Dinner in the Dark

“It’s called Dinner in the Dark. Don’t bother with makeup. No one’s going to see you.” I hurried her anticipating bad Saturday night traffic. My PussyKat away on business for the weekend gave me the chance to take out my other woman – my mother, La Emmanuela.

My expectations of a pitch black room and waiters in night-vision goggles were quashed as we were ushered into the Marriot’s ballroom with other guests in blindfolds already into their second course. I’m glad I let my mother finish both her eyebrows. Seated with another pair of latecomers, our “darkness expert” — our dedicated dining guide, Dr. Devi, breezed us through the basics and asked us to put on our blindfolds. We were asked to familiarize our place settings with our hands and served some white wine to ease us into the activity.  Without much further ado, we were served the first course and advised to feel the plate’s edge to imagine distances our cutlery would have to navigate to the portions of food oriented as these would be on a clock’s face. With it came the blow-by-blow interactive instructional commentary.

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Smell your food. What do you smell? What do you think your food is? Everyone, you may begin at your six ‘o clock. Pierce the food with your fork then slice. You have a good piece on your fork, Karlo. You may put that in your mouth now. Miss Emmie, that’s a pretty big slice. You might want to cut that smaller. Yes, that’s a good piece. Sir Donnie, your food fell off your fork. Miss Luisa, very good. Now what do you think your food is? How does it taste? Correct. Prawns. What else is there? Cucumber. Correct. Karlo, move to your nine o’clock. Sir Donnie, you may slide your food to your six ‘o clock. Everyone, your remaining food is at your twelve o’ clock. Please move your food to the center of the plate or to your six o’clock. Now, scoop your food. Miss Emmie, that’s your last piece. Karlo, your food is on now on your sleeve.

My dry cleaning would be one small point about the difficulty of sightlessness and an argument for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. With sight shut down, the rest of the senses were forced to compensate. Midway through the course, I could identify familiar voices from other tables across the room. I could feel the waiters move around as they dished out plates. Aromas were intensified. Flavors burst in the mouth as they would in color to the eye.


The first course, as roughly detailed above, first registered to the nose with pleasant herbals then the briny sweetness of prawns hit the tongue. The distinct taste of lemongrass explains the general aroma before the tart sweetness and mild bitterness of pomelo does the fruity notes. Crisp, fresh cucumbers leave a clean finish in the Poached Lemongrass Prawn with Pomelo and Fresh Herb Salad.


We were asked to take the soup course as if we would from a cup of coffee. It was a Mushroom Cappuccino with Cocoa and Tarragon Powder, after all.  The thick foam texture filled the mouth before the hot and heavy soup which was unmistakably mushroom. Tarragon was a bit lost on the flavor but definitely tickled the nose and the cocoa powder came in punches of pleasantly chocolatey bitterness.


Red was poured to signal the meat dish. It was quickly echoed in the hearty red wine stew on the tender and succulent beef. The veg mash initially came across as sweet potato but later unfolded as local squash in the main, the Classic Rib Eye and Vegetable in Red Wine Stew.


The Chocolate Lemongrass Cake for dessert came heavily scented in the herb with the darkly sweet aroma of chocolate chased by the sharp lemony taste of the lemongrass mousse and the rich chocolate base. White chocolate bonbons added a toothsome.


Dinner in the Dark was brought to the Queen City of the South by the Eye Society in partnership with the Marriott Hotel Cebu for the benefit of the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. The Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines is a non-profit, non-government humanitarian organization that brings the gift of sight to corneally blind individuals. The reinterpretation of the Manila installments’ menu was by the Marriot’s executive chef Chachpol Suaisom, who, owing to his heritage, deftly included touches of Thailand in the preparations.

More than just a delicious dinner and a novel new experience, I headed home with a newfound appreciation for my 20-20’s and a rekindled desire to be an organ donor. Corneal, to be specific to the cause of the Eye Society and the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. Ironically, Dinner in the Dark was, well, quite an eye-opener.

Mad Hatter

Ever the optimist, I’ve always been into exploring possibilities. Limitations only came by the reality of the physical self and singularity all bound by time. Still, I’ve managed to touch on a lot of this’ and thats. I’ve always loved the thought of the Multihyphenate and to go by Trade Jack would be quite an understatement at this point.  And, yes, I take some pride in embodying the idiom: wears many hats.

As a country beat weary by weather extremes, we really should get into the habit of headgear. Most often, sporting such is pushed by Western pop culture as in the woolen, knit beanie worn with muchhats-misappropriated panache in this humid, tropical heat. More points off Slytherin if it comes with the name of our Summer Capital worked into the knitting.

I have a modest collection of hats and have grown quite fond of Panamas with their growing popularity and local availability.  Rain or shine functionality, too.  I get a lot of Bruno Mars ribbings, yes, never mind that he’s more into fedoras. I also have a few of the latter with one favorite in twisted paper straw.  Quite easier to pull off are the ultimate security blanket — the more ubiquitous baseball cap.

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The cap has evolved from just-baseball and has become widely identified with other sports, sports merchandising and permutations pertaining to professions such as the infamous Trucker. Natural flat visor shape has gone through the cycle of the coveted curve and back to what is now known as the flat bill. From snapbacks to elasticized to cinched to the trendy fitted of today, it has become a subculture of its own.

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New Era Caps, “an international lifestyle brand with an authentic sports heritage that dates back over 90 years”, opened at SM City Seaside earlier this year. Boasting of a dizzying assortment of caps, mainly in US regional and sporting team themes, they also carry statement caps, movie tie-ins and iconic character features. Featured during my first visit was a flashy, metallic ode to Voltez-V.

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Beyond the not-quite-basics, they offer an update on the 90’s bucket with a more contemporary silhouette and in an assortment of prints. Ranger hats in all-weather material were available in solid brights and same prints as the buckets. There’s also their field cap with a high drum panel. Fedoras came in options of fiber weave and solid felt. I picked up a fitted cap in red and in the no-fail black. I chose a flatcap in the beige to add easy sartorial elegance to the otherwise regular pique polo and chino day or a stylish cover for bad hair ones.

New Era Caps PH Porografeed

The brand carries shirts in similar design themes as the caps to extend the line of casual cool. Completing the lifestyle circle is a series of bags: pouches, drawstring slings, messengers and specialized backpacks. They even have some specific for storage of caps.

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Different strokes for different folks. New Era Caps offers walls upon walls and shelves of choices of hats to match each personal requirement and personality. For my particular case of schizophrenia: multiple choices to match all of mine.


New Era Caps – Cebu is located at SM Seaside Cebu.

The Weekend Pit Roast

I grew up with a rather unhealthy exposure to the terrible combination of the National Geographic Channel and the Food Network. My gustatory fantasies have made a turn for what is not necessarily the unusual but for what is more than the usual. Documentaries of cultural cook-offs, resto digs and backyard DIY cookery have long held a pit roast nagging at me to make it a happening.

We’re wont to talk about food among my bros as most are in the industry. Come to think of it, when do we ever not talk about food? Sober we’d go about dissecting the elements and flavor combinations. Sloshed and it’s a rabid game of top-that. Chef Tim dela Cruz made the mistake of asking the question, “What hasn’t been done to pork around these parts?”, and I issued the challenge with much selfish motive.

The Weekend Pit Roast

He picked up the gauntlet and found a collaborator in Jan Rodriguez. A couple of probiotic hogs were pledged by Dad’s Delivery-Restaurant Depot, wines from D+B, tents and tables ordered, invites shot out to close friends, the green light received to dig a fire pit and accommodate guests the far end of The Greenery’s parking lot and we were ready to rock ‘n roast.

The Weekend Pit Roast

My imaginations of going six feet under was in actuality just three deep with ample room around two split hogs. A coal fire was built on stones lining the pit and brought down to a steady glow. A layer of banana leaves came between that and the splayed hogs stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, ginger and simply seasoned with sea salt. Another layer of banana leaves came on before a topping of smoldering coal and a wet canvas to steam the arrangement. The seven-hour cook time had everyone kicking back   to drinks with periodic checks to maintain the heat. Darkness rolled in as did our invitees. There’s nothing like crowd mentality to draw passersby into a throng and soon we had a long line of eager walk-ins waiting for service.

The Weekend Pit Roast

Low and slow heat over extended periods render meats ultra-tender that it was impossible to haul the hogs whole. Steaming hot sections were fished out from the pit to collective oohs and ahhs from the audience. More anticipation built up from prep as the pork was processed three ways.


It is an impossibility to do a slow roast without making a pulled dish given the fall-apart quality of the cooked meat. Hand-pulled pork was simply slapped with a Chipotle barbecue sauce for a classic meat and sauce flavor pairing with the extra kick from the smoked pepper. A generous topping of pepper and apple cider slaw gave some flavorful texture with the mini-brioche buns providing the starch counter in the Pulled-Pork Sliders

Taco Carnitas

Taco Carnitas

Chef Tim's Deconstructed Taco Carnitas

Chef Tim’s Deconstructed Taco Carnitas

Bright and tangy cilantro aioli echoes the tart freshness and flavor of the pico de gallo and, again, in the yogurt infused with the pungency of garlic. Fresh cilantro add more punches of lemony flavor bringing out the meaty sweetness in the succulent pork all held by the smokiness of charcoal-roasted flour tortillas in the Tacos Carnitas.

Roast Pork with Burnt Pineapple and Mango gastrique

Roast Pork with Burnt Pineapple and Mango gastrique

Grilling pineapples and mangoes

Grilling pineapples and mangoes

Straight-up roast pork got some smoky, sweet and sour fruitiness from gastrique. Here the simple, meaty sweetness and flavor of the pork are, again, highlighted. This time with a burnt fruit deglaze in the Roast Pork with Grilled Pineapple and Mango Gastrique.



The solids slid down with pink lemonade, Rose’, reds and Mountain King IPA’s. The moderately sweet and citrusy profiles across the drinks played perfect complements to the pork dishes. Most of the guests stayed from opening and through the waves that crashed in until the two whole hogs were have beens.

Fantasy fulfilled, I am somehow left wanting more of it. Another installment perhaps? A twist? There is that Beer-Can Turkey, too . . .

P.S. Low quality photos, I know. Random shots from my cam phone on auto. Lost my other phone with better pics two weeks from publishing. Ugh.