Saturday, December 13, 2008

Michael Johns in Manila!

Lets talk about food for the ears!

My adventures are not only about food. Last month, Michael Johns (from Season 7 of American Idol) came to Manila and of course me and my girls made sure we wouldn't miss this for the world. He had several appearances at the different Ayala Malls and lucky for everyone, it was free! The Ayala Malls have been bringing in contestants from American Idol to have free mini concerts at their Malls. We have seen our other favorite Elliot Yamin in concert but missed Taylor Hicks.

I am a big fan of American Idol ! I really thought Michael Johns would make it to the top 3 at the very least. He only made it to the top 8. I was quite disappointed. Then we thought David Archuleta would make it as the American Idol winner. Again we were disappointed. Nevertheless, this show is still my favorite. Am so amazed with how they can make superstars out of ordinary people in less than a year. American Idol also makes dreams come true for undiscovered talents and the audience is hooked on the experience of seeing them rise to fame ! I also enjoy the song themes they have every week and although the contestants are not all perfect, their music is always food for my ears.

Anyone could watch the Michael Johns concert since they had it in the center of the mall where shows are usually held. The adventure would be how to get into the area with seats. Thank goodness we were able to get reservations thru an organizer. We came like an hour before the show and had to squeezed thru the already big crowd. There were no tickets for the show and we got in the sitting area by dropping the name of the organizer who is our friend . The area with seats were divided into 3. Unfortunately, our reservations area entitled us to just watch the show but it was not bad at all since we were about 6 rows from the stage. Those seated in the 'VIP' area were entitled to the "meet & greet" after the show! Those in the back area were able to get seats by buying groceries (at the mall supermarket) worth about PHP 2,000 ( about USD 40) just to get 1 seat! I really think Ayala Mall keeps inviting the American Idol contestants and can afford to give free shows because they do make lots of money from all the Idol fans trying to get in the mall.

Here are some of his photos from the show :

Michael sang his popular Idol songs aside from other hits: Purple Rain, Don't You ( Forget About Him), We Will Rock You, We are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody, etc. He didn't sing my favorite though : Light My Fire. I wanted to add a video clip here but am having problems doing so.

In the end, we were able to get some extra VIP IDs from friends in the audience and do a meet & greet onstage with Michael himself. All I can say is that he is super friendly and humble. Stardom hasn't changed him at all!

Hope to see you back in Manila Michael Johns and if you don't mind please take David Archuleta along with you next time!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Strange Adventure at Kanin Club

Okay so i named my blog simple adventures. Sad to say it doesn't mean all my simple adventures are pleasant.

I was super looking forward to our dinner at Kanin Club (Rice club in Westgate, Alabang ) because everyone who had tried it would rave about their Crispy Dinuguan. You could say that it was an adventure , strange though... which is why i will just try to keep this short.

My adventure :
1. We waited more than an hour for our food to arrive

2. We ordered Crispy Dinuguan of course because I love Dinuguan. It was strangely crispy but because of the black color of the sauce, I could not tell what it was I was chewing. It did not seem familiar at all. Forget about the details, this dish bothered me for several days after.

3. My son choked on a giant (about 1 inch) piece of fish bone from the Tinapa fried rice! Too bad because it was quite delicious. I just couldn't enjoy every bite after that for fear of the bones. Since childhood, I have had a fear of fish bones ever since I witnessed someone who choked during a fish meal. I can't forget how everyone fussed over him and rushed him to the hospital. He looked like his eyes would pop out ! Can you imagine me watching my own son choke?

4. The ff dishes were good :

Fried Tilapia

Bistek (Beefsteak) Tagalog

Chorizo rice

Pinangat/ Laing (Vegetable with Coconut Milk)

5. The tabletops were super interesting. I seem to have a fascination with tabletops (see my article re Serye tabletops here). They were made of capiz shells in a frame as in the usual design used in Filipino homes for the window.

The kids enjoyed it and maybe we will go back. But never again for the Crispy Dinuguan. It made me develop a phobia for food with dark sauce! I would still one day like to try their Talangka (Crabfat) rice... I think I remember seeing this on the menu. Who knows it might make me change my mind about Kanin club.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Baguio Adventures

Baguio for Filipino locals is a simple Philippine travel adventure.

Our family travels to Baguio at least once or twice a year. The Philippines has a generally hot climate and there are only a few getaway destinations in the country where you can find cooler weather. Baguio in the mountain province is one of them. From our home, it takes us about minimum 5 hours ( if we travel very early or very late) to maybe 8 hours during rush hour including food, gasoline and rest stops. Travel time is much improved because of the new SCTEX highway(about 45 mins on this road). It is less interesting than the old route because there are absolutely no eating places, gasoline stations or rest stops along the way. Cuts your travel time by a lot though. You know you are in Baguio when you see this Lion Head along the Zig Zag road.

Here is a hodge podge of simple Baguio adventures :

1. Horseback riding
One of Baguios MUST DO for kids (and adults) is horseback riding. Wright park used to be the place to go ( and still is) but now there are many other venues where you can experience the horseback riding adventure in this tourist destination. For kids, its actually just the thrill of going around the circle or sometimes exploring the up and down roads. They get a thrill out of choosing their horse by size, name or even color ! My daughters love the "pink" horses. Cost is just about 300 pesos an hour.

2. Good Shepherd
I believe all if not most of Baguios visitors make a stop at Good Shepherd to buy food pasalubongs (souvenir gifts for those left at home) and food products for themselves of course. Our favorites are : Ube jam, strawberry jam, cashew brittle and Alfajores ! This place has improved a lot thru the years in terms of facilitating sales. They have a large picture menu board with prices of all their products so you can write your orders before getting in line. They even have a scanner and POS system now! Progress indeed! I tried their refreshing Strawberry juice
(20 pesos) and it was okay. Strawberries are abundant in Baguio when they are in season. Peak season for the best strawberries is January/February.

3.Mines View Park

Am not sure why they call it a park. I honestly don't recall seeing any park there. Maybe I just never noticed because the whole place is filled with hundreds of stalls selling Baguio souvenirs.


So many little inexpensive things to buy in Baguio aside from the usual knitted sweaters and flannel blankets!

Walis (brooms)
Depending on where you buy it or what kind you buy, prices range from 3 for 100 pesos to 195 each. Like Good Shepherd products, almost everyone that visits Baguio comes home with a Walis. Brooms in Manila mostly come from Baguio anyway so better to buy directly from the source for more variety!

There are also so many cheap sunglasses being sold on the streets. They are carried on wooden boards complete with hand mirror so you can check if it fits your style.

String Yarn Puppets
Sold in the streets at 40 pesos each. The kids love it every time we buy them one. It doesn't last long though after the strings get all tangled up

Small potted plants (specially cactus) are being sold everywhere. They don't last long too when you bring them down to Manila but I usually can't resist buying a few specially those tagged lucky plant!

Choco-late de Batirol
Delicious local Hot chocolate ! See my other blog for more about this and the restaurant in my MUST DO Baguio list.

Strawberry Taho

Taho is a warm soya bean curd dessert with sugar syrup and tapioca balls.In Baguio, they have strawberry flavored taho! Regular Taho in Manila costs only 10 pesos a cup. The strawberry Taho costs 15 pesos so for the additional 5 pesos you get 3 whole strawberries in it ! Taho is sold by walking vendors on the street carrying tin containers and Taho is mixed as you buy them. I've always wondered how the vendor keeps it warm. Maybe one day I will ask them.

Leather products
Baguio isn't famous for leather products but at Wright Park, you can find leather saddles for sale. Leather belts are also sold by street vendors. They claim these are made with would you believe ...Horse leather! I am not sure how much these cost but am sure they are cheap.


Baguio is famous for silver. So cheap here. A silver bangle bracelet set is about 250 pesos only. They are also sold everywhere. These ones were being sold by a street vendor.

Baguio Chorizo
Next to Spanish Chorizo, I think Baguio Chorizo is the best! I grew up looking forward to this comfort food whenever we go up to Baguio. They used to come in small round balls. My new favorite brand is Tuvera found in the local market. Same Baguio flavor but in BIG sizes. The Best if you like sweeter and less spicy Chorizo.

Wooven products.
There are lots of these in the form of rugs, placemats, and bags etc.

Tantamcos Lengua de Gato
Am so addicted to this! They should not call it Lengua de Gato because people expect it to be wafer thin and its not. It is more like butter cookies. Doesn't matter really.. its so gooood!

These are dried flowers (hence "everlasting") made into a neclace. They are usually hang on religious statues as offerings. Am not sure what else people use them for but they look so pretty specially up close.

I think I miss Baguio already making this long post! Let me find some of those pasalubongs I bought and have a midnight snack!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chocolate de Batirol: Hot Chocolate Heaven in Baguio

I am a chocoholic and Baguio for me is not complete without a cup of Hot chocolate!

Everytime I go up to Baguio I notice the Chocolate de Batirol stand within a silver store along Session Road. I always plan to stop and try their specialty and my favorite. If they named their restaurant after Hot Chocolate, it better be the best on their menu! Last month, I finally decided to make that stop but horror of horrors, it wasn't there anymore ! I left Baguio very disappointed with myself for procrastinating all these years.

Luckily, I came across an article in the internet that said they are at Camp John Hay, Baguio City. I promised myself that next time I will have that much awaited cup!!! Lucky for me , next time turned out to be TODAY! Yes!

Chocolate de Batirol is located at the Mini Golf area at the camp. Perfect standby place for parents waiting for their kids to be done with mini golf, the playgound, bump car, bicycle, etc. I was not disappointed with the place. It is not your typical concrete restaurant but instead has an outdoor garden setting. When you go inside, you feel like you are entering a jungle of beautiful plants! Like I mentioned in my previous blog, I have a soft heart for Filipino restaurants that try to be as authentic as they can. This one gave me an almost total Filipino restaurant experience.

1. Umbrellas ( ala starbucks) were covered with Filipino artwork.
2. Paintings/Decor were by local Filipino artists
3. Background music was Pilita Corales !
4. Hot chocolate was made of local cacao beans, planted right in Baguio.
5. Furnitures made of local wood/ natural shape when possible.

Mr Jojo Castro gave us a mini show of how they whip up a mean cup of the Batirol Chocolate. He used a whisk (batirol) to froth the chocolate. He referred to the whisk as a Mollinillo. According to him this is the same term used by the line of kitchen appliances called Moulinex. Interesting. What I like about Jojo is he is so hospitable/friendly and goes out of his way to give his customers a complete history/tour of everything from the cacao beans down to the different artworks at his place. He wants to make sure his customers have the complete hot chocolate experience. I was so entertained while enjoying my Hot Chocolate!

My cup of Batirol chocolate was not as thick as Spanish Hot chocolate but it had a lot of texture and flavour which Jojo attributes to freshly ground roast cacao beans and peanuts. He has been growing cacao in Baguio for the past 20 years and personally grinds them. It was very delicious! He even sent each of us some samples of what he calls his "opium hot chocolate" so we can fully enjoy ourselves. Next came samples of roasted(?) garlic chips which they also sell by the bottle. They have several other products in their mini store such as taba ng talangka ( another of my most favorite food), chocolate de batirol gift pack complete with molinilllo. I bought 1 bottle of the ground Chocolate (375pesos) and if I remember right, it makes about 60+ cups.

Behind the dining area is a another cozy area Jojo proudly calls the Republika. He showed us his unique armchairs and tables plus an artwork/painting he describes as the eccentric malakas (strong) and maganda (beautiful). These are the first Filipino man and woman born from a bamboo stalk as per Filipino legend. He even hang a Philippine flag to complete the Philippine ambiance. He showed us a poster of his new "Adopt" a Seedling project where they encourage planting of cacao beans and go camping in the area. He is so passionate about his products and wants to teach the Filipino youth to go "back to basics." What a welcome change from malling and computer fixation for our kids. I truly enjoyed my conversation with him and admire his passion for all things Filipino.

We didn't have much time to try the food items on the menu except for a quick Suman de Lihiya and Banana Turon with Langka. I must admit that since I am a loyal fan of Tita Parings suman latik, I thought their suman wasn't as good as I expected... All the same, it looked so good to eat that as usual I again forgot to take a photo before having a bite! Their Banana Turon must be another of their best sellers. I couldn't even take a photo since everyone grabbed one and left NONE for me !!! Other items on the menu were typical Filipino dishes which I plan to try next trip. I will make sure I go at night so I can truly enjoy the hot chocolate experience. Cold night weather+ Hot chocolate = Perfect Baguio trip! I am so looking forward to going back to Baguio because of discovering this place... Baguio is for eating and relaxing and Chocolate de Batirol is definitely going to be permanently on my Baguio MUST DO list.

Friday, November 21, 2008

SERYE : Cafe Filipino

We had our Sunday family dinner last weekend at Serye in Santana Grove, Sucat Road. This chain of restaurants is famous for their Aristocrat style barbecue dishes, yummy yummy yummy barbecue sauce and Java Rice. I fondly remember my younger years when we used to go to Aristocrat Roxas Blvd in our sleeping attire, order from the car and be served in the car !!

Wow! Although this was not The Aristocrat , Serye has evolved into a cozy Filipino cafe not just a barbecue resto. It has a separate area where you can have your Filipino barako coffee (which they brew in a siphon coffee maker. Same coffee maker you find in UCC restaurants). The tabletops in this area are artworks, so interesting to look at, and so Filipino! I like how they used Filipino decor in a contemporary manner. Enough of the foreign looking restaurants. We should promote our own Filipino food and Filipino style! I will definitely go back with friends and try their barako coffee and delicious looking desserts!I know many balikbayans who just MUST have a taste of their "chidhood barbecue restaurant" and am sure they will enjoy the new Filipino ambiance of Serye.

8340 Doctor A Santos Avenue
Tel: 8254691
Tel: 8269317
Fax: 8254691

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pepper Lunch Adventure

Its a Japanese Pepper Steak!

The Philippine food business seems to be booming. In the midst of the world crisis, new restaurant concepts keep mushrooming in the mall or outside the mall. Specialty restaurants seem to be the name of the game. First we have Sango Japanese burgers. Now Japanese Pepper Steak?

Pepper Lunch in Power Plant Mall Rockwell is part of a Japanese chain of fastfood steakhouses. Their concept is a unique adventure because they serve you raw food that you cook yourself right on your own table in your own sizzling plate.

My Pepper lunch adventure went this way:

1. Line up and order from the counter - I went on a weekday so there were no long lines. You have to pay your order before they deliver it to your table.

2. My order was delivered to my table. It was on a special kind of sizzling plate which was wrapped with paper instructions (also protects your fingers I guess from the very hot plate) -Waiter gave a short orientation. However,I think he assumed we had been there before. He failed to tell me that you should not add the sauce before browning the meat. I was so excited to do the "cook it yourself routine" thinking it it just as simple as Korean restos. I didn't even bother watching the video demo/ instructional before cooking my food.

3. I quickly spread the herbed butter (served ala butter on top of pancake) on the pre-cut marbled steak. Unfortunately, in my usual eagerness, I forgot to take a photo again before doing this. I quickly turned the steak slices around with chopsticks and poured some of their vegetable and steak sauce. The sad result : half brown steak! ( The photo below is the nice seared side)

Oh well!! Better luck next time. It was tasty specially with the finely ground peppercorn and delicious Japanese sauce. Definitely worth trying agin. On the expensive side though for a quick lunch. My Shimofuri Pepper steak cost 645 pesos ( including rice and a drink). There are other more affordable items on the menu though if you prefer to spend less to experience your own Pepper Lunch adventure.