Thursday, October 17, 2013

COCA is for Shabu-shabu and Exquisite Cantonese Fare

Prawns with Salted Egg
Originally from Thailand, COCA is a Cantonese restaurant that recently opened its doors in the Philippines at SM Aura.

Sauteed Beef Fillet with Ginger and Chinese Spring Onions
Again I found myself having dinner here at the behest of Tita G. Another good friend of mine, Tita J, agreed to join us for dinner in COCA on the expectation that she will have her quarterly-to-monthly crabfest here. I, on the other hand, went mostly for the shabu-shabu. 

The interiors of the restaurant reflects fine dining, where, although I don't think they would actually kick out a patron for not complying with a dresscode (Tita J came in her Zumba outfit after all), you'd feel inspired to dress up in your snazzy clothes just to match your surroundings.

Tita J did not get her crab sadly, as they ran out of stock when she arrived. (Our server got an earful from Tita J for this snafu.) We did however, get our shabu-shabu. And it was a shabu-shabu platter that was quite unlike the ones I am used to.

Red Fire Platter
Assorted Meat, Vegetables, and Glass Noodles

We chose the Red Fire Platter. This came with an 3 kinds of meat, but we asked for only beef and chicken, trading the pork for more chicken. Another thing that we had changed was the glass noodles. I am never fond of the stuff in my shabu-shabu, always trading it in for good old egg noodles. COCA's egg noodles though are not the usual white, thick, soba-like noodles. They were more like the the yellow, thin-strand, Hongkong-style noodles. I am not complaining though, I find the change quite refreshing actually. The beancurd skin, was also unusual, but it tasted so good with the shabu-shabu ensemble that I wondered if I could get that as an add on from other shabu-shabu restaurants. 

The vegetables were crisp, fresh and different from what I get in my usual shabu-shabu haunts, with what looks to be bokchoy instead of regular pechay and even kangkong. The best part for me was that it had so many different mushrooms, from shiitake to enoki. I never had this much mushrooms in a shabu-shabu plate. 

The COCA shabu-shabu is served with two kinds of soups-- one the regular broth, the other spicy. There is also a spicy-savory dipping sauce, which I did not feel the need for as the meats tasted flavorful even without it. Perhaps the meats were seasoned or marinated to some degree. 

As for Tita J, instead of a crabfest, she had a COCA-fest, sharing in the restaurant's best sellers, from the COCA Yang Chow Fried Rice (Small, Php200; Large Php300) and Crispy Roasted Pork Belly ((Php320) to the heart-stoppingly decadent Prawns with Salted Egg.

COCA-SM Aura is located at 5/F Sky Park, SM Aura Premier, McKinley Parkway, McKinley Hill, Taguig

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Please Help Rebuild Bohol and Cebu

Basilica del Santo Nino
I watched the news in horror as the tv screen panned to scenes of destruction caused by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu, yesterday morning. These two places hold a special place in my heart as they were my destinations for my first ever plane ride after I developed a mild case of fear of flying. In spite of my aviophobia, Bohol and Cebu made the trip worth it. I returned to these historic places this year, and they were beautiful and charming as ever.

Loboc River Cruise with Buffet Lunch
around Php500
Despite the bad news of Bohol local celebrity Prony (short for Sofronio), allegedly the largest python in captivity, dying just two days before the trip, my mood in the plane was not dampened. The weather was good and the plane ride was smooth and uneventful. Just the way I like it.

After touching down in Bohol, I again had a bountiful lunch while cruising down the Loboc River. For about Php500, you get to enjoy an entertaining river cruise and feast on traditional Filipino cuisine. An added bonus is a quick stop  at a riverside stage where a group of locals perform folk music and dances specially for the river cruise guests.

The highlight of this river cruise for me though is when I caught a glimpse of the dog pack swimming along the bank of the Loboc River. When I saw them last year, I thought it was by pure luck. When I saw them the second time around, it dawned on me that swimming along the river is a regular thing for this group of dogs, and they genuinely love doing it. I think this is simply amazing. These dogs are awesome.

No beach was on our itinerary last year so I was glad I got to stay in Panglao this time. Panglao Island in Bohol besides being famous for its rich dive spots, is a seafood haven. Here, tourists and travelers can party the night away while feasting on the freshest catch of the day against best ambiance nature has to offer: the sandy white beaches of Panglao.

Factory Fried Chicken
Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu
From Bohol, a 2GO fastcraft took me to Cebu in under two hours. Unlike last year's trip, I did not stay in Cebu for long. But I did get to go around Ayala Mall Cebu in Cebu Business Park, something I was not able to do the last time. I was amazed at how Cebu Business Park bears a striking resemblance to Madrigal Business Park where Alabang Town Center is located. I felt like I am just in Alabang when I went there. In the mall, I had lunch at The Dessert Factory, where I got to like the red velvet cupcake I talked about in an earlier post.

Scenes from Baclayon Church in Bohol
Image of Padre Pio on the wall and image of Mother Mary and Child Jesus over the door 
(Pareidolia or not, they certainly add character to Baclayon Church.)

These fond memories of Bohol and Cebu make this calamity even more heart-breaking for me. I am deeply saddened by the lives lost as well as the damage done to property and livelihood. The destruction of the centuries-old churches most definitely struck a cord with me, too, especially since I was fortunate enough to see them in all their glory last year.

Scenes from Basilico del Santo Nino in Cebu
Despite this, I have faith in the strength of the people of Bohol and Cebu and with our help, I believe this strength will see them through this tragedy. Please visit for more information on what you can do to help.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Posh Thai Dinner at Tamarind

Chicken Wrapped in Pandan Leaves
(Gai Hor Bai Toey)

Another Thai restaurant, I know. I really cannot deny I love Thai cuisine now can I? Tita G had told me about Tamarind before, when we were exchanging notes on good Thai restaurants in Manila. When she mentioned that it is the upscale version of Jatujak, my interest was piqued right away. 

Jatujak Thai restaurant in SM Mall of Asia, is an all-time favorite of mine. One of my fondest memory of that restaurant was when I was having a snack there with my mom around the time that one of the US' supercarrier was docked in Manila Bay. A lot of the crew was milling around MOA and they were pretty easy to spot in the otherwise predominantly Filipino mall crowd. 

Fried Rice
with Crab Meat
Among the diners in Jatujak that day was this guy who, from my eavesdropping, I deduced to be one of the crewmen. Towards the end of his meal, he called to one of the waiters to give his compliments to the chef. He said that it was the best Thai dish he has ever had. Unfortunately, my eavesdropping skills were not good enough for me to find out what dish he actually ordered. Nevertheless, that impressed the heck out of me because, I thought, this guy must have been all over the map, yes, perhaps even Thailand, and he thought that was the best, whatever Thai dish that was, he's ever had.

Vegetarian Thai Fried Spring Rolls
(Poh Pia Pak Ruam)

Now, Tamarind, promises to be even better than Jatujak. So why wouldn't I be excited? Fortunately, our dinner in Tamarind did not leave me wanting. The interior of the restaurant was indeed much classier than Jatujak, with its cushy seats, luxurious lighting, and a more elaborate table setting. If you want to impress a date with Thai cuisine, I say Tamarind is a good candidate for a dinner venue.

Pad Thai Shrimp
The food in Tamarind is presented with a bit more flair. I noticed the finer serving plates and more thoughtful garnish on the dishes, and even the little things, like how differently the scrambled egg for the Pad Thai was cooked. We had the Fried Rice with Crab Meat there, and it went perfectly well with the ever popular Chicken Pandan. All in all, having dinner in Tamarind was a delight. Especially so that the quality of the food is just as superb and, surprisingly, not all that more expensive than Jatujak.

Tamarind-SM Aura is located at 5/F Sky Park, SM Aura Premier, McKinley Parkway, McKinley Hill, Taguig.
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