Foodtrip: Chef du Partie At Rockwell

I have this affinity for all things French: my favorite shoes and clothing brands, macarons, Paris…So I was really excited to try Chef du Partie, or CDP, with my favorite travel buddies.

Chef duĀ Partie means line or station cook, and is third in command in the kitchen, after the head chef and the sous chef. As the name suggests, he is in charge of a particular area or department of production. Well, I don’t know why the owners named this quaint little resto in Rockwell Chef du Partie but it’s French so count me in.

I have been craving for French onion soup for the longest time but sadly, there aren’t that many places serving a decent version of this. My favorite is from Cafe Adriatico but the nearest one is still quite a drive away. Imagine my happiness when I got to CDP and found that my friend Leah had ordered this particular soup for us (we’re both light eaters so we usually share). I liked that it’s not very thick and overpowering, and while it is onion soup, there was enough mix of cheese and soup that I didn’t feel choked (some restos tend to overdo their onion soup). imageFor starters, we got the Fritto Misto, a plate of fried tawilis, squid and shrimp. I am forever a fan of these three – allergies be damned. And for someone to actually combine them in one plate? Psychic. Aside from the obvious love at first bite, I loved that the taste of each individual ingredient wasn’t overpowered by starchy breading. I wish I had a plate of boiled spinach though – I always eat my tawilis with spinach on rainy days. Yum.

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Our next plate was the truffle macaroni. I read somewhere that anything with truffle in it should be approached with caution, and we did. This little dish looked deceptively simple which is probably why we enjoyed it – light flavoring from the truffle paste and cream and the salty dried taste of parma ham. Serving was quite big too, as even with three of us, we weren’t able to finish it.imageOur main dish, the Sancoccho, was just what your grandmother would prescribe when you’re down with the flu: a big bowl of chicken, beef and pork stew (an updated version of the bulalo with chicken and pork) served with brown rice and avocado toppings. Perfect comfort food. I think we finished this right down to the last strip of meat. imageThis last dish is probably something you would not expect me to eat. To be honest, when one of my friends ordered this, I wanted to protest because I could not imagine myself eating Pig Ear Fries. Yes, you read that right – pig ears. But surprisingly, this was the hit of the night. It was crispy, tasty…and a bit moist. While I loved the taste and mixed with the anchovy vinaigrette, it was heavenly, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was eating pig’s ears…and all those eeky things inside. Hahaha!

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I was having a rotten week, and a particulalry rotten day, so qdrinks were in order. Fine, I am just making an excuse to have a drink or teo – ever since our European adventure last summer, we’ve taken to having drinks with our meals. And we were quite interested to taste the cremant-based cocktails at CDP. Cremant refers to sparkling wine that is made following the same method of fermentation as champagne, but using different varieties of grapes. I suppose it’s also a simple way to refer to sparkling wine made elsewhere than Champagne.

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Anyway, most of the bubbly in the menu appeared to be bitter, so we opted for the rosalee, a mixture of cremant, tanqueray gin, rose water and lychee liquor. It tasted strongly of gin, quite bitter, with the tiniest hint of lychee. I doubt that it has a high alcoholic content though, as I didn’t feel tipsy at all but my friends have low tolerance so we shared the mug of rosalee. The mug is quite big, so it is good for sharing which is a big plus in my book. šŸ˜ƒ

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Overall, I loved the casual yet chic setting, perfect for catching up with friends, and the unique menu and drink selection assures you of having somehing new to try – heck, I ate pig ears!

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Foodtrip: Blackbird

Occupying what was formerly the air control tower of the Nielson Airport (the country’s first commercial international airport which operated from 1937 – 1942, and 1946 – 1947), Blackbird might well be the hottest and chicest restaurant in Makati right now and as soon as you enter its doors, you get a clear picture why: a lounge of understated glamour greets you leading up to a well-lit, high-ceilinged dining area with the circular staircase leading up to the tower as a focal point.

Everything inside is simple, and the whitewashed walls contrasting with the black window panes can sometimes evoke a spartan feel. But what I instantly notice is that while you can clearly see all the other diners (no couch sitting here), there is ample space between tables to prevent eavesdropping.

During my first visit, the hubby and I ordered the Blackbird fish pie and leaf salad. The fish pie, had salmon, trout and shrimps heated up in a creamy sauce underneath a hefty crust of mashed potatoes. For a dish that had tasty ingredients, it was a little bland – I had to inspect each bite to determine what I was stuffing into my mouth (salmon or trout?) And drizzle it with lots of salt and pepper. The best thing I could come up about it was that I didn’t get a crazy allergy attack after, which meant the fish and shrimps used were fresh and cleaned very well. The salad, a mix of plain green vegetables with vinaigrette, was ok – fresh, simple, just the way we like it.

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We had originally planned on having tea at TWG or the Pen (which was across the street) since I had been craving scones but we found out that they also serve tea at Blackbird so why not try it, right? We got their cream tea, served with four scones, clotted cheese and jelly.

And which turned out to be such a disappointment I wanted to hightail it have tea somewhere. The scones were dry, tasteless and crusty versions of the beloved pandesal and if not for the cream and jelly, it would probably have gone to waste at our table. It was just such a far cry from the scones I have grown used to. Definitely not ordering this again. And at Php 780, it is rather overpriced.

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I was not quite ready to write off Blackbird given that hubby himself had been raving about this place, so I decided a second visit was necessary.

For starters, we got the crispy soft shell crab, served with cauliflower puree and mint. The crab’s very soft and the mild-tasting puree was a unique foil for it. Serving’s a bit small but if you plan on sharing several dishes, one plate should be okay for two. So far so good.

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Blackbird has several pizza variants which accordin to our server, are all bestsellers, so we picked the safest one on the menu and got the Italian sausage pizza with rosemary and chili. I loved it – the crust wasn’t dry or too thick but it was filling enough and the toppings were sparingly used, ensuring that not one of the ingredients overpowered the others.

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For our mains, we got the grilled pork belly, which was served with noodle salad and chili sauce. This is one of my favorite dishes – the noodle salad with cilantro and fresh carrots and the pork belly is a match made in heaven. Kind of reminds me of my long-ago trip to Vietnam; it had that freshness to it and I would definitely order this dish again.

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My other favorite dish is the lasagna. This version had a healthy dose of portobello mushrooms and asparagus mixed in with truffle oil. While I love mushrooms, having them as the focal point of your dish can be quite tricky because of its strong flavor. But this one just worked so well I wanted to have more.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave without having dessert so we got the date pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. I am not a big fan of caramel in general because it’s too sweet for my taste. And I generally dislike cake sith ice cream because I prefer eating them separately. But somehow when thrown together, they make for one really good dessert. Not too sweet, and none of that “umay” factor.

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Oh, and their coffee is quite good too. Just stay away probably from the tea.

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Blackbird may be a bit expensive compared to the other restos in the vicinity but the ambience, service, and the unique culinary offerings are worth it.Ā I guess my second visit came at a perfect time, convincing me that things are worth a second try. Oh, and the rest rooms are very nice – large with mirrors and flowers everywhere, and seats inside. Blackbird probably has the best restroom in all the restos I’ve been to. And they use Penhaligon’s toiletries (they’re available at Adora, Greenbelt, by the way), which smell oh so good I wanted to just stay there and inhale it.

Planning Session Version 2015

2014 was a very challenging but rewarding year for me, career or otherwise. Highlights of my year were my promotion and my trip to Europe with friends, and of course, pulling off Joey’s Star Wars-themed 7th birthday party/Georgie’s baptism amidst all the work-related stress (which would be too long a discussion, hahaha). There were a lot of lowlights but suffice to say that the highlights were more than enough to trump all of them.

Not that I wouldn’t mind a kick-ass 2015. To be honest, I don’t really believe in all those horoscope/feng shui or whatever new age term you want to call it (plus, I’m Catholic – and these are big no, nos; I do sometimes read them, just for the sake of amusing myself), but I do believe in asking for God’s guidance and planning. Ask anyone from the office and they would invariable tell you that I always have am excel calendar open on my laptop at any given point in time, and a notebook/planner at every meeting.

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Yep, hubby and I drank quite a lot of coffee this season that we got two Starbucks planners (we stopped collecting stickers after that).

My plans are hardly foolproof. But here are some tips that have worked for me over the years:

  • List down your goals or plans for the year under separate categories. It may be work/career, family, personal growth – it is up to you. But this will be helpful in identifying where you should focus your energies on, or figure out which areas you might be missing.
  • Plot just enough goals that you can reasonably accomplish –Ā plot too many goals and you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Set too few goals and you are hardly challenging yourself. Similarly, make your goals worth your while. It shouldn’t be impossible, but it shouldn’t be as easy as breathing.
  • Trust your instincts. A lot of people who think that they can’t decide, or don’t know what they want or what to do end up asking for advice, only to do what they had always wanted to do in the first place. Usually, before we even ask for advice, our mind is already made up; we just want validation or to hear it said by another person (and therein sometimes lies the danger that in a lot of cases, we only get lip service). Also, a word of advice: if it’s a major life decision, don’t decide based on what others are telling you to do. Listen to them, but follow your heart. Of course, if your heart is a bit out of bounds or unreasonable, then by all means, give it a good beating and follow your brain.
  • It is always a good idea to put a timeframe, or a deadline for you to accomplish your goal/s. For work-related goals, I always use an excel calendar (the ones you can download for free) to plot my daily/weekly/monthly tasks and deliverables. This comes in helpful when I later do an analysis of my own productivity as it helps me identify which tasks take the most of my time and also helps me identify whether I am more productive in the morning, afternoon or evening. I can then plot my plans accordingly. (Yes, I can be OC like that – I know I am more alert early in the morning and late at night, so I schedule my repetitive/mechanical tasks or those that do not require much analysis in the afternoon).
  • Make it a habit to revisit your goals so you can check your progress. I’ve found that I get even more motivated when I am able to tick items off my to do list. Keep a list with you so you can remind yourself anytime. Memorize it by heart.
  • Prioritize based on needs and wants. Consider your resources and your current circumstances.
  • Know that you will fail sometimes and that not all plans will see the light of day. I once read this quote from Philippine tycoon Lucio Tan that “if you have accomplished all that you have planned, you have not planned enough.” It might sound like the pessimistic way to view things but I tend to agree – it means you have not aimed as high as you should have and only aimed for safe goals. Failing is okay. Not trying or dreaming is not.

So, you might be curious as to what I myself have set out to do this year. Well, I’m not selfish (hardly, hence, the blog), so here are my goals for the year (New Year resolutions kind of sounds cliche so let’s agree to call them goals):

Family

  • Make it home by 9PM, three times a week. My eldest son usually complains that he never gets to see me and I realize that my youngest knows his nanny more than me. This only means IĀ need to spend more time with them. And strictly no work on weekends – maximum of eight hours only if absolutely necessary.
  • Go on a date or bonding activity with my eldest every week. When he was my only kid, we used to have lunch together at one of his favorite restaurants and go to an arcade after on Saturdays. Last year, we rarely went out owing to my busy schedule at work (which means I usually wake up late on Saturdays) and the fact that he now has a brother.
  • Spend one day every month where I get to put on my domesticated goddess persona: cook the boys’ favorite food, bathe the kids, take them to the park, build Lego toys with Joey, and tuck them into bed after reading to them.
  • Go on dates with hubby. True, we regularly have dinner together, but always with a phone or laptop between us (more on hubby’s side, as his cellphone is usually glued to his hands, and his laptop attached to his hip). Now this one, I need hubby’s commitment to pull off.
  • Visit my parents and grandparents often, at least once a month. I only get to see my parents maybe once every two months, and my lola probably 3-4 times a year (compared to my in-laws, who we get to see 2-3 times every month; probably because only hubby drives so I am dependent on his availability if I want to take the kids).

Personal

  • Travel to Japan with hubby and Joey this year, hopefully in May, or if not, during the last quarter. I have been putting off Legoland for the longest time but Joey has since moved on to Harry Potter (he still likes Lego but is now curious about HP) so it would be really nice to visit Universal Studios.
  • Travel to Batanes. I have this decades-old dream to go there but hubby wouldn’t go with me. I will do it later this summer alone if I have to.
  • Write more. Seriously, this blog needs more entries. I can’t blog everyday, but I am setting a goal of one post every three days this year. And to write more personal essays (something I sorely miss doing), and give my first love a little attention: poetry.
  • Read more. True, I finished all of John Green’s novels, the latest Blue Bloods, Gone Girl, Anne Rice’s newest vampire novel – Prince Lestat, and a whole lot of YA novels, but I feel I haven’t read enough. So here’s to setting two novels per month.
  • Learn a new recipe every month. For January, I am thinking of making a carrot fondant cake.

Health

  • Lose weight. I am stuck at 125 lbs. But prior to my 30th birthday, I have always been 105-108 lbs only, since I was a sixth grader. To be honest, I lost a lot of weight during my second pregnancy (125 lbs before getting pregnant and 138 lbs a week before giving birth – yet Georgie weighed 8 lbs when he was born). But I quickly gained all that with stress eating.
  • See my doctors. I have been skipping and missing appointments, sometimes deliberately because I hate waiting in doctors’ clinics but oftentimesĀ because I simply don’t have time. You see, it’s very hard to see my doctors because their clinic hours can be ungodly hours sometimes. I have a cardio, an endo, an OB gyne, and a derma who all have weekday clinics on different days – I can’t possibly go on leave everytime I visit them. But I have been off my meds for a few months and I haven’t gone for my annual cardio monitoring routine in ages so it is really imperative that I haul myself there soon.
  • Eat healthy. I normally have fast food for dinner, since I eat on the drive home to maximize my time but I know it’s not healthy. So I will limit myself to twice a week fast food.
  • Get at least five hours of sleep on weekdays and ten hours on weekends.

Career/Finances

Obviously, some of these goals are confidential so I will keep those details to myself and just give you a peek:

  • Save, save, save! I want to have enough money to get Proj. Family Home 2.0 kickstarted by the end of the year. With the arrival of Ā Georgie and an additional nanny, our little condo has gotten a little cramped. My goal is for us to move into our new home by end of 2016 or first quarter Ā of 2017.
  • Manage my time better, delegate more, empower people more. I sometimes feel overwhelmed and this leads to me not getting any work done (because I end up just staring at the computer for hours on end). And I can get distracted (my teammates would probably say no, but yes, I can and do get distracted and I can be unproductive sometimes).
  • Learn more. The higher I go up the corporate ladder, the bigger my scope becomes, the more I realize that there are a lot of things I still don’t know.

Whew. When I started this post, I thought I wouldn’t be able to write a thing, yet here I am, 1,600+ words later. I guess that’s a good sign, right?

How about you? How do you plan for the year ahead?

 

Food Trip: Spatzle

Hubby and I decided to head to Shangrila Mall for his birthday dinner, as we wanted a place that wasn’t too crowded and hubby wanted to show me the new wing at the mall. Fortunately or not, a lot of people had the same idea so we had to look for a resto with a vacant table.

We almost would have skipped Spatzle if not for the crowd – we were quick to dismiss it as just one of those diner places that have popped up everywhere. But as soon as we sat down and got to observing the rustic place and the menu, I’d say good for us.

Spatzle, which is an egg noddle or dumpling prevalent in German cuisine, serves European dishes. I’m a sucker for cozy/rustic interiors and I was not disappointed with Spatzle’s. I love the use if cushioned wooden chairs and the shabby chic charm of their tables – most restaurants nowadays favor metal and plastic chairs, and laminated wooden or plastic tables so it’s a treat to see this kind of plain backyard setup in a restaurant.

Oh, and I found it very thoughtful of them to have added a hand sanitizer in the utensil organizer. All other places scrimp or just assume you brought your own. If only they’d added wet towellettes, IĀ would have been sold. Hahaha!

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Since it was our first time here, we decided to order theirĀ Greens Entree, Php 398 and Beef Stew, Php 480. Ever since our Belgium trip last 2013, I’ve been wanting to taste authentic Flemish stew and this Ā had me hoping to finally satisfy my craving.

Alas, while the salad was very delicious – I loved the fresh and crisp vegetables, particularly the sprouts, and the meat (I know having salad with meat kind of defeats the purpose but so what? ) – but the stew was a bit bland for my taste, like beef boiled in sauce made of whatever was available in the kitchen that day. Or maybe you could blame my tastebuds, since, having tasted the original beef stew right from the source, I was expecting this version to at least be as tasty. Not even the generous heaps of garlic could rescue it for me.

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Luckily, hubby ordered the house specialty, theĀ Spatzle corned beef, Php 498. According to our server, they make their own corned beef. I’m impressed – the beef was very soft and easy to chew, and not very fatty at all. It was served with cabbage, baby potatoes and carrots which were boiled and perhaps sauteed in butter after, which were the perfect foil for the beef.Ā And what a generous serving it was. Ā We got about eight or so shanks, more than enouh for one person so the hubby gladly shared some with me. I would definitely recommend this dish.

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We wanted to grab some of their dessert but most were not available so we just got a glass of sangria (hubby and I shared), which, in my eagerness, I forgot to snap a photo of. Suffice to say that their sangria is also very nice, if you orefer yours to be of the sweeter variety with none of that bitter alcoholic taste that is somehow inevitable when drinking strong alcoholic beverages.

Spatzle isn’t probably a place that you would frequent very often; though it is in a mall (in the new wing of the Shangrila Mall along Edsa), it doesn’t have much to establish its own identity and make it stand out and make you actively crave for it.

However, I wouldn’t mind going back for a bite of their corned beef. šŸ˜„

Milan Fashion Walk

Milan is undeniably one of the fashion capitals of the world and just by walking its streets, I can easily understand why. Practically everyone was dressed to the nines! Where else can you find impeccably dressed men in suits and ties, riding their bikes to work? Paris may have the good-looking people but Milan has the fashion pack.

There were quite a number of tours in our trusty Trip Advisor City Guide app, but since we were in Milan, why not try the fashion walk tour?

We started off at the Duomo but we quickly got lost after that – our city guideĀ apps don’t really identify dead end streets and it had pointed us in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. The good thing though was that we found ourselves just a few steps away from the Emporio Armani Caffe.

Yep, you read that right. The fashion house has its own cafe right smack in the fashion capital of Italy! What better way to start our day than with an aperitif at a fashion cafe, no? Prices weren’t so bad either.

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After freshening up a bit, we spent the better part of an hour looking for Via Montenapoleone, which we thought at first to be a historic place in the fashion world, but which turned out to be the shopping district of Milan where practically all the luxury brands are. I guess you already know what happened next – major retail therapy.

Hauling all our shopping bags, we made it to the next stop in the fashion walk, theĀ Bagatti Valsecchi mansion. This mansion was the family home of Barons Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi. The two undertook the task of remodelling the home in the Neo-Renaissance style, beginning in the 1880s and all throughout their lives.

I am so in love with this house. The interiors are quite dark for my taste, owing to the lack of big windows, so it can get kind of musty, but the use of warm wood, colorful tapestries, and etched ceilings made the entire place cozy – not hard to imagine our future home looking like this.

The tour starts at the 2nd floor in a room called the Room of the Fresco, where this fresco of the Madonna of Mercy, originally from a parish church in Bergamo, greets guests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love the ceiling of each room, particularly the one in the library, with a vibrant blue/red/gold theme.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have a thing for lampposts as I think I’ve mentioned before but I also have this thing for ceilings. I automatically look up whenever I am visiting a new place, expecting a surprise waiting for me there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAside from the interior design, the brothers were fond of collecting not just artworks but also everyday tools – there are keys, pliers, and locks kept in glass cases…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and an impressive collection of ceramics.

Now, I have this phobia of vases since I was a kid, after I watched a movie where monsters would come out of large vases. It’s been decades but it still makes me look over my shoulders whenever I’m surrounded by ceramic vases (for some reason, I’m not scared of clear, glass ones).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFausto never married but Giuseppe married Carolina Borromeo, from one of the richest and most powerful families in Milan at the time. Their bedroom, while typical, is kind of unique in that it’s the first one I’ve been to where there are also kids’ furniture and toys.

Oh, and how cute is that little crib? True, it must be kind of hard if the baby bumps his head on that solid iron frame, but it’s really cute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite room is the Grand Salon, which is easily the biggest room in the entire house. It is made of warm wood (by now you probably can also tell that I love wood), and has a very high ceiling where a huge chandelier hangs from, and numerous lamps. These lamps used to run on gas but as soon as electricity became available in Milan, the brothers had them changed. The Bagatti Valsecchi mansion was actually one of the first to have electricity in Milan. That just speaks of how rich and powerful they must have been back then.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last part of the tour is the Gallery of Arms, where various types of armour and weapons are on display, some of which are pieces restored by the brothers while some they had commissioned.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe house was restored and kept as it was many years ago when the brothers were still alive based on the very detailed and meticulous plans and descriptions they left behind, kept together in a hard bound ancient book.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter our tour, we went off to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, named after the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, and one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. It is very similar in structure to the Saint-Hubert Gallery in Brussels, with its domed glass and iron ceiling. It connects the Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala (and there I go almost typing in pizza what with all those piazzas).

The arcade has high-end shops, such as Prada and Louis Vuitton. I read in one of the travel sites I’ve been browsing prior to my trip that there used to be a McDonald’s inside, but the other shops petitioned that it be removed as it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the ambiance/prestige they were aiming for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA statue of Leonardo da Vinci stands in the Piazza della Scala, made of white carrara marble. The Accademia di Bella Arti in Brera held a competition in the 1850s, to come up with a monument to be placed in the Palazzo in Brera. The jury selected the sketch by Pietro Magni, which shows da Vinci surrounded by four of his pupils. It was later decided to place the statue instead at the Piazza where it still stands today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Milan Fashion Walk was fun, although I wish it didn’t make us run around in circles in the beginning. Haha! šŸ˜€