The Illy Series: Pizzarella Bistro

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Day Three at The Illy. The rain was still steady but already a more manageable drizzle. I got up earlier in an effort to catch the lunchtime lechon cutting. The PussyKat has long raved about how lechon at The Illy as way better than Cebu’s. There was no way pork could be that good in Mindanao, I told myself. I queef everytime to subdue my island pride.

We arrived at Dodong’s, currently The Illy’s Best Lechon title-holder, with only the rump and a part of the head on display. This was exactly at noon. The half-kilo we split wasn’t stellar but I bet it would have been great fresh off the spit, steaming hot with the skin all crispy. Ravenous when we got there, we treated it as a filler and even forgot to take pictures.

Pizzarella was a short ride back into the direction of the city and located on the far end of a four-unit strip mall. The owners put much effort in giving it an modern Italian pizzeria vibe with dark wood furniture, kooky murals and vintage-feel pop-art prints. The menu was kept simple with only a few pizza variants, some pastas and other bites on the flipside. Predictably, I ordered the Burgerella — a “Burger in a Pizza”, “a sprinkle of burger patties on a creamy white sauce infused with a trio of Mozarella, Cheddar and melted cheese, topped with green bell pepper, black olives, fresh lettuce and finished by mustard sauce.”

The crust had a great crunch with a good, smoky, wood-fire oven taste distinctly unlike your chain-store pizzas going for twice the price. I would best describe the sauce as homey and, thankfully, non-ketchup. The cheeses were quite good but the whole thing was wanting of more mozzarella. The ground beef, the burger to the ella, was a decent lean grind simply seasoned with salt and pepper.

A cardboard standee on the table set “4 Rules To (sic)Eat Pizza” with an imperative “#3.Do not put sauce to taste the best flavor.” The waiter promptly plunked sachets of Del Monte Tomato Ketchup and unmarked hot sauce with our order. Thanks for the suggestion. While the entire thing did have good flavor, I couldn’t resist dousing it with hot sauce like I’m used to doing. Held the ketchup. Six out of eight slices washed down with Red, Teroso, and Lemon, Tecasa, Iced Tea from their “originale beverages, fusione” line.

Quite happy, we set out to cap off that long lunch with Civet Cat Coffee.

Pizzarella Bistro is located at Permites Road, Brgy. San Miguel, Iligan City, Philippines.

Degree 9

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When the maid salts the soup a few shakes short of the ocean, she attempts to remedy the situation with the addition of an equal amount sugar. My mother muddles her coffee with half a cup of powdered creamer lest she be kept awake by too much caffeine. Right. My subscription to that madness ends where I wash sweetness with a dark brew.

Prone to tonsillitis, I was eager to chase The Chocolate Chamber down my throat. A couple of friends posted some photos from a new Korean coffee shop a few days before. With sleek décor and no platform, squat-seating–like in those jejemon havens sprouting all over the metro (that’s another story), we did not need much convincing that there is hope for the local Korean-owned/operated coffee industry.

Fronting the ridiculously-named GAGFA building, Degree 9 Coffee provided it much needed redemption. The shop’s Facebook page did not provide any insight into the origin of the brand name and I am unable to pull up their website as of writing. I’d personally like my coffee piping.

Polished, black cladding and a glass gave way to an open space with pale laminates, red brick accents, and a polyurethane-finished, plain concrete floor. White, diner-type tiles cover a long expanse of wall, on it, the shops tagline: Hello I’d like my coffee. In jest, I greeted the Korean frontline with it. I asked for recommendations and he responded in English deserving of our national pride as the most prolific ESL-teaching country in Asia (citation needed). Then I read his same lines so much later from their About section on FB: “specializes coffee, tea, frappuccino, & smoothie. Also serve delectable pastries.” Highlight. Copy. Paste. I went for my usual Americano. Plain black. I was there to rinse of chocolate.

Café Americano is prepared by adding hot water to espresso, giving it a similar strength to, but different flavor from, regular drip coffee. I was served a rather potent dose. A wonderful, satiny bitterness danced on then engulfed my tongue before sliding down my gullet with a refreshingly clean finish. It definitely had a stronger flavor than your chain-stores’.

The cakes and pastries beckoned from the display chiller. I gave in to the mini cream puffs in cappuccino flavor. The choux pastry was light and yielding. The cappuccino cream-filling had a very convincing flavor that I wished it was served hot. I’d agree with their statement that their pastries “taste like heaven” on account of the cream puffs alone. Whaddyamean heaven isn’t cappuccino-flavored?

We ordered too few, just two, items that it is a requirement for us to go back for another visit. No, I wouldn’t mind. No, I definitely wouldn’t mind.

Degree 9 Coffee is located at GAGFA Building , F. Cabahug St., Kasambagan, Cebu City.

The Illy Series: Fontina

 

Vegetable Samosas

Vegetable Samosas

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs

Herbed Chicken in Gravy

Herbed Chicken in Gravy

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake

Crusted Mozzarella

Crusted Mozzarella

 

 

The skies showed no signs of letting up. I’m at The Illy to Meet The Parents. The grey weather did nothing to quell anxiety. The rains still had them trapped at the plantation and we could not risk making our way there on public transport.

Rising, again, by midday, we made our way to Fontina for brunch. It was beginning to look like another one-meal day. The restaurant was one of those places that would benefit from the night and good lighting. Local “contemporary” art decorated the walls. Contempt being the root word of contemporary, in this case. I was there for the food. I was there for the food. I was there for the food.

Their best-selling Rib Eye was out on our visit and there were no burgers listed so I ordered Baby Back Ribs and the PussyKat tried their Herbed Chicken in Gravy from a rather extensive menu. I take that back. It wasn’t extensive. They did not have burgers.

For starters we had Vegetable Samosas which were served with what could only be plain mayonnaise. A sweet-and-sour sauce or a salsa fresca would have been a more complementary dip but the mayo did not distract much from the lightly seasoned, flaky, fried puffs. Very lightweight but an excellent start.

I grew up with Casa Verde’s Brian’s Baby Back Ribs, from its humble P75(?) beginnings to its current Korean ESL student favorite cult status, so I readily set my expectations low. Fontina’s was of a dismal serving size in stark comparison but the meat was spectacularly fall-off the bone with nary an effort with a fork. The sauce, however, hinted at the heavy inclusion of ketchup. Upon inquiry as to what kind it was, the waiter told us it was “bakreb sows”.  Wut? Bakreb sows. Why, of course. Where was my common sense? I think it is safe to assume that it’s a reduction of sugar and Papa Banana Ketchup. Or *shudder* Jufran. Overall, it was still a filling dish if one does not have any aversion to ketchup-cooking.

True to its name, the rosemary permeated the Herbed Chicken’s meat but it swam in a rather thin gravy without much character. It was, like their Baby Back Ribs, fall-off the bone betraying the possibility of a pre-cook in a pressure cooker. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Their Thai Iced Tea was an interesting version using a strong, fresh Chai Masala brew with condensed milk served on the side allowing one to tailor the sweetness to preference. The spice, tempered by the creaminess of the milk, left just enough tingle on the tongue much like the sensation of peppermint.

I could never go with just a single-serve and got a pitcher of their Iced Tea With Fresh Fruits. The photo on the menu showed a variety of fruit other than the finely-cubed watermelon and pineapple. I won’t complain on account of  it having that brewed, aged-herb, Lipton-y taste than your usual powdered-drink or syrup mix. That lasted us forever.

Their Red Velvet Cake was a modest slice resting on a zigzag of squeeze-bottle chocolate sauce. Mmmm. Ricoa. It was quite velvety and was more buttercream than cream cheese but it could hold up well against other red velvet offerings.

A curious item on their dessert list was their Crusted Mozzarella. It arrived on a fancy plate with a grill-pressed mozzarella sandwich swimming in commercial chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of mango ice cream, a split Oreo and half a Maraschino. Hello, Mickey Mouse. While I would have preferred that they used a semi-sweet or even dark cooking chocolate for the sauce and a brand of mozzarella more distinguishable from the bread crusting more by taste than by texture, it still had my attention for the unusual combination.

I was ready for a strong cup of black to wash down the guilt of sugar. The PussyKat suggested Kopi Luwak. By then the digestive processes were in full gear and a majority of my blood has been shunted from my brain to my guts. I was sleepy. Sleepy. So sleepy. Sleeepy. *trails off.

Fontina is located at A. Bonifacio Avenue, Tibanga 9200 Iligan City.

 

Gatas Na Choco O Choco Na Gatas? Na Spongebob?

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Captain: “Are you ready kids?”
Kids: “Aye-aye Captain.”
Captain: “I can’t hear you…”
Kids: “Aye-Aye Captain!!”
Captain: Ooooooh! ‘To ba’y gatas na choco o choco na gatas?
Kids: Ga-tas na cho-co!
Captain: ‘To’y choco na choco na para ding gatas!
Kids: Cho-co na ga-tas!
Captain: ‘Gawa ng Bear Brand, hey, “Look at my mole…”
Kids: Ga-tas na cho-co!
Captain: Ay, mali! My bad. Vinamilk pala…
Kids: Cho-co na ga-tas!
Captain: “Ready?”
Everybody: “SpongeBob SquarePants!” Goody Gu-ulp! “SpongeBob SquarePants!”
Captain: “SpongeBob…. SquarePants! Hahaha!”

Also available in Patrick Star Strawberry.

The song above was paraphrased from the SpongeBob Squarepants Theme Song without permission from Nikelodeon. Note that while there was an effort to follow syllabication and rhyme it was next to impossible considering content and having to use Tuh-gae-lowhg. If you feel the urge to sing it, please approximate and change stresses accordingly like in Katy Perry’s single, Unconditional. ”Look at my mole…” is a reference to a an old Bear Brand TVC in the Philippines.

Goody Gulp is available in a four-tetrapack boxed set at most supermarkets. Each box comes with a free magnet of your favorite Bikini Bottom residents. Find one with the gold magnet for a free one-year supply of Goody Gulp and, give or take, the same duration of time in struggles with weight management.

And, oh, it was okay. Just okay.

C̶h̶a̶r̶l̶i̶e̶ ̶C̶ Karlo and The Chocolate F̶a̶c̶t̶o̶r̶y̶ Chamber

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Scones with Chocolate Peanut Butter and Mango Marmalade

Scones with Chocolate Peanut Butter and Mango Marmalade

Turkey and Beef Pastrami Sandwiches

Turkey and Beef Pastrami Sandwiches

Green Salad with Cocoa Nibs, Cashews and Cocoa Butter Vinaigrette

Green Salad with Cocoa Nibs, Cashews and Cocoa Butter Vinaigrette

Venetian Hot Chocolate

Venetian Hot Chocolate

“You are my sweetest downfall. I loved you first, I loved you first. -Samson, single by Regina Spektor

If the devil came to me one night and asked me what I wanted in exchange for my soul, I would say chocolate. Well, next to eternal burgers. Burgere et scelerisque pro infinita. The devil speaks Latin.

Chocolate is one other thing I can never say no to. Being the only islander who has never been to this proverbial chamber of dark delights, I made my way to that little lane beside Sarrosa with the PussyKat in tow to find The Chocolate Chamber.

We found ourselves outside a small, glassed-in, one-floor affair. A few tables were set outside the glass windows, horsetails swaying in the gentle breeze. Floppy hats and straw fedoras were made available for patrons unable to secure seats inside air-conditioned comfort. We were in luck that the Sunday crowd hasn’t come in from after lunch yet.

Walking in, we were welcomed with a beaming smile from a familiar face who later turned out to be Edu Pantino, a veteran from my old Queen City Toastmasters Club, now TCC’s Managing partner. Small world. Even tinier island. Looks like we’ll be in very good hands this afternoon.

The dark wooden door opened into a classic tearoom, tables covered in white, monogrammed tablecloths; a bar stocked with a dizzying array of products, the back wall lined with gleaming tins. One can’t help but feel his nose slightly upturned by the setting alone.

The menu, spelled out in a pronunciation key rather helpfully on the cover: ˈmen-yoo, was slightly overwhelming at the Hot Chocolate selection section alone with over a dozen variants. Edu suggested the Venetian, which was a tableside preparation, and Hibiscus or a “bolder” choice, Bubblegum. Choosing the exotic over the artificial, we went for Hibiscus and the Venetian to go with our High Tea set. We were an hour too early for the 3:00-5:00PM High Tea set availability. It pays to know the manager. *smug laugh

Dainty, gold-rimmed plates were set with monogrammed napkins and water served in cracked-finish shot glasses. A three-tier server of complimentary chocolate truffles were served shortly thereafter: Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate-Caramel and Pistachio-crusted Marzipan. On the top tier rested their Valentine special, a white chocolate heart with cocoa nibs. The truffles held amazingly in room temperature. Their thin shells making a satisfying crunch before giving into their soft centers. They were as I like my chocolate, dark.

The High Tea set came in a larger three-tier: Raisin and Plain Scones with Chocolate Peanut Butter and Mango Marmalade, Turkey and Beef Pastrami Pan de Sal Sandwiches; Green Salad with Cocoa Nibs, Cashews and fragrant Cocoa Butter Vinaigrette.

The scones were a bit too biscuit-crumbly for my taste and the chocolate of the Chocolate Peanut Butter got a little lost in the Choc-nuttty paste. The Mango Marmalade was wonderful in how it was proudly homemade but does not do much to distinguish itself from a jar of Lady’s Choice.

The Turkey and Beef Pastrami Pan de Sal Sandwiches were easily the stars of the set, each in the trio stuffed quite generously with filling and making a serious apology for the scones. I’d come back for these.

The Cocoa Butter Vinaigrette lit up an otherwise regular salad of lettuce and tomatoes. The Cocoa Nibs added a beautiful, bitter crunch along with the nutty taste of the cashews. The cheese, which I wasn’t able to identify, was mild enough not to provide a distraction. Note to self: brush up on cheeses.

The Venetian Hot Chocolate was served on a lined, silver tray. A strawberry-shaped chocolate sitting in the Givenchy cup. The luxe label raised an eyebrow and Edu declared rather cheekily that they “use good china.” A bar of foil-wrapped chocolate was dropped into a thermal of steamed milk and shaken to mix. This bar-type preparation took some points off. Too Bond. A slow swirl into a candle-heated cup would have befitted the entire arrangement. The cream-inclined would enjoy this rather milky hot chocolate. I prefer mine very dark and heavy.

The Hibiscus Hot Chocolate was a heady love potion with the hibiscus coming across more by the stimulus of fragrance than by actual taste. A close comparison would be Gelato Eliseo’s Rose Petal Gelato but with a clear, chocolate finish to the more exotic Hibiscus flavor. One of their friendly waitpersons helpfully informed us that the Hibiscus essence is the only imported ingredient in their lineup. I would certainly love to see an expansion of the floral-flavored selection.

Clearly not for the mass market, The Chocolate Chamber is sadly located across a junk shop operation. While that was clearly an eyesore it is also a good juxtaposition for one other thing its patrons buy aside from the chocolate. . .

*fixes nonexistent bowtie*

The Chocolate Chamber is located at Quirino corner Magsaysay St., Mabolo, Cebu City, Philippines.

Salted Caramel Brownie Cup

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La Marea’s Salted Caramel Brownie Cup

Salted caramel flavors across the board remind me of how my PussyKat tastes like. Her skin naturally velvety sweet punctuated at times with the moist salt of tropical sweat.

La Marea goes with the salty-sweet food trend with another variant of their cult classic Warm Brownie Cup. The brownie base wasn’t as I remember it to usually be. This one was more canteen-cakey than your La Marea Brownie. Or a brownie at its most basic. Bad batch, maybe. I always look for an excuse to come back. The vanilla ice cream was covered in salty caramel syrup — the salt already mixed in, I was informed–ever so slightly too thin to hold a poured-on aesthetic with the rapidly melting ice-cream and the summer sun. Of course, not everything can look like a Hershey’s Syrup label photo. I would have preferred a sprinkling of chunky, large-grain rock salt on top for a better visual and texture. This medium would have been an excellent playground for contrasts. Overall, this new twist to the classic is a good changeup. Definitely worth a try.

As with the time it took me to polish that cup, I’m keeping this one short and sweet.

La Marea is located at The Crossroads, Banilad and The Walk, IT Park, Cebu City.

Tang Dynasty Tailored Ice Cream: Soursop

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What I thought was just a postnasal drip just got diagnosed as possible asthma. As I may have a recurring health issue, I will now proceed to drown my sorrow in Tang Dynasty Tailored Ice Cream’s current flavor-on-demand, Soursop. Guyabano to the uninitiated. Siko Karabaw to the hoi polloi. Life is so cruel. So cruel.

The soursop‘s flavour “has been described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavor notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana.” (-Wiki). As its naturally creamy texture incorporates quite well with beverages and sweets, it is used to make drinks, candies and flavorings.

Tang Dynasty Tailored Ice Cream’s take coats the taste buds with a full ice cream feel while retaining the citrusy tang of the fruit. Definitely no artificial colors and flavorings there. All natural sweetness with no added sugars.

While the fruit is widely promoted as an alternative cancer treatment, there is, however, no scientific evidence of its efficacy. Hey, maybe it works for recurring asthma. I’m a willing guinea pig.

Tang Dynasty Tailored Ice Creams is an upcoming bespoke creamery. They are currently in the product-development stage. Keep glued to pornografeed for updates on availability.