Chez Deo: A stopover for Italian cuisine in Balayan (GMA News Online)

Cozze e Gamberoni - A big serving of seafood pasta

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last November 16, 2014)

Balayan in Batangas was an unfamiliar destination to me until I met my future husband, whose family hails from there. He would bring me there on road trips at least once a year. The town is popularly known for its Feast Day of San Juan, which coincides with the Parada ng Lechon Festival every June 24.

On any other day, though, there’s not much to do except maybe treat your taste buds to something special from Chez Deo Ristorante Italiano @Gliceria.

It comes as no surprise to see ancestral homes and similar structures in this quiet little town, but it’s amazing to see contemporary establishments like Chez Deo, which is situated in a renovated house and is probably the most “upscale” restaurant in the area.

My first impression was that it felt out of place in this rural location, but when I dined there I felt right at home in the comfortable setting. As we entered the gate, I saw a sprawling lawn that was beautifully landscaped—not too manicured, but not shabby either. The open-air but tented dining area on the ground floor featured simple furnishings—stylish red plastic chairs and tables covered in checkered cloths. From my seat, I had a clear view of the brick oven where they bake their bread and pizzas.

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Traipsing through Taipei (GMA News Online)

Maokong Gondola

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last November 1, 2014)

Taiwan’s unique food culture is what made my hubby and I book a trip to this bustling Asian city. We planned to eat our way through Taipei but we discovered that there’s more to it than food alone.
During our three-day stay, we explored the top main attractions by foot, bus, train and even a cable car! It was so easy to get around there that we intentionally got lost so we could see more of the city. All we had to do was to get a TaipeiPass that allowed us unlimited use of the MRT and city bus.
We created our own itinerary so we could tour at our own pace, and our first agenda was to ride the Maokong Gondola. From the city center, we took the MRT to the Taipei Zoo Station, which had a walkable distance to the cable car entrance. We went there on a Saturday and the crowd was organized and manageable. As first-timers, we made sure to line up for the crystal cabin so we can see through the bottom as we go up to the Maokong Station.
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Oysters unlimited (sometimes) at El Cangrejo (GMA News Online)

Baked scallops

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last September 22, 2014)

Healthy eating has become my mantra ever since I entered my mid-30s. I have become more conscious about my intake, making sure that I consume food that is good for me. I haven’t gone vegetarian, but I practice my palate to eat healthy, which means consuming more lean meat than cholesterol-laden foods. Now I go for seafood more than other types of meat.

My most recent restaurant discovery—El Cangrejo Crab, Seafood and Steak Bistro—may be a long drive from my place of residence, but it’s definitely worth the trip.

From sea to table

Although he has no formal culinary training, Mikael Andre Degilla’s love of food—particularly seafood—motivated him to open his first restaurant venture in November 2013. He co-owns the restaurant with his wife Maita, brother Leandro, Zeus Yee, and chef Niño Runas, who helped him design the menu.

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California Pizza Kitchen unveils new flavors, new ‘island’ layout (GMA News Online)

Fettuccine with Mushroom Truffle Cream Sauce

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last September 14, 2014)

I remember having my first taste of the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza of California Pizza Kitchen back in college, over a decade ago. Its unusual flavor appealed to my palate then, and I’m not surprised that the item is still available today.

There are now 10 branches of CPK all over the metro, and the latest one in Century City Mall presents a new dining layout and new additions to the menu as well.

The secret to success

The Century City Mall branch also features a first for CPK worldwide: a layout that Archie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Global Restaurant Concepts Inc. (which brought the brand to  the Philippines), calls its “island concept.”

“We call it an ‘island’ because it’s located in the center of the mall, without walls, and yet has our trademark open pizza kitchen,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do this concept for a while now.”

The new branch can accommodate 80 guests and the open space allows mall-goers to see the restaurant from any angle, which lets the establishment showcase its food and service at the same time.


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Hello, Teddy’s! Hawaii’s best burger joint is finally in the PHL (GMA News Online)

Burgers and fries--the perfect combination

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last August 29, 2014)

The burger has always been on my list of top food cravings. It’s easy to satisfy my hankering for it since one can find it practically anywhere—from food stalls to fast-food restaurants, and even some fine-dining establishments.
Not all burgers are created equal, though. Some are far superior to the rest, especially in terms of quality and taste.
Teddy’s Bigger Burgers was established in Hawaii in 1998 by Ted Tsakiris and Rich Stula, who are both burger lovers. Their concept was born during their backyard cookouts in Hawaii, which inspired them to establish their first restaurant right on the side of Diamond Head—where they flipped burgers for five years and never took a day off.
New burger joint on the block
The years of hard work have paid off and now Teddy’s has 11 branches in Hawaii and the mainland. It opened its first international location in Japan, and its second one opened in the Philippines this August.
“This is a landmark store for us,” said Stula. “We’re all so excited to be a part of this grand opening. To let you guys know what sets us apart—we have the anatomy of a burger sign over here, the quality of the ground chuck of the burgers that we make, the special sauce, the seasoning… It all fits together for a great burger. We have won best burger in Hawaii since 2001.”

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A taste of Indian-inspired cuisine by the Spice Goddess, Bal Arneson (GMA News Online)

Sweet potato and yam samosas

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last August 22, 2014)

A slender lady dressed in a chef’s coat brought a plate of fries over to a young boy seated beside his older sister from across our table. It seemed such a casual act that I didn’t think the lady was a celebrity chef. It was, in fact, cookbook author and television host, Bal Arneson who stars in both the “Spice of Life with Bal Arneson” and “Spice Goddess” in the Asian Food Channel.
I love watching all kinds of cooking shows and I’d seen this particular chef create delicious-looking Indian cuisine in her shows. In some episodes, I saw her two kids, 20-year-old daughter Anoop, and 10-year-old son Aaron, help her in the kitchen. It was obvious how their close family ties played a big role in the program.
The chef and her children were recently in Manila for the “Bal Arneson Spice Adventure” tour. Based in Vancouver, Canada, they traveled a thousand miles across the world for their Asian tour, which included stops in Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Of mangoes and kare-kare
It was their first time to step foot in the urban jungle of Metro Manila and their eyes were glistening with excitement. While in Manila, they explored the streets to sample local fare.
“We’ve been checking out the street markets. So we’ve been eating just street market food because I’m like, ‘don’t take me to fancy places, just take me to the streets where locals eat,’” disclosed the down-to-earth chef.

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Restaurant review Kessaku’s symphony of Japanese flavors (GMA News Online)

Salmon sashimi

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last August 8, 2014)

My eyes were drawn to the slices of pink-hued raw fish that were beautifully garnished with lettuce leaves, green sprouts, a lemon wedge and a dollop of wasabi. It was my ultimate favorite sashimi. I just had to grab a pair of chopsticks and get a bite of the fresh salmon sashimi offered by Kessaku.
“This is one of our bestsellers,” according to Yums Aggabao, one of the owners of this Japanese restaurant in Alabang. “People really come here for this.”
I now know why. Its vibrant color alone was a giveaway of the freshness of the fish. It was juicy, it had a creamy texture, and a clean taste—like it was just caught from the sea. Aggabao mentioned that they get it from a supplier who ships it from Norway chilled in an ice chest. My taste buds could tell that the sake sashimi was truly superior grade salmon.
I was actually happy with the sashimi alone but I just had to sample the other specialties of the restaurant, which opened late October 2013. It has been almost a year since its opening and it continues to dish up delicious Japanese cuisine to the south crowd.

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Different degrees of spice at Just Thai (GMA News Online)

Yam Neua (beef salad)

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last July 24, 2014)

My fondest memory of sampling true Thai food was in the streets of Bangkok where I had my first taste of authentic pad Thai. I didn’t speak the local dialect so I just communicated with the vendor through sign language, and I ended up eating the spiciest stir-fried noodles I have ever tasted — so hot that my eyes teared up at my first bite.
As much as I would want to replicate that food experience, I find it challenging to do so as there aren’t a lot of good Thai restaurants here in Metro Manila. I encountered one that closely resembles the real thing although it has been around for four years already.

Just Thai may not be new in the restaurant scene but I was only able to eat there recently after I overcame my feeling of intimidation. You see, I associate Thai food with street food, not with swanky dining destinations. When I finally had the opportunity to dine there, I realized that I was wrong not to try it earlier. But, like they say, it’s better late than never.

Filipino spicy or Thai spicy?
I felt a comfortable vibe upon entering the establishment. Just Thai was a cozy restaurant that was neither too casual nor too upscale. The wooden furnishing and muted red tones of the interiors made me feel relaxed. I immediately checked out the menu that listed a variety of Thai offerings and I was grateful for the English translations with matching dish descriptions.
Of course, I wanted to sample one of Thailand’s most iconic dishes, tom yum, a hot and sour soup with prawns. But before our server placed our order, he asked how spicy we wanted it. I discovered that the restaurant could customize the spice levels of all the dishes. Typically, Filipinos go for mildly spicy only but my lunch mates and I went for the truly hot and spicy. Indeed, it was so.
With every spoonful, I tasted the combination of complex flavors — sour, spicy, and the strong taste of cilantro. It was actually like any other tom yum I tasted.

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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.

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