Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Receding Review: Benassi

"It's not Bernassi. It's Benassi. " Ah, so a new food journey began for my girlfriend Parched Girl and I after our first things first, definition of terms.

Because of the good folks at Deal Grocer, we got hold of these vouchers at P250 worth P500 per. The vouchers also didn't require a one day reservation notice --- a criteria that would be in my Ensoguy buying tips. I steer clear of those requiring at least three days reservation notice! I mean, I don't know what I'd want to eat three hours from now. Moreso, three days!

The journey to Benassi was met with a rocky start. The restaurant is located in the busy streets of Ortigas, at the ground floor of the fairly new Exchange Regency Residence Hotel. Going on a weekend, I had hoped that the hotel had some available parking or that Ortigas would allow some street parking on weekends similar to Makati CBD. Much to my dismay, there were none and we had to avail of the pay parking across the street. Now pay parking would not have been so bad if it were in a mall, a hotel with many facilities, or a place that has a fair selection of restaurants. Unfortunately, the restaurant fell under none of these criteria thus having to be just an unnecessary cost. 

Benassi is a cozy place with a minimalist approach to its decor. A bit of Borough  meets Cibo. There was thus excitement in the air as we started viewing the menu. 

Oddly enough, Parched Girl and I weren't in the biggest of Italian moods. We were both yearning for that herby Italian flavor without having to go through the typical pizza and tomato-based pasta combinations. For a change, we selected one pasta dish - Ravioli Con Funghi Porcini; and one meat dish Bisteca Tagliata. We were more after quality than quantity with this meal and happily the two dishes fit the budget of our vouchers. 

The Ravioli was our preferred dish. Although it sort of looks like a thick soup with wantons in this picture, it's actually put together delicately packing a potent flavor. 

On the other hand, the Bistecca Tagliata was a light decent steak. This seared wagyu beef was tender yet we were actually expecting more in flavor. Because its 200g was sliced thinly, the steak got cold easily. It was nowhere near the best of steaks. But it was decent. The fresh green salad with strawberry vinaigrette dressing was however a contrasting complement to the dish.

Overall, Benassi would not rank in one of my favorite go-to-Italian restaurants in the Metro. There is promise in the tastiness of the Ravioli dish and given the chance I would try the other pasta dishes. However, it might be another deal discount that would make me come back and try.

Friday, September 27, 2013

And All That Jazz

Because of work and attacking the E-Commerce game from all angles, I've been getting myself more and more familiar with the performance arts. Yep, unorthodox as it may seem I've been working a lot with Ticketworld lately and have thus been looking into a lot of their upcoming shows. Now I'm not big on shows and big performances. Truth be told, I was one of those who naturally dozed off during field trips when we'd watch something of the like in school. But last week, something caught my fancy in the Ticketworld website: the CCP's 2nd Annual Jazz Festival.

My girlfriend, Parched Girl and I quickly snapped up tickets for the Saturday night performance of what would be a week long festival. I don't think I'm a jazz junkie so this came a bit of the blue. Maybe it's the recent viewing of The Great Gatsby and my fascination with everything 1920's such as my current obsession with Boardwalk Empire. Maybe it's the liking to the big band era. Maybe it's wanting to break some monotony from the usual night outs (or night ins). Maybe it's the fact that the tickets were only P200 each for a CCP performance. Yup, I think it's all those other things with a big resounding yes towards that last factor.

Making our way to the CCP on a rainy Saturday night, we weren't sure what to expect. Arriving, we were surprised as to how little people were there and moreso, how little they were dressed up. Guess we were expecting a bit of an awards show feel. But anyway, a bigger (and pleasant) surprise was finding out that our Balcony 2 tickets had been upgraded to Orchestra tickets because of the lack of an audience. So our nosebleed P200 tickets had been quickly upgraded to 4th row and center, premium P800 tickets. So far, so good! At this point I already considered it to be a wonderful performanceAnother pleasant surprise, and I guess a detail that we didn't pay attention to is that there would be four main performances that night: the U.P. Jazz Ensemble, Akasha, PYSB Jazz Big Band, and Buzz Bros. Band.

The U.P. Jazz Ensemble was a strong opening act. I wouldn't say that I'm too well-versed with the different types of Jazz out there but I knew by their second song that I liked their big band era style of jazz. A lot of saxophone-led melodies and a lot more trumpet, with the latter to me really hitting that spot --- the music of a bygone era of frivolous parties no less than the Old Sport himself would enjoy. The band later on moved into a more modern type of Jazz, culminating into a instrumental of The Beatles' "Come Together". (BTW, that was a great Old Sport Montage, only bettered by the Claire Daines Crying Montage)

courtesy of the U.P. Jazz Ensemble Facebook page

Next up was my favorite performance of the night: Akasha. Akasha is a four-piece band, headlined by jazz super drummer Mar Dizon. A drum, a piano, a sax, and a big soulful bass. It's amazing how full their music was despite the lack in numbers. Their performance was made up of 6-8minute songs with what seemed like a lot of freestyle play. Most notable to me was their rendition of the theme of "Inspector Gadget". Admittedly, I knew little of the songs they played but the catchiness of their tunes and the obvious passion for the music was their best quality. The audience identified with the vivid and heartfelt reactions of drummer Mar Dizon as he played each number like a happy kid. He had a pure childlike joy as he played... kind of like that same kind of giddiness King Joffrey gets during beheadings. Minus the evilness that is. Anyway.  

Following the superband that is Akasha was the PYSB Jazz Big Band. Most notable to this band was that most of them were kids. Albeit lacking that flare and showmanship that the veterans of Akasha showed, the kids of the PYSB Jazz Big Band showed great potential and a lot of raw skill. It was alright. That's pretty much all I have to say about them.

The night was capped off by Netherlands band Big Buzz Bros. As with most things Dutch, what's not to like! These guys are definitely all about respect. Just look at their heads, lots of class and wisdom I wish to have once I get Their flavor of jazz leaned more towards a modern kind, bordering on new alternative/synthesized bands. Most memorable to me is their second number which was a Jamaican-inspired tune, as they called it. Now what does Jamaica have in common with the Dutch? A lot of 'good vibes', I'd say. If you know what I mean.  :) 

Courtesy of Last.fm
So there it is, my first ever Jazz festival- -- something to cross off my mini bucket list! Maybe it was more about the experience than the actual music. Maybe I'm less of a purist that way but I think I should immerse myself more in these. There's a little escape in these events that can only be likened to a vacation getaway. These things cost a fraction of them vacations anyway. So yeah, The CCP Inernational Jazz festival at CCP is definitely something which I plan to attend every year!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Receding Review: Locale Gastrobar

I'm an online shopping type of guy. Not in that girly "I hope they have it in my size" sort of way but I do like the occasional online steal. Concert tickets, hotel bookings, vouchers. That type of thing. So much so that I was partially serious when I told my girlfriend that I wanted to rename my blog: Ensoguy. But that title's just asking to be made fun of. In any case, if you do come across that name in the future, let the records show that I was the first to mention it and thus own creative property.

For this adventure, Parched Girl and I visited Locale Gastrobar in Capitol Golf, Ortigas. I first heard about Locale Gastrobar's comfort food with a culinary twist late last year.  Now I'm not a big fan of Capitol Golf with the big crowds, limited parking, and steep roads, but I made an exception to visit for this occasion since we got hold of vouchers for Locale Gastrobar via CashCashPinoy. We got two P250 vouchers with total store value of P1000 for a 50% discount. Yes, I must say that I'm an absolute cheapo. But more than getting steals, I shop online for vouchers to finally get the last nudge and try out a place which I've had my eye on. There are literally dozens of restaurants in the Metro that I'm always looking to try. Unfortunately, there's too much of them and too little of my resources to try them all out so I need them vouchers. Surprised? Unfortunately for me too, a receding hairline is not automatically a sign of having been 'made'.

Enough of ensoguying around and let's get down to business.

One Tuesday evening after work, Parched Girl and I made it a point to drop by Locale Gastrobar and indlulge in our vouchers. It was early evening and we had the place all to ourselves. Thank god. Not too fond of them big crowds at Capitol Golf. The restaurant was lit just right, relaxing enough to contrast the vibe of the area. Comfortable space for comfort food = good start. It wasn't stiff or pretentious as other similar concept restaurants can tend to be.

We wanted to make sure that we stayed within the spending value of the vouchers and ordered food that would go well with a few beers. What we had in mind something between a full meal and some pica pica. Yes, Parched Girl and I always have drinks! Thus the name, BTW. 

With this in mind, we ordered a light yet filling combination of Mussels & Fries for appetizer and Truffle Pizza as our main course.

At P450, their Mussels & Fries was a tad bit pricey but nonetheless worth the try. Cooked in wine and butter with some sprinkles of chorizo, the mussels were definitely a good fit with some truffle fries on the side. Admittedly, I was expecting the mussels to be a little bigger since they were described as "Chilean Blue Mussels". But then I realized I don't really see mussels as big as those that they serve in seafood buffets abroad so readjusting my expectations, I thought that the mussels were just about sized right. The truffle fries didn't have too much of that gas-y intense truffle flavor, which is both a good and bad thing depending on your preference. They were pretty good but for truffle fries I still might prefer Charlie's awesome combo of truffle fries and chicken liver.

The highlight of the meal, however, was the Truffle Pizza. Unlike most truffle pizzas or truffle dishes for that matter, this one made use of real truffle shavings. Most truffle dishes just make do by using truffle oil. This one, surprisingly didn't scrimp and had generous portions of truffle shavings. Yes,  I'm a truffle person! The pizza's flavors were very good although the crust lacked that slight crunch that would have made it even better. For pizza dough, I'm still biased to Il Ponticello's and perhaps their Al Quattro Formaggio. But even with that, I still give this pizza two thumbs up for the flavor and again, generous truffle shavings. Can't say that enough!

Overall, Locale Gastrobar gives good value. Not great as they're slightly expensive but compared to their peers, you definitely spend less here and get more with their quality food. Truffles. Need I say more? I would rate them an 8 out of 10.

And on their partnership with CashCashPinoy, I would deem it effective. Restaurants or those businesses partnering with group buying sites can only make very thin margins, if any. Mostly, these online partnerships are done as a promotional tool to get the customer in the door and hope they come back even without the discounts. In this case, yes I do plan to return to Locale Gastrobar perhaps for an early dinner. I would do so as long as I avoid the crowds.