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

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sicilian Express

The Sicilian Express

Location :
Timog Avenue, Quezon City
Cuisine : Italian
Menu Price Range : Php 120.00 - Php 250.00
Service Charge: none
Rating : C-

Nestled in the heart of Timog, The Sicilian Express was flanked by variety of eateries, making it a bit difficult to find. Its colors were standard Italian fare, making its facade somewhat generic and humdrum. The Sicilian Express' interiors were similarly nondescript: with subdued colors and furnishings that are more functional than stylish.

Upon entry, the first thing that caught my eye was a large mural that depicted a whimsical Sicilian mobster theme reminiscent of Lupin or the Blues Brothers. Their menu was similarly themed, but it failed to carry over to the uniform of the staff or the rather unremarkable furnishings, leaving a disjointed environment that felt rushed and uninspired.

The condiments were what you expect from a pizza establishment: the obligatory hot sauce, Parmesan cheese, crushed chili peppers, pepper and salt. Despite the humble trappings, I had high hopes that the modest designs would harbor a great find, but I was sorely disappointed.

Mushroom and Garlic Pizza
Price: Php 205.00 (Regular) Php 295 (Xtra Large)
Rating: C

The toppings were unremarkable and a bit stale to the taste. The cheese didn’t stand out and the sauce was dry and dull. The crust, despite being crunchy, lacked flavor as well – having the same consistency as a budget or microwave pizza. It took a heavy helping of hot sauce, chili peppers, and Parmesan to infuse some flavor into it, but even then, it felt lacking.

To its benefit, the portions were sufficiently large and it was served hot from the oven. The pizza was filling and, for its price, it's a cost-effective meal for a large group who aren't too concerned about the rather bland taste.

Chicken Scampi Pasta
Price: Php 130.00 (Solo) Php 185 (Double)
Rating: C+

The pasta fared a bit better, but was similarly unremarkable. The noodles were prepared adequately, being neither limp nor undercooked, but the sauce left me wanting. As with the pizza, the condiments only helped marginally giving the impression that the pasta sauce was pre-made and simply reheated. The chicken bits were a bit stale and lacking in flavor as well.

Creamy Chicken Soup

Price: Php 60.00
Rating: D

To my disappointment, the soup was served lukewarm and wasn’t as creamy as I’d liked. In fact, it was a somewhat watery and tasted prepackaged or overly reheated - reminiscent, in many ways, of canteen food. For Php 60.00, the serving was also surprisingly small.


Food: Rather unremarkable; lacking in flavor. Not necessarily bad, but not great either.

Ambiance: The mural and menu helped somewhat, but this theme failed to pervade the establishment, giving the impression that the place was unfinished or fell short of full conceptualization. This was probably because the establishment touted itself more as a delivery service rather than a casual diner.

Value: The menu prices were reasonable, falling somewhere in between fast food and casual dining. Some items, like the pizza, were relatively inexpensive, but others, like the soups, seem overpriced.

Service: Considering we were the only ones in the establishment, it’s difficult to gauge the level of service. The staff was courteous, falling just short of being friendly and the food was delivered promptly, but as we were the only customers, it’s hard to tell if a packed house would have produced the same results.

Overall: If you’re with a group of friends and are looking for a budget pizza parlor then The Sicilian Express is a reasonable choice. Their menu has most of the items you’d expect, but nothing really stands out. There are no truly original concoctions exclusive to the establishment, but it wouldn’t matter, as everything down to the condiments were fairly generic. The Sicilian Express is a step above fast food, but barely that.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Chocolate Kiss Cafe

The Chocolate Kiss Cafe

Location :
Ang Bahay ng Alumni, R. Magsaysay Street, UP Diliman, Quezon City

Tel # : +63 (2) 433-3782; +63 (2) 434-7430
Cuisine : Italian, Filipino
Menu Price Range : Php 150.00 - Php 300.00
Service Charge: none
Rating : A-

Anyone who’s ever been to the University of the Philippines has probably dined or at least heard of this place, and with good reason: The Chocolate Kiss Cafe is a great romantic sojourn into fine dining that remains affordable and elegant at the same time: a rare combination.

Despite its humble facade, the interiors beckon to a much more sophisticated clientèle. Upon entry, you are greeted by a classy, glass cake display, exhibiting the tasty pastries that were probably the inspiration for the establishment’s title. A grand piano and various paintings are strewn about the area, adding color to the elegant blacks and brown furnishings and subdued, beige walls.

Chicken Kiev
Price: Php 220.00 (with mashed potatoes) Php 200.00 (without)
Rating: A

A delicious classic that’s been popular for years, the chicken was succulent, the stuffing tasty, and the breading flavorful. The vegetables were surprisingly sparse, but my big complaint was the lack of the traditional mashed potatoes and gravy. Not being a big fan for rice myself, I settled for a helping of garlic bread instead, which was surprisingly good.

Taco Salad
Price: Php 190.00
Rating: B

Although a bit spicy, this concoction was quite hearty, not skimping on any of the ingredients. There were healthy portions of flavorful ground beef, tasty beans, and crisp vegetables. The tortilla chips weren’t soggy (a common problem with this dish) and the concoction as a whole was very scrumptious. It’s a bit pricey, but this meal is still a great value as two people can easily share it, considering the copious servings.

Chix in a Basket
Price: Php 175.00
Rating: A-

A tasty and addicting concoction of breaded, boneless chicken strips with a side of fries presented in a small wicker basket, this dish is a far cry from the fast food fare that often touts a similar title. The breading is crunchy and flavorful while the chicken strips are succulent and juicy. The fries are light, crisp, and light on oil. The tart barbecue sauce was the perfect accompaniment: bold and musky, it featured a mix of complimentary spices that made it a delight.

Devil’s Food Cake
Price: Php 58.00 (slice) Php 580.00 (whole)
Rating: A

Perhaps one of the most sinful deserts on the planet, it starts off with moist chocolate layer cake smothered in generous portions of frothy frosting. This is the most popular desert in The Chocolate Kiss Cafe and with good reason - its sweet frosting and moist cake melts in your mouth and leaves you craving for more.

Kahlua Butter Cake
Price: Php 72.00 (slice) Php 720.00 (whole)
Rating: B

For those craving for a desert that’s more coffee than chocolate and more moist that sweet, The Chocolate Kiss Cafe also offers a Kahlua Cake. Although you can taste the coffeesque flavor of Kahlua fudge filling, it isn’t overpowering and mixes well fluffy butter cake desert. Although it may not as tasty as the Devil’s Food Cake, it’s still a tempting taste sensation.

House Ice Tea

Price: Php 58.00 (Bottomless)
Rating: A

Although most establishments are content in serving generic ice tea drinks drawn from either Nestea or Lipton budget packs, The Chocolate Kiss Cafe actually has their own concoction that sure to satisfy. A small jar of honey and some calamansi (Filipino miniature lemons) are also provided separately, allowing you to mix your ice tea to your taste. Best of all, it’s bottomless!


Food: Delicious, hearty food that doesn’t skimp on quality or ingredients, The Chocolate Kiss Cafe offers a variety of flavorful dishes from various cultures.

Ambiance: This is definitely a great place to take a date. The furnishings are elegant with subdued lighting and a great romantic atmosphere. Live music is also available, adding a dash of class and style.

Value: A touch expensive, the menu prices definitely border on the lower end of fine dining. Despite this, it’s still a great value, everything considered. Probably not a place someone on a budget would frequent, but, for that rare special occasion, it’s a fantastic place to dine.

Service: The staff was friendly and accommodating, although the ambiance was disrupted occasionally with the clash of dropped plates. At times, it was hard to get attract the attention of a server, but when they did spot you, they were very helpful and courteous. The people at the cake counter were especially warm and cheery, making for a relaxing stay.

Overall: The Chocolate Kiss Cafe has all the accouterments of a fine dining establishment without the exorbitant prices usually associated with them. The ambiance is warm and relaxing and the staff, helpful and accommodating. It’s a perfect place to have a nice, relaxing night out with your significant other (or prospective significant other). Here’s a place that will impress, without making a permanent impression on your wallet.

© 2008 Pablo Bairan