Fast Fantastic Food at Estero

Last Sunday, I woke up wanting to go to Ongpin, the Chinese Capital of the Philippines.  As soon as I opened my eyes after a long and quiet sleep, my katawang lupa (flesh and corporeal being) just suddenly crave for the look, the noise and the smell of Ongpin. 

Thanks to super friend Willie, he accompanied me and made my silly craving a reality.  My longing was really plain and unchallenging.  I just wanted to walk the super busy street of Ongpin, buy a snack and then leave.  But thank goodness I was with itinerant Willie because he knows a very good eatery in this old and hoary part of Manila.

We dined at what is known as Estero.  It is a non-air-conditioned diner that is right beside a creek and a tidal channel used as drainage canal in the overly populated area of Manila. I was at first so tentative and doubtful about the place.  But when the gentle lady manning the eatery approached us and handed the menu, I knew that I was into some exciting gastronomic adventure. 

estero (if I was the owner, i would call it “estuary” para sosyal)
classic yang chow rice and the surprisingly good hototay soup!
joyous version of their mung bean sprouts
buttered chicken is love
happy tummy!

Estero is tagged as a fast food on the internet but it is unlike the usual fast food that items were pre-prepared and placed on a heater display.  Estero food are only cooked upon ordering.  Maybe the reason why it is called fast food is because the kitchen is equipped with high pressure burners and the cooks prepare their dishes so fast.  In a haste, the server was already serving our freshly cooked Hototay and the surprisingly crunchy Stir-Fried Mung Bean Sprouts.

Aside from the very good food, Estero’s price was surprisingly cheap.  Total bill of all the fantastic dishes we ordered was roughly around 8 (US) dollars.

Yam yam!

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Jamie’s Italian Bangkok

One epicurean highlight of me, my sisters’ and my mother’s adventure in Bangkok was the opportunity to dine at Jamie’s Italian.  It is a popular worldwide chain of Italian restaurants conceived and run by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.  Thanks to cable TV my family knows who Jamie Oliver is.

This chain of restaurants has recently been in the news in which about a dozen of its branches scattered around the world are reportedly beleaguered and will soon be closing.  It is so ironic that it has yet to open a branch in Manila, yet branches in other spots on the planet are already closing.

So before Jamie’s Italian would completely dissolve and utterly disappear from the face of earth, me, Nengkoy and my sisters took the chance to savor some of its dishes.  My family love watching cable TV cooking shows (including that of Jamie Oliver’s) and now that there is an opportunity, we will no longer forever wonder how a popular celebrity chef’s creation actually taste like.

These are what we ordered…

Soup of the Day… pumpkin soup! This surprisingly passed the palate of Nengkoy whom I consider to be an authority when it comes to pumpkin soups.
Meatball Pappadelle (free-range pork & fennel meatballs in ‘nduja tomato sauce with olives, herby breadcrumbs, rocket and parmesan) this is sooo good…
Spaghetti Alla Norma (a classic sicilian pasta dish or aubergine, chilli & basil in rich tomato sauce) it’s vegetarian yet my personal favorite! 
Truffle Shuffle (white sauce, truffled salami, fontal, balsamic onions, free-range egg & black truffle) super savory!
Epic Chocolate Brownie (with proper chocolate sauce, salted caramel ice cream and caramelised popcorn) super yummy!

And after enjoying all these savory dishes, I wonder why a significant number of Jamie’s Italian branches around the planet are in the brink of closure.  Maybe it’s because taste buds of people around the world has mutated, regressed and had a relapse that it can no longer fathom, appreciate and recognize what good food is.

Good to know that the Bangkok branch stays strong and dynamic.  This is considering the fact that Thai people seem to be one of the most discriminating in terms of flavor, taste and palatal experience.  With the luscious taste and flavors we experienced at Jamie’s Italian Bangkok located at Siam Discovery, I hope that this chain remain for a long period of time for others with discerning taste to enjoy. 

me and nengkoy… enjoyed the food so much!

Parang ako ang kasarapan!

Food for Thoughts at China Blue

Every time a member of my family finishes his or her studies – may it be elementary, high school or college – the graduation dinner treat for him or her is always held at the old, not so expensive and not so savory Filipino restaurant in Malate, Manila (which I refuse to name).  It has always been the tradition that Nengkoy got to insist that the celebration be held in that restaurant may you graduated with summa cum laude honors or you finished at the bottom of your class’ ranking.

But for the Master’s Degree graduation of my nephew Luis, I got to choose the restaurant!  Nengkoy allowed that it be held someplace else maybe it is because the graduation is not just an ordinary bachelor’s degree but something higher, more advanced and more difficult to obtain.

I chose China Blue.  Having previously enjoyed the savory food I this authentic Cantonese Restaurant located inside Conrad Hotel, Manila, I knew that Nengkoy and the members of my family in that dinner would truly enjoy some sumptuous treat!

Nengkoy with Team Langit. Congratulations Luis!
the mandatory photo-taking of me and nengkoy…
super nice private room where we had dinner… the waiter i guess felt that me and my family are so noisy we were billeted in this private room

And since I arrive early in the restaurant, took the liberty of ordering the dishes for our group.  And when everyone arrived and each dish was being brought in into our room, I asked my family not to touch the dish until I tell them to because I want to take pictures of it.

Here’s the actual photos of some of our orders.  And since I lack the ability on how to properly describe each dish, let me then attach a Chinese proverb for every one of it…

when you drink the water, remember the spring.
(paper thin crispy beef in sweet and spicy sauce)
a bird does not sing because it has an answer. it sings because it has a song.
(sweet vinegar marinated cherry tomatoes with sour plum)
when the winds of change blow, some people build walls while other build windmills.
(barbeque honey-glazed matsusaka pork neck)
what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.
(steamed truffle mushroom buns)
he who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left
(crispy fried shrimp salad with wasabi dressing)
pearls don’t lie on the seashore. if you want one you must dive for it (hahaha! can’t remember what this yummy dish is called)
true knowledge is when one knows the limitations of one’s knowledge
(pork belly wok fried)
if you always give, you will always have
(crispy pumpkin coated with salted duck eggs)
if you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow
(fried spinach bean curd with spicy sichuan eggplant with minced chicken sauce)

I failed to take a photo of the Buchi or glutinous rice dumpling with red bean filling coated with sesame seeds (our desert) which according to our waiter Angel was a very good choice because it was the award-winning dessert of China Blue Manila.  My family are all sweet toothed, it would not come as a surprise that everyone would just rapidly dig into the delicately sweet Buchi and would not care if I have already taken a photo or not.

I really can’t figure out what specific dish was the highlight of that dinner.  It is because every dish was beautiful, every dish was delicious and every dish deserves a big round of applause!

And when Luis would decide to further pursue his studies, doctorate degree that is.  I’m pretty sure Nengkoy would again agree that Luis’ PhD graduation dinner be held again in China Blue Manila.

Kongrats Luis!

Three Meal Periods at the Number 2 Restaurant in Alaminos Pangasinan

This blog post officiates my being an avid fan of Celia’s Café, the number 2 restaurant according to TripAdvisor in Alaminos Pangasinan.  Number 1 restaurant of course is the old and tired Maxine By The Sea located at Lucap.  Though run-down and the food served were average, Maxine By The Sea is the leading restaurant in Alaminos.  Its TripAdvisor’s number 1 because it is located at a wharf near the dock where tourists would have to take a boat ride to reach the majestic Hundred Islands.  It’s one of those rare eateries whose reason for being number 1 is not their food nor their service but its location.  I still remember way back in the early 90’s was the first time I dined there.  It was also my first time in Hundred Islands!

me, my sister and a few of my monster pamangkins

The number 2 restaurant on the other hand seem to possess the thrilling potential of becoming the leader among restaurants in Alaminos.  Celia’s Café seem to capture the urbanized and the ruralized feel.  Their ambience and facilities are homey yet urbanite.  Because of the modern feel of the ambience, you will never miss the feeling of being in an urbanized city when you dine there.  But their warm service is naively bucolic.  Celia’s Café are manned by gentle and courteous lads, which reminds you that you are indeed in a countryside away from the jungles of Manila.

But what I particularly love about Celia’s Café is the food.  It’s surprisingly delicious!  During my recent revisit, I again ordered the Pasta Longganisa for lunch, the one I ordered the first time I dined there.  All I can say is that it is consistently luscious.  The only thing that changed was the bread.  It is because it is now tastier and more delicious.  The focaccia bread was so good, I ordered extra and even ordered take-out so as to bring it back to Manila!

focaccia inside a bag (my take away!)
yum!

And since there seem to be no agreeable restaurant establishment in Alaminos except for Celia’s Café, me and my family returned at dinner time.  We ordered the platter in which, one order is already good for four (4).  I was especially impressed by the flavors of the Chicken Platter.  It is because each dish in the platter tasted differently.  It was unlike the platter offerings by other restaurants in which each dish seem to taste the same with other dishes in the platter.  The Southern Style Fried Chicken was of a totally different flavor from the Chicken Salpicao and the Chicken Salpicao was of a totally different taste from the Pork Tonkatsu.  And what is best about the platter was the generous serving of rice!  To top it off, we were surprised to find out that our ordered platter comes with a whole serving of soft and chewy pancakes!

The following morning before heading back to the jungles of Manila, me and my family returned to Celia’s Café to have breakfast.  I had the big fulfilling English Breakfast, which I guess is the only English breakfast dish served in the whole of Alaminos province.

Enough said and I am impressed if you reached this point of this blog.  Hahaha!  I think I already said that I am a fan.

Tagahanga! Dats mi!

Just Myself at Stinking Rose

One downside of being a solo traveler, which I realized during my San Francisco CA solo expedition, is that I am to eat alone.  Good thing I am living by myself in Manila, thus, the impact of eating solo in a foreign country is not disturbing if compared to those who are so used to sharing a thought and their food with someone else during a meal.

Because of this glitch, I avoided fancy restaurants and during meal periods I can be found in a communal table of a food court, an indie coffee shop or in a park munching a dish I bought from a food stall or food truck.

nice interiors…
crispy baby romaine, grana & croutons
main event!
main course! hahaha!
will be back!

But when my college best friend Marie (now based in Los Angeles) recommended that I should try and dine at Stinking Rose, I never had a second thought. One late lunch period, I navigated the streets of SF and proceeded to Columbus Avenue where the Italian restaurant is located.

The receptionist upon knowing that I am dining “just myself”, she was smart and gentle enough to assign me to a good and strategic table (a corner by the window) which seem intended really for solo diners.

I ordered a 3-course Prix Fixe Dinner bundle.  For the main course I settled with the one recommended by the waiter, the Forty Clove Garlic Chicken.  And when the food was served, I totally forgot about the glitches and hurdles of dining solo in a fancy or busy restaurant.

On a bright side of this experience, since my mind would not be diverted or side-tracked from this gustatory encounter, I actually was able to indeed levy the quality and taste of the food that was served at Stinking Rose.  I was more focus and conscious about the palatal attributes of the food I was devouring.  And my verdict about Stinking Rose?  Let me just say that my super friend Marie cares for my palatal satisfaction.  She indeed gave me an excellent recommendation!

havin’ a blast!

I may forget that I dined solo at Stinking Rose but the gustatory experience I had with this Italian restaurant shall be remembered for a very long time.

Salamat Marie…

Stregato Gelateria: A Gem in Balanga Bataan

It is starting to become a habit that every time I and my colleagues got to spend an overnight weekend adventure out-of-town, we would first have to dine in a well-liked or budding restaurant or coffee shop. Part of the adventure is to scout and google the nicest food joint that our destination can brag about.  And when we have chosen one, we would agree that before proceeding to our final destination to check-in we would have a detour by having either a breakfast, a brunch or a lunch in our chosen eatery.

On our way to Las Casas De Filipinas De Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan for an overnight weekend, I and my colleagues stopped over the agricultural city of Balanga in Bataan.  We had lunch at Stregato Geleteria, a cute and charming Italian-inspired diner right in the middle of the city (right beside The Plaza Hotel and at the ground floor of Galeria Victoria Mall).

cute!

Stregato Gelateria was one surprising restaurant.  First timers like us easily fell in love with the interiors and ambiance of the place.  And surprisingly, the service was pretty quick and the food were superb!

I particularly ordered the Slow-Cooked Roasted Pork Belly.  And that was indeed a winner!

slow-cooked roast pork! yum!

All of us agree that another impressive thing about the food is that the serving-size were just perfect.  The portion was not too much neither too little for its reasonable price.  Their prices were actually not reasonable because it’s unreasonably low!  With an endearing ambiance and flavorful food, Stregato Gelateria is definitely comparable and in the level of pricey diners and coffee shops here in Manila.

And since our tummy were not too full nor felt shortchanged we decided to order two slices of cakes – the mindboggling Ferrero cake and the marvelous Mango Crème Brulee cake.  One Tagalog word for their desserts… sarap!

sarap!
cakes cakes cakes!
a reason to come back
mga batang bagac!

All of us further agreed that Stregato Gelateria is a gem of a restaurant in Balanga, Bataan.  If given the chance to be back in this beautiful old province, I will definitely not miss eating at Sregator Gelateria.

Sarap sa Ingles… dilisyus (parang ako)!  

Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza is the Winner

I thought my best choice of restaurant in Queenstown that me and my friends dined at would be the establishment that will fix my rice-deprived anatomy.  Yeah, unlike the Philippines, rice is not a staple in New Zealand and my few days of stay in that fresh country made me yearn for it.  I know that I get all grumpy and grouchy if I don’t have rice in my meal for a couple of days.

But surprisingly, the best and finest food establishment I encountered in my recent New Zealand adventure was that of Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza Bar.  Located at The Mall in Queenstown, Winnie’s is a relaxed and casual part-bar and part-restaurant kind of a joint. I loved the ambiance because it is not plush, ritzy and intimidating.

What particularly made me love this restaurant was the food.  Their gourmet pizza was really outstandingly delicious!  And with a quick look into their pizza selection, I can tell that their pizzas were not just the classic types but instead seem to embrace various flavors around the world.  I noticed some Thai inspirations, a Moroccan fabrication, a Hawaiian motivation and some Mexican creations.

zucha  & montanara (flavors of heaven)

With limited tummy space, my friend Denton was smart enough to order one large sized pizza in which each half is of a different flavor.  We settled for the Montanara, which I consider to be the sinful half of the pizza and the Zucha for the wholesome and healthier half.  Both are gluten-free by the way.

Zucha according to my happy taste buds got some roasted pumpkin, olives, some feta cheese, capsicum and toasted almonds.  The blending of these flavors above the crunchy pizza crust, pizza sauce, Parmesan cheese and parsley brings magic to ones palette!

Montanara according to our gracious waitress was the most popular among all their pizzas.  That is why we ordered for it.  And from the first bite of this delectable creation, I knew that the waitress knows what she was doing. This is actually the first time that I have eaten a pizza in which you would have to spread pistachio sour cream on it.  A mound of this yummy cream is actually placed at the middle of the pizza!

The Montanara toppings which consists of chicken fillets, brie cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spring onions and sweet chili sauce, no doubt, was absolutely delicious.  It’s one pizza that gives me a reason to return and revisit Queenstown.  The taste was just marvelously unforgettable!

chicken!
chicken!
a kiwi classic
is this a kiwi classic? we loved it… especially when we dip the mussel meat into the cream sauce!

Aside from the pizza, we also ordered the succulent chicken wings which surprisingly was not oily and so tasty and crunchy.  And to add a Kiwi flavor in our meal, we of course ordered New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels.  Winnie’s freshly steamed NZ mussels in shallots, capsicum, white wine, cream and sweet chili sauce was one of the best in Queenstown.  I can say this because in almost all restaurants that we dined we always seem to order NZ mussels.  And Winnie’s version was always our basis of comparison.

happy tummy!
happy tummy!

With all these superlative thoughts, accounts and narratives about Winnie’s, I guess, I can really say that it is one of the must visits if you happen to be in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Winer ang tami ko sa Wini’s!