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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Mitsuyado Sei-Men: Travels for Tsukumen

One of the places Kat and I have talked about but had not eaten in ever since I got back is here at Mitsuyado Sei-Men. Located all the way from the other side of Jupiter street, it sure was a walk indeed, but thankfully a fun one at that. Kat had been here before a few years back, so we tried it without knowing (or remembering in Kat’s case) the food besides that it’s a tsukumen place. Tsukumen refers to dipping noodles; instead of being served in a steaming bowl of broth, the noodles and the soup or sauce are served separate.

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Inside, the place’s interior reminded me of Japan in the 1950s from wooden walls to older photos and a bicycle mounted on the wall. There were enough tables to accommodate solo diners, intimate dinners for two, or large groups.

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For this meal, I ordered the Marotoku Tsukumen, and Kat had the Curry Tsukumen. We also added an order of karaage and gyoza, thinking initially that the noodles where the thin ones. Lo and behold, we had thick udon noodles on our bowls.

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Marotoku Tsukumen

The pork slices were nice and tender, complementing well with the sprouts. The dipping sauce was thankfully well balanced and not spicy. However, I had to give that perfectly boiled egg to Kat since it’s one of my triggers. The curry, on the other hand, was a slow burn in itself; instead of a sharp explosion on the tongue, it gave a more mellow, lingering heat at the back of the throat. The gyoza and karaage were cooked to perfection, and not slick and oily. These were perfect complements to the rather lively nature of our main dishes.

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Curry Tsukumen

All things considered, we had a pleasant dinner here at Mitsuyado Sei-Men, and enjoyed our meal.

Food Score: 4/5. While slightly above our usual price range for other restos, the place served good tsukumen as well as excellent side dishes. Although the selection may not be as adventurous as other Japanese noodle establishments, the taste and portions are heartier and worth the while  

Ambiance / Service Score: 4/5. The placed had a quaint ambiance to it that exudes nostalgia and the servers were attentive to our needs.

GERD Score: 3/5. Portion-wise even their small tsukumen order is for sharing, so anybody dealing with heartburn should find a buddy to share their bowl with. A bit of advice from us is to have a slight adjustment to the menu, adding in a legend or tag if a meal is spicy or not.

Epilepsy Score: 3/5. The problem with such highly flavored and soupy dishes is that one cannot be sure of the sorts of seasonings used there. Some diners may be too sensitive to the seasonings used in the curry and other broths.

Team Glasses Food Score: 3.5/5. While there are rooms for improvement for Mitsuyado Sei-Men with regards to food and a few suggestions here and there, it’s still a decent place to dine with friends if you happen to be on that particular part of Jupiter Street.

Mitsuyado Sei-Men Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

How do you like your tonkotsu? (A night at Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen)

When it comes to finding great ramen, perhaps the question shouldn’t be ‘where is the best ramen in the city?’ but more of ‘how do you like your ramen?’  Ramen is made with a variety of toppings, seasonings, and broth bases. Among the more easily recognizable varieties are miso broth, shoyu flavoured broth seasoned with Japanese soy sauce, and the celebrated tonkotsu broth made from slow boiling pork bones in order to make a rich, heavy soup that lingers on one’s lips and tongue.

Among the many ramen restaurants in Metro Manila, one chain that specializes in tonkotsu broth is Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen. Aside from its original tonkotsu ramen with chasu pork, nori seaweed, and vegetables, the menu features different additions and twists to the traditional dish such as black garlic tonkotsu, or even vegetables and cheese tonkotsu. After all, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what ramen should or should not be.

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One quiet weeknight we decided to stop by for a much needed ramen fix. For the sake of adventure we veered away from the original tonkotsu offering and tried out some of the variations on the menu; Lee had the ebi (prawn) tonkotsu, while I ordered the tan tan tonkotsu, which was basically the regular tonkotsu ramen with a dollop of spicy seasoning. To wash it all down, we made sure to get a whole pot of plain black tea on the side.

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Unfortunately for us we realized that it was possible to have too much of a good thing when it came to ramen. The prawn’s distinct flavour competed with the equally hearty one of the tonkotsu broth instead of complementing it. The same was true for the tan tan tonkotsu; after a while, all I could taste was the oily spiciness instead of the milder tastes of the noodles, the nori, and the ground pork. I probably wouldn’t have finished my meal if it had not been for drinking down so much tea just to cleanse my palate.

Lesson? Sometimes simpler is better—and that’s true for tonkotsu ramen. Some ramen soup bases are just platforms for heavier ingredients, but tonkotsu deserves to be the star of the show.

The Food Score:  3/5. The problem with clashing flavours isn’t only true of the bowls we ordered; during other visits to different branches, I’ve found that other concoctions such as the vegetables and cheese ramen don’t do the tonkotsu broth much justice. However the individual ingredients such as the chasu pork are cooked to perfection, and the house tea is calming and great for washing down a meal.  There are also rice options and side dishes for diners wanting more than ramen for the meal.

Ambiance/Service Score:   4/5. The service here was fast and efficient, something much appreciated given the customer traffic in the restaurant. The ambiance felt rather rushed and less homey, and not like a place wherein one can leisurely enjoy a hefty dish.

GERD Score: 3.5/5. While one’s preference on ramen is a matter of personal taste, the place offers some options at the very least for people with heartburn such as the ebi tonkotsu. However, half of the ramen options have the usual heartburn culprits, from cheese to chili, which makes the place not completely heartburn friendly.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5. Most ingredients in ramen, especially the traditional tonkotsu broth aren’t known triggers for epilepsy. However if one is sensitive to gluten, then ramen is out of the food options; gluten-free noodles are not offered here. There are also fresh juices and water for patrons who cannot have sodas or alcohol, which are offered on the menu.

Team Glasses Score: 3.5/5. In terms of value for money, one can definitely get full with a ramen bowl from here. However for us, the quest for our favorite ramen place in town still continues.

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato