High Tea Coffee | Zedar Brooke

Coffee is both my simple pleasure and an addiction. Like a symptom of withdrawal, skipping my morning coffee ensures a terrible migraine by lunch. I come from a family that has after-dinner coffee and wouldn’t have problems getting any shuteye when we hit the sack. For that caffeine immunity, I’d also credit the pots upon pots of freshly brewed coffee I chugged like water back in college just to get through one more freaking chapter for the next day’s exams. From those paramedical books I learned the mechanisms of addiction, attenuation and other biochemical and physiological processes, later understanding why those books were printed in thicknesses perfect to use as pillows.

I ran into a former schoolmate, Chesca, who gushed she’s been to almost every place I recommended on this page. Her favorite? Burrito Babes. In that quick catch up I learned she now owns a coffee distributorship, Zedar Brooke, and that she has developed her own bean blend with a Canadian master roaster. Almost betraying the fact that I’m a total mooch, I was glad she offered that I sample her blend before I had the chance to ask.

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Chesca sent me a bag of grounds and some of her pride and joy, her brainchild, coffee in tea bags. A medium roast, the CHZ Blend dripped delightfully dark through my Vietnamese tin filter ending in an almost syrupy pool in my cup. Strong, winey, full-bodied and flavorful with a fermented character owing to its combination of the intense but pleasant Excelsia, the richer flavors and low acidity of Arabica and bolstered by the earthier flavors and weight of Robusta and Liberica or Kapeng Barako.

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The initial batch of the same CHZ Blend in tea bags produced a pleasant brew reminiscent of darker teas minus the herbal notes. Preferring coffee over tea and usually having it black, I found it lacking in body and the bitter oomph. It seems the drip method extracts more coffee content from the granules than the immersive steeping.

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Chesca graciously sent me a reformulation with more Liberica content. This batch hit home with a deep, brown-black color complimented by a richer aroma and a heavier, earthiness with a dark, native chocolate finish. This would stand up to most any pastry or food item in food pairings. I had mine with Hawaiian Host Chocolate-covered Macadamia, the milk chocolate and nuttiness echoing the coffee’s flavor nuances. I bet this would be great with a sugary-cheesy ensaymada or even just plain pan de leche. I can’t wait for merienda.

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Zedar Brooke Coffee and the CHZ Blend is available in beans, grounds and in tea bags through their Facebook account. You may also enjoy a cup at Regal Business Hotel, Best Western Lex Plus Cebu, Casa Escano/Don Mertos, Ipar’s, Little Saigon Big Bangkok, Crimson Resort, Café Caw and many other locations.

Mario’s Super Brother | La Panatteria Di Luigi

Tired of jumping around, eating ‘shrooms and playing second fiddle for Toadstools affections, Luigi decided to drop being a wingman and take on an entirely different path and passion…baked goods. Hardcore Super Mario fans, forgive that altiverse story. I didn’t get into this shop’s backstory.

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Waiting for our orders from Jafar’s Shawarma Station, limited outdoor seating, the heat and the cars driving through the area forced us indoors where we found La Panatteria Di Luigi willing to accommodate us for a purchase. The tiny space held a dizzying array of bread varieties with Italian labels. Who knew I wasn’t eating “the real Italian Ciabatta” for the longest time (as one label insinuated)? Looking just to pay for our table, we considered smaller items and a pastry dessert.

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The Pizzeta, a mini-pizza, looked most appetizing on the main display. Mozzarella cheese and real tomato sauce swirled on the surface of a solo-sized dough round with black olive slices and basil bits. The very simple preparation took on a smoky flavor from the traditional oven it was baked in and had a pronounced herb taste from the basil giving way to equal parts of mellow from the cheese and the tartness of the tomatoes. Very Italian, for the lack of a better word.

Adam and Eve lost Paradise by biting into an apple and generations later, the offspring of their offspring lost their trim waistlines to a processed cacao bean. In remembrance of these events, the Italians came up with the Tortino De Mele E Ciocolato — a pastry of apples stewed in cinnamon and baked with Italian chocolate. Blessed are these food items among others and blessed is the fact that all these are in each delicious bite. Hey, Arronofsky rode the Biblical Ark like a rodeo bull. Leave me alone.

A cup of The Original Ganoderma brand Organo Gold Gourmet Black Coffee (“with 100% Ganoderma Extract”!) was a perfect bitter to pair with all the sweetness, a reminder that life is a delicate balance of opposing forces. Or maybe I’m just really hungry as of writing. Now that ganoderma is also suspect. It IS a mushroom.

La Panatteria Di Luigi is located at the ground floor of the Banilad Town Center (right across the entrance to Chains), Banilad, Cebu City.

It’s A Wrap! | Jafar’s Shawarma Station

Arabian nights, like Arabian days
More often than not
Are hotter than hot
In a lot of good ways

–Arabian Nights/Opening Theme from Disney’s Alladin

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You’re not part of the in-crowd if you haven’t yet Instagrammed a visit to The Islands latest shawarma-han craze, Jafar’s Shawarma Station. Leylam, whutt?

The lunchtime line snaked from the outdoor booth, broken every once so often by cars cutting through that access road to the parking area. Eponymously named after the villain in Disney’s Alladin as a reference to the Shawarma’s Middle Eastern origin, the booth even features an oil lamp on its logo. Finally reaching the front after a good 20 minutes, we ordered a Shawarma (wrap), of course, with spicy chicken filling and The PussyKat, the rice-eater she is (I love you, Love), had a Shawarma Rice with US Angus Beef. Limited outdoor seating, the heat and the cars driving through the area forced us indoors where we found an Italian bakeshop stall willing to accommodate us for a purchase. More on that in a separate post.

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My Shawarma initially disappointed in overall size but biting into it revealed that it was densely packed with fillings: sizeable cuts of spicy chicken, greens, a yogurt-based sauce(?) and white ohhhhhhnions. It had enough zing without coating the mouth with a lingering heat. Filipino-owned, it did not try to foolishly attempt authenticity with the heavy use of exotic spices but went for an unassuming formula more attuned to local tastes. Speaking of local, in addition to the choices of chicken, minced beef, the best-selling Angus beef and vegetarian options for fillings, they also have homemade chorizo. What a kick it would be if they came up with a Shawarma-silog line, huh?

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The PussyKat loved her equally well-spiced US Angus Beef Shawarma rice, bright yellow with saffron, but found it cloying towards the last five spoonfuls. “It’s the cumin. Too much,” she said. “It’s all that rice, Love. Too much,” I replied. “But I love you and that’s all that matters”, I quickly added, seeing her eyes go feral. “Maybe it’s because it’s not basmati.” *sheepish grin* *to self: “Shut up, shudduuuuup!”*

Jafar’s Shawarma Station is located at the Banilad Town Center ( a stone’s throw from Pancake House), Banilad, Cebu City.

Michael’s Daily + Coffee | Michel’s Deli + Cafe

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Swimming always works up an appetite. Still in our skivvies and wrapped in towels, we scoured the rest of the One Paseo stretch for brunch options. Michel’s Deli + Café flipped their sign to OPEN as if on cue. The attendant must have been used to towel-clad Koreans from the neighborhood coming in for breakfast, welcoming us in like we were regulars.

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A good third of the cavernous space was occupied by café seating up front, rows of shelves and racks lining the walls with an assortment of wines and imported goodies, more displays filling up the central space and a deli butchery on the far end. Damp, we settled where whatever sun let through the looming rain clouds streamed from the large-paned storefront windows.

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I’d usually just have a four-egg scramble with a plain black for breakfast but being that we’re at Michel’s, I imagined Teedduh Aampuhreedowh would like to serve me Eggs Benedict. Two beautifully poached eggs lay on sheets of buttery soft ham folding over the edges of the toasted baguette it was served on. The cheesy Hollandaise sauce was torched as an additional touch. Teeduh knew I preferred eggs unsalted, allowing the appreciation for the subtle flavor of the ham and the more aggressive savories from the sauce. I wiped my plate clean with the crusts, sopping up every drop of the glorious, runny mess.

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The PussyKat has yet to learn to let her grains go and ordered a Tapsilog. Yes, Teeduh, in her magnanimity, tries to make herself more accessible. See: Pino. Paying thrice the price for a cleanly-plated version of fare from your neighborhood Sinangag Express, one must consciously factor in ambience. The furniture here wasn’t done in just Mayon brand Mahogany varnish, mind you. Then again, how can anyone revolutionize a Silog without departing from its simplistic preparation. For what it was, it was good.

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Browsing the menu for seconds, The PussyKat reminded me we had an invitation to review a lunch buffet. I guess the rest of their selections will have to wait for another visit.

Michel’s Deli + Café is located at One Paseo, Maria Luisa Estate Park, Paseo Saturnino, Lahug Cebu.

Great at Eight | Cebu Parklane International Hotel

The Cebu Parklane International Hotel literally glittered for their GR8 AT EIGHT: Parklane Glitters Eighth Anniversary celebration. Calling for attire inspired by the movie The Great Gatsby, The PussyKat took forever with her Roaring 20’s curls and putting on three kilos of stringed pearls on loan from LaEmmanuela. I, on the other hand, needed no more than one of my standard suits and a handful of Gatsby brand (to keep in theme) hair gel to look like an Asian Leonardo Di Caprio. Hahaha. Naturally, we arrived an hour late for the six o’clock invitation.

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The elevator doors opened to the welcoming smile of our lovely hostess, Janette, who led us into the bedazzling Victoria Hall through a throng of characters straight out of the movie. Walking in some celebrity guest’s speech, we were quickly ushered to the our table and seated just in time for the dinner announcement. Our waiter promptly set virgin cocktails of blue Fruit Punch and an Orange Sunrise while noting that there is an open bar on the other end of the room. So began a very promising night.

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We skipped the salads at the head of the buffet table and went on to the Tenderloin with Button Shitake Mushrooms in Paprika Gravy. Soft, as tenderloin naturally is, the meaty flavor was complemented by the still subtle smoky flavor of the young shitake and livened by the zing of the paprika in the gravy undoubtedly reduced from the meat drippings. Cocktail Shrimp curled at the ends of picks on which cubes of cucumber, cherry tomatoes and cheese were skewered for dipping into a creamy mayo sauce light enough not to drown the delicate flavor of the shrimp. Breaded Scallops served on their shells was a break from the usual cheese plain bake, extending the oftentimes small shellfish meat from local sources with its flavorful breading. I would have preferred a crispier coating for texture but that did not stop me from polishing even The PussyKat’s serving.

A fine Cream of potato with Snow Peas and Diced Ham was served at the soup section with a variety of very inviting rolls and breads. Still on the first third of the table length, we decided to reserve stomach space for the meats and more exciting carb options, like the Seafood Paella. Large quarters of crab, huge mussels and other crustaceans wrestled for space with the saffron rice on the chafing dish making a complete meal in a serving. It was arguably as good as the authentic Spanish dish from The Island’s Paella authority, Aranos.

The Vegetable Ragout had lightly drained spoonfuls of a slow stew of vegetables delicately wrapped in a crepe, almost like a fresh spring roll, as a contrast to the more aggressive flavors of the preceding selections. The Ravioli and Seafood Lasagna, The PussyKat’s favorite from the lineup, featured very generous chunks of fish in another seafood explosion in cheese and tomato sauce.

It’s hard to go wrong with chicken and the Chicken Parmigiana was a clear winner with each cut retaining the breading on thickly-sliced chicken breast and keeping shape around its cheddar cheese core. The meat itself was lightly marinated drawing the savory flavors more from the cheese.

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The Seared Beef Carpaccio, delicious as it was (maybe as a Bistek, instead), was sadly cooked to a near well done and dressed heavily with sauce, presumably as an adjustment to the general distaste for anything below definitely cooked. I remember a company party at The Parklane years ago where the same dish was served as seared whole pieces of tenderloin carved across the grain to reveal the graduations into the beautiful, pink, medium rare core with a vinaigrette on the side. Medallions of Pork Tenderloin closed the main table with the crowd-pleasing tender cutlets simply seasoned.

A separate carving station had the requisite Lechon De Cebu. The roasted young hogs seemed to be on endless supply for the celebration, an in-house roast slightly less salty but not any less flavorful than the popular local brands. An odd but very welcome addition to that table was Beef Wellington. The beef retained its natural flavor and juices, baking inside it’s layered puff pastry. I preferred the cheesy cream sauce it was served with to the alternative red reduction of indeterminate flavor.

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Platters of fresh fruit frontlined the dessert table. Chocolate and custard would be the usual but the pastry chef replaced chocolate with a strawberry flavor for the cake base with real strawberry jam on the custard film topping for their Strawberry Custard Slice. The Deluxe Chips Cheese Cake could have used more cream cheese in it but thankfully had whipped cream versus the tired gelatin trick. Nevertheless, it was a light dessert option and would have been my pick of the bunch had they not served what is probably The Parklane’s best kept secret: Old-Fashioned Carrot Cake. Moist but not densely packed, dotted almost imperceptibly by a good distribution of carrot shreds and given a good crunch by baked-in chopped walnuts with fluffy buttercream frosting. A cup of strong black would have been perfect with it but the open bar across the room called out.

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A sucker for a good Mojito, I initially found it weak — the strong lime flavors and sugar masking the potency of the rum content. Not having popped a prep antihistamine, I found myself sporting a flush soon after downing my first glass. Everyone around the bar area obviously more jovial, The PussyKat was enjoying her Tequila Sunrise when the bartender inadvertently granted her longtime secret dream of a champagne shower in a happy accident. The band Three Strings went on extended encore and the guests and staff partied on.

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Amazingly just at eight, The Parklane has definitely carved its niche in the local hospitality industry, even landing Sun Star’s Best of Cebu 2013 Best Lunch Buffet for Manuel’s Restaurant. If the food at the party was a good hint enough, I could only imagine how great an upcoming revamp of their regular lunch and dinner buffet would be.

The Cebu Parklane International Hotel is located at Corner Archbishop Reyes Avenue and Escario Street
6000 Cebu, Philippines.

Orange Is The New Black | Orange Karenderia

Karenderias. I’ve really never taken to these rough-and-tumble, grind-and-grill establishments spawned on seedy backlots around The Island. Maybe it’s the heat and smoke. Maybe it’s the open-air setting and the flies. Maybe it’s having to return to the rest of the day smelling like the food and having to explain yourself to everyone. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good grilled tuna and there’s nothing like grilled food on The Island. Orange may have changed my mind.

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Orange is a modern and refreshing take on the grungy karenderia. It may have been no accident that it is located behind the bigger Pizza Republic in homage to its humble inspiration but it definitely did not hurt to be housed in the same textured concrete-finished block building. The interiors were tastefully done in plain-finish with punctuations of its theme color, chalkboards and exposed beams on which pendant lights hung to illuminate the room. Its main feature was an open kitchen on the far end of the enclosed, air-conditioned space.

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Smack during lunch hour, it was filled with a rogues gallery of patrons — the office set, college students, bros-who-lunch — all of which held palpable excitement over the recognizably local food. Owner Michael, manning the counter himself, offered their bestselling Tuna Buntot (Tail) and Betsy’s Crispy Chicken. I ordered the Crispy Tuna Bihod (roe) from their “Exotics” menu but they were fresh out and was given the alternative opposite, Bagaybay or the “male equivalent”, as Michael put it. A Google search spelled out sperm sacs.

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We knew we, yet again, bit off more than we can chew when the supposedly small cut of Tuna Buntot arrived. Looking like a hefty half-kilo, it was deep-fried and coated with a light, crispy batter that did not distract from the meaty, delicacy of the fish — also crispy on the outside and juicy-tender on the inside. A veritable fish version of the porcine Crispy Pata, it was well-deserving of Sun Star’s Best of Cebu 2013’s Best Tuna Buntot Award (as rated from their first branch in Maguikay, Mandaue City).

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The Bagaybay had none of that too-exotic-to-hold-down taste and was pleasantly fishy, helped by the onions and the vinegar-soy sauce dip. Nothing a first-timer would swear off.

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Betsy, we were told, was Mike’s Uncle’s Girlfriend’s Mom (whew!), who developed their Crispy Garlic Chicken recipe. Here Sunburst Fried Chicken’s Crispy Chicken Skin wrapped itself around chunks of Jollibee‘s Chickenjoy and took a dip in Bonchon Chicken’s soy-garlic sauce in a crunchy explosion of sweet-soy and garlic flavors, to paint you a gustatory picture.

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A liter of Iced Tea from a premix with the effort of real lemon slices and pulp bits added made for a good choice among the varieties of mostly bottled softdrinks and beers.

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In every dish there was an authenticity that further elevates it to a new definition of excellence. Just three weeks into their operations at their Lahug branch, the three dishes I’ve sampled have left me hungry to try more.

Jakathra! Stop eating my rice!

Orange Karenderia is located at La Guardia St., Salinas Drive, Lahug, Cebu City.

Thai Kingdom Come | Yum Saeb Deli

This tiny shop where heymisterthatsadonutheymisterthatsamisterdonutdonut used to occupy at the back of the Sampaguita Suites-Mango caught my eye on the ride home over the weekend. Always on the lookout for new thrills, Yum Saeb made it to the to eat-in list for the week. We later learned that they opened right around the time I left on sabbatical the other year.

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The sectioned menus with numbered items and the labels declaring authenticity of their flavors promised much and gave equal confusion as to our choices. I was five items into ordering more than what we could probably finish when The PussyKat flipped onto the page for combo meal sets allowing for some convenience. I let go of my Thai resto requisite of Chicken with Cashews for Set: TY-2. Tom Yum, Stir-fried Yellow Curry with Chicken, Mixed Vegetables with Oyster Sauce, Plain Rice and Thai Iced Tea.

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We opted for the thick soup, chicken Tom Yum, with coconut milk as opposed to none in the clear soup version. We also opted for Thai spicy versus a spice level more attuned to Pinoy tastes. It did not register as thick as I expected but came on silky to the tongue with a slight tang and a pleasant afterburn that coats the palate. There was none of your dried, ground and bottled additives here as it featured whole leaf ingredients of pepper, lemon, cilantro and the definitive lemongrass with a whole slice of turmeric root finding its way in among the flavorful chunks of chicken.

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The stir-fry had the chicken slathered in an extra creamy yellow-curry sauce that bordered on a paste-like consistency. The clean flavor of the white meat took on the spice without being overwhelmed. I found myself digging into the other half of the rice serving I was determined not to eat at the beginning of the meal with each further spoonful.

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The Mixed Vegetables in Oyster Sauce was nothing out of the ordinary but provided a welcome crunch and counterbalance to the spice in the two other dishes. The inclusive Thai Iced Teas had the distinctly freshly-brewed taste and, true to the promise of authenticity, had the syrup-sweetness of Thai drinks.

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Two old friends, Madame Shawie and Bossing Kino, walked in on us midway through our meal for a quick one. I hope they enjoyed theirs as well as we did ours.

On a Thai food-related note, we came across the recently transferred Little Saigon Big Bangkok at Mango Square along Juana Osmena Street on our way to Yum Saeb.

Yum Saeb Deli is located at the ground floor of the Sampaguita Suites – Mango (rear entrance), Gen. Maxilom Avenue, Cebu City.