Sunday, November 30, 2008

Customized Notepads and Invitations - Yummy letterpressed goodies!

I am so proud of my friend, Maria's work. She's a BFF, and I've always admired her aesthetic sense and her lifestyle tastes. She's a Grammy Award nominee for her CD packaging designs. If you're from the US (well, anywhere in the world really) and would like to order for yourself and your friends customized notecards, invitations with unique artwork and great tactile appeal, check out her site.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gift Ideas: Artesana Travel Journals

Follow this link for ordering details.

What these are are travel journals. You know how it is when you travel, and you collect the ephemera like tickets, cafe napkins and the like, and then you take a gazillion of photos. All these with the lofty ambition of creating a scrapbook when you get back. Then you get back and reality bites and you have to make up for your absence by working on a backlog of personal and job tasks. Scrapbooking dreams forgotten relegated to the chest of broken dreams. Well, this is the solution. Bring your journal with you. Paste your mementos and postcards while you're in the airport waiting lounge. Draw sketches. Write down your observations and ooh-ahh musings. All you have to do when you get back is to paste on your photos. Or if you're too lazy to even do that, just save your electronic pics into a cd and store that in the attached envelop. Your memories are saved. You minimize the self harassment. Your ephemera's organized. And you feel like a real scrapbooking and journaling diva.

Click here for ordering details.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars)

379 Pinatubo Street, Clarkview Subdivision, AngelesCity, Pampanga

Based on one past dining experience at this place, I had high expectations. Obviously from the rating, the expectations were not met. The tuna chowder on the pic was the one saving grace and added one star to the rating. The rest of the meal was underwhelming. The pork sausages had a funky, no-personality taste to it. And the buffalo wings were sad, really sad. My husband ordered chili, and I was envious of his food. To think, I hate chili beans.

It was also irritating to have a lot of the service staff come in late, disheveled, go into the washroom, and emerge with their hair dry and make-up on. It felt like I was watching a waitress vendo machine.

After having said all that, I might give this place another chance when I'm in the mood. Maybe the veterans were just having bad WW2 flashbacks.

Lemon Grass Vietnamese-Thai Culinary Treasures

Level 1, Ayala Food & Entertainment Center Cebu

Memories of Hanoi dining drive me to be in constant search for authentic Vietnamese food here in the Philippines. Funny that I find some degree of satisfaction in a mall in Cebu. The truth is to enjoy the food, I had to forget the authenticity factor and just accept that the only way I can recapture all that is to get on a plane to Vietnam. With that factor gone, I was free to enjoy the food offered at Lemon Grass and judge them by their own flavors. And in all fairness, I really loved the flavors; the banh xeo is a must-try. The presentation added many points to the dining experience - the rice was fancily wrapped in banana leaf. And the sticky rice and mango ending came very close to my expectations.

I hope they would have a Metro Manila branch soon.

Abaseria Deli & Cafe

39-B Pres. Roxas St. Villa Aurora, Kasambagan, Cebu City

If I were to open a restaurant, Abaseria would be a one of my models. Homey ambience to go with homecooked meals. Eclectic furniture. Lots of character with a healthy amount of kitsch. You can take the clan with you for family style dining on the long tables; or catch up with a girlfriend in an intimate corner; or, like me, dine alone with a book. Chances are, though, you'll forget about your book because the cafe doubles up as a shop for export quality Cebu-made bling, bags, and home accessories.

I've forgotten what I've ordered. Based on the picture, I seem to remember having wild rice, a lemony adobo sauce on ribs, okra with sesame seeds and nori. Homemade flavors, but with enough twists so they are not quite what manang makes at home.

When you're done eating, you can check out the baubles, sold at very reasonable prices. They were even nice enough to bring me to the nearby factory to buy more. The only thing that kept me from going berserk shopping were the facts that my bags were already jampacked with dangit and chicharon and I was flying off in a couple of hours.


Royal Garden Estate, Friendship Circumferential Road, Angeles City, Pampanga

I'm hardput to remember a Valentine's night out with my husband. He'd buy me the best floral arrangement his money could buy and make sure it's delivered where and when there would be the highest concentration of people to witness the delivery. He'd give me some expensive bauble, he'd treat me to a spa treatment even if I didn't need one, just don't make him be out there with those pathetic, soppy couples out celebrating the cheesiest occasion invented by man.

But this year, we had a candlelit dinner at an Italian restaurant. Okay, it was a business meeting with 2 other couples, but still.

Cioccolo serves more than just Italian food though. And most of us had non-italian dishes. We started off with deepfried balut, which to me was the best dish of the night. It was also the only dish that didn't take an hour to be served. Okay, the menu described my order as 10-hour roasted ribs, but I didn't know that was to be taken literally. The dishes eventually arrived, and at least they were good. Or we were just too hungry that even the soles of our havaiannas (yes, casual attire is welcome) would taste scrumptious. The ribs were tender and the barbecue sauce just right. My husband ordered grilled lengua; I've never had grilled lengua before and didn't even know that was done. It was good; made mental note to try that at home.

Cioccolo serves a variety of coffees , including Jamaican coffee, Illy, and alamid (I gasped a little when I saw someone drowning the premium alamid coffee with copious amounts of creamer - you gotta go black!). In this day of roll your eyes up and go to heaven desserts, their Oreo cheesecake was just okay.

Even if the place was huge and the diners many, the place still had that warm, intimate feel; thanks to the well designed lighting and the fine furniture. My seat afforded a view of artfully arranged, gigantic cabbage roses, which surprisingly were fresh and real. If you're ever in the area, this place is worth a try, valentine's day or not.


Fields Avenue, Pampanga

Subdelicious sounds like a really bad name for a restaurant. It sounds like the food is just this short of delicious. A totally unfair description of the food. Because the buffalo wings are really good. Something I always look forward to when we go to Pampanga. If we hear of anyone going to that area, we tell them to try out the wings. Even the locals did not know about it, and my husband has invited lots of them to the place. We were one of those happy consumers providing them free word of mouth advertising.

You can order the wings mild, regular, or spicy. Of course, we went for the spicy, which is tempered by the blue cheese cream dip. The restaurant is known more for its hoagies and submarine sandwiches, but I didn't care much about the Philly Cheese Steak Sub; not bad, but I prefer my beef rarer and sliced thicker.

It must be a happening place at night with the billiards and the jukebox. That lunchtime, though, there were just a few of us enjoying the place and the buffalo wings. We were on our last pieces... this after telling my husband that the 20-piece order was too much. And then, my husband accidentally dropped one onto the floor. And this is where the jukebox music suddenly jumps and screeches to a halt and the happy dream scene is over. Because seconds later a mouse runs from under my booth chair and grabs the piece of chicken. Of course, I let out a mini-scream, and just got as far away from that booth as possible. I tried not to make a scene and just waited for the bill to be paid. At this point, I was agonizing, thinking maybe I should just ignore the mickey sighting, and just give them a positive review because I really liked the food, and I didn't want to be nasty, I mean after all Ratatouille has opened the minds of people to rodents touching their fine cuisine. But the nightmare didn't end just then. The manager started asking, more like interrogating my husband about why I was taking pictures. Like this is the first time in history that people have taken pictures in restaurants. I don't want to bore you with the exchange, but I was trying to explain that I was promoting their restaurant so my friends would try them out, but she was mouthing all these obnoxious lines like, "We're all Filipinos here, okay. When QTV and GMA filmed here, they asked permission. We're not stupid; that is a professional camera." I really didn't, and still don't, understand what the fuss was about. It's not as if we can steal their secret recipes by taking photos. We were not doing anything wrong and this woman was blabbing on and on doing more damage to her restaurant than to us. In exasperation and disgust my husband mentioned the mouse, and this woman had the temerity to say with a straight face, "That's normal. All restaurants have rats." Okay, I'm trying not to get upset as I write this so I'll stop the happy reminiscing. Bottom line, I'm going to miss those wings because I'll never ever go to that place of substandard sanitation ever again. I'm not going to stop you from going, though. Just make sure that if you go, you don't drop any food on the floor, sit with your feet on the chair, and be ready with a mayor's permit if you want to take pictures.

Patpat's Kansi

8809 Sampalo St. near cor. Kamagong St. Makati City

You've just had your annual medical checkup. Blood pressure good. Everything else unremarkable. It's now time to live a little and clog those arteries with a flavorful dose of 100% cholesterol goodness. Behind the Metrobank branch at Kamagong (diagonally across Suzukin) is this no-a/c but breezy set up frequented by the office lunch crowd. There's not a lot in the menu. The no-fun sissies who love giving you guilt trips order the boneless bangus (125 pesos), the health-conscious opt for kansi laman (95 pesos) and the carpe diemers go for the piece de resistance, the kansi bulalo (80 pesos). Seize the day, and your aorta, with about 4 lovely tablespoonfuls of marrow slush guaranteed to expedite your entry to heaven, physically and metaphysically. Bring that googled article from the mayo clinic that says coca cola can corrode metail; if it can do that then it can melt all that fat. Down the coke with lipitor bites. Eat this while you're young. Or when you're old enough and too far gone to say it's too late to start eating healthy.


45 Mercer St # A
New York, NY 10013
(212) 343-9012

I'm going to rave, and no one can stop me. I was a fan of Cendrillon even before I got there by virtue of the book published by its owners and chefs, Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa. Memories of Philippine Kitchens is a beautiful book because of the stories and Neil Oshima's pictures. When I found out that lunch at the Cendrillon was part of my relatives' itinerary, I was ecstatic. Of course, being all that excited heightened the danger of the high expectations not being matched by the actual dining experience. I've heard mixed reviews, the bad ones mostly from Filipinos. Well, I don't know what those bad reviewers ordered, but I was happy, happy, happy with everything about

the restaurant. The location was fabulous, with chic shops lining Mercer Street. (The Gourmet Garage some steps away, one of Heath Ledger's stops on his last day alive, is a toys r' us for domestic divas like me. The olive selection (with taste test) rivals Zabar's.) The interiors - - global with strong Filipino touches. The food! The food! Filipino fusion without trying too hard to be fusion, and trying too hard to be Filipino. Amazing, sublime twists on the lumpia and the ukoy.

As soon as I get the chance, I'm going to go back.

Bistro Filipino Chef Laudico

Ground Level Net 2 Bldg, 3rd Ave. Bonifacio Global City

A fine restaurant. Great interiors. A good example of Filipino fusion. We got the sampler dinner - 7 courses, 12 dishes, all paced out just right so that your stomach can adjust to the next course. Notable were the shitake soup and the tuna ceviche.

What kept it from getting five stars is that the food was somewhat overflavored. Too saucy. I mean, wagyu beef does not need much help except for the subtlest of flavors, but Chef Laudico's rendition had it smothered in red sauce; it tasted just like your lola's kaldereta. Good, but you just want to scrape the sauce all off to taste how wagyu really tastes.

Check out our photos of our Christmas Eve dinner:

Note: I gave this 4 stars after our Christmas dinner, but after another dinner last June, I'm promoting this to 5 stars. The dinner was exceptional. Loved the shitake mushroom puree, the blue cheese mashed potato, the duck patotim, the adobo overload!


2277 Chino Roces Ave. Makati City

Little Tokyo is a wonderful surprise in an area better known (or notorious) for pirated DVDs. It's nice to walk around the courtyard to choose the Japanese restaurant that will be to your liking and within your budget. Tucked away in there are a number of Japanese restaurants all frequented by Japanese expats, so you know they're good and authentic. But if budget's not an issue, then you don't even need to enter the courtyard. Fronting the deeveedee deeveedee den is Seryna. Ambience is cozy, with a low ceiling and interesting decor of rich wood and slate. The food's excellent. I've never met a sashimi I didn't like so it's a given that their sashimi platters would be delightful. The sukiyaki uses fresh top-grade ingredients. The uni (sea urchin) tempura is melt-in-your mouth, eyeballs-roll-up good. Service is tops! The server even discouraged us from ordering a second order of Sukiyaki unless we're sure we could finish the generous serving of the first one. She said she didn't want to see good food go to waste. The only negative point is the unisex washroom. It's quite clean, but I have a personal aversion to unisex restrooms. But that's just me. Overall, this is one of the city's best Japanese restaurants. I'm going back for the uni!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Rest From the Moving,

I have been busy transferring reviews from my multiply site. And now, I just want to rest a bit and say something from the present.

A blog visitor led me to the sites of scrapbookers here at blogspot and elsewhere. And I was amazed at the talent of Pinay scrapbookers. That was something I tried to get into many years ago. Bought the books and scissors and bag, the whole shebang, but so far I've produced very little. The only time I get to complete a project is when it has to be used for a special event and usually the thing goes to somebody else, which means I have nothing to show for it.

My top 3 excuses:
- No working space
- No time
- Expensive photo printing costs

Real reasons:
- Procrastination
- Laziness
- Fear of the mess
- Fear of coming up with ugly stuff
- Expensive photo printing costs

But the creative journaling workshop got me in the mood. And that may be a slow start to eventually get into something bigger like scrapbooking. I need to conquer my fears too. And I will. And I need to solve my procrastination habit. I will. Tomorrow.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Maga Center, Paseo de Magallanes and Fort

We enter a crowded resto. We sit on the no-nonsense chairs, more comfortable than aesthetic, around an old skool formicaesque table. We almost do not have to look at the menu, as our orders will be the no-brainer, "the usual." For me, it is binagoongang liempo. For my husband, the crispy beef ribs. We add a tall glass of maiz con hielo that reminds me of summers when my mom would hoard cans of creme style corn and our yayas would work out their bicep muscles churning crushed ice on demand. All time favorites. No surprises. No nouveau twists. No pretensions. In an ambiance that does not require prettying up. Just food that tells you that there are places you can run to when you want the world to be familiar, simple, and real.

Now, THAT is comfort food!


Unit 1512 Forbeswood Heights, Rizal Drive corner Burgos Circle, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

If your restaurant or culinary repertoire has no clear, cohesive concept, do not be tempted to label it as comfort food. You will just give yourself a standard that will be too difficult to meet. You're setting yourself up for failure if you take on the responsibility to relax frazzled nerves, mend broken psyches, and warm up cold hearts. Your adobo has to taste exactly like how Lola Pacing or Yaya Sabel cooked it. And you better have blizzard-consistency champorado with a can of Alaska evaporated milk by the side so I can use the milk to write my name on the porridge.

From the outside, in the dining spaces done in posh but generic zen, to the ultra uncomfortable chairs, there is nothing about Basilio's that says, Come to mama and have some comfort food. What clues you in on the all-too-subtle concept is the 500-page essay on the menu that describes comfort food as "not fusion," no pretensions, but with just a little twist from the usual. Okay, that confuses, not comforts me.

Then you look at the dishes on the list and you think, these look like fusion, but you're not sure exactly what categories and cultures are being fused.

So anyway, never mind the concept. Let's just eat.

I like the bite size foccacia bread. The butter was delicious, reminding me of a Geneva breakfast where I tasted the freshest, best butter I've ever had. My husband shattered the mystery and delusions of exotic when he pointed out one of the butter packets marked by a price sticker from Price Mart.

Then, appetizers. Always searching the best buffalo wings in the metro, we ordered the wings. (Sorry, I didn't take notes so I won't be using the official menu names.) Don't believe the menu photo; the real servings are more generous. It was underwhelmingly okay. Not bad. Mildly spicy. Effective in staving hunger pangs as we waited for our friend to arrive. The blue cheese dressing was in portion controlled quantity though, but you can always request for more.

I ordered what the waiter referred to as the bestseller - the beef and mushroom pot pie. Imagining that a comfort food rendition of this dish would have thick, gooey, creamy beef stew inside. And the dish comes and it looks fabulous, with the pastry top crust nicely puffed up ala souffle. The fun ends there because inside, the sauce was rather sad and thin - imagine a can of Campbell soup diluted with 3 cans of water. The best thing going for it was it was steaming hot, leaving a burn that numbed my tongue for 3 days. Generous on the mushroom, which I loved, but hello, where's the beef? Isn't it that the rule of first mention is that in a dish called beef and mushroom, there should be more beef than mushroom? Okay, I made up that rule, but the price seemed to warrant more cow carcass than fungi, no matter how good tasthing the fungus variety is.

My friend's 50 or was it 30-clove garlic chicken is comfortingly tasty, but it was just a couple of notches above SM's rotisserie chicken. Okay, 3 notches. At twice the price.

My husband's comfort food was fish and chips. Not very memorable, except that it was too oily.

I hesitated to order the macaroni and cheese, another bestseller, because I just had baked mac at a workshop catered by the BSP canteen, and I would hate it if the cafeteria edition is better than this 300+peso version. But I couldn't resist so we ordered it, center served it, and shared it among the 3 of us. Now, that was good macaroni and cheese. Most mac & cheese versions use fake cheese of the quickmelt family, but this had sharp cheddar and it was several notches above the cafeteria variety. No regrets ordering this.

The saving grace of the meal was the dessert. The molten chocolate cake was exquisite - dark and just the right balance of sweet and bitter. Delish!

All in all, not a bad meal. None of the dishes were awful, with the molten chocolate cake and the mac & cheese as winners. But any little comfort derived from the food was immediately wiped out by the bill -- when we subtract the price of the bottle of merlot, there was still more than 2 grand to settle among the 3 of us. Gosh, I needed comforting after that.



I thought I would never get to eat at Abe's. For some reason, every attempt to eat there has always been thwarted by uncontrollable circumstances, by difficulty to reserve, or by being outvoted for other resto choices.

What rice shortage? Abe lets you forget about the food crisis as servers go around with pretty native wicker baskets lined with banana leaves as they serve all you can eat rice for everyone. The height of summer noon, however, is not the most conducive for carbo-loading. What is perfect for a hot, steamy day is the lato salad in a light vinaigrette topped with salted egg. Perfectly refreshing. The squid tactics is just as scrumptious as I remember it back in the Bistro Lorenzo days. Tender squid in a light batter sprinkled with a spicy sweet sauce. The crispy tadyang is good, but nothing we could not replicate at home.

It took all these months, or years, for me to finally check out one of Serendra's more popular restaurant. Pretty good food. I really wanted to give it a 3.5 stars, but the lato salad helped me round it up to a 4.

Reyes Barbecue

I almost dismissed this ubiquitous restaurant because I thought it was owned by the same people who ran the just as ubiquitous Reyes beauty parlors of 35 peso haircut fame. It was a good thing that my friend, Raymund, corrected my silly impression and invited me to lunch there. I've been back many times since.

Franchisers, it seems, have the liberty not to offer the full menu. The King's Court branch did not have the butterscotch banana, and The Fort's did not serve the salmon belly because the owner found it too fatty. Both of these dishes are good. The banana dessert may taste almost like the ordinary banana cue, but if you close your eyes and focus your energies on your tastebuds, you will sense the hint of butterscotch and a somewhat creme bruleeish quality to it. The Julia Vargas branch carries the whole range, and even offers you the option of slowly baking inside their lukewarm air-conditioned area, or being grilled in their inuman semi-open air section.

Of course, all the branches have to serve the pork and chicken barbecue, served with peanut sauce, java rice, and achara. If that sounds and tastes to you strangely like Aristocrat's, that's because the Reyeses aristocracy rules this resto chain. Good, lip-smacking barbecue, even if you skip like I do the condiments. Other satisfying choices are the tuna belly and the grilled squid, albeit it being smallish.



In the location, location, location slogan for resto success, Zao hit the jackpot being beside Conti's since it is the most convenient detour for Conti's spillover.

I do believe, however, that it can stand on its own merits.

It was 9PM and our last meal was many hours ago, so my brain and my stomach were too hungry to wade through the menu. So in typical Icebreaker thick-faced fashion, I just asked the people on the table beside us what was good to eat. And they highly recommended the short ribs and the spring rolls. Thank you, people on other table, we had a good meal.

The seafood spring roll is the best item among our orders. Mainly because it was the only one that vaguely reminded me of Vietnamese cuisine. My bro in law said it tasted like fresh Oishi prawn crackers, but he means that in a good way. If you run out of leaves for rolling, the waiter will gladly refill.

The ribs were succulent, good to the bone, juicy, fight-for-the last piece goodness with that lovely carcinogenic charcoal flavor. But there was nothing that suggested Vietnamese gustatory delight about it. Nothing that my husband, the backyard grill king, cannot do.

If squids would ever become endangered, my sister would be one of the prime culprits. So, we had to order the calamari-type dish. At best, it was okay.

And of course, I had to have cafe da - cold Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk. Yum!

So, if you're looking for Vietnam in a bowl, Hanoi in a plate, Saigon this is probably not the best place to go. But if you're looking for flavorful, filling meal, friendly service, with a not-too-pricey bill, when you're famished and Conti's is full, or even when it's not, come to Zao's.

Oyster Boy

Cuisine: Seafood

Snazzy interiors. Unique takes on oysters. These are the top 2 reasons for trying Oyster Boy. The menu gives a dizzying array of interesting ways to do oyster. Unfortunately, they didn't offer a sampler platter, so we had to make excruciatingly tough choices. We settled on a Japanese palate theme and ordered the Fresh Oyster with Wasabi Cocktail Sauce (150 pesos for 6 pieces/275p for 12) -- it's the bomb with the wasabi hitting the g-spot of your nostrils. The Oyster Tempura is great too. These two do not erase freshly blanched oysters as my no. 1 favorite version, but they are interestingly fresh, delicious takes. Love them. Match them with lato salad, a counterpoint of buffalo wings (like I said, my husband is compelled to try every wing in the city). The oyster cake is pretty good, but not if you're expecting it to match Singapore hawker standards.

New Bombay Canteen

The Columns, Buendia Makati with branches at dela Costa, Makati and Wilson, San Juan.

After a meeting at RCBC Tower, (digression: somebody ought to give a Lifetime Achievement Award to the designer of RCBC's parking spaces for the Worst Parking Design Ever.) I was all set to cross over to McDonald's but I turned around and saw the New Bombay signage beckoning me. Like a subject hypnotized, I walked over to Columns across Buendia. The first time I dined at New Bombay, it was still called New Bombay Canteen and it was in a hole in the wall of Citiland in Buendia. And the last time was in its branch in Dela Costa St. This spiffy, new version is much more posh than the canteen I knew. And I noticed the prices are also higher. I realized that dining alone, it would not be the cheap meal I was hoping to have so I tried to order a maximum of 3 dishes even though I wanted to try different appetizers. I ordered the butter naan (P60 for 2 huge pieces), flatbread delicately coated with butter, but so flavorful you can eat it alone, the malai kofta -- rolled, mashed potato with cottage cheese gravy(P160), and the chicken curry (P140).

So the question is: is it as good as I remember it to be? And the answer is: Yes! Yes! Yes! Maybe even better. I remember loving the naan, and this time, I love it even more, I think I'm going to develop a new addiction. Forgive me if I throw all objectivity and literary restraint out the window, but this review will be full of superlatives, and some moans thrown in. Because that was how I felt in the restaurant. I wasn't particularly hungry so this is not a case of being famished so everything tastes good. It was just really good. My eyes were rolling and my head was shaking with disbelief that it was just so darn good.

Back in my old life, I had this phrase, mapapamura ka sa sarap. When I would rave about something and couldn't find the right term to express my ecstasy, I would rely on expletives to articulate my emotions. The food was so good I had to strain really hard to stop myself from swearing. So good that the restaurant should have a sign that says, it is a crime to eat here alone. So good that because I was dining alone, I just had to call a number of my friends to tell them the food was so good. So good the only reason I didn't finish the servings good for two is that the server was looking at me funny, so I took the leftovers home. So good I forgot to order the dessert, gulabjamun. So good, I can't wait to go back. So good while I was driving home, I called a friend to tell him the food was soooo good.

Did I tell you the food was good?

And for those who are reading this saying, I hate Indian food. Well, good. That means there's more for us who love it.

Lime 88, Streetfood with a Twist

160 San Rafel St. Mandaluyong City, just off Boni Ave.

Coming into the garage slash open air dining area, we see a funkified 60s era A-type house. Sitting down on our monobloc chairs, we glimpsed through the window grills a beige quilted and studded bar reminiscent of Tony Ferrer movies. Music blared from the blasted speakers. Natural air-conditioning is provided by the Mandaluyong atmosphere. It was shabby, not quite chic.

The place gave us the vibe of an usapang lasing inception:

- Pare, ang sarap ng crispy tenga ng lola mo.
- Yeah, dude, ibenta natin 'to.
- I know, let's put up a restaurant.
tinininnininin.... (time lapse sound effect)
a month and a trip to dti later, a restobar is born.

So based on aesthetics alone, the expectations have been lowered. The laminated menu showed a collection that liberally stretched the theme street food. It also contained a line that says, "Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last." Hmmm, cheesy. We were also skeptical that there was a chef manning the kitchen. Like I said, our expectations were low.

Turns out that our initial judgments were unfair. There really was a chef in the kitchen, if the quality of food is an indication. The winning dish was the salt and peppered crispy tenga, (PhP110) deep fried to perfection, crispy but not too much that it is dried and burned. And the mango salad that went with it was tangy and quite different from the usual salad.

We made sure we ordered the street food themed dishes. The quail egg tempura, (P70) fortunately, did not have that food coloring rich tukneneng orange shade. Of course, cholesterol-laden eggs are always good, but what made it better was the accompanying sauces - the sinamak vinegar and the soy mirin glaze.

Our main dish was the street style barbecue platter (P180), which combined various chicken parts like the ass, kidney, intestine (isaw), and blood (betamax). Though, I am not particularly averse to visceral meats, I wasn't expecting much from this dish. Again, I was wrong. Each item from the sampler was flavorful, owing again to the chef's expertise. Of course, I've always been a fan of chicken ass, but I was afraid I wouldn't like the betamax and the kidney. The kidney actually tasted like liver, only tougher. And the betamax also tasted like kidney, only softer. The peanut sauce was the twist that made the platter a good order.

Considering that we were famished when we got there (it was friday and we had tried unsuccessfully getting into a couple of restos without reservations before moving to lime.) and that we did not have rice, we got pretty stuffed and had to bring home a doggy bag. Even though we were stuffed, we still asked about dessert but they did not have the scramble we wanted. A sign that we had to stop eating because we've had our fill. A pretty good fill. Next time we come back, they better have the scramble.

Luk Foo Cantonese Kitchen

Cuisine: Chinese
Location: Usually beside a Pure Gold Supermarket. Branches at Paranaque, Las Pinas, Commonwealth, Mabalacat, E. Rodriguez Quezon City

This is not a default choice for me. Chinese food usually is not. But chinese food gives my husband comfort, especially when there's dimsum.

In this visit, however, we skipped the dimsum and went for the basics. Just too lazy to cook.

The steamed fish with garlic, eggplant, and noodles is a complete meal in itself. Tasty. We supplemented that with sauteed spinach with garlic.

Warning: no signs claiming that they don't use MSG. So, assume this is Aji-No-Moto laden.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Created to Create

I know, I know, this is my 2 hundred millionth post for the day. What's gotten into me? Well, I need to empty my pc of photos and so I am pressured to blog about those photos now. Plus, I'm going on a 2-day internet withdrawal rehab in Batangas so I need to get these posted. I promise this is the last one for the day.

I just really want to talk about the Creative Spiritual Journaling Workshop that I attended last Saturday. I almost passed up on this one, since I didn't really think that half a day would be enough to get me creative, much less spiritual. I am glad I changed my mind.

The workshop was conducted by trainer Mae Legaspi and Patsy Paterno, the Pa in Papemelroti. Mae shared some background information on journaling, focusing on its benefits. I admit I was taking mental notes because I dream of someday offering workshops to help others discover the joy of journaling. Writing about the events of my life has enriched the experiences, and reading about them years after has shown me how much I have grown up and discovered about myself. But the journaling I'm used to is more about writing. This workshop showed how I can take my journaling to a higher, more creative, more powerful level.

I love Patsy's joy and passion as she enthusiastically described how this activity can be a joint creative process between God and journaler. How this is more than just doing art or mere journaling, but it is really a way to hear His message loudly and clearly, and to capture and remember these messages.

Even if you're not there for the spiritual stuff, there was still much to learn about journaling and about creative and practical journaling techniques. And Patsy is not into buying expensive materials. She showed us how to use ordinary stuff like clear tape from divisoria, magazine clippings, and other scrap materials to collage and create artful pages. Some of the samples she showed were astoundingly beautiful. And it does not take a da Vinci to create similar pages.

But I think what I inspired and elated me most was the way that this workshop has recharged my hunger for the Word. Lately, I have been struggling to keep up the passion I used to have to read His Word. I've been distracted by shiny objects and worldly pursuits. And this afternoon
revealed to me that reading His Word need not be a drudgery. It is a blessing. And adding art into it makes it fun and creative.

After the workshop I found myself again eager to get into the Word and excited to hear in my heart God's leading. I have yet to start doing the creative journaling, but I feel the juices coming. I've taken my Prang watercolor off its dusty storage, and I know I'm going to discover more about myself, my thoughts, my dreams, my creativity, my life, and my God.

Ton Shing Wa

Washington St. Makati City

Pictures at:

No, that's not really the name of the place. I'm not even sure it has a name. That's what my husband and I call this not-even-a-hole-in-the-wall "sidewalk cafe" along Washington St. in Makati, very close to the corner of Pasay Road. It's where my husband takes me to remove any vestige of colegiala in me.

When my friend Tisha and I went there last week, I was surprised to see that the place did not escape the clutches of inflation. What used to be a 35 peso meal of lechon kawali (see glorious, golden, crispy crackled skin in picture), rice, and broth is now 55 pesos. Gasp. It's 45 pesos without the rice and soup. And it's one of the best, most delicious ways to spend your 55 bucks. Unless of course, Booksale repeats their 5peso book promos. But back to the food.

The tokwa't baboy (P50) can put to shame other finer dining places. Sarap! I also liked the pares (P45) that Tisha ordered.

For germophobes like me, there is a fear factor element to dining here, but hey, we only live (and get amoebiasis) once. Plus parking is not a problem; in fact, you can eat inches away from where your car is parked.


Westgate Center, Alabang

Sisterly bonding in a restaurant we're trying for the first time. Nice way to start the afternoon.

Pretty good looking restaurant. Rockstar parking right in front of it. Loved the floor tiles. And now, let's talk about the food.

First, they serve free vegetable atsara (in picture). My sister and I are not big on pickles so we didn't really eat much of it. But I tried it, and if I were a pickle person, I think I would have liked it.

The Lumpia Mais (P150) was hands-down my favorite among the dishes served. Corn, shrimps, and onion wrapped in rice paper, deep friend, and served with a lovely sweet-sour-spicy chili dip. It was served as an appetizer though we had it with the rest of the meal. But I can see this working as a merienda dish as well.

The Bamboo Rice (P145) was delicious when hot, but was too filling and too flavorful (with shrimp and chicken) to go with all the other flavor-rich dishes. We had enough for left-overs.

The menu's quite extensive so it was really hard to make a final choice among the meat and seafood dishes. We were tempted to order more, but we resisted. It was a good thing we focused on the Spareribs Adobo (P365) which was served with steamed white rice. Yes, more rice! The 3 pieces of spare ribs deceived me into thinking we could finish this. But again, the serving's too generous for 2 females with small appetites (snicker).

The gising-gising is a great looking vegetable dish of minced kangkong stalks in coconut cream. It looked spicy but was actually yawningly boring.

No space for desserts and had bags of leftovers to take home. My sister and I rated the food at 3.5, but the homey ambiance and the attentive and friendly service upped their score to a 4.

More pictures here:

Solomon's Guest House

1025 C. Ayala St. corner Arellano St., Malate, Manila (near De La Salle - CSB Angelo King Building)

My friend Alvin told me about this resto, where College of St. Benilde Hotel and Restaurant students take their practicum. When I googled it, I was led to Awesome Planet's site where I found not just a review of the place but a heatedexchange of comments. Some students did not understand the concept of constructive criticism.

A few weeks back, I was at DLSU-Manila and so I decided to give this controversial place a try. I took a semi-long, mega-sunny, ultra-hot walk to the place. 3 pedestrian directions, a nice glowing tan, and 8.25 gallons of sweat later, I, Mc-steaming, got there. I was never that happy for the invention of air-conditioning.

Big tables are squeezed into a cozy room and the place seemed to be packed. I was afraid that since I was dining alone, they'd ask me to move to the outdoor tables. The al fresco option had zero appeal to me. I was so glad they let me have one of the big round tables inside.

I heard that the resto theme changes every year, and this year's batch 14 was offering international cuisine, which is a fancy and quite misleading way of saying that they don't really have a theme.

The Mushroom and Asparagus Soup (P40) was delicious in a Campbellesque kind of way. But I had no issues with that. Campbell soup is comfort food for me. The asparagus flavor was too subtle though for my tastebuds to capture it, if it's there at all. I was sipping my soup leisurely because I really wanted to stay in that airconditioned oasis for a long time before I stepped out into the Sahara again. But the server (a student doing practicum) seemed to be in a rush to serve the food and she served the entree even before I was halfway through my soup. That was a bummer because that meant my main dish was cooling down before I was ready to eat it.

The Roast Beef in Mushroom Sauce at P95 was well-priced. And the price was the only thing going for it. Because it was tough and chewy, and I couldn't believe that was sirloin. Sure, the price was on the low side, but I've tried good, tender local sirloin before.

The other sour note to my Solomon dining experience was the kitchen noise. The kitchen was partially open, and over the usual cooking and chopping noises, the students were also very noisy carousing and joking around. Not pleasant.

The only saving grace is the Tiramisu (P65). Though this was not the best I've had and I had to follow up before it was served, I found it was pretty good.

I understand that this is ran by chefs in training so maybe we have to give them a little latitude. But I'll wait for batch 15 before I come back.

Summary: Long hot walk, cozy place, a menu with no personality, amateurish service, low prices, tough meat, and a dessert to save the day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pepper Lunch

Rockwell, Makati

I loved:
-my husband's Pepper Rice (loved the pepper flavor)
-my Shimofuri Pepper Steak (just the right tenderness) P570 ala carte, P645 with rice and drink
-instructional videos

I liked the:
-steak sauces - I like the garlic soy sauce more than the honey brown sauce, but they're both good.
-bright interiors
-helpful service
-bean sprouts and carrots with my dish

I didn't like the:

-salmon - it wasn't bad, but it was ordinary and on the dry side (P275 ala carte, P312 plus drink)
-way we smelled after the meal
-sticker shock given the fastfood ambience, but given the quality of the steak, it's forgivable

I super loved:
-Daniel Craig, whom my eyes feasted on after dinner. Nothing to do with Pepper Lunch, but he was the most scrumptious thing on that night's menu. Argh, how can white jeans look so good on a guy?

Monday, November 17, 2008


Building D, San Miguel by the Bay, Mall of Asia

I've been egging hubbalicious to take me to Hooters. I have fond memories of their chicken wings that I had in the US. Finally, one night after picking me up from DLSU, he took me there.

A lot of good things going for the place. Ample parking space on a weeknight. Spacious restaurant; and we got a booth. Pretty fast service. And the addictively delicious Fried Pickles (P200). The onion dip that goes with it was also good.

Of course, we had to have the wings. (P800 for 20 pcs.) My husband has tried the flavor categorized as hot, and he said it wasn't hot at all, so we ordered the hottest, the 911. Good tasting wings. Hot and spicy, but not too hot to handle. In fact, the first bite wasn't hot at all, but as you have more and more wings, the insides of your mouth just start feeling the bite. I can't remember if they matched the US version, but I thought they were pretty good. The only turn off was that the blue cheese dip and celery sticks (P95) were not part of the price, had to be ordered separately, and were not extraordinarily good.

The resto's major weakness is the presentation of food; very poor. The wings were served in ugly brown plastic plates that did nothing to make the wings look good. The oysters (P295 for 6 sorry pieces) looked sad and lost in a huge platter of ice, and tasted even sadder.

I wish I could say that the feminist in me was upset about the objectification of women by having scantily clad servers. But I have students who go to school with much less cloth on them. So, I just shut up and enjoyed my wings.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shawarma Snack Center

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Location: Salas St., Ermita, Manila

This is a default stop when we're in Manila and we're too lazy to think of a restaurant. The food is good, and that's really the bottom line criteria. Because all other aspects, except for the reasonable price, might not make the grade.

To get there, you have to bring my friend Tisha with you, because I can never figure out the one-way streets. There is chancy street parking, and there is a walled parking area close by, neither of them make you feel 100% secure. The street, even when it's summer is always awash with puddles; let's not even imagine what's in the water. Just lift your jeans a little to keep the hems dry.

They have 2 restaurants, the original one is shabby, not quite chic, carinderiaesque, which I prefer for the authentic feel. The newer version across the street is resplendent in fluorescent lighting, has clean white tiles as floors, offers hooka pipes, and has a TV that shows middle-eastern entertainment - gorgeous women with kilometer long eyelashes and undulating bodies.

But I really should talk about the food. I cannot claim that this is the best shawarma in town, but it's surely in the top 5. And it's value for your money too. The regular goes for 55 pesos, and the special for 75. Sometimes, though, I find the pita bread too thick.

In the carinderia line-up are kalderos of interesting, scrumptious dishes. My favorite, which goes out of stock often, is ox brain. I feel fearless and adventure eating it, but the taste is not exotic at all - a softer, more lemony bopis. They serve good chicken tikka, kebobs, hummus (75 pesos), moutabal (75 p), and taboule as well. There's all you can eat yogurt garlic for free. Plus delicious tea. There are some vegetarian options as well, but who cares? ;)

I will never get tired of this restaurant.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Cuisine: Delicatessen
Location: Jupiter cor. Orbit St. Bel Air Makati

The aesthetics of the place sure sets the tone for this deli. Warm, welcoming even though every thing is spanking with quality. The wood-fire grill has a lot to do with the ambiance. It's like a hearth to which people gravitate. The deli merchandise along the walls and windows serve as decor to entice you to come in and when you're inside make you feel like you're in a huge, happy, homey pantry.

Unfortunately, we went there after a week of non-stop eating, so our stomachs only had space for the Grilled Sausage Sampler (P717.60) and the bread basket. Both dishes are very good. Of the sausages which include white sausage, all-beef, and chicken, tops in flavor was the Nuremberger Bratwurst Pork sausage, which is their specialty. The breads come from their bakery, Lartizan and are served with herb butter and liver pate. (P82.20) They were so good, or we weren't as full as we thought, we ordered seconds. Next time, we have to try the cheeses; their brochure says they have 40 varieties to choose from.

They serve german beers as well as San Miguel. The men with me, predictable and boring, went for Pale Pilsen. I experimented with Murphy's Irish Stout -- black, dry, and malty. Something about the flavor reminded me of a bygone alcoholic era when my workmates and I would wind down at Glorietta's The Brewery every chance we get.

The bummer to this meal was the excitement build up for dessert -- Trio of Brulee with exotic flavors like chili-chocolate and citronella, only to be told they didn't have it on stock. Major, heartbreaking, fun-bubble-deplating disappointment. But also a good reason to come back. They better have it next time.

Dining in Cebu, Raving about The Gustavian

Cuisine: International
Location:No. 1 Paseo Saturnino (old Ma. Luisa Road), Banilad, Cebu City

The last two times I was in Cebu, I was billeted (I say this word with more than a hint of sarcasm) in a hotel in an area that is uhm, let's just say it's aroma wafting distance from the Tabuan danggit market. So when my friend Chito brought

me to The Gustavian, it felt a bit surreal to be in a fine dining place. So forgive me if I rave a little about the classy interiors, not too formal to be off-putting, but just delicious to the eye. Gorgeous white walls, dim lighting, plantation/hacienda/country club style furnishings.

For the food, I only have the dish I ordered as my basis for the high rating. The Salmon Steak with Onion Leek and White Truffle Sauce (P560) was eyes-closed-orgasm-look-I'm-in-heaven good. The salmon was on a bed of risoni, pasta that resembled risotto in look and taste.

Chito's Gustavian Spicy Spaghetti Alioli (P340) was good, but bordering on ordinary.

The dessert was probably good, but not memorable enough for me to remember now that I'm blogging several months after the fact.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Whew! I've been busy moving posts from my multiply sites to blogspot. Am working on 2 other blogs aside from this one. Plus a googlesite, which I've just discovered today. I'm learning about things like gadgets and gizmos a-plenty and widgets and whatzits galore (try to get the song out of your mind now). In the past couple of days, I've met the blog doctor and learned about expandable posts, discovered the sitemeter, and have had to resurrect my rusty html skills. I'm overwhelmed. I need to shower. I need to sleep. But yes, like my friend and blogging guru ed predicted, I've been enjoying myself. But whew, the self promotion is a lot of work.

Bagoong Club

Cuisine: Filipino
Location:122 Scout Dr. Lazcano St, Quezon City

It is weird that the best thing about a restaurant called Bagoong Club is the dessert - the Pastillas de Leche cheesecake is eyes-closed, fork-wagging, i-don't-want-to-share-with-anyone-get-your-fork-out-of-my-cake delicious.

We loved the singkamas with bagoong appetizer. The fact that it is on the house adds much to the enjoyment. Testing Again

As for the meals, hmmm, I think if we were less than bowled over by the food as I expected after hearing two raving recos from two separate connections, it would be our fault for not ordering well or not ordering enough.

We ordered the Club Binagoongan Special, which is worthy of carrying the restaurant name. It is a right blend of spicy, salty, and sweet. It is actually quite good.

Now, ordering the vegetable kare-kare for me was a little short of seizing the day. We should have gone for the seafood kare kare since that would have vegetables anyway. The sauce is just okay, but maybe that's because my mother-in-law's kare kare is such a high bar to meet.

Normally, saucy, tasty viands such as above would require plain steamed rice. But we couldn't resist the bagoong rice, which was subtly flavored anyway, not overwhelming with its bagoong, and it went well with the other dishes.

And of course, we ended with that above mentioned dessert, a good reason to come back. The extensive menu is another compelling reason to try this resto again. Next time, I'll try the Bagoong Club Binagoongan Combi and more of the seafood selections.

The place looks warm and attractive inside and out. Though they were nice enough to move us to the empty second floor when we were bothered by the noise of the other diners, the service could still be improved much.

I'm so rarely in the Tomas Morato area, but I want to go back here the next time I'm passing by.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chasing Lighthouses

(An article that won me second best travel writer slot in Philippine Star's travel writing contest in 2004.)

The middle-aged man with no teeth did not know where the lighthouse was. The mid-morning mahjongg players did not know where the lighthouse was. In a town where the ubiquitous welcome arch was replaced by a pair of lighthouse replicas, the townspeople lived, toiled and played mahjongg not knowing that their town housed not one, but two of those romantic antique sentinels. The few who knew did not know how, nor how long it took, to get there. Their guesstimates, two hours to half a day, were not helpful. Directions were vague and conflicting. The descriptions of extremely rough dirt roads were not very encouraging. For the less than determined, it was almost enough to give up.

We were on our second day of our lighthouse hunt.
The long-term goal was to visit the more than 50 Spanish-time lighthouses in the country. For this two-day jaunt, we were going to visit two – Faro de Isla de Gran Capon at Capones Island of Zambales and Faro de Punta Patar, which overlooks Cape Bolinao in Pangasinan. If we were to be technical about it, the one in Bolinao shouldn’t count because it was actually built during the American time. But we did not know that before we set off for our trip, did we?

Our party of three got to San Antonio, Zambales midmorning. We parked our van by t
he seashore and arranged for a boat to bring us to the island. The boatman took us on a futile search for the lighthouse keeper who could have been at three possible places – his house, the Coast Guard station or the lighthouse itself. We did not find him in the first two places so we took the boat straight towards Capones Island.

We were first dropped off by a short stretch of a pebbly white sand beach where an imposing craggy wall of rock made a perfect photo-op background. We subdued our urge to loll and wade. We had a lighthouse keeper to find. We walked along the beach, my gym-wary, cramp-prone legs straining from walking on uneven sand and complaining with every step. Yes, still no lighthouse keeper sighting.

The boatman called us to board the boat again so we could go around the island and be dropped off where it was easier to reach the lighthouse.

Easy is a word I should use cautiously to describe the experience of getting from the boat onto the island. Because of huge rocks guarding the island, the boat could not come close to shore. What was I thinking that morning? Lighthouse equals seawater, sand, and feet getting wet. Why was I then wearing leather sandals instead of my trusted Teva’s? With no time to dwell on the inappropriateness of my footwear, I jumped into the water. It seemed a manageable knee-high level. It was knee-high all right, yet I still managed to get wet from head to foot. With the waves crashing against the rocks and my sorry non-athletic form, it was extremely challenging keeping my balance. Even after taking off my silly shoes to rely on my feet’s natural gripping abilities, I still slipped a number of times. How terrified I was of breaking my, bones. It was a shameless sight as I practically crawled on all fours to reach the beach.

The fearsome crawl was forgotten as we got onto dry land and saw an amazing sight. We struck pay dirt and found tsinelas heaven. If you happen to be missing a rubber slipper, it is almost certain it has found its way to Capones Island where flip-flops, which have outlived their utility, come home to retire.

To get to the top of the island, we climbed some concrete steps. Yes, the climb was exhausting. Yes, it was steep. But the real challenge was how to avoid those cute little landmines on the way up. Welcome to the Capones goat dung festival, where goats outnumber the people and where every step is an adventure.

Some part of the steps had eroded so we had to walk through rocks. Being the health buff that I am (insert sarcastic sneer here) I breezed, or rather wheezed, through the steep climb and was out of breath when we reached the top. Then I had to catch my breath again to gasp at the view. The panoramic view of the ocean was awesome. The word magnificent was invented for moments and places like this.

We climbed a little further to get to the lighthouse. This lighthouse was inaugurated in 1890 and it obviously did not age gracefully. The lighthouse itself seemed well-preserved and boasted a fresh coat of white paint. Two bright red stripes around its girth lent it a smart, dignified look. From what we’ve heard it was maintained by the Coast Guard to keep it functioning as a sea vessel guide. The maintenance, however, was not extended to the other structures surrounding the lighthouse. Everything was in a sad state of disrepair. Ravaged by the elements, the house looked like the next typhoon could level it onto the ground. We had to use our imagination to visualize how it looked back during its glory days.
Our imagination also made us start daydreaming of the many ways we can restore this lighthouse.

It would be nice to convert it into a museum. Or a café. Or a bed and breakfast. Or my own private hideaway. We conjured up visions of restoration, of sprucing it up with antique furniture, living there with books and goats as company, friends coming to visit, and serving them herbal tea which we cultivated right at the foot of the lighthouse. We dreamed, and we sighed, and we took all the snapshots our film and memory sticks could store.

We could not stay longer than half an hour. We had to go back to the boat before the tide got higher. The boat brought us back to the van. We had lunch at a nearby resort, continuing to dream out loud of lighthouse cafés and hideaways. Then, we were off to Pangasinan for lighthouse number two.

The drive to Pangasinan took the rest of the day. It was nightfall by the time we checked in at a resort in Alaminos. After breakfast the next day, we set off for Barangay Pitar in the town of Bolinao where we met the clueless, toothless man and the navigation-challenged mahjongg players.

We eventually found a man who was more knowledgeable about the lighthouses. It happened that one of the lighthouses was within finger-pointing distance. It looked old and charming from where we stood, but it was too inland to be the one we were looking for. The other lighthouse, which overlooked Cape Bolinao, was a drive away. As we had been warned, there were patches of rough bumpy roads. Undeterred, we drove on and we eventually found the place in less than an hour. The road leading to the lighthouse was lined with beach resorts. We made mental notes of good lodging options for the next time we go on another lighthouse adventure. Just
as we were wondering if we were on the right path, we finally caught site of the Faro de Punta Patar. A wall, a gate and a thick patch of trees surrounded it. We knocked on the gate and screamed "Tao po" but no one came to let us in. We pushed open the unlocked gate and were welcomed by the sight of the stately lighthouse, said to be the second tallest in the country, the tallest being Cape Bojeador in Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

We walked around the property, struck by the eerie loneliness of the abandoned structures, awed by the breathtaking view of the ocean, compelled to capture everything in photos. Best we document them for who knew if these structures would stay around forever.

Like the one in Capones Island, this lighthouse was well preserved. The surrounding buildings, however, were even more decrepit than those in Capones mainly because of the materials used. The older lighthouse in Zambales was partially made of rock while the Bolinao lighthouse was almost entirely made of wood so even if the latter was a more recent structure, it had been more badly damaged by time and the elements.

Trees were growing not just outside the house but inside as well since parts of the flooring have decayed to a point where one can no longer walk on them allowing vegetation to creep into the structure. Graffiti adorned the walls. Capiz windowpanes no longer served the purpose of covering the windows. Again, we had to use our imagination to visualize how beautiful these structures must have looked back in 1905 when they were just completed.

It is difficult to imagine how much work, and how much funding it would take to rehabilitate these relics of the past to their original glory. The realists in us realize that in the grand scheme of economics and national development, there are other more pressing priorities than quixotic plans of lighthouse restorations. But when we think of the possibilities, of the tourism potentials, of the sad alternative of someday losing these structures of amazing beauty, we cannot help but dream of lighthouse museums, of gift shops and seaside cafés, of romantic hideaways and lighthouse-hopping cruises. And of our next lighthouse adventure.

Backpacking Illusions

Backpacker? Moi? I can name at least 7 people who will laugh at the thought. That includes me.I just love my creature comforts too much, need to know with certainty where I'm sleeping that night, and would be the laugh of backpackers when they see my industrial sized Lysol spray.

But now, I have the gear. Okay, I exaggerate. I only have this nifty backpacking start-up kit. It contains Robert Alejandro's book on backpacking, a practical yet pretty guidebook that somebody more adventurous and less scared of germs than I am can learn from. The information is culled from a true-to-life 2 1/2 month adventure Robert and four other friends took around south east Asia. It lists down backpacker friendly places for lodging, cost information, and transportation suggestions. Robert's sketches add so much punch and value to this informative book.

The kit also includes a pocket notebook, pen, and calculator for monitoring your expenses. And then, there's Jethro Rafael's collection of postcards of pictures taken during the trips. The photos are gorgeous; I don't see myself giving them away as postcards.

I bought mine from ROX at High Street. This kit will make a great gift. And it's reasonably priced at 700++ pesoses only.

We also attended Backpacking 101 at ROX at High Street. Robert and Jethro shared a video of their trip. If only I weren't so scared of sharing showers with the international community of travelers, the video would probably inspire me to buy a backpack, quit my job (oh wait, I don't have a job), get a tattoo (just a nice touch), invest in cargo capris, and do as they did.

For me, the real draw of the event were the workshops on travel photography by Jethro and travel sketching by Robert Alejandro. I was so excited about learning to sketch the way Robert does in Probe Team. And I felt so suckered when he did not teach us techniques. He did not even teach us how to draw straight lines or curly lines. BUT, I did learn from him that travel sketching is really about having fun. It's not about aiming for perfection. It's about capturing your view, your impressions and emotions of the moment. I've always wanted to sketch during my travels, but I don't know how. I struggle translating a 3-dimensional view in front of me into a 2-dimensional drawing. So, my fear has been keeping me from doing what I want to do. But, Robert taught me to just do it. We had a practice 10-minute round in the store. I produced a very crude sketch of shoes displayed on top of palochina crates. I squirm at how imperfect the sketch is. But hey, like I tell my students, to be a writer, just write. So to be a sketcher, just...

Rocci Coffee and Chocolate Shop

Cuisine: Desserts
Location:The Zone, 7224 Malugay cor Buendia Sts. Makati City

My Lola Dominga used to make this instant chocolate drink for us. I can't remember the brand. But I remember the taste, a taste that brings back childhood comfort. Once in a while I crave for this chocolate taste embedded in my tongue's memory, even dreamt of it once. But I knew it would take a minor miracle for me to ever taste Lola's chocolate drink again.

Well, miracles happen. I found that chocolate flavor at Rocci's, a cozy cafe at Malugay St. I ordered the Dark Hot Chocolate (P98), and eureka! Lola Ingga was again alive giving me a chocolate drink in that old nescafe crystal-cut bottle converted to a drinking glass.

The chocolate drink is comboed with the Belgian Choco Bliss (P14), which tastes gorgeous. Several deliciousness points higher than the belgian waffle crisps we find at the mall.

Rocci's also serves desserts, deli sandwiches, pasta, coffee, tea, and fruit slush.

Seafood Island

Cuisine: Seafood
Location:Shopwise Arcade in Cubao, Eastwood, and Market Market!

After a stressful yet victorious event, the 5 of us were hungry.

So we got into Seafood Island and ordered the boodle, which according to my famished friends, is a pirate term for foodfest. The menu said it can feed 5-6 people. It wasn't in the fineprint, but they must have meant 5-6 little girls with anorexic tendencies. Because it wasn't enough! If real pirates were served this, they would bang the tables with their forks, machetes, and hook hands, then stage a mutiny against the chef.

We had to order more to satisfy the stomachs of 4 normal adults plus one freak of nature whose intestines reach up to his knees, one who eats as if he hasn't eaten for a week and as if there were no tomorrow. I won't mention my glutton friend's name, but it rhymes with Doom. He and his hugemongous appetite spelled doom for the wallet of the one who was sponsoring this dinner. Because aside for the boodle, we had to add 3 more dishes. And had dessert at Volare afterwards.

This is good comfort food though. Well, good enough. No extraordinary flavors. Nothing novel. Just the typical Filipino grill type food they usually serve at barkada inuman places.

It was Saturday night and the place was packed. The tables and chairs were too tightly crammed. I know from my architecture classes that this kind of arrangement violates personal space bubble requirements for public dining. Ah, how I wish we had city standards for such things.

But the service was pretty fast even on this busy evening.

No particular dish lingered in my memory. But I remember that among us, we drank bottomless iced tea enough to fill up a generous sized hot tub. We had to drink that while watching our aforementioned glutton friend wipe out everything dead or alive on the table.