4 Weekend Markets In Metro Manila You Shouldn’t Miss (Looloo)

Photo from Mercato Centrale

(This feature was published in Looloo was July 4, 2014; photo from Mercato Centrale)

Workweek ending? Why not skip the malls, go outdoors and support local farmers and vendors instead? Head to one (or more) of the following weekend markets that have sprouted all over the metro!

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Appreciating the culinary art of teppanyaki at Akira (GMA News Online)

A chef displays his teppanyaki cooking skills

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last July 3, 2014)

I have eaten in restaurants with open kitchens where I saw chefs cook through a glass window, but I have never experienced sitting in a counter across an iron griddle and having a front row seat to the culinary art of teppanyaki. Though not a new concept, it was my first time to go through this kind of dining experience where not only the food matters, but its preparation as well.

Teppanyaki used to be exclusive to luxury hotels and hole-in-the-wall Japanese establishments, but it has now gone mainstream, as diners can simply go to the malls to see how this personal dining experience could turn into an art form. One Japanese restaurant that specializes in such is Akira, which has a number of branches around the metro.

The one in Shangri-La Plaza Mall had a minimalist and postmodern design with its interesting lighting fixtures and wooden furnishings that were accented with touches of Japanese culture through prominent Japanese icons and prints. The dining area had a pretty decent size but I highly suggest you get a space in one of the counters where you can get a nice view of the chef showcasing his mastery of the flame in his teppan or iron griddle.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Paint, drink and be merry at Sip & Gogh (Rappler)

Sip & Gogh

(This feature was published in Rappler last July 1, 2014)

I have always been fascinated by art ever since I could remember. I grew up watching my architect dad draft his designs and seeing his masterpieces come to life. Although I dabbled in drawing and painting during my art electives in high school, I never really pursued that path. Now, I’m just happy appreciating art and not necessarily creating it.

My inner artist though, was awakened when I attended a children’s party at Sip & Gogh, a paint and sip studio in the Philippines. It was the first time I stepped into an establishment that allows its guests to create works of art while enjoying some vino.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Bathing in Luxury at the Bellevue Resort (Illustrado)

(This feature was published in Illustrado magazine’s September 2013 issue)

Brekkie, anyone? Sample all-day breakfast fare and comfort food at B&P (GMA News Online)

Primera Tapa

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last June 19, 2014)

The bright yellow walls reminded me of my mother’s kitchen as soon as I stepped inside B&P Just Like Home, a cozy restaurant that is indeed as welcoming as one’s home. I couldn’t take my eyes off the unique lighting fixtures that resembled the shape of a squid—it actually gave the place a more modern and youthful vibe. If that was a preview of the establishment’s cuisine, I knew I was in for a treat.

Home is where the hearty breakfast is

Barely half a year since opening in late January earlier this year, I have been hearing rave reviews about this first all-day breakfast concept from The Cravings Group, which made me want to visit it more particularly since I am a big fan of the morning meal. In fact, I can eat breakfast fare any time of day!

It was actually lunchtime when I first visited B&P, which I thought stood for “breakfast place”. Although apt, the restaurant was actually named after the restaurateur’s daughters, Bea and Pia Trinidad, who were also the inspiration behind the menu. It includes specialty dishes from their growing up years.

The witty dishes, like High School Life (chicken fillet and pork belly adobo), Crush ng Bayan (dried herring cooked in olive oil and capers), and Beach Front (crab and tuna omelet) have become a hit for diners ranging from students to office workers to families from the nearby neighborhoods.

 

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

10 tips for your cruise vacation (Rappler)

Costa Victoria

(This feature was published in Rappler last June 2, 2014)

Before embarking on my first cruise, I had the impression that this type of traveling was only popular among the much older crowd. It’s probably because I haven’t come across cruise-goers from my generation—most were from my parents’ era.

Still, I grabbed the opportunity to go with them on a two-week holiday touring the Mediterranean by sea. That was years ago. More recently, my whole family went on a 5-day Asian cruise that journeyed along the Southeast Asian region.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

See Manila In A New Way With These 3 Guided Tours (Looloo)

Intramuros tour by Carlos Celdran

(This feature was published in Looloo last May 22, 2014)

The City of Manila is the capital of the Philippines and one of its oldest cities. It is a city abundant in culture and history, and with so much to see, where do you even start?

Whether you’re a foreigner who wants to get to know Manila, or a local tired of going to the same malls over and over again, here are three tours that provide their own unique perspectives on exploring Manila.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

3 Museums in Manila That All Smart Filipinos Visit (Looloo)

The famous T-Rex inside The Mind Museum

(This feature was published in Looloo last May 15, 2014)

Museum hopping in Manila may not sound as adventurous as island or maybe even bar hopping but it’s definitely a good way to educate yourself about our local culture …and will also help you answer random pop quiz questions. Ha.

So take a break from going to crowded malls and get your dose of culture by visiting these three must-see museums.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Epicurious: A one-stop deli shop, café, bakery and culinary studio (GMA News Online)

Where to--cafe, bakery or deli?

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 10, 2014)

If I were craving for my daily dose of caffeine, I would head to a coffee shop. If I want to sit down for a proper meal, I would find a nice restaurant. If I want to buy a gourmet product, I would go to a specialty store. My new discovery, though, is an establishment where I could have all these things at once—Epicurious.

The first of its kind in the country, it offers a new approach to lifestyle gourmet and dining. It was actually the brainchild of Marinela “Badjie” Guerrero-Trinidad of The Cravings Group, who got the inspiration from her travels abroad. She saw that merging the concepts of shopping and dining is possible and that the Philippine market was ready for it.

This is indeed so, as gourmands and foodies have been going out of their way to visit the establishment, which opened in December 2013.

Introducing the shop-cook-eat concept

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the extensive display of delicatessen. Around this was the grocery section, dining area, and an open kitchen. I made my way through the maze of internation and local artisanal products—some were organic, gluten-free, antioxidating, or detoxifying, but overall healthy and fresh. Most of the items are not easily, commercially available anywhere else.

“Definitely, we were trying to ramp up the luxury and the taste factor,” disclosed Issa Rodriguez, Corporate Marketing Director of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA), Manila. “That doesn’t necessarily translate to being expensive; it’s something that’s superior—passed the quality test of the very educated, mature and sophisticated palates behind the company. Us being associated with the CCA and The Cravings Group—they know what they’re talking about.”

I was amazed with how they curated the items on the store and artistically showcased them. Indeed, there were a few local products that seemed like foreign brands at first glance: tablea, unsweetened chocolate, and organic coffee, among others. Epicurious put these native fare alongside more established imported goods.

According to Rodriguez, “There is a lot of stress on homegrown products because CCA, a sister company of The Cravings Group, has always espoused presenting and showcasing Philippine cuisine to the world, so we champion homegrown products.”

Satisfying foodies through a one-of-a-kind experience

Epicurious has become known for its artisanal products such as whips, spreads, dips, and butters. These turned out popular enough to have earned a place in their year-round gift hampers, which they can pre-fabricate as well.

There is also an array of local organic produce that you can buy—or if you want to take it a step further, have included in your customized meal. Yes, Epicurious can personalize your dining experience should you have a craving that’s unavailable on their menu.

“You’re given the freedom to choose what you want,” shared Rodriguez. Diners may select from the available pre-cooked meals or request something unique and let the chefs do their magic. “We cook right before your very eyes, which is a unique dining experience here,” he added.

But first, check out the convenient gourmet meals. These have salads-in-a-jar (mixed greens or marbled potato salad), sandwiches, pasta, or pizza. I enjoyed the pulled pork and arugula pizza that has a thin, crispy crust with very tasty toppings. If available, I highly recommen the mini-raviolis with white truffle cream veloute, which is a pasta lover’s dream. Think rich and aromatic white sauce. I heard it has also become one of the most requested dishes in the catering service of Epicurious.

The establishment can, in fact, accommodate private events and customize your menu for you, depending on your budget and food preference. They do not have set menus to choose from, as they prefer to tailor fit it according to the client’s needs. They can do so because they have a stable of talents from CCA and The Cravings Group, as well as their other friends from the culinary industry.

Chef Mira Cruz, Senior Chef Consultant, revealed, “Every event has a different menu, so I ask the requirements, research, and then whatever available meats or produce that we have, I start from there.”

Whenever possible, she goes to the market herself to buy the ingredients or else relies on trusted suppliers. She said, “I have to create, I have to invent, and I have to tickle their curiosity.”

The chef also mentioned that they can do off-premise catering as well.

Epicurious has some events lined up for its customers this month. Starting mid-May, it will offer its weekend brunch, and a Day Mad Rush that will feature a last-hour sale on selected items.

For those who are looking for something new to add to their social calendar, watch out for the “Happy Hour Detox and Intox” where you could either detoxify with its juice bar, or intoxify with its wine bar.

The establishment also invited Chef Nadine Tengco, a US-certified fitness nutritionist chef to the starts, to do classes during weekends.

Rodriguez divulged, “The plan later on is to have weekend classes where we can have different themes such as Sunday leftover cooking, a how it’s made series (how do you make yogurts, cheeses, fresh pasta), how do you make regular Philippine dishes out of locally sourced organic products…”

With all its offerings, it’s easy to pass the time in Epicurious. I didn’t notice that I had been there for a couple of hours—a sign that I truly enjoyed the food and the unique dining experience.

 

Bale Dutung: Home of Filipino food at its finest (GMA News Online)

Claude Tayag expertly carves a roasted pig

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 7, 2014)

Tourists flock to it. Foodies rave about it. Heck, even famous American TV host Anthony Bourdain was all praises about it. Indeed, Bale Dutung has become a must-visit dining destination in Pampanga, a region popular for its own kind of cuisine.

“Bale dutung” is a Kapampangan term that translates to “house of wood,”—and true enough, lots of wooden sculptures and structures dotted the premises. It felt very inviting—just like home. The place is actually not just a restaurant; it is also the home of Claude Tayag, an artist, author and restaurateur.

“I find warmth in wood,” shared Tayag. “This is where we live. We live upstairs.”

He and his wife Mary Ann opened their home to the public back in 2000 and began accepting guests into their restaurant.

Visitors will find Tayag’s artistic creations all over the area—from the garden he designed to the interiors of the restaurant and its wooden furnishings. He said he used recycled wood in his sculpture and furniture designs. His love for art extends to the kitchen, where he gets to show his expertise in the culinary arts and passion for Filipino food.

Those who want to try Claude Tayag’s much acclaimed cooking have to reserve a table beforehand. The restaurant will serve pre-arranged lunches to those who make a reservation for at least 12 diners. But smaller groups may join once the restaurant is open. Just call beforehand.

Five-ways lechon and other culinary innovations

There are three menu options to choose from: the Anthony Bourdain menu (inspired by the dishes served for the American chef and host), the Lechon menu, and the Kapangpangan menu. Each one has 10 courses, so expect a leisurely sit-down meal that could take up to three hours.

If you simply love swine—and if your health permits—go for the Lechon menu, which offers five kinds of lechon dishes from whole roasted pork to grilled pork ribs. This is what most foodies come here for, aside from the homey ambiance of the place.

Before indulging in gustatory pork pleasures, I started with some Ensaladang Pako (fiddle head fern salad)—fresh greens, slices of tomatoes and onions, and boiled quail eggs, served with a tangy honey-mansi dressing. The pako was crisp and the dressing was delightful. It’s a delicious and nutritious starter.

My palate was further teased by the first lechon course—Balat ng Lechon at Liver Sauce. I’m not a big lechon fan, but I just had to take a nibble of the good-looking whole roasted pig’s glistening skin and liked its crunchy texture.

The next dish was the Lechon Tortilla, which is crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla. Diners may put other fillings such as fresh onions, tomatoes, or cilantro. But make sure to put enough cilantro-basil sauce, which adds another dimension of flavor. I enjoyed the soft texture of the tortilla in contrast with the crispy shredded pork and vegetables, and because of that it became my favorite dish there.

I tried not to finish the whole tortilla so I could have space for more. I couldn’t leave the place without tasting the Lechon Sisig. According to Tayag, “My innovation there is using the pig’s head for the sisig. Mas malutong yung balat.”

The minced pig’s cheeks had a chewy consistency and the dish wasn’t as oily as I expected. Diners can choose a serving without onions and add other condiments like chili. I could imagine that this dish would pair well with some local brew.

Another must-try was the Sinigang na Lechon, a sour soup that has pork meat and vegetables like kangkong, okra and gabi. Tayag revealed, “The sinigang na lechon—people have been doing that, I don’t want to claim I started it, but it’s a different thing.”

His version uses the lechon bones for added dimension, thanks to the flavoring of its tanglad (lemongrass) stuffing. It’s best eaten with a serving of brown rice wrapped in banana leaves.

My other favorite dish was the Kare-kareng Dagat, a signature dish of Bale Dutung. I liked the medley of fresh seafood: prawns, squid, and mussels, cooked in creamy peanut sauce. The shellfish were good-sized ones, too! I found it tasty by itself, but the server gave me a side of bagoong (shrimp paste) that complemented the seafood concoction.

After the nth course, I was stuffed to the brim. But I was alerted to a dessert I shouldn’t miss—Paradiso. Picture three sweet balls of ube, yema and macapuno in a bed of sweetened carabao’s milk that almost tastes like pastillas.

I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the bowl of cloying sweetness, but I did with the help of some Kapeng Sinaunang Panahon (a bitter blend of 50 percent arabica and 50 percent barako). It was the perfect ending to this meal of epic proportions.