Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Friday's Fifteen Minute Meals

I live a very hectic life, when I'm not travelling. Sometimes, I even forget to eat! That's why quick meals are essential to my lifestyle. I don't prefer fast food, so I try to find meals that are worth my time. Good thing I passed by Friday's in Robinson's Galleria, and saw this ad.

Friday's was offering a new promo, their Fifteen Minute Meals. If you don't get your dish in 15 minutes, then it's free. The promo is available from Mondays to Fridays, from 11AM to 2PM. For people like me, who's always on-the-go especially during lunch, it's a great proposition to dine casually without worrying about the time.

We got the Hungarian Sausage and Chicken Penne Pasta. At P225, it's certainly worth it. The serving was big enough for two, but if you're hungry, you'll be able to finish one plate.

The dish did come in less than 15 minutes, 11 minutes to be exact. They have cooked the dish upon ordering, since it didn't taste like a microwave meal. I liked the Hungarian sausage, and the creaminess of the tomato sauce. The chicken chunks were cooked just right. Topped with parsley and lots of parmesan cheese (the way I like it), the pasta dish was satisfying indeed.

I am a believer of ending good meals with desserts, so I just gotta have one. We got the Double Chocolate Fudgy Brownie. At P255, it's even more expensive than our pasta dish! But I was craving for something rich - moist chocolaty cake topped with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and caramel sauce. I bet seeing the picture will make you crave as well.

Having little time to enjoy a satisfying meal, I was amazed that I had one in Friday's. The 15-minute meals addressed my need to have good comfort food quick at reasonable prices. Thank God there's Friday's!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

KuDeTa: Bali Series

Though Kuta is where the action is, Seminyak is where the beautiful people hang out. Yes, the high society who stay in luxurious villas end up making Seminyak their home base. Thus, the neighborhood has a lot of pretty restaurants, bars and boutiques. But if you have to go to one restaurant in Seminyak, it must be institution that is KuDeTa.

KuDeTa has been around for a long time, and it has been awarded several accolades for its food and dining experience. It is also a frequented spot for party goers in Bali. It's one place where celebrities lounge and pass the time with a drink of their favorite cocktail at hand.

Well, KuDeTa is indeed exclusive, and thus, the prices are expensive. However, being food adventurer as well, I didn't care about the price anymore (the cheapest dish, a starter, is P500), and just hoped that the food would be at par with the dazzling ambience.

We tried a watermelon smoothie with black pepper. Though the spice was unique to the taste, the watermelon drink wasn't as refreshing as I expected it to be.

I will try my best to describe the dishes we had, since we had the meal almost 3 months ago as of this writing. The first dish below is the Slow Cooked Chicken with vegetable lentils and spiced labneh. The chicken was tender and almost melted in your mouth, but the lentil sauce was so rich, it had an overpowering flavor.

We also got a Mushroom and Braised Leek Risotto with truffled mascarpone and broad beans and lemon thyme. This was perhaps the simplest dish served. It was full of flavor, and I enjoyed tasting it. But I had better risotto, particularly the Seafood Risotto in C! Italian Dining in Clark.

The Confit Duck Cassoulet was the best dish of the night. It came with a duck and foie gras tart that was heavenly. It had an apple puree and thyme jus that even enhanced the flavors of foie gras. I couldn't help but take small bites from the plate.

My dish was the Miso Alaskan Black Cod Nobu Style. It was topped with flying fish roe. Since it was a Japanese dish, the taste was distinct and refreshing. I loved the way the fish was steamed as well, since it retained all its natural juices.

Now, for the highlights of the evening meal. First of is the Double Valrhona Mocha Chocolate Tart. It came with cinnamon ice cream and topped with a gold leaf. A raspberry sauce also adorned the plate. The richness and bitterness of the dark chocolate was perfect. I couldn't help but compare it with the great valrhona cake served in Cav.

But the star of the night was this unexpectedly amazing dessert: the 4-Way Brulee - mocha, vanilla, chocolate and orange. When the dish arrived, I tasted each flavored brulee individually. Then, I began to savor them one after another in a particular order - mocha first, then vanilla, then chocolate, and finally a teaspoonful of orange. It was pure heaven. I told my mom to do the same thing, and she swore by the experience. A seemingly simple dessert made extraordinary just by eating it in a certain manner. I was happy I experimented. We were so tempted to order another one, but our bill was already way off the roof.

What makes KuDeTa special is the ambience. We arrived at almost 10PM, so there were a few people left having dinner. Most of the guests were out in the lounge areas and at the beach front having drinks. The place played suave chill out music courtesy of their world renowned in-house DJs.

I can never get enough of the dining experience that we had. It was our first dinner in Bali, so KuDeTa really made our trip worthwhile. Though we paid a hefty price (and yes, I know it's a cliche), the experience was priceless. KuDeTa takes its cuisine to the next level by presenting it in such a mesmerizing way.

4@Drupadi: Bali Series

The last time I was in Bali, I stayed in Ulu Villas, thinking it was just a resort. I was shocked that it was a private compound, with only 4 rooms, all villa style. This was almost 5 years ago, and it was my first time to stay in a villa. This time, I made sure we stayed in a villa again. Bali is perhaps the birthplace of the villa concept, and thus, Bali has several options. I have been searching the net for cheap but nice villas, but I wasn't able to book one until the night before we left for Bali.

The only one available was Pyaar, an Indian inspired villa in a compound called 4@Drupadi. The compound was located in Seminyak, the upscale neighborhood of Bali. I initially wanted a modern Balinese villa, but I couldn't find any. And besides, I couldn't find a price that could match the one I got. Imagine, $200 a night for a 3-bedroom villa. And the pictures from the net didn't look bad. So, I went for it, and told my agent to make the booking.

Imagine my expression when we arrived. I was jumping in anticipation when the van parked in front of the entrance of 4@Drupadi. The landscaping was elegantly designed. The place looked very exclusive. It didn't feel like $200 a night. I really didn't have huge expectations, since I wasn't liking the Indian concept of Pyaarm, the villa that we got. I wanted another villa in the compound, Amore, which looked very modern and clean. However, someone confirmed their booking just 5 minutes before I did.

The other villas were equally luxurious, but had different designs that didn't appeal to me. Good thing they weren't options since they were already booked. The first one is Youbi, Japanese style.

Another villa, Cinta, didn't appeal to me, though it had a billiard table, and was the biggest among the 4. It was Indonesian inspired, but I found it wood bare.

So, I was happy when I entered our villa: the Pyaar, Indian for love. It wasn't really traditional Indian, but more of British Indian, as the owner was Singaporean. It was huge, around 180 sqm in land area and had 3 bedrooms. We only got 2 bedrooms though, because that was the deal for the unbelievable price of $200 a night.

It had a stone lap pool that was around 5 meters long. Beside it were the pool lounge chairs, where one can read a book, or just have a cold drink.

The villa had a receiving area with an interesting swinging bench. Beside it was the living area with an LCD screen and some magazines.

The bedrooms were exquisite. All had canopy beds and ultra soft goose feather pillows. I had one of my best sleeps here.

I also loved the outdoor shower. The villa I stayed in before also had an outdoor shower, so I was happy to have one again. Our bath tub had a glass panel separating it from a garden.

But the best thing about this villa is the service. We had full butler service from sun up to sun down. We had a huge fruit basket, some free drinks, and even breakfast served in the morning. The butlers were so pleasant and friendly, and they really knew how to make their guests feel special. We were taken cared of.

I was so happy with our villa, that we were so tempted to stay indoors for the rest of our trip. For only $200 because of the last minute booking, I think I just made the best accommodation deal of my life.

So, when in Bali, try something different. Don't stay at a hotel, or a typical resort. Get a villa, and sometimes, they even cost less. Imagine, we only paid P2,000 per person per night in a private and exclusive villa, complete with butler service and a lap pool. Total luxury = perfect vacation.

UP NEXT: Dining around Bali

The Charms of Ubud: Bali Series

On my last trip to Bali, I was not able to go to Ubud, the premier highlands town of the island, around an hour's drive from Kuta. Ubud is the supposed center of arts and culture of Bali, luring artists, writers and other creative minds.

To us Filipinos, Ubud will look like Tagaytay, sans the beautiful Taal Volcano. It has the same atmosphere, cool and pleasant weather, and lush vegetation that stems from the mountainous backdrop.

Ubud has attracted a lot of designers from local to international ones, thus, making it a great place to visit some fabulous design hotels and restaurants. We only had 3 hours to spend here though, as we intended to just have lunch in a hillside Indonesian restaurant.

Ubud has more Western visitors than Asian visitors and I could see why. Ubud is a mountain village, painted with green rice fields, cascading waterfalls and gushing rivers and creeks. It can be any of the millions of rice plantations we have in the Philippines. What makes Ubud so special is the charm that I immediately felt while driving into town.

Our choice for lunch was Indus, as recommended by a foreigner who we asked for directions along the way. The restaurant had a pleasant view. We sat at an open air porch, facing the peaceful valley below.

Our lunch composed of local specialties. I always forget the names of Indonesian dishes (which I am not a dihard fan of by the way). I remember having this tasty chocolate porridge (champorado) and coconut sherbet with mango sidings for dessert.

Ubud also has a wide range of accommodations, especially along the center of town. There are upscale villas that dot the mountainside. One can really relax and be at peace with nature in Ubud, without sacrificing luxury. I was amazed to see a lot of pool villas scattered on the edges of hills.

We then went on to the Monkey Forest, one of Ubud's primary attractions. Here, one can explore a park forest with pavements. Better be ready to be surrounded by monkeys that are found everywhere. Sometimes, they can be annoying already, so make sure you don't bring any food or have some loose and hanging objects from your body. Some monkeys steal cameras from tourists!

The temple was under renovation at the time we went, so we only got to see its perimeter. We saw someone carving the walls out. I thought those carvings were ancient. Well, seeing this made me wonder if all the other carvings in all of the temples I've visited in Asia were already altered like this.

We moved further deep into the forest and saw a small creek. There were replicas of the Komodo Dragons, overlooking the creek.

The Monkey Forest was interesting, but there's really nothing much to see. I really don't like monkeys so I wasn't raving about the place. But one can feel in a different world once you're there. It's like being in a lost ancient city in the middle of a jungle.

Ubud has plenty of flea markets as well, where one can buy a lot of souvenirs. This is the center of arts in the island, so there were a lot of art galleries, furniture stores and other similar shops.

We ended our trip to Ubud with a visit to the house of the king of Ubud. I forgot the name of the place, but it had a nice garden with traditional Balinese landscape. We drove back to Seminyak, where we stayed. More of our choice of lodging in Bali for two nights in my next entry!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Vibe of Kuta: Bali Series

Kuta is the heart of Bali, where most of the action happens. The long and wide Kuta Beach has inspired artists, stoked surfers and attracted beach bums from all over the world
I have never swam in Kuta Beach, because I don't find it that clean. Since it is a huge public beach, there are a lot of people here, and sometimes, the litter find themselves on the shoreline. The water isn't as clear as well. The Philippines has way better looking beaches.
Kuta is a seaside town, and a very vibrant one for that matter. It has several shopping areas, such as the Kuta Square, a strip of international brands and local stores as well. The Matahari Department Store is also located here.
Several hotels line up the beach road fronting Kuta Beach. Here, one can find the first Hard Rock Hotel in Asia. Since Kuta is a busy and congested area, most of the hotels here are not ultra luxurious. There is a wide range of accommodations to choose from, from cheap beach inns to high-end mega resorts, to family oriented hotels.

For backpackers and budget travellers, the Poppies Lanes offer several lodging options, all from P500 to P1,500. Most are decent, but some are rundown. A lot of young travellers stay here, so expect a rowdy crowd.

My choice for backpackers is the Suka Beach Inn (picture below). It is located on an alley off Poppies Lane 2, just ask for directions (there's a Family Mart on the corner of the long alley). Suka Beach Inn is almost always full, so make sure you call them first (don't have the number though, just search in the Internet).

Bali has been the target of terrorism, and Kuta was ground zero. This monument now stands as a grim reminder to the massacre of innocent lives of tourists and locals after the 2002 bombing. Now, Kuta and Bali in general remains safe, and feels safe. In fact, the monument has now become a popular photo opp spot for visitors. I guess nothing can stop the vibe that one gets from this soulful island.

Kuta is the center of night life in Bali. Several bars and clubs line up the streets, especially near the bombing monument. People from all over the world liven up the night and dance till they drop with a bottle of Bintang in their hands.

The Discovery Mall is a relatively new mall in southern Kuta, next to the more exclusive hotels and resorts.

One should visit Discovery Mall during sunset, where you can lounge in one of their chill out beach front bars. Or, you can just sit on the steps facing the beach and enjoy the burst of colors at sun down.

Bali is a surfer's paradise, especially towards Legian Beach. The waves can swell up to great heights on windy days. There are several surf schools and instructors as well on the beach that offer around P500 for basic surfing lessons.

All in all, Kuta is often the picture one has of Bali. A lively beach atmosphere in tropical Asia, mixed with sophisticated delights and cheap thrills. Kuta Beach may not be at par with our beaches here in the Philippines, but the over-all vibe that it exudes exceeds all expectations. It's hard not to fall in love with Kuta, and have the time of your life under the sun.
UP NEXT: Exploring Ubud


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