Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Martinis and Romantics

According to my blog description, I’m a “retired” party animal. On occasion, you could still catch me at 3 in the morning in some bar or club at Makati or The Fort, dancing in my high wedges (stilettos have become too much of a hassle for my aging bones), drink in hand, my vodka tonic sloshing around in my glass. Most of the time though, I would much rather be enjoying dinner with Matt and a few friends or playing Guesstures at a friend’s house. Sunny weekends would usually bring me to the beach where I can take wine-induced naps in the shade or swim with my nephews and nieces in the clear blue water. After years of going out almost every night, I’m almost happy to say that I’m simply “partied” out.

Sometimes, though, I hanker for those really awesome parties I used to go to- fun, intimate gatherings that consist of a good, easy-going crowd, delicious drinks and great music. So, when my friend Natasha wanted to do events for her chic resto- Aquaknox- I knew exactly what to do and whom to approach.

Promoter, DJ, college buddy and fellow crazy Carlo Ocampo was brought in to do Thursday events and, with him, he brought along the super-cool, up-and-coming band called Techy Romantics. To go with the luxe, laidback vibe we wanted for the event, we decided to offer “drink-til-you-drop” premium martinis from 9pm-12mn for P599, capitalizing on the expertise of Aquaknox’s brilliant bar manager, Marlo Mauricio. Indeed, a very good deal for cocktail junkies like myself who can smell a juiced-down Cosmopolitan from a mile away. Mau uses only fresh fruit juices and premium liquors for his mixes, such as Tanqueray and Absolut. This- without being biased- I believe has got to be one of the best deals in the metro, no doubt. If martinis are not your style, their mojitos are also top-notch.

Aside from the drinks, the music is also something to come out for. The Techy Romantics’ chill/house music is reminiscent of Chicane and Kaskade- serene vocals coupled with danceable beats and a great vibe. I found out on the first night they played that they’re all alums of my college alma mater, and their keyboard player, Dondie, is a long-lost “tambay”-mate (translation: a person I used to cut classes with). Their sound is just the right mix of “relaxed” and “party”, inspiring people to get up and dance, while still allowing non-dancers (like Matt) to chat with their friends. In other words, there’s something for every kind of partyphile.

So far, the feedback has been very good. “It’s nice that there’s something new to do on Thursday nights,” one partygoer said. I’m not surprised that everyone was raving about the cocktails, which is something the resto can truly brag about. On the second night, a table of international club promoters happily sampled every martini flavor available, and stayed on way after the martini promo was over. The place itself has gotten oohs and aahs and promises to be the venue of many more posh and fun gatherings.

So, if I owe you a drink (or, unfortunately, some money), at least you know where I’m going to be on Thursday nights.

Late Night Tales BY DJ C A O
Thursday nights at
Aquaknox Restaurant

800 Arnaiz Ave.
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8943380

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You Had Me at "Bone Marrow"

I’ve always wondered: What’s so great about Pepato?

The first time I ate there was several years ago- a night out with the girls, I believe. I remember sharing some appetizers with my friends and ordering for myself the tasting portion of a pasta dish. I also remember not liking the food and thinking everything was overpriced.

Fast-forward to 2009, around a month ago. Matt, having just gotten a haircut, was animatedly retelling the reflective contents of the men’s magazine he was reading at the barbershop. In between pictures of a Maserati and Christine Reyes’ scantily-clad bosoms, there was a list of- in some random person’s expert opinion- the best restaurants in Manila. Among them was Margarita Fores’ fine-dining resto, Pepato. We should try it, Matt says. I say something along the lines of “Really?”, or “You sure?”. Knowing that one of Matt’s pet peeves is being made to pay big bucks for bad food, I tell him my concerns. He refuses to believe it, convinced that the creator of Cibo’s Penne al Telefono can do no wrong, so I shrug my shoulders and agree to disagree.

We finally got a chance to have dinner there last weekend, him excited, me with a slight hint of dread. I try to convince myself that the food cannot be that bad since Pepato remains in the same spot where it opened several years ago as one of the pioneers of Greenbelt 2. A good number of its fellow old-timers have since “retired” and been replaced, some already twice over. So the fact that it remains standing despite growing competition in the surrounding area and in other developments in the metro, they’ve got to have something going for them.

The relatively-quiet dining room is famous for its décor, and although stunning, remains enveloping and cozy. We settled into a comfy nook in the ground floor, preferring to avoid the bigger group seated at the mezzanine.

Getting into the whole old-school Italian vibe (something Fores seems to be an expert at setting) of dining, we order our aperitivos of prosecco (mine) and Campari with orange juice (Matt’s). Thinking the appetizers were small, we ordered two: the Roasted Bone Marrow and the Squashflower, Mushroom and Apple Fritters. Our eyes bulge out as three generous cuts of beef bone on a plate were set in front of us, the marrow nicely charred and warm under the burnt crust. We hungrily placed heaping amounts of marrow on slices of toasted bread and topped them with black truffle paste and rock salt. The fritters, too, were very tasty- I loved the nice crunch from the crispy batter and the subtle nuance of cheese in the dipping sauce.

First course was a single serving of the Pepato Spaghettini- a simple yet scrumptious pasta preparation of spaghettini, parmesan and black pepper. It is cooked in a table-side spectacle wherein the ingredients are flambé-d in a hollowed-out wheel of Parmeggiano. The strong, aged cheese with its waxy, buttery texture is really the star here, and a half serving each is all it took to have us sighing in contentment. Since Matt was still nursing his Campari Orange, I had a glass of their house red to go with this dish and the one after.

Noticing the trend of generous servings, Matt decided we should just share the main course of Veal Scallopine that I ordered, and immediately cancelled his own order of baby goat. Good thing he did, because we were stunned at the site of three platito-sized slices of veal accompanied by grilled zucchini and baby potatoes. Again, the dish was very simply-done with just a gooseliver cream sauce which was surprisingly light.

The service was quick and efficient, not really a shocker since we were the only ones at the ground floor. But, even after when were having a few drinks at the al fresco dining area, there was always someone standing a few meters away ready to fetch us a fresh one.

Pricing, too, was quite reasonable. I’m guessing that their prices have increased since the last time I was there, but now, compared to the astronomical prices at other fine dining establishments, their prices in Pepato are really not bad.

Margarita Fores- I will never doubt you again.

Greenbelt 2, Ayala Center
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 7572636

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Albarino Wishes and Chuleton Dreams

Chinkee: What do you feel like eating?:-) Steak or Spanish?

Sam: Steak! Let’s do Spanish when James comes back.:-)

And so that is what we did. When Sam announced her husband James’ arrival a week after our steak dinner, we immediately planned dinner at La Tienda with our other college buddy, Mara, and Matt. James has returned to Manila to pick up his wife (whom, in our humble opinion, has been spoiled-rotten by him) so they can return to London together after a week. He has been craving Basque food since his previous departure from Manila, so this Spanish dinner is all about him (or so we made him believe).

After a mediocre meal the first time I ate there, I made sure to have tisoy food blogger and La Tienda patron Miguel do the ordering for us. Judging from the frequency that he, wine expert Noel and their friends go there, I knew that I missed out on something. Therefore, I happily gave Miguel free-reign to show me what La Tienda is really all about.

After being served our chilled Laxas Albarino 2007 from Terry’s (another recommendation from Miguel), we sampled our appetizers of Boquerones (thin slivers of fish marinated in vinegar) and Escalavidas (roasted eggplants with anchovies on top of toasted baguette slices). The appetizers went very well with the crisp white wine and did its job of whetting our appetites for the feast that is yet to come. The boys just cannot get enough of the escalavidas, though, and immediately pounced on the remaining two when I said they did not have to save the portions meant for Mara and her friend, Lia. Without missing a beat, they happily munched on the bruschetta-like appetizer while chatting about European football.

After we were given just enough time to digest, the main courses finally came. The Chuleton (stoneware-grilled rib-eye seasoned with sea salt) was served in an impressively-large platter with a generous side of thinly-cut fries. Spanish-style Steak Frites, Matt called it. But it was so much more. The meat was cooked medium-well in some parts, medium in others, which worked well with our group. The simple seasoning was enough to highlight the natural flavors of the steak. Matt and I were still fantasizing about it the next day.

The fish dish was a butterflied and filleted Besugo al Horno, swimming in olive oil (oil that’s famously good for you) and crisp, thinly-sliced garlic. Again, it is a straightforward dish using the freshest catch and high-quality ingredients, allowing the firm texture of the fish to be the highlight.

Paella was naturally a part of the repertoire and we had, not one, but two: Paella Verduras and Paella Negra accompanied by aioli (garlic mayonnaise). By special request, these dishes were prepared with Basmati rice, giving the classic a much fluffier dimension, and in effect, allowing me to eat more of it. I had no idea that a purely vegetarian dish (Verduras) could be so flavorful and delicious. This is my new favorite Paella, for sure.

We also opened a bottle of rose (a New World Syrah, if I’m not mistaken) that James brought, but I was too “busy” to either take pictures or to take note. A quick swirl and sniff gave out wonderful aromas of ripe dark berries. I liked it. Good thing that I remember it coming out of a Ralph’s plastic bag and I have a blurry memory of its brand.

We left after the large party of Tisoys that took up most of the restaurant has broken up, but not before opening Sam’s advanced batchelorette party gift- a bottle stopper shaped like a man with an unusually large appendage. What’s funny is that I burst out laughing upon seeing it, thinking it was something else. You know, something used for “other things”. When I realized what it was, it explained the puzzled look on everyone’s faces, which said something like, “It’s funny, but it wasn’t THAT funny”. I later on explained my dirty mistake and naturally that one they thought was hilarious.

Mara was celebrating her birthday at midnight so we moved to Aquaknox for some after dinner drinks. They were about to close but were nice enough to accommodate us.

More of Mara’s friends came to join the fun and everyone was raving about the delicious fruit martinis that they served us.

After Mara has blown out the candle on her Caramel Mousse, Matt, James, Sam and I stayed a bit longer then decided to move on to another friend’s event. After that delicious Spanish meal- which Matt proclaimed to be the first Spanish meal he truly enjoyed- we simply did not want the night to end.

La Tienda Restaurante Espanol
Polaris St.
Brgy. Bel-Air, Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8904123

Arnaiz Ave.
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8943380