Wake Up, Philippines!

Express your love for that someone special with tokens of affection

Posted in Celebrations, Flowers/Plants, Love by Erineus on February 15, 2009

When a long-stemmed rose suddenly costs a fortune, heart-shaped stuff and goodies are all over the place, and restaurants, moviehouses, parks, and assorted dating places are packed to the brim, it must be Valentine’s Day.

Surely, love, sweet love is in the air. You can feel it as soon as you step into SM Megamall, what with its many hearty Valentine offerings and promos.

Aside from whispering sweet nothings to your special someone, you can always get her/him something sweet at SM Megamall where a lot of the stores are holding a sale throughout the month.

Now, isn’t that lovely?

Say it with flowers

We daresay that nothing says “I love you” — make that “I love you very much” — with more feeling than flowers. Be it the priciest flower arrangement that can bust the purse strings or a humble single rose that touches the heartstrings. As the time-worn but well-loved cliche goes, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Well, you can make that thought count by picking out the most loverly flowers guaranteed to bring out the glow in your loved one’s eyes. There’s a virtual garden of assorted blooms at SM Megamall you can give your loved ones — be it your significant other, a very special friend, Mom or Dad, or even Lola or Lolo.

A hot tip: Go get your flowers before the prices go sky-high on V-Day.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Designer Blooms: Designed Not Just For Valentine

Keep love fresh this Valentine’s Day with fresh flowers from Designer Blooms. That romantic invitation comes from Designer Blooms owner Rica Garcia, who’s passionate about flowers. Now 18 years in the business, all of Designer Blooms flowers are locally grown while the seeds are imported.

Fresh is best, but enduring artificial flowers are the next best thing. Now blooming at Designer Blooms is its Valentine collection of silk flowers adorned with mesh, ribbon, and a stuffed toy. A single rose in a box costs P295 while a dozen roses with a large doll fetches P2,695.

“We also do fresh flower arrangements for Valentine,” says designer Dan Tarog.

But of course, Designer Blooms is not just for Valentine. It’s got all-occasion flowers. And you can be sure each one is designed with a lot of tender loving care.

* * *

Designer Blooms is located at the second level, SM Mega A with telephone number 633-2490.

Holland Tulips: Dutch incredible!

When it comes to tulips, there’s just one name on everyone’s lips: Holland Tulips. Here, the tulips come in many different toothsome varieties: purple, yellow, orange, rococo, and alligator petals.

Of course, Holland Tulips does not only sell tulips. It’s got Malaysian mums, gerberas, roses, etc. and ornamental plants as well.

Especially for Valentine’s Day, floral designer Trixie Nuñez has put together different arrangements to delight the heart. For instance, she’s got a basketful of imported roses (a dozen) and white Malaysian mums, which she adorned with twigs, and costs P3,090. Another is a glass vase with two-toned (yellow and pink) tulips, two white long-stemmed roses, Million Star fillers, Song of Korea leaves, and some bear grass for a not-so-pricey P2,035. A cheaper arrangement, at P1,460, is a basket with a bear stuffed toy, Asiatic lilies, gerberas, bromeliads, Song of Korea leaves, beautifully wrapped with a sinamay ribbon.

“But it’s not just on Valentine’s Day that we get a lot of customers,” says Trixie. “The employees of the nearby offices of ADB and San Miguel come to buy their flowers during lunch break.”

Who says you need an occasion to buy flowers?

* * *

Holland Tulips is located at the upper ground floor of SM Mega A with telephone number 635-6160. E-mail hollandtulips@philonline.com or log on to http://www.hollandtulips.com.ph.

King Louis Flowers: Flowers Fit For A Queen

When it comes to those regal Ecuadorean roses, King Louis reigns supreme. A dozen of these long-stemmed beauties costs P3,200, according to store attendant Fanny Gerongay. Anybody who gives you something like this that costs an arm and a leg must really have his heart set on you.

A less-expensive arrangement is a ceramic vase full of everything pink and pretty: pink carnations, pink gerberas, pink stargazers, and pink roses.

“We also do arrangements in all shades of yellow or orange, or assorted shades,” says Fanny.

King Louis has a big freezer where some of the fresh flowers are kept fresh.

Then our eyes are drawn to the white matiolas that speak of pure love. “Matiolas also come in in lavender, yellow, and pink,” Fanny tells us.

King Louis also has a lot of Oriental flowers like the alluring Asiatic lilies. And South American stunners, too, like the alstromerias.

For the queen of your heart, you can give an arm bouquet she can carry like a beauty queen.

Whatever the shade of flower you give from King Louis, your lady love is sure to be tickled pink.

* * *

King Louis Flowers is located at the upper ground floor of SM Mega A with telephone number 635-6980.

Tecson Flowers: A Shower Of Flowers

Shower her with flowers, along with flowery compliments, by getting her some of those immaculate white Ecuadorean roses or blushing pink gerberas, and watch her blush.

You should have gotten your flowers two days ago, when you could have an Ecuadorean rose for only P250 or a Holland rose for P80. Now, they’re probably 20-percent more expensive. But did you say nothing is too expensive for the most precious love of your life?

Then go for the pretty arrangements of stargazer buds and blooms, statice, white corn, Million Star fillers, or red Ecuadorean roses with fuchsia gerberas.

Live, love, laugh, and smell the roses.

* * *

Tecson Flowers is located at the upper ground floor, SM Mega A with telephone number 635-2771.

Funny Valentines

Funny, we love repeating this story of a guy who walked into a bookstore and bought five Valentine cards with this message: “To my one and only.”

Or how about these mushy lines that can turn your heart into putty: “There are only two times that I want to be with you. Now and forever.”

I remember a gal pal who was sobbing her heart out after she broke up with her boyfriend of many years. “I knew his love for me was not for real,” she said, her voice cracking, “because he always gave me plastic flowers on Valentine’s Day.”

Share a good laugh with the love of your life and enjoy choosing the perfect Valentine gift at SM Megamall, which has all sorts of fun and funny ideas for Valentine.

Purificacion: Please Don’t Eat The Daisies

At Purificacion, the daisies in many delightful colors look so delicious they leave you in a daze. Ahhh, there’s a lot more where they come from, that is, the flower farms of garden enthusiast Corazon Purificacion in Novaliches and Alfonso, Cavite.

Store attendants Dina Bandong and Aileen Baronet tell us that the Novaliches farm is all of two hectares. There, the most-prized orchids grow in abundance.

Orchids — phalaenopsis — in white, lavender, and yellow are among the hottest sellers for Valentine. They’re sold as plants complete with soil in pots. Give one of these to your special someone on Valentine’s Day and watch it — and your love for each other — grow every day.

At Purificacion, you can also pick your own flowers and have your own flower arrangement made by Purificacion’s creative florists.

The store also sells seeds, ornamental plants, pots, soil, and garden tools.

Just looking at these floral beauties is enough to make you fall in love with love.

* * *

Purificacion is located at the upper ground floor of SM Mega A with telephone number 409-8589.

Humor Post: Humor-mongering and more

This Valentine, plush bears — small, medium, large — greet one and all “Happy Valentine’s Day” at Humor Post. How beary nice!

And then you’re touched by the story of Tatty Teddy, the unique grey bear with a blue nose and patches. The story goes that one cold winter, snowflakes fell on Tatty Teddy and his brown fur turned to grey. Feeling cold, unloved, and all alone, he was rescued by a little girl who spotted the grey bear in a pile of unwanted things and instantly fell in love with him. It didn’t matter that the unique bear had a blue nose and a lot of his stuffing had fallen out. The little girl scooped him up, dusted him down, and immediately ran home to her grandma to have the bear patched up (thus the patches where his fur had worn away). It’s a poignant love story that Humor Post loves to repeat Valentine after Valentine.

Other things to warm the heart on Valentine’s Day at Humor Post are mug and plush gift boxes, picture frames, trinket boxes, and funny cards. Especially for Valentine, Angelo Alcaide has designed some very lovely and funny pillows that are bound to inspire a lot of intimate pillow talk.

Yes, a dose of humor is good for the heart.

* * *

Humor Post is located at the lower ground floor, SM Mega A with telephone number 634-2142.

Blue Magic: It’s Magic!

This is certainly one place where you won’t be blue. Blue Magic is an enchanted place for kids and kids-at-heart. For Valentine, there’s a Valentine corner filled with a lot of cuddly, pretty fun stuff. And a lot more lovely items designed not just for Valentine’s Day and not just for lovers.

“Love should be 365 days a year,” says Junjun Limgenco of Blue Magic. “And Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be just for lovers. It’s also a time to show gratitude to our parents, lolos and lolas.”

You’ll love Blue Magic’s Enchanted Garden collection that consists of handcarved religious icons made of scented wax.

And the magic of love lives on.

* * *

Blue Magic is located at the third level, SM Mega B with telephone number 633-5551.

The beauty of love

The prophet Kahlil Gibran said, “Beauty is not in the face. Beauty is a light in the heart.”

This Valentine’s Day, let the light in your loved ones’ hearts shine through via gifts for the body and soul at SM Megamall.

The Body Shop: Good For Your Body And Soul

Catch a whiff of the Moroccan rose at The Body Shop with its ongoing Rose du Maroc promo. Discover marvelous Morocco with Rose du Maroc’s line of products that includes eau de toilette, milk lotion, body butter, shower gel, and room fragrance.

Get a 40-percent discount on your next purchase if you buy a Rose du Maroc EDT. A purchase worth P5,000 comes with a free canvas clutch and canvas tote.

Get the look of love with the Roseflower makeup collection with its romantic night look and fresh day look.

Where to spray your Moroccan Rose? But of course, everywhere you want to be kissed.

* * *

The Body Shop is located at the upper ground floor, SM Mega B with telephone number 914-0431.

The Face Shop: About Face And More

Want to get the face that could launch a thousand ships? Go to The Face Shop which has come out with its Valentine beauty trends: alluring pastel shades in gleaming textures to create a romantic and refined look.

The key trend for the season focuses on delicate eyes in shades of pink and purple, luscious lips, and sheer pink to blush rose cheeks.

And the smacking good news is that for a P500 purchase of items in the makeup trends, you get a 20-percent discount on selected face makeup. And you get a pretty cosmetic pouch for free with every purchase of regular items worth P2,000. Promo runs until Feb. 28.

* * *

The Face Shop is located at the second level, SM Mega B with telephone number 637-9650.

The Soap Factory: A Suds Story

We were almost tempted to bite into a cupcake until we saw the label: Do not eat. We almost forgot we were inside The Soap Factory, that’s got soaps shaped into the most delicious cupcakes, popsicles, cakes, donuts, munchkins, macaroons, and other goodies.

“Our soaps are all-natural,” says The Soap Factory manager Tina Espejo. “They’re made of vegetable oil and fruit extracts like orange, grapeseed, apple, moringa, and tomato.”

The Soap Factory makes all-occasion soaps. It also carries different body products made of tomato, pumpkin, cucumber, guava, and moringa, among others.

Kids can have fun inside The Soap Factory and make their own cupcakes and donuts to bring home.

You can’t but feel bubbly all over after visiting The Soap Factory.

* * *

The Soap Factory is located at the fourth level, SM Mega Atrium with telephone number 706-5122.
View previous articles from this author.

By Ching M. Alano
Updated February 09, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=438550&publicationSubCategoryId=450

Celebrate Valentine’s Day at SM Megamall

Posted in Celebrations, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars, Malls by Erineus on February 15, 2009
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Pistaccioccolato (chocolate pistachio cake), P595 for a whole cake and P65 for a slice

Discover new ways to celebrate love at the Mega Atrium

A pretty bouquet. A sampling of fine chocolates. Dinner for two. Celebrating Valentine’s has never been more delicious. SM Megamall’s mix of restaurants, shops and flower houses has everything to make your loved one feel special on the 14th.

Making merry with your single friends? Not to worry. You can drown your woes with a pitcher of margarita at Tia Maria’s with a couple of your equally single friends or celebrate the glories of singlehood with a few orders of kebab at the Kebab Factory with a healthy helping of garlic sauce. Because nothing says single and proud like some serious garlic breath! So share the day with your spouse or your single yet-just-as-significant others (I mean girlfriends). Valentine’s means sharing the love — even if it means handing over that choco chip cookie to your unbearably talkative co-worker.

Amici: It’s amore

You know it’s love when you follow the object of your gastronomic affection wherever it goes. Thank god Amici has opened a branch right smack in the center of the metro, as you can now enjoy their authentic Italian cuisine any day you want, from their thin crust pizzas to scrumptious pastas, to their to-die-for cakes and gelato. And for BPI credit cardholders, Amici has an additional treat for you: For every P1,000 single-receipt payment you make when you dine, you can enjoy two free scoops of gelato on your second visit, a free pasta dish on your third, and a free pizza on your fourth. Now, ain’t that kind of love grand?

Amici is at the 3/F SM Megamall Atrium. Call 818-4444.

Chef’s Quarter: Love in the fine dining lane

Larry Cortez, Chef’s Quarter’s general manager who’s worked at Le Souffle and other upscale establishments, believes that in five years the working class will demand better food, not your regular fast food fare. With his partner, chef Mau Aruona, they created this “fine dining restaurant with fast food prices.” “Our motto,” says Aruona, “is the only thing expensive here is your taste.” They’ve held true to that mission statement serving steak at P260 and fish and chips at P195, served in a style true to their upscale restaurant background but in an accessible setting.

For Valentine’s they’ve put together a set menu for couples that include steak and prawns and a mouthwatering chocolate almond marquesse. This is what true love tastes like — on a budget.

Call Chef’s Quarter, located at 3/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 706-5336.

Painted Red: Color it red this day of hearts

Brought to you by the same folks who created the successful Red Kimono franchise (Painted Red is, in fact, linked to Red Kimono, sharing the same space with a divider separating the two establishments), Painted Red serves modern American cuisine with Chinese, South American and Italian influences. Bestsellers include the Philly cheese steak pizza and a build-your-own burger that allows you to choose from a large selection of ingredients.

Call Painted Red, located at the 2/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 0922-8992753.

Sizzling Pepper Steak: A sizzling affair

From the company that brought you Teriyaki Boy comes this Japanese take on the traditional steak house. An industrial exhaust hood whirs above your head as you are served numerous incarnations of sizzling beef/chicken/seafood. Dubbed DIY food, this sizzling concept combines Pinoy’s love of all things salty (savory dishes) with all things sweet (drizzle your dish with a honeyed teriyaki sauce). If your love life’s on the flat side, maybe a date over a sizzling plate might add some spice.

Call Sizzling Pepper Steak, located at the 4/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 633-1569.

Bigby’s Cafe: Big on portions and flavors

Owner Henrik Yu classifies this warm, cozy restaurant’s cuisine as international comfort food. “We’ve got steaks, baby back ribs, and a large selection of pastas and salads,” he says. “We even have a deep sea pasta,” he says, which is a “Filipinized” dish of pasta with garlic shrimp and crabfat sauce served on a sizzling plate. “Bigby’s puts their own spin on a lot of favorite comfort foods,” he explains. For Valentine’s, they’re offering hearty midnight dream cake (P289) and kiss me cupcakes (P249). Sweet tooth, thy name is Bigby.

Call Bigby’s, located at the 3/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 499-9035.

Gotti’s: They’ve got connections

Named after the notorious mob boss, Gotti’s knows how to work the Italian angle. A caricature of John Gotti grasping a wooden spoon, like a charcoal etching of Marlon Brando circa Godfather, decorates the cover of their menu. Eileen Gonzalez, who worked at a hole-in-the-wall Italian eatery in NY “that got great Zagat reviews” for a few years, knows that every diner needs a little kick, a touch of humor.

This brick-lined, dimly-lit, family-friendly joint offers consumers with a hankering for authentic Italian fare at an affordable price a satisfying experience. “Our food is rustic and hearty,” says Gonzalez. “We really take it seriously. Educating customers on the right selections and flavorful offerings is what we do.” Expect to fork out about P250 per person, unless you make it to their merienda promo, available between 2 to 6 p.m., which offers combo meals at P95 to P130.

Call Gotti’s, located at the 4/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 634-0348.

Kebab Factory: From India, with love

A good way to introduce yourself to Indian food, says Kebab Factory owner Natasha Karamchandani, is to start with their spinach dip (P200), a creamy spinach and feta dip served with pita bread that’s like the most luscious dip you’ve ever had. Kebab Factory, which offers Mediterranean and Persian with a touch of Indian cuisine, had vegetarian-friendly dishes and numerous authentic and non-traditional takes on Indian cuisine like their cheese samosas (P200), a tasty spin on cheese sticks. A tandoor oven, a round enclosed oven with coals, lends the food a certain authenticity. “Some of the recipes we’ve used here we inherited from our grandmother,” Karamchandani says. Dine on tender stuffed chicken kebab (P300) and lamb chop tandoori (their own version of chicken tandoori sans the chicken). “People are more willing to try new food,” says Karamchandani. “This is a good way to start.”

Call Kebab Factory, located at the 2/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 631-9648.

Eat and Go: There’s always time for a quickie

In a hurry? Sneaking off in the middle of the day for a quick nibble? Then Eat and Go is the perfect dining nook for a tasty quickie (quick meal, we mean!). Enjoy their London pies, with their puffed philo pastry and tasty filling: healthy primavera, juicy steak, salmon and spinach, and a lot more. Don’t be deceived by the medium-sized portion, as it’s a meal on its own already. Eat and Go is not just for the eat-and-run types, though. Have a leisurely meal with their bestselling menu picks like roasted chicken, sesame back ribs, and baked buccatini in prawn cream sauce, with the option of adding pasta, baked beans, or diced corn and carrots as side dishes.

Eat and Go is at 3/F SM Megamall Atrium. Call 635-9559.

Curry Curry House: Spice it up

Big. Hot. Yummy. This is not an advertisement for an adult services hotline, but rather the kind of Japanese cuisine you can find at Curry Curry House. Highlighting the subtly invigorating kick of the savory Japanese curry, Curry Curry House dishes are plentiful and filling, paired with bottomless iced tea and bottomless rice to enjoy the curry sauce all the more. Their ramen dishes are also must-tries, with their spicy Japanese noodles. Whatever your pick, dining at the Curry Curry House is sure to set your palates on fire. Choose between the regular and the spicy curry — and watch sparks fly.

Curry Curry House is at the 3/F SM Megamall Atrium. Call 631-8470.

By Bea Ledesma
Updated February 09, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=438544&publicationSubCategoryId=450

Indulge in the love cafes

Posted in Cafe, Coffee and Tea, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on February 15, 2009

Valentine’s is for indulging your sweet tooth, your coffee cravings and special foods. Special date places these days don’t have to be expensive and formal restaurants. They can be casual places where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and sweets, or something as fun as ice cream, or as healthy as a chiabatta sandwich. The choices are numerous at SM Megamall.

Häagen-Dazs: Having your cake, and ice cream, too!

Hägen-Dazs combines two things we love most: cakes and ice cream. The ice cream cakes come in Berry Chocolate Crunch (P1,940), loaded with strawberries, nuts and chocolate, Fruity Surprise with apricot ice cream and layers of fruits and lady fingers. They also come in minis, which you get in a box of fours (P1,130). Häagen-Dazs has a range of 24 flavors (I love the cappuccino) and serves Illy coffee.

For Valentine’s weekend, they offer Valentine Fondue (P900), great for sharing for two to four people. The fondue has heart-shaped pastries (by Pillsbury, sister company of the ice cream company), strawberry, apple, mango, and scoops of strawberry, macadamia nut, cookies and cream, and Chochoc Chip ice cream. It’s a fun way to celebrate Valentine, plus you get two free cinema tickets with every order. You need to call in your order for the Valentine Fondue 30 minutes before you go to the store.

Häagen-Dazs is located at the second floor of SM Megamall Atrium, call 638-2971.

Crepes & Cream: More than just desserts

From the most basic crepe (butter and sugar, P65) to one you create, you can enjoy this French favorite. Its range of sweet crepes includes Fiesta (halo-halo in a crepe with ube ice cream), Chocolate Temptation, Crazy for Strawberry, and Mango Mania. Its savory crepes include ingredients such as ham, hotdog, tuna, pork floss, shredded chicken and ground beef. Some of the crepes are served rolled (as in burrito style) instead of folded, making it easy for you to eat in a movie house or while walking. The restaurant serves milkshakes and sundaes, and UCC coffee, too.

Located at the 4th level of Mega Atrium, call 687-3118.

Jugo Juice: Light, right and natural

A franchise out of Vancouver, Canada, Jugo Juice is a place where you never have a hard time deciding between good food and healthy food. Its signature smoothies are all made from whole fruits (not just the juice from fruit) without added sugar and are labeled so you know exactly what you’re getting. The 24-ounce Powerzone smoothie, made from strawberries, pineapple, tropical nectar, orange, and a shot of Powerzone, has 286 calories, 70 g. of carbs, 3.2 g of fiber, 979 percent of vitamin C and 1 g. protein.

“One large smoothie contains five servings of fruits. Everything here is good for you,” says Jolene Kui, operations manager. And that includes the whole-wheat chiabatta sandwiches (grilled chicken, smoked turkey, vegetarian, and pork), and desserts like fruit Jell-os.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Vitamin Water there, which is not available in local supermarkets, a favorite of runners.

Jugo Juice is located at the 4th level of Mega Atrium, call 635-4458.

Bo’s Coffee: Proudly local

The first time I had Bo’s coffee was in Davao. It hadn’t franchised in Metro Manila yet, and we thought, this would be very successful in the capital. True enough, a few years later, it began sprouting in malls. Today, Bo’s Coffee is a great local choice to get your caffeine, tea or blended coffee fix. It also offers pastries, cakes, and breakfast fare all day such as omelets, pancakes and waffles. Its bestseller meal is pasta carbonara and from its sweet menu is the chocolate mousse. The Megamall branch also has computer terminals for surfing while enjoying your drink.

Bo’s Coffee is located at the 5th level, Mega Atrium, call 637-2898.

The French Baker: C’est bon

All kinds of bread — sugar-free, wheat, white, with butter and garlic and everything else — you can get here. Then there are the tuna, beef and pork turnovers — meals by themselves that you can enjoy on the go or in a movie house — and if you have time to sit down and eat, try the spareribs and my favorite, chicken a la king, served in a pastry. The French Baker was the first to broaden bread choices even before we could spell focacia.

The French Baker is located at the 3rd level and upper ground level, call 632-0735.

Dairy Queen: Right side up served upside down

At Dairy Queen, they serve your Blizzard upside down. Maybe to show you how thick it is, or maybe it’s just their way of saying “enjoy our ice cream.” If they don’t, you get it for free. Dairy Queen’s vanilla-based, soft-serve ice cream comes in several flavors — Oreo to strawberry to rocky road.

For Valentine’s Day, they have the famous Dilly Bar, heart-shaped with drops of strawberry syrup, for only P35. It’s a great way to enjoy ice cream and express your feelings.

Dairy Queen is located at the third level, Bridgeway, Mega Atrium, call 637-6998.

Secret Recipe: A sweet secret from Malaysia

At Secret Recipe, a franchise out of Malaysia and brought into the country in April 2007, the words “high-fiber” and “cheesecake” find their way in one menu item: the High-Fiber Cheesecake, containing eight kinds of nuts, seeds such as sunflower, oats, wheat and bran flakes.

Secret Recipe has 10 kinds of cheescake — cheesy chocolate, Oreo, caramel cream, New York, chocolate cheese, marble, espresso, baked cheese, cappuccino and high fiber. All the cheesecakes are flown in from Malaysia; they are frozen solid and can last months in this state, but once they come out of the freezer, they are on display for only two to three days in the store.

The company also makes its own cream cakes out of its local commissary. The resto serves sandwiches, fish, lamb, chicken, pork, pasta, soup, salad and gourmet pies as well.

Secret Recipe is located at the 2nd floor of Mega Atrium, call 706-5246.

Mrs. Fields Cookies: Cooky over cookies

My husband R. never watches a movie without Mrs. Fields cookies. We usually split at the concessionaire stands, and while I load up on popcorn, he gets a bag or two of cookies and nibblers. His favorite? Anything and everything chocolate; mine is anything with white chocolate and nuts.

Mrs. Fields Cookies was founded by Debbi Fields in Utah in the late 1970s and has since spread its baked goodness all over the world. Just follow the smell of these freshly baked cookies and you know where to find the store.

Located on the upper ground floor of SM Megamall call 910-5695.

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: Coffee, tea and blended

Established in 1963, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is a favorite of Hollywood celebrities — you always see them carrying its ice-blended drinks in paparazzi shots. The true is the same for the local stores. Coffee Bean has that ambience of a homey kitchen and a countryside store with its warm interiors and merchandise displays. If you want to take home their coffee and tea goodness, choose from 12 tea flavors, among them Moroccan mint (my favorite), ginseng peppermint, and topical passion, from P495. Or the powdered drinks — vanilla and chocolate, P499 — which is the secret ingredient in its blended drinks.

Coffee Bean & Tea Lead is located at the third level, Mega Atrium call 970-9005.

Blenz Coffee: Blending goodness

Blenz Coffee regards making lattes an art and it begins with the beans. It uses some of the finest in the world and trains its baristas to develop their craft at the Blenz Coffee Academy. It offers brewed coffee, espresso, cappuccino, espresso macchiato, latte, mochas, Americano and pastry products.

Located at the 2nd level of Mega Atrium, call 706-5767.

View previous articles from this author.

By Tanya T. Lara
Updated February 09, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=438553&publicationSubCategoryId=450

Treat your whole family and friends to hearty meals from well-loved restos

Posted in Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on February 15, 2009

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Super Sampler with Tia Maria’s favorites in one huge platter (good for four to five people), P580

You don’t need lots of cash to spread the love on Valentine’s Day. Well-loved establishments offer fare just as special as their higher end counterparts but at much friendlier prices. You can share the day with the entire family or barkada over a pizza or some big time burgers. Because love means never having to say, “I don’t have enough money to treat you.”

Greenwich: All-time sweetheart

It’s an old favorite, made even better. As Greenwich takes new strides with its hipper interiors, its menu continues to offer time-tested pizza and pasta bestsellers, with new desserts added in to sweeten the deal. Share the special overload pizza and its more than 10 toppings with your special someone then follow it up with the creamy lasagna guaranteed to give you the carb fix that no summer fling ever can. Cap off your meal with coffee and a slice of the choco mango ganache or the choco fudge, and enjoy as you fall in love all over again.

Greenwich is at the 4/F SM Megamall Atrium. Call 633-6467.

Tia Maria’s: A toast to Mexico

A zombie (P96/glass) or a margarita (P115/glass) should sound pretty good come Friday if you’re one of the many singles unattached on a day as auspicious as Feb. 14. But the joys of singlehood can be celebrated just as well with a platter of fried foods like nachos, cheese sticks, buffalo wings and tacos with friends who know how to party. Tia Maria’s super sampler and flautaladas make for some excellent celebratory fare on Valentine’s.

Call Tia Maria’s, located at 4/F of SM Megamall Atrium, at 635-2326.

Teriyaki Boy: Bright-eyed delights

Its cheery yellow-dominated interiors are the perfect setting for a coosome twosome’s fun date, but what makes Teriyaki Boy a favorite among the foodie crowd are its Japanese dishes that have been suited to the Filipino taste buds. Select from an array of pork-, chicken-, and seafood-based main courses, then top off the meal with the healthy Tea Frappé, a smooth and creamy concoction that serves as a refreshing dessert that is neither too sweet nor too bland, but just delightfully right.

Teriyaki Boy is at 4/F SM Megamall Atrium. Call 637-0623 to 24.

Brothers Burgers: Big love

Satiate your big appetites with Brothers Burgers’ juicy flame-broiled pure beef burgers, and take advantage of the restaurant’s proffered customer carte blanche with their toppings selection to customize your big burger experience. Have a side of french fries and onion rings, as well, and take a plunge at the sweet side with the Brothers’ Shakes, with its chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors. Undoubtedly, bigger is better when it comes to food and love.

Brothers Burgers is at 4/F SM Megamall Atrium. Call 891-1781 to 86.
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By Bea Ledesma
Updated February 09, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=438545&publicationSubCategoryId=450

14 things you must do in Macau

Posted in Tourism by Erineus on February 15, 2009
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Made for Kodak moments: Steps lead up to the ruins of St. Paul, the façade of a church that was the first home of the Jesuits in China.

There is a common misconception that Macau is little more than a gambler’s paradise. But the former Portuguese colony, which Portugal handed back to China in 1999, is working hard to rectify that. The Macau Government Tourism Office would prefer we not even use the term “gambling.” They favor the more neutral euphemism “gaming.”

Since gaming in Macau has become controversial of late (the International Herald Tribune reported that Chinese government officials were gaming away the state’s money in Macau’s casinos — er, gaming centers), the tiny Chinese Special Administrative Region is more eager than ever to move away from its “Asian Vegas” image and recast itself as a city of culture rich in World Heritage Sites.

Though Macau never lacks for tourists — 30.2 million a year at last count, with 90 percent coming from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — they’ve set their sights on more diverse markets. Basically, today’s Macau can be anything you want it to be, from a MICE destination to a family-fun park to a gastronomic getaway.

As Macau celebrates the 10th anniversary of its handover this year, there’s no better time to go. The hotels are mind-blowing; the food choices, dizzying; and the things to see, do and shop for, ever-expanding.

1. Stay at a Las Vegas-style hotel. No one can blame you if you feel like you’ve landed in an episode of CSI, smack in the middle of the Vegas Strip. In an area the size of Makati CBD, there’s the Wynn, the Sands, the Venetian. We stayed at the MGM Grand Macau, which bears the modest title of “world-class luxury resort” but is actually an escapist fantasy created by Pansy Ho, daughter of famed taipan Stanley, and Las Vegas’s MGM Mirage. Situated on the waterfront in the Nam Van entertainment district, the hotel houses a skylit Portuguese plaza and two lobbies: one for regular visitors with original Dale Chihuly artworks; the other a Moorish-influenced VIP lobby with exclusive elevators leading to the oh-so-decadent Grand Suites. Each of the rooms has panoramic ocean or city views, wireless Internet access, 42” plasma TVs, and modern tubs enclosed in glass. Tip: Stay on weekdays because rates for all Macau hotels invariably go up during the weekends.

2. Eat at world-class gourmet restaurants. Discover Macanese food at the colonial Military Club or Michelin-starred Cantonese fare at MGM’s Imperial Court. But true foodies in the know head to Restaurante Fernando and O’Manel. Fernando, on Coloane Island, serves home-style Portuguese cooking in a rustic barnyard setting. Don’t miss specialties like the oven-roasted suckling pig with very tasty Macau fried rice, or the truly superior charcoal-grilled codfish soaked in olive oil and browned garlic. Fernando takes no reservations or credit cards, so bring cash and make sure to put your name on the list as soon as you arrive.

O’Manel, on the other hand, is on Taipa Island and a bit harder to find. Owner Manel Pena writes the day’s specials on a blackboard in the cozy dining area and serves customers himself; his wife does the cooking. Her Portuguese fare — all recipes originate from her and her mother — is unpretentious, reasonably priced and uniformly delicious. The grilled or boiled bacalhau is flaky, with just the right amount of saltiness. Also try the pata negra, clams with lemon sauce and excellent Portuguese chorizo, which is a very different flavor experience from its Spanish cousin. Manel, who likes dishing out personal insights along with the food, also has a carefully handpicked wine list. Best bang for the buck in Macau, according to gourmands who’ve eaten there.

3. Stroll in Senado Square. All roads lead to Senado Square, Macau’s main hub of European quaintness. Trade your stilettos for flats as you traverse the wave-patterned, stone mosaic pathways. Though the streets are now lined with rather generic boutiques, the Portuguese buildings are charming and you can light a candle at St. Dominic’s Church, a well-preserved example of 17th-century baroque architecture.

4. Shop at The Venetian and The Four Seasons. What you can’t find shopping at Senado Square you will find in the arcades of these two hotels on the Cotai Strip — the Venetian notable for its size and selection (330 shops, from Duty Free Americas to Zara); the Four Seasons for its luxury brands (from Yves Saint Laurent to Viktor & Rolf). Even better, the two hotels are connected. Those who prefer a department-store setting should check out New Yaohan, with its reasonably priced goods and spree-inducing grocery on the top floor.

5. Loiter in the lobby of the Grand Lisboa. Stanley Ho is a fascinating icon both in and out of Macau. Get a sense of the man behind the myth in his hotel, the Grand Lisboa, the lotus-shaped landmark that dominates the Macau skyline. In the lobby you’ll find esoteric pieces from his collection like ivory tusks and jade boulders carved into miniature tableaux, humongous gemstones, and other curiosities. We guarantee you’ll seek out what other marvels are on offer. If you can’t stay in the roulette-inspired rooms outfitted in red and black, you can eat at The 8, a Cantonese restaurant of such fabulous design the food seems almost secondary. We hear it’s good, though, with over 50 kinds of dim sum for lunch.

6. Take a picture at the ruins of St. Paul. Before the Grand Lisboa came along Macau’s landmark was St. Paul’s, the first home of the Jesuits in China. Destroyed by a fire in 1835, no one knows why the church was never rebuilt. On the façade, however, you’ll find the history of Christianity in Asia writ in symbols like Japanese chrysanthemums and passages from the Bible in Chinese.

7. Indulge in the Six Senses Spa at the MGM Grand Hotel. There are spas and then there’s the Six Senses Spa, which we had no time to try but looked heavenly nonetheless, with its Experience Showers, Floatation Pool (which has enough salt content to mimic the Dead Sea) and Snow Room (Snow actually falls here. You can pack a good snowball or just cool off after a sauna or steam). Their 80-minute Sensory Journey looks tempting.

8. Don’t miss the many entertainments at The Venetian. Foremost of these is Cirque du Soleil’s Zaia — there’s not a bad seat in the house as this aerial ballet takes place above the audience’s heads. Another attraction is the gondola rides: For about P600 you are rowed through the romantic indoor Grand Canal, with your gondolier serenading you in Italian. If you can’t get to Venice, this is the next best thing. The Venetian is also a fount of free entertainment. Shows are held daily, four times a day, in St. Mark’s Square, featuring many of our Pinoy theater talents in lavishly costumed song-and-dance numbers.

9. Taste the best egg tarts at Lord Stow’s on Coloane. Lord Stow’s originated from a humble outpost on Coloane Island, which is closer to the airport than to downtown Macau. Don’t be fooled by the imitators: in these superior Portuguese egg tarts, the custard is airy and not too sweet, encased in an ultra-flaky crust. Locals also recommend Pasteleria Ko Kei, which is located more centrally, but Lord Stow’s can deliver its treats in boxes of eight or 12 directly to the airport, all the better for you to take home.

10. Take home Macau’s most affordable pasalubong: snacks. Macau’s best souvenirs are edible. Aside from egg tarts, this Cantonese-dominated region also specializes in almond cookies, peanut candies and cured pork products. You can find the best of these down the street from St. Paul, on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, also known as San Ma Lo. Various “snack streets” also radiate from Taipa Village — score some pork chop buns, egg rolls and roasted meat slices along with a dose of history.

11. Get your vertiginous thrills at Macau Tower. Not just an observation point, Macau Tower is Extreme Thrills Central. You can attempt the world’s highest bungee jump (at 233 meters), or, even more novel, try “skywalking.” For MOP$388 (around P2,400), you can sit or stroll along the tower’s transparent outer rim tethered to nothing but a harness. The less adventurous souls among us can witness the freefalling bodies — drink in trembling hand — from the safety of the revolving restaurant.

12. Savor the old architecture. Those charmed by the Old World elegance of Senado Square should also visit Lou Kau Mansion, a World Heritage Site located in Macau’s historic center, and the island of Taipa. Along the waterfront, shaded by banyan trees, a row of green and white houses seems frozen in time. In the early 20th century Macanese families and local administrators made their homes here. Once they fell into vacancy and disrepair, Macau’s government bought and restored them, filling their insides with museums about the period. The location is so evocative it’s now a favorite set for filmmakers.

13. Do the amusement park or have a drink at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf. Macau’s version of Sentosa, Fisherman’s Wharf is an integrated development built around three themes: food, fun, and shopping. “Fun” includes an amusement park with replicas of the Roman Colosseum, Aladdin’s Fort and a multi-cratered volcano that kids will enjoy. Adults can have their fun, meanwhile, at the various gaming, dining and shopping facilities.

14. Party like a rock star at the MGM. As I mentioned above, there’s a whole other side to Macau hotels — a secret side privy only to celebrities and the super-rich. MGM’S dedicated VIP elevator took us to the grandest of the Grand Suites, which was replete with the usual luxurious and elegant appointments, of course. But our eyes popped at the master bathroom, an open-plan affair with oversized tub and the piece de resistance, an “experience” shower with alcove benches that can accommodate up to 10 people. With that kind of rock-star decadence, trashing the furniture is sure to become an afterthought. (We overheard that Gael Garcia Bernal has already indulged.)

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For more information, contact the Macau Government Tourism Office, Suite 11-D, Valero Tower, 122 Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City, at 812-2595 and 813-0947, e-mail mgtophil@info.com.ph or visit www.macautourism.gov.mo

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CULTURE VULTURE
By Therese Jamora-Garceau

Updated February 08, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=438199&publicationSubCategoryId=87

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Last mango in Paris

Posted in Uncategorized by Erineus on February 15, 2009
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Parlez-vous Francais? If the answer is “oui,” then the Philippines wants you: to book travel tours, explore dive sites and spread your euros around the 7,107 islands. Yes, the Department of Tourism is focusing its laser-like efforts on the explorers and nature lovers of France, hoping to get them to discover all of our local coves. Well, maybe not all 7,107; it’s only recently, after all, that France has lifted its travel advisory on two-thirds of the Philippines. Some places (Mindanao, chiefly) are still red zones. France, like a number of European markets, still feels a bit skittish about travel security (more on that later). But the DOT feels sufficiently bon about France as a growing tourism market, so for the second year in a row they brought a contingent of local dive operators to Paris to attend Salon de la Plongée Sous-Marine, France’s biggest dive show, held at Parc Des Expositions in Paris, Porte de Versailles. Media were part of this tour as well, along with a Paris-based PR agency and a number of local touches to make the Philippines booth pop for Parisians.

In front of the 50-square-meter Dive Philippines booth (decked out in palm trees, naturally, and decorated with full-blown photos of dugong and seahorses) stands Carole Pither with a microphone, reading from a sheaf of pages in French. Her Franco-friendly travelogue is meant to lure passersby to the marine wonders of the Philippines, and it seems to be working.

In front, colorful brochures (shot by German media agent David Hettich) are available in the local tongue; and two young French public relations people (Laetitia Delaire and assistant Lucie Lavelle of Interface Tourism) get the message out to the locals: the Philippines is open for business — and pleasure.

Historically, the French market has not been fully onboard for Philippines travel. But the success of French TV’s Koh-Lanta program (a local version of Survivor) set in Coron has sparked greater interest in the destination; a second season also features a Philippine locale. Does this mean the French are ready to come flocking?

“The French are discoverers, they like the exotic,” mentions Venus Q. Tan, the DOT’s Tourism Attaché for Europe, based in Frankfurt. “They like destinations that are not overly developed.” She’s not shy about touting the Philippines as the best dive location in Asia, “If you’re a diver, you know the Philippines has the highest marine biodiversity in the world. Our branding is ‘Dive Philippines xxs to XXL.’ From smallest to largest. Other destinations only have the macros — the sharks, the big turtles. But we also have the smallest creatures and marine life. I think this is the attraction we have to sell,” referring to the Coral Triangle at the heart of which sits central Philippines.

To put it in perspective, France is third among European markets for the DOT. England and Germany still lead with arrivals, though Germany has dipped lately. This makes France’s 19,273 arrivals in 2007 (and its 18,531 from Jan. to Oct. 2008) a strong up-and-coming third in the tourism game. The figures don’t lie: France experienced 20.94 percent growth in visitors to the Philippines.

Not even worldwide economic jitters are deterring these well-off divers from booking travel, at least so far, according to Tan. “Actually, for Europe, the euro is still strong, so people will still travel. Travel is sacred to Europeans; they will travel.”

French Leave

When you think of French divers, the name “Jacques Cousteau” immediately comes to mind. Today’s French diving population is similarly well-educated, well-informed and passionate about the environment. They’re well-paid, too, spending between 1,200 and 2,500 euros for their average 10-day stay in the Philippines. No wonder the DOT wants more of them.

But the French are also wary when it comes to security issues; an unfortunate kidnapping incident in 2000 (in which three French journalists were snatched by Abu Sayyaf in Jolo) seems to have left a deep impression here. Unlike other European countries, France kept its “red” advisory up over most of the Philippines — until this year.

Now it’s got a green “go” signal, and most tour operators and resorts operators selling the Philippines at Salon de la Plongée are eager to clear up any lingering “misperceptions” about travel safety.

Yvette Lee, director of marketing and media affairs for Manila-based Expedition Fleet, has a story about how quickly perceptions can change:

“A few months ago, we had a dive master coming in from England, he told his mom he was going to work on a liveaboard in Sulu as a dive instructor. The mom said, ‘Oh, my God, the Muslims, they’re going to cut your head off!’ Blah, blah, blah. As soon as he arrived in Manila, he called his mom and said, ‘Don’t worry, there’s a McDonald’s here, there’s a KFC, there’s a Marks & Spenser.’ ‘Oh, there’s a Marks & Spenser? Oh, you’ll be all right. Don’t forget to write.’”

Lee says it’s essential to attend such dive fairs, to change this image and give the Philippines a positive presence in Europe. “This (fair) is an example of the best way to counter that. It’s really important to have a country stand here. Malaysia, Thailand have country stands. And they do well.”

Luigi Petrosillo, managing director of Sampaguita Resort based in Cebu, also attended the fair: “I don’t see why Philippine security should be regarded any differently from security in other countries. I know places in Italy I would not recommend people to travel…”

He adds: “Tourism is an industry where every person can be an actor. When you see public officials on TV, shaking hands, that might not have an impact on you. But what I tell someone here, it changes their view of the Philippines. What they tell someone else, it can have an effect on tourism and arrivals. It’s a person-to-person business.”

But how to communicate this message to the French? For one thing, France is one place where the Philippines’ English-speaking advantage cuts little ice; the French want French-speaking tour guides. Unlike the more-entrenched German dive segment, the French need a little bit more seduction: language is part of this. “A big thing is the language problem,” comments Lee. “A lot of Germans speak English so it’s easier for them to adapt.” Laetitia Delaire of Interface PR agency agrees this is key: “It’s very important, especially with large groups, for local operators to hire French-speaking guides.”

As for now, the Philippines booth features, along with the colorful Bayanihan troupe of musical performers, a coterie of French-speaking mediators; the six-meter-wide digital screen flashes images of Philippine diving attractions overlaid with French phrases. But it’s back on the islands where more French voices must be heard.

‘Absolutement!’

By day two of the four-day fair (Saturday), French dive enthusiasts are flocking around the Philippines booth. Clearly a mix of leisure travelers (those seeking resort holidays at a cheap price) and hard-core divers looking for the new and exotique, the visitors to the booth ask the 12 tour operators here about the best places to dive. The Interface people field initial queries, then steer the curious to specific operators. I approach one French guy who is playing with his daughter while his wife asks about some destination. “Vous-êtes un visiteur des Philippines?” I ask. “Absolutement!” responds the guy, and his absolute enthusiasm in answering makes me like the French even more. Unless, of course, I didn’t ask him if he’s visited the Philippines… maybe my French sounded to him like “Are you Filipino?” and his reply was actually “Absolutely not!” But I trust my high school French enough to motion to a map, to find out where he’s visited, or might plan to visit: he points to Dumaguete, and I nod and smile like I’ve cracked the Enigma code. Clearly, some French people are traveling to the Philippines, and might even visit again. This is good.

As she’s done for over a decade, DOT Tourism Attaché Venus Tan stakes out each Europe market, learning their likes and dislikes, wooing them if necessary. “What Venus is doing, sending the French media and travel operators to see for themselves, this is the best way” to bring in more arrivals, says Yvette Lee. Tan lobbied to get the Philippines listed in France’s Nouvelles Frontieres quarterly magazine. (See sidebar.) She seems an inexhaustible font of new ways to go after tourists. “One avenue I’m looking at now is utilizing the privileges of people working in the airline industry. These are people — thousands across Europe — who travel a lot, they get an industry discount, they only pay 25 percent, they often travel with their families. So we’re targeting them… We’re doing this in cooperation with ground handlers, not working through the airlines. It’s geared towards publications that airline employees read, regular newsletters and magazines, other consumer magazines.” After all, a market is a market.

Tan calls such side efforts “creative marketing to offset the downturn of the worldwide economic slump.” But so far, Europeans have not shelved their travel plans.

“My business associates were all so afraid of losing bookings, but funny thing is, I look at my bookings for Tubbataha, we’re almost fully booked already (for 2009)!” laughs Lee. “I said ‘I don’t understand, we’re supposed to have a recession,’ and someone said ‘Well, Yvette, that’s because you’re not selling the $699 Cayman Island special.’ The market we’re catering to is kind of the high-end, and they’re a little more recession-proof.”

According to Tommy Soderstrom, managing partner of El Galleon Dive Resort (with offices in Puerto Galera, Cebu and Boracay), “the Philippines might not come out too bad, actually, because you find it’s fairly inexpensive. Of course, it’s expensive to fly from Europe, but if they’re flying to Micronesia where everything is much more expensive, they probably would prefer to go to the Philippines where their money will last longer.”

Soderstrom — who, like many of the tour operators here will move on to Dusseldorf the following week for the larger Boot Messe Show — has seen some positive growth over last year’s French dive show. “Before we had absolutely zero arrivals from France. If you had none, and you get five, it’s good. That’s (five) people who will go home and talk about the Philippines. That starts the ball rolling.”

Rae Collins, dive center manager of Atmosphere Resorts based in Negros Oriental, also sees potential: “Europe is really the market that has to open up to the Philippines.” The British owners of Atmosphere wanted a Philippines profile for their resort, says Collins, because they know its waters and biodiversity are recognized around the world — an increasingly big selling point. “The owners traveled to Philippines a number of times, and when they decided to open their own resort, they didn’t think of going anywhere else but the Philippines,” she says.

The bottom line is, most of these operators (also including reps from Marco Vincent Dive Resort, Sea Explorers Philippines, Abyss Scuba Divers and Atlantis Dive Resorts) are returning for their second Paris show this year. And they wouldn’t make the long haul if there weren’t a chance of enticing the French to visit the Philippines.

But, other than Lee, you notice there’s a distinct lack of Filipinos representing the dive sector here. Why? “Maybe they get intimidated,” speculates Tan. “To me, the confidence is not quite there. But they have a very good product. Maybe the language barrier…” she ventures, adding that first timers at the fair don’t even have to pay a fee, “just to give them the incentive to put their feet in the water.”

Back home, Tan and Lee praise Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving Executive Director Cynthia Carrion. “She’s spearheading efforts now to standardize diving rates, because each dive operator has different daily rates,” says Lee. “It’s difficult, so one of my assignments is to sound out what local operators here are charging.”

Since diving will hopefully remain a valuable pearl for Philippine tourism for years to come, Carrion’s efforts to promote sustainable scuba diving and snorkeling in the Philippines mesh well with the eco-friendly climate now so in vogue.

Diving, Tan emphasizes, is “a huge market, and to me, it’s not saturated. It’s a market where we can push it still. We have not gone to the brink where we’re overflowing. It’s not a problem. Our problem is general leisure. But I hope it remains a problem, because it’s a good problem!

“We’re fighting with capacity,” Tan continues. “Capacity being blocked off by Asian tourists who stay only the weekend. So if Europeans want to book a week, they can’t stay that long because your weekend rooms are full. We don’t have the capacity to accommodate that.”

Capacity is a push-and-pull equation that tour operators, hotel owners and businesses will have to resolve back home, on Philippine shores. Here, Tan and the sellers of local tourism do their best to lure new bodies to those shores. “Diving is a billion-dollar industry,” concludes Tan. “A diver will travel to go to the best dive sites. It’s a very lucrative niche.”

Looking around us, where Parisians are booking tickets to paradise, you can see what she means.

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THE X-PAT FILES
By Scott R. Garceau

Updated January 25, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=434385&publicationSubCategoryId=87

A cool Discovery in Tagaytay

Posted in Tourism by Erineus on February 15, 2009
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Success is having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.” From where I sit right now, in front of a charming wood and stone fireplace in a romantic log cabin overlooking the majestic Taal Volcano and Lake, I can truly say I am successfully happy.

My childhood buddy, Pamboy Pastor, and I excitedly hied off to Tagaytay over the weekend to find respite and solace in a stately and exquisitely adorned chalet of bliss and peace — Discovery Country Suites located along Calamba Road, San Jose, Tagaytay City en route to the highlands.

The cozy, rustic ambience of this bed and breakfast evokes a feeling of warmth and grace. For those desiring rest and tranquility, there is no other place to be. Discovery Country Suites’ country charm goes hand in hand with the quaint appeal of Tagaytay. The stately ambience, fine accommodations, personalized service and the surprisingly excellent menu selections available at Restaurant Verbena are comparable to the finest B&B’s in New England or Carmel in San Francisco.

We were welcomed by gracious host and resident manager JR Cacho, who explained the history of this luxurious four-year-old bed and breakfast. We learned from him that the property was formerly a private home. The Discovery Leisure Company, which owns and operates Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center and the plush Discovery Shores Boracay, acquired the property in 1995 and developed it into the first luxury B&B in Tagaytay City in 2005.

A tour of the seven indulgent suites showed that each has a distinct theme inspired by travel discoveries around the world. Our room was aptly called Siam as it was decorated with furniture, antiques and woodworks from Thailand and Southeast Asia. Entering our room, we found a jar of mango rind candies and Chocnut, which immediately evoked warm memories of our childhood.

Throughout our stay, we were treated to thoughtful treats including a warm glass of milk with chewy cookies before we turned in for the evening. Like crossing the Indian Ocean, one finds the exotic élan of the Ceylon room with divan chairs and accessories of eastern charm. The Oxford Suite is the most spacious and elegantly furnished suite, very reminiscent of Victorian charm while the Nantucket transports you to the beachfront tiers of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

The Saint-Tropez suite brings you to the glamour and glitz of the French Riviera and the serenity of the Tuscan valley while the Andalucia room evokes images of the Spanish countryside. The Nara room is inspired by Japanese sensibilities, while all around impeccably landscaped gardens, age-old trees and outdoor Jacuzzis brim with additional treats and pleasures. Worthy of note is that Discovery Country Suites is now part of the Kiwi Collection — the most comprehensive listing of luxury lodges, inns and resorts in the world and is widely recognized for the exquisite properties in its distinguished roster.

The sun had just set as the fog hovered around covering everything in its path with cottony white mist. Piped-in jazz music lulls you to swish and sway as you savor their fine red and white wines complemented with an array of fine cheese, candied figs and jams. You almost forget the time and space you’re in, as you giddily toast to only the best that life offers.

Pamboy and I reminisced on our childhood days — we were classmates since the third grade and although much may have changed, many still remain strong as ever — our kindred friendship. Pardon the cliché, but there is veracity to the saying that like fine wine, the best things in life are definitely worth preserving.

Restaurant Verbena in the main lobby of the chalet is definitely another reason to keep returning to this mountain sanctuary. Featuring contemporary country cuisine created by chef David Pardo de Ayala, one must savor their creamy oyster fricassee in caviar sauce where the most fantastic combination of spices and flavors is an epicurean delight. The plump, freshly shucked Aklan oysters served with refreshing ginger-shallot granita leave a wonderful icy sensation on your palate, the piquant spicy cocktail sauce has a delicious kick while the classic mignoette is a peppery vinaigrette burst of flavors. The pan roasted foie gras with pancetta prunes, figs simmering in flavorful cognac sauce melts in your mouth while the warm scallops salad with fried quail eggs, roasted potatoes and creamy truffle vinaigrette is divine. For the main course, there are mouth-watering steaks grilled to perfection in their natural juices or fresh seafood like Chilean sea bass with shiitake, garlic confit and a delicate mushroom broth to choose from.

Sumptuous pasta and risotto will make you forget your name as you indulge in their dessert Bouchon’s Chocolate Marquise where the decadently rich and silky chocolate with vanilla custard sauce will leave you spellbound. As if that wasn’t enough, you must savor Café Enrico, a concoction of Kahlua, tequila and Illy coffee, fresh orange pulp, caramelized sugar flambéed to perfection.

Each Discovery property tops the charts in terms of ambience, architecture, exclusive atmosphere and exceptional way of life. My dear cousin Carmela Bocanegra, group director of sales and marketing for the Discovery collection, enthused that the story of Discovery began in the late ‘90s when two distinguished Filipino companies formed HSAI-Raintree.

This beautiful synthesis redefined the concept of full-service luxury accommodation in the country. At the core of this trail-blazing enterprise is Annabella Santos-Wisniewski, the first Filipina to graduate from the prestigious Cornell Graduate School of Hotel and Restaurant Management in New York. An entrepreneur with a heart and soul, Annabella radiates the vision of the Discovery group — one whose mission goes far beyond profit but rather seeks to provide Filipinos with renewed hope, pride and a new way of life.

Here, there is a distinctly conscious effort to make every moment count starting with visual fulfillment, harmony of the décor, perspectives in lighting and design, and colorful touches provided by subtle floral arrangements. The harmony of impeccable taste is omnipresent in their restaurants, lounges, bars, suites, well-appointed rooms, every nook and cranny. Not only your eyes, but every sense is given the royal treatment: the place is living, lively, gently persuading you to sit back and relax.

Soothe your weary muscles as you submit to a rejuvenating massage at Discovery Country Suites. As the masseuse kneads your back, feet, neck — the languid movement gently commands your senses to relax, and you find yourself transcending from here to a place and time you have been dreaming of. You finally admit that eternity is now. Tomorrow is yet to come.

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For more information regarding Discovery Country Suites, call (046)413-4567, or the Manila reservation office at 683-8383. You may also log on to www.discoverycountrysuites.com.

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E-mail the author miladay.star@gmail.com

RENDEZVOUS By
Christine S. Dayrit

Updated February 01, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=436298&publicationSubCategoryId=87