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

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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

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

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.

Corner Tree Cafe Vegetarian Food

Amid all the brightly colored establishments on Jupiter Street, one particular restaurant that has caught my attention for some time is a quiet, homey looking nook on the corner of Jupiter and Saturn Streets.  It’s this unassuming facade, as well as a recommendation from a relative, that brought us to the Corner Tree Cafe Vegetarian Food—and one of the best dining experiences that Team Glasses has had so far.

We arrived here just past 6:30pm, eager to avoid the dinner rush. Right away we felt welcome in this cozy cafe, which was lit warmly with candles and old-fashioned lanterns on the tables and the counter.  Old pictures and simple prints added to the establishment’s intimate ambiance. It was enough to have us deciding to have a full course meal there, instead of just ordering one or two entrees and heading elsewhere for dessert.

For starters, we had Spanokopitas, a Greek appetizer consisting of spinach in filo pastry, served with a mint yogurt dip. This dish was served to us still warm, allowing us to appreciate the subtle flavour of the spinach combined with the mild tartness of the mint yogurt dip. It was exactly what we needed to whet our appetites in preparation for the entrees.

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Lee decided to try the Veg Bibimbap, which consisted of a variety of vegetables and mushrooms, served with red rice and a small saucer of kimchi. Although Lee had to remove some of the spicy bean paste that served as seasoning for this dish, we found that this did not detract too much from the taste of the bibimbap as a whole. All in all, this dish was very filling, leaving only a slight tingling on the tastebuds as opposed to a searing spiciness in the throat.

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I chose the North African Vegetable Stew, which was a mix of vegetables cooked in Moroccan spices, served over either red rice or couscous. For adventure’s sake I chose couscous, and I am happy to say that I did not regret this. The couscous was light on the palate yet very filling. As for the vegetables, they were served still warm and crisp, and nowhere near limp or soggy. Although I was warned that this dish contained capsicum, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hotness of this dish was not overwhelming, but just enough to give some more kick to the food’s light flavours. There was only one thing wrong with this dish: there wasn’t enough of it!

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For dessert we had the Chocolate Mousse with Dark Toblerone. I was half expecting a very thick and rich concoction, but I was delighted to be greeted with a light, delicately flavoured confection topped with almonds. The mousse had just the right amount of sweetness to make its chocolate flavour more appealing even for diners who are not into dark chocolate. This, as well as a pot of hot tea, was the perfect conclusion to our already very filling and satisfying meal.

The Corner Tree Cafe Vegetarian Food may be considered as one of the more hidden gems on Jupiter Street, but it is definitely one worth a visit…or maybe two or more. It’s proof that eating healthy and vegetarian can be fun and delicious, something worthy of gourmets and gourmands alike.

The Food Score:  5/5. The menu is proof that vegetarian food is far more than salad: everything from burgers to Filipino favourites such as adobo and sinigang can be found here.  There are also weekly specials (written on a blackboard) that offer diners new dishes in addition to the already expansive selection here. The quality of the food is excellent and the dishes are reasonably priced. There are even potluck options for those who wish to order in bulk to bring some of this  goodness to events.

Ambiance/Service Score:   5/5. The cafe allows for an intimate dining experience; soft lighting, cozy arrangements of the tables, and relaxing music all add to this atmosphere. The menu here is printed in a very user friendly manner, showing which dishes are gluten free, or which have capsicum. A small glossary also accompanies the menu. The staff members are very welcoming and are more than happy to provide clarifications about the menu

GERD Score: 5/5. Because of the chili-induced heat for that Bimbimbap and other meals, the café / restaurant elaborates and puts out warnings for their diners if a certain dish has capsicum or spices. And even if you can’t get a certain dish, there’s plenty of delectable options still. Other than that, I definitely recommend the place, even if you’re dealing with heartburn.

Epilepsy Score:  5/5.  Finally we found a place that explains the ingredients as well as tries its best to source food from organic sources. Although this is a cafe, there is a wide selection of non caffeinated drinks such as juices and even lassi (a yogurt drink) for diners who are sensitive to caffeine.
Team Glasses Score: 5/5. Yes, we will definitely be back for more. It  is not often we get to dine at a place wherein the food is just as welcoming and healthy as the ambiance, and we consider the Corner Tree Cafe Vegetarian Food as one of those that hit the spot.

Corner Tree Cafe Vegetarian Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Commune

Trusting that a favourite restaurant is still in its established spot is one comfort in this ever-changing city. This was why I was surprised and saddened when I learned that the Commune had moved from HV Dela Costa Street in Salcedo Village. Here was where I had passed a few fun afternoons with friends, bonding over writing and this cafe’s crostinis and coffee. Fortunately it was not long till I learned that the Commune was now located at Poblacion, right in a neighbourhood that was fast becoming a food tripper’s haven.

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Lee and I decided to have dinner here after one exhausting work day, eager to seek some comfort in the familiar. Since we were feeling quite ravenous, we decided to try out some more substantial fare than the crostinis and sandwiches, as appealing as they seemed just from the menu descriptions alone. After a bit of discussion, we decided to try the pork longanissa and tomato pasta, as well as the pork adobo with salted egg relish.

Although the longanissa and tomato ragu was rather mild for our tastes, the pasta was cooked to al dente, lending a much appreciated texture to this dish.  The adobo was comfort food at its finest: well cooked in a flavourful sauce, and served over hot rice. The salted egg and tomato relish was a nice addition to offset the adobo, and helped round out the meal nicely.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that apart from its famous coffee concoctions, the Commune also offers a selection of juices and ‘non coffee’ drinks ranging from hot chocolate, teas, and juices. Any of these promise to be great accompaniments to the various dishes offered, both for solo scoffers and for hungry groups. However the coffee remains the main attraction here, particularly for the latte art featured in every cup.

Indeed there is no place like home for many people, and the Commune may qualify as such. It is a calm place in the middle of the big city, a touchstone so to speak. It is no wonder that it will be sought out, regardless of location.

The Food Score:  4/5: The Commune’s particular strength is in their sandwich and crostini creations, not to mention their coffee. This place does good things with rice but great things with bread.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4.5/5: The restaurant gives one a great view of the bustling neighbourhood beyond its walls, but its ambiance does not join in the sound and the fury. In fact the premises are cozy yet sleek, a place to let one’s hair down and yet have some semblance of style.

GERD Score: 2/5: At least as far as heartburn triggers are concerned with things like cheese, eggs, and fried food, the Commune offers only a small selection that can be considered friendly to people with it.

Epilepsy Score: 4/5: Again, one thing we appreciate about restaurants and cafes is their having options in terms of foods and beverages, and the Commune has plenty of them. Aside from the non-caffeinated drinks we mentioned above, the cafe also has healthy food options such as salads and sandwiches. However of course, for those sensitive to preservatives, the sausage and tocino dishes may need to be skipped.
Team Glasses Score: 3.5/5: This place is a calm, classy haven in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Poblacion. It’s a spot for comfort food, a bit of quiet before a night out, or simply just a place to unwind with friends. And for some people, that’s more than enough. \

Commune Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato