Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cyma Estiatorio

Cyma Estiatorio
Location : Trinoma, Quezon City
Cuisine : Greek / Mediterranean
Menu Price Range :
Php 100.00 - Php 800.00
Service Charge: 10%
Rating :

It's very difficult to find good Mediterranean food here in the Philippines. Somehow, this cuisine has somehow been pigeon-holed into stalls or side-street eateries that offer nothing more than a bastardized version of the Gyro. There are, of course, casual dining establishments like Cafe Mediterranean, but these places are few and far between.

You can imagine my disbelief then when I was told there was a great Mediterranean restaurant that offered authentic Greek cuisine in a fine dining setting. I've managed to catch a glimpse of their branch at Greenbelt 3 once in a while, but often found it packed with people. Several acquaintances have also praised the establishment, claiming that their authentic Greek cuisine is nothing less than Olympian.

Fortunately, there definitely is something to all the hype. Cyma has a very charming and classic simplicity to it, echoing the cuisine contained within. The interior resembles a Greek taverna complete with simulated period lamps and furnishings, but with a modern twist. Cyma goes to great lengths to assure a great dining experience from the friendly staff to the authentic cuisine. Of course, great Mediterranean cuisine doesn't come cheap, but, in this case, it's well-worth your money.

Pikilia Mezedes Combination
Price: Php 420.00
Rating: A -

Fans of dips and spreads will find this sampler a treat. You get to sample all of their available dips, the Tzatziki (cucumber, garlic and Greek yoghurt), Melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant, garlic, tomatoes lemon and evoo (short for extra virgin olive oil)), Htipiti (creamed feta cheese, roasted peppers and evoo), Taramosalata (greek caviar, salted fish roe) and the more familiar Hummous (chickpea, tahini and garlic).

Each dip had its unique taste and texture. The Tzatziki reminded me of the Filipino dish called Ensalada which has similar ingredients minus the overpowering onion flavor. The Htipiti had a mildly spicy aftertaste while the Tzatziki and Taramosalata were somewhat tart. Served with warm pita bread, this appetizer is best when eating with a large group (four or more). I personally felt the serving of the pita bread was inadequate - a good portion of the dips remained even after we finished our bread. Additional pita bread can be ordered, however, for Php. 40.00.

Roka Salata
Price: Php 295.00 (solo), Php 390 (to share), Php 580.00 (family)
Rating: A

This monster of a salad was composed of fresh roka (arugula), lettuce, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and parmesan tossed in traditional Greek vinaigrette. The explosion of various flavors all in one salad was simply amazing - the sweetness of the candied walnuts, the sourness of the vinaigrette, the salty taste of the cheese, and the peppery-mustard flavor of arugula - all in very generous servings. I thought the waiter had mistaken that I asked for family, but I confirmed that this really was their "to share" size. I highly recommend this salad.

Baby Clams Angel Hair
CYMA Original
Price: Php. 260.00 (solo), Php. 390.00 (to share), Php. 520.00 (family)
Rating: B

Another light dish, this pasta had a hefty serving of pacific baby clams over pasta bathed in wine, lemon, garlic evoo, parsley and parmesan cheese. The very light sauce complimented the taste of the clams. As an option, you may squeeze lemon onto it to add more flavor. Anyone who is used to strong flavors in their pasta might find this dish quite plain-tasting. Again, their very generous "to share" serving may well serve up to four people.

Paidakia Lamb Chops
Price: Php 550.00
Rating: B -

Recommended by the server, this Cyma specialty of char-grilled lamb ribs was served with pepper stuffed with rice (or you can change it to Greek roasted potatoes) and a slice of lemon. In addition, they served a warm washing bowl since the dish is meant to be eaten using your hands. Though the lamb is tender, some had tendons that make them harder for the meat to be bitten and chewed. The rice inside the bell pepper was boiled with tomatoes and spices and tasted sweet. It was on separate plate that had a lot of oil which makes a person think twice about finishing the siding.

Pistachio Pagoto (Ice Cream)
Other Available Flavors: Cyma's Cheese cake Sorbet and Mint Chocolate Dip
Price: Php 145.00
Rating: C

The ice cream was a refreshing dessert to finish your Mediterranean meal. Served with a sprinkle of various nuts, it complimented the light but tasty ice cream. I was informed it was only a scoop, but it was a big scoop that may be shared by two. Still, for a scoop of ice cream, it was pretty expensive.


Food: Cyma epitomizes authentic Greek cuisine by serving foods fresh and light. Though we might have ordered too much for four people, we didn't feel bloated afterwards. Unlike most cuisines that cover their ingredients with too much sauce or breading, the natural flavor of the food shines in every dish, simply complimented by lemon, cheese or extra virgin olive oil.

Ambiance: Like the cuisine, the place was simple yet elegant. Most tables had comfy chairs and there were a few couches tucked up in the restaurant's corner. The place was predominantly in calming white and blue. Though most its branches of are notably full with patrons, this new branch was comparatively silent and cozy. Visiting the establishment also during lunchtime might be a reason for the difference.

Value: Cyma is a place to eat with friends and groups. Though close to the Php. 500.00 range, their bigger servings are good enough to feed three people or more. Their appetizers and salads were a very good value. The drink and the desserts were a bit pricey.

Service: The servers were very knowledgeable with the food and were quick to make suggestions from their popular and original dishes. The service was excellent. Upon learning it was my companion's birthday, they surprised us with a complimentary, candle-lit vanilla ice cream and sang to the celebrant. They even shouted their signature "Opa!" (an exclamatory Greek word for jubilation / celebration) as the celebrant blew out her candle.

Overall: If you are tired of other cuisines and want to try something different and healthy, Greek cuisine at Cyma is definitely a must try. With their unique dishes and huge servings, it is an ideal place to eat out with friends. Greek food names should not discourage you from trying them out with the help of friendly servers. Reconsider ordering desserts though, for they are a bit pricey.

© 2008 Tanya Obedoza
Edited by Pablo Bairan

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Big Apple Pizza Co.

Big Apple Pizza Co.
Location :
Allegro Center, Pasong Tamo Ext. , Makati City
Cuisine :
Tel #: +63 (2) 757-888
Menu Price Range
: Php 64.00 - Php 168.00 (Php 512.00 to Php 784.00 for whole pizzas)
Service Charge:
Rating : C+

Recently, the number of New York-style pizzerias has been on the rise in Metro Manila. From the old favorite, Yellow Cab Pizza, to the more recent Brooklyn Pizza, these establishments thrive on delivering mammoth, hand-tossed pizzas to an eager public. Big Apple Pizza Co. is poised to be yet another contender, offering not only New York-style pizzas, but also salads, pastas, fried chicken, and even Strombolis to their clientèle.

Unlike Yellow Cab and Brooklyn, however, Big Apple Pizza Co. has an attractive and spacious dining area where patrons can enjoy their cuisine. The tables and chairs are stylish although somewhat hard and uncomfortable. There are also additional tables and chairs located just outside their store, allowing customers to smoke while dining.

Orders are taken at the counter, but, once they're made, they're delivered to you promptly by their courteous staff. Pizzas only come in one size: a gigantic 20-inch thin-crust New York pizza. The slices are so big, in fact, that you might want to ask them to divide it into more slices, eat it with a fork and knife, or simply fold it in half as the large surface area makes it a bit unwieldy to eat traditionally.

Mexican Taco Pizza
Price: Php 89.00/ Php 712.00 (whole)
Rating: B

A very large slice of pizza layered with tomato sauce then smothered with beef, tomato salsa, shredded lettuce and finally topped with cheddar cheese. This pizza was actually quite unique and creative, combining some of the best elements of Italian and Mexican cuisine. The lettuce was crunchy and the ground beef and salsa went well together, providing a tasty and filling meal in itself.

The pizza dough wasn't very crunchy, however, due to the fact that the dish was simply reheated instead of made from scratch. I was told that in order for them to make one, I would have to order at least half a pizza - in other words, four large slices.

Another word of warning: the Mexican Taco Pizza was quite messy to eat. If you cut it with a knife and fork, it would just fall apart and if you tried to lift the slice, the toppings would fall off. It didn't help either that it was served on a piece of cardboard rather than a plate.

Grilled Chicken Ceasar
Price: Php 168.00
Rating: C-

This dish is comprised of several slices of grilled chicken strips on a bed of lettuce garnished with some tomato slices and peppered with parmesan cheese. A stick of garlic bread was included as well as a small plastic cup containing their Caesar dressing.

The salad was plentiful, but lacked variety, it was basically just lettuce and two slices of tomatoes with some grilled chicken slices on top. There were no onions, mushrooms, peppers, olives, radishes, or even red cabbage included, making the salad taste a bit monotonous. The grilled chicken wasn't very flavorful either, tasting dry and reheated. In contrast, the home-made dressing was full of flavor, but a bit too salty.

Stromboli (Beef & Mushroom)
Price: Php 125.00
Rating: B+

A burrito-sized dough stuffed with either Bacon, Chicken, and Mushroom, Sausage and Pepperoni, or Beef and Mushroom. It is also served with a cup of Pomodoro Sauce on the side as a dip.

During my visit, I decided on the Beef and Mushroom, and found it quite flavorful. The warm dough blended well with the mozzarella cheese and the beef and mushroom stuffing. The Pomodoro Sauce also provided a zesty flavor and made this dish quite appetizing.

Unfortunately, this dish was obviously reheated as well and, if they don't have it on the warmer, they weren't willing to make another one for you from scratch. It was also served on a paper plate that made it feel more like the pre-packaged, toaster oven fare you take home from the supermarket.


Despite the very big servings, most of their cuisine is made earlier in the day, which may be alright if you're going to eat lunch, but isn't quite as good when you're having dinner. The food is left on display in a large warmer then heated in the oven once an order is made. If you visit their establishment during dinner time and the menu item isn't on the warmer, your pretty much out of luck as they won't make one just for you.

They're willing to make one from scratch if you buy an entire pizza or at least half a pizza, but for everything else, which includes all of the pizza slices and the Strombolli, it's either on the warmer or you won't get it, period. Combined with some miscommunication with the kitchen, this can be really frustrating as the cashier may claim that a slice is available only to later tell you that it isn't. During our stay, we witnessed a patron storm out in exasperation after waiting fifteen minutes for a pizza slice that never materialized.

Ambiance: Everything had a classic pizzeria look down to the murals on the wall to the wooden chairs and tables. A glass window behind the counter allowed you a glimpse the cooks at work as they hand-tossed the pizza dough and put it in the oven. The establishment was also very spacious and brightly lit with extra chairs and tables available right outside.

The air conditioning was a bit cold, but this could be due to the fact that we were the only people dining. We also noticed some lights turned off, probably to save on electricity as the establishment was rather vacant at the time of our visit.

Value: The servings were plentiful considering their prices. Compared to Yellow Cab or even Brooklyn, you will get comparatively more food, but the practice of simply reheating most of their food degrades their value quite a bit. Also, some of the other dishes are quite expensive considering what they offer (the Grilled Chicken Salad, for instance.)

Service: The staff was courteous and the service was very fast - after all they only needed to reheat their dishes. They didn't seem that knowledgeable when it came to the menu, however, and often made miscues as to the availability of certain items.

Delivery is also available with a minimum delivery value of Php 250.00. They don't charge for this service and are quite prompt with their deliveries on average. If you're looking for a whole New York-style pizza, Big Apple is a good choice, as they will make the pizza from scratch and deliver it to you promptly.

Overall: Despite their spacious and stylish interiors, Big Apple Pizza Co. falls somewhere in between a fast food establishment and a casual diner. Their prices are reasonable and the portions generous, but the food is mostly reheated. Some dishes also feel pre-packaged and pre-made - giving you the impression that you could've gotten the same item at the frozen food section of the supermarket.

If you're with a big group, Big Apple is a good option as they provide fresh, hand-tossed pizzas at a very reasonable price, but if you're alone or with a date, expect to dine on reheated fare that's been in a warmer for god knows how long.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan

Monday, February 4, 2008

Secret Recipe

Secret Recipe
Location :
5th Avenue corner 32nd Street, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
Tel #: +63 (2) 856-2953
Menu Price Range : Php 120.00 - Php 430.00
Service Charge:
Rating : B+

At first glance, Secret Recipe appears to be just another cafe riding on the coattails of Starbucks and Seattle's Best. After all, the branding, stylish interiors, and even the friendly staff are hallmarks of these franchises. Where Secret Recipe deviates from this formula, however, is that, rather than concentrating on their teas and coffees, the focus of this Malaysian-based lifestyle cafe chain is their menu - especially their desserts.

In fact, you will soon learn that Secret Recipe has several award-winning dishes under their belt ranging from their Irish Lamb Stew to their Marble Cheesecake. With branches in several countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and China, you begin to wonder if perhaps the secret recipes of Secret Recipe has been somehow lost in translation. Fortunately, as I would soon learn, this is definitely not the case.

Although there are some similarities between Secret Recipe and other franchise cafes, its interior was actually quite spacious and brightly lit. Their furnishings were minimalistic but elegant with aluminum and plastic chairs contrasting with the iron-wrought chandeliers. The artwork of their cuisine on the wall reminded me quite a bit of UCC Cafe, but, fortunately, the menu isn't nearly as exorbitant.

Grilled Mushroom Chicken
Price: Php 190.00
Rating: C

Consisting of a chicken breast smothered in a mushroom gravy, this dish was accompanied by a healthy side salad and seasoned rice. First of all, serving the salad with the chicken breast was a bad idea. The thousand island dressing mixed with the gravy, resulting in a combination that wasn't very appetizing.

The chicken breast was also quite bony and sinewy, making it somewhat bothersome to eat. The rice, however, was a good match for the gravy. Portions were pretty generous and quite filling.

Lasagne (Chicken)
Price: Php 135.00 (choice of beef or chicken)
Rating: B+

A meaty and filling lasagna smothered with a rich marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a very healthy amount of ground chicken. This dish was baked and served in a deep dish. I enjoyed this dish far more than the Grilled Mushroom Chicken. It was served pipping hot, but once it cooled down, it made for a very hearty meal. Although the taste of the chicken was faint, the large serving size and reasonable price garnered it a B+.

Green Apple Kasturi

Price: Php 110.00
Rating: A-

I admit being hesitant about this drink initially. I'm not really that much of a fan of green apples and, when it was first served, it appeared a bit coagulated.

Fortunately, it tastes a lot better than it looks. The tart green apple flavor is quite refreshing and the taste is actually very addictive. It tastes a bit like Italian soda, but is a bit more exotic. I'd recommend that you try this refreshment at least once.

Marble Cheesecake
Price: Php 110.00 (slice) Php 1,200.00 (whole)
Rating: A

I can understand how this cheesecake managed to win accolades. It is the quintessential cheesecake: simple, tasty, and silky smooth. It wasn't too sweet or tart like some of the lesser cheesecakes on the market, achieving a great balance and astounding flavor. The crunchy oat nut base compliments the creamy cheesecake tremendously, making this dessert devilishly addictive.

Chocolate Mud Cake
Price: Php 110.00 (slice) Php 1,200.00 (whole)
Rating: A

First of all, let me state for the record that I'm not a fan of chocolate cakes. I find most of them sickeningly sweet, but, despite this, I found myself enjoying this award-winning concoction. Filled with semi-sweet chocolate fudge, it was creamy, silky and smooth without being overly sweet. In many ways, it was similar to a chocolate mousse in texture, but, all in all, it's an amazing dessert that you simply have to experience.


The dishes were a bit of a mixed bag. Some were good while others were somewhat below par. Food portions were generous, but I really didn't like mixing the salad dressing and the main dish on the same plate. Secret Recipe is known for its desserts, however, and this is where it truly shines. The cakes were very scrumptious and addictive although the slices were fairly petite.

Ambiance: Secret Recipe does a good job of emulating the trendy cafe, giving the impression of class while at the same time remaining simple and classic. The establishment was very spacious and comfortable although it could've used more couches as the plastic and aluminum chairs weren't very comfortable. Surprisingly, there was no outdoor area and smoking isn't permitted in the premises.

Value: Some dishes were very affordable while others were quite pricey. The salads and some of the Italian pastas were a very good value (from Php 100.00 to Php 135.00) while other dishes such as the Singapore Laksa and Fish and Chips were expensive (around Php 300.00 and above.) Teas and coffees were affordable, but juices and smoothies can be a bit steep. Their desserts were excellent, but also quite expensive considering the portions.

Service: Overall, their service was excellent. The servers were very friendly and quite knowledgeable - eager to make suggestions as to which dish we should sample. We were served our food promptly and without any hassles.

Overall: Whether you're out on a date or on an outing with friends, Secret Recipe provides a comfortable and relatively affordable dining experience. A wide assortment of food, drinks, and desserts adorn their menu with dishes that range from traditional salads and pastas to spicy soups and laksa.

Secret Recipe allows you to sample dishes from a variety of cultures as well as signature desserts that are simply mouth-watering. All in all, it is a haven for adventurous diners willing to sample the different flavors of the orient and beyond.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Location :
Block 9, Rockwell Center , Makati City
Cuisine :
Menu Price Range : Php 250.00 - Php 1,900.00
Service Charge:
Rating : A-

Nestled amongst the various upscale eateries just outside the Powerplant Mall at Rockwell, Cantinetta is hard to miss. The towering structure surrounded with glass walls is simply immense, giving you a sense of the grandeur and opulence that resides within. It's not that Cantinetta is necessarily sprawling, but the glass walls and the high ceiling create the illusion of a vast space that is simply enchanting.

Once inside, you get a sense that you are feasting in a posh greenhouse. Great pains were made to make the establishment as stylish and elegant as possible, from the lush greenery just outside the glass walls to the rustic stone that stood in the back to the majestic chandeliers that hovered above. Lighting was dramatic and soothing at the same time, providing a great backdrop for a romantic banquet.

Their menu was equally extravagant, filled with an almost-unending list of original and authentic Italian dishes that ranged from the regular pastas and pizzas to the more exotic Italian steaks and authentic desserts. The staff was dressed appropriately in finery, making it almost appear as if you were dining in a five-star hotel rather than a restaurant.

A quick glance at the bar quickly confirmed the fact that they carried a vast assortment of wines and I even caught a glimpse of a food cart with a leg of parma ham and a block of cheese. It definitely had all the accouterments of a fine dining restaurant you could ask for and more.

Breads and Spreads
Price: Complimentary
Rating: B

Good staples of a fine dining establishment are the complimentary breads and spreads. In this case, they consisted of various sliced Italian breads and a choice of either liverwurst spread or diced tomatoes in olive oil.

The Italian bread slices were toasted well and served in a bread basket while the liverwurst and diced tomatoes were served in miniature saucers. I was expecting butter or margarine to be served with the two spreads and a greater variety of breads, but overall, the fare was sufficient.

Cesare (Caesar's Salad)
Price: Php 250.00
Rating: B

The Caesar Salad was served with fresh, crispy greens, and the bacon bits and parmesan cheese were flavorful without being overpowering. The caesar dressing was a bit light for my taste, but the croutons had a very strong taste - perhaps indicative of being soaked in vinegar and olive oil.

This was unusual as it conflicted with the rest of the dish. It wasn't necessarily bad, but it was a bit overpowering and distracted from the rest of the ingredients. The serving size was adequate, being able to serve one or two at the most.

Prosciutto Crudo Pizza
Price: Php 420.00
Rating: B+

An authentic Italian pizza, the Prosciutto Crudo consisted entirely of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and parma ham. The parma ham was delectable and the mozzarella cheese was wonderful. The crust was also crisp and cooked to perfection.

The problem I had with this dish, however, was the tomato sauce which was a bit too salty and overwhelmed the dish a bit. Perhaps they were a bit too overzealous with this ingredient. Otherwise, the pizza was heavenly. The pizza was quite big, about the size the of large-sized pizza and could feed two to three people.

Lasagna all Bolongnese
Price: Php 380.00
Rating: A

Perhaps one of the best lasagna I've tasted in a while, this dish consisted of home-made pasta layers filled with a tender and meaty bolongnese sauce. Unlike the pizza, the tomatoes weren't overpowering, blending well with the rest of the dish. The ground beef was hearty and tender and prepared well, without the fatty or hard bits that often plague this dish when it's produced in lesser establishments. Smothered in bachamel sauce, it was an absolute delight.

Cannelloni Ricotta e Spinaci
Price: Php 420.00
Rating: A

I was curious how this dish would rate when compared to Amici's. Aside from the Ricotta cheese, it was basically identical to my favorite dish at Amici except for the fact that the cannelloni pasta was crisp rather than soggy, giving it a better texture. The spinach was also less dry and the bechamel sauce provided with it was a tad bit more generous.

The Ricotta cheese, however, was very faint and didn't make as much of an impact. All in all, it's a slightly better dish than the one at Amici's at a little less than three times the price.

Price: Php 190.00 for two scoops
Rating: B

I really enjoyed their version of this dessert but, despite several testimonials, I don't believe it's better than Amici's. It's creamier and definitely sweeter and you can tell that home-made ingredients were used, but I'd give Amici a slight lead in taste. Also, they only had a few varieties to choose from: Cappuccino, Chocolate, Pistachio, and Vanilla. This limited selection and the fact that the price is actually quite high, drops the score for this desert to about a B.

Also, you are required to purchase a minimum of two scoops of gelato. Of course, the two scoops could consist of different flavors, but the portions are quite large and two scoops is definitely too much for one person to consume.

Price: Php 230.00
Rating: C+

This dessert intrigued me mostly because I've never heard of it before. Also, its ingredients were exotic: whipped egg yolk with marsala wine. We felt adventurous and decided to try this dessert despite the exorbitant price, and found ourselves puzzled by the strange taste.

The Zabaglione had a similar taste to eggnog except for a much stronger liqueur flavor. It also had a very thick consistency that required a spoon to consume. Personally, I felt the liqueur taste was a bit overwhelming although I felt it might be better when combined with a pastry dish of some kind to help disperse the strong taste.


Food: Most of the ingredients used in their cuisine is top-notch and home-made, creating an authentic taste that is a simply delightful. A great deal of effort was made in the presentation down to the cutlery that accompanied each dish. All in all, Cantinetta's cuisine exuded class and elegance akin to that of the best fine dining restaurants.

Ambiance: This is where Cantinetta truly excels. Their venue appears almost palatial, with wonderful chandeliers, lush greenery, and fabulous glass windows that blended the indoors with the outdoors. The high ceilings also contributed to a feeling of opulence that cannot be achieved in cramped quarters.

It seems no expense was spared in creating a kind of urban oasis in the heart of the city, and it shows the kind of elegance and style that most eateries often overlook. The lighting is also very dramatic especially at night, creating a beautiful atmosphere for those wishing to impress a date.

Value: Of course, all this elegance comes at a price. Most of Cantinetta's dishes are quite exorbitant, with their most expensive steaks tethering on the Php 2,000.00 range. On average, however, you can expect to pay about Php 300.00 to Php 600.00 per person - not including the service charge. If you're planning to take a significant other to this place, be sure that he or she is pretty darn significant because the dent in your budget definitely will be.

Service: As you can expect from this kind of establishment, the service is top-notch. Food was delivered very promptly, and the servers were very responsive and exceedingly friendly. The owner of Cantinetta was also at hand and was personally involved in the operations - definitely a big plus. All in all, they made sure your stay was as memorable as that hole in your pocket that was once your wallet.

Overall: Cantinetta is definitely a refreshing sojourn into Italian cuisine that has all the bells and whistles of a fine dining establishment and more.

Unfortunately, this also includes the high prices. If you're in the mood for authentic Italian cuisine and price is no object, Cantinetta is definitely a very good choice, but for the rest of us, budgetary constraints might force us to look elsewhere.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jammin' Jamaica

Jammin' Jamaica
Location :
Mall of Asia, Pasay City
Cuisine :
Menu Price Range : Php 40.00 - Php 150.00
Service Charge: none
Rating : C+

Having been a fan of the spicy portable treat known as the Jamaican Patty, I found this establishment intriguing in that it offered not only Jamaican Patties, but also a wide range of Jamaican dishes and treats that included burgers, sandwiches, and even pastas and pies.

Upon entering this establishment, the bright hues and colorful paintings and furnishings were instantly evident. The place was a bit cramped, but strangely quaint, feeling more like a friendly hovel rather than an eatery. There were even interesting pieces of art hanging on the wall artistically depicting peppers and spices. In the background, you could hear a medley performed by Raggae legend Bob Marley.

Once I approached the counter, however, I was greeted by a product display complete with empty product boxes and food warmers barely concealing a fully-stocked modern kitchen. It was a bit of a disappointment to break the ambiance, but considering the diminutive size of their store, it might have been a necessary concession.

Although it was plainly obvious that their cooking techniques weren't exactly traditional, I was curious to see how their fare would taste. Never having been to Jamaica myself and with my limited knowledge of authentic Jamaican cuisine, however, it was difficult to find a point of comparison.

Wicked Beef Jamaican Patty
Price: Php 38.00
Rating: B-

Filled with a good amount of ground beef, this is probably the spiciest of the lot. Unfortunately, the spice was a bit lacking for my taste, but, luckily, they had condiments on hand to help enhance the flavor.

Quality-wise their Jamaican Patty is about average. The shell was nice and flaky and the patty served hot, but it just didn't stand out for me in any way. The other patties such as Spicy Tomato, Cheeze 'n' Beef, and Beefy Mushroom didn't sound all that remarkable either. Still, for Php 38.00, it's a pretty good sized snack.

Jerk Chicken Pizza
Price: Php 135.00
Rating: C

The chicken was a bit dry and the red and green peppers that adorned this dish didn't really stand out. It was a bit spicy, but just that. You couldn't taste the tomato sauce and the cheese didn't really stand out either.

I believe the culprit, in this case, is the crust. Being unusually thick, the crust felt and tasted more like bread than a pizza crust, masking the flavor of the chicken and the peppers. In fact, it was more like eating a sandwich than a pizza. In addition, the serving size was also a bit small, being just sufficient for one - or two at the most.

Mashed Potatoes
Price: Php 50.00
Rating: C+

When I saw this on the menu, I was interested to see how mashed potatoes could be prepared in such a way that it would be Jamaican. Unfortunately, nothing distinguished this side dish from any other mashed potatoes you might get pretty much anywhere. The gravy, although copious, wasn't spicy like I would've imagined.

True, there was a good amount of mashed potatoes and it was creamy enough, but it just wasn't remarkable in any way worth noting. Php 50.00 is also a bit pricey, all things considered.


Food: I might have been picking the wrong dishes, but I found nothing really outstanding on their menu. Aside from the Jamaican Patties themselves, none of their other menu items tasted exotic at all. They simply felt like the standard food fare spiced up a bit and given some Jamaican-sounding name. Although there wasn't anything necessarily bad with their food, there wasn't anything to rave about either, making the food fairly generic.

Ambiance: Although promising at first, the view of the kitchen area completely ruined the ambiance of the establishment. The location was also very cramped and felt more like a walk-in/order-out place rather than a place to dine. Most people, in fact, did just that, which was a shame since there aren't a lot of places that gives you a nice Raggae environment to dine in.

Value: Jammin' Jamaica is relatively inexpensive as far as restaurants go, but it's overshadowed by the fact that other Jamaican Patty stands sell pretty much the same items for less. I also didn't see much of a difference between the patties sold at stands and the ones found in this eatery. They have a greater variety of food, but none of these items felt authentic at all.

Service: Service was quick and the staff was friendly. There seemed to be a bit too many people working in such a small establishment, but, overall, the experience was positive and the servers welcoming and accommodating.

Overall: I wouldn't go out of my way to eat at Jammin' Jamaica, but it's a viable eatery if you're on a budget. The store is a bit cramped and anything above a dozen patrons will probably start to feel claustrophobic, but a small group of friends will probably find it snug.

The menu feels fairly generic, and it feels as if they were simply slapped together and tweaked slightly to fit a theme. Perhaps one day I will return to this eatery to sample their other dishes, and perhaps it will open my eyes to something extraordinary. But, quite frankly, I'm not holding my breath, mahn.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Location :
Corner Arnais and C. Roses Ave, Makati City
Cuisine :
Menu Price Range : Php 150.00 - Php 250.00
Service Charge: none
Rating : A

I admit having a long-time love affair with the amazing Italian eatery known simply as Amici. Formerly called Amici Di Don Bosco, Amici used to resemble a school cafeteria more than a restaurant: amateurish designs, budget aluminum chairs and scant decor lined the eatery's interior. To make matters worse, you had to order food in three different stations: one for pasta, another for pizza, and yet another for soups and panini (Italian sandwiches.) Yet, despite its humble operation, it served affordable, incredibly delicious authentic Italian dishes with impeccable service.

But, just last year, the reins of management were handed over to a commercial group: a fact that raises certain doubts. After all, with a commercial company at the helm focused on profits, it could only mean that prices would skyrocket while food quality and service would deteriorate, right? Fortunately, this was not the case here. The trappings of the shift of management were visible, but remained mostly positive.

The most obvious change can be seen in the establishment's interior. The cafeteria aluminum chairs were replaced by stylish, wooden ones, and the shoddy designs were replaced by trendier accouterments.

Even the logo underwent a face lift, going from a somewhat stiff and formal look to a sharper and friendlier appearance. Examining the interior of Amici, it is now more reminiscent of a high-end food court rather than a school cafeteria. There are, however, still visible signs of the transition including empty menu boards and brand-new fixtures that are hardly used.

The biggest improvement, however, were the store hours which were expanded to Mondays through Sundays 7:00 AM until 9:00 PM. Another great improvement was the networking of the POS (Point of Sale) system. Now, you only needed to approach one counter to make your entire order and have it all delivered to you. Amici now also offers a delivery service, although the minimum amount of Php 400.00 is somewhat steep.

All these changes were done without making Amici appear pretentious or overbearing - it was still the corner bistro where you could have a nice lunch or dinner with friends. The big question now was whether this transition impacted their cuisine.

Cannelloni Agli Spinaci
Price: Php 165.00
Rating: A

For me, this is, bar none, the best pasta dish on Amici's menu. It consists of light cannelloni pasta stuffed with delicate spinach baked with tomato sauce and mixed cheese then smothered in bechamel sauce. It's truly delightful and fluffy flavor stays with you. Although the serving isn't quite as generous, it's still a astonishingly delicious meal.

My only complaint with this dish was that I felt they didn't put enough bechamel sauce on it which made it somewhat dry. Despite this, it retained the flavor that I've come to know and love.

Pasta Montanara
Price: Php 165.00
Rating: B

Home-made spinach fusilli (corkscrew-shaped pasta) with Italian sausage, cheese sauce, pepperoni, and salami, Pasta Montanara is a hearty concoction that's sure to whet your appetite and satisfy your cravings.

On the whole, however, I think this dish declined somewhat since the transition of management. The pepperoni and salami seem sparser and the colorful fusilli pasta turned monochromatic green. The pasta wasn't exactly consistent either - some bits tasted a tad undercooked.

Despite these minor criticisms, this dish is still a very good value and remains a delightful symphony of flavors that won't leave you wanting... except for maybe one of Amici's famous deserts.

Al Quattro Formaggi (Four Cheese) Pizza
Price: Php 250.00 (Php 260.00 Take Out)
Rating: A

If you have never tasted authentic Italian wood-fired thin crust pizza, you're in for a treat with this dish! The crust on this pizza is nothing short of divine: soft, crisp and flaky - something that can only be achieved with an authentic Italian oven. The cheeses are strong but not overpowering, providing a kaleidescope of savory flavors.

Easily able to feed two to three people, you can't go wrong with this pizza. For its price and authentic taste, it's an incredible value. This is one pizza that shouldn't be missed.

Price: Php 45.00 (scoop)/Php 400.00 (1 kilo pack) Rating: A

Nothing compares to a silky smooth Italian gelato, and no one I know does a better job at making them than Amici. Creamy and light, it's a far cry from the usual ice cream that bombard you with artificial flavors and sweeteners. It's a dessert to be savored, and, at Php 45.00 a scoop, it should be.

Although the price can be disheartening when compared to other, more inexpensive options, there's no substituting for taste - and I guarantee that this is one desert you will be craving for. Some flavors are better than others, but my favorites are the Mint with Chocolate Chips, Nocciola (hazelnut), Vanilla with Nuts, and Cioccolato (special house chocolate.)


Food: Amici continues to use genuine Italian ingredients in their dishes and it shows. The taste is authentic and the flavors, unforgettable. Many of their dishes are unique to Amici and can't be found in most Italian or pseudo-Italian eateries, and the portions are quite generous. No doubt, this is one of the best places to go if you're craving for authentic Italian pastas or pizza.

Ambiance: Ever since management changed hands, the ambiance has improved tremendously. It may not be the best place to take your significant other on a romantic sojourn, but the interiors have improved to the level of a fine casual dining establishment. The eating area was also expanded to include a small outdoor area for smokers or people who just want to enjoy the night air.

One concern that I did have during my visit was the noise level. They had some Josh Groban vocals playing in the background, but it was easily drowned out by the din of the establishment's patrons.

Value: At an average of Php 165.00 a dish, Amici seems to be a bit on the expensive side, but taking into account that there is no Service Charge and the quality of the food, it remains a very good value. Other eateries that offer the same quality cuisine easily charge twice what Amici does for the same menu items.

Service: Although the first dish was served quickly, the rest were somewhat delayed. The servers were very friendly and accommodating despite the packed house, however. One thing that concerned us was that we didn't recognize any of the staff.

When we spoke with one of the people we did recognize, however, he explained that most of the new staff were OJT's. Taking this into account and the sheer quantity of the patrons, it's not unusual that service would take a slight hit. Despite these slight hitches, however, I was satisfied with their service and the friendliness of their staff.

Overall: Amici is one of the rare eateries that you must truly experience to fully appreciate. No other Italian restaurant in the Philippines to my knowledge compares to it in terms of quality and value. True, the ambiance could still stand some improvement, but if you're looking for authentic Italian food that won't burn a hole in your pocket, you can't get much better than Amici. Bravissimo!

© 2008 Pablo Bairan

Friday, January 25, 2008

Carver's Tender Roast

Carver's Tender Roast

Location :
Mall Of Asia, Pasay City
Cuisine :
Menu Price Range : Php 99.00 - Php 169.00
Service Charge: none
Rating : D+

Found huddled amongst the various eateries found in Mall of Asia, Carver's Tender Roast is unique in its offering: fine dining European items such as roast beef and chicken offered in affordable meals inclusive of drinks and sidings. There were three tiers of prices: Php 99.00 for a rice topping meal complete with ice tea, Php 139.00 for a main course, sidings, and an ice tea, and the Php 169.00 feast that included two main courses, sidings and an ice tea.

For their offerings, Carver's was an amazing value especially when you take into account that the establishment did not even impose a service charge. The only question would be if the quality of the food and service would stack up. Unfortunately, this is where this promising eatery began to unravel.

Their interiors were bright, but surprisingly bare. There was a big mural near the entrance, but once you went into the main dining area, the only fixtures you could find were some plants hanging on the wall. There were no paintings or even mock furnishings and the tables and chairs were equally plain, giving the impression that the establishment was more of a cafeteria than a restaurant.

The first indication of that there were problems with their operation, however, emerged when we we sat down to have wait for our meal. The seats and tables were in disarray and the washing station was physically blocked by several seats and tables. To our dismay, we also found a roach scurrying about on their wall - always a bad sign.

Service took a bit longer than expected, but the reason for this was painfully obvious: the entire establishment seemed to operate solely on one server who also doubled as a buss boy. As a result, service was drudgingly slow despite the fact that the place wasn't even close to half its capacity.

Carver's Roast Beef
Price: Php 139.00 (with siding and ice tea)
Rating: C-

Believing this to be their specialty, I had high hopes for this dish. After all, a good roast beef is succulent, tender, and mouth-wateringly delicious. Unfortunately, their roast beef was none of these. It was somewhat stringy and overcooked. The color was a bit too dark, and it was unusually dry. The gravy helped to hide these features a bit, but once you got past the taste of the gravy, there wasn't much flavor underneath.

The java rice that accompanied the meal wasn't bad, although somewhat average in taste, but the fettuccine noodles with white sauce tasted spoiled. When we approached the server about this, he tasted it and said it was just overcooked and that he would be happy to replace it with something else. As such, I've decided to take it out of this review entirely, focusing instead on the roast beef and java rice combination which garnered a grade of C-.

Spicy Garlic Liempo
Price: Php 139.00 (with siding and ice tea)
Rating: B

This dish actually surprised me. At first glance, the liempo bits seemingly drowned in garlic flakes didn't look very appetizing, but I found that the combination was actually quite tasty. The liempo wasn't very fatty and was actually quite tender and juicy (as opposed to the roast beef.) The garlic seems a bit much, but mixed with the java rice, it made for a very hearty meal. The pasta, like the one served with the roast beef, tasted spoiled and was replaced by the server as well. As such, it is not reflected in the review.

Teriyaki Roast Chicken
Price: Php 139.00 (with siding and ice tea)
Rating: D-

Having picked an item from their carver's roast menu (roast beef) and their spicy roast menu (spicy garlic liempo), we decided to go for one of their saucy roast items: the Teriyaki Roast Chicken.

First of all, I have a certain expectation when the word "Teriyaki" is attached to the name of a dish, and that is that Teriyaki marinade or at least Teriyaki sauce was applied to the it. As can plainly be seen in the photograph, there is no indication that Teriyaki marinade or sauce was applied to the chicken at all.

The taste of the dish confirmed this observation. Instead of the sweet, tangy taste of Teriyaki, an overpowering peppery taste pervaded the chicken. It is my suspicion that this dish was simply the spicy roast chicken that had been served to us by mistake. We asked the server if he had perhaps mistakenly given us the spicy roast chicken instead, but he maintained that the dish was indeed the Teriyaki Chicken.

Not surprisingly, the vegetables were somewhat soggy and tasteless as well, garnering the entire dish a very low score.

Mashed Potatoes
Price: Php 39.00 (as additional siding)
Rating: B

The mashed potatoes were average, but the gravy did a lot to enhance the taste. It wasn't anything special, but as a free side dish or for only Php 39.00 as an additional siding, it's a pretty good value. The serving was heaping (about a large ice cream scoop and a half), so I was actually quite satisfied with this dish.

Pasta With Red Sauce
Price: Php 39.00 (as additional siding)
Rating: F

Although the portion was quite large (as can be seen in the photograph), the taste was unusual to say the least. Instead of using a red marinara sauce, they used some ground beef mixed in with what tasted like lechon sauce. For those unfamiliar with lechon sauce, it has a very sweet liver taste mixed in with peppers and spices. To compound the issue, they added in pig innards as well.

The resulting taste was a conflict of flavors that bordered on the unpalatable. Needless to say, this dish was left half-eaten when we left the establishment.

Price: Php 39.00 (as additional siding)
Rating: D

Brownies are pretty straightforward, right? Rich, chocolate, cake slices that have a pretty ubiquitous taste. Perhaps not a gourmet food, but you can depend on its chocolatey taste and fudge-like texture, right?

Not so with Carver's. They've decided to be a bit more creative with their concoction. Unfortunately, the result is more of a chocolate krinkle rather than a brownie. True, it was soft and crumbly and had a rich, egg-like taste, but, to be honest, that's not what most people are looking for in a brownie. The result felt more like leftovers from a Christmas party rather than an after-dinner treat.


Food: Carver's is an odd mismatch of flavors. Outwardly, it appears to be European cuisine sprinkled with some popular Filipino dishes, but, upon tasting their fare, the Filipino influence often overpowers the rest of the cuisine. In some cases this was successful (like the Spicy Garlic Liempo) but in others, it failed horribly (the lechon sauce pasta was a complete failure.) All in all, it feels like Filipino food forced into a European setting and often the taste combinations do not work all that well.

There were many concerns with their food as well, many of which appeared to be simply reheated after being roasted at the beginning of the day. Although they advertised a wide range of sidings, most of them were unavailable when we ordered. We also felt that some of the dishes were substituted for others that they didn't have in stock at the time.

Ambiance: Aside from cluttered advertising, their frontage was actually quite promising. The warm, yellow light and the robust colors reminded me of hotel delis that served top-notch food. The counters were clean and very neat with food placed in heaters and behind glass.

Unfortunately, once you got into the dining area proper, this image changed dramatically. The chairs and tables were strewn haphazardly and passage to the sink was blocked by rows of tables and chairs. There were some plants hung on the walls, but otherwise, the dining area was pretty bare, resembling the layout of a school cafeteria.

Roaches were visible on the walls, and in one instance, a small roach even landed on my plate and proceeded to march around the java rice. Insects in an indoor dining area is often a result of poor maintenance and leads one to suspect the cleanliness of the food.

Value: Portions are undoubtedly heaping. The pasta, for a siding, could even be a meal on its own. This is not even including the rice (which was a good size as well) and the main course. For Php 139.00, the meal (main dish, rice, sidings, and an ice tea) is hard to beat price-wise, even by some fast food establishments. They even have a Php 99.00 meal that includes a heaping rice bowl and ice tea!

Service: Service was very slow considering the clientèle present at the time we made our order, but this was mostly because they appeared to be understaffed. They were friendly and listened to our complaints, offering dish replacements when we voiced out our concerns without any arguments.

Overall: For a casual dining establishment, the prices are remarkably low. But, at the same time, I feel this forced management to cost-cut in various areas of the operation, reducing the quality of the food and service dramatically. The food isn't exactly what you'd expect, leaning more towards Filipino food than anything else.

True, the portions are heaping and you do get a lot for your hard-earned peso, but the problems in their store maintenance and food preparation overshadow whatever savings you might accrue.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan