A quaint experience at Happy Garden Cafe

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On another solo adventure, I decided to walk the quieter streets of Jupiter. Moving past Makati avenue, amidst the unlit streets, I found myself seeing a garden of sorts and a sign that says ‘Happy Garden Cafe’. Stepping inside, it’s like a rustic white patio with mismatched tables and chairs, giving the feel of dining just by your own garden.

Although I was the only patron there for a Saturday dinner at the time, the place was lively because the staff were hard at work preparing for someone’s birthday party the next day.

The menu is varied with usual fares but with cheerful names like Delightful for how you like your eggs done in the French Omelet sets, to Transformed for chorizo and egg pizza. For my dinner however, I went with Mucho which consists of a pompano fillet with shiitake and caper sauce, along with some steamed vegetables and cauliflower rice (an upgrade from the rice pilaf that accompanies this dish).

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Mucho

Personally I’ve never tried cauliflower rice, which I have come to enjoy with its texture and different flavors melding together. And the steamed carrots and broccoli helps balance the palate. However, the main star of the dish, which is the fish, is lackluster. Yes, it was cooked with the right amount of juiciness and texture to make it a somewhat enjoyable meal. But, when the caper is the only thing one can taste distinctly, perhaps some adjustments can be made with how the fish is seasoned.

For anybody with green thumbs, they also have some plants on sale outside that’s good for any garden. In summary, I’m ambivalent about my meal here at Happy Garden Cafe, but there’s definitely room for improvement food-wise. It’s a good place to bring the barkada in for a simple lunch or dinner away from the hustle and bustle of Makati avenue or the central business district.

Food Score: 3/5. In some ways, there were upsides and downsides to the meal I had, but objectively, it was well-created and I did somewhat enjoyed the meal. However, it has to be said that flavor is important too and I found that part to be lackluster.

Ambiance / Service Score: 4/5. The service was more or less attentive to my needs and the place had a casual dining feel to it, which should be better for the mornings and with a group of people with you.

GERD Score: 4/5. An upside is that there are plenty of options for anyone dealing with heartburn with their different menu items. And my Mucho meal was rather nice and filling without triggering burping episodes.

Epilepsy Score: 4/5. Like many establishments of its kind, this cafe uses natural methods and seasonings for its dishes, thus making them friendlier for diners who may be triggered by preservatives. As bland as the dishes may seem, at least they are safe to eat.

Team Glasses Food Score: 4/5. Even with its miscues in terms of flavor, Happy Garden Cafe is still a place one can consider when in the Jupiter area and looking for a filling plate of healthy food that suits our respective conditions.

Happy Garden Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Chupacabra

For some people, dinner and drinks make a perfect combination to start off a long weekend—-or get through a rough mid-week. So when one of my good friends commented out of the blue that she wanted to have tacos and margaritas—and it was just the beginning of the work week—I suggested we drop in one Wednesday evening at El Chupacabra. This Mexican themed bar located in Poblacion, Makati, has gained a reputation for its potent drinks and cocktails, as well as being a readily accessible place for great Mexican cuisine. Since Mexican food ranks fairly high on my list of favourites, this place was a must-try.

At first it was difficult to find this place; had it not been for the crowded outside seating area I might have missed this establishment entirely. Fortunately the bar’s interior was relatively quiet so this was where we sat down. My friend ordered two of El Chupacabra’s signature street tacos: the carne asada (grilled steak) taco, and the San Francisco style lean pork sisig taco. I got the picadillo (ground beef) burrito filled with meat, beans, cheese and Mexican rice. We also decided to split an order of gringas (quesadillas) filled with garlic and cheese.  For drinks, I simply had iced tea while my buddy had a glass of La Chupadita, the house signature drink.

Unlike other restaurants wherein the tacos are served folded and filled, El Chupacabra presents its street tacos flat, with the toppings heaped up. This allows the diner to eat the taco either like a pancake, or to fold it up according to one’s preference. On the other hand the burrito was served still wrapped in foil, but with a side of plain nachos and salsa. Both the tacos as well as the burrito were rich and heavy on the spices, and the burrito in particular was oozing with cheese.  On the other hand the quesadillas were milder in flavour, with only a little zing provided by the dips. As for La Chupadita, it was just as strong as its reputation has it. Definitely this is a drink to be reckoned with.

One thing is for sure, El Chupacabra is not a place for those with delicate constitutions. The hearty flavours require a robust stomach to digest, while the drinks must be taken with caution unless one is foolhardy. This is definitely a stop in the Poblacion bar crawl, but definitely not for a quiet dinner out!

The Food Score:  4/5: As far as flavours go, this place does it well. El Chupacabra has been touted as a haven for Mexican food aficionados, and my visit here didn’t disappoint. However presentation and plating of the dishes may be improved, if only to add to the dining experience.

Ambiance/Service Score: 3.5/5. The service is fast and friendly, a plus given the many customers who are at this place at any given point. However the ambiance may be off-putting; the graffiti on the walls and the reddish lighting do not exactly make one feel cozy, and instead evoke a feel of crouching in one of those shadowy establishments so often seen in Hollywood films.

GERD Score: 2/5. Considering the place’s menu leans to Tex-Mex and for bar patrons, the cheese or the spicy heat from their different selections doesn’t give much room for anyone who has to deal with heartburn.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: This place is primarily a bar, so non-alcoholic options are understandably limited. However the heavy spice content of the dishes may not sit well with some sensitive diners. Gluten free tortillas are not an option here either.

Team Glasses Score: 3/5. While El Chupacabra is certainly worth a stop for Mexican food afficionados or anyone doing a Poblacion pub crawl, it just isn’t as friendly for diners with dietary issues. Definitely not for the weak stomachs!

El Chupacabra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kite Kebab

In recent years kebabs, just like shawarmas, have been rising from their reputation as quickly grilled street foods, to more upscale fare in casual dining restaurants. One place that exemplifies this change is a cozy bar known as Kite Kebab Bar, located in Poblacion, Makati City. We might have bypassed this place altogether if not for its charming outdoor dining area with its wide cushy seats and a wide window decorated with small colourful lights. Much to our delight when we finally dined here, the restaurant’s interior was just as artfully decorated as its facade.  The walls were covered with bright murals, which made a great backdrop to the bar’s comfortable seating and well finished tables.

At first we were impressed by the menu, which featured various kinds of beef, chicken, lamb, and seafood kebabs, as well as a selection of salads and side dishes. In fact the menu enjoins customers to make their own platters by mixing and matching kebabs with side dishes, rice, or pita breads. However, we were informed that some of the kebab meats, as well as side dishes such as the smoked eggplant yogurt were not available that evening. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that the long weekend had just finished and the kitchen was not yet fully restocked. After a while we decided on these combinations:

For Lee: chicken kebab, biryani rice, and ox brain

For Kat:  tenderloin chipotle, basmati rice, and mojos.

To wash this all down, we paired our food with calamansi juice sweetened with honey, and a classic yogurt drink.

The chicken kebab was more akin to chicken tandoori in terms of taste, while the biryani rice lacked some of the characteristic aromas and flavour imparted by spices such as star anise; however both these dishes were still rather delicious. The highlight of this plate was the ox brain, which was lightly sautéed and minimally seasoned. The result was a smooth, silky side dish that would be tempting for adventurous diners as well as the more squeamish newcomers. We would definitely recommend this. Likewise, the tenderloin kebab was well seasoned with just enough of the chipotle spice blend to complement the beef’s natural hearty flavour. The mojos were served hot and crisp, with a mild garlic dip. All in all, this was a simple but tasty plate.

Unfortunately most of the desserts were out of stock too this evening, so we simply capped our meal with a small pot of tea to cleanse our palates. At the very least it allowed us to linger and enjoy the bar’s coziness a bit longer before heading out into an unusually cool summer night.

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The Food Score:  3.5/5: Aside from the bugaboos with the flavours, we found the servings to be rather small for the price. However the selection is friendly for first-time diners, but also features dishes touted to be for the adventurous or more discerning diner such as kombutsa tea.

Ambiance/Service Score: 3.5/5. As beautiful as the bar’s interior is, one thing that marred it for us was the presence of large beer crates right in the main room. And while it’s definitely sad that many food items are not available, at least the staff are conscientious enough to immediately inform diners if there are any shortages on the menu.

GERD Score: 3.5/5. As far as selection and our experience here is concerned, there’s still some heartburn-friendly items that will still whet one’s appetite, because alongside the spicy and oily are subtle choices like hummus, and with regard to alcoholic and caffeine-filled beverages, there are also fruit juices and yogurt drinks available. We suggest cutting back on the butter a bit.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5: At the very least the foods are not too heavily spiced, thus making them friendly for sensitive diners. The drinks menu features a large non alcoholic beverages list, which is a boon for patrons who may worry about interactions with medications

Team Glasses Score: 3.5/5. The Kite Kebab Bar is worth including on one’s itinerary for an evening bar-hopping throughout Poblacion. It may not be the place to get a full meal, but it is certainly a location to stop and catch one’s breath for a little while.

Kite Kebab Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Have a break. Have a… Coffee Break

For the last part of this edition of the two-part Vigan special, I decided to retrace the steps of an adventure four years ago in the city and picked to cool my heels in Coffee Break near Calye Crisologo. Ironically, this is also the same place I tried to cool my heels in when I was caught in a middle of a storm in August of 2013.

Now, it’s almost the same as I remember it from then, a warm and welcoming ambiance with its wooden chairs, neutral hues, and the whirring sound of the espresso machine in the background. Of course, also a usual haunt for groups of students and tourists in the city for a quick cup of coffee.

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Mint Tea

Since I couldn’t have their coffee, I decided to get their pesto and a cup of mint tea. Now, as you readers may have noticed, we at Team Glasses Food Blog take our mint tea seriously and thankfully they have an excellent set there to cleanse the palate during and after the meal.

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Coffee Break’s Pesto Pasta

As for the pesto, it’s a nice blend of natural flavors that run-off-the-mill pesto could never quite capture since they prepare the meal there as you order. My only suggestion is that they should really lay off the cheddar into the pesto and could either go entirely without that or replace it with parmesan, but that’s more a preference than anything else.

Overall, the place has plenty to offer anyone looking for a relatively quiet place to stay and relax in one’s own Vigan tour. On another note, if you’re actually able to drink coffee, Coffee Break sells bags of fresh coffee beans.

Food Score: 3/5. There’s definitely room for improvement food-wise but since this is Vigan, a great stop for an Ilocos gastronomic journey, maybe a fusion of local and coffee shop staples wouldn’t be remiss and can be added or incorporated into the menu.

Ambiance / Service Score: 4/5. Thankfully the place is still as spacious as I remember it to be and in my experience at least, the staff were cordial and polite throughout my stay here.

GERD Score: 3.5/5. Besides tea, there’s also a variety of options one can choose from for food and drinks. Although dependent on one’s trigger, it’s safe to say that one can still enjoy a meal here.

Epilepsy Score: 3.5/5. As far as menus go, this place has a pretty good one in terms of food. However aside from mint tea, what else can one wash this food down with if coffee is a no-no?

Team Glasses Food Score: 3.5/5. Overall, Coffee Break is a good place to rest one’s feet and literally take a break after a long day walking around Vigan. But to dine here, the options are quite limited for people with conditions.

Pho Bac (the Team Glasses Sick Day Special)

There are some days that can only be cured by a bowl of soup, particularly one that is a step above instant chicken noodles. We happened to have one of those off days recently thanks to a sudden shift in the weather, but fortunately, we found ourselves within walking distance of Pho Bac, another Vietnamese restaurant that serves just what the doctor ordered.

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Pho refers to a number of Vietnamese noodle soup recipes, usually made with a mix of rice noodles, meat, and an assortment of herbs. The restaurant Pho Bac serves up chicken, beef, and seafood soups, as well as variations such as pho with egg noodles, or with mixed seafood. Other dishes available here include salad noodles, and house specialties such as Vietnamese crepe and chao tom (shrimp on cane with rice wrapper).

Since Lee and I were feeling under the weather, we chose to have two different bowls of pho: mi ga or chicken pho with egg noodles, and bun ca or pho with fish and rice noodles.  Both orders of pho were served with small dishes of bean sprouts and basil leaves that we could add to our soups according to our respective tastes. No other strong spices or condiments were necessary for our meal.

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In my past experiences eating chicken pho, I have found that much of the flavour comes from the spices in the broth. However Pho Bac’s mi ga also derives its taste from the egg noodles themselves, which lend a certain heartiness to an otherwise mild dish. In contrast, the bun ca also features small cubes of tofu and a hint of chili, giving a little extra kick to the soup. These interesting soup dishes were not only tasty but also very filling. In fact I daresay that the pho in this restaurant is large enough to serve as an afternoon snack for two or three.

In some ways, food is medicine in itself, if only for its giving the body what it needs to boost its natural immune defences. And while pho is definitely not a cure-all, it does fit the bill for those ‘off’ days when a little warm soup is all that one needs to get back in fighting form. Fortunately Pho Bac is found at a number of locations, ready to serve the hungry, peckish, or peaky diner needing that extra bit of heartiness to get on.

The Food Score:  4/5. For some diners, the pho may be too mild in flavour; in fact we could hardly taste the spice in the bun ca. However on the whole,  one definitely gets value for one’s money in this restaurant. This is where one can find comfort food without breaking the bank.

Ambiance/Service Score:   4/5. The particular branch we were at was rather cramped, and difficult for diners to move around in. However the staff was helpful and attentive, and the food was served as promptly as possible.

GERD Score: 4/5. Considering that even the globules of spice in the pho didn’t set me off that much, it’s definitely heartburn friendly to an extent. But it has to be said that considering the size of the pho itself, it’s not meant for a single person with GERD. Only upside to that is, more to share.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5. The trouble with soup in general is that one isn’t always sure what goes in the stock. So sensitive diners may need to pass on the pho, or at least inquire what ingredients were used. Herbs and spices may not agree with some people or interfere with their medications, so it’s also best to inquire about these before ordering.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5. If one is looking for soul food on a bad day, this is worth a visit. After all, good food in itself is therapeutic, and a good bowl of pho from here fits the bill.

Pho Bac Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Mediterranean (the Alexander the Great Special Part 1)

The Cafe Mediterranean

The Alexander the Great special (Part 1)

Apart from food, one of our shared passions happens to be World History. We decided that for this month we’d pay an ironic tribute to one of the most celebrated conquerors of ancient history, Alexander the Great, by writing about restaurants featuring cuisines from end to end of his empire. Well what better place to start other than the Cafe Mediterranean?

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The Cafe Mediterranean features Greek, French, Italian, and Turkish cuisines, to name a few.  The ensuing variety in the menu is something I have always appreciated, since there are choices for snacks or appetizers, as well as entrees and platters for a small gathering. On our latest visit here, we were joined by some of Lee’s immediate family, thus giving us an opportunity to try out platters and group meal selections. To start off our dinner we chose a sampler plate of four appetizers: kofta (lamb and beef meatballs), tapenade (minced olives with olive oil and capers), labneh (strained yogurt), and foule (fava beans with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice). The kofta in particular was flavourful and juicy, while the tapenade’s sharp tartness was perfect for whetting our appetites for the rest of the meal.

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For our entree, we ordered two different platter sets: the gyro platter with beef, tuna, chicken, and falafel, as well as the kebab platter with chicken, beef, fish, and kofta kebabs.  These platters were also served with sides such as hummus, tabbouleh, and salad. We also ordered biryani rice and couscous to accompany our food instead of the usual pita bread.  The meats were all lightly seasoned, cooked just right to retain their natural flavour and juices. The falafel in particular was a treat; when served warm its crisp outer crust readily gave way to its delicate, slightly sweetish chickpea interior. However the biryani was a little wanting in terms of flavour, but certainly not in quantity. In fact these two platters were more than enough to satisfy our party of 6.

This visit, and our other ventures to Cafe Mediterranean, have never been disappointments. One feature of Cafe Mediterranean is that is a “Restaurant Against Hunger”. Diners can order from a special menu of Syrian dishes, and proceeds from these sales are donated for the welfare of Syrian refugees. This is their way of paying it forward and at the same time, providing excellent food nonetheless.

So would Alexander the Great himself have partaken of this sort of meal (or at least its precursors?) Heaven only knows, but certainly food this good is worth traversing an empire for.

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The Food Score:  4.5/5. The slight problem with the biryani aside, the food here was filling and very satisfying in terms of taste and quality. The serving sizes are reasonable, and their drinks selection (especially the yogurt drink lassi) is a treat.

Ambiance/Service Score:   3.5/5. Unfortunately the service, at least in this particular branch, is not attentive. It took a while for us to call the attention of the staff if we needed something. The ambiance of this restaurant is relaxed and casual, though it can only go so far given its location in a busy mall.

GERD Score: 4.5/5. Thankfully, the place has plenty of selections for people who have heartburn. Most of the dishes here are grilled, not fried which is a plus. However, the one thing everyone has to note is that the quantity of food per order can be a bit much for a single person, so to be on the safe side, share and just add one extra order of bread.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5. Spices and some flavourings used in the dishes here may trigger some sensitive diners. Some of the dishes use preserved meats (such as the pizza) so it may be best to give these a pass or at least some thought before ordering.
Team Glasses Score: 4/5. If one is looking for authenticity, this may not be the place to go. However for us, since we just want some good Mediterranean themed food to share, this is definitely one location we are returning to.

The Cafe Mediterranean Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A step back in time at Kusina Felicitas

For part one of the short solo Vigan trip, I decided to take on a suggestion from our good friend Carmel and try out a place she ate in before. A place called, Kusina Felicitas located in Grandpa’s Inn just a pebble’s throw away from the main line of Spanish houses in Calye Crisologo.

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Tapang Ilokano

Native Tsokolate

Tsokolate

An hour or so after landing in Vigan via bus, I went there to try out their breakfast menu, specifically the Tapang Ilokano, Itlog ken Kinirog, a lightly-flavored and soy sauce-marinated strip of beef with a sunny-side up, garlic and spring onion fried rice, atchara (pickled papaya), and a sweetened banana. The meal itself was plain for me, not as flavorful as I expected it to be. Could have skipped the banana though. However, that cup of native tsokolate is pure goodness in a cup.

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Vigan Longanisa

While I was a bit disappointed with my breakfast, I gave it another shot for a spot of late lunch, ordering some Vigan longanisa (sausages stuffed with pork and garlic) and Gamet soup (seaweed soup with clams and vegetables). I think I ate my own words before eating when I said, “I won’t order rice for this one.”

The longanisa is, lightly fried but not oily and the small portion of fresh vegetables balancing the palate. In summary, just the way I like it.

Gamet Soup

Gamet Soup

The star of the lunch on the other hand is the soup. The tomatoes and spring onions liven up the umami taste of seaweed and the small clams. These complex flavors reminded me of a fresh sea breeze in a mid-afternoon stroll by the beach. And the rice is fluffy, and perfect for the two dishes above

My entire stay at the restaurant can be summed up in two words. Cozy and Rustic. The wooden furniture and enclosed living space exuded the visage of an old spanish dining area during a feast, and the meals fitting a prayle.

Food Score: 4.5/5. Besides the slight hiccup of the morning menu, the food is worth coming back to if one wants a taste of what Ilocos cuisine is all about. Illocos cuisine has its fatty side, but there is a strong emphasis on use of local vegetables, which gives it a healthy spin.

Ambiance / Service Score: 3.5/5. The place is a quaint experience and in some ways, a nice step back in time. The attending servers were mostly trainees for that day and not as attentive as I would personally like but get the job done nonetheless. Definitely some room for improvement there in my opinion.

GERD Score: 4/5. While one should stay away from the bagnet for obviously oily reasons, most of the fare here is heartburn friendly, with their wide range of vegetable and seafood options such as the gamet soup I had.

Epilepsy Score: 4/5. Unfortunately most longanizas, even the famed Illocos longaniza, are made with preservatives such as salitre, thus one should limit intake of these meats. However other fresh foods in this restaurant and the region are rather safe, and very healthy for those with health conditions.

Team Glasses Food Score: 4/5. In its entirety, Kusina Felicitas here in Vigan is one of the best places one can go to for a culinary adventure into Ilokano food. A place on top of our list when Kat and I decide to go to Vigan together for a vacation.