Saturday, December 24, 2011

Season's Greetings from a Negligent Blogger

It's been a busy December for me, hence the neglected blog. But, nevertheless, thank you to those who continue to read. Just for your guys, I promise to be more active this coming 2012. May your holiday season be filled with love, laughter, and of course- lots and lots of glorious food!

Love, Chi and Matt

Friday, November 18, 2011

This Lil Piggy Had Cake

It took a while for Red Velvet cake to make it to our shores, but I'm really just glad it did. This American classic is as decadent as it is visually spectacular- the deep, red-brown hue of chocolate-flavored cake, set against the stark contrast of white cream cheese or buttercream frosting is a standout with its classic features. The flavors are truly moan-inducing, and I have yet to meet a person who has not fallen for it's voluptuous charms.

Recently, Red Velvet cake (and it's equally beguiling cupcake incarnation) has developed a pretty impressive cult following locally. I myself have quite the sweet tooth (albeit a controlled one, thanks to diabetes in my genes), and once in a while the seductive mental image of moist, garnet-hued cake smothered in thick cream cheese icing proves to be far too irresistible.

Luckily, through the wonders of Facebook, I discover that my friend Chrissie Regaza- a highly-accomplished baker and fellow lush- of The Rolling Pig bakes, among other delectable goodies, a mean Red Velvet cake. Therefore, with my Dad's birthday coming up, I decide to order him a cake and, yes, eat it, too.

I must admit- and I say this without bias- that The Rolling Pig's Red Velvet cake is as good as they can possibly get- definitely moist, but not dense, the cake is light-footed until you get to the icing, which was sweet and decadent and all forms of wonderful. What is freakishly good about this cake is that it gets even better after a couple of days in the fridge, which is usually where cakes go to die. How many times have I kept a slice of cake in the fridge's cold crevices, only to resurface as a dry, ragged version of it's old self? No, not this one. TRP's Red Velvet stayed moist, and the flavors of it's frosting and filling just became more intense.

I was already a fan, but now, I'm a disciple.

The Rolling Pig
Tel. No. (632) 8209350

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Perfect Steak

Dinner at Antonio's is usually reserved for special occasions. Aside from impeccably- presented and prepared food, service is almost always flawless and the ambience is one of the most breathtaking and genteel in the country. But this time, we just HAD to go, for the sole purpose that the Deal Grocer vouchers I purchased months ago were expiring. I mean, we had to go. Right?

Days before our day trip to Tagaytay, Matt was already dreaming of ordering steak. Thing is, we swore never to order steak at Antonio's, simply because there are more intricately-prepared dishes to be enjoyed. Besides, there are at least two places in Manila where they know how to cook a perfect steak- and one of those places, modesty aside, is in my kitchen. So, we go to Antonio's to enjoy their roasted rack of lamb or maybe the duck breast, but never their steaks.Although, recently, Matt has been disappointed with the steaks he ordered in our go-to restaurant for Prime Rib-eyes. So, he decided that maybe it was time to give Antonio's steaks a try, thinking that these guys would definitely know how to properly grill or broil a beautiful piece of meat.

As I expected, our Prime Porterhouse Steak was- for lack of a more appropriate word- perfection. First of all, let's talk about the quality of the meat- cut over an inch thick, with zero gristle, cooked medium rare, going towards medium as it sat on the hot plate. A porterhouse, for those who do not know, is actually a large t-bone, with one side of the bone being the tenderloin, and the smaller side is the top loin (when sliced off the bone, becomes a New York strip). The meat was lightly seasoned with cardamom, salt and pepper, swimming in it's juices and good-quality olive oil. Overall, the meat was tender, but the top loin part was beyond pillow soft. Oh, and I think I should mention that Matt had a "food-gasm" when he took his first bite of the potato gnocchi. I mean, his head literally fell backwards.

On the side, we were given lemon wedges, chimichuri, steak sauce and some pink Himalayan rock salt to flavor the steak with. Matt and I were perfectly happy just dousing the meat in it's natural jus, with a sprinkling of pink salt. In our opinion, that's all it really needed. Even the crispy onion strings they put on top of the steak was mere garnish.With the meal, we had a bottle of this 2006 Amarone I bought from Terry's Selection (I really should start taking wine notes and not be such a lush- Cutie, what is this again?) which went wonderfully with the grilled meat- it was full-bodied, with rich-almost unctuous- dark berries and prunes. Even matt, who prefers more delicate reds, loved the flavors and balance of this one.

Once again, we had a perfect evening at Antonio's, and we definitely would not think twice about having steak there on our next visits.

Antonio's Restaurant
Brgy. Neogan
Tagaytay City
Mobile no. +639178992866

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Brunch-ing Manila (in Bed): Making Croque Madame

Yesterday, my parents showed up with a big loaf of ciabatta for me and Matt. They know about Matt's love affair with good bread (one of the two things he has in common with my mom- the other thing is OCD), so it was sweet of them to swing by the deli at their apartment building before picking me up for lunch. Since I have been off booze for the past few days (and will be for a few more days to come) because I'm on meds for a nasty cough, making brunch on a weekend morning was not such a laughable possibility. So, I pick-up a few more deli items and realize that not only can I make a mean sandwich with these goodies, but I can actually make Croque Madame.

Below is a recipe (loosely based on a recipe I got from of this decadent brunch dish or entree that, quite honestly, is more "low-maintenance" than it's name leads you to believe.

Croque Madame (good for 2)

2 thick slices of hearty bread (in this case, ciabatta)
Olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup low-fat milk
2 slices Turkey ham ( for Matt the Pork Hater)
2 slices Gruyere cheese
2 eggs
Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

-Make some bechamel sauce. In a small sauce pan, cook the flour in two knobs of butter over low heat for two minutes. Slowly stir in the milk until fully incorporated, season with a couple pinches of nutmeg, and cook until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
- slice 2 chunky pieces of ciabatta, approximately 3"x3". Slice the top part off so you're left with a relatively flat surface and place on a baking pan. Smear a thin layer of dijon mustard on both slices of bread then top with turkey ham. Smooth some bechamel on top of the ham, and then a slice of gruyere. Put the oven on "broil" and set it on "high". Broil the croques for 2 minutes or until cheese starts boiling, switch off oven and then move the baking pan to the bottom to keep them warm.
-On a frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of butter. Cook eggs until yolks are still runny and season with salt and pepper. Remove croques from baking sheet and place fried eggs on top of each croque.
- Serve immediately

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Beach and the Alchemist

This year, I wanted to celebrate my birthday in a different way. I have always enjoyed being surrounded by family and friends, finding joy and excitement in food, drink and revelry. But, on my 33rd birthday, I’ve decided to go on a trip with Matt- my husband, favorite dining companion, occasional fashion stylist, hardiest sparring partner and dearest friend. I chose the island of Boracay because it’s fun, accessible and relatively affordable compared to going abroad. Besides, some of our favorite food haunts are on that island, so I can still easily fulfill my favorite birthday indulgence, which is to pig out.

For our fancy birthday dinner for two, I consulted with fellow bar owner and epicure Christine San Diego- whose creperie and French bistro Ti Braz is as much a Boracay icon as Willy’s Rock- on where I could have a nice romantic dinner with Matt. Among a couple of others, she mentioned Alchemy- Josh Boutwood’s small beach front restaurant serving modern cuisine. I Google it and find a few blog entries about him and his food, and I am immediately intrigued by this 24-year-old chef who is marching to the beat of his own drum in a small Visayan resort town where grilled local dishes reign supreme and fast food franchises are growing in prominence. We correspond through e-mail- discussing Matt’s dietary restrictions (no pork and seafood, except fish, hold the ginger), me asking if I can bring bottles and him graciously waiving corkage (thanks to my association with Christine, of course)- and we agree on an eight-course menu which will only be revealed to us on the evening itself. Matt and I were naturally excited.

Alchemy is situated in the busy commercial area on White Beach, between boat stations 1 and 2. It is on the ground floor of a structure it shares with Ti Braz, with a neat bar area and seating for around 15-20 people inside, and a few more tables outside on the beach. The fresh, modern seaside décor- with its white plastered walls and psychedelic mural- would not be out of place in more progressive coastal cities like Miami, and the vibe is hip like a neighborhood joint in the East Village. We are welcomed by the bubbly and charming Janice and seated near the front of the resto. Chef Josh pops out of the kitchen to greet us, making sure he got the details right regarding what Matt can/not eat, then quickly returns to his work space. The staff is notably young, efficient and unobtrusive- just like the owner/chef.

To placate our growing hunger, we were given some potato bread and some brown butter served on an oyster shell. The butter had a fragrant, burnt flavor to it, like caramel. Matt, who adores good bread and has a renewed (long story) love for butter, is so enamored by the taste that he sent Janice to ask Chef Josh what was in it. Of course, like a true alchemist, he coyly refuses to reveal his formula.

The first course arrived atop two white pumice rocks- Raw Tuna, Dehydrated Tuna Roe, and Soy Jelly. Naturally, the raw fish and the strong, concentrated soy flavor was a solid match, a perfect opening number to a seaside dining event. Janice has begun pouring our champagne by then- a bottle of NV Delamotte that I have purchased from Premium Wine Exchange. I loved it, and Matt (who usually professes that he is not discerning when it comes to wines) loves it for its super crisp character and toasted bread notes.

My favorite dish came right after, which was the Mahi-mahi with Dill and Alugbati on top of Risotto. The sauce was the same butter served with the bread, and it was a fitting companion to the firm and hearty fish. I normally do not like mahi-mahi because- when overcooked- it could be dry and tasteless like cardboard. But this one was expertly prepared- the fish was moist and flaky, even buttery in the middle- and combined with the butter, the rich, creamy risotto and the ethereal dill, it was the dreamiest fish dish I have had in a while.

The next fish dish we had was also well-prepared- Red Snapper, Horseradish Puree, and Banana Heart. The fish was light and flaky, the outer skin seared to a crisp. I have only had banana heart in its most popular local preparation, which is stewed in coconut milk and ginger, but Chef Josh’s version is equally appreciated for its light creaminess and balanced seasoning. I believe this dish would have shined more if it was presented before the mahi-mahi, since the flavors were much lighter and more subtle. We also started pouring the ’95 Campillo Gran Reserva at this point, and although it was not a good match with the snapper, we started sipping it just because it was so darn good.

In between the fish courses and the meat courses was a peculiar one- Caramelized Onions doused in a light broth. I love onions- raw, battered and deep-fried, in soup- so I got what the chef was trying to do. Kind of. It was definitely aesthetically-appealing, with varying degrees of sweetness and texture. But, Matt was clearly puzzled by it, mumbling “What the f…?” even as we walked towards Juice Bar after dinner.

The fifth dish was Roast Native Chicken Breast on Top of Pickled Cabbage, with Popcorn and Baby Corn. From what I have picked up from the next table’s conversation, I believe it was supposed to be pork belly dish. I point this out to Matt and he is overcome with guilt. Although he does not eat pork, he is very much aware of how much I love this particular part of the pig. The chef, aware of Matt’s restricted diet, has substituted the fatty, delicious pork belly with chicken. Naturally, the end result was not the same, to say the least. Flavor-wise, the dish does not leave you wanting, but in terms of the natural moisture of the meat, the unctuousness of pork fat- you cannot replicate that with chicken.

The last savory dish was, in my opinion, also the most intricate, and truly showcases the chef’s technique and food philosophy- Braised Ox Tongue with an Assortment of Mushrooms and Vegetables. The tongue was mildly flavored, allowing the slight gaminess of the meat to come through; the accompanying vegetables were a play in sweetness (from the carrots), texture (from the popcorn) and umami (from the mushrooms). There was almost something whimsical and organic about this dish, almost like a tableau of what sustainable gastronomy (something the chef must have learned during his stint at Noma) is about.

Pre-dessert was a simple dish of Orange Pieces and Lemongrass Oil. Simple maybe, but highly beneficial in digestion, which I suspect is its main purpose. Matt, with his aversion to ginger, was not particularly fond of the spicy, heady lemongrass, which he found too strong a flavor for a dessert. Personally, I found it to be fragrant and cleansing.

Finally, dessert was served, and it was scrumptious- Cappuccino Ice Cream, Peanut Butter and Pound Cake Crumbs. Not too sweet, flavors balanced and complimentary- and everything was homemade. We’re impressed.

Matt and I chit-chatted a bit with the chef after our meal- who, by the way, does not like being called “chef” (“I never wear chef’s whites”, he points out, motioning towards his dark blue t-shirt and board shorts). While I enjoy his endearing British accent, I look upon this young man with the tremendous talent and confidence, and I found myself thinking, “Is this guy for real?” He comes to the Philippines after working in the best restaurant in world, decides to apply what he learned in his own restaurant, and sets-up shop- nope, not in a hotel, not in the ritzy Makati CBD- but on a beach in Aklan. Like a true alchemist who deals with elements in their purest form, I believe Josh Boutwood is truly in his element and likes to stay true to it- cooking the food that he is passionate about, in an environment where he can be who he truly is. In this state, he is able to create gastronomic masterpieces that provoke and amaze. And, as Matt mentioned, I can only imagine what the young chef could be capable of in the years to come.

Restaurant Alchemy
Between Boat Stations 1 & 2
(Beside Ti Braz Creperie & Bistro)
White Beach, Boracay Island
Mobile no. +639173041570
E-mail address:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

San Francisco in Six Courses

I do not gamble. But, this time around, I just had a really good feeling. So I rolled the dice.

Based on his Facebook statuses, I figured a few months ago that San Francisco-based chef Christian Vecin was coming to Manila for a quick visit. I am particularly fond of the food porn he would post on his wall- mostly dishes he would prepare at Buon Appetito in San Mateo, California- so I have been curious about his food for some time now. Being the self-indulgent glutton that I am, I thought it would be in everybody’s best interest to have Chef Chris do a one-night-only dinner at No. 38 Sports Lounge & Grill- a restaurant/bar that I co-own with my sisters, our husbands, and a cousin. So, without having tried his dishes, I invite Chef Chris to collaborate with us, based solely on a gut feeling that he loves food just as much as I do. That, in my opinion, is a better gauge for talent than any culinary degree or affiliation with a stuck-up resto.

Having been open for more than a year, No. 38 has become a popular spot in Makati for a laid-back night out with friends and live music. What a lot of people do not know is that we are just as serious about our food as throwing a good party. The Bay Area-themed dinner with Chef Chris was the perfect opportunity to show a different side to our establishment, which in essence is that other part of us that loves to sit down to a good meal.

No. 38’s dining tables and cocktail seating were decked out that night with black table cloths and pristine white napkins. The ambience was definitely still relaxed, but spiffy-d up for a proper dinner event. Personally, I loved it- it felt like I was looking at my teenage son (if I had one, that is)- in a freshly-ironed shirt, every strand of hair in place- before he goes off on his first date.

Food lovers and friends came to support the event, including some Manila-based friends and family of the chef. Matt and I were in one table with two friends from the press- Vince B. and Cesar C. It was fun being around people with the same love for food and who, like myself, understand that a good meal is not just about delicious food, but easy, delightful company as well. The conversations flowed naturally, and the light, fun banter pretty much captured the theme for the evening.

I advised the chef that he can start serving as soon as the early birds were settled (while sipping on their Kiamoy Martinis), and that the rest can be served their food as they arrive. The first course was a Roman Egg Drop Soup- chicken stock infused with egg and topped with grated parmesan. This was a wonderful starter- light in texture, but heavy in flavor. The broth was clean and devoid of greasiness, so all you get is the wonderful textural element from the tiny flecks of egg and the deep flavorful broth.

This play in texture and flavor are again expertly portrayed in the salad course, a Heart of Palms Salad- heart of palms, romaine lettuce, julienned dried mangoes, and homemade guava jelly vinaigrette. Once you have overcome the shock from the gargantuan portioning (something common with all of the dishes), you begin to appreciate the contrasts of sweet and tangy, crisp and chewy- a lovely homage to the tropics, yet something that resonates with the multi-cultural melting pot which is San Francisco.

My favorite dish of the evening- and currently my favorite fusion dish EVER- is the third course, the Tempura Tacos- tempura shrimp or kamote served in flour tortillas topped with honey chipotle aioli & crispy onion rings. I could have had three more of these, called it a night and would have been a happy camper. The tempura was light and crisp, and so were the onion strings. The inherent sweetness from the onions and honey complemented the shrimps, and the distinct spiciness from the chipotle gave the dish just the right amount of kick it needed. It was perfectly-balanced and yet so comforting in its familiarity- definitely one of those “Why-Did-I-Not-Think-of-That” moments. I still find myself dreaming about those tacos to this day.

I had to stop myself from finishing the second taco to save room for the dishes to come, but it was still not enough space for the fourth course, Baked Truffle Mac & Cheese- macaroni baked with a truffle three-cheese sauce (cheddar, smoked cheddar and parmesan). It came out in a big block, and I knew that there was no way I could finish it. I liked that the flavors were mild, and so was the truffle aroma, which tends to be overpowering when applied with a heavy hand. I believe the dish would have benefited from a little more baking, since the leftovers I took home tasted much better after I heated it in the oven.

Despite the groaning I heard from all around the dining room, we knew we still had the main course coming. We had a choice between the Pinot Noir Braised Short Ribs (served with garlic mashed potatoes) and the Homemade Butternut Squash Ravioli. Judging by the trend of the portioning, I knew Matt and I could eat off each other’s plates and still have food left over, so we got one of each. The short ribs, although tender and unctuous, fell a bit short on flavor. A little more braising would have done the trick, I believe, as the leftovers were once again tastier after reheating. Unfortunately, the ravioli was unsalvageable- the pasta was tough and dry, the filling bland.

However, whatever shortcomings the main dishes had were over-compensated by Chef Chris’ final salvo- The B-52 Brownie- a decadent three chocolate brownie infused with Khalua and Grand Marnier topped with Irish cream. Chef Chris originally wanted to whip the Irish cream, but our muggy kitchen made it impossible. This setback, however, did not stop this dessert from blowing us away (pun not intended)- the almost-flaky top shrouds a dense, moist, tender inside, while the liqueurs faintly flavor the coffee-enhanced chocolate, topped off by the light Irish cream. It was- hands down- the best brownie I have ever eaten.

Despite the hiccup with the main courses and the extra-large portions, the dinner was a success. I believe that Chef Chris was able to display the diversity of Bay Area cuisine and executing it with combined classical precision and casual ease. Thankfully, this particular gamble paid-off, and I am truly hoping that we would see more of this talented chef on local soil. The humble, down-to-earth guy that he is, Chef Chris shared the credit with our kitchen staff as well- headed by No. 38’s Chef Arnel- and points out that our guys definitely know what they’re doing.

Cesar C. called the event “a breath of fresh air” amidst the usual dinners they have had to attend (and these traditional writers get invited to a lot of them). He said it was a welcome break from the typical degustations in fine-dining settings where you cannot really just relax and show up in denims. Hearing that was a small victory in my part, having introduced this concept to No. 38 patrons while at the same time staying true to our persona as a cozy, laidback place where you can just be yourself. We will definitely be doing this again with other equally-talented young chefs, and like we always say, everybody’s invited.

No. 38 Sports Lounge & Grill
114A Jupiter St. Bel-air 2
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 5191806

No. 38 is open for lunch on weekdays and serves a Mongolian lunch buffet at P320 net/head from 11am-2pm.

Ala Carte menu is available for lunch and dinner. Try our famous Awesome Nachos,Buffalo Wings, Disco Fries, Crispy Bulalo, Grilled Liempo and many more!

No. 38 is a great venue for private parties and corporate events. For inquiries, please call the number above.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Meeting the Meat: Reflections of a Carnivore

I grew up on carnivorous excess, having been raised in a family that has no dietary restrictions. My early memories of fiestas in my father’s hometown in Quezon are pervaded by the panicked clucks and squeals of chickens and pigs being butchered. Baptisms and birthdays sometimes called for whole-roasted calf, and I was always a happy participant in devouring the tender, aromatic meat. There has always been a natural awareness that the meat being consumed was once a living, breathing creature, and there was nothing wrong with that. It was just the way things were.

The catalyst that spurred my musings was the killing of a goat during a trip to our island retreat. The animal belonged to my cousin Vic, whom I discovered has set-up a farm in one of their properties inland which included a growing legion of cattle, roosters and other livestock. It was decided, during the lambanog-laced conversations of the men during our first night’s dinner, that dinner the following night would be Caldereta (a rich tomato-based stew) made from freshly-butchered goat meat. The adventurous foodie in me was excited, having only tried goat a few times in my life.

The following morning, I wake up to sunny skies and go for a quick swim with my five-year-old niece, Nana (actually, it was low tide, so we did more of “wading” than “swimming”.) When we returned to the house, I go to the dining area to grab a piyaya and then I saw it- tied to a tree in the back of the house was a white goat. Its coat pristine, his three-inch horns jutting out of its small forehead, it looks placid and unperturbed, completely oblivious to his fate, I believed. My sister, Queen Bee, thought otherwise: “It knows it’s dying”, she says. True or not, we’ll never really know, but this small proclamation suddenly changes my entire perspective. The animal lover in me suddenly overpowered the unrelenting food lover, and I am suddenly filled with compassion. I cannot even bear to look at the goat, as I imagined it praying its final Hail Mary’s while it stared blankly into space. I turn around to leave as I thought to myself: “We’re all murderers.”

I have always rolled my eyes at most Westerners’ aversion to seeing their food in their original form before consuming it. In developed countries, it seems that people have gotten so used to seeing their meats and fish properly filleted and deboned, that the idea of seeing a chicken or fish head in a dish renders even the burliest man squeamish. This, as Nana would say, is just plain “silly”. I mean, do they really think there is a factory somewhere in Middle America where a giant Steak Machine churns out perfectly-cut rib-eyes, vacuum packed and then shipped to the nearest Wal-Mart? Or that the fillet of sole on their plate was swimming around the English Channel looking like that, minus the beurre blanc? Ok, fine, nobody could be that “silly” to actually think that, and yes, there are also culinary traditions in the West that remain rustic and accepting of traditional butchering and cooking methods. But the question remains: What’s the big deal?

Obviously, most Asians don’t seem to mind. The Chinese are happy to serve a beautifully-steamed Garoupa whole, to be deboned table side and then served (always) with the head intact, showcasing the prized fish cheeks, jaws and eyeballs. In several cultures, whole pigs roasted on a spit or cooked under dirt and coals are traditional festive fare. During Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” tour of the Philippines, foodie/author/restauranteur Claude Tayag and him were happily picking away at a goat’s head swimming in a bowl of flavorful broth at a kambingan in Pampanga.

But, after that chilling encounter with the live animal, there was a little voice inside of me that screamed, “Don’t let them kill the goat!” For the few moments after, I was almost sick to my stomach, wondering if what we were about to do was absolutely necessary- I mean, we brought enough food to feed our group for an entire week. Did we really need more meat? As I distracted myself with other things- a rousing game of Uno, some Spanish Rosado, more piyaya- I see the house staff gathering at the back of the house, and I knew what was coming. I heard the goat protesting at first, and then its agonizing cries as it struggles for breath. And then it was over. Soon, I hear the matador’s machete striking against stone as it butchered the goat by the poso.

Do not get me wrong- I am not about to go vegan, or any level of vegetarianism. But, there is a sudden reverence for animal life that was not there before. I have always loved animals, but the fluffy kind, or the ones you find at the zoo. To me, livestock was different, and they were meant to be in my belly. But, seeing that goat before it was butchered truly struck a cord, and I am somehow less jaded and callous. I still think people who cannot eat fish with heads are silly, but at least I know now not to scoff at those who cannot slaughter their own dinner.

After the goat-killing drama, dinner set me back to my old perspective- which is, meat is awesome. The calereta- cooked by the butcher himself- was exactly what I imagined it to be: a spicy, robust sauce perfectly complimenting the tender and mildy-gamey meat. The little bones are easily picked off the soft tendons and the meat is juicy and tender. It was excellent. Being the drama queen that I could be, I declare with mock conviction, “The goat did not die in vain.” My dad gags at the joke, rice kernels almost shooting out of his nose, but I was only half kidding.

There were no (more) goats harmed during the writing of this entry. The photo of the live goat is from and is not the actual goat butchered for the caldereta. It looks like it, though.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cupcakes for the Pain

A week ago, I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy.

Two weeks before that, I already knew I was pregnant. We have been trying for a few months, after all, so after being delayed for a week, I was excited/scared to take a home-kit pregnancy test. When the two lines indicating a positive result appeared, I was beyond elated. I wake up a sleeping Matt to tell him, who was jubilant as any half-awake person could possibly be.

Announcements were made tentatively, beginning with immediate family. As the reality slowly set in, everyday our excitement built-up, and it became harder and harder to keep it under wraps. We began telling our closest friends, wanting to share the good news of this amazing blessing.

But, during my first ultrasound, we received some crushing news. I remember it vividly- the technician (also a doctor, but not my OB) said, "Yes, you are pregnant. But we have a problem." My heart immediately jumped up to my throat, I looked helplessly at Matt and my mom, who both looked equally perplexed.

The uterus is empty, she pointed out, and she shifted the ultrasound towards the left, and pointed with the cursor where the sac is embedded. The fertilized egg attached itself to the widest part of the left Fallopian tube, whereas it should have continued its journey down the tube and attached itself to the thickened lining of the uterus. The technician then points at the center of the sac where you could see what looks like a blinking white light. It was the fetus' little heart, beating.

An ectopic pregnancy is probably one of life's biggest sucker punches- at the height of all the elation and excitement, you are suddenly told, "nope, sorry, it's not going to happen." A ruptured tube from an ectopic pregnancy can cause internal bleeding, and even lead to the mother's death. I cannot even articulate the devastation of being given the most beautiful gift, only to be told later on that there is no way in the world I can keep it. It all began to sink in on the car ride home, where Matt and I finally broke down, sobbing quietly, as we sought solace in each other's arms.

We got a second ultrasound the following morning in another hospital, which yielded the same result, and then everything happened so fast after that. My doctor instructed me to have myself admitted at noon for a laparoscopy, saying that delaying the surgery would only increase the risk of rupture. And based on my research, that is the last thing I want to happen at that point- it would lead to intense pain and also call for a more complicated procedure. My surgery was scheduled for 5PM and I remember being wheeled into the OR at exactly 5:30PM. The anesthesiologist gave me a first shot which was meant to sedate me- "like being drunk on Patron", she joked. The second shot I felt running up my arm from the IV, and before the feeling hit my shoulder, I was knocked out.

The procedure usually lasts four hours, the nurses told us. Mine was done in a little over an hour and a half.

Laparoscopy allows the surgeon to explore and perform surgery with the aid of a thin, tiny camera and minuscule incisions. The doctor made a small slice on my left fallopian tube, and then scooped out the "growth". The blocks on the tube were caused by endometrial growths, which she also found on the right tube and behind the uterus. The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but there are several theories. Whatever it is, mine was finally discovered and dealt with, and now it's gone. "I fixed all that needed to be fixed, to prepare for your next pregnancies," my doctor reassured me. I find consolation in the fact that at least all my parts are still there- my tubes and ovaries intact. At least.

After two nights at the hospital, I go home to continue my recuperation. I discovered that painkillers are good for the actual "surgical pain", but not the stomach cramps from gas. That was where most of the discomfort came from. The best cure for it was to move around- roll from side to side, or get up and walk around a bit, even if it hurt. I never would have imagined farts to be such a precious commodity, but at that point they were. Now, I'm still taking it easy, spending most of my time off my feet. I sometimes forget that although minor, I just had a surgical procedure performed on me, and I should allow my body ample time to heal. I am very thankful that I have that luxury, since not all women can stay in bed for a week or more.

All this free time allows me to be introspective and see the beauty in the midst of my misery. The love and support from family and friends have been overwhelming, and even up to now I would cry alternately out of both sadness and joy. I am thankful that my condition was diagnosed early on, allowing my doctor to act quickly and perform the surgery at record time. It really could have been a lot worse, I realize that now. And on that note, I'm just so lucky to have had an exceptional doctor and the best healthcare. St. Luke's Medical Center at Fort Global is an excellent hospital (Matt described it as "very first-world") and I hope that we could find a way in the near future for this kind of medical care to be made available to everyone.

More importantly, this experience brought my relationship with my husband to a different level, adding a different dimension and greater depth. I feel so close to him now, and seeing how he handled himself throughout this ordeal made me appreciate him even more. He is a strong and loving person, and he will make an amazing father when the time finally comes.

So, to get myself through this, I have put myself on a high-sugar diet. The first morning at home, back from the hospital, I was feasting on my niece's goodie bag (she celebrated her 5th birthday the same day of my surgery): breakfast was Reese's chocolate peanut butter cups, bite-sized Milky Way bars and Gummy Bears. Flipping through my sister's cupcake cookbooks brought on a different craving, which my husband was only too happy to indulge- the day before our anniversary (which we had to celebrate at home) he surprised me with four gorgeous cupcakes from Sonja's, two of which were my favorite Red Velvet.

No, cupcakes do not cure a broken heart, but they remind you of happier times and better things. These situations tend to reinforce the presence of a Higher Being, and- as cliche as it may sound- that things happen for a reason. And I believe that. I have to. Because- despite cupcakes not having any curative properties- they are good. And all will be good.

Note: The rate of ectopic pregnancies have risen over the years- currently, it is 1 out of 50. It is the number one cause of deaths for mothers during the first trimester. If you think you are pregnant, a trans-vaginal ultrasound could confirm if the pregnancy is in utero or otherwise. Do not delay treatment or surgery- talk to your OB about your options. Remember: the sooner the diagnosis and treatment, the better the results.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Doing the Ilonggo Chicken Dance

I don’t know how it all started or where it came from. But the craving just suddenly hit me. And it hit me hard.

For a week I was going crazy over everything Ilonggo- La Paz batchoy, Casa Carmela’s pitaw (bottled snipe cooked adobo-style), and chicken inasal. Good friend and fellow foodie Cookie Goddess picked up on my obsession and said that we had to try this inasal place in Quezon City. I am known to travel long distances for food, so lunch in the not-too-far north was not such a bad idea.

One stormy day, I carpool with Cookie Goddess and Mrs. G-Ro to Bacolod Chicken Parilla. Parilla is what they call grilled meats in Argentina. Every part of the cow (which is king in Argentina) is used, so do not be surprised when you see intestines, tongue and even penis (!) in the open charcoal pit. But Bacolod Chicken Parilla is obviously about the Philippine’s poultry of choice, with statistics showing that Pinoy’s consume 500,000 tons of chicken a year. The Ilonggos, I have discovered, can cook it like the best of them, and that is why I felt the need to brave flood waters to have a taste of what seems to be the Scout area’s best kept secret.

We spot a table in the air-conditioned area and promptly place our orders. I admire the sauce bottles filled with vinegar, soy sauce and chicken oil, and I know that I’m in for a multi-sensory treat.

As soon as the garlic rice was placed on the table, our chatter suddenly stops, knowing that we are only moments away from inasal heaven.

We ordered a plate of liempo, simply because we love pig and would want to see how Parilla does theirs. It was a bit anti-climactic, I must admit, knowing that we have all had better grilled pork belly. So again, we wait impatiently for what we came here for. (Actually, we didn’t wait long- maybe all of 10 minutes. But we were hungry beasts, so it felt like forever.)

Finally, the plate piled high with grilled paa (chicken leg quarters) arrived. Beautifully charred in the edges by hot charcoals, the flesh is juicy and a healthy orange from the achuete oil. We all dig in, soaking the inasal and rice with chicken oil. I take a bite of the chicken, without dipping sauce first, appreciating the perfectly-balanced marinade that flavored the meat- the aromatic garlic, a little zing from the ginger, and a slight tanginess at the end from the vinegar. All the strong flavors were blending seamlessly together, but not in an overpowering way that the grilled chicken gets lost in it.

As we devoured the paa, the plate of random chicken parts we ordered was placed down on the table- atay (liver), baticolon (gizzard) and isol (butt). My family knows how much I love chicken butt, and more often than not it is immediately offered to me when we share a whole roast chicken. Parilla’s has a glistening, crisp skin, a fitting case for the juicy, fatty inside. If you have not tried chicken butt, it comes pretty close to beef bone marrow in terms of richness. That’s all you need to know. The baticolon was just alright for me- it had the texture of a silicon swimming cap, something that I don’t normally chew on. People who are into it love it, though, and I bet they will like Parilla’s. The liver, too, is something I enjoyed- simply because I love liver.

I brought home some paa and Kansi (Ilonggo-style bulalo) for Matt, and he loved the food as much as we did. He admits, though, that if I did not tell him I got it from Parilla, he initially thought the chicken came from JT’s Manukan (which we have had on several occasions, and we just had delivered a few days prior). In my non-expert opinion, I do think that Parilla (along with JT’s) is one of the best chicken inasal I have tried in Manila.

Great. This craving thing has just become a vicious cycle.

Bacolod Chicken Parilla
Sct. Gandia cor. Sct. Reyes Sts.
Quezon City
Tel. no. (632) 371 8522

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Brunch-ing Manila: Masseto

I love brunch, I really do. I just realized that I actually partake of it quite often, although it’s not always about perfectly-poached eggs and bottomless pours of bubbly. Most days they are just literally the meal I consume when it’s too late for breakfast and it’s just about noon- it could be anything from a ham and cheese omelet with a slice of whole wheat toast, to “freshly-made” Nissin Cup Noodles. Yes, these are my realities- sometimes I just have to eat what is easy and what is “there” (or what can easily be prepared with a massive hangover).

So, one Friday, Matt and I decided to stay in so we can have a proper weekend brunch the next day. While browsing through the net, I discover through Masseto’s website that they actually have a brunch menu. This upscale restaurant with the beautiful interiors and accomplished chef is typically the venue of choice during special occasions of Manila’s posh crowd, so I was delighted to see that their brunch items are actually reasonably-priced. For Matt, the deal-maker was the first item on the menu- Corned Beef Benedict. “Book it,” he said. If you think I’ll say no to that, you must be crazy.

The next day, we arrive at a nice, quiet resto, just a few servers spiffying up the place, while my hubby and I were enjoying the polished but comfortable surroundings. As we waited for our good friends Sanj and Cutie to arrive, we order some refreshments and an appetizer- a Bloody Mary for me, freshly-squeezed OJ for Matt and Chanterelles with Egg en Cocotte (one of their specials) to share. When our companions arrived, they requested for the same drinks. Sanj- quite the Bloody Mary aficionado- noticed that his drink needed a little more kick, so he requested for an additional dash of Tabasco. I should have done the same, but was halfway through my own drink that I decided to just go with what I got. Thinking back, I guess I should have- I would have definitely enjoyed it more. Remind me to be more demanding when it comes to my cocktails.

The Chanterelles and Egg en Cocotte was a light but flavorful start- the aromatic, meaty mushrooms beautifully-framed with the richness of the barely-cooked egg. It is simple but mystifying, even without the suggested shavings of black truffle (which was in season, along with the chanterelles).

My dish was the Pancetta, Gruyere and Shallots Frittata with Salad Greens, which sounds like a mouthful and I was expecting it to be. It was just alright for me, since the dish left me wanting- not just because it was quite minuscule (by my standards, at least), but also because I would have wanted to bite into little chunks of pancetta and bits of shallot, and maybe get a taste of melted, stringy gruyere. The ingredients seem to have liquefied into the egg (which, at least, was nicely puffed and airy) and I was left with just a nuance.

Fortunately, Matt was very happy with the Corned Beef Benedict. He offered me a bite and I loved the combination of the soft, flaky beef with the unctuous, runny yolk. I will never exchange the traditional ham for corned beef, but this a great alternative for those who do not eat pork.

Cutie ordered a starter as her main- the Chanterelles Puff, Jamon Serrano and Mixed Greens. It was a wonderful showcase of the ingredient in season, with the chanterelles being allowed to shine.

But, the hands-down favorite- without a shadow of a doubt- was Sanj’s dish- the Poached Eggs, Bacon, Mushrooms, Red Wine Sauce and Hollandaise. (Sanj requested for the bacon to be replaced with another cured meat, and Chef Tippi Tambunting- without batting an eyelash- suggested Jamon Serrano. No problemo.) One perfect bite (actually, I believe I had two)- a piece of bread, soaked in warm egg yolk, with a bit of flavorful mushroom, salty jamon, and the rich, mouth-filling flavors of the two sauces combined- is enough to render everyone speechless. This dish- and I rarely say this, if I do at all- is pure genius. I will happily walk the sizeable distance (fine, it’s probably just a kilometer) from my condo to Masseto for this dish.

True, there are quite a number of restaurants out there who offer better value for money, but Masseto has never been for the thrifty. The experience of dining on good food in the midst of beautiful things- on a gorgeous Saturday, with beloved friends- is definitely something that you should do once in a while. It’s good for your soul, someone once said. I believe it.

SB Card Bldg., Mezzanine
114 Valero St. Salcedo Village
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 810 3565
338 0929

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Chihuahua's Got Cojones

Funny how just five years ago, I remember noticing a void in Manila’s foodscape and found myself asking: Where did all the Mexican restaurants go?

I have been alive long enough to see how the common Pinoy’s fascination with Mexican food has evolved. The early incarnations were nothing great- quite edible but never beyond mediocre, to say the least. These Mexican joints of the 80’s and 90’s were mostly either dark, cavernous drinking spots, which are actually more popular for their pitchers of Zombie than their food (think Tia Maria’s), or small fast-food-type stalls that churn out soft tacos with microwaved ground beef (think Miggy’s). With globalization acting like a nuclear bomb, our exposure to what is deemed to be proper Mexican (or its half-breed cousins, Baja-style and Tex-Mex) virtually wiped out Mexican food as we knew it. We began looking to the American franchises as the benchmarks for what Mexican food should be- Friday’s fajitas, Taco Bell’s soft tacos and Chili’s Margaritas.

But any self-respecting Mexican food lover would soon realize that these bastardized recipes are not the real deal, not even close. Soon enough, even the dizzying allure of Chili’s softball-sized sour cream just does not cut it.

Enter the new breed of Manila’s Mexican restaurants. Mostly run by actual Mexicans or Filipino balikbayans, these restauranteurs claim to know what real Mexican food should look, smell and taste like. Terms like “carne asada”, “chipotlé” and “molé” have now become part of the local vocabulary, having been introduced as some of the major components in Mexican cuisine that we previously knew nothing about. Every newly-opened Mexican joint promised to be more authentic than the last, offering something fresh and exciting that Manila’s food addicts have never seen before.

Chihuahua Mexican Grill is part of the Mexican “boom” that has infiltrated the metro. Owners Elian and Ines are prominent personalities in the local food industry, having published a coffee table book together called Manila’s Best-Kept Restaurant Secrets, and each doing their own thing that keeps them constantly in the scene. It’s always fun bumping into them at food and wine events, with their animated storytelling and easy-going personalities. It is almost no surprise that they have decided to open a Mexican resto since I imagine them being perfectly at home in the middle of a crazy tequila-laced fiesta.

The food is decidedly Tex-Mex (Elian, although of Lebanese descent, grew up Texan), so the food is quite familiar. The difference lies, I believe, in how these simple dishes were prepared.

The Nacho Grande, for instance, although served in a utilitarian stainless mixing bowl, is out-of-this-world- crisp corn tortillas topped generously with chili con carne, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, jalapeños and cheese. It doesn’t matter if the chip you got had more chili than guac, or more salsa than sour cream. Every inch of that bowl was packed with flavor, and I had to restrain myself from finishing the entire bowl on my own.

Matt and I shared the basket of tacos, which came in threes. The chopped chicken and pork came topped with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and sour cream. If it looks spare, no need to worry- take a pit stop at the salsa station and you are free to load it up with as much sauce as you wish. There is also a selection of hot sauces to choose from, but I believe only a few bottles are opened at a time.

Although the tacos weren’t my numero uno dish, it was not lacking in flavor, therefore I could not help but enjoy the tacos nonetheless. The fresh habañero salsa was spot-on and gave the dish the kick it needed.

The burrito bowl with grilled chicken is another dish I liked a lot- I loved the moist, aromatic rice and the dense texture of the refried beans.

Something that is a universal favorite is the steak burrito, which my friends and I are hooked on. The thinly-sliced beef is tender and tasty, and the burrito as a whole is deliciously moist. This I will order for myself on my next visit. No sharing, Matt.

And, of course, a self-professed lush cannot step foot into a Mexican joint and not have a Margarita. A good one, in my opinion, has to be strong and tart- Chihuahua’s version delivers on both counts. Their frozen Margaritas have quite the knock-out punch, and even I- quite the ‘rita expert- had to restrain myself from ordering more than one since I did not want to lose that delicious dinner. It was hard to hold back, though, because those things are pretty darn good.

Another thing that is so awesome about this place is that they are open until the wee hours. So, those looking for a Mexican fix after a drinking binge in Makati can happily munch on a burrito at 3AM.

From the onset, Chihuahua seems to have all the components that make a successful Mexican resto- deliciously-potent Margaritas, addicting bowl of nachos, familiar and tasty dishes done right. These guys know what they’re doing and I believe the good food and the little details- special hot sauces, Mexican-sized (yes, they are almost the height of an actual Mexican) tequila shots- are those things that will keep people coming back. I, for one, am one of those people cheering them on, because God knows we all need a burrito at 3AM once in a while.

Chuhuahua Mexican Grill
7838 Makati Ave. (right across A.Venue)
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 897 0087