Ah it’s that time of the year again when the all-encompassing excuse to love (and spend for it) reigns supreme: It’s Valentine’s Day!
I’ve been told by friends in the industry that the following are happening so here are a few options on how to be a sucker and succumb to the dictates of commercialism and kinkiness on that day … if you don’t allow yourself to be saved by the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday and you have a legitimate excuse to abstain from love itself (hah!) …
THE PENINSULA MANILA
At the Peninsula Manila, you can already take advantage of the free-flowing Champagne for a Sunday Valentine’s brunch starting February 11 at Escolta for P4,300 per head.
Then on Valentine’s Day itself, you can have a lovely four-course dinner at Old Manila with the reliable fine dining classics: foie gras, lobster bisque, Wagyu and dessert. If your date has an appetite, try the Valentine’s Day Seafood Buffet – I’m assuming it’s seafood in consideration of Ash Wednesday – with free-flowing sparkling wines and beer (because if you’re a sneaky Catholic, you would argue that your fasting is limited to not eating meat). This buffet is priced at P3,600 per person.
But I think the most romantic set up would be at Spices. Usually, this is indoors but Pen is taking advantage of the gorgeous weather we have been having lately and opening the al fresco area for a poolside dinner called Spices Under the Stars. Imagine having your favorite Thai food and other curries under the stars! This is the option I would choose!
There’s also an incentive to get a room: it comes with a bottle of wine, breakfast buffet, and P3,000 dining credit that you can use at their restaurants.
CITY OF DREAMS
If you want a really sulit date, the buffet at Hyatt at the City of Dreams is another option. They offer a six-station buffet with unlimited sparking wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages for P2,799 nett on Valentine’s Day. For inquiries and reservations, call (02) 691 1234 ext. 1163.
Also at City of Dreams are Valentine’s hampers by Cafe Society. These are available until the 15th. You can choose to gift your beloved with a Chocolate Love Bear; a Chocolate Pot of Lollies; Chocolate Truffles with either strawberry or raspberry flavors; or a Latte Chocolate Cake. Prices start at P250 nett while the hampers start at P1,500.
Sofitel, of course, has the advantage of being right beside Manila Bay. I mean, how can anyone beat the Manila Bay sunset?! (By creating the most awful Manila traffic, that’s how!) They are also presenting the most elaborate dining experience called Love By Design: For P30,000 (yup, THIRTY thousand), you and your date can enjoy Valentine’s with a canopy set up and have your own butler, a violinist, a four-course dinner, a bottle of Champagne … and (don’t laugh) the chance to win an iPhone 8 (talk about incentive!).
If 30 grand is a bit too much, consider the Romance by the Bay package instead:For less than P3,000, you get to eat and drink all you want via their poolside buffet (more to eat!), enjoy unlimited local beer and catch the Valentine’s fireworks.
For reservations and inquiries at Sofitel, call (02) 832 6988.
TAAL VISTA HOTEL
If you are masipag to drive, head over to Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay. They also have a canopy set up. It will set you back P8,000 BUT you get to enjoy an 8-course dinner paired with a couple of glasses of Moet with priceless Tagaytay weather and a view of Taal Volcano. How romantic is that?! This is available only on February 14. For reservations and inquiries, call (02) 917 8225.
If your Valentine is a foodie and would just like to just eat out at a restaurant on Valentine’s try one of my fave restos of late, Ikomai in Salcedo Village. It’s a hip Japanese resto beside Smith and Butcher on dela Costa St. For Valentine’s they are offering a six-course dinner. But the best part about it is that the meal culminates with an edible rose (see the pic? that’s the edible rose) created by pastry chef extraordinaire James Antolin. How perfect is that for the girl who is not into roses but into food (like me)? For reservations, call the number in the picture.
Another restaurant to consider is Enderun’s Restaurant 101. It’s French cuisine by an Alain Ducasse-trained chef and at a very reasonable, student-friendly price, too! Details in the pic above.
JAMES AND DAUGHTERS
For those who want just a casual hang on the 13th, head over to the latest hip happening place especially for titos and titas of Manila, James and Daughters. Chef Jonas Ng is testing out his new cocktail menu so for only P750, in what he calls Kulitan Night, you get a cocktail plus some bar chow. The space is lit (uuuy trying to use millennial terms si Margaux LOL) and it’ll feel like you’re just having a really fun party with friends. Call 0917 817 6584 to reserve.
Over at Refinery, they are celebrating the Hashtag Bigo. Their Facebook post humorously gives the definition for “Sawi”: Pagdurusa. Pagluluksa. Walang hanggang kalungkutan. (Suffering, mourning, eternal sorrow.) LOL. Kaloka! Time to drown those sorrows in wine! Details in the pic above.
As for gifts, if your sweetheart has a sweet tooth, try the celebration cakes of Karen’s Kitchen. She makes cakes for love birds of all ages. For puppy lovers, you might like to try the strawberry cake with rose petals. For senior seducers and seductresses, she offers an apple crisp with oats on top, a base of apples and sweetened with Stevia; and a Splenda mango cake with a white chocolate heart plaque. Visit her website karenskitchen.com.ph or call 0917 539 4968 or landline (02) 555 0555 or (02) 555 0111 to order.
MAKATI MEDICAL CENTER BLOOD DRIVE
Food writer CJ Juntereal told me about this: “Makati Med is doing a Valentine’s Day Blood Donation drive. Donate blood with your sweetie then go out for dinner after. You might even save a life!” For inquiries, call (632) 8888 999.
When I wrote my shout out to friends in the industry to tell me what events they had planned for Valentine’s Day, our friendly priest Father Benny Tuazon gently commented that since Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year, we must be KJ. KJ is ’70s slang for Kill Joy … but for Father Benny it translates to “Kay Jesus (lang)” (baduy! haha!) So go celebrate on the 13th or on the 15th but remember, we must fast, abstain and go to mass on the 14th. Anyway, it would be rather odd to be on a date with a cross of ash on your forehead!
Bawi na lang sa Chinese New Year because Cardinal Tagle, who is apparently partly Chinese, said that as the Chinese New Year celebrations also have a spiritual and cultural significance, it is ok to celebrate, i.e., not fast and abstain, as long as you also do acts of penance, mercy and charity on the said date.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!
The best option, of course, is to make the effort to cook for your loved one on that day. There’s nothing sexier! Click HERE for some great ideas for a Valentine’s dinner from Whole Foods.
I just had the most amazing Vietnamese meal at Red Ginger at the City of Dreams and I plan to be here every day until this guest chef leaves!
The guest chef is Nguyen Van Tu. He was declared Iron Chef Vietnam a few years ago and his colleage says Tu beat Thailand in an Iron Chef competition as well.
His restaurant Don’s Tay Ho bistro was ranked No. 47 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. He is at Red Ginger only until the 27th. Everything on the menu is worth ordering!
Start with the wraps and rolls. The various wraps and rolls include barbecue pork and duck confit. This is the dish that had Teddyboy Locsin at hello. In the jar is fish sauce that kind of tasted like vinegar. Inside the roll is pork. I rolled the entire thing in the leaves.
My favorite among all the items in the menu is the Grlled Seabass appreciated Vietnamese style, as you wrap it in rice paper with noodles, cucumber, dill and pineapples before giving it in Vietnamese fish sauce. Really this was simply apahap butwas so fresh and once mixed with the various herbs the dish was simply taken to a whole other level of appreciation. Also loved how the chef incorporated dill, which is not a usual Asian ingredient.
If you are in the mood for beef, try the Bun Bo Nam Bo which is Angus beef fillet marinated in oyster sauce oil and fish sauce and then served in noodle buns.
But for me, even better is the Beef Luk Lac, with stir fried Angus Beef fillet. I learned later there is added flavor due to bourbon and pineapples aside from the usual mix of coriander and oyster sauce. It’s kind of like a stew though stir fried, simply wet with the natural juices from the tomato. I asked for extra rice paper so that I could roll it in that even if you can also appreciate this with rice.
If you like sticky rice try the Bahn Trou for dessert. these are stuffed sticky rice balls with palm sugar and sesame.
For dessert I highly recommend the Passion Fruit Creme Brulee, a mixture of cream, sugar, egg yolk, gelatin leaf and passionfruit juice accented with diced mangoes grapes and strawberries. Underneath is actually an ice cream but to make it appear like a crème brûlée the top part is torched for that crusty burnt effect. And because there is passionfruit it is also slightly sour. this is a truly unique dessert.
When Jason Go invites you to dinner, make sure you come hungry. Because the guy, although skinny as a matchstick, sure knows how to eat.
We had the pleasure of eating at the recently opened Ruby Jacks, a new restaurant at City of Dreams owned by Frederick Siy and where Jason is an partner, last Thursday … and indulged in a tremendous spread that progressed from healthy tomatoes to a heart-clogging Tomahawk steak!
I quickly noticed that at Ruby Jacks, the dishes served are far more sophisticated than they sound.
These tomatoes, for instance, were from Fukuoka, Japan. They were fresh, incredibly juicy and sweet. As if it wasn’t good enough on its own, the chef, Matthew Crabbe, serves them with a dollop of Gorgonzola cheese underneath. They were so good, though, I ate them sans cheese – incredible, considering my love for cheese!
Caesar salad is drowned in strings of Parmesan cheese. This is the most cheese-laden Caesar salad I have ever had!
This was served alongside these scallops from the US. Plump, juicy … what’s not to love? As if that wasn’t enough, we got to try the restaurant’s various takes on oysters. Our host joked that these oysters covered in roe are “virgin” oysters. Hmmm!
They also have oysters served with a jalapeño tartare and oysters baked with spinach and cheese.
But being a steakhouse, Ruby Jack’s is all about the steak.They have Platinum John Dee Wagyu with a marbling of 8 or 9. But what I love about Australian meats is that while they get the best Japanese cattle, they serve it the Western way so it’s still more meaty than melt-in-your-mouth fatty.
They offer imported steaks from Australia (John Dee), the US and Japan. From Australia, they are proud of their John Dee premium steaks. If you are a big group, highly recommended is the Tomahawk. Check it out (we had 2 kilos):
For dessert, don’t miss out on their siganture cheesecake; It is not heavily creamy but, made almost with a Jap touch – very light! The restaurant also makes their own ice creams.
This is the first Ruby Jacks outside of Tokyo. How lucky is Manila!
Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse
Upper Ground, City of Dreams
Reservations recommended.Tel. +632 801 8888.
Open daily from 10:00 am to 2:00 am.
Champagne brunch promos on weekends from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm.
Private dining room seats 14 pax. Major credit cards accepted.
Accessible by elevator via Hyatt or Nobu Hotels (quite a distance though).
This coming 2015 may be the year when the Philippines will make it to the culinary world map.
Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez is bringing Madrid Fusion to Manila, with no less than Mugaritz Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz doing demos. At the same time, critically acclaimed restaurants are opening at the City of Dreams Manila.
Executives will be happy to know that Nobu, the renowned dining destination of the stars created by actor Robert de Niro and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, has already opened at the Nobu Hotel.
But Nobu is not the only star in the City of Dreams.
Tucked in the Crown Towers (another hotel at COD scheduled to open early next year) is a decadent French affair called The Tasting Room.
Upon entering, you might notice a splash of burgundy, an understated piece of art just behind the receptionist. It is a hint at what this restaurant has to offer: the best wines.
However, more than a credit card, you may need a bank loan for some of the wines on its list!
The bottle of 1982 Chateau Latour, for example, may be appreciated for P397,000. Is that too much? You might opt instead for the 1990 Chateau Lafite Rothschild at P243,000.
Restaurant manager Damien Planchenault joked, “May I offer you a 1982 Latour? We have a promo offer of just P50,000 per glass.” “Why yes,” I chuckled, “May I give this heirloom earring in exchange for a bottle, please?”
But don’t be intimidated. The list is not limited to pocket-painful vintages and runs the gamut from incredible to approachable. It carries Clarendelle wines, a brand created by no less than Prince Robert of Luxembourg to respond to the challenge of creating a more accessible bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion. You may also order by the glass, at an average of P500 to P800 per glass, for a complete experience of a wine-pairing dinner.
Gigi Varua, Assistant Restaurant Manager, is a US-trained sommelier, and can guide you very well.
With a wine list like this, you will need a menu that can rise to the occasion.
Basque chef William Mahi has created just that.
Mahi arrived four months ago from Shanghai, where he was Chef de Cuisine at Papillon at Lan Club at the Bund. Before that, he was at two-Michelin starred Spondi in Athens. But he has also worked in the kitchen of Joel Robuchon as well as at the renowned Plaza Athenee of Alain Ducasse. It seems, though, that he has always had the gift for flavor as a quick Internet search will reveal that at the young age of 14, he apprenticed at Table des Fréres Ibarboure and just two years later, he was given the honor of being recognized as Best Apprentice in France.
Blessed with a kitchen customized to his preferences at Tasting Room, the chef does not hold back. Truth be told, the menu is at that level that if you order the lesser wines, it may outshine the vino. Nevertheless, you can also have the menu with just still water and still be blown away by the food.
Chef Mahi makes an entrance with his amuse bouche, a trio that instantly tells you what he is capable of.
Goat cheese is ornamented with tiny sheets of caramelized syrup that contain pork. Pork? I asked in disbelief. The chef, a bit more relaxed on my second visit, shared that it goes through a process where the pork is flattened then put in a machine that converts it to powder form, which is then sprinkled on the caramelized syrup before it becomes this delicate sweet glass that dresses the goat cheese. The chef apparently dabbles in molecular gastronomy.
After he captures you with the cheese, the hello is given a crescendo with foie gras. But this is no ordinary foie gras starter. It’s a dollop of liver captured in chocolate, presented as a lollipop to remind you of the happiness of your childhood. It is pure bliss.
Then to snap out of it, a limoncello jelly. As if to say, “Now that you know what you’re in for, let’s begin!”
The concept of the Tasting Room is “create-your-own degustation.”
The menu is divided into several sections: Beginnings or the starters section; Rare and Unique for slightly unusual items like pigeon; Organic and Sustainable for items like organic pork; Contemporary; Aqua for seafood; Tierra for beef, including duck and lamb; then there is dessert and cheese.
You can choose to order a five-course dinner, which the restaurant teases as Damien’s Delight. Or indulge in six, seven or eight courses. But a five-course menu is enough. By the fourth course, you may be full. You also don’t have to order by section. You can grab all five courses from just two sections, e.g. Beginnings and Organic, if you wish.
The must-try dish of the restaurant is the 52-degree Egg. It’s not just an egg yolk. This yellow ball of gooey delight was poached in olive oil for an hour. That is one flavorful yolk! In the bowl are some stellar supporting characters: Iberico ham, caramelized onions, and (drumroll please) shavings of a winter truffle from Perigord. On my first visit, I witnessed celebrity designer Rajo Laurel come out of the private dining section to exclaim to our table, “Did you try the egg!? My Goddddd!”
The restaurant is in fact quite generous with truffles. I was delightfully surprised on my second visit to find that the Mushroom Ravioli is also laden with this most precious ingredient. It is pure indulgence.
For a second course, try the Duck Liver Terrine. First for the sheer value of the foie gras but more importantly for the chef’s art. Foie gras is just foie gras, I thought. Wrong. At Tasting Room, Mahi wraps the liver in a thin roll that looks like chocolate but is in fact wine jelly! And then, understanding that the guest may nevertheless get tired of the taste too soon, he accents the plate with port wine reduction, a dot of strawberry sauce, a pinch of raspberry powder, plus lychee jelly and an apple-and-honey crisp. It’s magical!
Continuing on the theme of amazing, the chef puts the same effort into a dish of salmon. This is no ordinary salmon-and-capers dish. Salmon is marinated for 36 hours before being served accented with salmon and herring roe. To take you from city to the sea, the chef creates a sauce from fish stock and a selection of green herbs that is bursting with umami. You will also have fun starting off the course by nibbling on a little oyster leaf, which will puzzle you: how does this leaf taste like an oyster?!
For your main course, try the Barbarie Duck (served medium rare). The chef playfully puts curried popcorn on top. This dish shows the playful side of the chef, who explained with a wink that he put popcorn because ducks eat corn; and the side of filo pastry has smoked eggplant polenta to maintain the theme of the happy duck.
It is not only the chef’s skillful execution of creative concepts that distinguishes this restaurant. The quality of the ingredients used is remarkable as well.
The lobster is Brittany lobster. The pigeon is a free farm range pigeon from France. The pork belly comes from an organically grown French piggy. And the beef for the steak is a 21-day dry aged Wagyu.
These first-class ingredients are then presented in a way that will make you nod your head with each bite and say, “Damn. I live the good life.”
Take the pigeon. So thick, you will feel like the Prime Minister being served in The Hundred Foot Journey (a must-watch film for every foodie). This is appreciated with a side of pigeon liver cannelloni. A truly decadent main course that might be overwhelming for more conservative eaters.
Then there is the pork belly, which is likewise a thick slab. The chef pairs this with pork trotters, flattened to become like a chicharon chip but using the sticky gelatin from the pig’s pettitoes. Tell your CEO to bring his Lipitor.
Best of all is the steak. There are few restaurants in the country that have succeeded in offering dry-aged steak. But I have confidence that this one is here to stay. It is a very beautifully executed blue steak: charred on the outside, beautifully soft on the inside. A must-order for your five courses.
Upstaged, because of the wow factor of the dishes earlier mentioned, is the Marseilles bouillabaisse, which must be credited for its tasty 72-hour slow-cooked broth. It is also easy to overlook the San Sebastian calamari, where the head is cooked tempura-style. Or the Atlantic crab wrapped in turnip instead of a filo pastry.
But this only highlights the fact that while the hotel has yet to open, Chef Mahi already has an extensive menu that is ready for the discerning palates of Manila’s best executives.
You may not have room for dessert. But if you do—and if you can take the alcohol—make space for the Absinthe Cold Espuma: dices of Fuji apples drowned in Absinthe. At this point, you will have to let go of that glass of red. But it perfectly caps a wicked meal.
While this is the City of Dreams, remember: dreams here do come at a price. Try not to fall off your seat when you get your bill! Remember that each bottle of Aqua Panna poured for you is being charged. And when the waitress says, “I will make you try so-and-so wine” and it is poured, that glass is not necessarily on the house “to try” but may be billed as well.
Then charge it to experience—a good one, anyway. The 52-degree egg, with the Perigord truffles, could well have been a dish at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong whose Chef Umberto Bombana was voted in the Miele Guide by Asia’s top chefs as the “Chef of Chefs.” The duck terrine can compete with the starters at the Four Season’s Caprice. And the pigeon is something you might order at Plaza Athenee in Paris.
Mahi has just upped the game in the Manila dining scene. He is the crown jewel of Crown Towers. If he continues to bring his A-game, alongside Nobu, the City of Dreams will undoubtedly be the dining destination for 2015.
The Tasting Room
Ground Floor, Crown Towers, City of Dreams
Reservations recommended. Tel. 8008080. Open for dinner only from 6 to 11 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Degustation Menu is presently priced at P3,200 for 5 courses; P3,600 for 6 courses; P4,200 for 7 courses; and P4,500 for 8 courses.
Parking and Valet not yet available at Crown Towers but available at the main casino/retail building, then they offer a buggy ride to the Crown Towers lobby.
It’s true, what Paulo Coehlo said in The Alchemeist: “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” I had just posted this rant on my Facebook page …
… a few days later I’m experiencing a fantastic staycation, checking out Nobu Hotel at the City of DreamsManila.
The City of Dreams will have its grand launch early next year yet but Nobu Hotel has opened and I was surprised to see quite a number of guests checking in already. The Philippine economy must be doing well, somehow!
5 Things About Nobu Hotel that left an impression on me:
This tall girl – actually they are all tall and become even taller with their four-inch heels – will greet you at the lobby.
But what really caught my eye were these zen and spartan yet colorful and very hip lobby seats!
2. The very zen rooms
This bed is so soft I could sleep in all day. Although the effect may also be that I rested so well, I needed less sleep. I konked out at 11:00 pm after several glasses of wine but – I guess my body said I was already full batt and ready to face the day again – I was up by 6:00 am the next day!
All the elements of the room reek of zen. Check out the spartan toilet. How about some yoga in the shower?
3. The fact that you can have breakfast at Nobu Restaurant
Rooms are now being offered at an introductory rate of P9,888 nett for two adults and one child in a deluxe room. This includes the breakfast buffet.
Of course they won’t be serving the Nobu a la carte menu but the breakfast buffet is a stunner in itself plus look at how pretty your breakfast surroundings will be:
And you can order creations by Nobu Manila Executive Chef Zachary Hillberry like this green tea muffin or the smoked salmon on a rice cake.
4. Room Service
I confess: I had two breakfasts. My excuse is that I woke up so early. But the early bird truly gets the worm. As I got to order in and have an amazing Nobu-fied Tapsilog. Nobu got the fave Pinoy breakfast tapsilog and used instead Wagyu beef and quail eggs and added some seaweed. It’s sooo expensive but also really good.
5. The Spa
They have the most gorgeous spa.
Everything has been well thought out. Down to what you would be staring at when you are facing down.
If you just want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Manila for a day without actually getting away, this is the solution for you.
Nobu Hotel at the City of Dreams
Asean Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard
(go to Macapagal Avenue and turn left at City of Dreams)
Telephone:+632 800 8080
Fax:+632 890 8080 http://www.nobuhotelmanila.com/