Noodles and Dumplings at Jing Ting, City Of Dreams

I knew I was in for a different Chinese culinary treat as soon as I stepped into Jing Ting, City Of Dreams’ new Chinese restaurant.

The complex isn’t a slouch when it comes to Chinese food. It already has the upscale fine-dining Cantonese restaurant Crystal Dragon at the Crown Towers Manila; and Noodle8 for hungry gamers who don’t want to stray away from the casino floor.

Jing Ting fills the casual dining void in between the two restaurants. Stepping into its cool interiors lined with vintage Chinese gray bricks and adorned with oriental paintings and accoutrements, one immediately notices the modern open kitchen where the mad skills of the chefs in making dim sum and hand-pulled noodles are occasionally on display.

Jing Ting differentiates itself by specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine. This landlocked portion of China is heavy into meats and wheat. Wheat noodles and dumplings are prevalent in lieu of rice. Cumin, a spice more associated with Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, is also a distinct flavor in Jing Ting’s offerings.

City of Dreams brought chef Yang Chen Fie, affectionately called Chef Alan, from his restaurant in Beijing to be Jing Ting’s chef de cuisine. With his 15 years of culinary experience, this is his first time outside of China. This young and dynamic chef just needs two minutes to prepare a bowl of hand-pulled noodles from scratch and can prepare 600 dumplings in an hour.

For appetizers, I really liked the Cold Shredded Rice Roll. The almost translucent rice roll had a pleasant chewy texture to it that was akin to thick vermicelli noodles that nicely soaked up the spicy red sauce.

A visit to Jing Ting will not be complete without trying out the hand-pulled noodles and Jiao Zi dumplings. The wheat noodles are prepared as they are ordered and reach the diner fresh from the kitchen. The result is a somewhat thick firm chewy noodle that serve as a tasty bed for their stir-fried toppings.

The Jiao Zi dumplings are larger than the usual dumplings one finds in other Chinese restaurants For P378 for a bowl of 8 dumplings, this is excellent value for money.

These dumplings also come in a big bowl with 30 pieces for a larger group of guests. These come in the Beijing pork, poached pork and kimchi, mushroom vegetables and pork, and chopped beef and celery varieties. They also have a pan-fried version which reminded me of a Japanese gyoza.

The meats really highlight the savory and cumin flavor profile of the menu. The tender “Genghis Khan” Roasted Prime Beef Short Ribs has a thin cumin crust and was tender to the bite.

The “Xinjiang Style” Spicy Lamb Skewer didn’t have that gamey aftertaste that’s normally associated to lamb dishes. It’s served hanging on top of a dish of cumin and the drippings from the skewer mixed in with cumin make for a nice dip should a guest want more flavor.

The Chinese Burger uses flattened semi-fried Mantou bread with a filling of sauced minced pork.

Jing Ting has an array of desserts to end the meal. Check out the Palace Snow Skin Pastry Roll with Sesame and Peanuts. Instead of the mochi balls, these are rolled up with the peanut paste and cut up into bite size pieces.

The Chilled Honey and Red Bean Cake look like dark red sapin-sapin or maja blanca, firm gelatin-like cakes that are subtly sweet with that distinct flavor of adzuki.

The food at Jing Ting is fast, and relatively affordable compared to its neighbors. It is an excellent addition to the restaurants at The Shops of City of Dreams.

Jing Ting is located at The Shops at City of Dreams Manila. Restaurant hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.

NOTE: This was originally published at



Nonna’s and Mama Lou’s in Nuvali

MANILA — Ask a foodie from the south where to go for great food and Mama Lou’s, which first opened in BF Homes Paranaque, will be one of the top answers.

Long known for homey Italian dishes, Mama Lou’s has opened further south along with its “daughter” restaurant, Nonna’s. Just a hop, skip and jump away from each other at Solenad in Nuvali, the two restaurants offer their multi-faceted interpretations of Italian cuisine.

The food at Nonna’s is playful and, at times, deliciously experimental. Perhaps this is where the culinary minds behind the restaurants come to play to test recipes before making it available to the Mama Lou’s branches. I thought some of menu items were gimmicky at first. But upon further savoring, there was a rhyme and reason behind the unusual presentation of the dishes.

The starters let the ingredients sing. The Mushroom Chicharon is one of the reasons to come to this restaurant. Made from mushrooms sourced from nearby Silang, these crunchy bits spiked with their vinegary sauce opens up the tastebuds for what’s to come.

The Insalata Caprese is a vision of freshness and simplicity made up of cherry tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar.

Rostito Di Manzo, its version of Beef Carpaccio, comes with arugula and cherry tomatoes which is like a side salad to the paper thin slices of beef in extra virgin olive oil.

The pasta dishes show a more experimental side playing with ingredients and using only fresh tagliatelle in the recipes. The caviar that tops the Caviar Alfredo pasta dishes may seem wanting. The small amount packs quite a salty wallop that’s enough to give character to the dish.

The Vesuvius penne topped with tomato, cream and pesto, looks really different. Since the penne is served standing up, the sauces just seep into tubular pasta definitely upping the flavor per bite. This was finished in the oven, so the penne is consistently al dente.

Nonna’s brick-oven pizza is soft and chewy showing off the amount of technical know-how that went into producing the crust. The dough is a recipe from the Association Venezia Pizza made with Caputo flour, sea salt and fresh yeast.

The toppings are also a bit unusual. Kimchi pizza is for those enjoy a little heat in their food which is a nice fusion of Korean and Italian.

The Clam Pie is a best-seller. It’s essentially clam chowder pizza which is tasty by itself. But put on a spoonful of honey and some chili flakes as suggested to give it a sweet and spicy spin.

End the meal with the Piazzaockie that’s like a S’more packed into a jar. Best eaten while it’s still piping hot, it’s nice to dig in and have the gooey marshmallow, and have all of that in one spoonful.


If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, cross the street to end up in Mama Lou’s.

Where Nonna’s bywords are hip and playful, Mama Lou’s are traditional and homey. Mama Lou’s is synonymous with hearty meals and tradition. Mains, crispy crust pizzas and huge servings of pasta that that this venerable Italian restaurant are staples in the menu.

The appetizers are more familiar. Nachos, onion rings, gambas, and French fries grace the starter part of the menu.

For those looking for more substantial starters, the menu has garlic sausage, Beef Carpaccio di Manzo, and even, poutine and escargot. It also has appetizer platters for those who can’t decide what to get.

Italian restaurants are known to be pockets of carb heaven. Mama Lou’s is no exception. The pasta entrees of Mama Lou’s are huge portions that are good for sharing. These are made with Barilla pasta in contrast to the fresh pasta from Nonna’s.

The pastas come with olio (oil), cream Alfredo, pomodoro (tomato), and diavolo (spicy tomato) based sauces. The Spaghetti Seafood Olio and the Spaghetti Con Tuyo Filleto are old favorites that frequent diners come back for again and again.

Mama Lou’s also has handmade pasta (lasagna, ravioli and squid ink pasta) and risottos like the Buttered Risotto and the Risotto Di Mare.

Mama Lou’s pizza crust is thin and crunchy as compared to Nonna’s Neapolitan pizzas. All of the pizzas come with a side of alfalfa and romaine.

Apart from favorites like All Meat and Seafood, The Mama Lou’s Special, topped with mango and prosciutto, is a specialty of the restaurant.

Those with a sweet tooth will not be wanting from the dessert selection. Try the mango or blueberry cheesecakes. Have coffee with the tiramisu, apple pie a la mode, and chocolate cake to finish the meal.

Old and new, traditional and experimental, homey and playful — Mama Lou’s and Nonna’s takes on Italian food won’t disappoint.

Mama Lou’s and Nonna’s are located at Solenad in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Mama Lou’s is also located in BF Homes, UP Town Center, and Evia Lifestyle Center.

NOTE: This was originally published as

Pepita’s limited run at Cafe Ylang Ylang, Manila Hotel

MANILA — Inspired by last year’s successful Filipino Food Festival, “Lechon Diva” Dedet Dela Fuente’s decadent Truffle Rice Stuffed Lechon and other dishes from her Pepita’s Kitchen Degustacion are once again the stars of the buffet at the Manila Hotel’s Café Ilang Ilang.

Back for a second year, the hotel’s Filipino Food Fest opened last August 24 and will run until September 16.

Her Lechon Degustacion is one of those aspirational meals in Manila’s foodie scene. One must gather 15 fellow diners and get on a long waiting list. This buffet is one of best ways to try out Dela Fuente’s culinary creations without the hassle.

To open up the taste buds, start at the chicharon bar, which offers chicharon bulaklak, bituka and chicken skin. Three different pates are also there for the sampling — laing with kesong puti, bihod (fish roe with butter) and chicken liver with mango bits.

There is also a “deconstructed” ensalada with eggplants, adobo and kansi flakes and salted egg. The Fish Salad rounds out the appetizers.

Then there’s the Truffle Rice Stuffed lechon.

It’s best to come early as early diners get to witness the lechon being carved, as well as to savor the aroma of the truffle mingling with the roasted pig. A portion of the lechon includes a meat, crispy skin, and a bit of the truffle rice stuffing. The best part? Lechon lovers can come back for as many portions as they want.

While one can survive on the lechon alone, the supporting dishes shouldn’t be ignored. The buffet has old favorites from past degustacions like the Pancit Paranaque, Calderetang Manok, Pork Binagoongan, “HipLog” (hipon and itlog or shrimp and salted egg) and the Balut Salpicao. New dishes from the current degustacions are also on the menu.

Pinoy decadence seems to be a recurring theme with the featured dishes. This is what makes the offerings really stand out. Take the Filipino paella. This is tanglad rice cooked paella-style and topped with Filipino favorites like inihaw, scallops, tocino, barbecue, crispy dilis, quail eggs, among others. This is more of a “boodle in a paellera” than a paella!

One wonders what the gulong-gulong sauce is in the Alimango with Gulong-Gulong Sauce. My guess is that it contains A LOT of aligue (crab fat). Whatever it was, Dela Fuente said it is so good, “gugulong-gulong ka sa sarap.”

Then there’s the Heavenly Sisig. This is the same sisig she uses in her Sisig Rice Stuffed Lechon. This unadulterated version does not have rice mixed in that tempers the taste. The result is sisig that’s extra spicy and extra tasty that may need an extra serving of rice (or more) for diners caught unaware of the concentrated flavor.

The Italian section of Café Ilang ilang was not spared from Dela Fuente’s culinary creations. Three Filipino pizzas were made for this buffet. The Lechon Pizza, which has large chunks of lechon as toppings; the Adobo Pizza which has adobo slathered on top of the pizza; and the Palabok pizza swathed with palabok sauce, crispy noodles, and a slice of hard boiled egg.

The degustacion offerings supplement the excellent Indian, Chinese, American and Japanese selections of the Café Ilang Ilang buffet.

Leave room for Pepita’s award-winning desserts: The Mango Trifle, a glorious mishmash of mango mousseline, cream, broas, otap and leche flan; and the Super Suman, sticky rice topped with treats and pastries Filipino kids would have grown up with like tsoknut, rosquillos, peanut kisses, pastillas, yema, and puto seko.

Apart from pop-ups, creating new degustacions, and her Project Wheelchair dinners where she and fellow chefs raise funds to buy wheelchair for indigent kids, Dela Fuente continues to create innovative dishes that may seem familiar but come with a twist.

“Pepita’s Kitchen fuses different Filipino ingredients, puts them together, and comes up with something new and flavorful. I believe that Filipino food needs to innovate more so that Filipino food will continue to evolve and will please more palates around the world. We started out with the aim of making lechon a global sensation. Now, the aim is to make Filipino food a global sensation,” she said.

NOTE: This was originally published as

Nobu Preview at Magallanes Village

MANILA — Nobu, the famed restaurant of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is set to open at the City of Dreams entertainment complex before the end of the year. The restaurant, with its legendary menu that fuses South American and Japanese culinary traditions, will be the centerpiece of the Nobu Hotel, the first in Asia.

Guests at the Nobu Hotel will be treated to Matsuhisa’s culinary genius even for in-room dining. Ordinary room-service fare like the humble BLT and Clubhouse sandwich will be given the Nobu treatment.

At the lobby will be Nobu Tea House, serving an extended selection of teas, premium coffee, cakes and pastries to its guests.

A chef’s table event was recently held at a private residence in one of Makati’s posh villages to give a taste of things to come. Lychee coolers and appetizers were served in an outdoor cabana-style dining area, suggesting the terrace that will feature views of Manila Bay when the restaurant is in full swing.

It was apparent how different the dining experience will be at this point. The wait staff were friendly and very knowledgeable about the food they were serving. Not only could they talk about how the food tastes but they went as far as talking about cooking methods and ingredients. Their passion for the food just upped the excitement for the meal.

Everything during that meal was deliberate and had a reason. The strong flavors of the appetizers served to open up the palate. The Mini Lobster Balls in wasabi aioli was delicate yet had a slight crunch from the fried mantou bread.

But it was the Pork Belly in Spicy Miso that set the tone for what was to come. There was so much character and flavor in one bite of that juicy piece of pork. Sweet, savory spicy and umami – all in one bite.

Diners were then led into the house. Sushi chef Akihisa Kawai gave a crash course on sushi making. We were given our own sushi-making kit with vinegared rice, slices of Alaskan king crab and avocado. The end goal was to make California rolls.

This was a sneaky way to showcase the quality of ingredients that will be found in Nobu’s kitchens. Chef Aki gamely talked about his 20 years as a sushi chef while teaching the finer points of rolling sushi.

We then made our way to the dining table. Marlon Hirsh, the hotel’s general manager, was our host for the day. He said the Nobu restaurant is not meant to be a stuffy fine dining restaurant but a place where businessmen in suits and a family just looking for dinner would be just as comfortable. All the food in Nobu will be served family style at the center of the table to further enhance the experience.

Nobu executive chef Zachary Hillberry said that they are proud to bring Matsuhisa’s food to Manila. He talked about the first Nobu in Miami, which opened after Matsuhisa traveled around Peru and Argentine. The chef icon still does a lot of travelling finding local dishes and ingredients to add dishes to his fusion cuisine.

Hillberry reported that he’s working on his own variation of sisig and tapsilog. And there can be no doubt that he will be adding the Nobu flair to these humble dishes.

Caspar Khamphouy, Nobu’s restaurant manager, then showed off wines and sake that are only available at Nobu restaurants and hotels around the world. These wines are from Napa Valley, while the sake is brewed for Nobu by Hokusetsu on Sado Island. The sake is silky smooth and has none of the usual rough aftertaste.

Khamphouy explained that when Matsihisa tastes something he likes, he wants to make it exclusively his own.

Lunch was served after sampling the wines and sake. First up was the Jalapeno Yellow Tail, one of the signature dishes of Nobu. The jalapeno pepper is used to add flavor instead of wasabi. The result is a very different sort of heat that is accustomed to in Japanese dishes.

We were then served the White Fish with Dry Miso. I did not expect such an explosion of flavor from such a simple looking dish – a slice of fish with red powder and a garlic chip. Molecular gastronomy was used to transform miso soup into dry powder. One bite combined the delicateness of the fish, the crunch of the garlic, the umami of the miso and the acidity of the calamansi. The result is an explosion of flavor and texture that amazed me how much character they were able to put in just one bite.

Next out of the kitchen was the King Crab Amazu Ponzu. These are crab cakes topped with onions and micro-cilantro. This was meant to be tossed like a salad so that the cakes coated with sweet and salty sauce with some jalapeno, and tempered with siling labuyo. Combining this with the cilantro is a bite with an unfamiliar, yet very pleasant, combination of flavors.

The Black Cod Den Miso was buttery soft and reminded me of Chilean sea bass. This just melts in your mouth. The black cod is braised in miso, complementing the fish. We were served individual portions but can be served as a whole fillet.

Trays of sushi were brought to the table. This came with the California maki made during the sushi-making session, spicy tuna rolls, futomaki, and assorted sushi of squid, salmon and tuna. The futomaki is a larger roll than the others and is made up of white-tail, masago, crab and nori.

The meal was wrapped up by Kanji, a dessert made with plum cream, raspberrry gelee, topped with a disc of matcha sponge cake and orange meringue. This was a great dessert to end the meal. Light and still had that masterful mix of flavors in one bite that was present all throughout lunch.

There are high expectations for a world-renowned name entering the bustling restaurant scene. Having a sneak taste of what Nobu will be serving up makes me think that local foodies will be very pleased.

This was an extraordinary meal which was characterized by combining flavors and textures in Nobu’s unique way into one perfect bite. It’s that feeling of culinary discovery that really made this meal special and what will make Nobu in Manila special.

Watch out for Nobu’s soft opening this December at the City Of Dreams Manila.

NOTE: This article originally appeared as



My Personal Top Places To Eat

I define a favorite place to eat as somewhere I’d go back to again and again. It’s somewhere where I’d drag people to go particiularly if they’ve never been there. It’s that fine balance of price, taste, quality and quantity that earns it it’s place in this list. Will keep on adding if there are any noteworthy additions.

  • Som’s Noodle House (Rockwell Gilid) – Red Curry Tofu and Thai Iced Tea. Better taken out because it’s good for two and three. Any leftover curry can be serendiptized into red curry fried rice. The thai tea is remarkably potent too. You can water it down and will be good for at least three full glasses of tea.
  • Shwarma Snack Center (R. Salas, Manila)Garlic sauce so deadly you need industrial strength mouthwash the following day. Open 24 hours. Probably the only place I will order a Coke to go along with the food.
  • Man-Nang’s (MOA and Megamall) The Filipino sibling of Man-Hann. Tofu sisig rules! The Sinigang na Corned Beef Rocks too!
  • Superbowls of China (all over)I only get one thing here. Any of  the Super Solo meal with Veggie Fried Rice. Hits the spot for around about 130 bucks.
  • Chowking (all over)Halo-halo. ‘Nuff said.
  • Cowboy Grill Express (somewhere in BGC near Dunkin Donuts Café) – Angus Tapsilog for 110 bucks. You just have to make sure you tell the people at the counter you want your egg malasado. That state where you break the yolk on top of the rice to make it some sort of sauce.
  • Chicken Inato (T. Morato) – Much better than any of the other Inasal places. The chicken is a bit tastier and juicier. Unlimited rice, chicken oil and garlic is nice too. 😀
  • Charlie’s Wonton House (Somewhere near Shaw, Mandaluyong City) – Note that there are no “NO MSG” signs here. The Beef Wonton here is awesome! Usually order two at a time because I’m rarely in this area of town.
  • Aling Lucing’s (Riles, Pampanga) –  The place to go for cholesterol loading. I die a little when I eat here but I if do drop dead, I’m sure it’s gonna be  with a big goofy smile on my face.
  • Banana Leaf Café  (Rockwell, Robinson’s Place, SM The Block) Not to be confused with the non-Café version. The café version has solo servings (which are still pretty big) Hainanese Chicken Laksa FTW!