Sunday, February 26, 2006

Romance Is Cubao!

"Do you always hear that noise?" a visitor asked me once when he was at my house.

"What noise?"

"You mean you don't hear it?"

It was the ever-present hum coming from the nearby ice plant. Between the noise from both the LRT and the MRT, the constant roar of the jeepneys as they made the climb up our street, and our neighbor's Sunday-morning videoke sessions (to which I attribute my disdain for "If We Hold On Together"--pity, Land Before Time was a favorite movie when I was younger), the sounds from the ice plant had become barely noticeable.

Welcome to my 'hood.

It's a place where, apart from noise, pollution and people--mobs of them--are ever-present. Notice how the MRT suddenly empties itself as it stops at the Cubao station. This is where everyone gets off--and, if you've heard (or experienced) what I've heard about this town, you're likely to snigger at that remark.

In the midst of it all, Cubao is undergoing a facelift: there's the refurbishment of Araneta Coliseum, and the renovation and addition of new shopping centers. At the heart of this brand spankin' Araneta Center is Gateway, whose name connotes a sort-of portal to another un-Cubao-like world, where chi-chi stores crowd every floor (remaining empty, last I checked--most people either just pass through or grab a bite).

At the center of the mall is an open-air resto with gardens, walkways, and little ponds with huge fish: the Mandarin Oriental Cafe & Deli. After a short ukay-ukay store hunt near the old Fairmart, my mom and I decided to have dinner at the restaurant. We were expecting it to be muggy as it was outdoors, but it was surprisingly cool.

My mom ordered the panini with ham, mozzarella cheese, and arugula. I am not a big fan of arugula (I tend to pick at my salads and take small bites, fearing that there's some arugula hidden in there), I opted to try their salmon and crab meat in a scone. Both came with a side order of fries, which were the better part of the meal, I would say. The ham in mom's sandwich was chock-full o' ligaments, while my sandwich was just too dry. And while we were munching on our pseudo-gourmet sandwiches, one waitress suddenly came up to us and, without a word, grabbed an unused glass from our table and rushed off. Not even a small "excuse me"!

While the ambience was lovely (and would be perfect for dates), I expected so much more from the satellite cafe of one of Manila's better hotels. Perhaps their entrees are better, but their sandwiches left me feeling full yet unsatisfied. I guess for the price of what we ordered, I expected better quality food and, at the very least, a polite and well-trained staff. Don't get me wrong, the service in general was ok, but for Mandarin, it was below par. To paraphrase what Hamil once said, "I don't mind bad service if it's a cheap place. But to be so expensive and still give bad service, that's inexcusable."

Still, I can't say I won't return. The place is different from the typical resto, and the other tables' orders seemed appetizing. Besides, where else in Cubao will you find date place that's a virtual oasis?

Food: 2 out of 5
Ambience: 4.5 out of 5
Service: 2.5 out of 5 (would've been a couple of points higher if it hadn't been for that waitress)
Price: 2.5 out of 5 (I feel we didn't really get our money's worth)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Chronicle of Rodic's

(Sorry, I couldn't resist using that title, even though I'm not giving the Rodic's history. Haha. Will try to research on it and post again about it.)

The tapsilog-lover that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Rodic's in UP (I think that was UP Mall--you know that place where you have your thesis bound and your grad pic turned into ID pics?). Ravenous after dance practice last Saturday, the other CADs alumni and I were trying to figure out where to eat. We needed something filling, but still easy on the pocket. The kids introduced me to Rodic's. Rosby and I were texting each other and he said, "Kumakain ka jan? Di ba conio ka?" Harrumph.

Rodic's is this tiny, canteen-like place, with tables crammed into the limited floor space that the two floors have to offer--but it does have air-conditioning. It was 1pm by the time we got there but it was still packed with customers. Claustrophobes may experience mild anxiety (the second floor ceiling may not be high enough to accommodate ballers), but the food will soon put your nerves at ease. I tried their P55 tapsilog (yes, P55!)--yummy! It's served on this silver oblong plate; the shredded tapa is scattered over the mound of rice, and all topped off with an egg cooked sunny-side-up (still with a deliciously runny yolk). If you mix it all up, you'll find that everything's perfectly proportioned.

It's an extremely casual, busy, noisy place (majority of the noise comes from tables filled with college kids--aah, to be young and boisterous). You order at the counter, find a table, and in mere minutes, you get your order. Afterwards, you tell the roving waitresses what you ordered and they give you your total. It's actually a pretty efficient place.

As Hamil and I are on hiatus from spending, it looks like we'll be frequenting this place!

Food: 4 out of 5
Ambience: 2.5 out of 5 (Don't get me wrong--I appreciate that it's super laidback. The rating is mostly because I'm mildly claustrophobic!)
Service: 4 out of 5
Price: 5 out of 5!

Gourmet's Tiendesitas now open!

Hamil just started his own business! He opened his very own Gourmet's stall at the Delicacies Village in Tiendesitas. He's selling Gourmet's products:

*Kitchen Exclusives (pasta sauce and other sauces, salad dressings, dips)
*Coffee beans (both pre-packaged and fresh beans, which they can grind right there while you wait)
*Herbal tea

You get a free bag of lettuce (while supplies last) for every purchase. He's even got freshly brewed coffee for P15. You can't beat that!

You can sample the sauces, dressings, and dips for free. For salad dressings, the bestseller is the Honey Mustard. The Italian Dressing is perfect for those who want to keep it light--it's only 30 calories per serving! The products are perfect for busy people like us—no cooking required!:) I looove the Roman Garlic dip--so much so that I'm responsible for finishing half of the free crackers (for sampling) whenever I'm there (*sheepish*).

For coffee lovers, he's offering three varieties of coffee beans: Arabica, Robusta, and good ol' Baraco. The best would be Arabica, I'm told (smell for yourself!). I don't drink coffee, but the Arabica smells heavenly. When I'm there, I often hear passers-by commenting, "Ang bango ng kape!"

The stall is open from 11am to 10pm Monday-Thursday, and 11am to midnight Friday-Sunday.

I'm really proud of him, not just because he was able to open his own stall, but also because he's a great boss. He treats his employees--Vivian (a particularly gifted promo girl) and Jepoy--really well.

I do hope you’ll support him (and me!)!:)

Happy 60th Birthday, Dad!

We were originally planning on having a big party for my dad to celebrate his 60th birthday, but he said that he didn't want one, so we (well, he) decided to eat at Little Asia in Greenhills. I first ate at the Tomas Morato branch with Hamil after it was recommended by our friends, Joseph and Sheila. I then treated my family to dinner there on my dad's birthday--was it three years ago?--after I got my first paycheck. The food is reasonably priced; proof of this is that I spent only about half of my salary for a pay period for a feast for five (and if you know where I used to work, you'd understand. Haha). My dad, normally a bit picky when it comes to restos, actually liked the place, and it has become one of the restos that my family frequents. I even had dinner there with my mom, Hamil, and his mom (Tita Perla), 'coz my mom wanted to meet Tita Perla before she left for the US.

As the name suggests, the restaurant offers dishes from different parts of Asia: China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines. My absolute favorite dish is the Beef Tenderloin Tips--thin strips of beef wrapped around melted cheese. Mmmm. (I think by now you've probably noticed that I love meat and I love cheese--so any time these two things come together, it's bound to make me happy!) I always order it when I'm there (my mom knows this; when I got to the restaurant, they had already ordered, and the tenderloin tips were right in the middle of the table). I would also recommend this Japanese fried rice, although the Yang Chow is always a safe choice. In fact, anything you order in this restaurant would probably be a safe choice! Other stuff we ordered on my dad's birthday: the salt and pepper squid, the fried chicken (for my nephew, Anton, who made a surprise appearance that night), this other chicken dish (I think it was the orange chicken)... I didn't quite get the names of all the other stuff we ordered, but really, you can't go wrong.

I think it's a versatile place because it's the kind of resto you go to when you want to celebrate with family, but it's also a good place for those who are just looking for great food at a good price. If you're tired of fast food and are willing to shell out a few pesos more, then check it out.

Food: 4 out of 5
Ambience: 4 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Price: 4 out of 5 (You can survive with P150-200/person as the food is for sharing.)

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Heartburn on the Day of Hearts

Valentine's Day

Hamil and I generally avoid the mad dating rush on Valentine's Day (the cheesiest of all holidays, but, as Hamil would say, not all people have a reason to celebrate so we might as well). This year, we opted to stay at my place, feasting on steak (marinade courtesy of my dad--it's his specialty), mixed veggies, and Pancake House mashed potatoes (in my opinion, the best damn mashed potatoes you could find). We had a bit of sprakling red grape juice (hey, I love it, so geroff my case. Hehe), then had some red wine and cheese. Ran out of the good stuff so had to make do with Quick Melt! Yummy nonetheless. All this while watching UFC on cable. How...romantic.

The day after...

For our post-Valentine's Day date, we decided to go back to Zucchini's Grill and Vinotek along Timog Ave. We'd been there once before and had been meaning to go back, but it's the kind of place that's reserved for special occasions (perhaps because of the price?). It's small and cozy, and while it's quite swanky, it's not stuffy at all. In just two visits, it has become one of my all-time favorite restos.

Our first time there, we ordered the tomato soup, the ravioli (if I remember correctly), and the chicken and mushroom risotto, all of which were divine. After almost every bite, we would literally shake our heads, saying, "Ang sarap!" So good that we were tempted to order the exact same thing on our second visit. In the end, we opted to try something new. Well, except for the tomato soup, which I started off with. Hamil decided to try the French onion soup. It was pretty good, but I'm still dreaming about the one from Heaven N' Eggs!

While waiting for our main course, we couldn't help overhearing a couple beside us. They were possibly on their first date, and the guy was just going on and on about...himself. Zzzz. But I digress. So I went for the pasta with lobster in white sauce, as I had never tried lobster before and was wondering what all the fuss was about. The pasta was kind of swimming in sauce, but still, I wasn't disappointed. Hamil couldn't have any as he's allergic to lobster, and I couldn't finish the hefty serving by myself. I discovered that lobster tastes a lot like prawns, only with a different texture. I think it's a bit more fishy than prawns.

*Random food fact: Italians actually treat pasta as a first course--not a main course--or even as an appetizer. Traditionally, poor people would eat it first as an inexpensive way to fill up; appetizers (pork, etc.) were generally seen as a sign of prosperity. The correct noodle:sauce ratio is similar to that of salad and dressing: the noodles should be coated with but not drowning in sauce.*

Hamil's order was a winner! Red snapper and chicken on mashed potatoes and some spinach. The serving was pretty big (but he had no problem polishing it off) and it was fantastic! You know how food in all different restaurants often taste the same? This dish had this terrific sauce which I'd never tasted before, and up 'til now I'm wondering what was in it. I would recommend this to anyone who's going to Zucchini's.

For dessert, I had me some panna cotta. Their version was unusual in that it had a very thin crust made of what tasted like white chocolate. It wasn't as creamy as one I recently tried at Gourmet's Cafe (this suited me just fine though, since I had just had pasta with white sauce), but the crust made it super rich. Hamil tried brewed black Lavazza coffee, supposedly a really good brand. Had a sip and it was a pleasant surprise for a non-coffee drinker like myself. If all coffee was this good, then I wouldn't mind drinking it. Hamil explained that there were 15 (or was it 11?) standards by which coffee is evaluated. He said that this particular cup "didn't have any flaws."

All in all, a highly satisfying dining experience. You can be sure you'll find us in Zucchini's again once we find an excuse, er, special occasion.

Food: 4.9 out of 5 (If the pasta had a bit less sauce, I would've given it a perfect score...ordinarily, it would be 4.5, but everything else I've tried in this place has been perfect, so I didn't wanna totally penalize it for a bit of extra sauce!)
Ambience: 4.5 out of 5 (I would choose different light fixtures, but I think most people would just notice the nice yellow glow.)
Service: 5 out of 5 (The staff is very attentive and polite.)
Price: 3 out of 5 (Really just for special occasions, unless you're loaded! Our grand total was about P2,700.)

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