Kuya J’s 100th Store Opens in Palawan

I WASN’T HERE WHEN Kuya J opened its 100th store at the SM City Puerto Princesa on October 7, and that’s truly sad because I was one of those really looking ahead to being there.

Ang mas nakaka-sad pa, I just placed myself today on a strict Herbalife diet so, that means no spending money freely on best-loved restos and cafes… on Kuya J, hahaha… even if its Crispy Pata’s soooooo lovely and sexy like that in the photo below.

Crispy Pata

Kuya J’s sexy Crispy Pata boasts of crispy pork skin with tender juicy pata meat. Regular order costs Php509.00 while an order for the whole fambam is Php695.00

Wow, Kuya J naman… I could cry. O, sige na nga, I’ll have Sunday as my cheat day because I’m really easy to bring around naman. Gaaaahhh.

Jericho serenades fans

Actor Jericho Rosales, endorse or Kuya J, sings to the crowd during the opening on October 7 at SM City Puerto Princesa.

Thank you, SM Shopping Center Management Corporation for the invitation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend that day as I needed to be in Tagaytay for a convention with the Junior Chamber International.

Wait a minute, do you have a store in Tagaytay?

Drinks

Chorizo Dinamitas

Chorizo Dinamitas, yay! For this goodness, you only need to shell out Php170.00

What’s in the Menu?

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I am not sure if the prices in the menu slide remain the same. It was borrowed by this blog from www.zomato.com To make sure, visit the store and order 🙂

Kuya J Restaurant

Kuya J used to be a modest and an inconspicuous restaurant in Cebu called “Ang Kan-anan ni Kuya J” before it got to be one of the fastest growing casual dining places in the Philippines. In fact, no restaurant that originated as a hole-in-the-wall has achieved the feat of opening 100 stores in just two years.

The restaurant celebrated its huge milestone #CheersTo100 at the Event Center of SM City Puerto Princesa with none other than its blockbuster bida, Jericho Rosales.

Some of my media colleagues were there to welcome him, and one of the food that they’re raving about is the Chorizo Dinamitas, which is deep fried pastry-wrapped jalapeños with Cebu’s famed chorizo and cheddar cheese.

“We wanted the 100th store to be significant. We chose Puerto Princesa City to house our 100th store because it plays a vital role in tourism and community development,” said Winglip Chang, president and chief executive officer of iKitchen, said in a statement that was sent to this blog.

iKitchen is the company behind the now famous food store.

Grilled Scallops

Kuya J’s all-time favorite Grilled Scallops oozing with garlic, butter, and other toppings at Php245.00 per order.

Kuya J lovers

Actor Jericho Rosales with the crowd that attended Kuya J’s opening.

“Our 100th store is not only a result of the hardwork and passion of the entire Kuya J family. It’s actually more of the overwhelming love and support of Filipino families all over the country,” shared Danny Pumarega, chief operating officer of Kuya J.

Is Kuya J the Blockbuster Bida Jericho Rosales?

I had asked myself this over and over when I started seeing its commercials on television because, hey, Jericho Rosales equals Kuya J, why not? But Kuya J isn’t him and him in a way.

Chang said “the name refers to no particular person.” It’s a brand that symbolizes the Filipino family, where there are a lot of names starting with the letter “J” like Jose, John, Joseph, and Jericho.

I must say that’s a witty history to a restaurant name. Ke-cute!

Halo-halo

Kuya J’s Halo-Halo Espesyal topped with milky-smooth ice, homemade leche flan, crunchy cornflakes sprinkles, and ube ice cream at Php109.00

Kare-kare

Kare-kare with original peanut sauce at Php419.00

Roast Chicken

Kuya J’s surefire roast chicken with smoky barbecue flavor at Php215.00 half and Php430.00 whole.

The award-winning drama actor, who was asked if he owns it, said “in a way, yes.” This is because he is proud that the brand Kuya J “truly embodies the Filipino culture that is family-oriented.”

“Echo is actually the perfect endorser for Kuya J. He is one of the award-winning drama actors in the country and the best Kuya to his family. Kuya J finds him very inspiring with his trait of always putting his heart into everything that he does, especially when touching people’s lives,” said the statement.

Kuya J Favorites

After trying the food at Kuya J Restaurant, one could not be surprised how much people love their interpretations of Filipino favorites, which are very reasonably priced. Some of the local favorites so far are the following:

  • Grilled Scallops Php230.00 — a fresh reminder of Cebu because every restaurant there has some version of this dish. Each scallop shell is covered in a generous amount of cheese and garlic that enhances the umami flavor of the seafood.
  • Chorizo Dinamitas (P170) might be thought to be super spicy, but an initial bite could lead anyone to eating more. Chopped Cebu chorizo and cheddar cheese make it a salty-sweet appetizer with a nice crunch and mild spiciness.

My Favorites

If you decide to visit Kuya J at the SM City here, don’t disregard the appetizers in the menu because some of them are perfect ulam too, like the Sinuglaw, Lumpia Frito, and the Calamari with garlic mayo dip.

When it comes to dining, I am one of those who has a favorite dish everywhere and orders the same thing every time. Same Thai Chicken, or Roasted Chicken at Neva’s Place and Dang Maria’s, same Sisig at Kinabuch, same Chicken in a Basket at McCoys… I always go for the same kind and I don’t know why’s that, but… it’s all good!

My favorites there are Lumpia Presko for the sauteed crab meat and bamboo shoots with sweet garlic sauce; slow-cooked Bulalo; the Stuffed Grilled Squid with BBQ sauce; and the Bicol Express which is really good with rice.

BTW, all photos in this blog post are not mine. Thank you, SM Shopping Center Management Corporation, for allowing me their use.

Cheers! 🙂

 

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The Paella That Wasn’t Easy to Love

SOME OF THE BEST AND TASTY paella variants I’ve ever tried were at Las Paellas Cafe at the Festival Mall in Alabang, Casa Armas Tapas Bar Y Restaurante in Malate, Barcino in the The Fort, and here in Puerto Princesa, at Tom Tom’s Club along Manalo Street.

Even to this day, I can’t forget the subtle flavor and aroma of the cafe’s Paella Marinera, and the gastronomically bewitching Paella Negra, a scene-stealer and high drama rice dish that is dyed black with squid ink, and mottled with calamari, a rich blob of garlic aoili mayonnaise, red bell pepper strips, and some other toppings.

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“Matiz Paella” by Matiz Restaurant & Tapaz Bar at Hue Hotel.

Any chef who can rustle up a good paella will say right away that this famous Spanish dish is really “all about the rice” and the socarrat, without abandoning the adequate quantity (and quality) of other ingredients that needs to be there over the base.

Socarrat is the rice that gets pleasantly crisp and forms a tough outer part at the base of the paellera, a special skillet from which the paella is cooked. It is to the dish what the smoke ring is to a brisket.

In Filipino, it is “tutong,” or the burnt rice that we find at the bottom of our pot when we don’t pay enough attention and cooks it for too long. The difference is that we shed out the burnt rice, whereas the Spaniards and paella lovers save the socarrat (sometimes for last) as it is essential to the total goodness of the paella.

Tom Tom’s Club is the only dining place I know here that serves really good paella. So, when I learned that Matiz Restaurant & Tapas Bar at Hue Hotel is offering Spanish-inspired cuisines, I really campaigned to have our regular Women of Wednesday (WOW) there to try the dish.

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Sinugba, the two-cooking method dish of grilled pork belly and fish ceviche (kinilaw).

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WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY (WOW) sisters on September 13 at Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar, Hue Hotels, National Highway, Puerto Princesa City.  

WOW is a group of lady past presidents of the JCI Puerto Princesa Peacock, Inc., and Wednesday is usually the day in the week when we all meet to just let our hair loose — allow ourselves to behave much more freely from our daily routines and just laugh at everything and enjoy.

On September 13, all 11 of us were at this restaurante to finally try some of cuisines it’s offering. The specialty of the house the waitress offered was Matiz Paella, which I ordered for four since those who arrived ahead of me had already ordered.

Paella always gets me excited because it is a Spanish food that’s easy to love, easy to adore. Anything that’s easy to love and adore keeps you calm, right?

After waiting for nearly half an hour, the so-called Matiz Paella that got to our table (with a portable stove) was nothing short of regret.

Sorry about that.

Flavors certainly did not blend and burst together, the rice mixture was (sadly) soaked through, and toppings to add to the distinctive taste were measly — it’s head-shaking.

I agree, the chef should not overwhelm the rice with toppings as it will affect the whole taste of the paella, but really that meager? Four pieces of boiled quail eggs (I get it, because I ordered for four), seven pieces of sliced squid rings, two pieces of shrimps, and four slices of chorizo that were charred and tasted bitter, and green peas.

There was really nothing else for me to be excited about in the dish that was regarded as the specialty of the house. Where’s the sudden rush of beautiful flavors in every spoonful and layer of toppings spread over the base? What happened to the socarrat?

The price of Php995 for four for the paella that to me, failed to happen, was really sore to pay though we all split the tab at Php500 for everything we ate. Di naman sa… pero, why pay good money for something that’s not belly satisfying?

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Bagnet, crunchy and truly good!

Though disappointed with its paella, I’m not saying you don’t go and try the Spanish-themed restaurante because your fondness might be different from mine. Unless the chef improves the paella, I honestly think it’s safe to go for the Sinugba and the Bagnet on its menu list.

These two Pinoy dishes are really good at Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar. They might be a little pricey where your dining-out-to-treat-yourself fund is concerned, but, hey… no regrets if the food is good.

Sinugba, which employs two methods of cooking — grilling pork belly and soaking fish in lime juice or coconut vinegar to become ceviche — needs really little introduction to Filipinos as it is a beloved dish, especially in the Visayas.

Many Sinugba lovers just salt the pork belly and grill it. The others choose to do it with their own created barbecue sauces, and after grilling, mix it with the fish ceviche.

At Matiz Restaurant & Tapaz Bar, the Sinugba, thankfully, didn’t taste sea-level salinity (over-salted food isn’t good for the kidney). It was light and bright, used the freshest fish possible, and wasn’t overly marinated.

The deep-fried pork belly Bagnet that originated in Ilocos was everyone’s rave in the restaurant that night. There was no bagoong monamon (fermented anchovies) that was served with it, but the chef’s success in making it crispy on the outside and tender and savory on the inside got me.

I would certainly go back for the Bagnet because the resto got it right, and it brings me back sweet memories of my father. If he’s alive today, he’d surely be happy to be taken there for a special dinner of the Ilocano favorite simple recipe… with, of course, bagoong monamon.

I just know he would look for that; not the vinegar as dipping sauce.

Nice Ambiance

The inside of the restaurant used wooden wine rack modules clawed on the wall on one side for efficient and elegant bottle storage that are typical to tapas bars. Individual plank tables hang on the ceiling on another side to complete its stylish whole tapas bar look.

Imagine having your tapas on swing tables. The playful design makes dining fun and interesting. I’m actually imagining what if it has hanging chairs to sway me too.

Its interior design concept is nothing I’ve ever seen in this city. It has high upper interior surface that adds space, and speaks relaxation and comfort to people who shun having their meals in a place that retards them from trouble-free gestures and physical movement.

Sometimes, when we go to restaurants, it is more than just the food. The ambiance and the all-embracing experience can often mean a lot more. This is the reason why many really take time and effort to create and develop their own themes, or assimilate elements of a culture — all with the objective of entertaining your senses, not just your taste buds.

The Staff

Except for one waiter who doesn’t know how to describe to us the food we wanted to have, I was glad everyone was attentive enough to check what else we needed that night.  The waitress who served our food was always smiling, and checking on us.

Poor customer service can cause restaurant businesses to die. In fact, I think it is one of the chief reasons why many lose the interest to become returning customers. Attentive waiters/waitresses is part of the whole deal of superlative customer service.

I’m not the only one who’s going to say this: If a restaurant is able to deliver remarkable atmosphere, delicious food, reasonable prices, ample serving, and quality customer service, then there’s no reason why I would not return.

Cheers!

 

 

Antipolo’s Art Oasis

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PINTO ART MUSEUM

THERE IS A place in the craggy urban foothills of Antipolo, Rizal that I suggest you visit when you’re in Manila because it is a fertile spot for everything art.

The place is called Pinto Art Museum being managed by the El Refugio Arts & Sciences Foundation, Inc. at 1 Sierra Madre Street, Grand Heights Road, Antipolo.

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Antique cylinder phonograph.

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Isn’t this little man just the cutest as a preternatural art piece?

HOW TO GET THERE

I was staying in Makati when I went there with a friend. So, from where I was, here’s what can help your direction problem. Apparently, this is the fastest route to the place even under usual traffic.

  • Get on Carlos P. Garcia Avenue/C-5 from Kalayaan Flyover and 32nd Street
    • Head northeast on Makati Avenue towards Pedestrian Lane
    • Turn right onto Paseo de Roxas
    • Turn right onto Buendia Avenue/Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenue
    • Keep left to continue on Kalayaan Flyover
    • Continue onto 32nd Street
    • Keep left at the fork to continue toward Carlos P. Garcia Avenue/C-5
    • Keep left, follow signs for Pasig and merge onto Carlos P. Garcia Avenue/C-5
  • Follow C-5 and R-5 to Ortigas Avenue/Ortigas Avenue Extension in Taytay
    • Merge onto Carlos P. Garcia Avenue/C-5
    • Take the ramp to R-5
    • Continue onto R-5
    • Turn right onto Ortigas Ave/R-5
  • Proceed/continue on Ortigas Avenue Extension Drive to Sierra Madre in Antipolo
    • At the roundabout, take the 3rd exit onto Ortigas Avenue/Ortigas Avenue Extension
    • Turn right onto Grand Heights Road
    • Slight right onto Sierra Madre Street

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WHAT’S THERE

Paintings are the most commonly displayed art objects inside the museum, but exploring its other galleries would also bring visitors to very interesting and uncanny two- or three-dimensional representatives, and other art works.

There are functional decorative arts (antique and modern collectable items); framed photos from years past; installation arts that can really transform a visitor’s perception of maybe any space where they can be presented; and a lot of prints that you can tell are original and not photographic duplication.

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It’s not tiring to move from one gallery to the next since it is surrounded by pocket gardens. Shade trees that keep the sun off and make the environment cooler are also everywhere.

And if you’re really, really tired and you want to rest your feet, they have beds placed in inconspicuous spots in these small gardens. You can sit on them with your favorite afternoon cooler.

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In conversation.

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One of the galleries I like the best has rooms that are particularly engrossing. The first room we entered holds about 6 or 8 miniature sculptures of women in conversation with soft music playing and female voices that actually talk in the background. Anyone entering should be making little or no noise so they don’t disturb them.

Be aware. There’s even a reminder for silence in this room.

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The other room is “For Adults Only.” This room holds the nude visual arts that are not for those who would cringe at the sight of a woman’s bare body on top of a man on a canvass.

My friend and I didn’t speak with each other while inside this room. If there’s anything, I was having a conversation with myself as it reminded me about that one particular conversation I had with an artist a long time ago.

This guy, whose name I forgot, talked to me about Pierre-Auguste Renoir being his favorite artist, especially in the portrayal of feminine sensuality.

I look at a nude. There are myriads of tiny tints. I must find the ones that will make the flesh on my canvas live and quiver. – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

He said Renoir’s paintings, which explode with vibrant lights and intense colors, make really, really beautiful art out of intimate and straightforward compositions that normal human beings would not appreciate as many are dogmatic about nudity.

I didn’t grasp what he was telling me then because then, I wasn’t into art so much. I was young and naive about paintings and all that, I was only interested in reading novels.

But… why not nude art? It’s beautiful, anyway.

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The Pinto Art Museum simply behaves like a maniac where the expression of human creative skill and imagination is concerned.

OH, BY THE WAY… IT HAS A RESTAURANT

Yes, the museum has a restaurant that serves food to anyone hungry after going through the galleries. It is, for me, something all museums should have.

I’m not a big pizza eater, but the one we ordered with Vigan longaniza was an unforgettable taste. I can’t get over it. The garlicky and salty flavor of this prided longaniza, and the oil it packs after frying… all goodness in the mouth!

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Pizza with Vigan Longaniza

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A title like “Truffle Fries.”

So, whenever in Manila, think: the malls are not the only places to visit. Give them the cold shoulders for a while; Antipolo is nearby, head there, and visit Pinto Art Museum.

Pho 88 Vietnamese Restaurant

DID YOU KNOW that in Vietnam, you can’t eat your food and then leave your chopsticks lying vertically over your bowl (or plate) of rice or noodles when you’re done?

Did you know, too, that doing the same in China would contract-in-displeasure the eyebrows of the residents as it is how they position their incense sticks whenever present in ceremonies honoring the dead, or burying them?

Or something like that. I’m not too sure.

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A small bowl of PHO BO at Pho 88. It’s a Vietnamese rice noodle soup with fragrant herb leaves served separately with calamansi, and beef meat. 

Did you know further that if you don’t want to get in trouble with any of your Vietnamese friends (perhaps I should try one day just to make sure), then you must call to mind not to tap your chopsticks on your bowl for it will bring misfortune, and it means you’re convoking the dead?

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I HAVE TO GET ME ONE OF THESE. Tuong Ot Sriracha, or rooster sauce in Vietnam, actually originated from Thailand.  It’s made of “chili, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar,potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite and xanthan gum.

It is really our own eating beliefs and traditions that matter. But of course, it wouldn’t hurt to observe and do as they do, right? When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese people do.

The reason I had to remember what I learned about the eating culture of the people of Vietnam was because I was with some friends in this new restaurant called Pho 88 along J. Rizal Avenue the other day.

Sometimes I have that habit of tapping my chopsticks lightly on the bowl when I’m talking about something passionately. But not always.

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Ha Chi Lhan, the pretty owner of Pho 88. The place does not seek attention where it is located so, one has to be really on the alert.

Pho 88 is Pho 88, according to owner Ha Chi Lhan, because 1988 was the year she started to work in a bank in the coastal city of Nha Trang in Khánh Hòa, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam.

It was her Filipino husband, who brought her to open Pho 88 after residing for a while in Silang, Cavite. The husband was not there to meet with us, but whoever he is, it’s good decision to bring Ha Chi Lhan to move to this city.

Another restaurant that serves real Vietnamese food is good news to me although in Puerto Princesa, there are about two I really love to visit once in a while. One is located in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, the other is in Barangay San Jose — quite far from where I live.

I wanted to order Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup) since its photo on the resto’s simple menu looked steamy and pretty with the chicken meat all lined up on one side, herbs on top of them, and a slice of chili.

But it wasn’t available; the kitchen staff apparently forgot to buy chicken from the market that day.

I don’t know. Tsk!

An old Vietnamese friend, who came to Palawan a few years ago as one of the boat people, told me that you can gauge the goodness of a Pho by the intensity of the flavor that’s rustled up in the stock while maintaining its clarity.

I wanted to prove. Unfortunately…

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This popular Vietnamese dish is not heavy in the belly so, go for it when you’re in Puerto Princesa.

Every time I go to a new Vietnamese place, I like comparing how each cook their Pho. This is the reason why I wanted the Pho Ga. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the Bun Thit Nuong cold noodles upon learning from Ha Chi Lhan that the noodles they used were imported.

Except for the meat and some spices that can easily be bought from the public market, all their ingredients are imported from Vietnam.

The food junkie in me couldn’t help but also order Banh Mi Thit Heo, bread with pork and veggies inside. Bahn Mi is all kinds of bread to the Vietnamese; bahn is bread and mi is wheat. Popular to them is the baguette or French bread.

So, if you’re in an authentic Vietnamese dining place, and you ask to be given Bahn Mi, and the food attendant asks you next what kind you would like to have, then you’ll know they can give it to you with different fillings. Pulled pork, fried or grilled chicken, barbecued pork, beef, and yes, even crazy tuna spread.

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VIETNAMESE ICE COFFEE: On Pho 88’s menu, they come in two blends — Cafe Sua and Cafe Sai Gon.

After our good and light meal, we couldn’t leave as there were still good stories to tell and laugh about. So, one of us decided to try Pho 88’s two ice coffee blends — Cafe Sua that uses the traditional French coffee drip, and Cafe Sai Gon.

Both blends use coarsely ground dark roast coffee, and they’re so good!

So, what sets apart Vietnamese cuisine from the rest of the others in Asia? For me, I think its really the amalgamation of spices, colors, love and passion of cooking, fresh ingredients, and the minimal employment of oil.

Isn’t it that Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest in the planet?

We went to Pho 88 at past 12 noon, and left around 3 p.m. because Wednesday is WOW date for all of us. WOW meaning Women of Wednesday.

I’m going back there for my Sriracha sauce.

Pho 88 is okay with reservation. Call them at 09271521706 and 09279378729.