Food Trip: Foo’d

My BFFs and I have this life-long commitment to food. Whenever we meet up, or travel, we make it a point to try out the local food scene and hit up a Michelin-starred restaurant or two. Sadly, while we do have a LOT of decent restos in the country, there’s an overwhelming absence of the latter in the metro.  So colour us so happy to learn that Davide Oldani, chef of Michelin-starred Cucina Pop in Italy, has brought his signature affordable sit-down meal to our side of the planet and opened up Foo’d.

Perhaps the usual misconception about Michelin-starred anything is that they are outrageously expensive – mostly true, in my experience, but this is where Oldani’s concept differs. He offers arguably one of the most affordable fine dining Michelin experience you can get.

How he does it is actually brilliant: by offering a fixed and limited menu, he manages to perfect each dish while banking on the economies of scale that such a setup naturally entails. It does come with a bit of flexibility: set menus start at Php800 and you can work your way up by adding other items. But if you want to get the full-on experience, you can always opt for Php2000 menu. 😀

Foo’d, which is located at the ground floor of the Shangri la Fort, has a very cozy ambience: plain white tables, dim lights, and soft, hushed sounds create that intimate dining feel of more pricey restaurants, minus the price tag. What I liked most is that the servers, who actually prepared each dish, take their time in going to your table to explain the different ingredients, and how it was prepared. Makes you appreciate the effort all the more.

For starters, we got the Cippola Caramellata, or simply put, caramelised onions. The caramelised onions are topped with homemade gelato and hot cream. I’m a bit fan of anything with onions (I can survive on French onion soup and onion rings) and I loved the softness and sweetness of the onions. I am just not too sure though if I want my onions with my gelato in the same meal, and as starters at that.  Next on the menu was Cacio e Pepe, which looked kind of deceiving as it was almost all white save for the tiny dots of freshly cracked pepper (the dim lightig didn’t help) – I almost thought it was just the pasta and pepper! Digging in, there’s Pecorino Romano cheese, horseradish, and hints of lemon.

 

For our third course, we ha Iberico pork ribs with porcini sauce and liquorice. This one, I absolutely loved – loved the meat and the just right richness and earthiness the porcini sauce.

 

Okay, I am a big dessert person and when they placed this plate of lemon curd in front of me, I went through different emotions: one was of the “OMG this is too pretty to eat” variant, courtesy of the perfectly sculpted meringue, second was more along the lines of “what the heck is that green tadpole-like thing.” After that, it was a dilemma of which one to dip my dessert spoon into first.

Turns out, the green “tadpole”was was a lettuce-flavoured gelato on a bed of crunchy cacao – yes, you read that right! Lettuce! The spiky cone is lemon curd topped with tiny meringues. I haven’t tasted meringues since I as in high school so I was very eager to have a go at this one. I loved the lemon curd. The sour curd and the sweetness of the meringue perfectly balanced each other, but when you eat it alternately with the veggie gelato, it becomes a dizzying volley of different flavours in your mouth. All sweet, sour, salty and bitter bits of it. For what it’s worth though, I don’t think I would eat the lettuce gelato on its own. I prefer my leafy greens as leafy greens and part of my entree, not my dessert. 😀

I enjoyed our Foo’d trip (see what I did there?) not singularly for the food, or the ambience, or the service, but the totality of the experience. And I am beyond happy that Pinoy foodies like me now have a growing option right in our backyard.

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Amsterdam!

Maybe it’s because of the frenetic phase of life I am currently in that I find myself thinking and reminiscing about my trip with friends to Amsterdam almost two years ago (my second in a span of a year). There’s just something about the place and the demeanor of the people that made me think what a laid back yet modern city it was.

Or maybe it was because it was the last leg of our 24-day long Eurotrip and we were, to be honest, literally tired from all the travelling and sight-seeing that we were just happy to experience the city like locals and not cram as many tourist spots as possible in our four nights in the city.

We actually realized how long our trip was when upon arriving in Amsterdam, we were greeted by cold gusts of wind – summer had turned into fall! It was so cold in fact, that we couldn’t venture more than a block away from our apartment.

First thing we did after resting? Buy new clothes! Our wardrobe consisted of shorts and summer dresses. We didn’t think we’d need thick jackets and scarves, and the like!

Fortunately for us, our apartment was midway between the touristy places and the grand plaza. So after buying all necessities, we headed off in the other direction to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. I loved both museums and I guess, most other visitors do too, since they are the 1st and 2nd most visited museums in the Netherlands!

What makes the Rijksmuseum even more engaging is that you can download an app and type in the number of the artifact or artwork, and it will give you the description/background, as well as in what part of the museum you are in currently! Now, I am not one to hire tour guides and all because I prefer to roam around at my leisure, and I almost always do prior research so I can zero in on the ones I want to see. So if you’re like me, this app would be perfect for you.

As with other museums in Europe (or the world, for that matter), a lot of the impressive artworks deal with religious themes.

And what can I say aout the Van Gogh Museum? We spent a good three hours or so just looking at his works. I grew up listening to the song Vincent and had always been fascinated with him and his art. It was almost surreal to see in person The Potato Eaters, Bedroom in Arles, and The Yellow House.

Too bad that the Starry Night painting, which I’ve always wanted to see was not there (it’s part of the MoMA in NY’s permanent collection).

And too bad that I don’t have pictures to show you – as you may have read from my Prague posts, my camera conked out so I had to rely on my iphone. Which would have been fine had it not been a victim of one of those IOS upgrades that just didn’t work and had to be reformatted. Net result, I lost all that were in my phone, photos included (it’s not synched with any laptop since the hubby uses the macbook).

Anyway, at least I was able to save these photos! What would a trip to Amsterdam be without posing in front of that I Amsterdam sign!

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Since I’ve been to Amsterdam before, I had a pretty good idea of how to go around. My friends had been dying to see the red light district (for those of you who don’t know, prostitution and marijuana is legal here) and since it was just a few minutes walk from the Dam Square and the Royal Palace, I said, why not?

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It was a downcast day and we had to take shelter for a good hour or so inside one of the shopping malls beside the palace (tip: they have luxury brands there but I got the impression that not too many people shop there, so they have all the hard to find colors), but the walk to the red-light district was nice as it was considerably cooler as well.

It was early afternoon when we got there so only a few establishments were open but we got what we came for – display windows with scantily clad (sometimes half-naked) women peddling their wares. I doubt if we would have had the stomach to see any of the live shows though.

Amsterdam, or the Netherlands for that matter, is built on land reclaimed from the sea so there were lots of canals and bridges connecting the streets. It’s very charming and picturesque – you’d be hard pressed to find a place that’s wasn’t photogenic.

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We were so lazy in Amsterdam that we didn’t even try many restaurants (and for foodies like us, trying new restos is a must when traveling) – we found the nearest pub near our apartment, Cafe Berkhout, liked the food, and stuck with it the entire trip. We felt like locals sitting in what had become our usual table. In fact, we were there so often that we even figured out the shifting schedule of the servers! Hahaha!

Cafe Berkhout offers mainly burgers, fries and chips  which you chase down with beer. You can’t go wrong with their burgers which were so big my friend and I always had to share. And I was quite proud for trying the Kinkey bitter lemon which soon became one of our favorite drinks (along with red wine, of course).

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What contributed also to our memorable Amsterdam trip was our gorgeous apartment, which we found through Airbnb. To be honest, prior to this trip, I have never tried their services. It was more expensive than our other hotels and apartments (2nd only to our flat in Paris which was a stone’s throw from the Louvre) but we enjoyed our stay so much and our host, Maria, was so gracious. We stayed at the ground floor of her house which had two bedrooms, a dining and living room (complete with its well-stocked espresso machine), a full-service kitchen and even its own private garden overlooking the canals!

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Too bad that it was raining almost the entire time that we didn’t get to have our planned picnic in the backyard; I did get to experience sleeping underneath the stars, and LIGHTNING, as the 2nd room near the canal had clear glass ceilings!

HK Foodtrip: Boqueria

I am not too fond of walking too much nowadays – I used to, when I was younger, but now I just get tired too easily. Chalk it up to aging and leading a sedentary lifestyle. So when my friends and I trooped to find this quaint little resto for Brunch  in Central, Hong Kong, I remember thinking: the food had better be very good. You see, Central is quite a big place and it took us a lot of walking up and down winding side streets before we found Hotel LKF, where Boqueria was neatly tucked away on its second floor.

When we first entered the place, I was quite charmed by the way it looked so cozy, like where you would hang out with your friends after a long day (or week). It wasn’t the place to be seen out and about; it wasn’t intimidating. Exactly my kind of place.

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To be honest though, we didn’t come for the food but for the unlimited do-it-yourself sangria, which you can easily do following three simple steps: get your ice and fruits, pick your juice (orange or grape) and wine (red or white), add sprite (if you want), and voila! Your very own sangria.

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We started off our meal with glasses of sangria – we were very strategic with it: we got the table nearest the sangria station and just across the kitchen door. Our sangrias were perfectly paired with appetizers from their carritos (mobile carts),which fortunately always starts with our table. Hahaha!

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I love their plate of Embutidos y Quesos (cold cuts and cheese) which we drizzled with olive oil (by request) and Ensaladas y Especialidades Espanolas (salads and specialties). I normally don’t like cherry tomatoes but that day, they were just oh so fresh and perfect with my meats and cheeses. I would of course, pick the cold cuts and cheese that are so abundant in France, but this would be a lovely substitute.

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It was the Christmas season when we visited Boqueria and pretty soon, a big group of expats entered the place. In fact, their group was so big it was just them and us! They all ordered oysters and since we were the only other table, we were given free oysters as well! I need not tell you how much I love my fresh oysters!

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The brunch package (which you can get with the unlimited DIY sangria) also includes their Paella del Dia (Paella of the Day) which was the perfect base for all the grilled goodness that was served shortly before it.

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I was seriously full before we even got to taste their Verduras del Dia a la Piancha and Churrascos de Carne (grilled veggies and meats) but I can’t say no to grilled salmon, beef and pork, can I? Especially when they’re all hot-off the grill. I never tried pairing my grilled meats with mustard and tartar sauce but I was pleasantly surprised with how good everything tasted.

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After serving us all those yummy grilled meat, guess what the finale was? We were so proud when we saw the Cochinillo Asado (suckling pig) being rolled out on the last cart – or none other than our very own lechon!

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I was seriously full to the brim by then; one more bite and I would have thrown up and made a mess right there. But then, the next cart rolled in and it was laden with plates of delectable Postres – freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, brownies, apple pie, and churros drizzled with chocolate syrup! So decacent and oh so tempting for a chocolate lover like me. They were not fancy concoctions but it was their simlpe familiarity that made this dessert plate a winner in my books.

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And to top off our Boqueria experience, we tried the Porron – similar to a beer bong, the bartender would pour an alcoholic beverage through a small tube straight to your mouth and would only stop when you give the word.

Two thumbs up!

Food Trippin’ The Michelin Star Way

I guess it’s a pretty known fact that HK is one of my favorite destinations abroad – it’s just a two-hour flight (shorter than going to Fairview from Makati on a weeknight), and it has theme parks (kid at heart here!), shopping (hello, outlet stores!), and perhaps the best reason of all: it is a paradise for foodies like me.

For my trip with my friends last holiday season, we wanted it to be as laid back as possible, and maybe sneak in a couple of tourist spots. But our main agenda was, yes, you guessed it: FOOD.

And we couldn’t even wait until we stepped out of the airport. First stop – the one Michelin star Ho Hung Kee. We were initially planning on going to their main outlet over at Hysan Place in Causeway Bay but as we where about to step out of the airport, we noticed that there is actually a Ho Hung Kee right there!

We weren’t really that hungry so we just got some shrimp siomai, noodles, and of course, their world famous congee.

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To be honest, I am not a dimsum fan. In fact, I don’t even like Chinese food that much (or maybe, I grew up eating too much of it that I had grown too used to it). But their siomai was so good. Ever thought of how some siomais tend to rely on their main ingredient, like if it’s pork, it’s just the pork that carries the entire dish? Well, the meat of this one was equal parts sweet and salty, and the shrimp was fresh and tender and not gummy at all. Even the yellow wrap was very tasty – I wanted to cut the siomai into different parts so I could taste each. And the crab roe added a nice texture to the siomai. I didn’t even need my usual soy sauce/chili/calamansi mix!

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We couldn’t decide on what noodle dish to get so we got the house specialty wonton noodles in soup. The wonton was good! Same with the siomai, the wrapper itself was tasty. And, the noodles were also a bit sweet! A welcome surprise as I had gotten used to salty noodles. Plus, the dish itself was very heavy – we split all our food into three parts but we still could not finish everything.

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For our finale – we got their abalone, pork and chicken congee. I was expecting a lot from their congee since this was what got them on the Michelin list. But, I was quite taken aback that it was… Sweet. The porridge was a little too sweet for my taste, and the rice too fine that it felt like I was eating puree. I had to drizzle pepper and salt on mine before I could eat it. It was good and tasty, with the individual ingredients all accounted for in terms of taste and yet creating a whole that was greater than each part but, maybe for my Pinoy tastebuds, it wasn’t what I was expecting in a congee. I was expecting something along the lines of my beloved arroz caldo with all its ginger, chicken, salt, and atsuete seed coloring but got something like ginataan malagkit, minus the coconut and a tad less sweet.

All in all, I would still recommend Ho Hung Kee, if only to experience that authentic congee and dimsum. And, for a Michelin-rated restaurant, the price was pretty much hard to beat: our entire meal only costs us about HK$600, with drinks.

(Watch out for the next parts of my HK Food Trip!)

 

Food Trip: Lilac Street

Hubby and I love to eat and while we do have our favorites, there are just so many new places to try. One particular weekend, I got bored and decided to drag him to Marikina – one of those not quite under the radar yet not quite mainstream foodie havens that we have not yet explored. One particular place got my attention because, well, how can you not be curious when it’s got a name as pretty as lilac?

Lilac Street is one long strip dotted with quaint restos, cafes, and bars. We got there mid-afternoon and spent a couple of minutes driving up and down the street until we decided on a cluster of three restos near the end of the strip. One offered Filipino food (based on the name), another offered pizza, pasta and steaks, and a third offered street food.

Hubby and I were quite famished as we haven’t eaten anything and it was past 3PM, so we went to Leon’s Bistro to have a very late brunch.

First off: nachos supreme, a steal at Php 135. The presentation immediately piqued me, as it was served on a wooden board instead of the usual bowl. And the toppings of beef, veggies (crispy fresh!), and cheese was so generous; serving was generous too, as it was enough for three grown adults. 😋

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I normally avoid ordering pasta in new restos since I often get disappointed but since this was a food trip after all, I figured, why not risk it?

Well, one bite and I knew the gamble paid off: I got the aglio olio with anchovies and sundried tomatoes, another steal at Php 160. I loved how perfectly done the pasta was and how the anchovies and tomatoes perfectly complemented each other. I hate tomatoes in general, but this was just too perfect. The only comment I have is that the bread was rather too hard, like it has been microwaved too long and left to harden. Other than that, I actually finished the entire order as it was that good.

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The hubby, upon seeing the menu, quickly settled on the most high-blood inducing dish available: bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin medallion with mashed potato, which, at Php 330, is also the most expensive they have to offer.

Meat on meat can be too much for other people, including me, but the bacon and beef medallion were so perfectly soft and juicy, yet well-done. And the gravy was a good foil, a bit salty with a dash of pepper. I honestly wanted to grab the plate from hubby. Haha.

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Anyway, we enjoyed what we got so far, so much that we decided to order the baby back ribs, Php 225, which was another hit. Seriously, I want to find out how they make the meat so tender, juicy and tasty, that we didn’t even need the sauce that came with it.image

Leon’s also offers dessert but we wanted to try the Urban Street next door, which offered, quite obviously, street food. I mean, the last place I have been to that offered grilled isaw was the Mercato Centrale in BGC, and that was out in the open with all the smoke wafting in and around you (no, I am not complaining, but for a person like me who is allergic to dust, smoke, sweat, and scents, that can be an ordeal). This place offered the same food in the airconditioned comfort of a rustic little neighborhood tambayan.

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Anyway, we got a bit predictable and ordered the Manila Stret Food Tusok Tusok, Php 75, a plate of fish and squid balls and kikiam with sweet and chili sauces. I haven’t had fish balls in years!

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We’ve been dying to try their churros since spying it on the blackboard outside and it did not disappoint either. Crunchy and sugary on the outside, yet soft, buttery and creamy on the inside, this is, I think, one of the best churros this side of town. And when dunked in the chocolate dip, it made me forget all about my diet plans.

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But let’s save the best for last: their frozen salted caramel cheesecake, Php 110, with Himalayan pink salt. It is to die for. How come no one thought of freezing cheesecake before?!? It was so good the hubby forgot about me and ate off the last morsel as I was busy saving photos.

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I wasn’t really expecting much from our food trip but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m already thinking of next week, and maybe driving all the way to Antipolo for a little cool breeze. And the best part? For three adults, we spent a total of less than Php 1,500 for our lunch and dessert, including glasses of fresh iced tea. That’s quite hard to beat if you eat at a mall. I am definitely coming back.

Laduree in Manila

Is it me or are more and more international brands coming over to set up shop in our country? And I can’t be happier that Laduree has finally reached our shores!

Not to be confused with our local macaroons (that crusty coconut-based local delicacy), macarons are meringue-based cookies of Italian origin. When Catherine di Medici married King Henry II of France, her chefs, and the recipe, travelled with her. In those days, macarons are single cookies, until the French thought of filling it up with ganache, jam or cream and topping it with a second cookie, giving us the melts-in-your mouth goodie that we know as the macaron.

Well, I don’t really know who thought of doing that but Laduree probably makes the best macarons out there. Their macarons are so perfectly made that they hold their shape and don’t crumble when you hold them, but they instantly melt once they touch your mouth. And the colors and flavors are just too pretty! It’s like travellihg back in time and experiencing the opulence of Marie Antoinette’s lifestyle.

imageAnyway, the first ever branch of Laduree opened a few weeks ago at 8 Rockwell (right across Balenciaga). No, it’s not inside the Powerplant Mall, but you can get out of the exit near Zara and walk across the street to the next building.

Inside, it’s just like all other Laduree stores – decked in French interiors.

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And prices, while definitely expensive, are just about the same as in Europe – a macaron costs Php 150 while the cute jewelry-box like containers with half a dozen macarons go for Php 1,200. Not bad, as I remember it costs around €2 in Paris (can’t remember how much it was in HK).

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All flavors I have tried are good but I am partial to the chocolate and rose-flavored ones. 
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Locally, I have yet to find macarons that can give Laduree a run for their money; Chez Karine would have been my bet but they closed shop back in June (I almost cried when they did). And I am so glad I can give this as gifts now; macarons only last three days so I couldn’t get them for pasalubong when I travel (except HK).

I can’t wait for their tearoom to open next year.

Vienna: The Pursuit of the Sacher Torte

Vienna may be famous for music but there is one other thing it is famous for: the sacher torte, aka the most famous chocolate cake in the whole world. So famous in fact, that December 5 has been designated as National Sachertorte Day.

The sachertorte actually has royal beginnings. Back in 1832, Prince Wenzel von Metternich asked his chef to come up with a special dessert for his royal guests and the chef’s young apprentice, Franz Sacher, came up with this chocolate cake.

It didn’t immediately gain the fame it would later have until Franz’ son, Eduard, tweaked and perfected the torte during his training at the Demel bakery where it was first served, and later on at the Hotel Sacher, which was established by Eduard.

Anyway, now the torte is served in various cafes and pastry shops all over Vienna and my friends and I set out to eat just about all the versions of it that our tummies could handle. First stop: Aida.

Aida is quite hard to miss as there are almost three dozen shops all over. Its pastel pink interiors with its name written in big cursive letters and the undeniable scent of confectioner’s sugar and coffee drifting out of its windows stand out amidst all those historical buildings.

I am quite a predictable coffee drinker in that I prefer the traditional flavours – which is probably why I felt right at home there: I got myself a nice cup of cappuccino to wake me up for our 1st morning in Vienna, and a fruity tart to go with it. Coffee was good, not outstanding but I could definitely get used to it.

IMG_4126We also tried their apfelstrudel (apple pie), which was quite different from the apple pies I’m used to; it was starchy and not overflowing with crunchy apples. But with a nice scoop cream, it more than made me a happy camper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAida is famous for its wide array of tortes (or cakes), and since we were in in Vienna, why not try their version of the sachertorte? And at the risk of sounding cliche, we also tried the Mozart Torte, a dark chocolate sponge cake with nougat and pistacchio marzipan all topped with fondant icing. It even had a chocolate button with Mozart’s profile on it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur quest for the sachertorte didn’t end at Aida. We also tried the sachertorte at the Gloriette of the Schonbrunn, which tasted okay, though I found it a bit too dry for my taste.

IMG_4131As I mentioned earlier,the recipe for the sachertorte was perfected by Eduard during his training at Demel so I knew we had to find this bakery. It took as a bit of going around side streets and alleyways with hard to read much less pronounce names, but thanks to our trusty trip advisor app, we found it a few blocks away from our hotel at the St. Stephensplatz.

Now, there had been legal battles surrounding the sachertorte – after all, Eduard served it in his Hotel Demel (which later filed for bankruptcy) while the “original sachertorte” was offered by Demel. When his widow Anna died and the Hotel Demel filed for bankruptcy, his son Eduard (yeah, same name) became an employee at Demel, bringing with him the right for the Eduard Sachertorte. Anyway, the two establishments slugged it out in court until they finally settled it by letting the Hotel Sacher have the rights to use “the original sachertorte” while Demel was given the rights to put triangular seals on their cakes bearing the words “Eduard Sachertorte.”

Demel was packed! I don’t remember anymore if there was a third floor, but we found ourselves sharing a small table at the 2nd floor of the building. And of course, we got the sachertorte and apfelstrudel. Their version of the former had one layer of jam between the chocolate icing and sponge portion. It’s not your usual chocolate cake, since it is not fluffy or chocolatey sweet but rather dense and has a light tinge of bitter cocoa that saves it from being overwhelming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe apfelstrudel at Demel was better than at Aida’s, perhaps because I found it had more apples and had a nice sprinkling of powdered sugar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince we’ve tried just about all versions of the sachertorte in Vienna, we couldn’t let our visit end without going to the Hotel Sacher now, can we?

The Hotel Sacher, a five-star hotel in the vicinity of the plaza, serves sachertortes that are made using the secret recipe that Franz Sacher created almost two hundred years ago. Hundreds of thousands of sachertortes are made almost entirely by hand by its staff every year, to be served in its cafes and restaurants, or bought as souvenirs. They also accept orders (even online!) which can be shipped to various cities all over the world.

IMG_4140This version of the famous cake has not one but two layers of jam compared which I loved, since it broke the monotony of too much chocolate. I also found it fluffier and more moist (at least as moist a cake in Vienna could probably get), and therefore, more to my liking. IMG_4139Well, of all the sachertortes I’ve tasted, I’d give my money to Hotel Sacher, since I prefer the taste of their chocolate (dark and smoother) and their fluffier sponge cake. Plus, the ambience is perfect for catching up with friends without the crowd.

Now, I wonder if they ship to Manila? 😀

Out and About in Milan

Whenever I think of Italian food, pizza and pasta would normally come to mind. Surprisingly though, I didn’t really find any pasta/pizza dish in Milan that stood out. But we found this neighborhood cafe serving gelato and chocolates that were oh so good we didn’t mind visiting almost every day after our daily excursion.

We found Cioccolat Italiani by accident – we were on our daily walk from our charming apartment near the San Lorenzo columns when we chanced upon this cafe a few steps back from Via Torino. It had a laid back and cozy atmosphere which we immediately liked.

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And how appropriate that the cafe is beside the Church of St. George?

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Our handsome server patiently explaining the different gelato flavors. He didn’t need to – we’ll have whatever they’re serving. Hahaha!

Inside was an open kitchen where you can see the staff preparing your coffee or gelato. Can you all those chocolate bars near our table? I thought I was gonna die of happiness.

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We got their chocolate gelato sampler – five different kinds of chocolate to choose from! I can’t even remember which one I liked most but I would definitely recommend this to all chocolate lovers out there. They were all so creamy, not too sweet and the chocolate was very rich, whether you get the milk chocolate, the dark chocolate, the hazelnut, or the white chocolate.

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Well, it was kinda hard focusing on gelato that day…

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And you have to try their coffee and waffles! Sure to perk you up for the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Surprisingly, one of the best meals we had in Milan didn’t involve pasta and pizza but rather sort of Asian fusion. We were so hungry on our first day after a long train ride from Paris that we didn’t have much energy to go far from our apartment in Urbano – which turned out perfectly fine because we stumbled upon this quaint little place in front of the Roman columns of San Lorenzo that served the best smoked ham and cheese, and rolls! Too bad we were so hungry we forgot to jot down the name of the place but if ever you’re in Milan and find yourself near the columns, it’s just across the street and comes highly recommended by me!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our neighborhood in Milan is actually the “hip” part of Milan, with a whole street lined up with bars (really loud ones!) and several whole in the wall restos, one of which we really liked is the Cantina della Vetra, where I first tasted the stuffed zucchini. I loved it so much I ordered the same dish almost everywhere (sadly, Cantina’s version was the best I tasted in all the restos we went to).

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Milan is so fashionable not even the walls were spared. How I wish street art in Manila is this cool! Sadly, ours look like drunken kids and teenagers were given spray paint and brushes.

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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 du 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. 😃

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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!

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. 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.