Posts Tagged ‘food’

what’s in your bag?

Assignment: Turn out your handbag. Make an inventory of the items inside. Why do you carry them around? What is their significance or value in your life? Discuss.

Some of the things in my handbag:

  • Black Moleskine ruled pocket notebook for jotting down random thoughts and quotes dropped by strangers, like the man of Indian heritage whom I overheard at the Rockwell Pancake House say, “They sprayed the restaurant with bullets…and it happened to be beside our favorite hangout”. This was just after the recent infamous Mumbai massacre.
  • Vintage (‘70s) Sailor “21″ long-short fountain pen, inked with J. Herbin Cyclamen Rose. It is a cartridge fill, convenient and practical.
  • Pink brocade wallet that holds US$1 bills collected from all the purses and handbags my mother has sent me through the years; she inserts them in the pockets as “lucky money” to attract more money. It works, in a way, but they attract Philippine pesos and not more US dollars. *Sigh*.
  • Red FaceShop nail polish to touch up chips.
  • Clinique sample size lipstick in “Blushing Nude”. It came in a box of freebies my sister Aileen sent from Dubai, and for which I thank her profusely, because in it there was also a bottle of eye makeup solvent which I needed for the velvet black Clinique mascara which also came in the box, along with samples of facial soap, Clarifying Lotion, Dramatically Different moisturizer, and a jar of Night Repairware that claims to minimize fine lines and crow’s-feet which I will use only when I’m old and wrinkly, which will be starting tonight.
  • Two bars of Food for the Gods baked by my aunt, with plenty of dates and other dried fruit. Essentially “pocket fruitcake”.
  • Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 that my sister bought me the other day after I said I was looking for liquid lip balm in a tube because Chapstick wasn’t helping all that much anymore to moisturize my aging puckers, and, she said, so that I would have “at least one item of Kiehl’s” in my cosmetic bag. I also mentioned that I was looking for a car, maybe a compact with great mileage, power steering, and candy-apple red body paint, but she didn’t get me one that day although I don’t have one of those yet.
  • One-gigabyte USB thumb drive with a swivel cap. Another freebie from my sister. It was a souvenir from the company she used to work for.
  • A sample vial of Flower by Kenzo fragrance from my mom. She put it in one of the pockets of one of the handbags she sent for Christmas in a balikbayan box. You really have to look in all the pockets of stuff when you get things from my mom.
  • A sachet of 3-in-1 coffee – Choco Fudge by Nestle. My favorite instant coffee with the powerful kick of robusta beans mixed with a hint – only a hint, mind you – of cocoa.
  • A blue, gold, and glitter pearl handbag hook from one of my bosses, who bought it in Hong Kong. The enamel medallion is backed with rubber; you place that on the table surface at, say, a restaurant, allowing the hook to dangle down, from which you then hang your bag, obviating the need to carry your bag in your lap while you eat, which, from personal experience, is a good thing, because sometimes accidents happen like you spill your drink or drop a forkful of food in your lap, and you don’t want to get that gunk on your bag, but it’s okay if it falls in your lap because in theory there should be a napkin spread there.
  • Cherry Chapstick. What can I say? I’m a loyalist. And it smells great. And it’s famous because it was mentioned in that song by Katy Perry, although as a bit of an old-fashioned person I don’t hold with the rest of the lyrics aside from the words “Cherry Chapstick”, “the”, “and”, “it” and “of”.

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“friends forever…”

The Philippines, according to Wikipedia, is said to observe the longest Christmas season in the world.

This is true. Malls put up Christmas trees and play carols as early as September. Homes are festooned with lights in November. I was aghast to learn that a cousin in the US bought her tree only a week ago; I had ours up and flashing by November 3, right after hundas or the local Dia del Muerte observances.

By the first week of December, restaurants and bars are fully booked for the seemingly endless rounds of parties. For the average employed Filipino adult, there are at least two that one can count on being invited to – the office party and the barkada get-together. The entire month is one big party, and everyone’s invited!

Work and office planning is hardly done around this time – “Magpa-Pasko na (Christmas is coming), you should’ve done that in October or November,” is something heard frequently. Most activities are postponed. “After Christmas na ‘yan, ha.” Work slows. Shopping speeds up. Stores are full of people, pockets bulging with their thirteenth-month pay and bonuses, eager to spend it all on gifts for family and friends. Employers nod indulgently as employees take two-hour lunches and return laden with shopping bags. They themselves leave early for corporate holiday affairs, golf tournaments in Baguio, and out-of-the-country vacations.

With pressure easing  on all sides, a sense of relaxation pervades. This makes the holidays a perfect time for renewing friendships. Last Friday, I met up with one of my best friends, Adelle Chua, opinion editor of Manila Standard-Today, where I am a horseracing columnist. We see each other perhaps three to four times a  year. We eat, catch up on the latest, eat, share feminist philosophies, eat. We did all our eating at the Racks’ in El Pueblo (Ortigas), where the succulent and tender sweet baby back ribs and side dishes keep us coming back for more.

After dinner, we went for dessert and coffee next door, to San Francisco Coffee Co. Die-hard Starbucks habitues, we were thinking of walking to the one at Emerald Avenue. But SFCC had an interesting sign – “Free WiFi.” We swung the glass doors open and walked in.

Not that we were able to try out the wi-fi. A delicious smell of syrup and coffee wafted us into our seats. Comfortably ensconced with coffee in mugs and an oatmeal bar in front of us, we chatted the night away. We must have covered a dozen topics, ranging from parents and parenting, DNA testing, and religion to fountain pens, the effects of aging on interpersonal relationships, and inner-spring mattresses.

Adelle and I are both writers. Bound by our common love of language, we deplored the declining standards of grammar, spelling, and technical proficiency. We drowned our sorrows over the fall of belles lettres in large mugs of our favorite brew.

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I love San Francisco Coffee’s Raspberry Mocha. The best talaga, ever!

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This is a nice, quiet place with very good coffee and pleasant, accommodating baristas who let us stay a little past closing and said not a word, letting us leave when we were ready. I wish they had more branches around the city.

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After Adelle and I exchanged goodbyes and promises to meet again soon, I trekked to Metrowalk for another reunion – this time with batchmates from the Ateneo de Manila University Regis MBA program. The invitation came from Atty. Natus Rodriguez, Atty. Noel de Leon, and Major Edmar de la Torre. How could I say no to two lawyers and a cop?

The venue was Aruba, a trendy bar-cum-dance club part-owned by Natus. It’s a terrific place that plays ’80s music, both live and canned.  The crowd is upscale. Meaning they can headbang and respect personal space at the same time.

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Natus ordered our party of ten his favorite drink. I forget what it’s called, but it’s served in shot glasses. A brown fluid lurks at the bottom while a milky liquid floats on top. Then it’s set on fire. Straws are handed round, the drink is sucked up, everyone applauds. It goes straight to your brain.

This time around, there isn’t much conversation, what with the loud music, dancing, and flaming drinks. Yet just seeing each other there was enough. Communication was achieved, the message being, “I cared enough to invite you/ I cared enough to come. We’re still friends.” We whisper into each other’s ears, catch up a bit, exchange phone numbers, find out how we can help each other.

But don’t wait until the holidays to refresh your relationships with your friends. Just like a plant, friendships can wither and die if not fed often with communication. Stay in touch. Make that your New Year’s resolution.

taste more:

a latte and a cinnamon bun

Good morning! What are you having for breakfast? I’m having a latte and cinnamon bun. My latte is actually a blend of Starbucks Kape Vinta brewed in a french press, with half a cup of water and a tumblerful of this creamy milk.

With the melamine-in-Chinese-milk scandal still very much in the headlines, my children and I were at first apprehensive about the safety of our favorite brand of milk. We drink liters of this stuff, and I figure if there were melamine in it we’d have keeled over long ago. We use skim with cereal and for cooking, but for drinking from a glass, nothing beats the taste of full cream.

No affiliation or anything like that, it’s just one of my favorite things. Along with the cinnamon bun.

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let them eat – cupcakes!

It was a serendipitous walk around the basement of PowerPlant Mall that led us to a cheerful little stall all ablaze in pink. Called “The Sweet Life by Ange”, this home-based bakery purveys cupcakes; “Sweet Surrender”, their variation of Brazo de Mercedes with French vanilla ice cream; and cheesecake cookies.

The adventure into their take on the sweet life begins with the adorable packaging. The box combines my favorite color -pink – with complements of ivory and chocolate.

When you open the box, a delectable sight greets your eyes – a dozen cupcakes, generously iced with artistic swirls, cherries, candy hearts, or chocolate beans perched atop.

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“Couture Cupcakes”. Top, L-R: Marie Antoinette (vanilla cupcake with Tequila Rose Buttercream), Chanel (moist chocolate cupcake with Valrhona Buttercream). Below, L-R: Satine (red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting), Sugar Daddy (moist chocolate cupcake with Bailey’s Buttercream).

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Their sampler box of 12 mini cupcakes is dressed with a pink bow.

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Twelve bite-sized chunks of cake tempt and delight.

“The Sweet Life by Ange” will be at Rockwell during the “Bakers’ Dozen” sale, every weekend until December.

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food and fountain pens, a perfect combination!

Filipino fountain pen collectors gathered to celebrate pens, ink, and a fellow collector’s birthday at the second meeting of the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines (FPN-P) chapter last Saturday (August 23) at the home of stockbroker/musician Jay Ignacio.

Multi-talented birthday celebrant Jay, who is also a chef specializing in Italian cuisine, whipped up a delectable feast for fellow FPN-P members: grilled chicken salad, Italian meatloaf with creamy mushroom sauce, vegetarian penne (“Eh kasi nga naman ‘pen’ meet ito,” said Jay), and appetizers of cold cuts and chunks of parmigiano meant to be eaten with orange marmalade.

The piece de resistance was the magnificent “Nakaya Rose” cake and matching cupcakes, commissioned by Jay’s family from a bakeshop specializing in bespoke pastry.

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No, the pens were not edible. But they were very very pretty and we all wished they were real.

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The inspiration for the cakes came from these print ads in a pen magazine (photos by Ayee Ignacio)

It might have been Butch Palma, who lived in the US for over two decades, who said that penmeets in the US get along fine with just doughnuts and coffee. We all looked at each other and shrugged. In the Filipino culture, all gatherings are marked by an abundance of food. You can no more have a meeting without food than you can have a penmeet without – er – pens.

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Penfriends (L-R) Butch Dalisay, Caloy Abad Santos, Jay Ignacio, Chito Limson, Butch Palma, and Leigh Reyes

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Leigh shows Chito how to smoothen a scratchy nib with Micromesh

Butch P., who has around 400 pens in his collection, has made a hobby of pen restoration, as has Leigh. Together they made a terrrific tag team – Butch P. to align the tines of nibs, Leigh to smoothen them – for their impromptu fountain pen “lying-in” (not quite a hospital or a clinic). In just a few minutes, they massaged a recalcitrant Recife of Butch D.’s into smooth-as-silk condition.

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Pens and inks were the stars of the party. Towards the bottom of the image are big guns such as Arita, Montegrappa, Pelikan, and Visconti. The two gray pen trays in the upper part of the image show Butch P.’s “for sale” pens – among them lovely vintage Sheaffer Snorkels, Balances, and Triumphs, all of which he has fully restored and rendered functional. At the very top, the red felt-lined wooden box stows some of Butch D.’s Pelikans.

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The bright orange ink on the left is “Majestic Orange” from Noodler’s Singapore line. Dubbed “bulletproof and eternal” , it will not wash away from paper nor can it be removed with bleach or other chemical means including airplane degreasers. The paper will disintegrate first. Yes, it’s that tough.

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Leigh’s bottle of “evil” Noodler’s Baystate Blue – it stains horribly, yet has such a vibrant, eye-popping color. Bravely, Caloy filled a pen with this potent potion.

Like collectors of every stripe, we talked about our obsessions for five enjoyable hours that quickly passed. Pens exchanged hands and were dipped in the inks that we shared with each other – Noodler’s Singapore line was well represented with Spirit of Bamboo, Majestic Orange, Vanda Miss Joaquim, and Singapore Sling.

Also on hand to try were Leigh’s Noodler’s Baystate Blue and Jay’s “vanilla” black Parker Quink, which Leigh used to lubricate the pens for smoothening. My favorite was the Diamine Cerise from Leigh, a happy cheerful hue that satisfies my craving for pink ink. With our nibs soaked in rainbows, we executed swirls and flourishes in copperplate and chicken scratch, as the fancy took us.

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Leigh’s calligraphy. This is what FPs can do, in well-trained and artistic hands. The line variations are possible only with semi-flex and flexible nibs, usually stubs and italics. (Photo by Butch Dalisay)

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My pens (L-R): late 20′s hard rubber ringtop, ’30s celluloid Wahl-Eversharp, mid-’30s Sheaffer Ebonized Pearl Junior, ’30s Welsharp mini, mid-’30s Sheaffer Black-and-Pearl petite, ’70s Pilot 77, 1944 Parker Vacumatic, ’30s Wearever, ’30s Sheaffer Balance Jet Black Lady, ’30s Sheaffer Balance Golden Brown Striated standard size, ’30s Sheaffer Balance Jet Black Lady (photo by Butch Dalisay)

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brownies and ice cream: perfect combination!

With the heat of summer threatening to melt the skin off your bones, anything cool is a respite and to be eagerly embraced. Ice cream is tops on the list.

Shakey’s, famous for thin and crunchy pizzas, offers this Brownie Ala Mode treat.

Surprisingly – it is g0o0d. The Sta. Ana, Manila branch serves the brownie base warm and the ice cream almost frozen. The brownie cake is marbled, about nine inches in diameter and huge, meant for sharing.

Value for money plus great flavor and presentation – Shakey’s has a winner here!

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sunday lunch at max’s

Max’s at Greenbelt 1 beckoned to us for lunch last Sunday. As usual, a christening celebration was being held in the backroom, while the front dining area was crammed. Max’s, a Filipino classic established in the ’50s, is a favorite for family celebrations.

On the wall, a photomural shows the menu and prices of over forty years ago.

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While it calls itself “the house that fried chicken built”, Max’s has added other dishes to its repertoire, constantly re-inventing itself over the years.

Alex, Ik, and I shared half a chicken, pasta carbonara with garlic bread, and lumpiang shanghai with sweet-and-sour sauce.

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Dessert was leche flan in a pool of golden syrup, and halo-halo with everything on it.

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Ube ice cream sprinkled with pinipig crowns the halo-halo; chunks of flan, ube jam, plaintain banana, with other sweet preserves add to the medley of flavors that speak of a Filipino summer.

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tanabe: turning japanese

A birthday, at any age, is always special and must be celebrated. So for Oyet’s 44th, we tried out Tanabe, a Japanese restaurant at Mall of Asia.

The place is decorated in restful grays and tans. The ten-page menu is crammed with all sorts of delectables. Try the Beef Mini-Gyudon; it’s tender and sweet. It comes with a salad, tofu, and miso soup.

Also highly recommended are the Vegetable Spring Rolls, the Ebi Tempura, Tamago Maki, and the Salmon Sashimi, so fresh and succulent. The California Maki is particularly good; the sushi chef had a liberal hand with the roe. The rice rolls filled with mango, kani, and cucumber, which can be dry at chain establishments, are juicy at Tanabe and are a visual treat, plated on a turquoise dish.

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The evening was made especially memorable by staff Neri and Rose, who, upon learning what we were celebrating, came out of the kitchen at the end of our meal bearing plates of sliced watermelon and pineapple, and singing “Happy Birthday”. Thanks to restaurateur Tony de Ubago for a wonderful dinner and a magical evening, now a part of our family memories.

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muffin day; or, growing up in the late ’70s part 1

UPDATE: This piece was published in slightly modified form on 8 July 2012 in the first issue of the Sunday Manila Standard-Today, revived after an eight-year hiatus.

There’s this old Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook that’s been in the family for years. It belonged to my mother, Malu Ledesma Lacson Alonso, who received it from her nanny, Phoebe Elustrisimo. Lola Phoebe migrated to the US when my mom was a teenager, but she did bring many warm memories of baking cookies and muffins, and brushing my mother’s long brown hair in the mornings.

My mother and I, 1968.

As a child I preferred to stay indoors and read, rather than go out and play. On my great-aunt Bennett’s sugar cane hacienda in Bacolod,  where I lived for a year, there were no other children my age and I was not allowed to play with the children “nga halin sa uma” (“from the farm”).

When I was brought back to Manila and our little apartment near Vito Cruz, the neighbor kids were mostly boys and played rough. Not that I minded the knockabout games. I was a little tomboy, and the best on the swing, going as high up as I could and jumping off at the very peak of the arc. “Dangerous” games proved your bravery; any kid who didn’t join in was a sissy. Girls were exempted from this, but a girl who was as tough as the boys got extra points in street cred. My rep was “small but terrible”.

To this day I’m amazed I didn’t crack a leg or some other useful body part. I wonder how nearly all of us went through our childhood practically unscathed. The only casualties I recall were Alan next door (his family owned the swing) who broke his arm, and Mars across the street who snapped something in his chest when rough-housing with his German Shepherd. The break never healed properly and he developed a “pigeon chest”, a sort of protusion that shocked us all into a wary respect for dogs.

It was boring and meaningless, keeping up the street rep among my playmates, and increasingly, I retreated into the other worlds of books. One of my favorites was this same 1956 edition Betty Crocker cookbook of my mom’s. I’d pore over it for hours, flipping through the slick pages, ogling the glossy color pictures of classic American dishes – apple pie, strawberry shortcake, Eggs ala Goldenrod.

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Written in the politically-incorrect ’50s, before organic foods and vegetarianism became fashionable, many recipes call for lard (an ingredient banned from today’s enlightened kitchens, where “lowfat” cooking is de riguer), meal suggestions are built around red meat and carbohydrates, and vegetable recipes occupy less than ten pages – most of them variations on deep-fried this or that. Phrases such as “low-calorie” and “artificial sweetener” are nowhere to be found; “cookie” is spelled with a “y”.  The illustrations are quaint and oh-so Fifties: women in flaring skirts and aprons lean over ovens, brandish ladles.

The chapters on baking were closest to my heart. The “Quick Breads” (pancakes, muffins, and waffles), “Cakes”, “Pies”, and “Cookies” pages became the most dog-eared and creased. An instructional manual, the book contains step-by-step pictures on how to sift flour, knead dough, roll out pastry. Sort of like a primitive “Baking for Dummies”, but with photos.This proved a godsend to me when I actually started cooking on my own after I got married in 1990. Though a beginner at cooking, it was like my hands already knew what to do, thanks to those instructions.

When my mom moved to the US in the early 80s and took that beloved cookbook with her, I was bereft, like I had lost a close friend.

There’s a happy ending to this, though. Maybe ten years later, I coaxed my mom to send that cookbook to me in a balikbayan box. She was reluctant to let it go; as for me, it had much sentimental value for her. I suggested that it was time for the next generation (my children Alex and Erika) to enjoy that heirloom. That argument proved to be persuasive. Once in my hands, I placed that half-a-century old book in a place of honor on the shelf.

Ik is the most interested in this old book. As I did, she studies the pictures and reads the recipes. Over the past several months this year, the inspiration built up to such a crescendo that yesterday, she convinced her ate Alex to help her bake muffins.

Here they are. Golden brown, fluffy, and perfect smothered with butter. Great with coffee? You bet. Congratulations, Ik and Alex!

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The 52-year-old heirloom cookbook; the “how to bake muffins” page; Alex, Ik and muffins

For me, this particular cycle has come full circle, in terms of my children’s participation in the mythos of family traditions and rituals that shape so much of who we are and what we influence our children to become. Yet time in the real world is linear, not circular. I stretch my mind to the future, where I see my grandchildren reading that Betty Crocker cookbook (now 70, 80 years old), baking buttery golden muffins for their lola, tita, and mom.

Thus the cookbook is not merely a book, a construct of paper and ink, but a vessel of familial rites, a repository of histories, and a catalyst for the creation of fresh, life-shaping memories.

taste more:

ice cream and pizza

It was a very hot day. The kids and I wanted a cool snack,  and Icebergs at Glorietta seemed a good choice. The restaurant offers halo-halo with everything on it and other traditional Pinoy goodies like mais con hielo;  sundaes, parfaits, and other ice cream concoctions; and regular food like sandwiches.

Ik had a chocolate chip sundae; Alex and I shared a peach-banana split, which was good. Whipped cream was squirted on with a lavish hand, the bananas were fresh and unblemished.

But instead of having scoops of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, the split had no chocolate, but some kind of yellow ice cream. It didn’t taste like mango nor cheese, and remains unidentified to this hour.

After the ice cream, I got the kids the “desires of their sole” – a pair each of Converse All-Star high-cuts (“Chucks”), and a pair of sandals (“non-Chucks”) each.

Then, supper. On our way to the taxi stand at Glorietta 4, Ik was stopped in her tracks by a Pizza Hut Bistro sign. Being constitutionally unable to resist pizza in any size, shape, or form, Ik went in, drawn by the siren’s song of the posters displaying huge, cheesy pizzas; Alex and I followed.

The Pizza Hut Bistro is an attempt to attract the upscale A-B market by offering most of the food available at regular Pizza Huts but in more elegant surroundings. Wine racks stand by the door, a wine bottle sits upon each table, the menu makes liberal use of edgy professional photography, and the plates and cutlery whisper “almost, but not quite, fine dining”.

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Alex told me to order the fettucine Alfredo. It was fine, but needed salt, which I sprinkled liberally from a handsome saltcellar. the pasta was al dente, cooked just right, not too firm, not too mushy.

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Alex (who’s 16) had the fish and chips, which she says is “very good, especially with the garlic dip.” Her extreme satisfaction with the dish basically rendered her speechless and incapable of giving a more detailed review except to give it two thumbs up and a large, goofy grin.

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With pizza being the house specialty, the arrival of Ik’s  Five-Cheese Pizza was eagerly awaited and, gladly, did not disappoint. Although unable to ascertain what exactly the five cheeses were, Ik (who is 9) pronounced a verdict of “really really good, like it said on the menu, ‘cheese lover’s dream’. Although you might get headaches if you try the Five-Cheese pizza with the cheese-stuffed crust. It’s a cheese overload.” Headaches notwithstanding, we finished the entire thing. It was that good.

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