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Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Gift Idea from your Kitchen

After the rush that is the Noche Buena feast on Christmas Eve, it is only now that I found the time to write. Compared to last year's celebration that is labeled as our 4-country sojourn (5, if one has to be technical about separating the Vatican from Italy), this year has been the simplest most peaceful one. Our menu was a match to it as well - an Oven-Baked Ham with Pineapple Glaze as centerpiece, with Russian Potato Salad, slices of Quezo de Bola, and a salad of greens with olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing as side dishes.

Earlier that evening though, I prepared something to be given to certain people in our gift-giving list. I thought of giving away something home-made, like my Chicken Pot Pie, which certainly gave a very personal touch after all the time and labor spent on it. A batch that's good for 5 ceramic containers (measuring 4 x 4 x 2 in.) was done quite easily and didn't require a lot of my time. Preparing the ingredients may, however, require more because of the chopping that is required. A helpful tip would be to do all the preparations early then take a breather before approaching the cooking proper, or have someone help you do it, while you do the cooking yourself.

Everything about the dish I made from scratch, including the pie crust, but you may want to lessen the labor intensity by buying a package of puff pastry usually available in the frozen section of supermarkets or at your favorite deli stores. (Just follow package instructions for preparing these.) I packaged each pie in blue ceramic containers I bought from the supermarket for PhP45 each, then when the pie had totally cooled from baking, I wrapped them in white cellophane sheets, tied with a red ribbon. A card that says "From the Kitchen of -" will make the recipient feel that the dish was especially made for him/her. Cheers!

Chicken Pot Pie

For the crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup butter, softened but not melted
1 tsp. salt
6 T. cold water

For the chicken filling:

1 k. chicken breast cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium-sized carrot, cut into cubes
2 potatoes, cubed
1 small can whole mushrooms, sliced according to your liking
1 can vienna sausage, cut into smaller rounds
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
hot water, depending desired thickness of sauce
salt & pepper to taste

1. Make the pie crust: Mix the salt with the flour and add the butter. Blend together with fork or a pastry blender. The resulting mixture should look like cornmeal. Add cold water one tablespoon at a time and mix together until it forms into dough. (You don't have to use all the water, just until the dough forms together). Wrap with cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using.

2. Make the chicken filling: Saute onions until for 1 minute then followed by garlic in a little corn oil. Follow with carrots and potatoes to allow time to cook these vegetables. Mix in the chicken bites until almost cooked (when meat has turned opague in color). Add in the mushrooms and the vienna sausage then season with salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 5 minutes to let ingredients cook through. Add the cream of mushroom soup and let simmer again for a few minutes. Check if the consistency of the sauce is to your liking, or else add hot water and check after a minute until you've achieved the consistency you like.

3. Assembly: Pour into ceramic dishes and distribute evenly. The chicken filling should only reach up to 3/4 of the dish rim. Set aside. Take out the pie dough from the refrigerator and set up your work table by sprinkling flour on the surface and that of your rolling pin (you can use a big and clean wine bottle as a rolling pin if you don't have one). Divide the dough by the number of ceramic dishes you have. Roll out the dough evenly on 4 sides then carefully put on top of one pie dish. The dough should fit over the rim and just cut away any excess. Fold dough over rim and press with tines of fork or thumb of your hand for a little design.

4. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. There will be varying times for baking your pie depending on the make and model of your oven so you can only know if its done when the crusts have browned a little.

5. Cool the pies entirely before packaging them. The pies will keep for 3-4 days if refrigerated.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lutong Macau!

I really don't know where the Filipino connotation of "Lutong Macau" started. May I venture loosely into saying that we Filipinos usually use this phrase to mean that something is just made up, or that something was just cooked up, as in "cook the books." I now wonder if this is because Macau is principally a place you go to for gambling. Well, it's certainly the Las Vegas of the mainland China.

Of course, when an opportunity came up to visit Macau (read: free trip), who's to say one will not jump at the chance? With so many people I know who have been to Macau telling me that it's a worthwhile destination, I said why not? Why not indeed. And so my mother and I packed our bags for both our birthday trip and some mother and daughter bonding.

We chose a centrally located hotel in the main island of Macau. While Hotel Beverly Plaza is a
four-star hotel, it had simple straightforward amenities. I thought at first I may have made a mistake in choosing this hotel. This is because I've already confirmed our reservations when I decided to check out the reviews on the place, and the people who previously stayed there gave mixed reactions. Lucky for us, the quality of service has improved for the better. Unlike what the previous guests have been saying, the hotel staff are friendlier and more helpful. Toiletries and coffee and tea courtesy trays are complete and clean. Their breakfast buffet still needs a bit of improvement though, but on the whole, they serve a satisfactory spread of Cantonese and Western breakfast. Being a Filipino though, I was looking for fried rice. I suppose it's not a Cantonese thing. However, I got to taste a more or less authentic Pancit Canton, Macau being a Chinese Canton region rather than Mandarin or Fookien Chinese.

For people like my mother and I who do not gamble, the best thing to do in Macau is to eat! So our first destination upon arrival was to go to The Venetian and find out what is all the fuss about the place. From central Macau, we boarded the ferry shuttle to reach the station, and from there, one can choose to which hotel you'd like to go. So many of the hotels in the area offer free shuttle service to the tourists as an incentive (and may I say temptation) for people to gamble in their casinos. Once, when Macau has not opened to the world yet, there was only one casino to go to - the Hotel Casino Lisboa, which is actually a few minutes' walk away from our hotel. But when the tourist industry boomed and Macau opened its doors for foreign investors in 2004, so many casinos were built and opened. There are presently 30 casinos in Macau right now, and for a region that is only 30 square kilometers in area, the statistics would be that there is one casino for every square kilometer. And because of the competition among these casinos, casino hopping becomes easier and more convenient since they all offer free shuttle services. That's free trade and competition for you.

So, we boarded the shuttle for The Venetian with much anticipation since we first saw the hotel
from the airport. It's a beautiful and grand structure, and upon going inside, one would notice how well-thought out the floor plans are, how opulent the interiors and how they were able to replicate much of the piazzas and interconnecting bridges of Venice. Nevertheless, I'm sorry to say that it is just a copy of a
beautiful place, and if you take out the layers, it is nothing but a hotel with a big shopping mall. It is, on the other hand, a self-contained little "city".

In search for dinner, we naturally thought of trying out traditional Macanese cuisine and what better way for a first timer to do that than to go to The Venetian's food court. Macanese cuisine is much influenced by the administration of Portugal of the region for 400 years. It reminded me of how Spain influenced Filipino cuisine as well. So what is traditional in eating Macau?

Like Filipinos, their favorite meats are pork and chicken, and they treat spaghetti the same way as rice. We saw spaghetti in tomato, hot, cheesy and curry sauces. We are likewise surprised at how big their individual servings were. Certainly, no one is supposed to go hungry in Macau.
For dinner, we chose Porto Exterior where I had the Portuguese Chicken, which is much like the Filipino chicken curry we have here, but theirs have chorizos and black olives in the mix. My mother had the Fish with Cheese Sauce, which are generous portions of fish fillets breaded and fried to a crunch placed on top of rice fried in mild spices and scrambled egg bits. We had to balance our meals off with poached bok choy from Pho Hoa (yes, not really a traditional Macanese dinner, I admit). However, my mother and I were really more than satisfied with such a heavy meal and decided to walk our meal off afterwards with a tumbler of fresh fruits to take home.

We thought that our dinner was just a peculiar thing there in The Venetian, but our future meals in Macau were about the same thing - generous portions of everything. Our other meals included trying out the 24-hour cantonese dimsum place right next to our hotel. I'm sorry that I couldn't write down the name since it was only written in Cantonese. While they have a menu written in English, the staff do not speak any, and I was reduced to just pointing out the items we liked in the list as written in English while the waitstaff would read the counterpart Cantonese. Service was quick too. The food is just like what you get in the usual Chinese restaurants here in Manila - and then some. I had the crispy breaded pork chop rice meal, which they served with hot steaming broth and steamed cabbage and turnips. My mother had the beef with peppers on rice. We had the vegetable dumplings as a side with the usual soy and chili garlic sauces, but I still prefer the Filipino way of injecting kalamansi juice in the sauce for some bite and balance.
Macau as a cultural destination can be done in one day or less. I appreciated the fact that the Macau Chinese preserved as much of their history as they possibly can. The Senado square, the Maa Gok Temple (where the goddess A-ma resides) and the Ruins of St. Paul (which is the symbol for Macau) are World Heritage sites that are really worth seeing in person. As Macau thrives much on their tourism industry, it is only but proper for one to respect how organized the government is in coordinating everything well. Considering that they are Chinese whose sense of culture is quite strong and deeply felt, they also do not forget and likewise respect and embrace their historical and foreign influences. It is truly a blending of east and west.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hitting the Road

It's been quite some time since I made an entry here and I miss it actually. It's a bit funny though that during the time that typhoons were hitting the country, the internet service in my area was working well, but when the typhoons left, my service provider chose that time to strand me, and the rest of my province. I'm still looking for the logic in that.

And so, one of the things I quite missed during those trying times was the opportunity to just get up and and drive a car to anywhere. Of course, for my part the easiest route to take would be the Manila East road, which is well maintained as you go on stretches with nary an encounter with a bump on the road. This is the only stretch of road where one feels like there are only a few people in the Philippines.

What I like about road tripping are the little surprises that you get when you just take the time to stop and be curious. On this road, there is of course, the window shops of Paete displaying their wood carvings for sale. If you travel there during the -ber months, there is quite a buffet of Santas to choose from to decorate your house. There is also the showcase of the barong tagalog and saya along Lumban. The trip through these towns are short since they are small places, but it makes for such wonderful sights to see the culture thriving along the road. Then you know that you've reached Pagsanjan as soon as you see the old but well-preserved colonial Spanish houses there and the old wall marking the province as
established during the Spanish era. Then, if you reach Magdalena, there you will appreciate at how neat and peaceful the town and its people are, with their famously old church. They even have a memorial inside it signifying the short time that Apolinario Mabini rested in probably the last of his battles against the Spanish before he expired. The blood stains on his hat and sword are still there, brown and preserved in age.

For us, the final stop would be Liliw again. One naturally lands on the town after Magdalena. It's a little uphill and into their narrow streets which curved this way and that. We reached a very charming place called Balay Celina, a Bali-inspired bed and breakfast, quite a few minutes from the center of town. We were greeted by a friendly caretaker called Lasi who took care of us the moment we entered the gates, which is a distance from the main entrance.

As we entered the foyer, we are greeted by instant tranquility from the sounds of trickling water from the indoor pond, lush colors from the variety of plants alongside it, and natural light streaming in from every angle. One gets a glimpse of the garden pushed at the back of the house, leading to the swimming pool and another cottage for bigger groups or families who would like some more privacy. Every square inch of the house is made with natural and contrasting materials that really go together beautifully.

Lasi led us to our room, which is quite big. There were two double beds, a living area and tv with cable. The bathroom is likewise spacious and can probably accomodate the toiletries of six people. Indeed, the rooms of Balay Celina are made for sharing. We weren't prepared, however, with the little detail that they dont provide basic toiletries like shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. But towels are big and clean.

The people of Balay Celina are very accommodating that they can drive you to the center of town for your shopping and sight seeing. Even if it takes you 2 hours to get there from Antipolo, one still gets tired from driving. An added note here is that parking spaces in the town proper are quite limited, so having them drop you off and picked up later in the day is an added and much valued amenity.

Sleep in Balay Celina is very peaceful and surprisingly cool. One then understands why the owners did not install air conditioning units in their rooms. Even if you close off your glass windows to prevent a variety of bugs from coming in, there are slits on the roof that allow air to come in and naturally circulate.

Breakfast at Celina is served generously. We were served pako omellette, which was an eye opener, pork longganisa, beef tapa, fried rice, fruits and coffee. You are given as many as you are able to wolf down. It is certainly your home away from home, as they would like you to feel.

Balay Celina has turned out to be just the reward you need at the end of a road trip. We will certainly come back.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Soup Kitchen

After the storm that is “Ondoy” and the devastation it left for many of our “kababayans”, here comes another one called “Pepeng/Parma”. Thankfully, it isn’t as strong in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, but there is still the winds and rainfall that encourage one to just spend the whole day indoors and cozy up in a couch with a book to read.

What better way to comfort one than a bowl of steaming hot soup. Here is a basic recipe that I use and have become popular with family and friends. It’s not the usual Pinoy soup though – like Pancit Molo and Chicken Sopas, but it has chicken stock as the all-familiar base and serves vegetables and herbs in a whole new light.

Cream of Parsley and Basil Soup

1 white onion, chopped
2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and halved
2 T butter
1 c. chopped fresh parsley
½ c chopped fresh basil
4 c. chicken stock
½ c cream
salt & pepper to taste

Sauté chopped onion in butter until fragrant in a stockpot or casserole. Add chopped parsley and basil. Pour chicken stock and add potatoes, and boil until potatoes are cooked through and can be mashed. Turn off heat and add cream. Stir, and let it cool.

Take out the potatoes and mash them with a fork then stir back into soup. In batches, blend the soup in blender until ingredients are incorporated well. Heat up the creamed soup until it starts to boil and season with salt and pepper. Serve in individual bowls. Croutons are optional.

If you are serving this soup to someone who is lactose intolerant, replace cream with the same amount of evaporated filled milk.

Cream of Broccoli or Cauliflower Soup

It’s the same procedure actually, just replace the parsley and basil with 1 to 1 ½ cup/s chopped broccoli or cauliflower florets. Before pouring soup in individual bowls, melt cheese in the bowls first in the microwave before pouring soup in. You can also add whole broccoli or cauliflower florets as garnish. For the cauliflower soup, no need to add cheese in.

Cream of Carrot and Squash Soup

Again, the same ingredients but replace the parsley and basil with 1 cup squash and ½ cup chopped carrots. When serving, pour soup in individual bowls and add a dollop of sour cream. If you’re counting calories, a dollop of creamy or plain yogurt works equally well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicken mettle

It was in one of my trips to a weekend market when I caught sight of this whole roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary that I thought of serving it for dinner later that evening. I balked at the price of P400 per fowl. I'm sorry, but I really thought it was too much for a simple roasted chicken, regardless of how it was perfectly cooked and browned all over and how elegant it would look on my dinner table. I thought to myself that I could cook my own chicken and for much less the price at which this rosemary chicken was being sold.

And so I sauntered off with this challenge in mind and bought the necessary ingredients for my own rosemary chicken.

The oven was preheated first hand at 350 degrees C. After washing the chicken inside and out and drying it with a paper towel, I sprinkled salt and pepper inside and out as well. Then, I carefully loosened the skin off the breast until it reached half of each leg, making sure it doesn't tear. I did the same thing on the back side. It's a bit more difficult to loosen it up here, so I didn't push it and loosen as much skin as I can.

In between that skin and meat, I put dots of butter every few centimeters, and chopped fresh rosemary. I placed a few lemon slices in the cavity and brushed the outer skin with extra virgin olive oil. Then, I placed the chicken on the roasting rack settled on a pan to catch the drippings and placed it in the oven, lowering the temperature to 250degrees. Every now and then though, I continue to brush olive oil on the chicken and around 15 minutes before it is completely cooked, I turned the chicken over to level off the browning. I suppose if I had a proper rotisserie, my chicken would evenly brown, but I was quite happy with the results I got after an hour of roasting at a steady low temperature. I believe the brushing of oil and the lower temperature rendered a crispy brown skin while retaining moisture and flavor of the meat. And the aroma was heavenly - the mixture of rosemary and lemons in the air stirred some anticipation for the dinner to come.

A simple and elegant dinner of roast chicken was perfectly paired with a light salad and some starch.

In our case, it was rice, but I think it would equally pair well with oven roasted potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper and a brushing of olive oil. A glass of wine added a sparkle to the feast.

After putting such a meal together without much hassle, it occurred to me that any woman who can put together a roast chicken dinner is indeed a lady of her own house. If you don't have your own recipe for roast chicken, I believe the above Lemon-Rosemary Chicken is as much yours as it is mine. And it'll just probably cost you around P270 based on grocery prices.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

When in Rome Part 2

Aside from ristorantes, Roman caffes are tourist destinations in themselves. After all, Rome is not all about the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain or the Coliseum. I really encourage that one should include in his/her itinerary the time to lounge in a good caffe with your espresso (un caffe per favore) and newspaper or nothing at all, and watch the world walk by. It will also be a welcome respite especially if you're travelling with children. Give them each a cup of hot chocolate and I guarantee that it will certainly be a treat and a chance for them to act like a grown-up.

Chiostro del Bramante
Arco della Pace
00186 Rome
+39 066 8809035

This is by far my ultra favorite caffe in Rome.
It is, as its name indicates, a cloister created by Bramante and located right beside the Santa Maria della Pace, a church built in 1482. The church was given a baroque facade by Pietro da Cartona in 1656. For a first-timer, the church may look rather small from the outside, and one can easily miss the entrance to the cloister on the left. On the several occasions I've visited, I always miss dropping in on the church just to look at Raphael's Sybils since I get to go for caffe during the church's closing hours.

From the nondescript entrance to the cloister, one is led to a huge but peaceful courtyard. The Chiostro holds several exhibitions throughout the year, but one can bypass it and go straight to the caffe located on the second floor. The Caffe is self-service, but your choices are delivered to your table. Whether sunny or cold, I prefer to have my coffee and food outside, along the terrace and get to enjoy a bit of the sky and Bramante's architecture.

The Caffe staff is a mixture of people and all can wade through with a little English and are quite friendly, but sometimes can get harassed considering the number of people who go there. They serve excellent panninis and salads, and are open for brunch on weekends. The omelettes and quiches served with mesclun salad are just the right way to perk you up in the morning and their cakes and pastries are to die for, especially the Chocolate and Pear Cake served warm with whipped cream, and recommended anytime of the day, including brunch. Your Euro20 can go a long way here.

But before going to your next destination, the gift shop is well worth a short visit. They sell books, postcards, notebooks on Rome and in relation to the current exhibition that can serve as mementos of your time there.

Antico Caffe del Moro
Via del Moro 38/a

It was in one of those endlessly drizzling days in Rome that we sought refuge in this Caffe located in the Trastevere area of the city. The Caffe stood warm and glowing in an otherwise damp and deserted area during a lunch hour. The interiors were just as promising with cozy couches, and intimate bars lined along the perimiter walls. Even if you're closed in, you can get a view of the world outside due to its big glass windows.

This caffe has been open since 1873 in a building that has been standing since the 16th century. This makes Caffe del Moro the second oldest caffe in Rome, next to Caffe Il Greco located in Via Condotti. They serve the usual coffee and more, since it converts into a bar during the aperitivo hours of 6-8 in the evening. Considering this, you can take your espresso with a shot of cognac if you need additional warmth and/or buzz. Expect that mostly young people drop by for their cups and wifi, complete with the ubiquitous flirty barrista.

'Gusto-Wine Bar
Via della Frezza, 23
00186 Rome
+39 06 3226273

Although the 'Gusto I'm writing about here is not a caffe, it has a sister caffe right in front of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore. It's hard to miss because it dominates the piazza with its immaculate and very opaque white paint. However, I'm not writing much about 'Gusto Caffe since their espresso is priced at Euro2.50. They do serve great coffee, but you get the same for much less elsewhere in the city.

Their wine bar is another matter though. At Euro8/person, you get a drink of your choice (a cocktail, a beer, hard drink like vodka, a glass of red/white wine or plain old Coke), you get your endless trip to the aperitivo (appetizer) bar. So during the hours of 6-8 in the evening, one gets upbeat jazz music, an enjoyable time with friends and a great selection of appetizers that range from cold cuts, rice and pasta salads, zucchini fritters, breaded meat/chicken skewers and maybe some cookies and cake slices for the sweet tooth.

The 'Gusto-Formaggeria located further on the same street (Via della Frezza, 16 vicolo del corea) is, first and formost, a cheese bar. It has a more formally designed interior, but likewise offers an aperitivo hour at Euro12/person. Same rules (one drink and endless trips to the buffet) although their appetizers are more vegetarian-themed. No cheese or meat in sight. However, if you want a more quiet atmosphere, the Formaggeria is a good place to go.

For the assimilated, after one has her/his fill of the aperitivo, one proceeds towards dinner with the same set of friends or an entirely different one. But in my experience, the buffet served me well enough to pass dinner entirely. A walk along crowded Via del Corso capped the night off well.

Monday, August 31, 2009

When in Laguna

This past long weekend led my husband and I to pack a few things and take to the highway for Liliw, Laguna. The trip commemorated many firsts for us - it was the first time for us to go to Liliw with nothing but general directions from a couple of people, it was the first time for us to travel without our daughter, and it was the first time my husband and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary with a roadtrip. In anniversaries past, it was usually celebrated with hotel or resort accommodations and/or dinners in a well-appointed restaurant with reservations in advance. But this had a different yet exhilirating feel about it.

Ahead of us, we were perenially greeted with a smooth highway, arching branches from trees that probably stood by there for ages, which open into vistas of fields of palay cradled between mountains. We passed through Tanay, and onto Pililia which led to Siniloan, Sta. Cruz then later on, Lumban, Paete, which opened into charming Pagsanjan with its old but well-maintained houses, and finally in through Magdalena then Liliw.

We were pleasantly surprised to find out we arrived at a time they were celebrating the feast day of John the Baptist, more specifically, his beheading, to which the town cathedral is dedicated to. However, I have to admit at this point that what led us to Liliw, was first, a cafe called Arabela (which we read about in F & B Magazine), and second, every woman's weakness - fabulous shoes of every design and size. Much to my delight, the shops are on sale due to the religious fiesta.

My husband deftly led me to Arabela first, lest I forge on ahead with my shopping spree without having had any lunch. Arabela Cafe is located in the basement of the family-owned property of Bobby and Tonet Camello. This property is luckily located in the middle of the bayan, and like us, we found it just by asking people around. It is quite popular.
The cafe has low ceilings and charmingly decorated with kitschy pieces. They specialize in Italian fare - more of the pasta, pizza and pannini variety. I was quite happy with my eggplant parmigniana served with pasta al'arrabiata, while my husband found that his porterhouse steak retained its tenderness after careful cooking.

After our shopping bout which was evidenced by bags and bags of shoes, we came back for a shot of our afternoon espresso and their fudgy walnut cake and bread pudding, all excellently moist and chewy.

We left Liliw with a promise of coming back to explore it with more time to spare and more money to burn (for those shoes - what? I'm a woman who can't let go of good bargains, after all).
After Liliw, we wound our way towards San Pablo, in search of another cafe - the Sulyap Gallery Cafe located at Barangay del Remedio, Cocoland Compound. Much kudos should go to the owner Roy Empalmado who has restored the Spanish colonial house to every last detail. Such attention is also transferred to the service rendered by his waitstaff who are very deferential to the cafe's guests, precise in their movements and very helpful. It is quite obvious that the waitstaff are proud of their jobs and are happy doing it, which I may say is so lacking from the usual service crew of the restaurants in Greenbelt and Eastwood in Metro Manila.

For dinner, we had the Crab and Cheese Lumpia as appetizer, followed by the Crispy Tilapia with Oyster Sauce and Kulawong Puso ng Saging (Ceviche of Heart of Banana) with Grilled Pork Belly for our main dishes. The tilapia was fresh, and crispy to the bone, the latter of which you can even crunch on. The Kulawong Puso, on the other hand, was said to be indigenous to San Pablo cuisine. It is rendered more tasty with coconut cream and the grilled pork, which complemented the tilapia very well. Sulyap offers crepes and ice cream for dessert, which sadly, we didn't have room for anymore, but the coffee we noticed, is excellent. It was served to us with the crema still there - again the details.

After a sumptuous meal, the gracious waiters accompanied us to the gallery located in the building fronting the cafe. It was a treasure trove of real gems collected from a rich Filipino past - furniture, dinnerware, crystals and various knick knacks including old Coke and medicine bottles. It was quite charming. There were also a couple of large halls which we were told can be rented for special occasions or parties. Imagine holding get-togethers there made more memorable by Filipino antiques. Every little object was lovingly preserved. Upon further inquiries, we were told that the owner is planniing to set up a hotel or bed & breakfast to accompany his cafe, but he is still in search of just the right house to acquire and match the charm of Sulyap Cafe. The hotel will definitely house the furniture and fixtures on display at the gallery.

My husband and I are looking forward to discovering that when it opens - it'll certainly be a good reason to go back to San Pablo.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When in Rome

Setting aside Metro Manila, La Citta Eterna (the Eternal City) is one of my favorite places on Earth. I am very lucky to be able to visit it more than once. Not only are the sights to behold - where else can you find museums, churches, fountains and architectural delights so concentrated in one place - but the dining experiences can be in multitudes as well.

Romans do love their ristorantes and caffes and you'll get to see them on every street and every few meters in between. With so many to choose from, one can get confused as to where to go. I'm not a seasoned traveller of Italy (although I wish I were) but I've listed down my favorite places for the sheer rhapsody of my experiences in each.

Ristorante L'Arcano
Via dei Pastini ang. via delle Paste, 102
Tel. No. +39 06 6786929

My husband, daughter and I discovered this lovely place while on our way to the Pantheon feeling quite hungry during a rainy lunch hour. The restaurant is located at the 16th-century Palazzo Gabrielli and serves traditional Roman fare.

The restaurant itself is cozy and intimate.

It is one of those rare places in the city where the wait staff can speak English and can understand you as well. Notice that speaking and understanding are entirely two different things. They're very genial and will delicately tell you that they serve their own freshly made pasta and that they prize their meat which come from the Val di Chiana area of Tuscany. But they are most proud of their seafood dishes because of the freshness of their ingredients and that it is really their chef's specialty. Hmm...fresh seafood in the middle of Rome? That's something.

While you can browse through their regular menu, L'Arcano also offers a lunch special everyday. At Euro30, one can get an appetizer of bruschetta with pesto spread and tomatoes, a light salad of greens with balsamic vinaigrette and your main dish (you choose a first or second plate offering). We chose their spaghetti marinara with grilled lobsters, and boy, were we happy with our choice. Not just happy, but SUBLIMELY happy. The freshness of the ingredients hits you to the core at the first tear of the bread, at the crunch of the vegetables, and at the forkful of pasta that meets your taste buds.

In fact, we were misled by the Euro30 price tag. Their servings are generous so that we followed the waiters' suggestion to just split the meal. My husband and I shared this lunch special so that actually, it cost us Euro15/pax. Not bad. My daughter, on the other hand, is a stickler to what is tried and true, so she had her ubiquitous Pizza Margherita, which was equally savory.

The people at L'Arcano were also kind enough to accommodate us with our request to have our coffee at their bookstore next door. This bookstore actually looks like you stepped in the living room of your Roman friend's apartment. It has a couch in the middle with an LCD TV, and books stationed in tableaus with other curios all over the place. It also has a bar for aperitivo hour.

If you're a tourist looking for something homey and elegant at the same time, this is a good place to start.

Di Fronte a . . .
Via della Croce 38
+39 06 6780355

My sister was the one who brought me to this place one fine May day. From what i remember, the place is walking distance from the Piazza Augusto Imeperatore and fashionable Via Condotti.

The name
Di Fronte a . . . literally means "In Front of . . ." which actually refers it being in front of Sergio Vertecchi's cartoleria, who also owns the restaurant.
It has a casual atmosphere and quite a popular place for the locals who make it quite a happening place in the evenings. Their menu offerings are dependent on market availability so you can be sure that your are enjoying the freshest ingredients as well, especially vegetables.

For our lunch, we didn't do as the Romans did and went straight to secondi piatti (second plate). My sister was still feeling full so she only ordered the Salade Nicoise. I had the grilled steak with Mushroom and Black Truffle Sauce while my daughter had the Salmon Steak with Red Peppercorn Sauce. What more can one say except that we had a truly satisfying meal at Euro12-18/pax, my choice being the favorite of the batch. Ample servings prevented me from being a sourpuss at having to share my lunch with my companions. I could barely breathe afterwards when we stepped out into the sunny street. I suppose being doused with a glass of their house red made me amiable.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Neighborhood Oasis

One of the many good things of having household guests is that you get to have an excuse to go out of the house and show off your town and the many charming secrets it holds. In such situations, my family will most likely introduce our guest/s to the nearby Crescent Moon Cafe. The operative word here is "nearby".

I remember the first time we noticed the simple signage along the national road towards Teresa, Rizal, where it directs you to go down a narrow street right off the road. We promised ourselves that we'll check it out one day. The next weekend we went by, it was when we discovered that this narrow road is a shortcut towards the subdivisions of Maia Alta and Mission Hills, among others. This was when we found out where the cafe was exactly located. It was fenced off from the street with a chicken wire fence and surrounded lots of foliage.

It was on our third trip to that narrow street that we actually went in and were greeted first by a pottery barn and next, by such verdant scenery of trees, plants, and man-made ponds and waterfalls. It was indeed a refreshing sight. It was similar to the unfolding of a peaceful secret place that rejuvenates the senses instantly.
In the middle of it all was the cafe, similarly constructed as the pottery barn by the entrance. The first time visitor such as I will notice first the pond full of koi leading to the cafe main entrance. Then, the waterfalls further on. Upon entering the cafe and choosing a table, one can get a 360-degree view of the garden as the walls are surrounded by screens. The cafe interior is charm itself - here and there are batik and other indigenous Filipino textiles either covering the tables or hanging from the ceiling or down one side of a wall.

Of course, there being a pottery barn, there is a nook devoted to assorted ceramic items for sale and at reasonable prices.

The cafe opens between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon only, and their menu is limited to what is being prepared that day by the cook. One has to call in advance to be sure that you can be served because sometimes, there are events that they cater to as well. The first time we were there, we only had an afternoon snack of suman with fresh mangoes and coffee. On other occasions, we brought our own bottle of wine to accompany the 3-course meal.

That day, we were served this plateful of leaves which we use to wrap an assortment of fillings - there were diced green mangoes, fried alamang (shrimp fry), siling tagalog, basil leaves, onions, ginger, toasted and fragrant coconut and doused with this special blend of peanut sauce. Next was the creamy mushroom soup, unforgettable for its freshness. Then the main dishes of prawn curry, mixed vegetables, and fried fish fillets with chili sauce. Everything was fresh and flavorful and served on the ceramic plates made and produced by the owner herself. The dessert was the ever reliable suman and mangoes of course, which we capped of with a cup of coffee or tea, for our guest.

Each visit is truly a special experience for us and never fails to impress our guests. It is indeed a delicious secret to be shared.