Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cafe Mary Grace: Saving the best for last

This could well be my last post for this year, and I'd say it's about my best foodie find for 2013. Well, I'm really a late bloomer-foodie when it comes to this cafe and bakery that first opened its doors in 2006. Oh well, better late than never, so they say. I'm happy to have finally dined at Cafe Mary Grace last month and for the second time at lunch just yesterday. It was at the SM City North Edsa on both occasions. I fell in love with the food and ambiance at this cafe that I felt the first visit warranted a second. Last month, I was with a long-time-no-see-friend, who gave me a treat (thanks, Louie!). Sadly, I was only able to take pictures of my meal and not my friend's because she'd finished her lunch by the time I arrived (I wasn't late, she was just too early. No kidding! Haha!) I ordered the Classic Carbonara which was sooo delicious. It was saucy, with the right creaminess and with lots of meat (was it ham or bacon, or both, I can't remember). Even the garlic toast that accompanied it was good.The pasta serving was too big for me that I had some of my carbonara taken home. Louie and I shared a slice of Mango Bene cake, which I loved as well, and we both finished everything off with brewed coffee. What a lovely lunch it was, made more unforgettable by stories and laughter shared
 between my friend and I.

Classic Carbonara, P229.
Mango Bene, P130/slice
Americano coffee, P98.
That seemed like a bouquet to me but my friend said those were sea shells. I touched it and went, "oo nga!"
Lovely nook
Meanwhile, my office friend Pammy was my companion at lunch yesterday at Cafe Mary Grace. I went for an all-day breakfast fare this time - Fried Bangus with eggs and rice. For dessert, I ordered their Limone Santi cake and Americano coffee to cap my meal. Pammy, on the other hand, had Pasta Ametriciana with Italian Meatballs, Black Velvet cake and Wild Raspberry Iced Tea. Later on, I told Pam I didn't know there was a pasta dish by the name Ametriciana. Pam said she'd eaten it in Italy. Sosyal! Hehe. Anyway, I loved my fried bangus meal. The boneless milkfish was tender and delicious. I liked too that it was topped with lots of toasted garlic. What I enjoyed to the hilt, though was the rice - it was very aromatic though I'm not sure what herbs it used. Basil, perhaps, and rosemary. It was sooo good! I wish I could make this at home. My Limone Santi dessert was delish as well, a bit sour, thus a welcome change from the usual sweet cake. Again, it was a fine, unforgettable lunch that painted a huge smile on my face. 
(I used the Auto White Balance setting for the following photos, hence, the difference in color. Not sure, though, if it was a good idea.)

Pasta Ametriciana w/ Italian Meatballs, P232.
Fried Bangus with two sunny side up eggs and rice, P217.
Herbed rice. Super love!

Vinegar, sliced green mango and tomato that went with my fried bangus.

Black Velvet cake, P115/ slice
Limone Santi, P110/slice

Americano coffee, P98.
Wild Raspberry Iced Tea, P115.

Cafe Mary Grace has many stores in Metro Manila. Here's a link to their website to help you find a branch near your place: 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas is here!

Just a few hours to go and we're celebrating Christmas. Mmm..more holiday eating for Noche Buena and the next few days all the way to New Year's Day. The past weeks had been busy for the tummies already, weren't they, what with all the Yuletide parties and reunions we've gone to. Haha! What Christmas food have you so far had? Me, I've had "bibingka" and "puto bumbong" (no picture of the latter though), which are among the traditional Filipino Christmas fare. Bibingka is rice cake cooked both over and under live coal and served with margarine, grated coconut, salted eggs and sugar on top. Puto bumbong, that purple, elongated native snack or dessert, is also a type of rice cake cooked inside small bamboo poles and served also with grated coconut, margarine and sugar on top. During our company Christmas party and brother's birthday celebration last week, I had lechon, too.  For the affluent, Noche Buena is never complete without this pig skewered on a bamboo pole and roasted whole till the skin turns golden brown and crispy.

Bibingka with "kesong puti" at Antonio's  (SM San Lazaro)
Lechon at brother's birthday party..
..and at our office Christmas party
My second plate at our office party. The lechon skin gives off a wonderful crackling sound at every bite.

Oh well, more holiday binge eating to come. Throw dieting out of the window in the meantime and have a detox after the New Year celebration. Now that's one wise advice. Hehe.  Hey, just kidding! We don't want anybody spending the holidays on a hospital bed, 
so eat in moderation, okay?
Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Finally, Conti's

I shrieked with delight when I saw that Conti's had opened a store nearer our place, at the relatively new mall that's also very lovely and spacious - Robinson's Magnolia. I saw it last week when we had coffee at Azucar Boulangerie and Patisserie outside Robinson's. The following day, I was there with my daughter. Hey, I don't like wasting time. Haha! It was actually my first time dining in at Conti's because we'd (my daughter actually) just been buying cheesecakes there, at the Trinoma branch, which is quite far from home. Was I glad to finally eat at Conti's 
and at a very new store at that. 
The place has a classy feel. The interior is simple and clean but with an air of subdued elegance. I particularly liked the wall with a lighted display of plates. Behind that wall, however, is a spectacular sight - the display of cakes. Haha! But no matter how beautiful the restaurant's interior is, it's the food that's the star at Conti's. 
Here's what we had:

Oreo Cheesecake, P90. per slice
Chicken Salad Sandwich, P130.

Garlic Sotanghon, P95.
Russian Potato Salad, P130.

Brewed coffee, P60.

Inside Conti's in Robinson's Magnolia

We loved our orders. My daughter was happy that her chicken sandwich was thick with the filling that it oozed out every time she took a bite. I, too, was delighted with my garlic sotanghon, which,. may I just share - is one of my most favorite merienda fares in our office canteen. I order it every time it's available. Don't ask me which has the better version, though, 'coz it's hard to decide whether it's my dependable canteen or Conti's. I'd be happy in both places as far as Garlic Sotanghon is concerned. Hehe..Meanwhile, there's the colorful and lovely-as-a-bouquet Russian Salad, which was good, though I like the simpler potato salad more. What's the difference? The beet chunks, which give the Russian salad it's nice pink hue. The true winner here, however, is the Oreo Cheesecake. Surely, it's a hands-down decision. Still, I was happy to have brewed coffee to end an almost perfect late afternoon meal.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Azucar Boulangerie and Patisserie

Have you ever tried buying coupons from group-buying sites? Well, I've become a huge fan of those sites and I purchase vouchers for dining and personal items. The beauty about the deals they offer is that they not only allow me to save on money, they also "educate" me 
on new foodie places to try. 
One of such new discoveries for me is Azucar Boulangerie and Pattiserie in New Manila. Had I not seen it in a deal offer, I wouldn't have learned there's one gem of a coffee shop on Doña Hemady St. outside Robinson's Magnolia. This cafe is really new, just four months old. My daughter and I were there just before worship service last Saturday for an afternoon meal and what a delightful meal it was. This small, neighborhood cafe offers awesome coffee, rice meals, pasta and pastries. Really nice place for a chat with friends and family. Better still, get some munchies to take home. They offer an assortment of breads, cakes and cupcakes.
We had:

Red Velvet Cake 

Almond Slice (sugar-free)

Penne Carbonara
Chicken Longganisa Rice Meal
Strawberry Milkshake
Brewed Coffee

Here are some of the breads available at Azucar:

Supreme Cheesedog.  Like pizza, I was told.

Mini Baguette
Cakes and cupcakes
The counter.

I love the wall art.
I love the chandelier even more. Those upside down cups are really cute!

My Chicken Longganisa was good - very tender and tasty. Even yummier when dipped in vinegar. I just wished it came with fried rice instead of plain steamed rice. I really love sinangag, that's why, and those all-day breakfasts. Meanwhile, my daughter loved her Penne Carbonara. I ate some of it and agreed. It was creamy, meaty and cheesy. I had disappointment with my Red Velvet cake, however. It was dry and coarse. I complained about it to the woman at the counter and she offered to warm it in the oven. Good idea 'coz I liked it the second time as it was now moist and soft and it had just the right sweetness. My daughter's Almond Slice, on the other hand, was like Sans Rival in texture. Quite good too. But it was the coffee that really made my day. I thought it was pricey at P90 per cup (Starbucks price?) but hey, it was worth it. It was full-flavored and strong but not too much as to give you palpitations. It definitely had the taste that would make you want to come back for it.
By the way, the Illy print on their cups got me confused. It made me think Azucar is owned by the same people behind Espressamente Illy at Shangri-La Mall. But the woman at the counter explained to me that Illy is actually the brand of the coffee beans that they use, which come all the way from Europe. Wow! No wonder it's great-tasting and pricey! That said, there's life outside Robinson's Magnolia after all. :-)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuna panini, tacos and more at Café Ben-a-Bien

It had been awhile since I last saw saw my mom-in-law though we'd communicate by phone. Earlier this month, I was happy to finally see her but was also sad that she was sick then. Nevertheless, going to San Juan presented to me an opportunity to explore this neighbor city a bit to try a new foodie place. My daughter and I, before going to see hubby's mum, dropped by this coffee shop on N. Domingo St. called Café Ben-a-Bien. It was afternoon, time for merienda cena and we had:

Tuna Melt with Vegetable Salad, P85.
Tacos, P120 (3 pcs)
Cafe Latte, P75.

Mocha Frappuccino, P120.
Inside Café Ben-a-Bien

Truth to tell, I had high expectations from Café Ben-a Bien as I stepped inside to find a nice and homey though simple place. Sadly, I was in for disappointment when it came to the food. My daughter shared my sentiment. The tuna panini lacked in "spark". The tuna filling could have been a lot better had they put more mayo and spices to it. All we could taste was the tuna itself,  as if the fish flakes were stuffed in between the bread slices straight from the can without anything added to them. Really, my daughter makes tuna sandwiches that taste a lot better. It was a good idea, though, to serve tuna sandwich with a side of garden fresh salad. And then the tacos..well, they would have come to my liking if I weren't able to dish out a better version. Haha! Sorry for bragging but my daughter agrees. Hehe. The only thing I liked was my frappe but my daughter wasn't happy either with her latte. The poor thing... Oh well, I'm sure other Cafe Ben-a-Bien offers are better if not out-rightly delish 
            and I hope to be back to try them so I'd be able to give this café a kinder review. :-)     

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cravings goes organic!

It's been six years since I started reading articles by Dr. Joseph Mercola, an American alternative medicine specialist, which opened my eyes to the extremely toxic world that we humans now live in. I was appalled to learn that many of the food that we eat are laden with disease-causing additives, grown with harmful pesticides and fertilizers or raised with the use of hormones and synthetic feeds. Even our favorite personal hygiene and cosmetic brands contain chemicals that can cause cancer and other acute diseases. How scary! To think that even the baby products that we use on our precious little ones are toxic. 
Since then, I've looked for ways to shift to healthy living, which included using all-natural products to clean the body and the home, and eating organic vegetables and hormone-free chickens and eggs. The changes I've made have been quite plenty, thanks to the growing awareness on healthy eating and living that lead to the increasing number of organic/all-natural products available in the market today.
For one thing, I've been buying organic vegetables for our family, first at the Sidcor Sunday Market and later on, at the AANI market at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. This enables our family to eat healthy, pesticide and synthetic fertilizer-free veggie dishes. The problem comes when we eat out since most restaurants use inorganic vegetables bought in conventional markets. 
But last week, I was happy to learn that there's now a group of restaurants serving dishes using organically-grown vegetables. Mind you, some of these are among the more well-known restaurants in the metro - C2 Classic Cuisine, Cravings 
and Casa Roces.
Cravings launched its Organic Weekend Market at its restaurant on Katipunan Ave. in Quezon City and a friend invited me to the event held last Saturday.  I went, tagging along my daughter. Mrs. Annie Guerrero, Cravings founder who is an environmentalist, told me that their restaurants now indeed serve organic vegetables sourced from their farm and some suppliers. Moreover, she said they target to supply organic veggies to other restaurants in Metro Manila. What a noble thing to do, I said to myself, as it is my "wish" to eat chemical-free food even outside our home.
Take a look at the selection of vegetables sold at the Cravings Organic Weekend Market:

Organic eggs are available, too.

Saturday's event was not only about organic veggies, by the way, as Mrs. Guerrero showed us recycled goods made out of things that we usually discard after using like old or scratched CDs, plastic spoons and pull-off tabs from softdrink cans. Their beauty was impressive! Moreso if you realize how our beloved Mother Earth is taken care of through the recycling of such waste materials.

Basket made from telephone directory pages; bracelets made of soda can pull-off tabs.
I loved this. Bag entirely studded with softdrink can tabs.
Old CDs as clock, used plastic spoons made into a lovely flower vase.
Cravings founder Mrs. Annie Guerrero at her herb and flower garden.

Oh well, Cravings didn't let us go home hungry, but of course. After the event, we were first offered healthy sandwiches (with camote tops!) and little cakes made from squash.

Afterward, we were graciously invited to order what we liked. I took photos of my, my daughter's and my friend's plates. Yum! We loved everything! I especially liked the garden fresh salad and roast beef.

Organic veggie salad - yummy and healthy!
Roast Beef with Mushroom Sauce
Baked Fish in Olive Oil
Sizzling Tenderloin Tips

Iced coffee
Fresh four seasons smoothie

Make sure you visit The Cravings Group restaurants if you want a fill of delicious, healthy, chemical-free food to maintain your family's good health.  The other restos aside from the three I've mentioned are TCB, Lombardi's, Cafe Dominic, Jalapeno and Wicked. Better still, buy your organic veggies at the Cravings Organic Weekend Market. :-)