Christmas Lunch and Dinners at Saboten, Wildflour, Balboa, 26th Street Bistro by Coffee Bean, and Black Olive Cerveceria

‘Tis the season to be fatty – because it’s the season for Christmas lunches and dinners. Every December, my waist line seems to get about 2 to 3 inches bigger because of all the get togethers over food with family and friends. But that’s okay because what better way to celebrate the holidays than with your loved ones and some yummy chow?
Here are my different dining experiences with people who are dear to me.

Team lunch out: Saboten at Serendra

It seems like there is a katsu craze in the country, and Saboten is one of those talked about restaurants specializing in tonkatsu, so we thought we’d see what the buzz is all about. I know it doesn’t look it, but all four of us eat a lot — and the promise of Saboten’s unlimited rice, unlimited cabbage, and unlimited miso soup sounded like heaven to four hungry girls like us.
The simple yet classy zen interiors of the restaurant made us feel at ease and relaxed. It was the restaurant’s fault that we ate too much because it was too conducive to eating. Hehe.
A little private area, sort of. The guy looks like he’s behind bars! 
I’d say this walkway with stones is one of the best parts of the interiors. They’re so calming to the eyes. Actually, it made me feel like I was walking into a spa, and I mean that in a good way. Now where’s my masseuse? Just kidding!
Al fresco dining area
Now for the fun part: eating!
You gotta work for the food! We mashed these black and white sesame seeds until they were fine as powder with this wooden pestle. It was a good way to pass the time while waiting for the rest of the food (and gossiping! It was pretty funny talking about things while grinding like washing machines. Haha!). Although, I wish they had put this on our table first so we could have started grinding earlier. 

Condiments galore: tonkatsu sauce, citrus sauce, sesame sauce, salt, and mustard wasabi
One of the fun parts of eating here was figuring out how and where to use the sauces. So we learned that this is how you do it:
  • Tonkatsu sauce – to be poured on the ground sesame seeds. Then you dip the pork in this mixture.
  • Citrus sauce and sesame sauce – to be poured on the cabbage
  • Salt – to be sprinkled on the pork
  • Mustard wasabi – to be applied to the pork if you want a little spice. Don’t put too much though, unless you want your nostrils to burn!
I got full just by eating this shredded cabbage. Okay, fair enough, I think I had five small plates of this. I never thought I would find eating cabbage so enjoyable and addictive. Maybe when I have kids, I’ll serve this for them so I wouldn’t have to badger them about eating their veggies.
Saboten’s bestseller: The Tenderloin Set. (PHP 425)

Unlimited cabbage (uh oh…), unlimited miso soup (oh dear…), unlimited rice (oh no…), plus juicy and crispy pork tenderloin (now I’m in trouble!)

I was asked if I wanted the loin or tenderloin. The difference between the two is that the loin was lean and had no fat, while the tenderloin had strips of fat. Normally, I don’t eat the fatty part of the pork but it’s Christmas anyway, so why not? I made the right choice! My officemate Tin got the loin and she wasn’t too happy with it. Me? I was perfectly happy with my fats. They were so bad, but so good. The pork was crunchy and crispy and not too oily for my taste.
Oink oink! For petite girls, we sure can eat. After this meal, we were so full and sleepy that when we went back to our office, it was so hard for us to focus at work!

Family Christmas dinner: Wildflour at the Podium

My mom has been seeing a lot of Instagram photos of Wildflour’s food, so out of curiosity, she suggested that we have our Christmas dinner there. It was going to be the first time in my life to not have Noche Buena with them (since I was going to spend it with my boyfriend’s family), so she wanted our family Christmas dinner to be a little special. And “special” meant dressing up and eating at a nice restaurant instead of our usual practice of eating something light at home so as not to get too full for Noche Buena.
So was Wildflour special after all?
First, let me comment about the service. Since it’s Christmas and it’s the time for love and kindness, let me put this in the most loving and kind way possible: the service was, uh, unsatisfactory. I get there and there were only three customers aside from myself, so I thought they would be more attentive. I came up to the waitress at the cashier and asked her if there are any more available seats for four people, and instead of answering me first, she turned to the other waitress and asked her about her work schedule! Can’t that wait until after she answered my question? And then, I asked again, and once again, instead of answering me right away, the waitress said, “Our last order is at 6:30 and we close at 7:00.” By that time, I could feel the love and kindness slowly conking out. I get it, it’s Christmas and they probably couldn’t wait to go home, but they were still at work, and they were still serving people, and it was a little too obvious that they didn’t want to be there.
Wildflour at the Podium on the 24th of December. Only three tables were occupied at that time.
But that’s not all. My mom asked the waitress to take our family photo. The waitress obliged, but when my mom checked to see if the photo looked nice, the waitress said, “Okay na po yan.” (“That should be okay already”) as if saying “That will do, now don’t ask me to take your photo again.” I really wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit from these people! Oh, and yes, we did ask her to take the photo again.
Our family photo. Thanks to the waitress who took this, even though she was obviously not happy to do it.
Our table was a bit wobbly but I liked that they had built-in bag hangers under. It’s so much easier to hang bags there than put it on your lap while you eat, or on top of a chair, which I do not recommend because snatchers move really fast and can take your bags without you even noticing it. It’s not a good move, especially for a restaurant like this where it’s located in a mall and you’re seated outside.
It was time to order so we had a look at their menu, which, to my disappointment, looked like this:
National Bookstore is just a floor or two above Wildflour. They could have their menu laminated there so it wouldn’t look like this piece of scratch paper. Presentation shouldn’t just apply to food but to all the details of the restaurant as well. Yes, even the menu!

After the not so good experience with the service, we were hoping the food would be good at least!

Lasagna Bolognese (PHP 395)
Bechamel sauce and baguette.

My sister ordered the Lasagna Bolognese and she loved it. It was really rich and cheesy, and had generous servings of beef. My mom really liked this and said that if she ever eats here again, she will order this dish.

Croque Madame (PHP 420)
Brioche, ham, gruyere, and fried egg.
The egg on top, the melted cheese, and the soft slices of ham looked really appetizing… and they were! The bread was soft so it was really delightful to eat. The cheese was also quite delectable. You’d think that PHP 420 for a sandwich is too much, but this sandwich is actually good for sharing. My mom couldn’t finish it so she gave it to me. But I was already full with my own sandwich so I just brought it home. Here’s a nice surprise: I kept it in the fridge for two days, and when I finally ate it, it was still good!
Reuben Sandwich (PHP 420)
Homemade wagyu corned beef, coleslaw, and chips.
Wagyu is the grand daddy of beef, and you can’t go wrong with corned beef, so I expected a lot from this sandwich. Well, it was good but it’s not my favorite dish in the restaurant. It’s one of those sandwiches where you go, “I gotta try this!” and then once you’ve tried it, that’s it. You wouldn’t go out of your way to order it again unless you’re a corned beef freak. Nevertheless, the corned beef was good. It was soft and meaty, which is what wagyu should be like. The plate was also overflowing with crunchy thin potato chips (which I finished in one sitting), which were yummy and not too salty. I only had 1/4 of the sandwich and I was already full! This dish is also good for sharing.

We wanted to have their famous cronuts for dessert but we were told that they ran out that day. That’s too bad, but then again, we probably wouldn’t be able to finish it because we we were all so glutted from all the food!

I would like to try the Wildflour branch at the Fort one of these days. Their interiors look so much funkier than the one at the Podium. I’d also probably try one of their breads. After all, Wildflour was really intended to be a bakery, which is why they sell a lot of baked goodies.

Christmas dinner with elementary friends: Balboa at Shangri-la East Wing
Dessert and coffee: 26th Street Bistro by Coffee Bean at Shangri-la East Wing

My friend  Nina from way back 5th grade has been living in Kuala Lumpur for a year now as an OFW, so we don’t get to hang out as often as we used to. Last week, she came home for the holidays and invited me and our other close gal pal, Lala, for a little Christmas get together. It was really great catching up with these two ladies over some scrumptious Italian food at Balboa, one of the newly opened restaurants at the Shangri-la East Wing.
Cream of Mushroom (PHP 128)
With smoked pancetta and creme fraiche.
When I got to the restaurant, Lala and Nina had already started with their soups. Lala got the Pumpkin Soup and Nina got the Minestrone, so all that was left for me to try was the Cream of Mushroom, which was fine with me because I’m a mushroom addict (not the druggy one, just the normal ‘shrooms). It came in a big bowl so I got full easily. It was good and flavorful but it would be nice if it had some mushroom bits. I’d say my favorite mushroom soup is still the one from Shakey’s. Haha!
Four Cheese Pizza (PHP 388)
Asiago, provolone, parmigiano, and mozzarella.

Cheese, cheese, cheese, and cheese! I can never get enough of cheese. I wonder if it has anything to do with me being born in the year of the rat. Haha! This pizza is quite simple — it’s just cheese, after all — but yummy. It’s good comfort food because of its mild taste and soft dough.

Fresh Spinach Tagliatelle Adriatico (PHP 298)
With prawns

They say that this is the bestselling dish in Balboa so this is what we got, and we were really satisfied with it. This pasta is ♥! The sauce is thick and cheesy and the prawns tasted fresh. I think this pasta is good for two people, but because we had soup and pizza, the three of us couldn’t even finish the pasta, so I brought home the leftovers and fed them to my boyfriend. He liked it too! I want to eat this again!!!

Next was desserts, Nina’s treat! We hopped on to Coffee Bean 26th Street Bistro, which was different from the usual Coffee Bean branches because here, they served more food (hot meals) instead of just the usual coffees, teas, and desserts. Since it was our first time, we went straight to the counter, like what we usually do when we order at Coffee Bean, but were informed by the waitress that we can just take our seats and they will serve our orders to us. Oh! I didn’t know that! 

I’m not sure how packed it gets on regular days but when we went there last December 23, the place wasn’t that full, which was good for us because we really wanted to catch up and bond over stories, so the coziness of the place was really nice. It was a good place to talk because of the lighting, music, and ambiance. And of course, the waitresses were nice and very much happy to explain their menu and take our photos! (Plus, they didn’t mind that our boisterous laughter was kind of ruining the peacefulness of the place. Hehe.)

Red Velvet Ice Blended Drink

I ordered this mainly for one simple reason: it was pink. Also, red velvet seems to be the flavor of the year (that and salted caramel). Red velvet cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and yes, even drinks! How did red velvet come about anyway? Well, I read that it;s the product of the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk, plus of course, the usage of red food coloring. Anyway, this drink tasted a like vanilla with a very titchy hint of strawberry, but I don’t know, maybe that’s just me.

Panna Cotta Sampler (PHP 235)
Vanilla, Earl Grey, and Espresso with two pieces of chocolate chip cookies.
Look how dainty those things are! They’re cute when they jiggle too. Haha! Anyway, we enjoyed this dessert because of the variety of flavors. The vanilla panna cotta has the lightest flavor, the earl grey is the most interesting because of its ambrosial taste, and the espresso would have to be my favorite even if I’m not a coffee person because it tasted like I was eating a mix of coffee, mocha, chocolate, and vanilla all at the same time. All of them were creamy and smooth, not like some gunky panna cotta that look more like leche flan when you break it up. The cookies were gooey and chewy too! I just wish they gave us one more, just so there’s one cookie per panna cotta.

It was a sweet Christmas dinner with these girls who, although I don’t see often, I consider as some of my closest friends. We can talk about anything — relationships, religion, lesbians — without judging one another. We were also talking about how we realized that as we grew older, our real friends get fewer. At first I thought it was just me, but they confirmed that they, too, only have a handful of people they really consider as true friends, those that they know they can run to when they are in trouble. Well, we have one another at least. For some reason, even though our meetups were less frequent, it was as if nothing changed. We were still the friends we were back when we were twelve years old, only now, our topics have shifted from boybands to… oh yes, as I was saying, lesbians. Haha! I promise we had more profound topics like economics and finance (really!), and dykes was just one of the topics. We were just discussing about how some of our schoolmates made a firm choice about “loving their own” when all of a sudden, one of our ex-schoolmates who happens to be (or at least we think she is) a lesbo turned up at Coffee Bean. We saw her and she saw us, and we smiled an awkward smile, and then whispered to one another, “Isn’t she a lesbian?” “Do you think she heard us?” By the way, just to be clear, we have absolutely nothing against lesbians. We have lesbian friends and we come from a school where lesbianism was the norm, so we are cool with it. 😉 Actually, my boyfriend thinks I’m a bit lesbo. Haha!

Christmas triple date: Black Olive Cerveceria at Capitol Commons

Correction: unintended Christmas triple date.

This was supposed to be a Christmas dinner of my high school friends but the only ones that turned up were myself + Mike, Ingkay + Tony, and Madz + JM, so it ended up as a triple date. It was still fun, though! The boys talked about boy stuff and the girls talked about… the boys. Haha! And girl stuff, of course.

Madz and JM got there first, and they said they had ordered pizza already. We were all famished, so when the pizza came, we devoured it like vultures.

Prosciutto de Parma, Arugula, Tomato, and Mozzarella pizza (PHP 495)

So we were just eating away, with only three slices of pizza when I finally asked, “What do you call this pizza?” JM answered, “Some sausage pizza.” Hmm. Funny, the meat didn’t look like sausages at all. I said, “Oh, I thought this was prosciutto.” Then, as if on cue, the waiter came in and brought us another pan of pizza and said, “sausage pizza!” We all looked at one another, and Madz said, “Wait… I thought this (the pizza we have been eating since about 20 minutes ago) is the sausage pizza?” Apparently, the waiter got our orders mixed up and only brought us the right pizza 20 minutes later, which, by then, was too late. Arghhh! That’s too bad because the sausage pizza looked really meaty and yummy! But oh well, they just charged us for the prosciutto pizza instead. It’s fine. I liked it anyway. The parma ham was salty and sweet at the same time and the arugula gave the pizza more flavor because it was really fresh.

Toasted Bread With Olive Oil Dip

I believe this comes as a freebie when you order one of the plates for sharing, and I think they served this to us on purpose to give us something to occupy ourselves with because the seafood and kebab plates we ordered took forever to arrive! We liked this one, though. Thanks for the yummy freebie, Black Olive!

I don’t remember how long it took for our orders to come, but we must have followed up about 5 times, and by the last few follow ups, we were already getting really irritated, and we said, “If our orders don’t arrive by 9:00, let’s cancel.” Finally, at 8:53 PM, they came! No wonder there were bouncers roaming the area. It’s probably for when a customer gets really irate and starts throwing a fit about the slow service!

We’re giving you until 9:00 to complete our orders, Black Olive! At 9:00, we will all turn into hungry monsters and eat every single one of your customers… and bouncers. They look quite beefy.
Seafood Fritto Misto (PHP 630)
Crisp fried sole fillets, prawns, calamari, mussels and parmesan flavored frites with caper aioli

Now that is good for sharing! It better be, for that price! There’s certainly a lot of variety in this dish, so it’s kind of fun to eat, especially with some hard drinks or beer. Speaking of their beer, they were pretty pricey, though. The boys got the cheapest beer on the menu, which was PHP 120!

Kebab Platter (PHP 660)
Chicken, pork, beef, lamb kofta, and chorizo with mojo crudo and grilled baguette

I was a little disappointed with this one. Sure, there were four skewers of meat, but it’s a bit overpriced considering that it only really comes with 5 thin slices of chorizo, three pieces of bread, and two kinds of dip. The meats were good but for almost PHP 700, they should have added a few more skewers. The Seafood Platter is more worth the price than this.

Mushroom Ravioli (PHP 390)
With truffle oil and parmesan

Mushroom, truffle, and ravioli — three of the things I love! This was Madz and JM’s order, though, so I didn’t really get that much. I just had a bit so I could try it. It was pretty yummy, and I don’t know if this is a good thing, but Mike said that the truffle tastes a bit like chocolate. Haha! Madz and JM didn’t expect the serving to be this small, though.

After dinner, Madz, Ingkay and I huddled together to have some girl talk, particularly about weddings and proposals, because it seems like everyone is getting married! So I asked JM, who was holding his bottle of beer, “JM, do you like your beer?” He said yes, so in the words of Beyonce, I said, “then you shoulda put a ring on it!” Haha! The girls and I then played around with any ring-like objects and did our best “surprised wedding proposal look” with the help of…

…a skewer…
…an onion ring…
...and a salt and pepper shaker!

Our boyfriends were just looking at us with their wide-eyed, weirded-out look as we split our sides. I bet at that time, they were thinking, “No way am I going to propose to this girl now!” Haha!

At past 10:00 PM, the lights started to go down and the music went up. By then, it was already hard for us to talk because of the loud music, so we just called it a night. If you’re coming here to bond over conversations with friends, better to come earlier because the place transforms into a sort of party place.

Merry Christmas from the lovers! 
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