DECEMBER PICKINGS

It's the season to celebrate at  Robinson's Magnolia.

It’s the season to celebrate at Robinson’s Magnolia.

Food tripping is a big part of my itinerary when am on holiday in Manila, giving me a chance to try new places I’ve never been to. The month of December, although it is the season to stuff one’s face silly, is a difficult time to go around town because of the massive traffic snarls and the possibility of meeting with holiday crashers (read: pickpockets). There’s also the nightmarish end to a great jaunt because of the lack of cabs and where you can, literally, spend more than an hour at a taxi queue. But with a little planning, i.e. calling for a cab in advance, leaving for home before the rush hour, I was able to conduct a short survey of the culinary landscape in and out of Quezon City.

As a creature of habit, Starbucks or The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are the usual places I head to for a cappuccino or a white chocolate mocha (the nearest approximation of the seasonal offer Asian Dolce Latte, I was informed)  yet one hot afternoon my father and I made our way to Seattle’s Best Coffee on Tomas Morato. I first tried this coffee place in Singapore ages ago but it had folded up. Now, to my surprise, there are, according to the cashier, 18 outlets in Manila. The tuna salad was to my father’s liking while my herb omelette with French toast was middling although the white chocolate mocha coffee I ordered was a revelation. In fact, it had more culinary flair to the one from Starbucks. A cousin, upon seeing my homage in Instagram, opined that Seattle’s holiday hazelnut drink was not bad either.

White chocolate mocha adds the sparkle to a ho-hum day.

White chocolate mocha adds the sparkle to a ho-hum day.

Simple but flavourful - chicken ala pobre by Cravings.

Simple but flavourful – chicken ala pobre by Cravings.

For Filipino cuisine, I stumbled upon a dish that proved a good lunch choice at Cravings at II Terrazzo on Tomas Morato. Named Chicken ala Pobre, it is a sizzling plate three pieces of chicken wrapped in gravy and toasted garlic that sits well on the palate for its simplicity. It was a filling lunch that still left one with enough room for dessert.

Italian cuisine is part of the culinary mainstays in the Philippines except that one is hard-pressed to find an Italian restaurant that truly makes scrumptious pasta (read: not commercial in taste). Lombardi’s at the second level of Robinson’s Magnolia didn’t disappoint. Looking spiffy in all-black attire when we had lunch this New Year’s Eve, Chef David Lombardi made good on its promise of giving Italian goodness. Topping my list of must-try dishes are the parmigiana di melanzane (roasted eggplant with stewed tomato and mozzarella), spaghetti ai frutti di mare (spaghetti with seafood) and the linguine tartufatti with its lip-smacking truffle.

The clean look of Lombardi's belies a lip-smacking cuisine.

The clean look of Lombardi’s belies a lip-smacking cuisine.

The parmigiana was smooth, melting in the mouth, while the two pasta dishes effused with zest – the fresh mussels, shrimps and clams melded well with the fresh tomato sauce and al dente noodles while the truffles tickled the palate to no end. The calamari fritti with aioli sauce has potential; I need to wean myself from the thicker calamari I’m used to having at Marché in Plaza Senayan, Indonesia.

(top to bottom) tartufatti, parmigiana and  spaghetti ai frutti di mare

(top to bottom) tartufatti, parmigiana and spaghetti ai frutti di mare

Indulge in a bit of nostalgia and ice cream.

Indulge in a bit of nostalgia and ice cream.

No one can resist the call of Magnolia.

No one can resist the call of Magnolia.

Rounding up the short culinary survey was a journey down memory lane. Dessert was at Magnolia Flavour House. Robinson’s Magnolia wasn’t what it was before when I was a child. It wasn’t a sprawling mall ringed by hi-rise condominiums, but a Magnolia ice cream plant that also housed the iconic ice cream parlour, Magnolia House. Thankfully, it wasn’t demolished but dressed up, sitting majestically on the first floor with a mini train ferrying young and old passengers meandering within the grounds. Look down from the al fresco section of the second floor and see how the sign seems to motion you to drop by for a sundae. Inside is a small waiting area for ice cream lovers but the wait isn’t that long. It looked cramped although it might be a matter of perspective because the place was packed to the rafters, which can also account for its warm feel. These little things fade the moment the ice cream creations are served.

Banana split - all-time favourite ice cream creation at the  new Magnolia Flavour House.

Banana split – all-time favourite ice cream creation at the new Magnolia Flavour House.

The pickings are not abundant but they were sure packed with flavour. I muse at what the culinary landscape will be like on my next vacation.

For the chocolate lover - Black and White.

For the chocolate lover – Black and White.

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