Goodbye Little Saigon Big Bangkok

Two hours on the gridlocked transit to the Qube Gallery for the Sio Montera exhibit was enough to work up a good appetite. Make that a definite hunger. The Rose’ and the nibbles-gone-cold from Hola Espana held us long enough to check out the works and mingle. No. 7 from a particular series of smaller, more, er, affordable pieces looked very appealing until it morphed into a plate of Phad Thai so we slipped out of the hall and deeper into One Paseo Saturnino to Little Saigon Big Bangkok. The smell of plumerias wafting from the cluster of trees nearby almost convinced us to settle in outdoor seating but the days heat rising from the earth to meet the cold of the looming rain drove us indoors.

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A meal at LSBB is never started without their signature Lemongrass Iced Tea and Mieng Kham. We ordered the Vietnamese classic Goi Con with Pork to round up the appetizers like we really needed further encouragement. These spring rolls spelled fresh and light even when packed with shrimp, vermicelli noodles, carrots, cucumber, lemongrass, herbs and grilled pork wrapped in delicate rice paper , with sweet ginger and chili dipping sauces.

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Favoring food I can pick up with my hands, I had to have a Bahn Mi while the PussyKat got the “LSBB One” feature dish, Chicken Rendang. The Bahn Mi was an entire French Baguette, split into more manageable halves, generously slathered with homemade chili-mayo and packed with yielding pork, cucumber, cilantro, cilantro, cilantro and onions.

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Their Chicken Rendang, an Indonesian-style of cooking in coconut curry, proved heavy on flavor with the delicate sweetness of the coconut still discernible along the heat from the curry. Heavy on the belly, too.

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Sadly Kim and Tuptim dishes out the fare above for the last time on, June 24, 2014, a notice on the chalkboard announced. A follow-up message noted a move to a new location. So while a song played on a solo saxophone ushered us out, with full bellies and hearts heavy with anticipation for LSBB’s near-future development, we held each other tight and danced like it’s the last night of the world.

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The Philippine flag was raised and our national anthem was played for the first time during the Declaration of Independence from Spanish colonization by General Emilio Aguinaldo on June 12, 1898 — a liberty unrecognized both by warring colonizers, Spain and the United States. The 1898 Treaty of Paris ended the war between the two where Maria Christina sold out all 7,107 (on a high tide!) islands of The Archipelago to Uncle Sam for USD20M. After a revolt against the United States which began in 1899, we finally achieved national sovereignty on July 4, 1946, through the Treaty of Manila. We celebrated our independence from the Stars and Stripes on the same date they celebrate theirs until the Republic Act No. 4166, which set out to move the holiday to June 12, was approved on August 4, 1964.

In celebration, I declare independence from convention. Why have a burger and a pizza separately when you can have both as one? Introducing, the Pizzaburger! 100% beef patty, tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, ketchup and cheddar cheese between sausage and pepperoni mini-pizza “buns”. The best of both worlds.

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I’ve been inundated by messages asking where they can get this baby since I posted this photo on Instagram this morning. Well, surprise! The patty and the rest of the innards are from Jollibee‘s Champ (burger), the only burger I eat from the Bee’s lineup aside from their Cheesy Bacon Mushroom Champ and their Aloha Burger. I tossed in a few extra slices of Laughing Cow brand Cheddar Cheese and red Baguio tomatoes with a drizzle of Tabasco, chucked the buns and sandwiched everything between two Pizza Pedrico’s Supreme Loaded Sausage, Pepperoni and Cheese Mini-Pizzas. There you have it. Now go make and enjoy one!

Kai All-You-Can-Eat Burgers and Sandwiches

“All-You-Can-Eat Burgers and Sandwiches”, a tiny newspaper ad called out to me. Perfect! I’d just have to stretch my usual noontime breakfast schedule for two more hours for the buffet opening schedule. Kai at the Best Western Plus Lex Cebu was empty save for a table when I walked in twenty minutes to two. Aptly, Kai is an ethnic Kiwi word meaning “to devour”, so named by the owner’s daughter who spent a considerable length of time in New Zealand.

While the buffet was still being laid out, I envisioned assortments of burgers and sandwiches artfully arranged in neat rows or piled atop one another. Oh, well. One can daydream. It was more of a pick-and-mix, assisted build-a-burger/sandwich affair. The deviation from expectation was helped by the wait staff’s gracious accommodation of my request for them to put together some burger and sandwich items from their regular ala carte menu.

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I started off with a Kai Bacon Cheeseburger. Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon…and oh, beef patty, quickmelt cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce on sesame burger buns. It goes without saying that bacon is love. The 100% New Zealand beef, subtly seasoned with salt and pepper, was cooked to a soft, right-just-about-done and featured near-invisible micro-gratings of carrots. The inclusion of that fiber was welcome considering the amount of red meat I was planning to consume.

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Club Kai Sandwich skipped the classic lettuce in favor of crisp, freshly-cut cucumbers and retained the cheese (cheddar in this case), tomatoes, ham, bacon and generous cutlets of grilled chicken with a conservative dollop of mayo, as opposed to the usual drenching, all on toasted wheat bread. Some egg would have made it the ultimate hi-protein meal.

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The egg I was wanting came poached in the next entry, the Croque Madame. This lady had the usual elements of ham, cheese, egg and bread with a petticoat of lettuce and sandwich spread. While the classic would have hard cheeses, this version was served with quickmelt which complimented the runny yolk.

Hungarian sausages were not included in the buffet so they substituted Chicken Sausages in their Hungarian Dowg. Slices of chicken sausage rested on a piece of cheddar grilled onto half a ciabatta, topped with Vidalla onions caramelized in olive oil.

The menu featured a Hawaiian Teriyaki Burger but they were fresh out of pineapple during my visit. Their Southern Fried Chicken Burger was unavailable, as well. Then again, these and their ingredients are not regular inclusions of the buffet. Price per pax includes salads, regular and flavored fries and unlimited Kai Iced Tea. Special thanks to the attendant Ino and Chef Mickey for their accommodation and excellent service.

All-You-Can-Eat Burgers and Sandwiches at Kai at the Best Western Plus Lex Cebu runs until August 2014. See you there!

Not Just A Yellow Lemon Tree

I wonder how, I wonder why
Yesterday you told me ’bout the blue, blue sky
And all that I can see is just another lemon tree
I’m turning my head up and down
I’m turning, turning, turning, turning, turning around
And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree

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Missed the PussyKat. Terribly. Missing makes me hungry. Not one to stuff myself randomly for the sake of satiety and taking forever to decide on where to have brunch pushed the meal to past three in the afternoon. Between a Twitter and Instagram-trending pizza place and a quiet Korean café, I decided to avoid crowds. I like wallowing in misery.

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Lemon Tree Fusion Café is located where the old La Tegola restaurant was in Salinas Drive, Lahug. Instagrammers’ heaven. The rustic Italian styling was modernized by whitewash on the red brick. Simplistic décor and bric-a-brac with a lot of character. Plain white tabletops on repurposed manual sewing-machine legs. Everything else looked like it came from a more artsy, hipster Ikea. I loved it.

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An inner, open courtyard deck space with pink, light-up trees – like those at the already commonplace La Vie Parisienne — offered more seating with an elevated platform squat/reclining lounge at the far end.

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I was gushing over the place in a phone call to the PussyKat and she told me Fools Garden’s hit single Lemon Tree is the other national anthem of Korean ESL students. As if on cue, an all too familiar instrumental intro of honky-bouncy synth wafted from the piped-in and blew full into that very song.

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Cream Beers were advertised as the house specialty drink on the chalkboard at the entrance. I didn’t mind a cold one on an especially sticky day. It came in a tall glass bubbling over from carbonation and sporting a high crown of frosty head. I’m no beer expert so I’ll say it’s like the local favorite San Mig Light in comparison. I can’t put a finger on where the cream is if it isn’t what they’re suggesting by the head. Still, a good buy.

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On the house, were some flour chips with an olive oil, herb and chopped tomato topping for an appetizer in portions that are just enough to make you want some more.

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On top of the Hamburgero’s list would always be a burger when available. Their scrapbook-style menu boasted of a Cowboy Burger with the only description being: “Crazy burger with fries.” Just last week, some Korean ran amuck at his family’s restaurant on The Other Island, Mactan, and killed his family before slashing his own wrists. That got me excited enough to order it. It was larger than your average and packed with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cheese and strips of bacon. The patty didn’t offer the pretense of the Angus or Wagyu labels and was a straight-up, juicy one with a slight char. Seasoned just right, too. A full slice of grilled white onion sealed the deal for me. Like the indiscernible cream in the beer I couldn’t make out the crazy but this one has the Hamburgero Seal of Approval. The accompanying medium-cut fries rounded it out to a full meal. I didn’t stop at just a burger, of course.

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The two-page spread of pizza variants didn’t have to beg me try at least one. Already huge fan of Cambozola cheese, the Gorgonzola Pizza with a side of Honey was an easy choice. Gorgonzola has a notably more intense, penetrating flavor (than the triple-cream mixed Cambozola) which went very well with the honey. The crisp, biscuit-thin crust kept the entire dish light.

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Labeled as “the perfect match for Cream Beer”, I also had the CFS Combo. C, Crispy nuggets of Breaded Chicken in a basket with a hefty serving of F, Flavored Fries not distinctly different from the side that came with the Cowboy Burger, bisected rather offensively by S, an overcooked Hungarian Sausage. I let the latter slide. The chicken was its saving grace. I’d agree with the assumption of the perfect matching if not for my severe Asian Flush which required my limitation to just a glass. I didn’t have antihistamines on hand.

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The entire experience had me humming the song Lemon Tree’s interlude. “Sing, dah. Da-da-dah, da-dum, dee-da-dah. Da-da-dah, da-dum, di, da-daaah. Da, da-da-di-dah.” Definitely not just a yellow lemon tree.

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Lemon Tree Fusion Café is located at the “Tree Complex (Tree Shade Spa, Lemon Tree Fusion Restaurant, Mango Tree Café, etc.) aka “Litterl Kherrea” along Salinas Drive, Lahug, Cebu City.

Durian Durian

“Smells like hell, tastes like heaven.” So it is often quoted about the Durian, the so-called “King of Fruits.” I’ve never taken the slightest liking to it. Globs of pale yellow flesh looking like gangrenous, unidentifiable intestinal parts emitting the sickeningly sweet odor of rotting kitchen refuse. If the visual and nasal assault wasn’t enough, its texture — much like recycled, cheap buffet sushi gone several times through the freezing-thawing process — would do one in. Ugh.

As with most fruit on The islands, the Durian has also been warped and mutated into varieties of food products like candies, jams, pies and even ice cream. The PussyKat sent over a box of Durian Macarons from Carmen’s Garden Bistro all the way down from Durianlandia — Davao, Philippines. She knows of my revulsion to it but seems bent on my conversion. Dutifully, I promised a fair review.

I settled at the nearest Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with the intent of pairing the fruit-flavored macaron with a Middle Eastern – African blend to compliment the flavor with the fruity notes of the coffee. The pastries came in beautiful little, muted gold, beveled boxes with a plastic window allowing a peek at the bright, turquoise meringue biscuits. No off-putting smell, to my surprise. The biscuit had a pleasant, soft crunch and was sparingly sweetened with no obvious indication of the incorporation of any Durian or its flavor. The Durian-crème filling held all the potency but was made bearable, even quite likeable in consideration of the other elements, with its limitation to a good dollop sandwiched between the delightful biscuits.

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I surprised myself by downing two just at that sitting. PussyKat, I just might give the actual fruit another chance . . .

Durian Macarons are available at Carmen’s Garden Bistro, Quirino Avenue, Davao.