The Negative Space Cafe

Negative Space Cafe
Team Glasses’ Student Specials: Part 1
A major change we’ve been hurdling over the past few weeks is that both of us have begun our graduate studies. Among the various challenges our new situation presents is the need to find places where we could spend hours quietly studying, preferably with access to good food and Internet. In the interest of fulfilling all these criteria, we steered clear of the more ubiquitous coffee shops and cafes near our workplaces, and headed back to a familiar area frequented by university students: Maginhawa Street in Diliman. This time we tried out the Negative Space Café, located in Teachers Village.

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The café’s name already suggests a different feel and aesthetic from other ‘art cafes’. Instead of boasting of brightly decorated walls filled up with canvases, sculptures, installations, and kitsch, the Negative Space Café has a spacious, relatively uncluttered interior. The artworks featured on the walls are carefully curated, providing a balance that arouses cafe patrons’’ interest but do not prove too distracting for work. The general feel is that of a straightforward yet welcoming place that is conducive for quiet reading as well as group discussions.

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The menu here at Negative Space Café boasts of an extensive selection of beverages, as well as Japanese-themed snacks and entrees. For our afternoon sojourn here, we tried out the cha soba with vegetable tempura, as well as the Japanese cheese curry bake. The cha soba noodles were firm and lightly flavored with sesame, providing a refreshing contrast to the richer flavors of the vegetable tempura. The tempura went beyond the usual kangkong and radishes; over here even mushrooms and eggplants could be turned into a delectable fried dish.

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On the other hand, the Japanese cheese curry bake was served in a no-nonsense fashion in a ramekin, with a side of coleslaw in Japanese mayonnaise. This entree was not too heavily spiced, and well-balanced by the melted cheese; however, it was not as sweet as we had expected from other Japanese curry recipes. Nevertheless, it was still a filling, satisfying choice for an early dinner.

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Although we had heard of the varied coffee blends available in Negative Space Café, we opted to try the Italian sodas, particularly the watermelon soda as well as peach soda topped with whipped cream. These drinks were refreshing, avoiding the usual sickly sweetness of other carbonated drinks.  The addition of whipped cream to the peach soda turned this concoction into a delightful cream soda that was good as a drink on its own or as a light dessert.
The Negative Space Café is a promising example of what a student hang-out ought to be: affordable, with a variety of quality snacks and light entrees, and with ample facilities for different types of study sessions. We hope that more students as well as patrons from other offices and businesses in the Diliman area will consider this café as a venue not only for solo dining but for group ventures and meetings.
The Food Score:  4/5: The food was reasonably priced and filling, with flavors that were familiar and not too jarring. The selection, though mostly Japanese themed, is varied enough to cater to different appetites and tastes.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4.5/5: This place goes beyond the usual café setups of small tables and cushy chairs; here there are no-nonsense wooden chairs with wide tables that are more suited for spreading out books and worksheets, or setting up laptops. As mentioned before, the décor and art collections here are quirky yet not overly distracting, thus making the place more conducive for study.

GERD Score: 3.5/5. Considering the size and heftiness of the meals on the stomach, and at the same time, some triggers for food and drinks, one should share meals from the better part of their selection.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: Alas some of the foods here such as the curry cannot be prepared from scratch, and may rely on highly seasoned mixes for quick cooking. Gluten free foods are in short supply here as well. However there is a decent selection of non-caffeinated drinks for those diners sensitive to this substance. The lighting and sounds here are mellow, without flashes or overly loud blaring that may trigger a seizure episode.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5. This cafe is not a place for diners looking for haute cuisine or novelty eats. However if one needs an area to work in, with a snack or hot drink on the side, the Negative Space Cafe is a place to go.

Negative Space Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Il Fiore Earth Café and Gelato Lab

The mention of ‘organic dining’ or ‘farm to table’ restaurants often evokes images of greenery, warm brick red walls and wooden benches, and lengthy menus describing the ingredients and cooking styles of featured dishes. However, Il Fiore Earth Café and Gelato Lab defies this type by combining café-style meals and gelato under one cheery roof.

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In keeping with its floral name—as il fiore is translated from Italian as ‘the flower’, this small café on Salamanca Street in Poblacion is decked out in pastel tones that provide a cheery contrast to its steel-and-glass environs. The menu is straightforward and reader-friendly, providing diners with a no-nonsense look at what they will be ordering. On the other hand, the novelty lies in the gelato selection, which features some unusual flavors such as mango-dragon fruit and hazelnut.

During our visit here we sampled the dark chocolate ganache gelato, as well as the portobello mozza burger, and the spinach and squash lasagna. The gelato was thick and luscious on the tongue, with creamy chocolate bits adding to the dessert’s deep flavor. Clearly there were no corners cut in the making of this gelato.

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When we got our first sight of the portobello mozza burger, the first thought that popped in our minds was “How are we going to eat this?” Our knives and forks seemed too meagre for this task. After a little consideration, we realized there was no other way but to simply pick up the burger and bite into it, letting the melted mozzarella cheese ooze out along with the juiciness of the mushrooms. The alfalfa sprouts and tomato relish complemented the richness of the burger patty, providing some much needed cleansing to our palates.

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The spinach and squash lasagna on the other hand was surprisingly light on the palate, even with the layers of tomato, béchamel sauce and cheese. The dish’s overall mildness made it easy to finish, however we felt that a sharper cheese or combination of cheeses would have brought a bit of a kick to the pasta.

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Il Fiore Earth Café and Gelato Lab also features other interesting entrees like mushroom chips and quinoa chili shepherd’s pie, as well as a small array of cakes, pastries, tea, coffee, and yogurt drinks. This is a promising alternative to coffee shops and cafes, especially for patrons who desire healthy yet substantial meals to go with a hot drink or delectable dessert.

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The Food Score: 4/5: The dishes here have an excellent balance of flavors, though at times they play a bit too safe on the palate. The gelato though is this place’s biggest strength.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4/5: The ambiance is cheery yet relaxing, good for a casual meetup with friends or holing up for a few hours to read or use a computer. However we noticed that this place uses disposable boxes and cutlery for serving, despite the presence of more environmentally friendly alternatives.

GERD Score: 3/5: Given the selection of meals they have, most of them aren’t heartburn friendly at all, either with the portion size that’s good for sharing, or the amount of cheese put in. But to their credit, they also have selections that are perfect for people dealing with heartburn such as yogurt and their gelato.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: The dishes here are not too strongly seasoned, thus allaying most concerns about artificial seasoning. There are not too many non-caffeinated drink offerings on the menu though, which may be a bit off-putting to some cafégoers.

Team Glasses Score: 3.5/5: We feel that this place has some promise in terms of concept a well as a few dishes, but there is still some room for improvement. On the whole though it is a cafe worth stopping in, or even lingering in for an hour or two with good food and excellent gelato.

Il Fiore Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

On Tagines and Pierogi: Al Fresco Dining at the Salcedo Market

Public and community markets are acquiring additional faces here in the Philippines. Although most markets are still comprised of rows of stalls housed in large buildings and divided into ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ sections, other set ups such as night markets and open-air markets have been established in some communities. One example is the Salcedo Market, which is open on Saturday mornings at Jaime Velasquez Park, in Makati City. This weekly market is not only a place to acquire some choice organic produce, meats, fish, and deli items, but it is also a haven for diners seeking comfort food as well as less well-known cuisines in a more relaxed environment than a food park or restaurant.

We decided to have a late breakfast-early brunch here on one lazy weekend. It took us some time to browse through all the stalls offering all kinds of foods from sandwiches to paella. Eventually we decided on some chicken saffron tagine from The Real Moroccan Cuisine and pierogi dumplings from Babci.

The chicken saffron tagine was served on a bed of saffron rice, with an olive garnish. Although the saffron rice was a little lacking in flavor, the chicken had a distinct lemony taste with hints of saffron that played well on the taste buds. The meat itself was falling off the bone; another sign of careful slow cooking. The black olives were firm, soft, and flavorful, complimenting the dish as a whole,but perhaps they should watch a bit more closely to removing the pit in order to prevent accidents. In summary, it was a very filling dish that would do well to keep you from feeling hungry throughout the day.

Pierogi are filled dumplings, originating from Poland. Babci offers a whole range of pierogi fillings ranging from traditional ones such as sauerkraut and potatoes, to more innovative creations including chocolate and fruits. Since we were having brunch, we decided on a trio of savory pierogi: potato with cheese and onion (also known as ruskie, a classic meat mix, and last but not the least, cabbage with mushrooms and a hint of truffle oil.  All of the pierogi came topped with caramelized onions and cream. The ruskie had a rich but not overwhelming flavor, with the perfect balance of both cheese and onion. The meat pierogi was strongly seasoned, but without being overly salty for enjoyment. On the other hand, the truffle oil lent a distinct sharpness to the last pierogi, but that soon gave way to the subtler flavors of mushrooms and cabbage. It was a welcome change from the more richly filled and flavors dimsum houses or other cuisines with a tradition of dumplings. Babci also offers a variety of sausages (served with pita bread or rice) that are made without extenders or excessive amounts of other preservatives.

Hopefully we will have another opportunity soon to sample more culinary treats from the Salcedo Market. It is fortunate to see many small and medium food enterprises emerging to give diners more healthy and diverse options to suit all palates and needs.

The Food Score: 4/5: Although there were some misses when it comes to the flavors of the pierogi and the chicken tagine, the dishes on the whole were affordable, filling, and satisfying to eat.

Ambiance/Service Score: 5/5: One feature of the Salcedo Market is al fresco dining. The ambiance is bustling but relaxed, conducive at least for casual conversation or taking a rest before rushing off to peruse more items in the stalls. The market is clean, organized, and safe on the whole

GERD Score: 4.5/5: The Real Moroccan Cuisine and Babci offers savory food spiced just the way we like them, as such isn’t a problem unless these have your triggers. But I do say that the serving size of the chicken tangine is great for sharing rather than taking it on alone.

Epilepsy Score:  5/5: Food options in The Real Moroccan Cuisine and Babci are free of preservatives and extenders. Non caffeinated teas and other drinks are available in the former establishment and in other stalls. The marketplace is a haven for health buffs after all.
Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5 Although there is still room for improvement with the food and the set-up of the market, this is a promising place for foodies and those interested in healthy eating and organic products.

Toast Box: a place for all hours

The very mention of ‘toast’ often brings to mind images of golden brown bread served with jam, eggs and bacon, and perhaps with a cup of coffee on the side. It is just as well that there is a restaurant chain in Metro Manila that is bringing a new face to this take on sliced bread. Welcome to none other than Toast Box.

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We visited the Toast Box in Greenbelt just before the dinner rush, initially intent on grabbing a light early dinner. However, after perusing the delectable selection of toast box combinations as well as the sandwich and entrée selections, our appetites were whetted enough for us to choose something more substantial. Kat picked a Hainanese quarter chicken served with rice, soup, and a glass of cold barley, while Lee chose the sandwich version of this chicken dish.

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The Hainanese chicken with rice was savory, with the chicken’s flavors mingling pleasantly with the light sauce. This particular meal was delicate on the tongue, and filling enough for an early supper. The best part though was the chilled barley drink, which reminded us of a cooler, chewier version of pinipig (a toasted rice delicacy). It was perfect for cleansing the palate, leaving the diner ready for more.

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The Hainanese chicken sandwich on the other hand is what every sandwich lover should try at least once in their lives. The chicken was firm and savory, the tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumber were crisp and fresh, and the thick toast held the juices better than what one would normally expect. We dare say that it’s perfect for the start of the day, a heavy afternoon snack, or a light dinner. The black tea that accompanied it was a bit too much on the strong side, unfortunately.

Although Toast Box markets itself as an ‘all day breakfast’ establishment, our experience showed us that this is a restaurant for all hours: breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacktime, and all the way to dinner. This is definitely a place to consider for diners who don’t want to go all out on either stomach capacity or budget, but who could definitely use a filling, satisfying meal.

The Food Score: 4/5: The toast selections fit the bill for a light yet classy breakfast, something that is a respite from many of the heavier breakfast selections in other restaurants. However the entrée selections may not be as friendly for diners allergic to seafoods; since the entrées are very South Asian and Southeast Asian inspired, foodstuffs like bagoong feature in these dishes.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4.5/5: The ambiance is chic and calm, perfect for sipping a cup of coffee alone or having a quiet meeting. The décor is eclectic yet not jarring, adding more to the inviting atmosphere of the place.

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GERD Score: 4/5: The selection of the place’s menu strikes a good balance for those that love the cafe experience with coffee and tea, and people who are health conscious and looking for good options here and there. At the same time, the food portions are just right as long as one remembers the mantra to chew their food slowly.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5: Although the toast box selections come with coffee or tea, there is a good selection of juices and drinks to accompany one’s meal. Likewise, though luncheon meat and other preserved foods feature in some of the entrees, there are other dishes available for discerning diners.
Team Glasses Score: 4/5: This place is proof for us that breakfast is an anytime, anywhere affair. We definitely recommend this place for all hours and all appetites.

Toast Box Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Social’s Kashmir

To celebrate our recent triumphs in passing our respective applications to the university we both wanted, we decided to go back to something right up Lee’s alley, and that is to dine with Indian cuisine.

After walking through the Poblacion area, we find ourselves in the midst of the colorful hues of the refurbished steel containers that contrasts the LED lights, palm shrubs and artwork, all found in a small food and art place called The Social. The place does not only feel like a place for expats as most places are in this side of Makati, it also feels like a place where young professionals or college students can grab a bite and some brews after a long day at work or school.

Inside its gated compound, we picked Kashmir and ordered up Lamb Curry with salted lassi for Lee and Palak Paneer with sweet lassi for Kat.

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Lamb Curry

The Lamb Curry’s taste is adjusted to the Filipino palate, slightly sweet but with a bit of a kick to it. With its thick consistency, it reminds us of caldereta. At the same time, the lamb is firm and tender which perfectly suits the pita bread that accompanies it.

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Palak Paneer

The Palak Paneer on the other hand is a mix of spinach and cottage cheese thickened into a gravy or curry-like stew. One could say that it was a good idea that we actually ordered some extra pita bread for this dish, which would make a great side dish as well as an appetizer. The Palak Paneer had a full, hearty flavor, but one that was not overwhelmingly spicy. It was the sort of dish that would whet the appetite further, perhaps in preparation for a heavy main course like roasted lamb with rice.

As a matter of preference, since the food is generally either spiced or salty, in hindsight, maybe Lee should have ordered sweet lassi too to pair better with his lamb curry. The sweet lassi that Kat ordered was mild in flavor, with a hint of sourness from the yogurt.

All things considered, we definitely enjoyed our dinner here and as a nice place to hang out and have a relaxed and fun meal with friends.

 

Food Score: 4/5. The balance of flavors was pretty good for the meal itself, but I think the pita bread could be less doughy to better absorb and complement the meal.

Ambiance / Service Score: 4/5. Except for the cigarette smoke here and there since the place is an open space without smoking restrictions, the place is vibrant and neat with attentive servers in and around the area.

GERD Score: 3.5/5. The food was quite good, but at the same time, the spices may throw off people with heartburn, depending on one’s own triggers.

Epilepsy Score: 4/5. Although the food is not heavily spiced, some seasonings may not be very friendly to a few diners. There is a great selection of non-alcoholic and non caffeinated drinks, both in this stall and throughout the rest of the food park. The dining area, though brightly lit, is still friendly on the eyes and unlikely to trigger seizures.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5. Overall, Kashmir is a welcome experience for us and a great venue in celebrating our recent successes together. After all, great food, good ambiance and a selection that suits people with or without our medical conditions.

Crepe Amelie

A good many people would consider crepes as desserts or heavy snacks. We at Team Glasses feel that this is oversimplifying such a wonderful creation that has gone far beyond being an unusually thin pancake. After all, if one can eat pancakes (fixings optional) for breakfast, who’s to say that crepes cannot be given the same treatment? With this in mind, we searched for a café or crepe restaurant that would be open on a sleepy Saturday morning—and it so happened that Crepe Amelie would fit the bill.

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We ventured here on a sleepy Saturday morning, when much of Poblacion would still be recovering from a traffic-filled, rainy payday Friday. Even at just past 8am, the café was already open and ready, smelling deliciously of butter and freshly brewed coffee. The ambiance was mellow with soft yet upbeat French music, a perfect contrast to the stark grays of the concrete jungle beyond the windows. After some mulling over the fairly ample menu of crepes, sandwiches, pasta, and all-day breakfasts, we decided to try the Roast Beef crepe, the Breakfast Quesadilla, and hot chocolate.

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The Roast Beef crepe is one among a selection of savoury crepes, filled with meat, vegetables, and seafoods instead of dessert fare such as fruits, creams, and syrups. This particular crepe featured thinly sliced roast beef covered with a dill sauce, with roasted potato wedges on the side. The mildness of the crepe was the perfect backdrop to the flavors of dill and beef. Despite its richness, it was not heavy or overly cloying to the tastebuds, making this perfect for a light meal. The only thing missing was a small serving of fresh green salad to cleanse the palate. Nevertheless, we struck gold on this dish.

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On the other hand, the Breakfast Quesadilla was a crepe filled with bacon bits, egg, cheese, and tomato, and covered with baked beans. This heftier creation was not as spicy as its Tex-Mex name would suggest; on the contrary, it was mild and sweet, and friendlier to the Filipino palate. I never thought that a soft crepe would be a great substitute to a crisp and toasted tortilla, but this meal certainly had me convinced of this interesting alternative.

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As for the hot chocolate, it was exactly what we like in a respectfully made cup of hot choco. One sip brought to mind the words deep, dark, and earthy. There was certainly no skimping of ingredients in the making of this concoction.

Crepe Amelie also offers a selection of salads, pastas, cakes, and even yogurts for diners who may fancy something else besides crepes, or who wish for a main course to go with a dessert creation. It is enough to have diners coming in, regardless of the early or late hour. We definitely will keep this place in mind for those fine dining days in the Poblacion area!

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The Food Score: 4.5/5: The selection of dishes caters to all palates, but some of the flavors are a little on the bland side. That aside, the food is filling, and hefty enough for hungry solo diners but just the right size for diners who wish to share the meal.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4.5/5: The ambiance is a perfect contrast to the busy atmosphere of A.Venue and Poblacion, but the service here could be a little more prompt at times. Nevertheless the staff are very courteous and accommodating.

GERD Score: 4.5/5: While there are selections that are less than GERD-friendly, there’s quite a numerous selection of food choices to go along with one’s own condition, from savory or sweet crepes to some yogurt.

Epilepsy Score:  5/5: There are crepes and other dishes here to serve most dietary restrictions. Can’t have processed meats? There are vegetarian selections available—and we don’t mean just the salads! There are also non-caffeinated drinks for those who cannot stomach coffee.

Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5: Crepe Amelie does a great job at making a chic dish such as crepes accessible and palatable to the Filipino taste. All bugaboos aside, this was a very satisfying breakfast experience.

Crepe Amelie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sick Day Specials: Phát Phơ

 

If one’s a regular reader of our blog, one would immediately see a trend. Ever since Kat introduced me to Phơ, we’ve been going to Vietnamese spots for a decent bowl of Phơ when one or both of us is sick.

As of this writing, we both have the snuffles and a bit of a cough (not sure if it’s going to go into an actual flu, hopefully not); so we decided to have a change of pace and try Phát Phơ at the Power Plant Mall.

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Seeing that it was only late merienda (afternoon snack) or early dinner, we both ordered the smaller portions of pho. I kid you not, small portions it was not. Kat had the Pho Bo Vien, flat rice noodles with beef balls. I, on the other hand, had the tried-and-tested chicken noodle soup solution by the name of Pho Ga.

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Pho Ga

For the Pho Ga, the broth was mild but still full of flavor, setting the canvas for the crisp vegetables, firm and chewy rice noodles, and tender chicken slices to shine. With each bite, one is able to savor the flavor of all its ingredients. This may look light on the stomach in a smaller serving but incredibly filling.

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Pho Bo Vien

The Pho Bo Vien was not too strongly seasoned, thus allowing the beef and vegetables’ flavors to come through. It was also another filling, hearty dish worth savoring on a not so great day.

And then we ended our early dinner with some hot lemon tea, perfectly suited to cleanse our palate after our meal.

In summary, we definitely needed the pho break and I leave you a picture of the aftermath of our bowls to describe how good it really was.

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Food Score: 4.5/5. The pho bowls we had hit the spot of what we needed for the afternoon and our respective less-than-stellar health.

Ambiance / Service Score: 4/5. While the place feels a little cramped due to space considerations in the mall, it still had the vibe and feel of a chic fusion Vietnamese restaurant with the subtle hues and color combinations. The servers were thankfully attentive to our needs.

GERD Score: 4.5/5. As someone who has to deal with GERD, I’d have to say that if you’re not doing smaller portions of the meals here, it’s best to share a bowl or meal with someone else. Other than that, I appreciate the fresh ingredients and well flavoured meal we had. Phát Phơ also offers plenty of other options which is something I also appreciate. (One more thing, keep your hands off the Sriracha, no matter how tempting or perfect it might be on the pho.)

Epilepsy Score: 4/5. The caveat with most broths is that one does not know all the stock’s ingredients, so some sensitive diners may be upset or thrown off. That being said, Phát Phơ has other dishes that may be more appealing to diners with specific food limitations.

Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5. All things considered, we enjoyed our meal here at Phát Phơ, something one or a group can enjoy on a rainy day even if you have one or both of our conditions. Pho is not just noodle soup; its ingredients are akin to many used in Filipino cooking, and thus can make the soup more of a hearty stew. We do hope that more people will consider and try out this dish.

P.H.A.T. Pho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato