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Capsule Review: Ginza Bairin (and other Tonkatsuhans!)

1 Aug

hire:rosu set

How do you make hot breaded pork stand out in a sea of others who’ve come and planted their flags before you?

As in all cool things – do it by thinking it through and by respecting the details.

I’m talking about the subject of today’s capsule review: Ginza Bairin.

Now, let me be transparent wit’ you (because I’m a responsible “food blogger” that way. THAT’S how I roll. Harhar!): I was invited by their marketing team to meet the owners and taste their grub. All in the name of research, of course… hehe. Yes, I got the first class treatment here – but I always do when invited to these things, and it doesn’t necessarily mean I will be a frequent guest to an establishment either. **note: I’ve come back once since then, and things were still pretty cool to me**

Ok, now that I’ve confessed that to you – Ginza Bairin is a tonkatsu restaurant that dates back to 1927. It originated and is still located in the posh Ginza district of Tokyo (think Greenbelt Mall and multiply by 100) and has specialized in this dish and it’s variants for generations.

As of today it opens in Glorietta 2, facing Palm Drive, beside Wee Nam Kee. They’re opening another branch in this new Ayala Mall near Meriam College.

THE GOOD:

GB owners and chefs

Having met the Japanese owner of the chain and had a great conversation with him, it was good to know that he was a typical Japanese dude: very thorough and meticulous – some of their best traits. That means they cared a LOT about where they sourced their pork, their eggs, breadcrumbs and other ingredients. Only the best quality they could afford. And it definitely shows.

I got to try several things: their pork cutlets are tender and perfectly fried (to me, at least) as they were crisp and practically greaseless. Two of the Japanese chefs are still in the kitchen as of this writing, so the challenge is to keep up this level of cooking when they leave.

But as I questioned at the beginning – how do you stand out when you have other katsu houses like the mighty Yabu, Saboten, and even smaller players like Tonkatsuya in the playing field? All these guys do tonkatsu quite well – to varying degrees, of course, and subjective to your tastes and experiences.

You shine with the OTHER stuff.

The Secret Sauce

Take, for instance, their tonkatsu sauce. This is leagues away from the stuff that we all grew up eating – the infamous Bulldog sauce, which I find cloying and too “rough”. GB’s sauce is a proprietary recipe from the man who started the biz. Made at their home base in Japan, it’s shipped out to all GB outlets. One pour and you will spot the difference: lighter in color and viscosity, it has many flavors running through it. I tasted a bit of umeboshi – Japanese dried plum – but I can’t be certain. It certainly beats out Bulldog for me. You don’t actually NEED this sauce – actually, I like it with a squeeze of lemon and some sea salt (which they have on the table) – but it IS good, especially when paired with some hot Japanese mustard.

katsudon special

A must is their katsudon special (tonkatsu in a special sauce over rice, topped with an egg). The first thing you’ll notice is the beautifully orange egg and the taste of the sauce base, which is made by simmering pork for hours. It is in my book the most thoughtful version of katsudon I’ve tried here so far. Pop the egg yolk, and let it dribble over your rice .. dip a katsu slice in it and use it as a secondary sauce. Comfort and bliss in a bowl. It’s won awards in Tokyo, and if I’m not mistaken the reason why owner Scott Tan fell in love with GB in the first place.

sando set

If you’re not doing rice for sexy time purposes, they have a tonkatsu sandwich on white bread. Trust me here: it doesn’t look like much, but they did their research with the bread they use for this, and it works aces. It’s a fine sandwich, and a welcome and refreshing alternative to the big katsu sets.

unagi katsu

The diva of the show, so to speak, is the unagi tonkatsu. At close to P800, it’s their most expensive set, and also probably their most unique. It’s unagi fried katsu style (duh.) and best eaten with ground sesame seeds with sea salt. Just a light dip will do the trick..let them sweet and salty flavors become friends in your maw. It took me by surprise how much I liked it – this, to me, is really good shit, and great for the occasional splurge.

mixed set

They also have katsu curry bowls, seafood (prawns, scallops, white fish), as well as gyoza and edamame. Oh, for all you takaws out there – it’s unli rice, pickles and cabbage.

Now, let me make a brief comparison to the OTHER katsu joints that have popped up and who are doing brisk business. This is how they stack up in my eyes:

Ginza Bairin is the cool kid you like to hang out with. Likes wearing cool clothes, listens to cool music, and pays attention to the little details. GB is probably a graphic artist or an interior designer.

Tonkatsuya is the street smart guy with swag. He knows what he’s doing and wants to bring his talents to a wider audience. Krumping is his specialty. Hahaha! (Tonkatsuya is run by this Japanese fellow who’s been at it for years making the same thing. I’ve only been here twice, but his prices are unbeatable – in the 200 range – and for the price, the quality is excellent.)

Yabu is the OG of the lot. A celebrity with talent and eye candy to boot, Yabu can bring in the crowds. (Mainly because of generally excellent food, great graphics and details inside the shop, and a loud energetic buzz.)

Saboten is kind of like your steady uncle, with lots of attention to detail as well. More formal than casual, he’s a tailor who can make a mean “bespoke” suit. (I say this because their food is also excellent, with their own tricks up their sleeve like a killer snow crab croquette. Also, they have this very Zen like serenity in the room, and actually BOW to you in a deeply respectful way when they present your check and all. Obviously trained by a Japanese hospitality person, this makes Saboten quite the transporting experience. And that’s a good thing.)

And no, I wasn’t smoking anything when I wrote this, lest you think otherwise. 😛

THE BAD:

Hmm.. nothing out of the ordinary so far. I think they MIGHT have a problem if they become too popular, as the room is a bit small.

THE SWANGIT:

As I exited the door during my second time, at around 750pm, there was a wait outside. I know it’s not GB’s fault, but waiting outside is never good. Oh, maybe they can offer chairs to the inevitable line.

GINZA BAIRIN

Address: G/F, Glorietta 2 (along Palm Drive)

Tel. No. +632.5537350

Hours: Sunday – Thursday 10am -11pm; Friday – Saturday 10am – MIDNIGHT, BABY!

Price: Tonkatsu regular set – P345, large set P395; Sando (sandwich) a la carte – P215, set – P325; mixed set – P425; special katsudon – P395 …. More or less you’ll spend P500 or less, which is about the going rate with the better katsu houses, with the exception of Tonkatsuya

Capsule Review: LES Bagels New York Deli & Bakery

19 Jul
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LES for bagels!

The bagel is one of those iconic foods of the world. To me, it’s New York on a plate, right up there with a nice cheesy slice, and the street cart hot dog.

Toasted, with schmear (cream cheese, in various flavors) it is the quintessential Manhattan breakfast-on-the-go. Take a walk down the avenues at around 730am, and you will see countless people headed to work, headphones blasting Jay Z (or gee – show tunes!), and munching on a sesame bagel.

However, if you’ve had the good fortune to try exceptional versions of this Jewish treat, finding a decent one here in Manila is like looking for Waldo. Once upon a time, there was an American family who had a bagel shop in Filinvest, but sadly, it closed, together with our collective bagel cravings. Everything else was like eating a brick, until now.

Here’s my latest capsule review: LES Bagels New York Deli & Bakery.

The Good:

Well, they’re still on soft opening, so as of this writing, TODAY, July 19, EVERYTHING is 50% off. JUST FOR TODAY. They close at 10pm, so haul ass there now!

It’s a – dare I say it – cute little space. Cute because it’s tiny – there are a few tables upstairs on the mezzanine, but I think takeout or al fresco on a breezy day is the way to go here. Unfortunately, today was not a breezy day. Hehe!

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The counter (check out the sandwich selection!)

But if you’ve had the chance to enter an NYC neighborhood deli, it all looks sooo familiar: bagels of various flavors (onion, sesame seed, plain, pumpernickel, among others), different kinds of schmears (cream cheese, baby! Veggie, herb, garlic, caramelized onion, bacon & cheddar, jalapeño & cheddar, strawberry, apple cinnamon), bialys (another Yiddish treat – similar to a bagel but with an indentation in the middle, usually with caramelized onions), rugelach (sweet Jewish pastries), AND, according to their menu, a myriad of deli sammies — from smoked pepper turkey and Havarti on a hoagie roll, to Ruebens on rye, to good ol’ egg salad. All these are the handiwork of a man named Cuit Kauffman, the same guy behind the pizza slices of Nolita in High Street Central.

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Today’s schmear selection

I walked in this morning with Paolo Vasquez (the fine gent behind Longboards Manila) and the wife and we immediately zeroed in on the star of the show. Between the three of us: a sesame bagel with jalepeño & cheddar, an onion bagel with bacon & cheddar, and a plain bagel with plain cream cheese.

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Spoilt for choice! What’ll it be?? Paolo can’t seem to choose..

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Talk to the hand while I eat my plain bagel. tsk.

The verdict? A definite hooray! Chewy, just the right kind of dense, and great schmear flavors – nice and satisfying, and guaranteed to fill you up for at least a couple of hours (like all good bagels should! Hehe)

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Sesame bagel with jalapeño & cheddar schmear

There’s soooo much to try still, and that’s always a good thing. They have stuff like matzoh ball soup and even egg creams! I kinda envy the people who live around here, because they have all these fun dining options at their doorstep.

Oh, and fine.. PS — Upon recommendation, I bought an oatmeal maple cookie sandwich. I didn’t take a pic because……..  I ate it. tsk. It’s good with coffee. We haven’t tried a lot of stuff, but my gut tells me we’ll be getting quality. Always a good thing.

New York just moved a few steps closer.

The Bad:

Well, it was our fault, I think – we forgot to have the bagels toasted. We’re all big on the crunch, so toasted it will be next time around.

Also, I wish there was more shade outside, but well, that’s just me. It was a bit hot this morning. But don’t get me wrong —- it’s a casual place to go to in your shorts and sneakers, so eating al fresco should be quite pleasant most of the time, especially in the late afternoons to evening.

The Swangit:

The only real complaint I have about this whole area is universal to all the restaurants here: parking. I’ve been told there will be spaces somewhere, but the I will tell you now that the existing ones are few and far between, and once all the big guns are up and running (like Ukkokei! Shudder) parking will be absolute war.

Oh, and you know what else is swangit? The feeling you’ll get after more than one bagel. Tread carefully, my friends. haha!

The star of the show!

The star of the show!

LES Bagels

Upper McKinley Rd, Tuscany, McKinley Hill (beside B&T Mexican Kitchen)

Currently on soft opening — M-Sat, 8am-10pm; no phone number as of yet

Pricing:

– bagels with schmear (Php 140-180); bagel sandwiches (Php 60-420 for one with lox and scallion cream cheese); sandwiches (Php 250-580)

Capsule Review: Zarzuela

2 Jul

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Ilongga lady Racquel Sian and her cohorts Owen Gan, Mel Sanchez-Dumlao, and Trina Tiaoqui-Imperial have been in the food business here in Manila for a loooong time. They’re the kind of restaurant group that remain a bit anonymous to most, but have a long standing relationship with everyone who frequents their establishments – usually located in an office building or similar foot traffic heavy environs. I mention her Ilongga roots because like a lot, if not most, true Ilonggos, she likes the good stuff – Pinoy grub that’s tasty, often slightly sweet (a nod to her Sugarland roots), and will have you reaching for hot steaming rice faster than you can say “baboy”. Yep, it’s that kind o’ place.

THE GOOD:

Plain and simply put: their grub is delicious! Everything I’ve had in my two visits here – spaced months apart – was yummy. However, I don’t think this is the kind of place you visit  when you’re on a diet. (But it’s the shiznit for your cheat day! Haha!)

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The ..uhm.. “Fountain Of Youth” in particular – think of it as KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicharon.. gasp! Faint) – is one of those crazy dishes that only a true blue Pinoy pork-o-phile can come up with. It’s exactly as I described it – like chicharon that’s been battered and fried, served with bagoong, mangga and vinegar. It’s killer, for sure, and may even sound a little too out there, but it’s delicious. Have it once every six months.

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Squid stuffed with minced beef and bagoong teeters on the sweet side, and again will have you reaching for the rice in no time. Same goes for crispy binagoongan, that pork staple that’s pure evil yet pure heaven in your mouth.

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Adobo is served two ways (“Sa Pula, Sa Puti”): flaked on one side of the platter, on the other stewed in vinegar and garlic sans the soy sauce (the way I love it, actually!).

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Bangus is made into tasty sardines – it’s braised in olive oil and brandy, and paired with pickles and chilis. Rellenong manok (stuffed chicken) has bits of chorizo and raisins, and is topped with a cheese sauce that oddly enough works for me (though I’m sure some will find this too over the top).

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“Cowboy” sisig is BOTH pork and beef bits, grilled first before combined and seasoned. Chichos is also thinly sliced pork and beef spiced with paprika, pimenton and roasted garlic, like a version of salpicao – they go together like Ernie and Bert. For dessert – a take on Maruya – chunks of plantain and langka (jackfruit) fried and served with ice cream.

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Yes, they do NOT play around here.

All the food tastes great and is filling, and designed to give you the greatest bang for your hard earned money’s worth. They deserve the “super sulit” restaurant award, if one ever existed.

Service is tight and attentive (although admittedly I made my reservations through the owner, so they may have been extra attentive), and the space is pleasant, if a bit hard to find in the new wing of the mall. 

THE BAD:

I have but one complaint – and it’s not really a complaint – but more of a suggestion. I wish they had more vegetables on the menu, and perhaps a few more healthful dishes. I don’t mind the menu items – it’s all good – but they do need something to balance all that richness. Perhaps some house made pickles (an atchara, if you will), and other refreshers. You can only eat so much binagoongan and “fountain of youth” without getting guilty about all that indulgence. You need something to “de-guilt” you.

Lipitor shakes might help too.

THE SWANGIT:

The feeling you get as your system tells you you’ve ingested way too much of that lovin’ pork, rice and bagoong. You’ll need a hug for sure. Pass the hot water. Zzzzzzz..

 

Zarzuela

6/F Shangri-La Plaza Mall, East Wing, EDSA cor Shaw Blvd

Wack Wack, Mandaluyong

Capsule Review: Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen

2 Jul

Welcome to my first ever capsule review! Realizing that I DO NOT have to go so deep into a restaurant and write some voluminous review, I’ve come up with this – thus enabling me to put more content on this little blog (hehehe!). I’ve divided it into three parts: The Good, The Bad, and The Swangit.

I promise to be concise and meaty. Just like me. 😛

Enjoy!

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The Good:

I am in agreement with C that the interiors of this place are easily in the top three of all the new wave of ramen joints. It’s classy looking and modern – very Japanese – and I for one am quite the fan of Japanese aesthetics.

The service was good too – the wait staff were attentive without hovering around you, and the orders came really quickly. You can go in and out of here in an hour or even less.

I ordered some Black Garlic Tonkotsu ramen, essentially their house specialty tonkotsu (pork stock) broth with a lashing of roasted garlic oil. Some people don’t get this, and may even find it “bitter”, but I guess it’s a base to base casis. 🙂 I thought it was interesting – tasty even – and was content with it. An extra order of ajitama (soft boiled egg) was sweetish, custardy and properly made, and was a nice contrast to the broth.

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Our companion ordered a Spicy Tobanjan Tonkotsu – a tonkotsu base with tobanjan paste, which added an appealing zing of spice and even some acidity. If I ever found myself here again, that’s an order I’d consider.

Their gyoza was a bit of a revelation – it was actually dribbling juices as you munched on it (much like a Shanghainese xiao long bao), as I think excellent gyoza should be. Not too garlic heavy, and crispy skinned, it’s a recommended side to your ramen.

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Tori karaage (aka Japanese fried chicken), with a splash of lemon, was relatively grease free, crispy and tender even. I can imagine coming here just for this and some rice. 

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The Bad:

We also had an order of teriyaki chicken wings. In fairness to the waitress, she confessed they were on the smaller side.

When they arrived, I had to snicker – they were a bit beyond small. They looked like fried toothpicks!

I’m guessing they lopped off most of the meat to make some karaage or whatever other uses for chicken the kitchen had – but still. It wasn’t annoying, really.. it was FUNNY!

And to top if all off – it didn’t taste bad either.

Dual purpose food: teriyaki wing appetizers/toothpicks. There’s an idea for you!

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The Swangit:

Well, to be honest the house tonkotsu broth on it’s own was kinda blah. It didn’t have a big punch, considering it was a pork stock that was supposed to be boiled for hours. There was a fishy taste to it (though I do understand that each broth is a different creature, and some do use fish bones or dried shrimp or whatever else to add flavor), which I don’t usually mind, but all in all it just didn’t do it for me (nor for the other two in my table that ordered it.. wrinkly noses and all.) With added seasonings like the roasted garlic oil or the tobanjan paste it amped up, but of course it would be better if the base were already kick ass on its own.

The ugliest thing here, for me, was the noodles. All these new ramen joints are going out of their way to ensure a top notch carb experience – a lot even importing expensive machines just to produce the good stuff. Now I don’t mind if you’re not that hardcore and use packaged noodles or you buy your noodles from elsewhere – as always it’s about managing expectations.

The thing with this place was they bothered to specifically asked you how you wanted your noodles. Immediately I chimed in: “firm please. Al dente.” As did everyone in our table. When the bowls showed up and us hungry peeps started slurping, it was soft and mushy – across the board. I ain’t gonna hate on ‘em for this – maybe it was a mistake.. whatever – but I won’t lie: it’s disappointing, especially since this is supposed to be some Japanese chain who knows their stuff, coming into town at a time when ramen is the hot shit dish of the year. If they continue on like this, they will get left behind. And I would never want that for anyone – it’s a huge undertaking to open a restaurant, much more a specialty restaurant like this.

I would like to root for them to have a steady crowd, but they have stuff going against them. Already I’ve heard many grumblings about their broth and their noodles —- which to me essentially IS ramen. So, powers that be, please please do something – the ball is in your court.

 

SM Aura Premier Branch:

2/F SM Aura Premier , McKinley Parkway

McKinley Hill, Taguig

Shangri La Mall Branch:

5th Level, Shangri-la Plaza Mall
Shaw Blvd. cor. EDSA, Mandaluyong

Phone Number
(+63 2) 477-8333

 

Popped and Loaded

26 Mar

Where it all went down

As we greet the sun kissed months, the ever morphing local restaurant scene seems to be getting THAT much more interesting.

Like, for example, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a place like the vaunted International House Of Pancakes (that’s IHOP to you, bud) would show up on our shores. A US diner chain in the middle of urban BGC, with people queuing up for hours to eat there is absolutely crazy! (Have you lined up yet? Because I haven’t. haha!)

And for that matter, how crazy is it that US West Coast burger giant In-N-Out went and did a one-day test run to dip their toes in our food obsessed waters? Considering that they’ve gone on record saying that they hardly have plans of expansion in the US, that they bothered showing up in Southeast Asia at all is just a bit shocking (they did this stunt in Singapore and Hong Kong as well).

Many more chains are popping up like mushrooms: Cold Stone Creamery, Saboten, Paul Patisserie – all just around the bend.

Not that I’m complaining, of course. Bring it on, chain restaurants – Manila is a hot place to be now (literally and figuratively!)

It’s a really interesting time to be a diner in Manila – many new local joints are popping up as well, with some of them pushing dining into new directions, which is fantastic for the dining community. Check out spanking new places like VASK and Grace Park.

Speaking of “popping up”, just last night, I found myself in a pop-up concept in Salcedo Village. My buddy Jeremy “The Delicious In Mr. Delicious” Slagle just texted me saying he had extra seats to this event by a group that called themselves Pop Up Manila, so I jumped at the chance. The pop-up restaurant, in case you haven’t read about it yet, is basically a restaurant within a restaurant: a cook, often one without his/her own place yet, takes over another restaurant’s kitchen on it’s quieter night, cooking his/her brand of food.

Yes, we are goofballs - but that just makes us fun!

Yes, we are goofballs – but that just makes us fun!

Does that make sense? Well, let me just say it’s pretty fun.

The people behind this – Erwan Heussaf (who doubled as the waiter. Saan ka pa?!), Dee Jae Pa’este (well, that’s his Twitter handle..haha!) and some members of the Concepcion family (Michael, is that you behind this?) – hooked up with young chef Bruce Ricketts (yes, he’s related to Ronnie..) formerly of the now defunct Robot and currently of his own place called Sensei Sushi in BF Homes. The food concept: Latin American via Vietnam.

With Erwan The Waiter (oh fine..he’s also an instigator)

Dee Jae – another instigator

Did you get that? Again, let me just say it’s pretty fun. Mind you – it’s not the time and place to expect haute cuisine. No, son, you come here to enjoy the ride.

Called Barba Cua, they decked out this small Thai restaurant along Valero with DIY attitude: South American posters, sombreros, rice paddy farmer’s hats, and ukuleles – and presented a cool little menu of small plates – perfect for sharing.

Le menoi, showcasing their logo for the night

Being the adventurous peeps that we were, of course we just proceeded to order most of the menu (research, my friend. All in the name of research.)

Our fellow researchers

Besides, the small plates concept – like tapas with international flair – is a great way to eat without feeling like you’re going to rip your jeggings.

A lapu lapu ceviche type thang came with little cubes of watermelon, crab, citrus bits and fresh dill.

Raw, baby

Shredded oxtail and lengua rode in on a slightly greasy garbanzo based tortilla and topped with salsa verde and pickles. This was one of the tastiest stuff we ate. High on fat it seemed too (which may explain why it was so good.)

Oh mama..

Some rolled and fried bits of pig head, topped with a little salad and some pig ear bits, was quite over the top. Did we like it? Well of course! Wouldn’t you?? But this was the kind of food that you could only eat a few bites of, and it begged for an ice cold beer which unfortunately was not available. (They had a cocktail menu instead – which I think could have used a bit more booze. Apparently I can be a lush too.. heehee!)

Kulit mo, Mr. Delicious.

Kulit mo, Mr. Delicious.

Piggy in all it's glory

Piggy in all it’s glory

2 kinds of punch – they were quenching, but I think they needed more punch, though. 😉

The slightly more virtuous smoked tofu came with a nice “relish” of cauliflower, raisins, carrots and other veg in a nuoc nam (fish sauce) based dressing and would’ve been great with rice, with the other vegetarian offering crispy tamales (more like a veggie and quesong puti taco of sorts) being equally tasty as well.

Virtuous? Nah...

Virtuous? Nah…

A steak and eggs with black garlic, and an avocado sauce was good – something every meat loving Pinoy will take to like a moth to a flame – but it was the lone starch dish of rice cooked in what was probably crab stock and topped with uni and prawns that took it all home. All in all, pretty loverly stuff.

For the meat lovers in the house!

For the meat lovers in the house!

Seafood orgy on a plate: crab stock rice, uni, prawns

Considering that this was probably a bitch to pull off (when we do dinner events like this with Pinoy Eats World, my body definitely takes a beating!), I gotta hand it to their team for producing a fun, let down your hair sort of evening. I had no expectations whatsoever – which is probably the frame of mind you want to have entering events like this. The food was pretty good, the room was pretty vibrant, there were lots of celeb sightings (well, Anne and Solenn, plus fashion icon and provocateur Rajo), and my company was great. (A side note: Rajo introduced me to Solen, and she said she remembered me!!! Of course, I don’t think we’ve ever met. I would’ve remembered by now. Sorry Erwan. You probably get this all the time.haha!)

I can’t think of a better way to close out the weekend. The Manila Pop Up guys and gals throw a great experience our way – just the kind of thing this town needs more of. I’m looking forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeve.

My buddies Rajo & Nix – next time I should ask Solenn and Anne for a pic too! 😛

The guys behind FoodLab (cheesecakes galore @ Legaspi Market) aka The Bears! 🙂

Ok fine – we *did* manage to sneak in a pic of THE Anne Curtis (sorry Erwan) – she was cool, btw!

I come clean: we got Solenn too (sorry again Erwan!).At some point we literally rubbed backs. haha! AND she said she remembers me! O HA! (We may have met…in my dreams!)

Pop Up Manila is on Twitter. Follow them at @PopUpManila to find out about their next gig. Pareng Erwan said sometime in April – wait for their announcement!

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