0

REVIEW: Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen

DISCLAIMER:  The writer is not a PR guy, is not being paid to do this, and doesn’t get free food or free anything, in exchange for good comments.  That being said… 

 

The Katipunan and White Plains areas are surely evolving with its myriad new options for dining (similar to previously quiet residential areas like Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, that has since turned into a colorful, vibrant resto strip).  These are exciting times indeed.

Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen has been around for some time.  But the experience you’ll get is sure to be, always, a new one.

And yes, its quaint charm and excellent food choices, plus its neighboring shops that are sure to pique your interest, are unparalleled.

My foodie buddy Jett and I have trekked all the way up to Tagaytay City a few months back to experience Bawai.  To those who haven’t tried Vietnamese food, there’s really nothing to be afraid of–it’s not so spicy (and sometimes, not at all), they have fresh and low-fat options (how many restos can match that?), and it’s curiously close to Filipino cuisine with its delicious saucy dishes, salads, and seafood, too.

So you could just imagine our happiness when we heard about the White Plains branch.  It’s a 10-minute drive from my house!

And besides, having tried it the first time, Bawai is just too good to be just a far option.

Bawai’s sits at the far end of a cluster of shops (an organic body-care shop…

Image

…an audiophile store I forgot to take a photo of but is a GREAT, cool place to hang out in to buy vintage and new audio equipment and rare vinyls, and another restaurant).   You feel good feng shui flowing in this place.

Image

Parking space, though, is a bit of a concern–you have been warned.

Welcoming any excited, hungry visitor is this wonderful, robust foliage.

Image

I’m so loving these steps, black handrails, and more plants that make the whole place appear like your lola’s country house.

Legs not included in the view.

Image

There’s an al fresco area that is similar to the Bawai’s Tagaytay experience–it’s overlooking the Ortigas district, it’s quite windy (at least during the time we were there), and you’re surrounded with even more greens.   I think they’re the best seats in the house, so if you catch it vacant, you’re in luck.   I wanted to take a photo of it, but a high-profile-looking family that looked capable of homicide was occupying the table.

Inside, it’s a lot of wood in a clean, simple layout.

Image

Image

Image

Image

It’s not exactly romantic, visuals-wise, but wait ’till your orders arrive.  And then the interiors become insignificant.

Image

The only thing in this place that’s not fresh is this.

Image

While ordering, we were served this cute little ceramic bowl that had peanuts covered in a coffee-flavored coating.  We asked for seconds.

Image

Our orders then came in quick succession (how they did the dishes that fast, we could not quite figure out).

This is my chicken curry.  They call it Curry Ga.

Image

Okay.  Let’s get this one out of the way: it was a sleeper.  One look and we could pretty much tell it was not prepared too carefully.  The chicken was a tad overcooked (while I like it that way–but at home), the curry lacked attitude (and yes, you can call me a curry freak), and it generally needed a serious rethink.

So why did I have to mention the bad one first? Because the rest was DIVINE.

Image

Their best-selling Bawai Salad.   Coconut strips, succulent shrimp, this pungent-sweet-heady dressing, and meat strips in a wonderful medley.  Good enough for two.

Image

Fresh spring rolls. Also good for two, the veggies tasted like they were handpicked just 2 minutes ago.  So good!

Image

The piece de resistance.  This is what they call Ca Kho To, which is braised spicy fish simmered in caramel sauce and coconut juice.  The version we had was tanigue (quite good), but the Tagaytay variety is called the kingfish (first time I’ve heard of any fish called kingfish, and that one was gazillions of times better).

Up to this minute, Jett and I couldn’t figure out how they did this dish.  Even the skin on the fish was so–I don’t know how to describe it.  Beautiful?  Heavenly?  It was that good it felt like a ballet in the mouth.  The tenderness and flavors were just perfect.

 

* * * * *

 

Afterwards we tried to burn all those Vietnamese calories with a short walk across the street, where we checked out the prices and kinds of garden-variety plants.

Image

I bought a plastic pot for my calamansi shrubs that I bought in Bulacan.

Image

What a happy day it was.  Great food, lots of plants, fresh air.  What more can you ask for.

By the way, reservation is highly recommended any day of the week in Bawai’s, as it’s always full.  That’s quite a guarantee.

0

REVIEW: Galileo Enoteca & Deli

I have always loved discovering new, quiet places to engage in a little happy conversation, with that most wonderful, most romantic social lubricant, wine.  There are a lot of these places, still undiscovered, and only waiting for them to be experienced.

One such restaurant for me is Galileo Enoteca Deli.   I heard about Galileo from friends who have been to its Shaw Boulevard branch, and have indulged in its sinfully Italian offerings.  This version, in Eastwood City, is snugly situated amongst other restaurants in the older section of the development, that it’s almost unnoticeable.

Walking up a flight of stairs, the inviting interiors of Galileo are quietly romantic and mysterious, with its brick walls, arches (my absolute favorite part of any house or resto), heavy drapery, distinct wood furniture, and rows and rows of all sorts of spirits and pasta products.

 

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

We settled on a table by the window. Wonderful view of Eastwood’s busy bustle.

As I was so hungry, I ordered their set meal variety, that comes with a choice of pasta, a plate of cured meats and cheeses, a glass of wine, and their dessert for the day.

 

ImageImage

 

My friends opted for salad and pasta.

ImageImage

 

Our waiter then gave us a traditional serving of freshly baked bread that we asked seconds and thirds of.  The bread was pretty, and felt heavy, bouncy, and full with each bite–and even better with the olive oil-balsamic vinegar magic formula, and the spiced tomato salsa.

Image

 

 

We felt, after just the bread, that they served seriously good stuff.  And so we waited, and anticipated happiness to be coming our way very soon.

The salmon pasta (mine), an aglio olio (my buddy Jett’s), the seafood salad (my energetic sister-friend Redgyn’s) and the cold cuts (also mine) came next.  They asked me to choose between red and white wine;  I picked white.

Image

 

We had them spread in the middle of the table, so we could have a little of everything.

The verdict?  They were all generally good.  My salmon pasta was expectedly creamy and rich, and the aglio olio was equally wonderful.  The seafood salad? Succulent, scrumptious, seriously seafood-y.  Now here’s the sad part.  I couldn’t quite figure out why they somehow opted to saute the salmon before mixing it with the cream;  I felt salmon always tasted better when it’s either the raw (with its mellow taste) or the smoked version (with its distinctly pungent, salty, woody savor).  Saute-ing it, and the way they did it, made the whole thing feel a bit flat.  Too bad.  The cold cuts/cheeses/olives somehow saved it.

I ended my meal with a heavenly serving of pistachio gelato.  Now this one drew ahhs from the group.  It was really delicious!

Image

 

 

If you wish for a little privacy, and a little cinematic drama, the next time you go out with family and friends (or a sweetheart), Galileo is a great option.  Its quiet, almost church-like ambience lends the place a bit of an imposing, decadent, medieval feel.  I didn’t know if the staff forgot to switch on their piped-in music player, but I appreciated the dead, cold silence that night.  Conversations are sexier when whispered, n’est ce pas?  (Forgive my French.)

Priced moderately.

0

REVIEW: Kasuga Ramen House

Today was a particularly bad day. Not in the office, but out there.

Dark, stormy, wet, and majorly congested, Manila is so not the place to be in. There was comfort in the thought of not having to drive too far; and being quite in the mood for dinner, I thought a stopover at a ramen place near my office building would be a good idea. Hot soup and the wet weather always go together, and I’m sure you would agree.

The place I’ve chosen is called Kasuga Ramen House.

20130618-150849.jpg

Inside, it was spacious, and could easily sit 50 persons in one go. I immediately ordered their miso-based ramen specialty, the Tonkotsu, with its traditional sidekick, gyoza dumplings. In a few minutes, they were right before me.

20130618-150605.jpg

<a

The bowl was huge for one person (P249.00 with the gyoza). I put my soup spoon to work immediately, and took a sip. The steaming miso broth, which is the soul of any good bowl of ramen, was basic, and robust. Flavors were further enhanced with the addition of chopped spring onion, half an egg, bean sprouts, and seaweed.

The noodles were taut and firm. Very good. The roast pork slices weren’t too generous, but flavorful.

The gyoza was light, and tasted more veggie than meaty. I opted to intensify its palatableness with their hot chili and soy sauce combi. I washed everything down with complimentary cold tea.

20130618-151235.jpg

While everything was generally good, I felt that my bowl of soup needed a bit more harmony–it needed that something to hold them together, as I felt I dealt with separates. The broth was a bit weak in this aspect. Having read a bit about the history of ramen, Japanese chefs regard it and its preparation with utmost respect. Each prized bowl is assembled by chefs with the distinct characteristics of Einstein, Van Gogh, Nadia Comaneci, a monk, and a porn director, in that order–it had to have a science, an art, a gracefulness, an almost religious mystique and a bedroom fury to it.

And all of these needed to be tasted and felt, beginning with the first quiet sip of the soup. My experience tonight stopped at Van Gogh.

Regardless, Kasuga deserves a second reading. I hear both owner and chef are Japanese, so that alone should speak well of their culinary offerings. As for me, it was just enough to have warmed me up a bit, before the long drive home.

Try it soon.

0

The Nose for It

I’d like to believe that among the human body’s five senses, the one most connected to the heart is the sense of smell.

Amongst the infinite jumble of things we see and hear, our sense of smell, somehow, takes us back to concrete, particular experiences. Ones that instantly excite us. Ones that make us sit still, or laugh, or go teary-eyed, as we remember.

At times, while combing the supermarket rows for a nicely-scented hand soap, I would get a pack or two of Heno de Pravia. The bright-yellow one.

Image

This was how it looked some decades ago.

I would bring it up to my nose, close my eyes, and inhale. Suddenly, fleeting images of my mother, fresh from her shower, would come to mind. She absolutely loved this grass-green soap, and the way the smell stuck to her skin the whole day. Heno de Pravia actually means Hay of Pravia (a municipality in Asturias, Spain). And, indeed, it smelled like it: freshly-cut grass, out in the sun.

Image

Imagine yourself inhaling deeply out here.

For me, though, it also had to be how a beautiful woman should smell like.

The sound of garlic being swished in hot oil is always a delight to hear…

Image

…but the smell takes us back to wonderful, bright Sunday mornings, when breakfast was just being prepared, and we kids, with lines and stripes across our faces from having pressed them all night against our rumpled beddings, would sit excitedly as a bowl of steaming-hot, garlicky fried rice glistening in oil is laid before us.

Image

A particular cologne of choice makes us remember the first time we smelled it, as well as the occasion–it was, for example, the one you sprayed on, right before your first dinner date with a future beloved. Or it could have been, just maybe, the gentle smell of a lover, as you slowly allowed yourself to be trapped in his arms, and sank your face into his warm neck, and silently wished for forever. Could you still remember how he smelled like that day? I bet you could.

Image

The smell of plastic sheets? Always, the memory of my elementary school years comes to mind, while I and my parents and sisters wrapped each new book with plastic cover, and fixed each one carefully in my backpack.

Image

It was the most exciting part of going to school–when everything you brought with you, or everyone you met, was new.

Now, here’s a little activity for you and me. I’d like to invite you to have a little smell exercise with me.

Just read each of the following words or lines. Afterwards, close your eyes, and concentrate on imagining yourself smelling each one. Do share what memories or images appear in your head, and how much impact these had made in your life.

If the list doesn’t contain a favored smell or aroma, you can add yours, too.

Here we go.

Coffee.

Image

Clean sheets.

Image

Baby powder.

Image

Fresh-cut grass.

Image

A new car’s interiors.

Image

A little baby’s skin.

Image

A new book’s pages.

Image

Engine oil.

Image

Nail color.

Image

Rosemary.

Image

An open field at sunrise.

Image

Musk.

Image

Vinegar.

Image

An antiseptic-smelling hospital corridor.

Image

Leather.

Image

Bread. Specifically: pan de sal.

pan

A rainy day.

rain

Take a deep breath. Right now. How do you feel? Do you feel great? With all these images I’ve seen so far, and the oxygen in my lungs, I feel truly fine.

And I wish the same for you today.

After all: life, most certainly, is all about stopping to smell the flowers.

0

Withdrawal… of the Worst Kind

For four straight days I was severely punished.

Image

I never knew a single bottle of milk would have this much impact on me.  Since I was little, I had always known that milk wasn’t too good for me.  This was the sad legacy my late mother had left me (or probably, us all, in the family).  A glass of milk had me scurrying for the toilet in seconds.  And so did a serving of ice cream.  A dollop of fresh butter.  Cream dips.  Carbo-frigging-nara (and who does not love that?).  Even a nice, thick, steaming bowl of clam chowder.  Cream in my coffee.  All good things. All beautiful, perfect things.

Anything with milk or cream just simply, and sadly, fired up my death knell.

Image

Up horror music. Up Christopher Lee VO: “Death… and…De…fe…ca…tionnnn….” 

 

 

But ‘not too good’ is way different from ‘bad,’ right?  Ha.

Now, I have always been so fond of milk.  In milk cartons, plastic white bottles, even milk powder.  During those days when teenage-hood was the perfect excuse to be stubborn,  I would have spoonfuls of that magical yellow-white powder, mix it with sugar and a few drops of water, and make it into a creamy paste that my mom and I would slowly savor, while watching Lovingly Yours, Helen every Sunday, or Falcon Crest or Knots Landing.

Ah, the pleasures of illegal activity.

The satisfaction it gave me equalled that of stealing something you’ve always wanted to have (let me tell you about that scented pen I pocketed in a bookstore almost 25 years ago–but maybe next time), or of finding thousands of pesos, bills freely flying about in an empty mall parking lot (oh yes, baby:  that, too, happened).

Now that I’m older, and Helen Vela, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing have been replaced by Charo Santos, and Revenge, and Game of Thrones, the sensation, the thrill of that marvelous mystery called milk, they haven’t left me much.  The roundness of whole milk, its pureness, the way it flirts with and teases my tongue, it’s just… miraculous.  Oh-my-milky-goodness.

And–I can’t say what other substance can miraculously drive me to scamper to the restroom, and do the deed, 30 times in a day, minimum, for four days.  I am not kidding about the 30.

Image

Cute, ‘no?

 

It certainly was not a milky, creamy experience having everything that’s liquid in your body gushing out of you.  This is the sad fact lactose-intolerant people like me have to go through.  Only in my case, it’s Dan-Brown-gates-of-hell severe.  Pounding my head on the restroom wall to somehow mask the pain didn’t help much.   Yep.  I do know, as I’ve known ever since, how a grape ready for crushing feels like.   I know.

As much as it made my life so wonderful, milk has also turned out to be my biggest poison.  Something I could only regret not being able to experience once again, lest I wish to endure another four days–or more–of restroom hell.  I had to decide to stop milk from entering me.  Not any more.  Cold turkey.  Yeah, like cigarettes.  Milk and cigarettes.  Doesn’t make any sense, right?  Defies all logic.

And so, as I sit here, recovering, with much heartbreak, I’m moving on.

No, no… not that kind of movement that involves a toilet bowl.  No, please.  No.

3

Tried and Tummy-Tested!

Since I turned 40 last month, I’ve been on a food binge. As a result, I feel I’ve gained so much weight. I didn’t wish for this to happen; I only wanted to taste as much flavors, smell as much aromas as I could, but not see the tragic result of my own undoing right there, across my belly. Happily, so many new restaurants have been popping up here and there and I’ve become, for the most part, a willing victim. Among the ones I’ve tried are:

H Cuisine. Tucked in a little corner near T. Morato Avenue (along Scout Rallos), H Cuisine has been the talk of the town for far too long, but it was only recently that I actually experienced it. It has the appeal of a small, neat Baguio cottage cafe. Their specialty is Angus Beef Belly, and as soon as I tried it (they served it over a tealight candle to keep the killer beef fat from solidifying), everything else didn’t matter. It was, as advertised, melt-in-your-mouth, and the gravy was unpretentiously good.

IMG_4242

Served with rice, buttered veggies and baby potatoes, this single-serve slab of goodness had hints of basic spice and rubs, and was easy on the palate. It looked like it was slow-roasted, and tasted like it. But, as with everything that tastes great, it reeked of sin. Health freaks, avoid at all cost–except during cheat days. My cheat day, in case you’re asking, is every day. Priced reasonably: it’s Angus.

Brotzeit Bier Bar. Oh, the wonders of EDSA Shangrila mall never cease. With the recent opening of its East Wing, the mall promises new delights and flavors for every discerning patron. On the ground floor, and accessible from the street, is a huge, decently designed restaurant called Brotzeit (German for ‘Bread Time’). Oddly named like a bakeshop, the brand is actually an international franchise, and the handsome menu features several German-sounding dishes, complemented by its selection of imported biers.

IMG_4217

Glad for the Illy coffee that they serve. Only for that.

IMG_4218

The apple strudel. Sigh. Boring.

IMG_4223

The chocolate cake a la mode. Expecting their ice cream to have been flown in from Germany… wait, come to think of it, is there a town in Germany named Selecta?

The prices were a bit steep. We ordered an apple strudel, a serving of chocolate cake a la mode, and Illy coffee, and tried out our friends’ order of sausage and sauerkraut. It was okay. Not good, but okay. (Okay, I was being nice: it was a bloody culinary snoozefest in here.) Also, a bar-restaurant that’s a bit bright and closes at 11pm is unheard of in this side of the metro. I can see good and happy things happening in here in the future, though. But for now: it’s a big X.

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen. The East Wing is virtually empty save for a few new restaurants which I and my friends were dying to try, and we chose Ikkoryu first.

IMG_4205

Why did we choose it? The queue, my friend. There were just too many waiting customers packing into its 160 square meter space, and it simply wasn’t enough to accommodate everyone. Meaning, it had to be that good. So we waited. About 10 minutes later, our friendly waitress gaily ushered us in, while the rest of the Ikkoryu workforce (including the dashing Japanese chef who bowed at each one like a human C3PO) shouted an enthusiastic ‘Irishaimase!’ as we settled down.

IMG_4214

My friend Jett was a ramen freak (that’s him in the violet shirt;  the one in grey is MJ), so when our orders came, I waited first for his reaction. In between groans of satisfaction, he gave it his seal of approval. It was indeed quite good, I forgot to take a photo of it!  The steaming, seductive broth had character and body, and each of our orders tasted distinct–no two ramen bowls tasted the same. The egg noodles were firm and delicious; its thin pork slices combined with seaweed and bamboo shoots offered a harmonious, savory melange of flavor. For added aroma, we sprinkled drops of spiced sesame oil into our bowls…

IMG_4211

This is their spiced sesame container. I love everything sesame.

…and washed everything down with complimentary cold rice tea. We ordered buttered clams on the side (which was just a few small pieces of clam, sauteed in butter–thumbs down on this one, as it obviously wasn’t their specialty) and their heavenly gyoza. It was a truly hearty, satisfying experience. Prepare to shell out at least 500 bucks per head.

Toast Box. I’ve always loved the food in here, and the country-style feel of the interiors since it opened.

IMG_20130323_151913

Their coffee had always been deliciously different, and their Hainanese chicken was just one of the best I’ve tasted. A few days ago, though, I decided to go lite, and ordered kaya toast with a slice of cream cheese, and a cup of coffee to-go.

IMG_20130323_153018

The sweet-coconutty taste of the kaya provided a gentle balance when paired with the salty-sour taste of the cheese (and the bitter/sweet coffee). It could have been a perfect afternoon of people-watching and toast-chomping, except that I had it, sadly, in their Trinoma branch, where the cashier doesn’t pay attention and the waiters work with nary an ounce of inspiration in them. Thumbs up for everything else.

Elias. Boni High Street is just a beautiful place. It glitters at night, and I could say the same for their concept restaurants: Elias, a modern Filipino restaurant, happens to be one of them. At the helm of it all is beloved Chef Florabel Co-Yatco, who has whipped up an inventive lineup of dishes for the curious tourist and the Pinoy foodie, which both abundantly litter the Fort Boni landscape. I loved the restaurant: everything in it was a delight to see, and, needless to say, its homage to more discriminating Pinoy tastebuds was worthy of note. Jett and I had a LOT: a gigantic grilled bangus with the biggest, thickest, fattest black-grey belly I have ever seen…

IMG_3577

…the essential lengua estofada for me…

IMG_3576

and fried balls that resembled squidballs in look and taste, except that they’re bigger.

IMG_3575

The service was sprightly and quick. And the dishes? Very, very good. It would not be an embarassment to bring a balikbayan or a nice French hottie date in here. Sarap!

After hours

Barcino. The woodsy, musky, heavy interiors of Barcino feel lived-in, almost vintage, and in fact, it is worn out in some places–it is just that famous. This is almost always the last frontier of choice for me, as it’s never as crowded as those places noisy, miniskirted kids flock to. They serve Spanish wines and hearty Castillian dishes, plus of course, their freshly-baked happy bread…

IMG_3991

…and the woopee! sangria–theirs has to be among the freshest-tasting sangrias I’ve tried, a perfect, happy way to end a long day.

IMG_3992

Their scrumptious desserts, also, are a surprise treat and cannot be ignored. You just have to experience them.

IMG_4002

Strawberries, cream, memories of a wonderful childhood.

IMG_4003

Panna cotta, flame-torched to perfection

The Malt Room. Surprisingly, this discreet bar located at the basement of Hotel Rembrandt in Morato Avenue is a wonderful addition to the ever-evolving bar/resto strip, one that doesn’t need a lot of gimmicks in order to survive. It’s spacious, chic (by Quezon City standards), and plays the best retro-pop music this side of Morato. The crowd is not really young, but suits the bar’s mature appeal.

IMG_4032

For a moment I could see teeny-weeny hints of Giraffe in here (and for those of you unfortunate souls who haven’t experienced Giraffe while it was still the most magical place to go to in Makati, I look at you with pity). Try the crispy tempura sushi…

IMG_4038

…not bad with Long Island Iced Tea (or their accidental mintless version of the mojito, accidental because there weren’t any mint leaves available that night, much to our amusement).

IMG_4033

Long Island Iced Tea is king in here.

Closes a bit early, which is a sad thing, but it could be great to have a party in here soon.

Tapeo. Tucked in an alleyway fronting NBC Tent in the Fort (which I heard is closing down anytime soon) is a tapas buffet bar called Tapeo.  The layout is interestingly narrow, which you’ll pray would be a bit more packed (it’s pretty new, and judging from the interiors, deserves a lot of beautifully dressed people sliding and gliding against each other during the weekends).

IMG_3513

Nice and narrow.

IMG_3503

Our happy waiter.

IMG_3502

More peeps coming in.

IMG_3512

Wall accent. So nice.

IMG_3515

The tapas bar!

The idea is simple: for 400 (or is it 450?) pesos, you stuff your wanting soul with assorted tapas, fruit, olives, cake, paella (come over before dinnertime: the paella cools pretty fast, and doesn’t look too delectable to have when cold), and whatever’s there on the bar–non-stop, unlimited, bottomless.

IMG_3514 IMG_3509 IMG_3508 IMG_3505 IMG_3504 IMG_3493 IMG_3492

Minus points, though, for the actual bar where the tapas are: I’d rather have mine warm, with the bread tasting fresh and crisp, rather than crunchy (because of the airconditioning). Their wines are kept in a pseudo-cellar (that used to be the ATM corner of the bank that previously occupied Tapeo’s space), and they have a pretty good selection.

IMG_3501

We chose this. Really good.

IMG_3511 IMG_3510 IMG_3507 IMG_3506

This place is a good option when you need a decent place to chat and hang out with friends or your significant other. The presence of chefs around the bar, eternally fixing their tapas plates (the Jamon Serrano was to die for), makes the entire place feel legit. Try it soon.

Desserts and Coffee

Green Coffee. If you’re just so tired of Starbucks, or the likes, and of loud kids hanging out too long in these places, Green Coffee in Morato Circle should be your coffee-fix destination. The place is oddly sleek for a coffee shop, something you’d rather see in Nathan Road in Hong Kong than in unruly Quezon City. Almost mausoleum-like in feel (which appeals to me a lot, mind you), Green Coffee serves serious coffee, and great pastries.

IMG_4226

I got the one with the salt-cheese thing on top. So sinfully good.

I always order the Oreo cheesecake–so thick and lumpy and good. It has wi-fi, too, is open 24 hours, and has an al fresco area for light chats, smokes, and people-watching (funny drunk girls in late-90s-style clogs, cheap lipstick and fishnet tops, spitting bad English back and forth, while dragging themselves out of Padi’s Point are always a people-watch highlight). Their nice industrial-feel restroom could use a quick cleanup, though. It’s always awful-smelling. But otherwise, nice place.

Cobo Milk Tea. I’ve never been bubble tea or milk tea-obsessed, but Cobo (also in one of those sidestreets along Morato Avenue) is really good. You could almost feel a brick of sugar, bad and fatty cholesterol, and caffeine running down your helpless throat with every sip of their milk tea (have yours accessorized with add-on pearly goodies, and feel like a hero), and they are served with a smile.

IMG_4083

Just avoid having to sit next to chicks exchanging stories about last night’s conquests, because the place’s bad acoustics drills their sorry stories down your skull. That’s worse than any milk tea brainfreeze.

Cioccolata. Hidden from the polluted bustle of civilization is a ‘tsokolate ah’ place located in ancient Intramuros called Cioccolata.

IMG_3753 IMG_3754 IMG_3763

It’s the first coffee shop you’ll find to your right upon entering the old welcome archway of the fabled Walled City. With ample parking and a relaxed, chill, modern atmosphere, Cioccolata serves honest-to-goodness, freshly fried churros with pure, high-grade chocolate as dip.

IMG_3758

Churros quietly frying in front of you. Mmmm…good.

IMG_3768

Take a sip of their thick tsokolate, and feel like a fraile while looking out the centuries-old streets.

IMG_3766

Super thick, you’d feel you’re having a cup of molten cement. I mean that in a good way.

IMG_3761

Chef dressing our order of brownie with whipped cream. Oh yeah.

IMG_3759

Chef gets some molten choc for our churros.

IMG_3756

Some of their other pastry offerings.

IMG_3762

Messy-artsy.

Since it’s new, the place isn’t as crowded (yet); it’s perfect for meetings, or when you’re feeling like Jose Rizal to your Josephine Bracken (or Joseph, if you please).

These are just part of my foodie shortlist. For being good places to go to, they’re the most at fault for this paunch I’m seeing right in front of me, as I sit while tapping my iPad… In yet another coffee shop. Excuse me, as I cheerfully dig into my cream-cheese and walnut carrot cake. Join me next time?

0

Back to Baguio, Part 2 (Part 1 following this)

I set my phone alarm to 9 am to prepare for next day’s walking tour of Baguio City.  My comforter, however, would not cooperate, and would only press my freezing body harder into the bed.   So, snooze button.

By 11am, panic suddenly set in.   I rushed to the shower to wake myself up and prepare for day 2.  In no time,  I was having instant coffee by the deck with the fabulous view of the mountain ridge.  But no solid food, please;  I had to have an empty stomach in preparation for Restaurant No.2.   It’s called Forest House.

IMG_2785

Warm, jovial, with pops of natural color, and a good reputation to boot: Forest House serves hearty food that, according to what I’ve picked up, does not scrimp on taste. This is their bar counter, among the many cutesy nooks to explore in this place.

IMG_2787

They sell bread, too.

IMG_2788

Their wine rack where an assortment of spirits awaits you.

IMG_2789

Ah, the cottage-y feel of Baguio restaurants.

IMG_2790

The main interiors of Forest House. It’s a bit darker in actuality; I had my iPhone’s settings pushed up a bit so you can see more detail.

IMG_2792

To have a cup of freshly roasted and brewed Benguet coffee in this corner would be an absolute pleasure.

IMG_2793

This is how their menu looks like.

IMG_2810

Their main entrance, looking out onto a hill. Notice those sweetly laid-out iron grilles? Tres romantique.

IMG_2808

Some of the resto’s culinary achievements and recognitions. No wonder.

IMG_2807

My favorite machuca tiles… and my light, comfy sneaks.

IMG_2805

This wall adornment is made out of cathedral glass.

IMG_2804

Another shot of my favorite corner in the resto.

IMG_2795

More and more people poring on their menus while enjoying the happy, Papemelroti-esque ambience.

IMG_2812

Beauty in randomness.

IMG_2820

The first thing we ordered was the seafood chowder. Which was surprisingly boring. Don’t get me wrong. It was actually good. But given the accolades hanging right outside their front door, we expected better.  A good chowder works when it’s thick, and has a lot of goodies in its creamy, buttery, heavy broth.  This was far from the expected.  The bread bowl saved it.

IMG_2823

Mike ordered the baked chicken. It was nothing extraordinary, but the presentation was a delight. Savory Chicken, anyone?

IMG_2824

I had the Korean Beef. Now this one kept my mouth busy for the next 15 minutes, as it was soooo good–the falling-off-the-bone kind that was exploding with flavor. The rice that came with it just… vanished.

IMG_2826

For bigger groups, like the family who was here before us, this corner suits them. By the way, Forest House was playing piano renditions of OPM songs (which that same family was singing along to quite loudly, much to our displeasure), that exact scenario taking me back to those days I spent having coffee and engaging in pointless chats with friends in Cafe Ysabel, Cafe Adriatico, and Red’s Cafe, back in the mid-90s.

IMG_2833

The al fresco area where everyone was just clawing their way through, to occupy.

IMG_2834

I didn’t know what this staircase by the front door was for, but judging from the announcements hanging by, this was leading to an inn down below.

IMG_2835

Las flores. 🙂

IMG_2836

The facade of Forest House.

All in all, we had a pretty good time in Forest House.   A tip, though: I guess it pays not to read too much literature on any place, so expectations aren’t too high.  Sometimes all the excitement drowns and goes ahead of any place’s novelty.

When we left, it was already close to 3 o’clock.  Our bus was scheduled to leave at 6, so we practically had about two hours more to explore.  But since it was a Sunday, a visit to the church was necessary.

IMG_2848

The Baguio Catholic Cathedral was built in the 1920s, and its distinct pink facade with twin spires is one of the most iconic landmarks in Baguio City.  Tourists come here in droves and hear Mass, and afterwards have their photos taken in the open deck or by its famous 100 steps (or so they say).  We arrived just in time to hear Mass. By the time we got there at 10 minutes to 3pm, it was already packed.

IMG_2849

IMG_2851

After the final blessing, Mike and I checked our watches.  We had one more free hour.   And we were on Session Road, easily Baguio’s busiest and most popular street.

IMG_2852

Session Road is teeming with small and big restaurants (grills and open diners are popular in the area), and is bookended by an arterial with multiple, multi-directional walkways above its busy thoroughfares, and SM, a popular mall.    So between those two points, we had to select a place to go to, and fast.  And yes, it was a great time for coffee.   Among the many choices, we picked Volante.

IMG_2856

This isn’t really part of Volante. It’s an old men’s restroom, with an interesting window arch treatment.

IMG_2857

Inside, it was full of students, Koreans and young, energetic people. We sort of bribed a waitress to get us the Session Road-view table, which was occupied by a couple with emptied coffee cups, and who didn’t have much reason to stay on. Dear waitress told us the couple had been there for close to five hours, and whispered that she had this nasty little plan. In a few minutes, our smart waitress handed the couple their check–without them asking for it. Such a funny way to drive overstaying people away. I love her!

IMG_2858

Coffee-thirsty Mike.

IMG_2861

Korean-looking me. Officially sleepless.

IMG_2871

Half-empty or half-full?

IMG_2870

Another waitress so pleasantly served us. I told her she looked beautiful, and wondered if she had Indian blood (her eyes were so big and expressive, and her lashes were as long as Palawan!). I then asked for her to give me a little smile-with-no-teeth pose. She sweetly obliged, while her fellow waitress let out a wicked guffaw.

IMG_2866

The dark, mystical beauty of coffee.

IMG_2863

We ordered a mango pastry with cottage cheese.  It looked mouthwatering, but truth to tell, it could use a bit more taste test sessions.

And then, after the coffee, and the pastry, and the mad rush back to the house to pack our things and be able to catch the bus bound for home… everything disappeared in a whirl.    We were ending our day with happy, contented sighs.  Our two-day Baguio sojourn was finally over.

But then, before the day ended, before those happy sighs…  there was talk of something else.

A plan.  A new one.