Monday, March 28, 2011

Tailor-made milk tea

The last time we tried out milk tea at Jatujak in SM Mall of Asia, Mabie wasn't particularly impressed. That hasn't stopped us from having another go at it though, which is what we did with Tea.ology in Bonifacio Global City's Mercato Centrale.

Unlike Jatujak's more, um, "purist" version of milk tea (which I imagine is what it would've been like, had we actually been to Thailand), Tea.ology's brews are flavored. I think someone saw the appeal for Pinoys hiding in this cold concoction and simply decided to tailor its taste to our palates. Some of the more outlandish flavors include Blueberry Green Tea and the non-alcoholic Mojitea. Hmmm. I'm a fan of mojitos myself. Maybe I should try that next time.

Sticking to the safe side for now, we got their Dark Chocolate blend, coming in a regular 12oz size for about PhP75. The nice bit with Tea.ology is that they allow you to further tweak your tea, notably with the sweetness level and add-ons. The range of sweetness levels is from 25-100%, in 25% intervals, and add-ons include the ubiquitous pearls. 

For the Dark Chocolate brew we ordered, we had it at 75% and with pearls. The ladies preparing our drink mixed it in a cocktail shaker; I guess that's where the control of the sweetness comes in.

So how did it taste? Well...for something that was purportedly dark chocolate, it didn't taste very dark at all. It reminded me of the chocolate soy milk that Fruit Magic sells in bottles, only a tiny bit stronger. In pure cocoa content, then, it was a disappointment, but everything else was pretty good. It was not too sweet (hurrah!), the consistency of the ice was quite fine, and those like Mabie who aren't fond of the strong, leafy "this is authentic tea" taste will find that it's sufficiently toned down to be enjoyable. We finished off the cup as we walked away from Mercato Centrale and back to Bonifacio High Street in the heat of the 10am sun.

That said, I wonder how much better the "dark chocolate" would have tasted had we ordered it at 50% sweetness. Or maybe I should just have had the Mojitea? Tea.ology has a myriad flavors to choose from and numerous tweaks for each.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Candied cream?!

Chalk another surprise up from Mercato Centrale. We just blogged about steamed burgers, which is a left-field idea in itself, but check out what we had for dessert!

A little stall called Merry Moo sells ice cream by the scoop. Now that doesn't seem so strange in itself, but a closer glance at their store fridge reveals a rather daft-looking flavor:

That's right, they sell candied bacon ice cream. Ever the curious ones, we were given sample spoons and took a little bit to taste. Eventually we bought a whole scoop for about PhP35.

If you were expecting the potentially ill-tasting mashup of ice cream and salty pork strips, well, you'd be disappointed. As it turns out, Candied Bacon is a pretty good flavor for ice cream. The operative word is "candied," which means it's been sweetened and caramelized. The taste of the whole ice cream concoction itself is actually rather mellow, somewhat but not entirely like sweetened vanilla, with the candied bacon bits adding a bit of texture. Try it before you knock it, we suggest.

Traditionalists will probably gravitate to their more conventional flavors, like their Sea Salt Caramel or their  best-selling Coffee Kahlua. We had a sample spoon of the latter too and concluded the Candied Bacon was actually better.

Merry Moo Ice Cream

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Johnny goes all steamy

Ever since my mom got me to tag along on her weekly visits at the Salcedo Market in Makati, I've appreciated perusing the alternative foodie offerings of such weekend marketplaces. Often, these are foods that you would normally not see in the malls or major grocery stores, such as specialty bagels, flavored milk teas and steamed burgers.

Wait a tick. Steamed burgers?!

That's exactly what Mabie and I had for lunch on our Sunday morning visit to Bonifacio Global City's Mercato Centrale. A place called Johnny Steams sells burgers with patties that aren't fried or grilled, as goes conventional practice, but steamed instead. Hmmm. Interesting...

The first thing I spotted on the menu was a riot. The basic PhP95 burger is called "JM's Burger." It isn't every day you come across a food item named after you...or someone who's got the same nickname as yours. Frankly, I would've tried this for kicks had I not noticed the item below it. I'm a sucker for spicy things, and the PhP115 Chili Cheese Burger seemed to fit the bill.

Mabie meanwhile ordered something further down the menu, the PhP115 "Opa! Burger," the name an obvious reference to Greek food. One of the headline features is yogurt sauce, and what seems like quite a bit more cheese than usual. 

Just as I had requested our order, the prioprietor, a kind Chinoy guy named John Mark Ongsiaco (so that's what the "JM" stood for) asked us if we wanted each of our burgers as a combo meal for PhP165. The extra dosh gets you a funnel cone full of potato wedges and some lemonade. I had my burger a la carte, while Mabie had hers as a combo.

Warming up the buns...
The burgers are prepared right before your eyes on a large electric hot plate. The special steamed patties, meanwhile, are fished out of a little rectangular tray, full of meat juices - and I was too slow to snap photos of these. Sorry 'bout that. They're thick and rectangular and pretty dense packed.

Adding the veggie trappings
Check out that patty!

So how do these burgers taste? My burger was pretty solid and filling. The patty itself is a little less flavorful than an equivalent grilled or fried one, but as a healthy option it's much better than I was expecting, and is very good value for what you get. The burger had a lot of hot sauce, which is a little disappointing, but redeemed itself with jalapeño slices all over. Mabie's Opa! Burger was a similar story, but with less heat and a cheesier, milkier taste - almost a large-sized hybrid between a cheeseburger and a doner kebab or shawarma. The potato wedges, while deep-fried, were very filling and I preferred these to run-of-the-mill french fries.

My Chili Cheese Burger...minus a few bites
Mabie's Opa! Burger, halfway through
Potato wedges - a very filling alternative to French fries
That said, I'm a little surprised that Johnny Steams doesn't ballyhoo the potentially healthful benefits of steaming its burger patties rather than grilling or frying them. Its wares are simply presented as cooked in an alternative, left-field manner, which is refreshing in an age where people are saturated with ads and signage invariably screaming "try this healthy option!" 

An interesting, flavorful alternative to Brothers Burger at a lower price. Pound-for-pound, we think they've got a winner here.

Johnny Steams
John Mark O. Ongsiaco, proprietor

Monday, March 21, 2011

Take a bite, it's all right: World Macaron Day Manila 2011

Sunday morning, we dropped by Mercato Centrale at its new  location in Bonifacio Global City, close to the Lexus dealership and MC Home Depot - or, for petrolheads out there, the former location of the Manila Speedzone karting racetrack that bade goodbye in 2007. 

Who are we to say no to freebies?

Apparently we lucked out on our visit. Comedian and writer RJ Ledesma had microphone in hand, announcing that Empire Macaroons was giving away free "macarons" for all the visitors and even the store tenants of Mercato Centrale. This was part of the World Macaron Day 2011 celebration. Off-mike, RJ was chatting away and gamely inviting visitors, asking if they had already tried the macaroons.

RJ Ledesma was around to invite visitors... these. So many little bites of heaven :)

Everybody was entitled to one freebie, but with a charity donation to the Real Life Foundation, the ladies at Empire gave away two. Knowing how Mabie is such a huge fan of French macaroons, and driven to scratch a gastronomic curious itch, we gave two separate donations to sample four different flavors of the little pastry sandwiches. We tried the Mocha Kahlua, Rose Petals, Chili Chocolate and Citrus.

Now it would've been easy to cynically dismiss all this as a stunt to push mediocre wares, but they were genuinely good, with surprising variety and delicacy in the different flavors and even textures. The Citrus one was the softest, with a moister filling compared to the others. The Chili Chocolate, while nice, didn't have the kind of Aztec-style spicy chocolate kick I was expecting - what happened to the chili I wonder?

Citrus and Chili Chocolate
Positively left-field was the Rose Petals flavor, an interesting curio that really did taste like my idea of eating flowers (and no, not the cauliflower or broccoli kind).

Rose Petals.

Out of the macaroons, our favorite was the Mocha Kahlua, hands-down. The coffee and chocolate blend was just exquisite, tasting like something much larger than the itty-bitty confection held in Mabie's hand. It was that flavorful.

The insides of the Mocha Kahlua macaroon. Yummy!
A bit of searching the Internet reveals that Empire Macaroons is based in Rockwell. You might want to drop by and sample their stuff, or take home a box of your own little bites of heaven.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Eat Like a Man. Burp!

I am a meat eater. Sometimes I even crave for it.

So whenever JM and I are in Subic, we make sure to dine at Meat Plus Café. Getting there could be really tricky at first but with a hungry tummy I’m sure you’ll find your way.

View Larger Map

The last time we were there (Dec 2010), I was happy to see that some renovations were made inside the restaurant. The place seemed bigger, the dining capacity grew, the bathrooms are better, and they even had the walls repainted. Sorry we forgot to take photos of the renovated cafe.

Old Meat Plus Cafe

Due to its bright interiors it gives you a very homey feeling. You’ll be surprised how this café gets jam-packed when it's lunchtime. I believe this also applies during dinner time. So if you don’t want to be wait-listed, it's better to be there early.

I always want my meat well done and Meat Plus Café is able to deliver it. Not too tender and not too tough. The gravy that comes with the steak is also good, but I alternate it with A1 steak sauce to give a tangy sourness to my meat.

I also love how bountiful their servings are and it doesn’t make me get tired of the flavor. Though a usual meat + rice + veggie combination could really fill you up, we were not able to try some appetizers. Maybe next time.

Burger Steak
Baby Back Ribs
Pork Belly
Rocky Road Ice Cream
Meat Plus Cafe, Subic
Bldg. 6 Sampson Rd., Subic
Olongapo City, Zambales

Monday, March 14, 2011

Free Dilly Bar. MmmmmMMMMMMmmmmmm...

Over the weekend Mabie and I redeemed a few credit card receipts at the local Dairy Queen. Who can argue against free Dilly Bars?

I think we may have overdid it a little...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Starbucks shakes up its breakfast menu...for better or worse?

The coffee chain giant Starbucks Coffee has recently revised and reshuffled its menu. Sadly one fact of life is inflation and it's had a hand in the revisions, so almost every coffee beverage on the menu sells PhP10 dearer like-for-like.

Also unfortunate is how some old favorites are taking a bow. 

I learned from Mabie that a number of ladies out there sing praises about the Fruit and Nut Toast. When I tried it, I found it quite good. One order of PhP50 gets you two generous slices, plus a pat of butter and a vial of fruit preserve. 

I normally dislike the more plebeian analogue, raisin bread, but fruit and nut toast is more to my liking. It has walnuts and what looks like cranberries buried in the dough, and the bread itself is pretty good without having that eating-a-dry-sock taste that whole wheat bread tends to have. It's another example of why multi-grain bread just tastes that much better.

Prior to the menu refresh, I also tried the Sausage Roll, selling for PhP75. Imagine a sausage wrapped in a turnover of flaky croissant dough and you'd be close to the mark. It's also quite good, although for the price it's nothing mind-blowing. I'm not sure if this survived the cut.

We found an intriguing item on Starbucks' new menu, however. We tried the Roasted Chicken Pesto and Shiitake Mushroom sandwich, served on what looks like grilled ciabatta bread, for PhP140. It's just as big and as pricey as Starbucks' other large sandwiches.

Now, I'm not the hugest fan of pesto, and it's notoriously easy to get it overdone and have the taste of basil making roadkill out of everything else. 

The moist cheese serves as a great vehicle for the pesto, not unlike the spinach and artichoke dip with gorgonzola cheese that other Italian restaurants serve as appetizer. I'd consider this trifecta of ingredients - pesto, chicken and shiitake - quite well-judged. 

As I mentioned, care must be taken to avoid the pesto overruling any other ingredients' tastes, and the biggest potential victim here is the chicken (because the peculiar taste of shiitake will always make itself known - and I eat a lot of it). 

Mabie and I enjoyed this new sandwich as our breakfast. What's interesting is that Starbucks seems to have kept its large sandwiches at the same price. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that I can continue to enjoy this new favorite once in a while without blowing unnecessarily large holes in my wallet.

Toast Box redux: Sampling real laksa

One evening, Mabie had dinner with her friends, so I had a couple of hours to kill around Greenbelt. I hadn't had any supper myself, so I spent most of the time walking around in circles and attempting to get gloriously lost. Most of the places I first considered dining in were too expensive, and at that time I was more interested in stretching my money due to the numerous expenses I'd had.

I ended up trundling back to Toast Box. We've sampled some of their wares in a previous visit, but because of an upcoming Singapore trip, Mabie and I had an interest in the stuff the hawkers there would sell. Also, I'd already sampled instant laksa before - I wonder how the real thing would play on my palate?

Nonya Laksa with hot barley - PhP245 as a set.

So off I went, sat and ordered a bowl of Nonya Laksa with hot barley. The latter is new to my eyes as well; barley is better known to most as one of the four key ingredients of beer. I got it as a set for PhP245, with the drink discounted.

The instant version just doesn't come with this many toppings

The main difference between Koka's instant laksa and the real thing is the noodles. Nonya Laksa has what you could call rice-based spaghetti. Also, the genuine article comes with a host of toppings: fish balls, shrimp, tofu, ground meat and some herbs. Koka's instant laksa is a good imitation, but Toast Box's version is much more filling and delicious. It tastes more like its own dish and less of a distant relative to tom yum goong.

Oh yes that's hot.

What about the hot barley? It literally is hot, served in a vessel that's the love child of a mug and a jar. A long-handled teaspoon is provided for scooping the soggy barley grains with. I was surprised by how sweet this drink tasted. It's not the kind of sweetness brought on by sugar, but a more natural, more pleasurable taste. Once it sufficiently cooled down, I gulped it down with gusto and fished the barley grains out as Toast Box slowly closed another business day.

This was a sufficiently satisfying meal, although I did get food allergies in bed that night - no fault of the restaurant. Of course, the next step for me is to try authentic laksa in its place of origin...we'll see how it compares.

The jelly-like barley grains waiting for you at the bottom!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Juanita's kitschy kitchen

It's not everyday that you see a restaurant go the full nine yards to offer a homey atmosphere. Usually a restaurant will keep its decor a little more removed from what your grandma's house would typically have. However there is a place within the metro that goes against that grain - it celebrates its kitsch and uses it to add to its appeal.

Yes, I'm talking about Cafe Juanita in Pasig's Barangay Kapitolyo.

This famous restaurant is well-known for flaunting the kind of interior bits and decorations that would indicate a residing family of old. Cafe Juanita has two branches in Pasig and they're just a short walk apart. To celebrate my grandma's birthday, we dined at the newer branch along West Capitol Drive.

I've been to both branches in Pasig on two separate occasions, and while this new one looks homey, the original one trumps it. Still, visitors will get the feeling that they're honored guests inside an old family's home. Cafe Juanita eschews uniformity and embraces a Filipino uniqueness: you'll see girls' dolls inside closets, old china adorning the ceiling, and woven native tablecloths. Minimalists may go crazy from all the decor flooding their eyes.

Our table
An interior panorama shot

Another interior panorama shot

Check out the interior shots!

Phai Phai

As jam-packed as the decor is, their food is something else. For appetizers we had phai phai, made of fried tawilis arranged into the rather eponymous fan-like shape.

Cream of Mushroom soup

Crispy Catfish and Green Mango Salad

Pad Thai
Following that were cream of mushroom soup and two Thai dishes: crispy catfish with green mango salad, and pad thai noodles.

After the Thai side trip comes the onslaught of Cafe Juanita's Pinoy cooking with its signature twists. First up is their delectable beef caldereta.
Beef Caldereta

Iloilo Sea Bass
Next came Iloilo sea bass. This dish reminded me a lot of puttanesca pasta due to its tangy tomato-based sauce with olives and capers. The side order of mashed potatoes was done just right too.

Garlic Prawns
Along came my grandma's favorite, garlic prawns, served partially de-shelled. They were served with a kind of vinegary sauce which gave a mellow but distinct kick.

Pork Adobo
This must be Cafe Juanita's signature dish: pork adobo with adobo flakes on top. The flakes will crumble in your mouth, a good contrast to the slight resistance given by the meat, and the sauce is done just right.

Deep Fried Lapu-Lapu
Finally we have the deep fried lapu-lapu, presented artistically in its own plate. Along with the fish comes a sweet chili sauce that's very good.

I had my fill of dinner without touching a single grain of rice. The food was that good. It may not scream "special!" but to this writer's palate it was simple homey lunch fare done well.

Just as we thought we were finished, along came dessert.

Sticky Toffee Pudding for my grandma!
One of the signature desserts here is the Sticky Toffee Pudding, served by the waiters to my grandma as a birthday cake of sorts. People seem to love it, although I wasn't able to take a bite as I was already quite full.

Crepe Samurai
My mom had Crepe Samurai. I had a little taste of this strangely named concoction and it tasted like a cross between panna cotta and custard pudding. I do wonder where the "crepe" moniker came from.

Sans Rival

New York Cheesecake
My cousins got their cakes: Sans Rival and New York Cheesecake. I hear the cheesecake is especially good, but we'll have to try that another time.

Mama's Mango Pinsek
What I did get was Mama's Mango Pinsek, which I shared with my dad. This is a strange sounding dish but essentially it's a mango-based analogue to the popular turon or fried banana rolls...with vanilla ice cream. Note that it took a while between order and serving. Was the wait worth it? Hmmm...I didn't think it was anything special, but at least I got to try something new.

Cafe Juanita does have a few caveats. The original Pasig location is notorious for having absolutely no parking space, and the new one across the street isn't much better. I hear even their Burgos Circle location at Bonifacio Global City shares the same predicament, too. Also, I've heard murmurs of inconsistent service quality, so it's best if your food is pre-ordered like ours was. Save for the Mango Pinsek, which took its sweet time in preparation, almost everything we ordered was served and consumed within an hour of us arriving - and we were a party of eleven. It's also not the cheapest restaurant around, although it has built a reputation for itself around the elderly set.

Despite the caveats, all in all it was quite good. Cafe Juanita is a very niche kind of restaurant - I doubt there are places that can duplicate its unique appeal.
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