My Reviews

Nail-a-holics

4.0 Stars
Nail Salon
6

I seldom get manicures or pedicures: having been blessed with nails resistant to chipping or breaking while within a reasonable length, I just usually cut my nails myself every month or so. Also, I usually devote the time and money for this kind of self-care towards other pursuits (like foodie meetups, yeah!).

Surprisingly though, far from being a frivolous self-indulgence, getting nails done actually can be very beneficial to most women's well-being.

How?

A mani-pedi session at a local nail spa or salon is a precious moment when a woman can unplug from the usual concerns of work and family life. The half-hour it takes for a nail specialist to clean, cut, shape and file a woman's nails is time she can spend with her phone hidden away as she lounges on a comfy chair with her hands and feet up. Many girls take this as an opportunity to de-stress.

A treatment also oftentimes include a relaxing hand and foot massage that helps improve blood circulation and ease joint movement in these limbs.

Furthermore, regular nail treatments also reduces the chances of nails developing fungi and other infections, thanks to the intensive cleaning that they go through.

I recently got to treat myself to these health benefits when I got a free mani-pedi treatment at Nailaholics at SM Pasig (thanks to my good friend Jen of SandUnderMyFeet.com for the GC!).

Nailaholics is a chain of nail salons that seek to provide the metro's denizens with a place to escape to and get pampered.

Inspired by the chic and luxurious beach life along the Hamptons coast, its premises are marked by seaside inspired colors and decor. Soft mood piped-in music also contributes to the relaxing atmosphere.

After ushering me to a lounge chair, my nail technicians (NTs) Issa and Dicel set about giving me and my nails a much-deserved treat which included:

Soaking my hands and feet in warm scented water for a few seconds. This helps to moisturize and soften my nails prior to the treatment.

Shaping my nails. My nails usually grow in a rounded shape so the NTs just clipped and filed my nails following this natural shape. This actually results to stronger nail growth.

Cleaning. A cuticle cream is applied to my nails and the cuticle is gently pushed down to create an appearance of longer nails.

Hand and Foot Massage. My hands and feet were applied with lotion and given a gentle reflexology massage. Ooh, this made me want to go back the very next day!

I opted not to have my nails colored because, being a no-frills girl at heart, I didn't want the responsibility of maintaining colored nails.

My mani-pedi treatment at Nailaholics was a welcome respite from the daily grind. Knowing that it actually contributes to my overall health, and to my confidence in presenting myself to the world, are welcome bonuses.

Now I'm thinking of treating my best gals to a nail spa day at Nailaholics for my birthday

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Spice Cafe

4.0 Stars
Café
10

Fiestas are so deeply ingrained in Filipino culture.  It is a time when family and friends can come together over good food to celebrate and spend time together.  It is also a time that we city slickers anticipate, as these occasions are usually the only times we get to taste the much-vaunted heirloom recipes of our lolas and titas.

This is what my friends from #WeLoveToEatPH were treated to when we attended the food tasting event for Spice Cafe's All-Filipino Breakfast Buffet.

Spice Cafe is one of the restaurants in City Garden Grand Hotel located along the busy Makati Avenue. With its scenic view of the surrounding streets and buildings and its festive atmosphere, it provides a happy venue to enjoy one's favorite Pinoy delicacies.

For instance, who could say no to starting your day with either a silog (sinangag and itlog - garlic fried rice and fried egg)? Digging into this winning combo with either a longganisa (sausages), tocino (cured pork) or bangus (fried smoked milkfish), or all three is sure to bring back memories of lazy Sunday mornings when our nanays or lolas would prepare for us a sumptuous breakfast.

For those who want to indulge their inner carnivore for their first meal of the day, check out its carving station! For one thing, who would say no to bacon, lots and lots of it? Also, the crispy pork belly is absolutely delish!

Some people like to start their mornings with something light instead. How about some cereals and breads? Personally, I love Spice Cafe's cheesy ensaimada.  It had the light and fluffy texture, and the salty cheese had a nice contrast with the sweet bread.  I also had trouble choosing between guinataang mais and champorado and I figured, why not both?

Did you know that according to the American Dairy Association's random sampling survey, pizza is America's fourth most craved food behind cheese, chocolate and ice cream?  We Filipinos have grown to love it so much and made it our own.

Have a sweet tooth? Take your pick from so many dessert choices available: leche flan, biko, mango sago and turon.

My fellow foodies and I had our fill of these treats, and, of course, took full advantage of the resto's posh interiors for our photo opps!

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Pied Piper Gastrolounge

3.0 Stars
Bar
5

Like the fabled children of Hamelin, the denizens and passersby of Ermita, Manila's Arquiza Street as well as guests of the Red Planet Hotel Manila Bay, will find themselves drawn to the bright lights, good music and chill vibe of the Pied Piper... Well, the Pied Piper Gastrolounge, that is.

For people who love to enjoy their favorite brews along with their meals, gatrolounges (also known as gastropubs) are the place to be. In these places, they are assured of a steady supply high end beers to satisfy their discerning tastes while still indulging themselves in hot dishes know as "pub grub."

In contrast to the usual pub grubs, however, Pied Piper Gastrolounge's menu features a fusion of Japanese and other cuisines, thanks to the input of Chef Mikel Aguirre. It also has some classic Pinoy-style grilled items courtesy of managing partner Carlo Religioso, the man behind Daddings Kitchenette.

Together with my fellow foodies from #WeLoveToEatPH, I was able to sample some of its offerings during its pre-anniversary concert.

These include:

Bacon Sushi Roll (Php250). Smoked pork is wrapped in nori and sushi rice and topped with torched bacon. Dipped into soy sauce with wasabi, this is a sure winner!

Crispy Spareribs (Php320). Meaty pieces of pork ribs are braised for three hours, grilled for a smokey flavor and then deep fried to get a crispy exterior. Dipped into the house barbecue sauce, it's a must for every carnevore.

Baked Tahong (Php280). A Japanese version of the bar staple, this baked mussels dish make use of a special Japanese cheese sauce.

To accompany our food, we had our fill of Rhum Cokes (Php150/glass) and Vodka Sprites (Php150/glass).

This shindig was also marked by musical performances by Viva Hotabes Maricar dela Fuente and EB Babe Molly Baylon.

With the resto's chill surroundings, friendly staff, good eats and cool sounds, it was a spirited night for me and my friends at the Pied Piper Gastrolounge.

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Da Tang Jardin

4.0 Stars
Asian
10

Up until now, McKinley Hill was an unexplored territory for me. I would see pictures taken at the Venice Grand Canal or hear about newly opened restaurants in the area, but I haven't found the opportunity to visit them.

Thanks to an invitation extended by Saan Sa PH, I was able to explore the area and sample the authentic Chinese dishes of DaTang.

The restaurant occupies a sprawling area along the The Venice Piazza's Grand Canal. Its interiors feature a mix of classic Asian and modern influences, with panels of traditional Chinese paintings adoring one of the walls, bright red Chinese lanterns providing soft illumination, dark brown furniture and grey tiles highlighted by gold accents. The round tables are equipped with lazy susans, rotating trays that help in distributing food among the diners, particularly useful in Chinese restaurants wherein large varieties of dishes are served all at once. The restaurant also provides a magazine rack style implement with cover for bags, quite a boon for those who lug around their purses, camera bags and other items.

Jazmin Laboriente, the restaurant's marketing manager, shared that unlike dishes served by most of the Chinese restaurants in the metro which are rooted in the Cantonese regions, DaTang's offerings dishes originated from the Sichuan and Hunan provinces which are characterized by their propensity towards bold and spicy flavors. This direction in menu items is driven by Fan Li, the restaurant manager, as well as the three Chinese chefs who oversee the kitchen's operations.

No wonder, then, that the restaurant is patronized by so many Chinese customers.

The spice factor of some of the restaurant's signature dishes may have been tempered for the Filipino palate, but those seeking the heat can simply request for the authentic spicy version of the viands or ask for liberal amounts of chili oil or chopped chilis to get the kind heat that they want. (As for me, the tempered version is fine, hehehe!)

Our Chinese food feast consisted dishes which were exotic in both taste and appearance, such as:

Appetizers

Preserved Eggs in Ginger Sauce (Php220)
Beef and Scallion Dumpling (Php280)
Pork, Shrimp and Mushroom Spinach Dumpling (Php260)
Salted Egg Yolk Custard Bun (Php120 for 3 pieces)
Stir-fried Chinese Brocolli (Php195)
Braised Pig Feet (Php350)

The appetizers are mostly mild-flavored food - usually either steamed or braised -- which serve to whet the diners' appetite for more.

Mains
Mapo Tofu (Php280)
Sliced Beef in Hot Chili Oil (Php580)
Sweet and Sour Pork (Php280)
Shredded Pork Fried Rice with Egg (Php195)

This is where things get interesting. :-)

The Mapo Tofu and the Sliced Beef in Hot Chili Oil are both characteristically spicy and oily (though I've heard from other attendees that they've tasted spicier versions of these dishes elsewhere).

The appearance and texture of the pork slices in Sweet and Sour Pork can be likened to katsu: they are firm yet tender to the bite. Unlike the sweet and sour dishes we're used to at home, its sauce is more sour than sweet.

These three main dishes are well-complemented by the Shredded Pork Fried Rice with Egg, which balances out the spiciness of the viands.

Dessert

Fried Sesame Balls (Php75 for 3 pieces)
Snow Pear (Php150 for 3 pieces | Php300 for 6 pieces)
Fried Milk (Php240)

Being a certified sweet tooth, of course I would have something to say about DaTang's dessert offerings! The mung-bean-filled Fried Sesame Balls - buchi to most of us here in the Philippines - are pretty much standard fare in many Chinese restaurants. The Snow Pear and Fried Milk, however, are quite unique in look, feel and taste. The Snow Pear are actually glutinous rice filled with custard, very sticky and quite yummy. The Fried Milk bars are actually breaded custard that, when served hot, melts in your mouth in a mild burst of sweetness.

A meal at DaTang is guaranteed to be a journey to a side of Chinese cuisine seldom experienced in the metro.

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In Balance by Novotel

4.0 Stars
Day Spa
5

After spending our first day in Novotel indulging in good food, Hubby wanted to continue his workouts at In Balance, the hotel gym the next day. Equipped with various exercise equipment, the gym is an excellent option to burn off all those calories.

I joined him for a while and worked on achieving my 10k steps on the treadmill which, coincidentally, has a great view of the pool area.

Afterwards, we each retreated to the male and female locker rooms to get a relaxing steam bath before rejoining the kiddos in our hotel room.

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Ca Phe Saigon

4.0 Stars
Vietnamese
6

Ca Phe Saigon turned out to be a house a little bit off the main road with a seemingly nondescript facade aside from its signboard. That is, until you get a whiff of the fresh basil, Vietnamese coriander, lemon mint and other herbs being grown right there in the gardens fronting the store. These locally and organically grown herbs are used in the restaurant's signature dishes, which include:

Pho Bo Kho (Php160 for regular). This is a very fragrant noodle stew colored with achuete and flavored by lemongrass with tender pieces of beef.

Banh cuon (Php110). These are steamed rolls filled with shrimp, pork, mushroom and carrots served on a bed of shredded lettuce and topped with crisp shallots. It comes with a side of Special Vietnamese sweet fish sauce.

As is characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine, meat is used sparsely in the dishes. The flavor of the food is driven by the vegetables and herbs used. This results to light and healthy meals that one can indulge in with less of the guilt.

Of course, I can hardly resist sampling the beverage from which this resto gets its name, can I? I got myself a Ca Phe Sua Da (Php100) which is made from coarsely ground Vietnamese dark roast coffee brewed right before my eyes using a small metal French drip filter. Boiling water is poured onto the coffee, which is is dripped into a cup quarter-filled with sweetened condensed milk. This mixture is stirred then poured into a tall glass with ice, making a refreshing and exotic pick-me-upper.

My friend and I passed the time in comfort in the cozy restaurant until dinner time neared and a line started forming outside. For us, this was proof that this hidden gem has developed quite a following among Marikina residents.

Driving the concept and the menu for the store is co-owner Rose Bonifacio who is Vietnamese. Her daughter, Apple, handles the business side of the restaurant. Her husband, Sonny, on the other hand, as the resident green thumb, sees to the cultivation of the herbs and vegetables in their little garden.

So if ever you're in the Marikina area, do check out Ca Phe Saigon for an authentic and healthy taste of Vietnam.

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The Café Mediterranean

5.0 Stars
Mediterranean
10

Hummus is made from cooked and mashed garbanzo beans (chickpeas) blended with tahini (a condiment made from ground hulled sesame), olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. It is rooted in the traditional cuisine of Levant, the area that covers the large stretch of land in the eastern Mediterranean which includes modern-day Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria and surrounding states.
In line with its promise of bringing "flavors of the sun" to its diners' tables, The Cafe Mediterranean features a seasonal menu of hummus bowls that do bring to mind pictures of rich harvests, the bright blue sea and the hot Mediterrenean sun.

If you find yourself at a #CafeMed branch, do get a #HummusBowl for yourself or your gang. Here are three reasons why.

One: These are very nutritious.

Owing to hummus' main ingredient, chickpeas, it provides a good amount of dietary fiber, protein, B vitamin, manganese and other nutrients. This makes it a wonderful addition to any modern diet geared towards health and proper nutrition.

Two: Their toppings not just ups hummus' nutrition game, they also significantly add to the flavor.

Hummus actually is very versatile. Aside from its use as a dip for breads or raw onion wedges, it also serves as an ingredient for soups, hot stews and sauces.

Taking advantage of this versatility, The Cafe Mediterranean offers eight varieties of hummus bowls, made with the freshest ingredients daily, to suit your craving or to add to your already flavorful meal. There are meat and no-meat options, so whatever your diet is, there is a hummus bowl for you.

Take your pick from among these tasty variants.
- With cherry tomatoes cooked with garlic and extra virgin olive oil (Php275)
- With roasted red bell peppers, black olives and feta cheese (Php325)
- With roasted broccoli and cauliflower (Php395)
- With grilled eggplant and tomato sauce (Php300)
- With mushroom and caramelized onions (Php350)
- With grilled chicken (Php375)
- With grilled beef (Php395)
- With grilled lamb (Php435)

Each of these bowls come with two pieces of warm pita bread that you can tear apart with your hands and dip into the hummus.
Three: Getting a hummus bowl (or more) contributes to the welfare of victims of armed conflict.

The Cafe Mediterranean has collaborated with UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, to generate support and donations to the Syrians displaced by the Syrian War. Customers can rest assured that all proceeds from the sales of these bowls are coursed directly through the UNHCR to help the Syrian refugees.

So head on out to the nearest branch of The Cafe Mediterranean and get a big bowl of hummus for yourself and your friends!

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Inari by Hamaru

3.0 Stars
Japanese
6

By now, with the proliferation of Japanese restaurants all over the metro, you would think you know sushi like the back of your hand.
But sushi at Inari by Hamaru is no ordinary sushi.

This I discovered, together with my fellow foodies, during a recent food tasting event held at The Corner Market Food Hall of the Podium that featured its newly opened food stalls.

Inari's claim to fame is its inarizushi: it is a pouch made of seasoned and fried tofu stuffed with sushi rice and other fillings. It takes its name after the Shinto deity Inari who, legend has it, has quite a fondness for fried tofu.

During this particular food tasting, however, our group was treated to other items in Inari's menu such as:

Black Rice Sushi Platter (Php775). These are forty pieces of five flavors of sushi rolls - Ebi Tempura, Torched California, Spicy Tuna, Sweet Eggplant and Crispy Salmon Skin - all made using organic black rice. This is quite a step in a healthier direction as black rice is imbued with the highest amounts of antioxidants, protein and dietery fiber among all rice varieties. Its health benefits include a stronger immune system, cancer and diabetes prevention and improved digestive health. Black rice also aids in weight loss, reducing swellings and in promoting heart and brain health. If only I'm not looking for that sticky and fluffy white sushi rice with every bite! Oh well...

Nori Tacos Ebi Salad (Php185) and Chimichurri Tuna (165). An imaginative take on nori-wrapped sushi rolls, these feature crunchy deep-fried seaweed shells stuffed with fresh sushi filling. For me this is a way to enjoy old sushi favorites in new tastes and textures.

I was only able to sample a few of Inari's offerings during the food tasting so I just might drop by the Corner Market Food Hall again, just to check the other items out!

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Pizza Morena

4.0 Stars
Pizza
8

At the heart of Ortigas, in the Corner Market Food Hall of the Podium, is the new home of Pizza Morena. This is good news to its loyal customers as this pizza concessionaire previously can only be found in food fairs and weekend markets.

Pizza Morena's offerings are not your run-of-the-mill pizzas. They are topped with choice fresh ingredients and, when ordered for dine-in, are baked in wood-fire ovens or packed frozen so that pizza lovers so inclined can enjoy it at home.

Together with other foodies and bloggers, I attended the opening of new stores in the Corner Market Food Hall of the Podium. One of the said stores is Pizza Morena.

There, our group was able to sample some of Pizza Morena's signature offerings, cooked in a wood-fired brick oven, giving the pizzas a crispy golden crust that frame the flavors of their exotic toppings.

Pizza Morena (Php350). I liked the store's eponymous dish for its nutty and slightly sweet flavor (owing to the pistachios and honey), further enhanced by a bit of truffle oil amidst a mixture of mascarpone and mozzarella.

Margherita (Php300). I found this pizza light and classic with its tomato base topped with mozzarella and parmesan, dried oregano and olive oil.

Pepperoni and Hot Honey (Php350). Hot honey gives the familiar pepperoni pizza got a slight boost of sweetness.

Spinach and Artichoke (Php350). My favorite among the pizza variants I tasted wherein the popular dip flavor is given a pizza treatment. A creamy spinach, parmesan, artichoke and olive base is topped with microgreens and edible flowers.

If you're concerned about your diet or prefer not to consume food without animal products, you would be happy to know that Pizza Morena's Pesto with Mushrooms, Margherita and 4 Cheese all have vegan options (yes, cheeses used are vegan too).

We also sampled its newly launched Burrata Salad (Php250 for regular | Php300 for large). The burrata cheese made from mozarella and cream adds some heartiness to this salad of organic greens and edible flowers, all sourced from a local farm.

I'm so glad that Pizza Morena has expanded its reach beyond weekend markets. With this store, easily accessible to Pasig, San Juan and Mandaluyong denizens, more pizza lovers looking for more exotic takes on their favorite will get their cravings sated.

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Sari-Salo

4.0 Stars
Filipino
4

One of the newly opened stalls at The Podium's Corner Market Food Hall featured during a food tasting event was Sari Salo. This eatery's unusual name stems from two Filipino terms consisting of repeating syllables (another Pinoy quirk, hehehe!): sari-sari and salu-salo.

Sari-sari refers to "variety and sundry." Hence, the ubiquitous neighborhood mom-and-pop stores present and vital in many Filipino neighborhoods are called sari-sari stores. These stores connote affordability, being the go-to places of families within the neighborhood for tingi-tingi (unit purchases) of basic food items and home necessities. It is also a place where people (stereotypically the chismosos or the busybodies) come together and hangout to talk about neighborhood life.

Salu-salo, on the other hand, refers to "a social gathering or party." It's a time when family or friends come together for a good time, and usually over good food.

Sari Salo, in turn, strives to live up to the wealth of cultural meaning that its name implies with its simple, Filipino comfort food you and your family or friends can enjoy while you spend time together after a shopping trip or a movie date at the mall.

Take for example the sampling of its offerings served during the food tasting event: the Crispy Pork Binagoongan (Php230) and the Angus Beef Sisig (Php280 for regular | Php350 for super-sized).

The pork binagoongan has the right combination of saltiness and spiciness that make it a tasty viand to eat together with hot steamed rice. The beef sisig, on the other hand, is flavorful and tender to the bite, given that its made of Angus beef, of course.

The food was served efficiently without much fanfare, giving us tasters more time and attention to devote to savoring our meal.
Sari Salo's stall is also a more spacious and colorful rendition of the sari-sari store, and littered with fun Pinoy pop culture references.

I would recommend Sari Salo to mall-goers hankering for Pinoy comfort food.

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