Posts Tagged ‘food’

corner tree cafe

For those who have adopted a vegetarian diet, or are looking to try something new, Corner Tree Cafe offers vegetarian fine dining with a taste of Morocco and the Mediterranean.

The interiors are comfortably dim, with tealights at every table. Perfect for quiet tete-a-tetes.

A young author writes her novel by candlelight.

The Spanakopita is creamy inside and crunchy outside.

corner street cafe camote fries

Camote fries – not your usual.

corner street cafe vegetarian meat loaf

 Vegetarian meat loaf entree.

It’s interesting enough to try out. Corner Tree Cafe is at Miladay Building, 150 Jupiter Street, Makati.

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mary grace cafe

Looking for a place that serves great food in a warm, inviting, cozy atmosphere? Check out Mary Grace Cafe at Greenbelt Makati and Serendra Taguig.

My first visit to this restaurant was last month, and I’ve been going at least once a week ever since, on a weekend, sometimes to eat there twice a day – brunch and dinner.

First, let’s look at the interiors. They’re all country, no rock-n-roll. Think of a cottage decorated with Papemelroti accessories and salvaged architectural elements such as carved wood trim and balusters and stained-glass windows.

The facade of Mary Grace Cafe in Greenbelt, Makati City. Notice the fairy lights around the windows! Information such as store hours and contact numbers are painted on the glass door, rather than inscribed on a sign that would mar the view.

Inside, look up and be amazed at the ceiling’s display of clusters of lanterns  and glass jars. I love this! I will duplicate this in my home. One day. When I get around to it.

The upper level of the cafe in Greenbelt is a loft that might be the dining room and sala of your quirky artist aunt’s cottage in Laguna, or something. It murmurs “come in, sit down, eat!”

The interior of Mary Grace Cafe – Serendra. It’s small but still warm with brick and wood trim accents, and all sorts of country-style decor. There are racks of magazines to read while waiting.

Now for the food!

The tables are wooden, the tops covered with glass, underneath which are handwritten notes from happy patrons. Popular menu items include Mary Grace hot chocolate, Filipino-style with ground peanuts, served in a mismatched cup and saucer for a colorful touch; and the cassava chips and onion dip. You must try these. YOU MUST.

Here’s a tip: bring a large 16-oz tumbler with lid or a thermos and combine a cup of the hot chocolate with a cup of brewed coffee. It’s mocha, Pinoy-style.

Their iced teas are really good, and come in several fruity flavors. Our favorite is the apple and cinnamon honey – “Apple pie in a glass!” my youngest daughter calls it.

Start with a bowl of hearty soup. This is my eldest daughter’s favorite – the cream of mushroom soup. It’s savory without being too salty; it’s just right.

The menu runs to salads, pastas, and pastries. Craving a rice meal? They serve Filipino breakfast with rice until 5pm. This is the Vigan longganisa (sausage) plate that comes with two eggs anyway you like it. 

The seafood pasta blends flavors of the sea with earthy vegetables and bread.

The tomato pasta is muy delicioso.

The Kesong Puti salad with Calamansi Vinaigrette teases your palate with interesting flavors.

The mushroom and cheese pizza is on a crunchy thin crust sprinkled with cornmeal for added texture.

Cap off your meal with a slice – or two – of  cinnamony, nutmeggy, whipped cream-y apple pie.

Grilled ensaymada – grilling melts the cheese, toasts the top of the pastry, and warms it through.

Mary Grace started out as a home business in the mid-90s, with the owner selling melt-in-your-mouth ensaymada from her dad’s machinery store along Vito Cruz Street, Manila. I remember how fame of her pastries spread via word-of-mouth, and bought boxes of ensaymada one holiday in the late 90s to give as gifts. I gave a box to the late Speaker of the House Ramon V. Mitra Jr., and was surprised when he called back saying he loved them and asking where to buy.

It’s heartwarming to see that from those humble beginnings more than a decade ago, Mary Grace has grown, giving it more ways to bring its delicious baked goods and food to a wider clientele.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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army-navy burrito+burger

A penfriend posted as his Facebook status the other day a paean to Army-Navy Burrito + Burger. He said the food was great.

Being always on the lookout for interesting nommeries, the Offspring and I visited the branch at Harbour Square, a group of eateries inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex beside Manila Bay.

Army-Navy Burger turned out to be on the second floor above Yellow Cab Pizza. It is built of corrugated metal and has a military theme going on.

The food is American meets Tex-mex – burgers, fries, and milkshakes with burritos, quesadillas, and soft tacos.

Ik got the classic burger, a single quarter-pound beef patty with guacamole for tortilla chips. Army-Navy also has two-patty and three-patty (Bully Boy Burger) variations.

The onion rings were crisp and crunchy as they should be.

Alex got the cheese quesadillas, which are very good indeed.

All sorts of people go to Army-Navy, like this well-dressed and fully-made up woman in a gown. She must have come from or was going to a formal occasion, and decided to stop by for some eats. Seeing her and her companions, men in barong Tagalog and women also in gowns, seated on wooden benches beside tin-topped tables was such an interesting contrast.

Come for the food and the interesting setting. It’ll be a novel – and filling -experience.

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mang inasal can save the world from hunger…

…with its “unlimited rice”.

Yes, the Mang Inasal quick service restaurant that offers as its specialty grilled chicken Negrense inasal style serves unlimited rice to its patrons.  Much like what you’d get in the average home – you know, this much ulam that you have to share with everyone else in the family, but there’s more sinaing in the rice cooker or caldero on the stove if you’re still hungry.

It’s this relaxed, home-style eating theme that this restaurant’s savvy owner and managers have parlayed into commercial success – fortune, fame, and a buy-out by food megagiant Jollibee Corporation.

Inasal is made by marinating chicken in vinegar with minced garlic and tanglad, and grilling. Anatto oil, brushed on during cooking, gives the chicken its distinct orange color. A simple recipe, but flavorful. Don’t forget that at Mang Inasal, it comes with unlimited rice.

How to eat at Mang Inasal:

Step 1. Queue at the counter. Choose items from the lighted menu on the wall. Menu items are no-brainers like chicken (60% of the menu), pork barbeque, bangus, and sisig. These protein-based entrees come free with a cup of sinigang broth and, don’t forget, unlimited rice.

Step 2. Pay the cashier.

Step 3.  The food will be served, so take your number-on-a-stick to your table, insert one end into the carved wooden number stick-holder expressly designed for holding number sticks, and wait.

Step 4. When your food arrives, eat! Galit-galit muna.

Step 5. Drizzle “chicken” (anatto) oil (the sauce bottle on your table not filled with toyo or suka) on your rice for more fat and calories, er, flavor.

Step 6. Ask one of the waitstaff roaming around with what looks like an ice bucket for more rice; he or she will gladly scoop a cup of the hot fluffy steamed onto your plate, as much of it as you want.

Step 7 (optional). Have dessert – save room for halo-halo or sorbetes.

Step 8. Repeat Steps 1 to 7 as often as desired.

I personally know a 20-year old man (I’m talking to you, JM) who ate seven cups of rice at one meal with his order of chicken. And he could have had more, because at Mang Inasal, you get unlimited rice.

Now that’s the way to solve world hunger.

Photos taken with a Nokia C3 2-mp mobile phone cam.

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fine dining at chef’s quarter

My first post for this year concerns something important to everyone – food!

“I’m hungry,” my sister said. “I haven’t had lunch.” It was  four o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Day. My two offspring and I had just met her at Megamall.

She had flown in from Dubai a week ago for Christmas, and I wanted her to enjoy her vacation in Manila. “What do you feel like having?” I asked. We went to the Megamall Atrium to find a decent place to eat. There were a lot of restaurants, but she fixed on a place called Chef’s Quarter, on the third floor.

The facade was modest, yet it was surprisingly roomy inside. We sat a table at the very back, by wide plate-glass windows facing the street. The place was awash in sunlight.

The place has an unassuming facade, tucked away into a little corner. Image here.

We had a helpful and knowledgeable waiter who tossed around terms like “remoulade” and “confit” with abandon but without being a show-off. He also memorized all our orders pat, pen and paper nowhere in sight, when I myself couldn’t keep track of what we’d ordered! Being easily impressed, I was impressed.

For starters we had the Caesar’s salad and the soup du jour, cream of lettuce.  The salad was the best I’ve had so far, with the dressing reminiscent of how my mother makes it from scratch. The greens were lightly tossed in dressing and not drowned in them like everywhere else I’ve had that salad. I have finally found a place where I do not have to request the dressing served on the side.

The soup was thick but not too, with the seasonings blended just right. The button-shaped rolls were sweet and soft, and served with butter rosettes piped into little tiny cups.

For sides we had mixed vegetables and – an interesting concept of this restaurant – a “potato of the day”, which for 1/1/11 was baked potato wedges with pearl onions and garlic. Again, the seasonings were perfect, no need to adjust. The vegetables were done just right, with the right amount of crunch, and the potatoes were tender and flavorful.

For our entrees, we chose paella, replete with seafood and egg; baby back ribs that were falling-off-the-bone tender; penne carbonara with bacon; and lasagna that was creamy and tomatoey-rich.

The paella was superb – the rice a nice saffron-golden color, the shrimp and fish cooked without being overdone.

The baby back ribs were a bit too sweetish for my taste, but the pork was fork-tender, the beans were great, and the greens lightly tossed with a mild vinaigrette that complemented the meat well and was unobtrusive enough not to interfere with the rest of the rich flavors.

The pasta was great, not too toothy, and only tossed in sauce, not deluged in it; the bacon was still crisp when the dish was served.

The lasagna came baked in a dish, rather than served as a slice from a bigger pan. Served with garlic bread, it was creamy and savory.

“So, what did you think?” I asked my sister after the meal. She replied with a satisfied burp.

Chef’s Quarter is one of the best places I have been to, with the food perfect at every turn and the waitstaff accommodating and gracious. We had a wonderful experience and look forward to returning soon and tasting the rest of the dishes on the menu. It was a delicious start to the new year, and I hope this is a harbinger of more good things to come.

Except for the first photo, all photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix L21 using available light.

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pop goes the world: holiday serenity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 December 2010, Thursday

Holiday Serenity

Only in the Philippines, I think, is Christmas celebrated for practically an entire month. Work slows down by the first week of December. Malls, offices, and other public establishments evoke the holiday spirit by decorating, some lavishly, others simply, each according to their inclinations and capabilities.

Ayala Avenue this year is more brightly lit than ever before, with thousands of blazing white lights festooned like strings of  glowing pearls from the trees that line the center of the road, and damn the power bill because it all looks so splendid.

Ayala Avenue this Christmas 2010. Image here.

Shopping is always a favorite pastime of Filipinos, and especially so during this season, when cultural norms of gift-giving are observed. A person would sort the groups of people he knows into several categories – work (bosses, officemates, clients); friends (schoolmates, friends made elsewhere); family (immediate and others); and so on.

The nearest and dearest receive the most expensive presents, while officemates one isn’t close to get the gaily-packaged brownies or cookies bought in bulk from friends who “make negosyo” during the season. And so on. Hierarchy is a cultural meme, maybe even a survival imperative in our DNA, some thinkers suggest, and exerts influence even as we perform this pleasant chore.

It is a festive time, with food playing a major role in providing a sense of comfort and security and adding that extra fillip of extravagance that sets occasions like these apart from the ordinary.

When I was a child, Western fruit like apples, grapes, and oranges were to be had only at Christmas-time, along with chestnuts and walnuts which we cracked against door jambs. My mother made certain dishes only during the holidays – deep-dish one-crust apple pie sprinkled with parmesan cheese on top and fruit salad made with canned US Del Monte fruit cocktail that was mostly peaches, never the local kind that was mostly pineapples and made the salad too sour, and she would add a squeeze of calamansi to cut the sweetness. For an appetizer she would lay out plates of Edam cheese, some slices plain, others fried in butter.

Through the years, she’d mix up the menu, sometimes whipping up Caesar salad dressing from scratch with egg yolks, extra-virgin olive oil, and crushed peppercorns, while her entrees would include falling-off-the-bone roast crown of pork, fondue, beef stew, shrimp tempura, and one of my favorites, chicken marinated in Pepsi, ketchup, and secret spices then grilled over charcoal.

We lived in a series of small apartments that were easy to decorate, and my mother made sure that wherever we were, we always had a Christmas tree with ornaments and silver tinsel and colorfully-wrapped presents underneath, and garlands of evergreen with pine cones and red-and-gold ribbons on the walls.

I’ve kept up our family tradition of a tree. Mine is soft and warm and fuzzy with handmade quilted and cross-stitched ornaments from snail-mail swaps or bought at bazaars. No glitzy tinsel and metallic balls for us, just homespun decorations made with love.

Presents back then were simple – an Enid Blyton book, a kitchen playset, t-shirts. There were no electronic gadgets with their beep-boops and flashing lights distracting people from interacting with each other.

Today, with all the bustle and swirl of activity, the rampant commercialization by merchants, and the over-the-top keeping-up-with-the-neighbors, some might feel the need to slow down and find a quiet place.

Where is yours? It can be an actual location or inside your head. It is wherever one may retreat into calm and peace.

University of the Philippines professor emeritus Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo recently shared with us, her graduate students in creative writing, an essay she wrote titled “In Search of Stillness and Serenity.” In the piece she revisits all her quiet places in the different countries she’s  been to.

Here’s an excerpt, where she tells of an oasis of stillness in the mountains of war-ravaged Lebanon:

“I remember our being invited by Frieda, a member of Tony’s staff, to her family’s old villa in the small Druze town of Abey, up in the mountains. Her great-grandfather had been the village blacksmith and had built the house in the late 19th century. It had walls of thick stone, deep windows, a high, vaulted ceiling, beautiful rosewood furniture, hand-carved and inlaid with nakkar and mother-of-pearl, and lovely old rugs, lamps, pipes, copper coffee pots…

“Frieda walked us through a small forest of oak trees, to the olive orchards, where her father was cutting off large branches and putting them into baskets—the white (green) olives to be made into araq; the red, into vinegar; and the black (the sweetest of all), to eat as part of the traditional Lebanese mezze. And then we came to the olive press, and were offered some freshly baked Arabic bread to dip into the freshly pressed oil, which was delicious.

“And there was a serenity about the olive grove, and the day, and the village itself, which seemed far removed from the ceaseless strife that plagued Lebanon.”

In Philippine culture, the holidays are full of rituals to be observed and traditions to keep up, and we do these joyfully, because it is when the past connects and extends into the present that we feel the tug of the bonds of family, society, history, and culture that define and shape who we are.

Yet in the midst of the maelstrom remember to visit your quiet place, wherever it is, to rest, recharge, and reconnect with yourself and all that you are, and all that you can be.

Happy holidays from my home to yours, and I wish for you blessings of deep peace, utter happiness, and boundless love. ***

Olive oil and bread image here.

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the center of the world

A couple of weeks ago our class on creative non-fiction writing discussed essays on New York City. Our professor, Dr Cristina Hidalgo, told us that many writers spoke of NYC as “the center of the world”. “I’d say UP Diliman is the center of the world!” she said with a laugh.

Which got me to thinking – she was right. Wherever you are is the center of the world for you.

When class was over, I decided to walk around campus a bit.

Beside the Faculty Center is the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum. Right next to its entrance is this fantastic nommery – The Museum Cafe by Cafe Iana (which is at the College of Music). Their butter-rich silvanas melt in the mouth, I promise you.

I acquired my pre-loved Kindle 2 only a couple days before. I explore how it works while enjoying pasta and a cup of brewed coffee. A huge yellow umbrella deflects the sun’s mild rays as I survey an oasis of emerald. It is cool, so cool on my eyes, that even the restless stirrings of my soul are stilled for the moment.

My cup of coffee is adorned with chocolate syrup feathers on steamed milk foam. The brown sugar glitters like crushed gems. I hesitate to drink and destroy the art. But I have seen it, it will always be in my mind’s eye, and the photograph I take lets me share the beauty I see with others.

After the meal, I walk a route familiar from undergraduate days, from the Vargas Museum past the Faculty Center and Palma Hall to the Main Library.

No one from UP calls Palma Hall that. It’s still ‘AS”, short for “College of Arts and Sciences”, which it housed before CAS was split up into the College of Science, College of Arts and Letters, and College of Social Science and Philosophy.

I look up and see a lacy tracery of leaves against the sky. There is always something new to see wherever you are – the trick is to change your angle of vision. Tilt your neck upwards, sideways, this way and that. Risk a stiff neck for a never-seen vista, a novel image. Be open to wonder. Squint. Use your imagination. Look at something upside-down. Experiment, marvel, accept.

Beside the Main Library is a new cafe – Bulwagan Cafe. I must visit it next time and see what caffeinated goodness they have to offer.

On the  front steps of the library are students. I hear there are some inside too, sometimes.

Across the library is a verdant bamboo grove. Beyond it is more grassy expanse, more earth and plants and wee creatures.

As dusk falls, the lamps across campus flick on one by one. I cast a glance back, and spy a lone orange globe glowing amber against the deep green of trees.

Past the library are more trees, lamps, and people for whom this campus is the center of the world, as it is mine this lazy hazy dreamy twilight time.

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Some people collect cows. Figurines, that is. Others collect bells, horses, Noah’s Arks. My dermatologist collects pigs…fat stuffed ones, ceramic statues, and painted renditions on little signs hanging around her office.I love strawberries, but don’t have much of a collection yet. I just have a book on strawberry quilt patterns, a fridge magnet, the ubiquitous strawberry sewing emery that’s in almost every stitcher’s sewing box, and a bottle of strawberry-scented Body Shop bath gel that’s half-empty, a pair of Banana Peel slippers with cartoon berries. Nothing to speak of, by any standards.

I fell in love with berries when I was a child and went on infrequent trips to Baguio. Back then, you only had them in summer, and only if you were going up the mountain or got them as pasalubong from someone who had.

So the fruit for me took on a rare, special, almost magical quality, unlike bananas or papayas or pineapple that you could have everyday.

Later, when I had kids and we used to take yearly trips to Baguio, I always came back with kilos and kilos of the ripe red fruit. I’ve made berry ice cream several times. But my favorite way to eat them is dipped in sugar and cream.

When you hold a strawberry in your hand, don’t squeeze too hard because they are easily bruised. Hold them carefully. Feel the irregular, bulbous shape with the rough seeds scattered across the surface. Flick the leaves and stem with a thumb as you bring it up to your nose and inhale that sweet, unique scent that reminds you of summer, love, and laughter.

Since life is short, I will surround myself with my favorite things. I will start a collection of strawberries – strings of carved and painted wooden berries for hanging in the kitchen; china and glassware printed with berry images; books with pictures of ripe ruby berries.

Soon, I will start on my strawberry quilt and look for just the right cross-stitch pattern for the wall. If there are berries in the supermarket or the fruit stand, I will buy them.

Strawberries make me happy. Don’t forget to find your own happiness, and make room for it in your life.

Image here.

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this little piggy went to market

Just off Plaza Calderon in Sta. Ana, Manila, is a little street lined with shops that sell many different things.

We took a walk there one day to see what we would find.

There were pirated DVDs at three for a hundred pesos (US$2).


Clothes, perhaps from China, Vietnam, or Thailand, most of them only available in small sizes.


A rainbow of handbags.


Plastic beads attract with color…


…as do children’s toys.


Ripe golden mangoes, summer’s sweetest fruit.


Vegetables beckon with color.


Eggs come in many sizes and prices.


Name these fruits in ten seconds – go!


Cookies and bread in a bakery window.


The pig bread has raisin eyes. No pigs were harmed in the making of this bread.


Rice cakes of different kinds.


Hot roasted peanuts – garlic, spicy, and “skinless” – are scooped into a small glass a little bigger than a shot glass, then poured into a little brown paper bag.


Parrots for sale at a pet shop.


Tricycles lined up to take shoppers home.


Apart from things, we also found life – teeming, noisy, vibrant, full of itself, basking in the summer sun.

Photos taken with a Nokia XpressMusic cellphone camera.

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pens in manila

Are there still fountain pens to be found in the wild – in Manila?

Fountain Pen Network-Philippines members went to find that out last February 21, with a field trip to Escolta.

Escolta is part of “old Manila” and used to be the main shopping district from pre-war times until around the 1960s. Luis Store, a fountain pen sales-and-repair shop, has been located there since the 1940s. The plan was to meet up at Savory Restaurant at the corner of Escolta – another local landmark – then visit Luis and any other places that happened to catch our fancy.

On my way there in a cab, I saw many things. The sight of a Philippine flag flying in the warm breeze stirred me to near-tears. It was so beautiful.

A monument to heroes, near Manila City Hall.

It was, I felt, a good start to the day.

When I got to Savory, quite a few FPN-P’ers were already there, scribbling away. While waiting for the others – and for lunch – to arrive, we celebrated our passions of pen, ink, and paper.

The entrance to the FPN-P function room.

Early birds play with pens, paper, and ink – the triumvirate of our obsession.

A peek at some of writer-University of the Philippines professor Dr. Butch Dalisay’s Parker Vacumatics.

Lunch was another celebration, this time of gastronomic delights not often relished. The Savory  flavor is like no other. It is Chinese cuisine, yes. But it is also has a unique identity that sets it apart. Especially the fried chicken, which is famous.

Bird’s nest soup, pansit Canton, Yang Chow fried rice, pork something, fried chicken, and lumpiang Shanghai.

After lunch, it was back to pens.

Raffle items – pens, nibs, a loupe (for peering closely at nibs), and ink.

A leaf from Leigh’s notebook.

The attendance sheet – for pens, not humans.

Spot the Sailor, Danitrio, Pelikan, and Bossert and Erhard.

From Savory, the next stop was Luis Store. The fifteen or so of us crammed into the tiny piece of paradise, ogling the beautiful pens on display. Many of them are NOS (new old stock), some dating back to the 1950s, if not earlier.

Carretelas are still a common form of transportation within the area.

Walking down Escolta to Luis Store. The dome of Sta. Cruz Church can be seen in the distance.

FPN-P’ers crowd into Luis Store.

Dr. Butch Dalisay, Mrs. Pua, and Terrie Pua, who runs the pen store.

Pens on parade.

Plates for the engraving machine.

Class picture!

The Puas pressed boxes of warm and delicious chicken empanada on us, and we ate as we walked. Our next stop was Binondo.

The Starbucks – and the Pancake House beside it, and most other establishments in the area – have signage in Chinese.

Leigh holds up the Frankensnork representing TAO, fellow FPN member. In the background, life in Binondo continues its busy hustle, oblivious to the posse of pen collectors chatting and drinking coffee.

Binondo Square still sports the red and gold lanterns left over from the Lunar New Year celebration.

The penmeets celebrate not only the shared interest in pens and ink, but also friendship, love, life – as do all gatherings. That which binds is important and significant, but when people get together and interact, there is so much more that is shared. Enjoy that. Enjoy each other. Let life be a series of celebrations!

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