Couple’s Dinner at ‘Cue

My husband and I love to go out to dinner with small groups of friends. Whether it is a double date or an intimate group of 6, we look forward to catching up over a yummy meal. This particular dinner was special because we rarely get to see our good friends Jon and Pebbles as they come in and out of town a lot. On this beautiful July evening, they invited us, along with another couple we are close to, Marco and Giselle to sample their new restaurant, Cue.

Of course, Armand and I had already eaten there before. Then we had sampled what they are famous for, the baby back ribs which were delicious. I especially like the sauce. This time, we were ready to try the other best sellers on the menu, and who better to show us than the owner himself. We were more than happy for Jon to order for us. The gracious host that he is, he made sure to get things that everyone in the table was looking to taste.

We started off with what felt like every option on the menu. First, the duo of wings, spicy fried and fried buttermilk. I personally liked the spicy fried because it was really crispy and different from the typical buffalo style which can be found anywhere. This is a taste you will probably only get from the wings at Cue. The fried buttermilk was nice and sweet which balanced the spice of the other variant. Also, it was served with simple sour cream as a dipping sauce, a definite plus for me. After the wings came my personal favorite thing on the menu, the bone marrow and steak tacos. These are excellent. I will admit, I am not cholesterol or health conscious when I am eating out so I didn’t even feel guilty indulging. You take the mini soft tortilla, spread a bit of that lavish bone marrow, top it with a piece of the tender steak and chimichurri sauce and pop it in your mouth… pure deliciousness. A follow up bite of the corn siding won’t hurt either. All the flavors truly complement each other. Then, the bamboo clams. I am not averse to clams but I don’t love them either. However, these were great. They tasted buttery and fresh. I took bread and drenched it with the juice. The one last appetizer that came was cue’s chili monggo. Again, I enjoyed this dish a lot. Thick cut slabs of bacon steak that are meant to be topped with what is an infusion of American flavored chili with monggo, a Filipino staple. The spice level was perfect and the flavor was spot on. I was beginning to get full so I had to pace myself as our mains were still on the way.

I love burgers so I had to try the cue house burger. The double patty is oozing with cheese. The veggies were all fresh and the red onion was sliced thinly enough to not add too much of a bite. It was served with sweet potato fries, ketchup and alioli. It was a great choice. Asides from the burger, I wanted to sample their fish tacos. Though it was good, it reminded me a lot of the fillet – o – fish of McDonalds and could not compare to the steak tacos I had just had.
The boys in our table indulged in a meat fest. I was lucky to have a taste of the hand cut charred corned beef. The whole dish had such a homey vibe, tender fresh tasting beef, steamed purple and green cabbage with carrots and sweet potatoes and horseradish and whole grain mustard. It was delightful and the perfect serving size for 2 to share… a great date night dish! The beef belly with a side of onion rings wasn’t bad either. It is a more sophisticated dish and had great flavor. For the sides, the corn fried rice was nice and the garlic cream of corn was even better. It had corn right off the ear in a nice light cream sauce.

I know this sounded like a whole lot but we weren’t about to not cap it off with dessert. Between us all we got the caramel pecan cheesecake, apple pie and the chocolate chip cookie cake. All were nice but to be honest, difficult for me to really say because I was so so full.
The overall experience for me was everything I need in a restaurant. Great food for fair price points is always a reason to come back. And yes, I truly love the owners… but beyond that I really did like my meal. I also like all the design elements of the place. It was cohesive with the menu and I think they executed the vibe they were looking for. The service was great. Our server’s name was Dean and I wouldn’t have remembered if he didn’t make an impression. He was attentive and had a cheerful disposition. Oh and did I mention earlier that the President was in the table right next to us? Yup, PiNoy himself was there looking quite relaxed and like he too, was enjoying his meal.

Cue Modern Barbeque is located at the ground floor of the East Superblock, Bonifacio High Street, Fort Bonifacio.

Foods That Shaped My Childhood

I can’t really remember where or when my love for food began. I was the biggest baby that my Mom popped out, so it could have even started in the womb. What my Mom and my Yaya (Nanny who took care of me) can tell me is that of all my siblings and cousins, I probably was one of the easier ones to feed. Not that it was always a walk in the park, there was a term used throughout our family for the kids that made mealtime a hellish nightmare, “Babadera” which means one who would store food in the corner of their mouth until it is so dry it becomes inedible. Some of them would be stuck in the table for hours or until the next meal. I’m sure I was branded as that at some point. But I do recall being the type of child that loved to eat. I loved it when my parents would bring us to restaurants, maybe because it was quite rare in those days. When attending children’s parties or family gatherings, I would go straight to the buffet and scope it out. Even as I got older, when my friends were skimming through teen and fashion magazines, I was going through my Mom’s subscriptions of Bon Appetit or Food & Wine.

Looking back, I try to open the memory book in my mind to remember the things I was fed growing up. Though there were many that I came across, I know that these were some of my favorites which I still find myself eating now. Was it just me whose meals were occasionally paired with fruit? I remember clearly that when my Yaya would serve me Adobo and rice, she would have me eat it with a banana or sometimes even mango slices. This I believe is where my love for the joyous mix of sweet and savory in my mouth began. I am one of those people that like a hint of sweetness to their dishes or a sprinkle of sea salt to their dessert.

Asides from Adobo, another childhood staple in my house was Lentejas or Lentil soup. The way it is prepared at home is that the lentils are cooked until they become plump enough to thicken the soup, almost porridge like. It is then flavored with chorizo bilbao, very commonly found in Filipino households.

I don’t remember what restaurants we used to go to when I was young. There must have been a lot less of a selection back then. What I do recall is that no fail, I would ALWAYS order myself a Shirley Temple. I felt so grown up to have this delicious and refreshing cherry flavored mocktail. One of my fondest memories of my Grandmother happened when she took me to lunch with my other cousins when I was around 10 years old. As I asked the waiter for my go to drink, she looked at me and asked “Aren’t you a little too old to be ordering something for little girls?” I was so embarrassed and that was the last time I ordered it. As a teenager I would secretly buy grenadine at the supermarket so I could enjoy it in the privacy of my home where no one could judge me. Today, most of the cocktails I prefer still have that little splash of the fruity red syrup. Asides from the Shirley Temple, another drink I loved was the Magnolia Chocolate Milk in the glass bottles. When I went shopping with my mom, I was allowed one treat and it was either that or a pack of Yakult. That milk was the ultimate comfort. Now, I still occasionally treat myself to a miniature bottle of the Nestle Premium Chocolate Milk, full fat. The feeling of nostalgia makes every calorie worth it.

As a child, I remember walking to the park and playing on the street. Though my mom wasn’t the type to stock up on junk food, I do remember having these super unhealthy chips called Cheeze-it and Peewee. After, I was given little cookies topped with a hardened, colored frosting called Iced Gems. I’m sure my Yaya would buy them in the little village store and give me some. Imagine my surprise when I hit the grocery the other day and found these childhood treasures. I could not help but buy some and indulge a little. The packaging was exactly how I remember it and of course, so was the taste. Talk about a trip down memory lane!

My 1st Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

My love for the kitchen began with baking. You see, my mom is a baker and it was always fun for me to sit in the kitchen and just watch her. As a young child, I always wanted to help her when she was baking but she would always very simply tell me, “No”. At that point, I often thought to myself that she didn’t want to teach me but it was in fact the exact opposite. It was in watching her that I learned how exact of a science baking was, through her precise movements and measurements. As I got older, she began letting me assist. Little things first like sifting the flour, cracking the eggs and cleaning the counters… It was in those moments that I formed this perfectionism with regard to each and every step. Watching in awe gave me the passion but doing the dirty work gave me the skill. Eventually I graduated to measuring ingredients, creaming the dry with the wet and judging consistencies.

My mom’s kitchen was a bakers dream. She had every utensil needed to come up with whatever sweet treat you desired to create. From baking pans, tins and trays to wooden spoons, spatulas, whisks and rubber scrapers, she had an abundant amount of it all. She also had a top of the line oven, a kitchen aid, a few hand mixers and timers. Her pantry and freezers were well stocked. She would buy giant sacks of flour and sugar and at one point had a freezer with blocks and blocks of butter that I could no longer count. This made it easy for me to practice my skills even when she was not around. I would select one of her many books and sample a recipe.

The first thing I ever perfected was the chocolate chip cookie. I started baking this when I was about 11 years old. Then, my recipe of choice was the Mrs. Fields Blue-Ribbon Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Mrs. Fields Cookie Book. This was my favorite book from her collection. The recipes were so simple and the pictures were so alive. It was perfect for a young baker. I made this recipe so often that I memorized each step. Today, my chocolate chip cookie is one of my best sellers. Of course, my recipe has changed and evolved in the almost 20 years since I started. As I compare the 2 recipes, there are some similarities and even though I have changed it to make it my own and according to my taste preference, I still hold this particular Mrs. Fields recipe in high regard and would like to share it all with you.

Mrs. Fields Blue-Ribbon Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, and salt. Mix well with wire whisk. Set aside. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, blend sugars at medium speed. Add butter and mix to form a grainy paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add eggs and vanilla extract, and mix at medium speed until just blended. Do not overmix. Add the flour mixture and chocolate chips, and blend at low speed until just mixed. (Again, do not overmix.)
Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto an un-greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake low and slow for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer cookies immediately to a baking rack or cool surface.

If you are a first timer, this recipe is one of the simplest ones out there. Like the recipe says, combine the flour, soda and salt which is also called, the dry mix. To ensure that it is really combined, sift them all together. This will remove any lumps that you do not want in a cookie. The ingredients left (sans the chocolate chips) make your wet ingredients. Cream them together. Start with softened butter then add your sugars. Finish with the eggs and vanilla. If you do not have an electric mixer, your arm power will work just as well. Do not over mix, especially once the eggs are in. As you add in the dry ingredients, do it 1-2 scoops at a time to make sure it is mixed well. Finally, add the chocolate chips. I like to add these straight from the freezer. Though it does not melt as fast as regular chocolate, it keeps its beautiful shape longer this way. When baking, always watch your oven. You have to master it because not all ovens heat at the same speed and temperature as others.

Tonight, I am baking with my daughters. Like my mom, many times I have to tell them “No” when they ask if they can help out, especially when I am baking for a client. At one point I thought to myself that I would never deny my children the opportunity to learn from me. But now I realize the benefit of having to turn them down sometimes and how it will shape them in the future, whether in the kitchen or in another aspect of their lives. But on this rainy Friday evening, I make an exception. Tonight we will bake chocolate chip cookies for us to enjoy with milk in bed. Tonight we will make a mess of my kitchen and even though we have to clean up later we will enjoy every sweet moment doing it!

Last Lunch at Nolita

I come into this lunch excited to see my friend but also quite sad. I will try not to cry. This will probably be our last lunch for a long time. In all the years that this friendship has been building, I have known that it was his goal to move abroad, preferably to the East Coast of the United States. He is a stylist who has also worked in retail and if you see his work, you will know that he is more than capable of climbing all the way to the top of the high fashion ladder in one of its greatest capitals. I always knew this day would come.

You see, this man I am meeting is one of the closest male influences in my life. We usually joke that in another life, we would be married and make beautiful babies together. In this reality though, that is not in the cards. I am happily wed and also, not his type so he plays the role of my best male friend instead. We try to go on these lunches once a month. We both love to eat so we try a new place almost every time. Sometimes, I take him to a new restaurant discovery and sometimes he takes me. Today I am taking him to Nolita because I asides from really enjoying the food, I want to get him excited about his big move to the big apple.

Said to be the closest you will get to an authentic New York style pizza, Nolita has flavors that will satisfy any taste palette. From usual options like regular cheese, pepperoni and cheeseburger to their tasty unique slices such as chicken parmesan, spinach and artichoke, buffalo chicken with blue cheese, sausage and pesto grilled chicken. I walk in feeling comforted by the familiar atmosphere and to see him there, well dressed and waiting. I can tell he is happy with my selection when he asks me “How have I never been here before?” Nolita has quite the appealing aura with its wooden tables and benches, pay as you order service and chalkboard menu. It gives you that very low key vibe yet impresses with food quality and flavor. We go up to make our selections and decide to split a buffalo chicken with blue cheese slice and a slice of the chicken parmesan. Both are delicious. The buffalo chicken with blue cheese is great because it gives you the satisfaction of eating pizza but has that hint of buffalo sauce which is not too overwhelming. The spice level is perfect. What I remember most about it though is that they did not scrimp on the blue cheese. Big dollops are spooned from top to bottom so if you are a fan of the moldy stuff, you will really enjoy this pizza. The chicken parmesan is my top choice of the day. The coating of the chicken perfectly balanced the tomato sauce, tender onions and mozzarella. The parmesan flavor was also evident but not overpowering.

If you are not in the mood for pizza, Nolita also offers many other interesting choices. I will start with the burgers because I had one the last time I came and it was YUMMY. I sampled the Angus all beef cheeseburger which is everything you hope for in a burger. They also have an option without cheese or the Nolita burger which has bacon, caramelized onions and a fried egg. Asides from the burgers they have hearty sandwiches such as the sliced steak sandwich, sausage and pepper sandwich, grilled chicken and broccoli sandwich with parmesan cheese, spinach egg Florentine sandwich, and a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich which I have heard great things about. Other interesting items on the menu include the stove top mac & cheese, honey garlic buffalo wings, beer battered onion rings, fried shrimp with Creole hollandaise and Tex-Mex savory bread pudding. We decide to sample the fried shrimp. Though it was cooked nicely with a nice firm and crisp breading, it didn’t blow me away. The Creole hollandaise could use a bit of improvement.

Asides from the great food, Nolita has a wide selection of beverages. From iced teas and coffees, fun floats and cocktails to a wide selection of wines and imported beers. It is a place that can go from a quick lunch stop to a happy hour hang out or a laid back dinner and drinks option. Don’t let the price points intimidate you. I too was wary when I saw that some of their slices were over Php200 but they looked so interesting that I had to give in and I wasn’t disappointed. Their slices are quite large and filled that one is definitely enough for a meal. The sandwiches are slightly higher priced but more filling as well. Bottom line is that you will enjoy your meal and leave satisfied. The quality of their food is good and the place is clean, well kept and inviting. Both of us agree that if time permits it, we will return one more time.
Before I end this, I’d like to leave this special message:

My Dearest L.A.,
I have cherished so much the time we have spent together, every meal, every movie, every shoot, every night out and every single moment in between. You are so much more than just a fashion mentor and friend… you are one of my most valued confidants as I could share with you things I could not share with others. Never judging and always full of support, I will miss having you at arm’s length. Go and exceed the expectations of those that doubted you, and accomplish everything that the ones that love you knew you always would.
Forever in my prayers and in my heart,