Thursday, October 30, 2014

First bite at TuanTuan Chinese Brasserie

Place: Elegant, classy. Tables are spacious, chairs are comfortable. The decor is tasteful. The "garden wall" is a lovely sight.

Food: Generally delicious. We ordered the specialties of the restaurant. We had a TuanTuan Noodle Soup Set, some TuanTuan Signature Snow Buns, and a glass of the Thai Iced Tea.

The TuanTuan Noodle Soup Set (Php 388 or Php 428, depending on the soup base): it's like do-it-yourself soup. So one chooses the soup base, which already has some cabbage, bean curd, and mushrooms, two toppings, and noodles. The noodle soup set comes with either a cup of TuanTuan's pride, the Hong Kong Style Coffee, or a glass of Cantonese Lemon Tea. Finally, if one desires, side dishes can be added, for an additional cost.

We chose the Original Fish Soup as our base (featuring the resto's Signature Halibut Soup). Then we had enoki mushrooms and mini xiao long bao pieces as our two toppings. For our noodles, we chose Lanzhou flat noodles. Then we picked the Hong Kong Style coffee as the accompanying drink. Then we added some Deep Fried Spring Rolls (Php 98) as our side dish.

The noodle soup was better than we expected. There's a faint fishy smell but this fishy component became fainter when we tasted the soup. The soup had the right thickness, making it hearty. The two topping we chose were fresh and delicious. The xiao long bao was packed and flavorful. The flat noodles were of high quality and didn't become too soft despite the heat of the soup.

The Deep Fried Spring Rolls were delicious. The savory meat taste was pronounced and punctuated, and there were no pungent flavors. The vinegar dip was a little sweet and it complemented the spring rolls well.

Then, we had the Signature Snow Buns (Php 128): savory pork barbecue in a freshly baked bun. Now this one was our favorite. The bun was not sweet, so it didn't compete with the taste of its filling (unlike Tim Ho Wan's overrated pork buns). It also crumbled well, really good texture. The filling was good, although not great and unforgettable. But it was delicious enough for us to enjoy and like it, not to mention come back for it.

Next, the Hong Kong Style Coffee: we asked our waitress Charm what specifically is the "Hong Kong" component of the coffee. She said that the coffee beans comes from Hong Kong and the Black and White milk used for the concoction is famous in the said place (it is used for Hong Kong milk tea). Now, was the coffee good? Well, we didn't like it. The coffee was too acidic. We liked its velvety texture though.

Finally, the Thai Iced Tea (Php 128). It had enough woodsy flavor to be called tea, but it was too saccharine to be enjoyed. Appealing consistency and color though.

Price: Considering food quality, taste, and serving size, prices are reasonable. The bill includes a 10% service charge.

Service: Generally OK. Our servers were really nice and friendly. There were times though when they couldn't answer our questions about their fare.

 TuanTuan Chinese Brasserie is on the 3rd floor of the Mega Fashion Hall.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

First bite: Oreo Cheesecake Cookie

It's the latest treat of The Cookie Creamery Co.

Soft cookie, dappled with Oreo bits.

Is it good? Hmmm, it's O-K. One can taste the Oreo part for sure, thanks to the generous amount of crushed chocolate cookies. What we find hard to sense is the cheesecake component; the cookie lacks the distinct salty acidity of cheesecakes. This prominent taste would temper the sweetness of the Oreos, giving the cookie a balanced flavor.

We like the mixture of textures: soft cookie with some crunch from the Oreos.

Try it and judge for yourself.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

First bite at the Love Shack

Place: A little cramped. Nice, simple, and modern furnishings. The lighting was a little dark.

Food: Generally delicious. We ordered the Love Shack Salad, Porchetta Carbonara, the Love Shack Burger Creation 1, Chicken Steak, and some Freshly Baked Cookies.

The Love Shack Salad (Php 295) had lettuce, watercress, grapes, mangoes, goat cheese, and candied walnuts. They were all drizzled with a balsamic vinegar dressing. This one was a good way to start our meal. The vegetables and fruits were fresh, the leaves crisp. The various flavors complemented each other: the deep, pungent taste of the watercress, the sweetness of the mangoes and grapes, the sugary bitter flavor of the walnuts, the slight saltiness of the cheese, and the sweet-sour flavor of the balsamic vinegar. Each bite was vibrant.

Next, the Porchetta Carbonara (Php 290): al dente Rigatoni with a creamy white sauce and porchetta chunks. This pasta was flavorful. The sauce had a very pronounced pecorino cheese taste. This cheesy element went well with the salty and slightly sweet porchetta pieces. Delicious.

Then, the bestseller: The Love Shack Burger Creation 1 (Php 260). Beef patty with lettuce, tomato, blue cheese, and mushroom sauce, all nestling between sweet potato buns. This one was O-K. The beef had a strong pepper taste, which was not bad. Our problem was with the integrity of the patty. It didn't seem of high quality. The same could be said about the bread. As for the blue cheese and mushroom sauce, well, we barely sensed them. What we liked more were the golden and well-fried potato poppers that came with the burger.

Next, the Chicken Steak (Php 390): roasted chicken with mushroom gravy and hash brown. The chicken was well seasoned. The gravy was teeming with good, woodsy mushroom flavor. And the hash brown? Good! It was fresh, not oily nor salty.

Lastly, Freshly Baked Cookies (Php 65): five pieces of freshly baked (allow for 15-minute cooking time), soft cookies. We had chocolate chip and green tea cookies. They were good, not to sweet, and their flavors were authentic. The green tea ones were impressive to the palate as they exude real matcha flavor that was complemented by the white chocolate chips on top.

Price: Considering taste, quality, and serving size, we found the prices reasonable. The bill included an 8% service charge.

Service: Good! Our waitress Belle was friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable about the dishes.

Love Shack is on the lower ground floor of SM Aura.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

First bite: Spicy Smack Down Burger

A hot new burger from Wendy's y'all!

Juicy and meaty beef patty, served with vegetables (red onions, tomato, lettuce), mayo, cheese, and Tostitos tortilla chips, all nestling between two fresh and buttery buns. For extra kick, the burger is drizzled with some Sriracha hot sauce.

Is it good? YES! Good marriage of flavors and textures! Nothing is salty, pungent, nor overpowering. Not even the Sriracha; the hot sauce provides the right amount of heat, enough to whet the appetite and rev up the palate, but not strong enough to scald taste buds. The burger patty is not salty; it has an authentic, punctuated beef flavor. The part we like most though is the bun; its butter flavor is sinfully good, making it a delight to eat.

The Tostitos chips are a good addition; it brings the contrastive crunch to the otherwise soft sandwich.

An order of the Spicy Smack Down Burger costs Php 140.

Try it and judge for yourself.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A word on Niu (by Vikings)

The Vikings group opened a posher buffet restaurant at SM Aura: Niu (Norse word for Nine). We heard a lot of buzz around the place so we decided to drop by and try its fare.

The place was indeed posh; it was stylish, with its modern furnishings and glitzy decor. It rivalled the restaurants and lobbies of hotels. The dinnerware though is similar to that of the "regular" Vikings buffet restaurant.

Now, the food: it was hit-or-miss. Some dishes were OK, some were bland, some were too salty. All in all, the food here was forgettable. Given the restaurant's name (not to mention price), we expected Niu and exciting dishes (pun intended). But we were disappointed. There was not one item that we could consider Niu's signature dish or a dish that would make us go back.

For the soup, try the creamy and hearty chicken and corn chowder.

For those who regularly eat at hotels or fancy restaurants, the appetizers and cold cuts were a bit familiar. The cheeses were sharp. The little sandwiches were made with stale bread. The vegetables for the salad were crisp and fresh. We liked eating them with the blueberry vinaigrette. Our favorite appetizers were the watermelon-jalapeño gazpacho, the carpaccio with pesto, and the couscous salad.

The Japanese food section offered, again, nothing Niu. The sushi and sashimi treats were same as the ones in the regular Vikings. The katsu was a little salty. The tempura was OK. What we liked was the yakiniku. The marinade/basting sauce was delicious, savory-sweet. We liked the chicken skin yakiniku.

Other Asian dishes were enjoyable. We liked the juicy and flavorful beef rendang with biryani rice. Also good was the chicken inasal.

Now, the grill station offered many choices like cajun fish and spicy tuna. The much hyped beef medallion was also here. The fish dishes were good, but the thing was they were already cold when served on our table. As for the beef, the meat was salty and dry, and the mustard sauce on it was not good.

For the Chinese fare, we liked the hakaw (packed with shrimp!) and the soy chicken. We also enjoyed eating the fried almond tofu (high-grade tofu with almond crust, topped with chili sauce) The other meat dishes like char shiu were dry. The yang chow fried rice was bland. The sweet and sour spareribs were not that great (Chowking's sweet and sour pork is better).

The different meats at the carving station were generally dry. The only one we enjoyed eating was the Angus beef. The sauces with truffle were good enough. A side dish there that we liked was the steak rice with mushrooms.


The Italian section offered familiar pasta and pizza dishes. We tried the stromboli; it tasted like Greenwich pizza. We also had some mushroom risotto and risotto balls. Now those two dishes were good. Although the risotto was just a tad too runny, its flavors were satisfying. The risotto balls were good with the meat sauce.

The other European dishes were not good. The callos was bland, the coq au vin was salty, the gnocchi was forgettable.

The dessert treats were generally cheap, taste wise. All we could sense really were cream and sugar. The mousses were gelatinous. The "gelato" was too saccharine; only the vanilla and chocolate variants had distinct flavor. What we liked eating for dessert were the fruits, especially the pineapple and the lansones.

For our drinks, well we tried almost everything. The red (Sauvignon) and white (Chardonnay) wines were OK. The coffee was strong and good. The fruit shakes were not consistent; some were too sweet, some were delicious (banana and apple shakes). The cold and hot Twinnings tea choices were also good. We liked the Strawberry Mango and Blueberry Lemonade.

Now the service (and we have a mouthful to say): it was not OK. First off, the waiters, even the chefs, were not knowledgeable about the food they were serving (For example, they spelled risotto "resoto.") Second, some waiters had a hard time understanding instructions given in English. Third, the waiters kept walking unnecessarily around the restaurant, making the place a little chaotic. Fourth, one of the managers had bad breath, so we found it hard to talk to him. Fifth, some of them were a little too caring (read: overbearing). Sixth, they needed some system for bringing food to the customer's table, because most of the time, the food came to the customer cold.

Considering the food (quality and taste) and the service, the prices were too high (read: not commensurate ). There's a 5% service charge, by the way (seriously?!).

All in all, we could sum up our Niu experience with this: we left full but not satisfied.

Niu is at SM Aura.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

First bite at Gyu-Kaku

Place: Stylish and well lighted. The chairs are comfortable and the dining table is spacious. The place is a little noisy because the waiters shout when they greet customers and when they talk to each other.

Food: Generally delicious. We ordered the Horenso Salad as our starter. For the grill, we had some Karubi, Norwegian Salmon Foil, and Prawn Foil Grill. We also got a serving of Ishiyaki Bibimbab. For our drinks, we ordered some house tea and a glass of Cucumber Peppermint Iced Tea.

The Horenso Salad (Php 235): "Japanese-style" spinach with crispy garlic bits and sesame dressing. It tasted great! The leaves were crisp and fresh. The garlic bits weren't overpowering. The sesame dressing was nutty and its flavor was punctuated. Although the dressing was yummy, we were glad that the salad did not have too much of it.

Now for the yakiniku (what the restaurant is famous for): we had some Karubi (beef short ribs, marinated in Tare or sweet soy sauce, Php 685), Norwegian Salmon Foil (with shio or salt-flavored marinade, Php 295), and Prawn Foil Grill with lots of garlic (Php 185). They were all cooked on an in-table charcoal grill.

The beef was sweet and juicy, very tender too! Its natural, meaty flavor was enhanced by the Tare marinade as it provided a balanced, sweet-savory layer. The shrimps were fresh and really bursting with garlic flavor. But our favorite was the salmon! It was buttery, creamy, and yummy! Its flavor was clean and fresh! It was perfect with rice, lots of rice.

The Ishiyaki Bibimbab (Php 265, with egg): rice, minced chicken, vegetables, nori, and sesame seeds, all put in a HOT stone bowl. It was OK. The sauce had the right balance of heat and sweetness. The bowl though was so hot, that a crispy rice pancake formed at the bottom of our dish.

The house tea was bland. The Cucumber Peppermint Iced Tea (Php 115) was just the house tea with cucumber bits and lots of peppermint leaves. Well, it was more refreshing, great for cleansing the palate.

Price: Considering food quality, taste, and serving size. Food here is just a little too pricey.

Service: Needs improvement. Our waiters needed to be reminded thrice about getting us water, bringing us utensils, and settling our bill.

Gyu-Kaku is at the East Wing of the Shangri-La Plaza.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First lick at Jipangyi

We were in the mall one morning and something caught our eye...

Yellow umbrella-looking puffed crisps! We approached the stand and learned that these puffed snacks are for holding ice cream. Our interest got piqued so we bought one for Php 35.

The food stand was of Jipangyi Seoul Ice Cream, a Korean treat that promotes corn puff cones as healthier alternatives to the traditional sugar cone for enjoying ice cream. They serve two ice cream flavors, vanilla and chocolate, injected into a big, cane-shaped corn puff.

Was it good? It was OK, not bad. The ice cream was a tad too milky; we could barely taste the vanilla and chocolate. The corn puff was good, delicious. It wasn't too salty. It also had good texture, light and very crispy.

Drop by the lower ground floor of Robinsons Metro East and try Jipangyi Seoul Ice Cream. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

First bite at Shine Bakery and Café

We were in SM Aura one Saturday morning and decided to drop by Shine Bakery and Café, restaurant of the famous chef-couple Rob Pengson and Sunshine Puey.

For brunch, we ordered the Foie Gras Burger and Beef Salpicao.

The Foie Gras Burger (Php 598) featured an Angus beef patty, topped with a slice of foie gras, provolone, green apple slices, and arugula, all nestling between fresh brioche, served with potato chips & aioli dip. DELICIOUS! The patty was well seasoned, juicy, and packed with GOOD meat flavor. The foie gras was buttery and divine! The apple and arugula added some vibrancy to the sandwich. The chips were also delicious, although a tad oily. And the dip? YUMMY! We actually used it more on the burger than on the chips, to add another mouthwatering layer.

No wonder this burger is a bestseller...

The Beef Salpicao (Php 499): beef tenderloin cubes, mushrooms, both swimming in a savory sauce that's loaded with garlic, served with slices of pickled carrots and radish, salad leaves, and multigrain (a mix of brown, red, and black) rice topped with egg. DELICIOUS! The meat was so tender, moist, and flavorful. Add to it the salpicao sauce with its punctuated taste. Add to THAT, the spicy-sour kick from the veggies. AND ADD TO THAT, the slightly earthy multigrain rice. Actually, it was the rice (smothered with sauce) that got us crazy, happy, and satisfied. We loved its slightly coarse texture too.

While waiting for our brunch bill, the restaurant manager gave us samples of the Carrot Cake and Red Velvet Cake. Both cakes were moist and not too sweet. Their frostings were velvety and not too sugary. Both treats had authentic, fresh flavors. Really good, actually.

In the afternoon, we returned to the restaurant, this time to try éclairs and milkshake. We got some Salted Caramel and Chocolate Éclairs (both Php 85), as well as a glass of Espresso Milkshake (Php 105). Then, to our surprise, the restaurant manager gave us another free treat: a piece of the All Things Good Cookie (Php 55).

The dough of the éclair was of high quality. They were soft and had enough blandness to highlight the filling. Both the salted caramel and chocolate fillings had good consistency. Their flavors were amply pronounced and were not buried in sugar. The Espresso Milkshake was OK, although it would've been better had it had a deeper, more bitter coffee flavor.

The complimentary cookie, the All Things Good Cookie, according to the restaurant manager, was made of sugar, marshmallow, chocolate, and pretzel. It was good, really tasty. The flavors and sweetness were balanced. We also liked that it was soft and chewy.

Considering taste, serving size, and the quality of the ingredients, we found the food here reasonably priced. Bill included a 9% service charge.

We liked the decor of the place: it was cute but not corny. The tables and chairs were spacious and comfortable. Their playlist was also good.

And the staff: one of the friendliest we've met. They were also attentive and neat looking. Really nice! (And we're not saying all these because we got a lot of free stuff).

Shine Bakery & Café is on the 3rd floor of SM Aura.