Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mega Food Tour 2.0 : Experience SM Megamall's Finest Eats

I had never realized how difficult it is to become a food blogger until I've had experienced the Mega Food Tour 2.0 at the SM Megamall organized by Mercato Centrale Food Group with Our Awesome Planet. Can you imagine how belly-bursting it had been for us after we visited 9 restaurants in a single day? Yes, your read that right, NINE! But it truly was a lot of fun and a new experience for us all who participated in the said tour.

Our Mega Food Tour 2 started with a visit to SM Megamall's newest ramen restaurant, Ippudo. The long wait was truly worth it. Slurping on steaming hot ramen will certainly make you full right away on Mega Food Tour 2.0's first stop. Ippudo's Shiromaru Motoaji (Classic Ramen, Php375) served on a white bowl had original tonkatsu broth served with ultra thin noodles, pork loin, bean sprouts, kikurage and spring onions. It's really a comfort food and perfect for the rainy days. We also tried Akaramaru Shinaji (Php390, served on a red bowl), It also had the signature tonkatsu broth, pork loin, kikurage and enhanced with special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. This one's mildly spicy, great for those who aren't into heavily spicy food but would just want to add some kick. Up next, we've had Akaramaru Shinaji (Php390, served on black bowl), also had the same tonkatsu broth, enhanced with the same specially blended miso paste but with an upgrade level of spiciness. Ippudo's rice toppings was also very tasty and delicious. But what surprised us the most was the sidedish called Nikumiso Tofu Salad (Php210). Made from Japanese tofu, nikumiso, avocado, cherry tomatoes, pineapple slices, cashew nuts, cilantro, and white leeks on sesame dressing and fish sauce. The food bloggers all loved this side dish. It cleanses your palate and had that sweet, salty, sour and umami taste that seems to exercise one's palate. The delicate balance of ingredients, the special broth and freshly made ramen noodles makes Ippudo on top of my MUST-VISIT restaurant at SM Megamall's Mega Fashion Hall. Before we left Ipuddo, I've learned that the best way to appreciate and eat ramen was to do a "Zuzutto"! It means to inhale the ramen's fragrant before slurping into a loud sound. It signifies the maximum enjoyment of the ramen. 

Second Stop: Linguini Fini, located at the second level of SM Megamall Fashion Hall. It's an authentic Italian-American resto where everything's made from the scratch--including pizza and pasta along with imported as well as locally produced products. Linguini Fini's menu is well-curated with fresh pasta and porchetta as its signature items. But there's pizza and antipasti for hefty foodies. During our visit, Linguini Fini's Executive Chef Vinny Lauria shared with foodies the philosophy behind the restaurant's best seller, "nose to tail"--that when it comes top pork, nothing goes to waste. 

Parpadelle "Nose to Tail Bolo" (Php430 + 10% service charge) consists of pork testa, veal and oxtail ragu, Parmigiano Reggiano. It was the first time I've tried pasta tat's not al dente, rather it was soft, like something that literally melts in your mouth. With ragu of pork face, veal loin and ox tail, it perfectly epitomizes the Nose to tail concept of Linguini Fini. We were also served with Sliced Porchetta (Php595 + 10% service charge)--slow roasted, fennel rubbed pork belly served sliced with caramelized onion marmalata. The Porchetta can be ordered sliced to see the beef belly with the fennel rubbed and served with crispy lechon-like pork belly skin. As if that's not enough, we were also served Chopped Porchetta (Php595 +10% service charge)--slow roasted, fennel rubbed pork belly chopped with chili mostarda, fennel on top of homemade focaccia bread. This is what I liked the most. The chili mostarda goes well and perfectly complements the said dish. 

We were almost in the brink of turning Japanese since our third stop is another Japanese restaurant called Rosanjin. From the very same people behind successful restaurants like Tajima Yakiniku and Sandaya comes Rosanjin. A hearty sample set was affordably priced at Php450 and it comes with unlimited Japanese rice. We were able to try the awesome appetizers which includes salmon wrapped in ginger and maki wrapped in Chinese cabbage. But we enjoyed eating chirashi the most, its got Japanese rice, and sushi as toppings with pink salt. Chirashi is what RJ Ledesma of Mercato Centrale Group referred to as "deconstructed sushi". 

Then, we made a stop to Cupcakes by Sonja. We were delighted with the presence of Ms. Sonja Ocampo herself. We've learned that Ms. Sonja trained and worked in Magnolia Bakery on New York (made popular in the US TV Series, Sex and the City). We were treated with some of Cupcakes by Sonja's best sellers including their famous Red Velvet Cupcakes. We had also tried their birthday milkshake (vanilla cake with birthday cake frosting and rainbow sprinkles). The said stop was such a treat for those with sweet tooth! 

After that, we made a quick stop at the Michelin star Tim Ho Wan where the lines never cease. Tim Ho Wan's Executive Chef graciously went out of their kitchen to say hello and served us their best selling and freshly baked pork barbecue buns. It was so divine! I loved it! The aroma of freshly baked buns alone brought excitement to my senses. The buns had a somewhat milky and buttery taste and sweet and salty. The bun's filling was pork barbecue at its finest. The taste was just right-not too sweet, not salty nor too bland. Three pieces of Tim Ho Wan's pork buns costs Php150. 

Up next was Eri Curry--which came from a play of the owner's name Erica + Japanese Curry, the said restaurant's specialty. It's Japanese Comfort Food at its finest. Customers are given the chance to customize their dishes to their desired degree of spiciness. We've had Katsu Curry, Shrimp Curry, Katsu Omelette Curry, and thin sliced Beef Curry. We were also served with their signature iced teas and Japanese rolls. 

Then, we made a stop to Canada's favorite burger, Triple O's. Here, we met Ms. Pinky Yee (the marketing genius behind Goldilocks Bakeshop) who brought Triple O's to Manila along with their specialty secret sauce. Generous servings of two best selling burgers from Triple O's made our visit superb: Bacon Cheddar and Monty Mushroom burgers with their specialty dips. I had truly enjoyed the dips: Honey mustard, Triple O's special dipping sauce and Chipotle sauce. Chipotle sauce is best with Triple O's sweet potato fries. And get this, don't forget their Strawberry Milkshake, it's a WINNER! Honest-to-goodness fresh strawberries, milk and water--no ice cubes! They tastes so divine! 

Kool Kids, on the other hand is where they make liquid nitrogen into ice cream in small batches from scratch. We enjoyed their ice cream in assorted flavors as well as their ice cream with 'white chocolate' frosting and FroDo, which was an ice cream sandwich using doughnut-like bun. The place is ideal for kids who'll surely utter 'ooohs and aaahs' as their orders are being made. 

Last Stop: Mochicream Cafe. With wide variety of mochis (Japanese rice cakes), Mochi donuts, loads of Matcha and Almonds. Apparently, their Matcha supplier is the one who also provides for the Emperor. Eating here feels like you're dining with the Japanese Emperor as well. 

Would you like to experience the Mega Food Tour 2.0 and experience SM Megamall's Finest Eats just like me? It's so easy to join! Here's how: 

Be part of the Mega Food Tour 2.0 with Mercato Centrale Food Group and Our Awesome Planet on September 29 and 30. 

Mechanics: Simply take your best foodie pic from any SM Megamall restaurant. Follow, tag @smmegamall, use the hashtag #MegaFoodTour2.0 and post on Instagram from September 19 to 27. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Royale Caribbean Jamaican Patties at Market Market

Have you ever heard of Jamaican Patties? You've probably smelled one wafting in the air but had never really pointed out the food where the aroma came from was simply because you're not familiar with it. For those who haven't tried it yet, Jamaican Patties are delicious curry-flavored beef pastries that can be found in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. Kyle and I recently tried the Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties located at the 5th level of Market, Market in Taguig City. 

The tables at the Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties aren’t much. Customers would just often dash in for a patty to go, since they are located just beside the cinema. But Royal Jamaican Caribbean Patties' spot was modestly appointed, brightly lighted and even more brightly painted, in a manic shade of yellow mixed with red and greens. It is a fine place to eat except for the poor air conditioning system of Market! Market! mall.  Although Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties have electric fans, still they're not good enough. The place was too hot and uncomfortable--so, c'mon, Ayala Malls Admin, I do hope you'll be able to do something about it. 

Let's proceed with the food: The Jamaican patties — beef and otherwise — are hefty but truly unmanageable or messy to eat. But just because you can eat a patty, which is practically a meal in itself, on the go doesn’t mean that a good one isn’t worth sitting down and contemplating--that is, if you can bear with the heat when you decide to dine in at Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties. 

The meat fillings at Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties are encased in a turmeric-yellow pastry, made with a fair amount of what seemed like a suet. The suet helps give the dough its savory appeal and, more important, its flaky texture. Like any good pastry made with ample fat, it splits into layers and shards when you bite into it, revealing the moist, nearly puréed meat filling within.

Unless you have some reason to shun it, beef is the best filling choice. It is moister and more flavorful than the very respectable chicken patty.  Allspice lends an aromatic note to both; ground black pepper and chopped cayenne chili peppers tag-team for a double-fisted — but not overwhelming — punch of piquancy and spiciness. 

Kyle and I ordered each kind of Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties so we could decide which one's the best. We've had the Beef Supreme (juicy ground beef with tomato sauce gravy, no chili. Php45), Beef Royale (mildly spiced also at Php45), Beef Jerky (Extra Hot), Beef Grenada (Php45-detonates in your mouth with spicy beef and lots of chili), Beef Curry, and Cheese Burst Supreme (Php58 ground beef with melted cheese and beef tomato gravy). They all seemed to taste quite similar to one another so it was kinda difficult to make a review and differentiate their tastes. To help us with it, we've ordered Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties' signature teas. Kyle had their signature regular iced tea while I've had Red Raspberry Iced Tea. Their signature teas somehow helped us cleanse our palates as we write our verdicts on the Jamaican patties. 

Regardless which patty you choose, if you can handle the heat, I recommend anointing it with a dash or a splash, or even more, of hot sauce. Beyond the incendiary sear, it has the alluring, multifaceted flavor of different exotic spices, best downed with a cold glass of their fruity and faintly vegetal signature teas. 

As expected, Kyle loved the Beef Supreme, simply because it's child-friendly. It's not spicy so if you're bringing kids with you, this is your best bet. Beef Royale had that strangely sweet tinge and spice with oozing cheese. The cheese wasn't the melted one though. Think of artificial cheese spreads inside the Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patty. 

To tame the fiery spices, you'd be glad to know that Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties had a selection of teas to suit your taste namely: Ceylon Tea, Four Seasons, Mango, Premium Iced Tea, Iced Lemon Tea and Red Raspberry Tea for Php58 each! 

Beyond the patties, there are other things you could try from their menu. There's a filling baked macaroni (Php58), some baked cookies and soft served ice creams too. I was just a bit disappointed with their baked macaroni. It's supposed to taste good, but it tasted like some leftover from a party. The pasta was not al dente to begin with. The sauce seemed too dry and they scrimped on the cheese. 

Overall, I'd say that Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties still needs some more improvement regarding their taste as well as menu offerings. But I'd like to commend them for their premium beverages (teas) because you can't just find them anywhere. The Jamaican patties are okay. They're not really bad, but as a consumer, you can't help but compare it with other Jamaican patties in the market today and you'll be able to figure out what I mean. I guess, if they are reading this post right now, I'd recommend that they try their rivals so that they could see what's been lacking on their part. 

Disclaimer: I am not compensated for this post. Opinions are 100% my own. 

Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patties are located on the 5th level of Market! Market! in Taguig City. They also have a branch in BF Homes, Las Piñas.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Taco Bell Gateway Mall Cubao Branch Food Review

It's been a while since the last time I've been to Taco Bell Philippines' Gateway Mall branch in Cubao, Quezon City, and I must say there have been a lot of changes in terms of menu offering and their prices as well. I've always been a fan of Mexican foods--I totally love Chipotle, cheesy nachos with jalapeños, guacamole and salsa. And ever since, I feel right at home and comfortable with Taco Bell Philippines' Gateway Mall branch. I guess it has something to do with my being forever partial with all shades of purple/violet and lavender---Taco Bell's trademark color. So when I got invited to one of Zomato's foodie invite, I immediately said yes. 

Let's start with the obvious - the décor. Taco Bell's walls are adorned with huge photos of Taco Bell's best sellers such as Steak Quesadillas, Nachos Supreme, Grilled Stuffed Burritos etc. I guess this is some kind of a trick because since it's visually enticing, seeing those yummy Taco Bell goodies would certainly make you want to order and eat them. And yes, they certainly looked so good on your walls that you'd be wanting to have them on your table. I liked the fact that Taco Bell doesn't try to look vaguely Latino or Mexican in theme. Rather, they chose to emphasize freshness on their meals and genuinely interesting fusion combinations in tacos, burritos and squeezing in a bit of American tweaked specifically for the Filipino palate. 

Being an old regular Taco Bell-Gateway Cubao branch-goer, I knew that this branch used to have free wifi connection. Unfortunately, during my last visit with them, they no longer have access for guests/customers. I didn't know why they had removed this privilege to their customers, but if I remember right, it was one of the few perks why I used to hangout and dine at Taco Bell's. Being a food blogger, I feel that I should share foodie photos to my followers and readers and give them tips/suggest on what they should try or shouldn't order in a particular restaurant. In this way, I'm given the chance to interact with fellow netizens and social media users, so basically having a free wifi connection is one of the first few things we usually ask when we enter an establishment. But then again, I respect Taco Bell's decision to remove their free wifi privilege to dining customers. 

 Now, let's move on to the food. I've had a huge bucket of nachos with cheese (Php109). A tub of nachos from Taco Bell is good for two to three persons. This is perfect to munch on while watching a basketball game (there are Taco Bell kiosks inside The Smart Araneta Coliseum) or you're on the cinema. I reckon this is also good to eat as you wait for friends to show up during a Friday gimmick. I liked Taco Bell's nachos because they are flavorful on their own even without dipping them on its cheesy sauce. And unlike other ordinary corn-made nachos, Taco Bell's can maintain its crispiness even if exposed to air for quite sometime. 

I've also tried Taco Bell's flagship tacos--the Crunchy Taco Supreme. Composed of ground beef, minced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cheese, spices and sour cream--it was truly a winner! Taco Bell's sour cream alone is worthy of mentioning, it had the right taste, not too sour nor too bland. Seriously, if you'd want to add some kick into your taco, Taco Bell made sure they've got you covered with three different levels of spiciness: Mild Sauce, Hot Sauce and Fire Sauce. Obviously, mild sauce are good for those who'd just like to try putting on some spice. Hot sauce is for the regular ones while Fire sauce are for those who can tolerate extremely spicy foods. 

We've had the Crunchy Taco Supreme with Taco Bell's Margarita Slush in Lime. I was surprised that they seemed to complement each other as the lime flavor from the slush sort of cleanses the palate. Next up was Nacho Supreme (Php89)--generous ground beef, minced tomatoes, onions, creamy cheese and a huge dollop of sour cream on a bed of flour tortillas. Genuine freshness happening here - the ingredients taste real, flavorful, and clean. Eating them looks kinda messy but what I love the most about Taco Bell's is their flour tortilla. It has never disappointed me, despite the presences of creamy cheese and dollops of sour cream, it didn't become soggy. Although if I had the choice, I could've provided jalapeño slices as customer's additional add-ons option.

 In my opinion, I'd say that perhaps Taco Bell Philippines had been trying its best to sort of "please" the Filipino market to the point that they've been tweaking their foods to cater to more people. I see nothing wrong with that. But there are pros and cons, of course. While they are constantly tweaking their food to suit the so-called Pinoy palate, they are missing the ones that has made them popular throughout the world--they are supposed to be serving Mexican/Latino-American foods right? So why deviate from the kinds of food you've started out with? Can you believe it that Taco Bell Philippines now serves french fries? Yes, they now serve that in the Philippines! The thing is, so many fast food restaurants have been serving burgers and fries, that some Filipinos would want to give themselves a break and try some other exciting foods such as tacos, burritos, quesadillas etc. So basically, I don't see the point why Taco Bell Philippines would be offering/serving the same thing on their menu. Ironically enough, Taco Bell says their fries are doing good. I suggest that if they really want to serve fries, they should probably introduce or come up with dipping sauces with hints of Mexican/Latino-American. For example, they craft a jalapeño ranch dipping sauce or specialty fries like Philly or Carne Asada--it'll definitely make people come back. 

Next up was the potato bites. They are the perfect texture of crispy on the outside and soft on the insides. I'm sure kids will love these cute brown potato bites that come when you order a Taco Bell combo meal. 

Then we've had a Crunch Wrap Supreme. Made from a warm, soft flour tortilla with seasoned beef and warm nacho cheese, it easily becomes a comfort food. It certainly offers big flavor and great texture. 

Overall, I'd say I'd coming back to Taco Bell for these reasons: 
* The ambiance is quite colorful and inviting. 
* Taco Bell's variety of sauces have very catchy lines on their sauce pouches, I find them cute. 
*I loved their taco, it’s just so crispy and creamy, perfect filling of rice and veggies and sauces on their burritos + oozing quesadillas. 
* The topped nachos was simply amazing. The crunch wrap was also very yummy. 
* Taco Bell uses reduced fat sour cream so you'll have less guilt when you eat more than you can consume. 
*Nachos have some peppery spice, crunch just right and addicting with its creamy cheese dip. 
*Mexican Pizza with taco ingredients as toppings was great. I'd like to order it again when I come back to Taco Bell next time. 
I wouldn't say they are pure Mexican cuisine but they are customized version for the Philippine consumers. 

Taco Bell are located in Trinoma Mall, Gateway Mall (Food Choices and Ground Floor) and with six kiosks inside The Smart Araneta Coliseum. They're going to open up two more branches soon.