Archive for the ‘Food Adventure’ Category

COSY NOOK

It has become a routine of some sort particularly after having worked on my legs with my personal trainer. Going home would have been my next move but my legs had a mind of its own. They would straight away head to this new cosy nook I discovered. Literally next Helio fitness centre at Bekasi Cyber Park, past the row of restaurants starting with Domino’s Pizza and ending with McDonald’s- or you might want to cut through the parking lot – is the newly built Aston Imperial Hotel and Conference Centre. On the left of its entrance is the lobby lounge, its comfortable sofa-like chairs surrounding either a square or circle tables, that has provided me with a quiet spot to get lost in my head. A corner near the counter is the spot I’ve selected to plonk down on the chair to collect my thoughts and rest my fatigued legs.

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iced cappuccino and chicken sandwich from the lobby lounge of Aston Imperial in Bekasi

The view is hardly picturesque from my cosy nook, albeit it’s nowhere near the undulating rice crops against the lush foliage of Bali or the rolls of waves rushing to the shore and dissipating into traces of white foam, they offer a chance to observe the denizens of Bekasi. Zooming through the intersection on an ojek – motorcycle for hire – or their own Fortuner or Avanza, I wonder at their stories: Where are they heading to? How did their day start – on a good note or not? Are they happy with their lives? Do they like their jobs? Do they like living in Bekasi? I let those questions sashay through my mind which, thankfully, overwhelm the other wretched thoughts pressing consistently and heavily on my heart and soul for a few moments.

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juicy chicken satay and lontong

Prompted out of my silent musings by hunger pangs, the menu at the lobby lounge – an extension of the Imperial Coffeeshop on the second floor – is a cornucopia of savoury, filling dishes from local to international dishes that would satisfy any gastronome. The chicken sandwich on wheat bread served with French fries is a light repast that goes well with either a drinking jar of iced cappuccino or freshly blended pineapple juice. When feeling particularly ravenous, I opt for the 10-piece chicken satay with lontong (or rice cake) and sweet-spicy peanut sauce. The servings for both orders are huge so I end up packing them to go and having them again while marking papers. Meanwhile, dessert was a special treat following a post-yoga class with my gal-pal, Theresia. We were extremely famished and after completing our meal we had a sweet coup de grace of three scoops of ice cream – vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.

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ice cream – a sweet ending to a meal

Finding a cosy nook is like finding a needle in a haystack in the midst of the urban jungle where everything is packed with people. But lady luck seems to have noticed that I needed a respite from my heavy heart and led me to a cosy nook, a corner that lets me recover from my workout sessions and to stay the continual assault of the low-spirited thoughts.

A TASTE OF ITALY

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Interior design at Sapori Deli


There was no way I was going to miss the one-night dinner of Chef Antonio Facchinetti, after reading that he helmed Prego, one of the premiere Italian restaurants in Singapore. In town for a couple of days, Chef Facchinetti was set to tickle the palates of Jakarta’s foodies by recreating the trattoria ambiance of Prego at Sapori Deli. Featuring a five-course dinner, “A Taste of Italy” was set at 6 pm on March 17.

A heavy downpour that Friday afternoon had me a little worried that my gal-pal Theresia and I would never make it to Fairmont Jakarta. Rain in Indonesia never augurs good tidings; it always means snarled traffic and flooded areas. Unexpectedly, the rain abated and traffic was smooth, arriving 10 minutes before 6 pm. The only bump on the road was finding our way to Sapori Deli; Theresia and I were more familiar with Spectrum, the hotel’s buffet restaurant.

We sat down amidst a softly lit room with tables festooned with mini Italian flags and elegant flowers. Our Italian repast began with a bowl of Zuppa Di Fregola Sarda or fregola (picture bigger couscous) with baby clams and broccoli leaves in tomato saffron broth. The soup was a perfect way to start dinner, having come in from wet Bekasi. The fregola was cooked to perfection and blended well with the flavourful broth and fresh baby clams.

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Zuppa di Fregola Sarda

Shortly before empty bowls were whisked away to the kitchen, flutes of Italian soda, a maraschino cherry lolling at the bottom, made their way to our table. It certainly did the trick of further whetting our appetites with its bubbles and sweetness. Theresia and I were ready for the second course of Carpaccio di Wagyu. It was a certain delicateness to eating the dish – the Chinese spoon containing the quail egg yolk threw us off. Shall we mix it with the wagyu or have it first? The suggestion: it was up to us and that the egg yolk could do a bit of salt and pepper. I chose to swallow the quail egg yolk drizzled with salt and pepper first then immediately followed it with a bite of the paper-thin Carpaccio, which melted in the mouth, and bits of the parmesan chips, garden herbs, and grated black truffle.  Splendid dance on the palate!

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Carpaccio di Wagyu

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post-dinner drink of green tea and mid-dinner drink of Italian soda

Seguing into the third course, we were deliciously treated to Bigoli Con Baccala, a plate of bigoli and “Venetian-style” salted cod fish. Served on a warmed plate, the bigoli was al dente and rolled well with the tomato sauce and cod fish. Adding to the delectability of the dish was the knowledge, shared by Chef Facchinetti himself who dropped by our table, that Sapori Deli makes its own pasta fresh every day.

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Bigola con Baccala

There was a brief interlude – we requested for 10 minutes – before our main courses were brought in, so Theresia and I chatted up a storm until the 10 minutes were up. Theresia had Agnello in Crosta, a serving of two pieces of pistachio-crusted lamb chops with fresh pea and mint pesto, which she found flavourful and succulent. The lamb was done to perfection. Meanwhile, I had the lamb changed into a chicken dish, which was similarly flavourful and tender.

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Agnello in Crosta

Chef Facchinetti decided to close “A Taste of Italy” with a delectable Torta al Cioccolato, which was far from being saccharinely cloying. The just-right chocolate delight melded well with the wild berries coulis and streaks of lemon. Whose palate wouldn’t explode in pleasure with the glorious mix of chocolate and fruitiness? It’s simply divine.

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Torta al Cioccolato

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Bravo Chef Facchinetti!

It was a superb culinary journey from the first dish to the last that wet Friday night. Theresia and I asked Chef Facchinetti when part 2 would be. He was non-committal and uttered, “It’s all up to the boss,” pointing surreptitiously to the table near the counter.  We told him we’d be waiting if we don’t get to Prego Singapore first.

MARTABAK MANIA

That martabak is ubiquitous in Indonesia is an understatement. Big as a skillet or minute like the palm of a baby’s hand, one can get their fill of this thick “pancake” that is heavily drizzled with sweet stuff ranging from condensed milk, crushed Oreos, and Nutella.  I have tried the one sold on the roadside – there are several martabak trolleys at Galaxy – but the one vendor I bought from hasn’t been at his usual spot. Fortunately, somewhere along Jalan Puloh Sirih in Galaxy City is Eat Happens, the haven for martabak lovers.

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Pay for your freshly made martabak at the martabak van

It was on one fine Thursday evening, after yoga class and famished to the bone, that gal-pal Theresia and I made a beeline for Eat Happens. I am no fan of the pun in the name, but the industrial look of the interiors (think red brick walls, chairs that have seen some sitting, and) sewing machines-turned-tables) grew on me. I would suppose my being in my yoga togs had something to do with it – I didn’t feel underdressed.  I also definitely became a fan of their martabak. The choices are overwhelming (think chocolate overload and their red velvet martabak version of the popular red velvet cake) but we settled for a seemingly simple Nutella – Cream cheese martabak cut like a pizza.

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Welcome to Eat Happens!

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The martabak is ready!

Nothing was simple about it. First, the rich textures of the Nutella and cream cheese can become overly cloying if the martabak base is not done right. But Eat Happens has mastered the difficult act of balancing a far-from-bland-starchy base with just enough dollops of the rich Nutella spread on one-half of the martabak and cream cheese on the other half. Second, the serving size is just enough for one to have a slice of each flavor. Third, there was no scrimping on the Nutella and cream cheese toppings; the cream cheese was oozing out of the martabak that I had to flatten the sides of the crust to prevent it from leaking onto the table. Meanwhile, the Nutella spread just sat there contentedly looking so creamy and velvety rich.

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Delivered hot to your table – Nutella-cream cheese martabak

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One slice down

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Bowl of mie ayam jamur a la Eat Happens

Martabak aside, Eat Happens has other items to entice those without a sweet tooth. One can, in fact, have a complete repast of noodles or rice finished with a sweet coup de grace of martabak. Their mie ayam jamur (chicken mushroom noodle) is more than enough to satisfy the palate – the chicken and mushroom are flavourful while the green noodle was al dente. So, whether you’re mulling over martabak or noodles, Eat Happens has got you covered.

BANANA CRAZY

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I first caught a whiff of these beauties from an Instagram shot of one of my students. It took me a while to fully understand that it was a chiffon cake shaped into a cute banana and filled with custard. It was because she just took a picture of the box. Then other photos started showing up on Instagram. Just my luck, it’s not available anywhere except for Japan. But luck was on my side this January. One of my layovers from a trip to Los Angeles was Narita. I had more than an hour to kill so I went around the departure lounge area. I had nearly forgotten about these babies when my eyes serendipitously fell on a display counter brimming with boxes of Tokyo Bananas in three variants.  Naturally, I got all three of the flavors – original, chocolate brownie, and caramel. Sweet! Beautiful! Scrumptious! And it didn’t bore a hole in my wallet – three boxes only totaled ¥3,500 or IDR408, 968.

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the chocolate brownie version of the Tokyo Banana

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the one with the caramel filling

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the original flavor or the one with the custard filling

 

BANANA BLAST 

That the Philippines is replete with cakes, pastries, and gelato cakes is an understatement. Every nook and cranny of a city is teeming with such sweet stuff imaginable that anyone with a sweet tooth would simply burst with excitement. Amici is one of the most popular places to satisfy one’s cravings for something sweet with their line of Caramia cakes and gelato cakes. A favorite among its loyal clientele, I learnt, is their “cute version of the banana split” called Banana Blast. It is a colorful vista of scoops of banana, strawberry, and chocolate gelato neatly arranged on top of a chocolate-flavored crust and topped with slices of strawberries. The final touch: chocolate syrup drizzled all over the gelato cake. 

Banana Blast was the unanimous choice for the Christmas Eve dessert following the suggestion of Cathy, manager at the Tomas Morato outlet. It is no wonder it is a perennial favorite among Amici’s regular patrons. The sweetness of the chocolate crust and the scoops of gelato is balanced by the slices of strawberries, creating a delicate fruity-chocolatey sensation on the palate and a light feeling in the tummy. Gone also is the guilt of indulgence in such a decadent dessert during the festive season. A slice goes for PhilP140 and a whole cake is priced at PhilP935.

Banana Blast by Amici

MANGO TANGO 

Christmas is my raison d’etre for indulging in sweets which I had dutifully avoided almost the entire year owing to my personal trainer’s dictum. Thus one simply has to have crepe when at Cafe Breton whether savory or sweet. My game plan was ordering a savory crepe for lunch: Galette Bretonne, a crepe filled with spinach, shrimps sautéed with crab meat and onions, fresh cream, and gruyere cheese. Then for dessert, I skipped the chocolate-filled crepe and gunned for something fruity. It is healthier, I convinced myself. The one highly recommended by the service crew at Greenbelt was Deja Vu, which apparently was a popular choice among its customers. I now knew why. The dessert crepe Deja Vu is a plate of sweet, luscious mangoes swathed in special cream sauce and drizzled with caramel syrup. It is paired with vanilla ice cream that is squirt with whipped cream and finished with caramel syrup. Enjoy the delicious sweet fruity tango on your palate.

THE MAGIC OF MARY GRACE

Goldilocks had reigned supreme for as long as I could remember. It was the undisputed leader in the ensaymada market being the go-to place for the Filipinos’ favorite snack. My childhood is filled with memories of ensaymada gracing feast tables or my lunch box. This was until Mary Grace. Alongside her signature cheese rolls that captured the palates of pastry lovers, Mary Grace inched her way into the segment becoming a formidable pastry opponent to be reckoned with. 

That Mary Grace is not a fictional character was the answer of one of the service crew of Mary Grace when I cheekily asked if she was fictional. Her short bio – written within the thick menu – outlined her rise from her stints in Christmas bazaars to setting up her own shop which eventually burgeoned into the ubiquitous cafés quaintly called Mary Grace dotting the city. The pastry shop-restaurant has reworked the traditional ensaymada: sweet bread that is roughly the size of a saucer sprinkled with granulated sugar and topped with grated cheese. But Mary Grace upped the ante by jazzing up the ensaymada and pairing it with her signature hot chocolate drink. 

Perusing the menu, it was a toss up between the banana ensaymada and cinnamon-apple ensaymada when I met up with a friend at their Greenbelt outlet. It was my first time to set foot in a Mary Grace restaurant and was piqued to try the much vaunted ensaymada. I settled for the cinnamon-apple paired with the the signature Mary Grace hot chocolate.


The magic of Mary Grace – her culinary skills honed in a baking course in the US said her short bio – had added panache to the humdrum traditional ensaymada, electrifying the palate with never-dreamed of flavors before. Washed down with Belgian hot chocolate with the right thickness and sweetness, merienda (roughly translated as afternoon snack) with a friend transformed into one magical meet up amidst a hot, crowded Christmas afternoon.