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I remember the first time someone told me about Va Bene, I thought it was really funny there was this authentic Italian restaurant right by the gas station outside my village. I’m so used to thinking of convenience stores and the standard fast food joint when nourishment and gas come up in the same thought bubble. I mean, I did get a 1.5 liter bottle of Coke just three days ago when I loaded a full tank at Shell.

Va Bene Pasta
When you get to this particular Petron station, you’ll find that the commercial establishments are aplenty. There’s your standard convenience joint, a coffee shop, a yogurt place, cake shops, a ham store, a shoe repair shop, some fast food joints, a doctor’s office and lastly, Va Bene Pasta Deli, which arguably boasts some of the best pasta dishes in Makati.

Va Bene Pasta
I was there at lunch on a weekday and was greeted with a lot of empty tables. To me, this isn’t a bad sign, it just means I’ll probably get faster, better service. The space is small and the walls are adorned with numerous awards Va Bene’s received throughout its lifespan.

Va Bene Pasta
My childhood friend, Alex was here for work from Singapore and I hadn’t seen her for months so it was nice to catch up. I picked Va Bene not knowing that she stopped eating white carbs so that day had to be an exception.

Va Bene Pasta
For starters, we were served some bruschetta. This is a freebie everyone gets after ordering. This simple appetizer consists of bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil olive oil, and parmesan. It gets pretty addictive once you start eating it but because it tastes so fresh and light, you end up finishing it all and not feeling very full afterwards. This is a good thing assuming you have a big appetite and a full pasta order awaiting.

Va Bene Pasta
What sets Va Bene apart from other restaurants is that they make their own fresh pasta daily. The restaurant is run by Chef Massimo Veronesi who was the chef of Mi Piace Italian at the Peninsula for 5 years before starting Va Bene. Alex had the Blank Ink Tagliolini (Php 390) with seafood marinara in light tomato cream sauce. Despite breaking some diet restrictions, Alex was really happy with this dish. The servings were generous, there was enough pasta, sauce and seafood to fill her up. I managed to have a bite of this and thought it was excellent. I think the squid ink pasta gives the marinara a bolder seafood flavor.

Va Bene Pasta
Here’s what I always get: Organic Eggs Tagliolini (Php 390) with portobello mushrooms, white wine cream sauce and truffle oil. It’s basically my go-to truffle pasta. Whenever I’m craving that, this is the only place I want to eat it. Noodles are al dente, the cream sauce and mushrooms are a predictably safe albeit winning combo for comfort. It isn’t doused in truffle oil but the general whiff and subtle aftertaste is there. If you only need to try one dish there, it’s this.

I know a lot of people who are fond of their ravioli dishes but generally, if pasta’s what you’re looking for it’s really hard to order anything wrong at Va Bene. The only real issue I have with this place is that parking is so terribly difficult so hitch a ride with someone or commute so that doesn’t need to be a problem. If you’re looking for authentic Italian food on a fairly decent budget, Va Bene gives a bang for your buck.

Va Bene Pasta Deli
2/F Petron Gas Station, EDSA
Dasmariñas Village – North, Makati
(02) 556-9442

Yushoken Alabang
I was in Alabang for a shoot this week and I thought it’d be the perfect time to get a bowl of ramen at Yushoken. I’ve been hearing good things about it for about a month or so. Never had the chance to drop by because there’s hardly any reason for me to drive all the way to Alabang for good ramen when Ukkokei’s so close by. Some people say Yushoken’s Tantanmen tastes even better than Ukkokei’s. I was there to find out.

Yushoken Alabang
The ordering process was quick for me, it was almost a no brainer. I had a bowl of Tantanmen (Php 380) and Gyoza (Php 150) which is what I’d typically get. Service was really quick and the staff was really attentive to us. I drink a lot of water when I eat and one thing I like about Yushoken is that they leave a whole pitcher with you at the table. That was always my frustration with Ukkokei, the place feels so understaffed, it seems you have to ask 3 different people to refill a glass of water before they actually do it. But anyway.

Yushoken Alabang
This is going to be an extremely bold statement but I believe this place has the best gyoza in Metro Manila. Seriously. They come out so fresh and toasty on the outside, but extremely juicy inside. It’s almost like there’s soup when you bite into it. The filling inside is generous as well which strikes a good balance with the size of the wrapper. I read somewhere that Yushoken makes these from scratch too, down to the dumpling wrappers. Sarap.

Yushoken Alabang
On to the ramen. Don’t get me wrong, this was still a considerably good bowl of Tantanmen and honestly, I find that if you weren’t familiar with Ukkokei’s version this could possibly even be super awesome. I prefer Ukkokei’s Tantanmen but this comes to a close second. I’ll try to break it down starting with the noodles. Yushoken’s noodles are so thick and heavy they remind me so much of spaghetti. I mean, look at them. They also aren’t very chewy, in fact they feel a tad bit flat in your mouth. The soup had its own charm though. Yushoken’s Tantanmen tastes a lot milkier than Ukkokei’s but it lacked some nuttiness. The way the spiciness kicks in is pretty cool though, it isn’t a burst on your tongue but a warm glide on the throat. It’s almost as gentle as an after-taste.

Yushoken Alabang
I was happy with my meal and it’s definitely something I’d have again if I found myself down south. Dan liked it too but we both agreed that towards the latter part of the meal when nearly half our bowls were empty, we kind of just felt sick of the dish altogether. I don’t know why that is. I wouldn’t eat this again soon but it’s definitely worth trying.

Yushoken Alabang
If you’ve tried both Ukkokei’s Tantanmen and Yushoken’s Tantanmen, which did you prefer and why? Do comment because I’d love to find out. You all know I’d take Ukkokei’s Ramen any day but I’m a bigger fan of Yushoken’s Gyoza and their polite, efficient waiting staff.

Ramen Yushoken
(right next to Omakase)
Molito Lifestyle Center,
Muntinlupa City
Tel. (632) 808.7424

Bono Artisanal Gelato
My first encounter with Bono was at a dinner at my friend Mara’s house. For dessert, she made this peanut butterfinger pie and took out an unlabeled tub of spiced cookie butter gelato to go with it. Having it there in her porch made me feel like the world was just awesome. I found out a couple of days later that Mara’s aunt was in the process of developing a gelato shop with some friends.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
Yesterday, I got the chance to visit Bono and sample some flavors before they really open. Despite the fact we wasted a lot of plastic spoons, I enjoyed myself. Talking to Ria, who’s in charge of marketing Bono, I found out that they all went to Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna to learn about the art of making real gelato. They have 11 flavors up this week but they’re looking to expand and experiment on more, depending on the natural ingredients they can pool together for the mass market.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
There’s a Laboratorio at the back and through the windows you’ll see these huge machines churning really fresh gelato. Ria says they’re the first gelateria to use the Cattabriga Effe in the Philippines and that it’s actually the “Ferrari” of gelato machines. They made us try spoons with freshly churned gelato right out of these machines and my god, it was smooth. It had such a lovely, creamy texture.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
I had 4.5 scoops of ice cream that afternoon and this was my first cup. A cup goes for Php 85 bucks and in here, I had two flavors: Mad about Malt and Lavande. Mad About Malt has a malted milk base with chocolate malt balls, think Horlicks and Maltesers! So much yum. Lavande is a lavender flavor with a cream base with fresh lavender flower buds for a subtle burst of flavor. I’ve always loved the smell of lavender but I never imagined what it’d taste like. The folks at Bono say that it’s a hit or miss kinda flavor and not everyone enjoys it. I liked it a lot though, perhaps because I enjoy some flowery teas.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
The place was closed still and being fixed up so we decided to sit outside to take up less space. Mara and Michelle played hookie from work to go get some gelato. When they offered us seconds though, we couldn’t say no.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
Sara, the one on the left, is part of Bono’s research and development team. I made a mental note to make friends with her to get her to make some flavors I have in mind.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
I got the flavors I’d usually get for my second cup, Matcha and Pistacchio. I loved how strong the flavor was in their matcha, it’s often just creamy and subdued, like a green tea latte. I like it better when it feels like a good kick in the face, that’s how I like my green tea anyway. I was telling Mara it reminded me so much of Royce’s seasonal green tea nama so I’ll be buying a scoop of Bono to beat that craving instead. The Pistacchio was great too because they didn’t scrimp on the fresh toasted nuts, every bite had a bunch.

Bono Artisanal Gelato
The spiced cookie butter gelato I had before I knew Bono existed is called Speculoos and it’s this Belgian/Dutch Christmas cookie butter. This flavor isn’t out yet because they’re in the process of perfecting it but my god it was good. I think this could actually be the best flavor Bono has. I’m a huge fan of Haagen Dazs’ Caramel Biscuit and Cream and this is a wee bit close to it.

They open officially today. Here’s the full list of flavors they have for the week and snippets of what I think of them.

Vaniglia – Made with a mix of Tahitian Vanilla Beans, Vaniglia is quite a rich vanilla. I know this may sound repetitive but you can actually see the bean bits in every bite.
Cioccolato – Made from 70% pure dark chocolate, I like how this isn’t very sweet. I’m not super into chocolate though so I’d get Malt over this. Lol
Caffe Moka – With Chocolate + fair-trade Philippine Coffee beans, you’ve got a strong mocha flavor. I think coffee lovers would appreciate this.
Fragola – With fresh California strawberries on a bed of milk, this reminded me of a warm summer day at the beach. Sarap.
Pistacchio (toasted pistachios) – Refer to commentary above.
Lavande (Fresh summer lavender) – Refer to commentary above.
Matcha (Stone-ground Japanese Green Tea) – Refer to commentary above.
Stracciatella (Italian Chocolate Chip) – I didn’t get to try this!
Snack Attack (Chocolate covered potato crisps, Chocolate Malt balls, Caramel) – This is a pretty cool flavor with a hodge-podge of everything junk food. I snuck a bite from Michelle since she got a scoop of this. It’s vanilla with all of that mixed in.
Rocky Road (Toasted walnuts, marshmallows) – Generally not a rocky road fan so I didn’t get to try this.
Mad About Malt (Malted Milk + Chocolate Malt balls) – Refer to commentary above. I would like to note that this is the box office hit among all their flavors. Really a must try!

Bono Artisanal Gelato is located in the 2nd floor of SM Makati, next to the bridge that leads to Glorietta. They mentioned they’d be rotating flavors weekly so I can’t wait to check back next week to see what they have in store.

Umami Hambaagu House
Tucked in a rather accessible location I can’t disclose (yet), I spent Thursday afternoon having non-traditional Japanese burgers with Carina, Mikka and Dwight. I didn’t know much about Umami but when Mikka texted me about heading over and trying their food before everyone else could, I jumped at the chance. The place opens this coming Tuesday and I was among the chosen few to get a sneak peek! Magic dust and many thanks go out to Charles and Dwight!

Umami Hambaagu House
Usually on a trip abroad, I find myself on the lookout for independent coffee shops I can waste an afternoon in. And whenever I find some place interesting looking enough to warrant all that wasted time, I always wish that someone would open that kind of place in Manila. Stepping into Umami, I was confronted with the expensive dilemma of wanting to hang out there everyday. The place reeks Japanese pop culture but in a completely non-offensive, cute way. Stuff I spotted: Super Mario’s hat, a huge pack of Choco Baby, Totoro’s smiling face in the printed wallpaper and a stuffed version of the girl from Milky. I also really appreciate it when establishments make an effort to actually come up with a brand identity. Umami Hambaagu House exudes such a distinct character, which reflects in its design; from its interiors to the photography and graphic design on its menu. Visually, it already whets the appetite.

Umami Hambaagu House
On to the food! I may have said more than once on this blog that I am not a burger person. To correct that confusing statement, I am not a burger sandwich person. Throwing the bread out makes a world of a difference. As a life long member of the Jollibee Burger Steak appreciation club, the selection at Umami was overwhelming. I wanted to order everything.

Umami Hambaagu House
After flipping through the menu and asking Dwight for his recommendations, I decided to get the Maison du Japon (Php 340). I went for simple flavors that’d be hard to get wrong, it’s a burger just topped with Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. He mentioned that they were still in their ‘test kitchen’ stages and that we had to give them feedback so they’d know what to work on before they open shop. It wouldn’t be fair to me to really review this but I’ll write about it anyway because I had a good time. When the order arrived, it was way bigger than I expected. Each order came with a bowl of rice, fries, salted edamame and unlimited cabbage salad topped with sesame dressing. Their dressing was so good, it was full and far from watery.

Umami Hambaagu House
I learned here that the difference between Japanese burgers and Western burgers is that they’re made up of a mixture of ground beef and ground pork. I was first confused about the color of the meat when I cut into it, it looked a little paler than usual but it was good none the less. They have an option where if you add Php 20, they’ll serve you a Chicken burger instead. The Maison du Japon was pretty safe compared to the other options on the menu (yep, they have one topped with foie gras and another topped with wasabi mayo cream) and because I ordered safe, safe is what I got back. Umami serves glammed up comfort food; the patty was tender and cooked just right but it lacked a bit of salt. The onions were sweet and the gruyere was rich but it didn’t make up for the lack of seasoning on the burger. After I added a bit of salt and togarashi, all was well in the world.

Umami Hambaagu House
The Roppongi Hills burger (Php 420) has a generous helping of thick, truffle cream slathered on top of the burger. This was pretty darn good and Carina was tons happy with it. We definitely appreciated how generous they were with the sauce. It just smelled really nice.

Umami Hambaagu House

Umami Hambaagu House
Mikka ordered the Takeshi’s Castle (Php 345) which reminded me so much of takoyaki, since it practically shares the same uppers. As a Okonomiyaki inspired burger, it’s topped with Bulldog sauce, bonito flakes, nori and Japanese mayo. The Takeshi’s Castle was a sure-fire winner. It was the tastiest of the bunch and the one I’ll probably order the most. The balance of tastes was perfect and it wasn’t overpowering at all, it kept the meat interesting all throughout the meal.

Umami Hambaagu House
Umami has a well-rounded drink menu fit to rival tambay milk tea houses and coffee shops with their selection. It’ll take many visits to be able to taste ’em all. With their meals, both Carina and Mikka got this Roseberry Fruit Tea. I’m not sure if it’s actually called that but it’s rose + blueberry tea with basil seeds. I’ve been a long time fan of basil seeds thanks to my Tita Ginger, they have this transparent jell-o like coating that makes them fun to bite on.

Umami Hambaagu House
After we wiped out the entire table, it was time for dessert and since we were pretty filled up, we all decided to get dessert drinks. I ordered the Green Tea Latte topped with Cheese and both Carina and Mikka got the Grilled Caramel Macchiato. As coffee drinkers, they were both satisfied with their drinks.

Umami Hambaagu House
My tea was excellent, kind of reminiscent of the Happy Lemon Rock, Salt and Cheese concotion but warmer and richer some what. The cheese top reminded us all of Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts. Mmm, I’d imagine it’d be perfect to drink on a rainy afternoon.

Umami Hambaagu House
Before we left, we took a bunch of pictures and admired the interiors some more. The owner, Charles was so nice, he gave us custom made Umami Keep Cups. I first learned about Keep Cups through Carina when she ordered some on the net from Australia. What makes it so cool is that it’s the first barista standard reusable coffee cup and it’s made from 100% recycled material. These ones all had the Umami Hambaagu House logo in the cup band. Awesome!

Umami Hambaagu House
Verdict: I know the place isn’t open yet but without even an edamame bean ounce of bias, I think it’s a definite must try. If you want to know where it is, you’ll have to comment and ask! The owner wants to try something else in terms of marketing it so the guys at Pepper.ph told me not to publish its location. I’m allowed to tell people though but just if they ask. Read Pepper.ph’s Umami post and win an invite to taste test Umami before it opens to the public.

Octoberfood2012
I first spotted Chuck’s Grub on my way up from the parking lot at Rockwell by the Rustan’s grocery. There’s something about the simplicity of fish and chips I really enjoy; a clean crisp batter merged with a melt in your mouth bite of a soft fillet. Making a mental note to try it out when I was hungry and left.

Octoberfood2012
Early this month, I saw a movie in Trinoma and saw on the little square printed on the ticket that there was a Buy One Take One Promo at Chuck’s Grub. Since I was hungry and didn’t have dinner yet at the time, I went right for it. Chuck’s Grub is located in the Food Court and since I’m not in Trinoma often I can’t say where exactly that is. The line was short and I had two orders of the standard Dory and Chips (Php 130) just cause one was free. I got to choose two different sauces so I went for garlic mayo and tartare.

Octoberfood2012
I gobbled all this real quick so I don’t have a “before” photo of my food. Here’s a lazy photo of my messy tray. Chuck’s Grub is beer battered with San Miguel Pale Pilsen and deep fried. I knew what I was eating was just tons oily but I couldn’t stop, hearing the crunch of the batter in my mouth was almost addicting. UNTIL!!!

Octoberfood2012
UNTIL! I bit into a raw part of the fillet. It was really gross. You can tell a certain part is raw by the texture and the color. Upon inspection, this looked just slightly thawed and pink in that particular part. Does this look cooked to you? It’s sad but this happened to me on both accounts of my orders.

Octoberfood2012
I took the raw chunks back to the stall and showed the guys making it. They apologized, threw it away and replaced just one order of Fish & Chips. I told them they had to make sure I wasn’t going to bite into a raw frozen chunk of fish again so they cut the fillet up into smaller bits to make sure it’d all cook. The second batch tasted way better. I prefer the garlic sauce to the tartar but it still needs more garlic! I’d have this again but they’ll have to cut it into smaller pieces before frying just to make sure.

Chuck’s Grub is a small stall located in the Trinoma Food Court. They also have a branch at the Rustan’s grocery in Rockwell Powerplant, Makati.