’ll find a wide selection of single-origin coffees that are roasted in-house in a Behmor 1600 roaster. Go for the espresso brewed from the café’s Brazilian blend, and pair it with toothsome, home-baked pastries like the Sticky Date Pudding.

2/F The Prime Bldg, 115 Aguirre Ave corner Elizalde St, BF Homes, Parañaque City; +63 939 920 0701; facebook.com/MagnumOpusFineCoffees

Barbecue ribs and baked chicken at Gringo (GMA News Online)

Don't miss the bestselling baby back ribs and other tasty dishes

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 2016)

At any given day, I would go for seafood instead of red meat. But if you put a rack of succulent baby back ribs in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to resist it.

One time, I watched an international food television show that featured a famous barbecue place in Detroit and I purposely included it in my travel itinerary just to get a taste of its grilled stuff.

I’m glad that I don’t have to go too far for some good ribs with my latest restaurant discovery, Gringo.

Mouthwatering meats and Mexican-inspired food

Contrary to what you may think, Gringo is not the name of the restaurant owner nor was it named after a popular personality. Restaurateur Reagan Tan was actually inspired by an imaginary character who is friendly, charismatic, likes to cook and bring people together through potluck parties. That is why Gringo has that casual vibe where you can simply hang out and bond with family and friends over food.

“I really like the food. Hindi ako magsasawa sa ribs at saka chicken. Everybody loves chicken kasi,” shared Tan who had culinary training in Canada but is currently a non-practicing chef. Instead of cooking in the kitchen, he is involved in the development and management of the establishment.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Tacos, nachos, and other Mexican-inspired treats at Taqueria 101 (GMA News Online)

Open from late afternoon until past midnight, Taqueria 101 is the perfect place for a food trip

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 19, 2016)

I envy those who live in foodie neighborhoods like Maginhawa, Kapitolyo, and BF Homes, where residents can simply step out of the house and into nearby neighboring dining establishments in a matter of minutes. I’m glad that my locale, Parañaque, is slowly gaining ground as I see small restaurants popping up left and right.

My newest discovery is Taqueria 101.

Ever since it opened in February, there has been buzz about its Mexican-inspired cuisine and chef-owner Mikel Zaguirre of Locavore fame. I figured if this guy is creative enough to dish up sizzling sinigang in his kitchen, he must be able to execute exciting Mexican flavors as well.

Not your average Mexican joint

“Please don’t expect it’s an authentic Mexican restaurant. It’s always different whenever I put up something. Expect new flavors. Expect freshness. Expect different combinations. Kaya siya ‘101’ it’s something basic but different, different but familiar. Kaya siya Taqueria 101—it’s a new direction for us.”

Chef Zaguirre came up with this restaurant concept along with his parents who are both foodies. “I grew up in a house where my lola cooks puto and dinuguan from scratch for breakfast. She makes her own puto, kutsinta, bopis… Nothing instant.”

His exposure and experience in culinary school has formed his passion for food.

He was trained by a Michelin-starred chef in school and has developed a fondness for French and Japanese cuisines. However, he has ventured into new territory and he’s not afraid to show it in his cooking style.

“I just don’t want to be tagged as another taqueria, another Mexican joint, another Mexican restaurant. I want to be different.” The chef displays his creativity not just in his food, but in plating as well. “For me, it’s not fusion. It’s still tacos. It’s my version of it. It’s my story and how I want people to eat my food.”

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Discovering the best ramen and comfort food spots in the south (GMA News Online)

Ramen Kuroda in BF Homes offers free extra noodles for every a la carte serving

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 14, 2016)

I’ve lived in the south all my life, but I am still getting to know it in terms of its culinary identity. It’s a never-ending process actually, as the neighborhood food scene keeps on changing, especially in BF Homes Parañaque where you’ll find a number of restaurants, hole-in-the-wall establishments, and everything in between.

For me, Aguirre Avenue feels like it’s an endless stretch of eating destinations. I’ve been there several times, but I don’t think I have tried even half of what it has to offer. I’ve pinpointed some favorites though, which I think is worth sharing with those who feel overwhelmed with all the tempting options there.

Ramen is one of my go-to comfort foods and whenever my hubby and I crave for it, Ramen Kuroda (96 Aguirre Avenue) comes top of mind. This casual dining establishment has an open kitchen where you can see the staff prepare the food. We have tried all the three kinds of ramen in this place: shiro, kuro, and aka, which all have rich wheat homemade noodles swimming in tasty tonkotsu broth highlighted by its umami flavor.

Shiro is the classic type, kuro has that special garlic oil, while aka is the spicy one. I prefer the latter because of its piquant broth that has the perfect amount of spiciness—you won’t cough your way throughout the meal. My hubby also likes it but he gets the aka chasumen variant that has 300 percent more chasu (braised pork). We both love how this branch serves a free serving of extra noodles for every à la carte ramen order.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Binge on brunch favorites and comfort food at Come Forth Kitchen (GMA News Online)

The Margherita pizza is topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 4, 2016)

People have different definitions of comfort food. What’s comforting for one may not be for the other.

But what’s nice about my new restaurant discovery, Come Forth Kitchen, is that it offers a curated menu featuring dishes that would evoke a sense of nostalgia to its diners.

Opened last March 2, Come Forth Kitchen is the first restaurant venture of foodie friends Rondelle and Tricia de Leon, Claudine de Leon, Theresa Leung, Chef Gigi Almeda, and Chef Kat Pascual.

“It’s our take on comfort food, the kind of food that we grew up with. The one you can come home to as a second home,” Tricia said. Her favorite dish there is the Tinapa Caesar Salad, which she can eat every day.

“When we conceptualized the menu, it’s something that we want to eat. Like we cook the food that we want to eat—kung baga parang may puso,” said pastry chef Kat Pascual who is also the cousin of de Leon.

“It’s like a combination of our traditions,” shared executive chef Gigi Almeda who mentioned that they make their own bread and pickles, mix their own burgers, and put a lot of thought into their food. “We like to highlight the affordable prices with really good food. The portions are big and the flavors are all natural.”

The quaint establishment has a modern yet homey vibe with its predominantly black and white theme accented by industrial lighting fixtures, exposed ceiling beams, and pops of color from the decorative ornaments scattered across the space. It has that New York-loft vibe, especially with the white painted brick walls, and ivory tiled wall by the counter.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

8 natural wonders you must visit in the Philippines (WayToGo)

Chocolate Hills_Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

(This feature was published in WayToGo last April 2016)

These works of art crafted by Mother Nature will definitely take your breath away.

Banaue Rice Terraces

These ruggedly beautiful rice terraces, which have been declared a National Cultural Treasure, were carved into the mountains of Ifugao more than 2,000 years ago. Today, the indigenous community continue to maintain the traditional farming practices that their ancestors started; however, more young people are migrating to the urban areas of the Philippines, leaving fewer people to work the fields. Pay a visit before the terraces deteriorate.

Mountain Province Rd, Banaue, Ifugao; banaueterraces.com

Chocolate Hills

If there’s one thing that Bohol is famous for, it’s these conical, symmetrical haycock hills. There are more than 1,200 of them spread out across 50km2, each standing at a height between 30m and 50m. At the end of the dry season, these grassy hills turn from vibrant green to chocolate brown — hence the name.

Loay Interior Rd, Carmen, Bohol; chocolatehills.net

Hinatuan Enchanted River

The eye-catching light and dark aquamarine hues of the river will leave you in awe, but what’s more mysterious about this idyllic hideaway is its unknown origin — it appears to spring from nowhere. Legend has it that the river is home to protective supernatural beings. Visitors still flock to this must-see destination to swim in its clear waters, which run as deep as 50ft in some areas.

Brgy. Talisay, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur

Mount Mayon

This majestic stratovolcano south of Metro Manila is a hugely popular tourist attraction, despite being the most active volcano in the country. Its perfectly conical shape, which can be seen from just about anywhere in Bicol, makes it one of the most picturesque peaks in the world. The best time to climb it is between February and April, weather and volcanic activity permitting.

Albay, Bicol

Puerto Princesa Underground River

The journey to Palawan’s most famous tourist attraction involves traveling by air, land and sea, but it’s well worth the trip. The impressive subterranean cave system, which is 8.2km long and flows directly into the South China Sea, is filled with remarkable karst landscapes. Join a boat tour to fully appreciate the amazing rock formations inside this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Subterranean River National Park, Sabang, Palawan

Lake Sebu

The picture-perfect Lake Sebu is one of the most important watersheds in the country, supplying water to the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato. It’s also home to the T’boli, a highland ethnic tribe that believes the lake is a food basket given by God. After taking in the beauty of the lake, shop for T’nalak handicrafts (traditional crafts made by T’boli women) and pay a visit to the nearby waterfalls.

South Cotabato; lakesebu.southcotabato.org

Sumaguing Cave

Sumaguing Cave is also known as the Big Cave, thanks to its massive chambers, which are the largest among all of Sagada’s caves. Brave spelunkers will relish exploring its deep, dark expanse, which is dotted with jaw-dropping stalactites and stalagmites, and pools of clear, cold water. It’s dangerous to venture into the cave on your own, though, so do enlist the help of a guide.

South Rd, Sagada

Tinuy-an Falls

With a breadth of 95m and height of 55m, it’s no wonder that the spectacular, multi-tiered Tinuy-an Falls has earned the moniker “Niagara Falls of the Philippines”. This tapestry of cascading waters is best experienced up close by riding a bamboo raft around its plunge pool.

Bislig, Surigao del Sur

 

Live seafood and Japanese specialties at Ichiba (GMA News Online)

Start your meal with appetizers like gyoza and chicken karaage

(This was published in GMA News Online last April 27, 2016)

I never got over Japan ever since my first travel experience there. Its cuisine especially made an impact on me, and some of its iconic dishes have become my favorite comfort foods. Ramen, anyone? Even when I got back home, I would have food trips with my hubby who is also very fond of this cuisine.

It’s nice that we have a plethora of choices for all things Japanese, especially now with the opening of Ichiba Japanese Market, a hybrid of restaurant and market, the first of its kind in the country.

An all-in-one restaurant and market 

For some reason, I had an impression that the establishment was an international franchise, but was pleasantly surprised to know that it is a homegrown brand.

“Ichiba means market—there are a lot of famous markets in Japan. There’s Tsukiji Market, Kuromon Market, and other markets in Hokkaido and more. That was the inspiration,” shared Bryan Tiu, CEO and president of Ichiba and iFoods.

< Read the rest of the article HERE >

 

7 beautiful places of worship in the Philippines (WayToGo)

Our Lady of Manaoag Church_Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

(This feature was published in WayToGo last April 13, 2016)

These sacred sites across the archipelago blend intriguing history with awe-inspiring architecture.

Basilica of Saint Martin de Tours

You can’t miss this larger-than-life landmark located at the heart of the heritage town of Taal in Batangas. At 96m long and 45m wide, it holds the title of the largest Catholic church in Asia. First built in 1575, it has since been refurbished several times, due to damage wrought by natural disasters. Today it boasts a Baroque-inspired façade, with a large church bell, hand-painted domed ceilings and a silver tabernacle.

Calle San Martin, Taal

Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid

Also known as the Grand Mosque of Cotabato, this 5,000sqm edifice is the largest mosque in the Philippines — it’s even visible from the Moro Gulf! Funded by Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, it can accommodate around 800 male and 400 female worshippers. It’s a real sight to behold, with its white walls, gold-painted domes embellished with crescent moons, and four minarets that stand at 43m.

Tamontaka Bubong Rd, Cotabato City

Basilica Minore de San Sebastian

If its blue-green pastel hue doesn’t catch your eye, its striking Neo-Gothic architecture definitely will. Built in 1890 in Quiapo, Manila, San Sebastian is the only steel-vaulted church in the country, with two pyramidal spires, an intricate rose window, colorful stained-glass panels and crystal chandeliers that highlight its attractive interiors. It’s definitely one of the most stunning places of worship in the city, and is a highly popular site for weddings.

Plaza del Carmen, C.M. Recto, Manila

Miagao Church

The Visayas region is home to many magnificent Spanish-era churches, including this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site. Completed in 1797, the church (also known as Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church) flaunts a lovely Baroque aesthetic, with an ochre façade and an ornate relief sculpture of St. Christopher, flanked by two large belfries. The building was once used as a fortress against the Moro invaders, so you’ll find that its foundations are 6m deep, with solid walls that are 1.5m thick.

Zulueta Ave, Población, Miagao, Iloilo

Paoay Church

Otherwise known as Saint Augustine Church, this is one of the few remaining Baroque churches in the archipelago. It’s famous for its distinct, hardy architecture — think 1.67m-thick walls made of brick, coral and lumber, as well as 24 massive buttresses built to withstand any seismic activity. It also has a three-storey bell tower that served as an observation post during World War II. Today, the church has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region.

Marcos Ave, Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manoaog

The ivory image of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag in this Spanish-Romanesque church is believed to have curative powers, so devotees from all across the globe flock here to pray for good health — especially during the Lent and Easter seasons. Enormous paintings depicting health miracles also adorn the interiors of the church.

Milo St, Manaoag, Pangasinan; manaoagshrine.org

San Pablo Church

Even non-Catholics will be awed by the resplendent ruins of San Pablo Church — the oldest church in Isabela. Built by Spanish friars in 1624, the church is fashioned from adobe and coral, and its bell tower is said to be the tallest in the Cagayan Valley region. While the entire church was nearly destroyed during World War II, it has since been restored admirably, enduring as a house of worship for its faithful parishioners.

San Pablo, Isabela