Taal Trippin’ (Mabuhay Magazine)

Forget about the volcano for a day.  To learn about Taal, Nikka Sarthou decided to walk through its quaint streets lined with historical ancestral homes.

Did you know that Taal was considered the second most important city during the Spanish era?  Even though it was not able to maintain its pre-eminent stature like Manila, Taal boasts a rich history with its involvement in Philippine politics, economy and society.

 I joined La Isla Pilipinas’ Taal Experience tour to visit this historic city.  It took us more than two hours to get there as we passed through the more scenic route in Tagaytay.  I realized we were there already when I saw 19th century Spanish-style colonial houses along the narrow roads. 

1st stop: Don Gregorio Agoncillo ancestral house 

This was built during the early 20th century.  Agoncillo was a prominent banker and his affluence was apparent in his home with its Edwardian chandeliers and custom-built furnishings.

2nd stop: Villavicencio ancestral homes

Don Eulalio and Doña Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio were be

lieved to have an integral part in the Philippine revolution.  They own a couple of houses made of

 stone, with imported tin ceilings, and other fine pieces of furniture on display that were all well preserved.

While we were there, a balisong (butterfly knife) maker showed us how the country’s most famous weapon is made.  Although the origin of balisong is uncertain, the definite thing is that it could be a very lethal weapon, whatever size it may be.  It is usually made out of Damascus steel and other materials like horse bone, deer antler or wood.

In the same place, we saw how the unique burdang (embroidery) Taal is created.  With this skill, the Taaleños could make intricate detailing in clothing wear and accessories by doing their special hand embroidery.

We also got a taste of the flavorful Taal cuisine as lunch was served inside the grand dining area of the house.  We were treated to a buffet meal that consisted of bulanglang (light vegetable soup), adobong puti (stewed chicken with turmeric), tapang Taal (marinated beef), and suman (sticky rice) with chocolate-eh (Batangas hot chocolate).  

3rd stop: Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay 

This Blessed Virgin is said to have miraculous powers.  I went inside the church and took a chance by touching the image and prayed for a miracle.

4th stop: Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours 

This is the largest church in Asia.  It measures 88 meters long, 44 meters wide, and 95 meters high.  I had a difficult time trying to fit the image of this imposing structure in my camera screen.  

Last stop: Taal public market

This place features many great finds – from handmade barong Tagalog and embroidered tablecloth, to special suman and cacao tableas.  I just had to grab a souvenir for me to take home.  

For more information, call La Isla Pilipinas Tours, Inc. at tel. no. +632-4260093 or +632-4366581; email [email protected]

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, November 2009)

Italian News (Mabuhay Magazine)

They say that you shouldn’t order anything you can’t pronounce, but that should not be the case with Il Ponticello.  For 10 years now, this Italian restaurant has been serving authentically prepared traditional Italian cuisine, but now they’ve added some dishes with a modern twist.  The Branzino Tartufato E Risotto Rosso or simply put — truffled wild seabass with beetroot risotto — is a recommended dish.  The freshness and tenderness of the fish perfectly complements the flavor of the risotto.  Best to hit this restaurant in the evening so you can enjoy listening to the live bands or the house DJs while savoring some good ol’ or new Italian dishes.

Il Ponticello – 2F Antel 2000 Building, 121 Valero Street (corner Rufino), Salcedo Village, Makati City; tel. nos. +632-8877168, +632-8874998; Open Mondays to Saturdays 12:00 – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. onwards.

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, May 2009)

Chi’s Brick Oven Kitchen (Mabuhay Magazine)

Popular for their wood-fired brick oven dishes.  Must-tries: Puchon or brick oven style lechon kawali (pan-roasted pork) with soy vinaigrette, and the scrumptious dessert pizzas like the Blueberry Cheesecake Delight.

Chi’s Brick Oven Kitchen – Unit 105 Aguirre Ave., B.F. Homes Paranaque City; tel. no. +632-8207210; website brickovenkitchen.multiply.com.  Closed on Mondays.

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, April 2009)

Porcelain (Mabuhay Magazine)

Cool, urbane, with white-colored light balls adorning the ceiling.  Grab some tasty dimsum treats and mingle your way into Porcelain’s bar.  Feel like taking a punch?  Order the Pacquiao Punch — a splendid mix of brandy, tequila, rum, vodka, gin, orange and pineapple juice, and more —  a total knock-out.  Best to drop in during Crazy Hours, from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Porcelain – Ground level, Fort Strip, Fort Bonifacio, Global City, Taguig; tel. no. +632-8567442; email [email protected]

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, April 2009)

Ready Couture (Mabuhay Magazine)

Atelier de Cor 

A good alternative to the usual offerings of mall retail shops.  Flip through chic dresses, skirts, tops, and jackets designed by Cor Sunglao, a graduate and instructor of the Fashion Institute of the Philippines.  She also does made-to-order pieces that are definitely unique.

Atelier de Cor – 462 Barangka Drive, Mandaluyong City; mobile no. +63917-5347165; website atelierdecor.multiply.com.

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, January 2009)

Spa Day (Mabuhay Magazine)

Need to relax?  Nikka Sarthou recommends these spas that are guaranteed to pamper you from head to toe.


The Blue Water Day Spa is best known for its Tibetan Meridian Fire Therapy.  This 45-minute therapy can help you trim down about an inch from the particular body area that needs treatment.  It uses heat from fire and a special massage technique that will make you relax and eliminate excess fat and toxins from your body.

Treatment Cost:  3,000 to 3,500 pesos (US$63-74) per session, depending on the body area.

Ambience:  Feel like you’re at the beach surrounded by cool blue lights, soothing sounds, and furnishings that create a relaxing atmosphere.

What to Expect:  Treatments at Blue Water Day Spa are mid-priced but of high-quality.  Most of its clientele — about 60% male — enjoy the wide-array of treatments specifically for men, among them the cleansing Biodroga Men’s Vitality Treatment and FPL hair removal.  They also offer service-specific gift certificates, and spa party packages for all occasions.

Blue Water Day Spa has six branches all over Metro Manila.  For more information, visit www.bluewaterdayspa.com.


Ask for the Xiamen-Style Foot Reflexology, a massage technique known for its healing power.  The foot scrub at this spa uses traditionally formulated Chinese herbs, massage creams, and also herbal tea to soothe aching feet and help treat some illnesses.

Treatment Cost:  350 pesos (US$7) for the Xiamen-Style Foot Reflexology or the Xiamen-Style Foot Scrub.

Ambience:  The dim lighting, the background music, and the aroma of peppermint in the air are very calming.  This may not be a high-end spa, but its curtains provide enough privacy.

What to Expect:  Your feet will be pampered for a full hour while you are seated on a recliner enjoying a hot compress on your neck.  Home-service requests are entertained by this spa.

Feet For Us has eight branches all over Metro Manila.  For more information, visit www.feetforus.com


What could feel more luxurious than getting a diamond peel? Godiva Skin Station has a special machine with diamond-encrusted tips to mechanically scrape off dead skin cells and bring the skin back to its optimum level.  This 30-minute procedure enhances the texture and color of the skin without pain, and with zero downtime, too.

Treatment Cost:  2,200 pesos (US$46) for non-members.

Ambience:  The atmosphere is Zen-like because of the light-green colored walls, bamboo décor, pocket rock gardens and relaxing music.

What to Expect:  Quality skin care need not be expensive.  At Godiva Skin Station, you can be sure of reasonably-priced services compared to other spas.  Among its offerings are free consultation, private rooms, and good service from well-trained personnel, plus complimentary strawberry-flavored tea.  And if you apply for their consumable Club G membership program, you can get a discount of as much as 20 percent on their products and services.

Godiva Skin Station has nine branches all over Metro Manila.  For more information, visit www.godivaskinstation.com.


Aside from regular manicures, California Nails and Day Spa is popular for its acrylic nails, a nail-enhancement procedure wherein acrylic resin is added to the nails to lengthen and strengthen them.  The acrylic nails can last for two to three weeks.

Treatment Cost:  1,100 pesos (US$23) for short nails, 1,230 (US$26) for medium nails, and 1,360 (US$29) for long nails.

Ambience: The pink, green, lilac and periwinkle interiors are fun and flirty.

What to Expect:  The spa’s technicians are well-trained.  Imported quality products are used and the services come with a free hand massage.  While getting your nails done, you can ask for complimentary herbal tea or even have your jewelry cleaned for free.  Gift certificates are available year-round.

California Nails and Day Spa has nine branches all over Metro Manila.  For more information, visit www.californianailsanddayspa.com.


Since 1996, The Spa has been providing a variety of treatments that stimulate the body and soul.  One of their most popular treatments is the Traditional Hilot, a Filipino massage technique that makes use of virgin coconut oil and heated banana leaves to help ease the body’s tension and restore well-being.

Treatment Cost:  1,200 pesos (US$25) non-members.

Ambience:  This Spa has seven branches with seven different themes ranging from safari to monastery-like, so you’ll have a new experience every time you visit another branch.

What to Expect:  Before any body treatment, you can use the spa’s wet floor area, which include a Jacuzzi, sauna, steam bath, contrast therapy baths and vanity amenities.  If you avail of The Spa’s membership program, you will have unlimited access to these facilities and get discounts and other privileges as well.

The Spa has seven branches all over Metro Manila.  For more information, visit www.thespa.com.ph.

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, December 2008)

24/7 Parañaque (Mabuhay Magazine)

Feel Parañaque’s easy and steady southern atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle of the north.


Food:  Missing the taste of a good home-cooked meal?  Goodah!!! dishes up classic Filipino comfort food to please your palate.  Chose from such affordable dishes as Goto (35 pesos or 80 US cents), Arroz Caldo (55 pesos or US$1.20), Pares, Dinuguan (69 pesos or US$1.50, Classic Tapa, Tokwa, and many more.  Their solo servings are enough to fill your stomach but they won’t put a hole in your pocket.

Ambience:  Very informal in an al fresco setting.

Crowd:  Employees from nearby offices to barkadas (peer groups).  Solo diners eat in the counter; customers in groups occupy the surrounding tables.

What to Expect:  You can sample a selection of classic Filipino dishes without paying a fortune.

Goodah!!! – Along Doña Soledad Ave., Better Living Subdivision, Parañaque City; tel. no. +632-8243166


Food:  Casino Filipino offers

 various gastronomic delights from its scrumptious buffet and in its different restaurants. Some of the restaurants have personnel who go around and offer free food-order service to casino patrons, but you’ll need a casino card for it. 

Ambience: Very lively and fun atmosphere.

Crowd:  Mixed.  Mostly a haven for senior citizens, but plenty of you

ng people also play in the gaming tables.

What to Expect:  You can spend all day and night playing internationally-recognized games like Baccarat, Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, Big & Small, Pai Glow Poker, Super 6 and the Slot Machines.  You can also join the Bingo games in the afternoon or watch the nightly entertainment shows from 6pm onwards.

PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) Casino Filipino – PIRC Bldg., Ninoy Aquino Ave., Parañaque City; tel. nos. +632-8541605 or +632-8540602


Food:  Sinangag Express serves favorite Filipino breakfast favorites any

time of the day. The most popular one is Tapsilog (49 pesos or US$1.10), a combination of beef tapa flakes, garlic rice and sunny side-up egg that’s best eaten with their chili vinegar. You can also choose from Tocilog (sweet pork), Chosilog (chorizo), Hotsilog (hotdog), and several other delicious dishes.

Ambience:  No air-conditioning but very airy and has a relaxed vibe to it.

Crowd:  Anyone who enjoys eating Pinoy breakfast meals, from teenagers to family groups.

What to Expect:  You get value for your money with the economical and tasty dishes as well as the quick service.

Sinangag Express –  79 President Ave., BF Homes, Sucat, Parañaque City 

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, November 2008)

24/7 Makati (Mabuhay Magazine)

Known to be the business and high-end capital of Manila, Makati is a bustling city, day and night.


Food:  Bento Box offers Japanese dishes inspired by American cooking style and presentation.  Its bestsellers are shrimp tempura (210 pesos or US$4.60), chicken teriyaki (108 pesos or US$2.40), and sukiyaki (137 pesos or US$3).

Ambience:  The interiors are a mix of American and Japanese designs.  The bright-red walls and black pieces of furniture reflect the modern American style, while the minimalist look characterizes the Japanese style.

Crowd:  Mostly professionals and office employees.

What to Expect:  Fresh, tasty and affordable American-inspired Japanese dishes served in bento boxes.

Bento Box – 117 Leviste St., Salcedo Village, Makati City; tel. no. +632-8137272


Food:  Since 1946, the Old Swiss Inn has been dishing up European favorites such as pork knuckles, corned beef, pepper steaks and sausages.  It also serves artisan beers that complement their staples.  Recently, the restaurant has become more popular with its fondues, particularly the Toblerone fondue (395 pesos or US$8.60).

Ambience:  Casual and cozy with its pinewood and ski lodge-inspired interiors.

Crowd:  Corporate people during lunch; mostly families during dinner.  Foreigners are also frequent guests.

What to Expect:  Large-portion meals.

Old Swiss Inn – Lower ground floor, Sommerset Olympia Makati, Makati Avenue, Makati City; tel. nos. +632-8176462 or +632-8941711

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine. October 2008)

24/7 Ortigas (Mabuhay Magazine)

Ortigas is a thriving business, commercial, and residential center located east of Metro Manila.


Food:  Suddenly craving for a hot bowl of lugaw (rice porridge) on a late night or the wee hours of the morning?  Try Lugawan Republic’s bestseller, Pilugaw (95 pesos or US$2) – it’s a complete meal by itself with sotanghon (glass noodles), chicken, ox tripe, quail egg, mushrooms, spring onion and toasted garlic.  Or just create your own lugaw by choosing your favorite toppings.

Ambience:  Casual and comfortable.

Crowd:  A lot of senior citizens at daytime, while the yuppies take over at nighttime.

What to Expect:  You get your “lugaw fix” served quickly and as hot as possible.

Lugawan Republic – 2nd floor, Metrowalk Complex, Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City; tel. no. +632-7062930


Food:  The Metro Card Club serves all kind of drinks but doesn’t serve food on its own.  However, it has a selection of menus from the nearby restaurants.  You can ask the staff to order for you.

Ambience:  Lively, friendly but laid back and everyone’s having a heck of a good time.

Crowd:  Mostly males who are above the age of 21.

What to Expect:  If the sound of poker chips is like music to your ears, you’re going to love the Metro Card Club.  It’s the first poker room that was allowed by PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) to be put up outside the casino.  Get a kick out of tournaments like the low stakes, high stakes and other special events like the Metro Seventy-Five Tournament and the Filipino Poker Tour.  The club requires membership but anyone can sign-up for free.

Metro Card Club – Bldg. 2A & B, Metrowalk Commercial Complex, Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City; tel. no. +632-6331422


Food:  Jay-J’s serves the best of Filipino cuisine found in different regions like Pampanga and Bacolod.  Your cravings for comfort food will be satisfied with their bestsellers such as inasal or grilled food (99 pesos or US$2.20), sisig or sizzling plate (155 pesos or US$3.60), bulalo or bone marrow steak (199 pesos or US$4.60), kare-kare or ox tail in peanut sauce (230 pesos or US$5.30), among others.

Ambience:  Casual and cozy with Asian-inspired interiors.

Crowd:  Joggers and morning walkers at daytime, and office people by lunchtime.  Yuppies and night owls hang out here for after-dinner drinks.

What to Expect:  Different varieties of native dishes, all under one roof.

Jay-J’s – 106 Ortigas Bazaar Center, Julia Vargas St. corner Meralco Ave., Pasig City; tel. no. +632-6386410

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, September 2008)

Uniquely Pinoy (Mabuhay Magazine)

The Ice Cream Bar (Flavors by FIC) boasts of 41 unique flavors from avocado to queso (cheese) to red munggo (mung beans).  A must-try is the Grasshopper Mint Chip (210 pesos or US$5), a combination of pistachio, double Dutch, and choco-mint ice cream with rich chocolate sauce and whipped cream.  Aside from the sundaes and parfaits, the bar has Pinoy concoctions like mangga’t suman (mango and sticky rice) at 120 pesos or US$2.90, a mouth-watering combination of two suman slices and mangga’t suman-flavored ice cream, all drizzled with chocolate.  Tasty sandwiches, pasta and coffee are also available.  Dig in!

The Ice Cream Bar (Flavors by FIC) – Ground floor, Joya Tower, Joya Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, May 2008)