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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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? 😀

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!

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, I would have been sold. Hahaha!

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Since it was our first time here, we decided to order their 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  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, the 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. And what a generous serving it was.  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. 😄

Sapori Solari

If there is one place you simply must visit in Milan, this would be it. Heck, I would go to Milan just to eat here.

But we almost never made it to this place.

The first problem we had was logistics: the deli (it is, strictly, NOT a restaurant, nor even a cafe – think Santi’s except that they let you eat your cured meats and cheese right there at the store) was very small so reservations are a must. But, the owner/proprietor/all around staff Giuseppe, doesn’t speak English – so we had to ask our landlady to make the reservations; except that our landlady also couldn’t speak English. Yeah, imagine the sign language we had to employ for her to understand us and communicate it to Giuseppe. I never thought that knowing the Italian words for dinner/reservations and the hour of day and number of people can be very useful. My friends were actually very proud of me. Hahaha!

Finding this place was even trickier that we almost gave up were it not for the fact that it was highly recommended and we were so hungry and there were barely any other restaurants along the way. The deli was located in a not so touristy part of Milan, and while riding the tram was confusing, the taxi fare was discouraging. We walked 30 minutes from the train stop before we finally caught sight of its signage (and the anxious Giuseppe almost thought we’d ditched him).

Pardon the blurry image - I was so hungry (it was past 8PM), and tired (we walked more than three kilometers in 30 minutes), and a bit scared that we'd gotten lost in Milan.

Pardon the blurry image – I was so hungry (it was past 8PM), and tired (we walked more than three kilometers in 30 minutes), and a bit scared that we’d gotten lost in Milan.

Giuseppe was the only one manning the deli so we had a bit of time to just take photos and enjoy the rustic appeal of Sapori Solari. It’s exactly how I would have imagined my neighborhood hangout: small and intimate. Not intimidating at all. The best part? Everyone seemed to know each other. That, or they were just plain nice. We even met a very lovely couple – the girl looked like Teresa Loyzaga and the guy looked like Andrew Garfield, except that he’s hotter than the actor. They were so gorgeous and so kind to act as our interpreter that night that we wanted to have our photos taken with them!

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My travel buddies.

We drank some red wine while waiting for the surprise feast Giuseppe was whipping up for us in the kitchen. Now, I am no expert in wine but I do know when I like it or not, and this one? Definitely like.

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The Milan Crew!

Sorry, no close up photos of moi, because by this time, my face had swollen as if bees had stung me and my eyes were almost shut tight – my allergies were acting up because of all the wine and the weather, plus, I haven’t been sleeping very well during the trip so that contributed to my skin problems.

There were only about five tables in the 30 or so square meter place and while it was empty when we got there, pretty soon, it was full of people – Giuseppe had to prepare a makeshift table to accommodate another group!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though he couldn’t speak English, Giuseppe had animal figurines on hand to show us where the meat was coming from, and a booklet (below) to show us what parts we were eating that night. There’s no menu, by the way; he whips up the menu on the spot, based on the meat and cheese available that day. If you’re a picky eater, then this place isn’t for you. But, if you are okay with meat and cheese – this place is perfect. Everything was superb!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were first given different kinds of bread, which tasted so fresh (and we were so hungry) we finished the entire basket in a few minutes.

Different kinds of bread. From what I understand, everything in Sapori Solari is made by Giuseppe.

Different kinds of bread. From what I understand, everything in Sapori Solari is made by Giuseppe.

After a few minutes, Giuseppe served our first tray of thinly sliced prime beef with chunks of ricotta cheese drizzled with olive oil. The beef was perfectly smoked and tasted oh so delicious – not too salty and not pungent at all which is what I hate sometimes when eating cured meat. I am salivating just writing that down and recalling the taste from memory.

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This plate tasted almost too good to be true. It was so good we finished it off before Giuseppe even managed to prepare the 2nd plate.

Our second plate (it’s kind of incorrect to actually say plate, because it was more of a tray – think of a family sized pizza pan), was all about pork. The outer rink in the picture below came from a regular pig (you know, the cute pink ones, like Babe?) while the inner rink came from a local pig (I forgot the exact type which I’m pretty sure I studied back in grade school, but it was a black type of pig). This one was like eating fresh ham and salami, except that it’s fresher, saltier and yet sweeter at the same time. The meat also had a little slimy texture to it that made it feel slippery on my tongue.

By this time, we realized that the bread and cheese (which came with the first plate) Giuseppe served us earlier was meant to be eaten with the meat. Too bad, we already ate them! Probably why Giuseppe almost raised his arms in alarm when he saw us stuffing our mouths with all that bread and cheese. Hahaha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next plate had this fatty part of the pig which reminded me of glazed Christmas ham, except it was a hundred times better. The dark red meat with white fatty edges was goose breast. Everything was bathed in honey and olive oil and I just died and went to gastronomic heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As I mentioned, there’s no fixed menu. Giuseppe will keep serving plate after plate after plate as long as you want. I’ve read of some tourists lasting up to the fifth plate but my friends and I were too full by the 3rd plate we actually had to beg Giuseppe to stop. Hahaha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter that, he served us biscuits with nuts (reminded me of Starbuck’s biscotti) and some very sweet, nectarine juice. The biscuits were a bit on the hard side and took some getting used to but it had an aftertaste that I kept chasing after – like when you eat something good but the flavor is too fleeting that you want to just eat more so you can figure out what that flavor is? I had several moments of those.

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The Milan Crew with our host, Giuseppe.

What I loved most about Sapori Solari was that it not only served good food but Giuseppe was just about the most unassuming and most accommodating host. It actually felt like visiting your grandparents’ house and being treated to all those family recipe specialties.

If only it wasn’t so late and we didn’t have a long day the next day, we would have stayed and ordered another round. I would gladly have gone back but this was our last meal together in Milan (I went to Switzerland the next day while my friends went to Verona to pay their respects to Romeo and Juliet).

I would give this place five stars out of four. And I will definitely include a stopover in Milan in my next trip just to eat it. Yes, I loved it that much!