An icon’s 24-year food journey

3 08 2010

Margarita A. Fores and her 24-year food journey

LECHON (ROASTED pig) in sinigang (meat in a usually tamarind-soured broth with fresh vegetables) with sweet watermelon wedges – unlike flowers for spring in “The Devil Wears Prada” – is groundbreaking.  The first time I had it at Café Bola in Greenbelt 3, I knew all the more just how very special its innovative creator was.  And still is.

I ended up frequenting the place, and the first time I saw her walk in to her restaurant seated to full capacity, I was starstruck.  Her Balenciaga motorcycle handbag and her signature wristwatch gleamed against her dusky skin.  She went straight to the kitchen and I remember catching snippets of her animated speech, punctuated by the hearty cracking and chuckling of her plesantly raspy voice.  I thought to myself, she was more like a friend to her staff, a far cry from how mass media had portrayed the privileged to be snobs – stuck-up, and uppity, and snooty.

She walked out of the kitchen, a small dip dish in her hand – the one free from the dangling leather handbag – and joined a big group at the center of the dining area.  It was her family, I figured.  My sight was still transfixed at her when I realized a lot of the other diners were as well.  That was when it occurred to me!  We were in the presence of real beauty – one capable enough not only to demand our attention but also to hold it captive in its ethereal glow reminiscent of leading ladies in Renaissance paintings.

Right there and then, I knew I had become a fan.

Margarita Araneta Fores, arguably one of the culinary icons of our time, looks back to her 24 years in the food business through her essay “My 24-Year Food Journey” in last Sunday’s The Philippine Star.  A score and four years that gave birth to Cibo, Café Bola, Pepato, Lusso, The Commissary, and soon, Gastroteca di M.

I once wrote here, after having seen her on Secrets of the Masters, that hers is a personality that transcends the barrier and the limitation imposed by the TV screen.  Now, add to it the written word.  I devoured her writing the very same way I would approach her gastronomic innovations – allowing myself to be teased with the first quick taste, the first small bite, only to yield unbridledly in yet another work of (edible) art and heart.




Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Sale weekend munch

13 01 2010

Cibo at Shangri-La Plaza Mall has this beautiful all-stainless steel kitchen assembly, as if it is a work of art showcased front and center. Well, not really front, but attention-grabbing just the same.

IT HAS been weeks since I didn’t have anything that has been supersized for dinner.

I tell myself exactly that whenever I feel the need to justify splurging on meals out.  Which, come to think of it, shouldn’t be the case as food is – as I have said time and again – both a necessity and an indulgence.  Therein lies the perfect excuse.

And after long walks in the mall, my feeling esurient and parched were reasons enough to grab something to bite.  Something really nice to bite.

At the Shangri-La Plaza Mall over the weekend, I got particularly drawn to the open space occupied by Cibo.  Going down the escalator, my attention was demanded and undoubtedly captivated by the very compact, all stainless steel structure that the café put up to house its kitchen setup.  How such a closely clumped construction manages to churn out amazing works of edible art is beyond me.  But one thing is for sure, in the hands of a lesser mortal – a MUCH lesser mortal – Cibo wouldn’t be able to maximize the potential of such a pretty kitchen to produce great, high quality food… fast.  We all have the Margarita Araneta Fores to thank for that.

I asked for my usuals – the Spaghetti Alla Romana and Tomato Juice.  And for the first time, I tried their Ministrone.  I found it to be really subtle – but bursting with the real goodness of fresh vegetables!  Unlike in other restaurants, Cibo’s version was topped off with a dollop of fresh pesto genovese and lots of torn fresh basil leaves!  I cracked a few turns of the pepper mill and the whiff of the really fragrant crushed peppercorns not only dotted the soup prettily but also made the flavors more robust.  I could have this soup all day!



Spaghetti Alla Romana


Spaghetti Alla Romana, together with one of Cibo's pretty pepper mills. I super loved this yellow one!


My Tomato Juice always gets a few cracks of fresh black pepper. This time, it came coustesy of this yellow pepper mill.


Not bad for an extremely satisfying table for one!

As always, the pasta didn’t disappoint.  The slivers of fennel bulb were plentiful as the kitchen obliged to my request for a little extra of these pleasantly fragrant, licorice-tasting aromatic bulbous herb.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MuchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

All about loving myself

30 11 2009

SATURDAY TURNED out to be all about loving myself.

For one, I made good on my promise to treat myself to Cibo’s Panna Cotta Ciccolato (Php 143.00).  But that’s getting ahead of myself.

My table for one at Cibo in Glorietta.

The night before, I had a great dinner with Kakel at Cibo in Town.  On Saturday night, I went back to the same restaurant, but at their Glorietta branch.  While I enjoy being in the company of family and friends over good food, I don’t have even the faintest hint of hesitation – even an iota of indecision – to dine on my own.  When the very comely wait staff welcomed me by saying, “Sir, table for…”  I cut him short with, “For one, please,” before he could even finish his question.  It wasn’t a curt reply at all.  I do remember beaming from ear to ear.  Especially since I was already toting in my hand my Christmas present for myself.  Hahaha!

Crema Di Zucca

This particular dinner was all about comfort so I asked for my usuals – the zuppe di Crema Di Zucca (soup of summer squash, cream, and slab bacon, Php 185.00), the Spaghetti Alla Romana (spaghetti with sardines in oil, extra virgin olive oil, fennel, chili peppers, and red pesto, Php 225.00), and the Panna Cotta Ciccolato.  Of course, my drink could only be Tomato Juice (Php 90.00).

Spaghetti Alla Romana, my favorite!


That fennel frond on top was just so tempting I munched it first! The sardines were perfect, a far cry from the usual bottled variety at the grocery (though there's one brand I hold dear!). And the shredded fennel bulb was just the right sweetness!

The star of this dinner was the pasta, to which the kitchen generously added extra fennel.  I was so excited to get my fork into the dish but not without first snatching the fennel frond that prettily sat on top of the mound.  As I played with it in my mouth, shredding the pin-like succulent foliage with my teeth, I got an arresting shot of an almost-licorice essence.  It was all good.

Each strand of the al dente spaghetti was perfectly coated with the glorious melding of extra virgin olive oil and the oil in which the sardines marinated.  The chili peppers and the red pesto provided a pow-wow layer of heat that developed as I savored the dish.  But the shredded fennel bulb – the white part – provided the perfect counterfoil to this spiciness.  I couldn’t think of anybody else delivering such a great pasta creation for the discriminating Filipino palate.

I started harping about panna cotta ciccolato and ended up raving about the pasta.  Oh, life!

The Panna Cotta Ciccolato that I love!


Two receipts from two wonderful dinners!


Copyright © 2009 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MuchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Cibo is necessity and indulgence

30 11 2009

That's my reflection on Cibo's mirror wall.

THE NICE thing about food is that it is both a necessity and an indulgence.  Even better, it can be both at the same time.

There was no stopping my dinner plans last Friday night.  Earlier in the day, my friend and fellow engineer Kakel and I floated the idea of treating ourselves to a great dinner – should we survive the day.  You see, where we work, something really major is happening.  We’re in the process of totally asserting our independence from the two parent companies that brought forth the business venture we are in.  Think Y2K all over again – only this time, with real drama.  I was waiting for a chasm to open up from right under me.

But with all that we had to go through and take care of, we realized that a great dinner was a non-negotiable.  On the drive to Town, I was quick to recommend Pepper Lunch.  But when we were greeted by the velvet rope upon which was a sign that said, “Line starts here,” I had to seriously reconsider our restaurant choice.

Good thing that right next door to Pepper Lunch is Cibo!  It was also full but I immediately radar-locked unto the last remaining free booth seating.

Spinaci Gorgonzola

The spinaci gorgonzola comes with a generous pile of the best melba toast!

While the usual accompanying melba toast is nice, I prefer my bread soft. So here's my own "soft" melba toast. Finished this off!

We started with the Spinaci Gorgonzola (spinach and gorgonzola cheese dip, Php 218.00), served with melba toast.  I’m not fond of bread sliced thin then toasted to a crisp so I asked for a side serving of soft melba toast (Php 18.00).  Even with what I had in mind for dinner, I managed to finish the whole serving of the bread!

Farfalle Genovese

One of Cibo's strongest points is their presentation. The la famiglia serving of their farfalle genovese comes in a huge pristine white serving platter placed on top a thick slab of wood. The plentiful portion of their fresh bread is neatly piled up on the side.

A tight shot of the farfalle genovese. See the generosity of the restaurateur in this dish. You see all the components – the fresh basil pesto, the wild mushroom cream sauce, and the freshly grated parmesan cheese – all completely coating each piece of bow tie pasta.

Just one of the many helpings of farfalle genovese that I helped myself to.

I then asked for the la famiglia serving of Farfalle Genovese (farfalle in a fresh wild mushroom cream sauce and basil pesto served with a generous grating of well-aged parmesan cheese, Php 465.00).  This dish has long been touted as one of the bestsellers at Cibo.  And I had it for the first time that night.  With the first bow tie pasta I picked from the huge platter, I instantly fell in love.  I could imagine the chef slaving over a mortar and pestle – all the way from Romblon – making the basil pesto from scratch.  Only a fresh and intensely flavored pesto could conjure that image in my head.  It was mixed well with the mushroom cream sauce, coating every piece of pasta.  For presentation and added flavor, a dollop sat right on top at the center.

The mushroom cream sauce perfectly tempered the full-bodied purity of the basil pesto.  The dish had a liberal amount of sliced fresh mushrooms – lots of shiitakes, white buttons, and oysters – that I was sure to hit thick and juicy slices of these fleshy fungi everytime I stuck my fork through.  The very generous dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese only managed to elevate the dish to an astral plane all its own.  But I managed to remain on the ground as the faint hint of nutmeg in the cream sauce reminded me of Christmas.

I’ve never been one to salivate over pasta with a cream-based sauce.  But Cibo’s Farfalle Genovese eradicated whatever shred of skepticism I had.

My first glass of their tomato juice!

Before long I already needed a second glass!

Notice the freshly cracked black pepper on top! Just got to love this drink!

To wash everything down, I had Tomato Juice (Php 90.00) – all two tall glasses of it!  I love tomato juice, the only drink I would keep on asking for on board flights.  While all people shamelessly gulped down all the free champagne that flowed incessantly – in an obvious attempt to take passengers’ minds off the frightening turbulence on a Malaysia-to-Singapore flight – I just asked for my glass to be freshened with tomato juice!  Cibo’s presentation was lovely, complete with a celery stick and freshly cracked black pepper on top.  I like all the quiet drama involved with freshly cracking black pepper tableside.  I would often wonder if the pepper mills were part of the restaurateur’s famed collection.

Kakel's Penne All' Amado. He ate this all up!

While I shared my farfalle with him, Kakel for his part ordered the Penne All’ Amado (penne with slow simmered beef sauce and tomatoes, Php 218.00).  It was the first time I heard of it, and while the description was pretty straightforward, I couldn’t help but assume that the dish could have been named after the owner’s son.  For his drink, Kakel asked for peach-flavored iced tea (Php 90.00).

I wanted to have my favorite Panna Cotta Ciccolato, but decided against it for the time being as Starbucks was part of the dinner plan.

A couple of Dark Cherry Mochas!

In this one, I like the watch better than the drink. Hahaha!

So off we went to Starbucks and ordered two Dark Cherry Mochas.  “I shall have my Cibo panna cotta on the following night,” I told myself.  The two stickers I got for the coffee drinks were enough to make up for it.

And the great conversation too!

Kakel by the Rustan's display window at Town.

Copyright © 2009 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MuchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Two sauces, five dishes, one fine lady

28 06 2009

NEVER BELIEVE a thin chef, Clinton Palanca once wrote in his regular column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (if my memory serves me right).  While I admire his humor and biting sarcasm – apart from the fact that I don’t see anything wrong with that line – I still took his advice with much skepticism.  Especially because of Chef Margarita “Gaita” Fores.  (I actually consider her more along the lines of “fit”.)

Chef - Margarita Fores

Woman on top – Chef Margarita "Gaita" Fores

When Secrets of the Masters first aired their trailer for what they called as a “first in Philippine TV,” I sort of frowned upon the fact that among the many “prominent” culinary figures whose names were interspersing in the text, not one said “Gaita Fores”.  Not only does she dispel the gospel of the “not thin” chefs, she happens to be one of the real culinary masters we have today.  Her successful ventures as chef-restaurateur- entrepreneurCafé Bola, Cibo, Pepato – stand as testaments to her genius in the best of world cuisine – authentic, or fusion with a local twist – that she has been offering to the discriminating Filipino palate.

So it didn’t come as a surprise to me anymore when they eventually featured Ms. Fores on the second Sunday of May.  I meant to blog about the show then but I just got swamped at work.  But thankully enough, when I turned on the TV on Saturday morning (I woke up before lunch time – now that’s a feat!), there was her episode being replayed.  Now, I have to really get down to it and blog!

Of all the many chefs featured on this show so far, I have to say that Ms. Fores happens to be the most articulate.  She came across as really self-assured, speaking with authority while being very generous and forthcoming with sharing her culinary secrets.  Even on its second airing, her episode managed to hold me captive with every word as it escaped her mouth.  She has a personality that transcends the barrier and the limitation imposed by the TV screen.  I had seen her a number of times in Café Bola and Cibo before – either sharing a meal with her family or taking the lead in the busy kitchen – and one thing that really struck me was how much a commanding presence she was.  She is not your conventional, cookie-cutter beauty.  But she would enter a room and she would command everybody’s attention.

For her Secrets of the Masters stint, she made two sauces that served as a foundation for the night’s dishes – “Pomodoro Crudo” (Marinated Raw Tomatoes) and “Pesto Genovese” (the classic Basil Pesto).  She showed how the marinated raw tomatoes could be used three ways – as pasta sauce (“Spaghettini Al Pomodoro Crudo”); as topping for bruschetta; and as sauce for grilled chicken breasts (“Chicken Breasts with Arugula and Palm Heart with Marinated Raw Tomatoes and Balsamico Dressing”).

As for the pesto, she combined it with a mushroom cream sauce and tossed it together with al dente farfalle (bow tie pasta) to come up with what she called as “Farfalle Genovese,” hands-down one of the bestsellers in Cibo.  As a nice, sweet, healthy ending to the sumptuous feast, she offered grilled fresh fruits with mascarpone cheese and dark brown sugar (“Frutti Grigliati Con Mascarpone & Zucchero Di Canna”).

The show’s host, Ms. Issa Litton, pointed out Ms. Fores’s simplicity of methods and techniques, as well as her going back to basics.  In her response, Ms. Fores declared that the nice thing about working with Italian food a lot is that the cuisine is really based on simplicity and just the produce itself that one works with.  Having Italian food as her first experience in working with food has really kept her really gounded and true to the first principles that she learned when she started (to work with food).

The presence of “kesong puti” (Filipino fresh cottage cheese) and “ubod” (heart of palm) in some of the night’s dishes further underscored Ms. Fores’s role as champion of the best Filipino ingredients and how she has been using them in her delectable creations.  Through her love affair with Italian food, she actually discovered – or re-discovered – so much about our cuisine and what makes it unique.

In my book, this episode is a keeper.  Not only did I see a true master at work but also, and more importantly, I felt her palpable passion – what she called as “a maternal instinct to feed and nurture”.  She hopes to continue on this path as she strives to make life and living a little bit more beautiful for others.  Not only for her clientele but for all the people she works with and all the people she meets along her way.  It was heartwarming for her to say that the whole experience on the show afforded her the chance to also learn from the audience and the crew.  Said Ms, Fores, “No matter how long you’ve been doing something, keep the point of view that everyday there is always something new to learn.”

Spoken like the true master that she is.


This is the first time that I really paid close attention to the recipes featured. Here they are, the best way I was able to recall them. I didn’t capture the measurements (though none was explicitly stated) but anybody who’s ever cooked knows that most everything is “to taste”.
Segment One: Marinated Raw Tomato Sauce (“Pomodoro Crudo”) used three ways

Mix together chopped tomatoes (“roma” or “plum”), torn fresh basil leaves, minced fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.  Ms. Fores made a huge batch because she intended to use this sauce three ways.

Spaghettini Al Pomodoro Crudo.  Cook the spaghetti or spaghettini according to package directions.  Use a lot of water in a huge pasta pot.  Season the water generously with salt.  Pasta water should taste like the ocean.  Toss freshly cooked al dente spaghetti or spaghettini with the marinated raw tomatoes, and top with crumbled “kesong puti” (Filipino fresh cottage cheese).

Bruschetta with Marinated Raw Tomatoes and Parmesan Cheese.  Ms. Fores showed how to make bruschetta the real way, with subtle garlic flavor.  Rub the cut side of a large clove of garlic on to sliced Tuscan round.  Then soak the cut sides of the bread in really good extra virgin olive oil.  Slap on the grill.  After grilling, season the bread with a little rock salt.  Top each slice with the marinated raw tomatoes.  The juices of the marinated raw tomatoes will soak up the bread a bit.  Grate fresh parmesan cheese on top.  Crack some fresh pepper on top.  Dress with a little bit more of good extra virgin olive oil.

Chicken Breasts with Arugula and Palm Heart with Marinated Raw Tomatoes and (just a tad of) Balsamico Dressing.  Marinate boneless, skinless chicken breasts in extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic.  Slap on the grill.  Once done – with grill marks to boot! – arrange the chicken breasts on a platter.  Dress generously with the marinated raw tomatoes.  Tear lots of fresh arugula leaves on top.  Toss in slivered fresh “ubod” (heart of palm).  Drizzle with a little “balsamico” (balsamic vinegar) and extra virgin olive oil.

Segment Two: “Pesto Genovese” (classic Basil Pesto), the old-fashioned way

The term “pesto genovese” means a sauce that originally came from the city of Genova (hence the “genovese”) and was originally made with a mortar & pestle (hence the “pesto”).

Pesto Genovese.  In the mortar & pestle, pound the fresh basil leaves into a pulp, then add some chopped garlic, salt and pine nuts.  Douse everything with good extra virgin olive oil and add freshly grated parmesan cheese too.  What’s good with pesto is that you should add it only in the end. When everything’s already cooked, that’s when you add it, especially when the pasta is already off the flame.

Mushroom Cream Sauce.  Use a medley of fresh wild mushrooms.  She used oyster, white button, and fresh shiitake.  Secret – Do not wash fresh mushrooms! We always are sort of mindless when we get to the kitchen and wash everything! Do not wash fresh mushrooms unless you want a disaster. Just wipe it with a damp cloth to remove whatever brown stuff you see.

In a heavy bottom skillet, saute lots of minced garlic in extra virgin olive oil.  Add in all the sliced wild mushrooms, except the oyster mushrooms.  When these are about half-cooked and the nice broth is starting to come out, that’s when you add the oyster mushrooms.  Season with rock salt.  Add some heavy cream.  Allow to reduce and thicken a bit. Add a little butter (just a little!).  And for a nice cream sauce, grate fresh nutmeg into it!  Ms. Fores said it smelled like Christmas!  She recommended nutmeg for cream dishes that have vegetables (eNTeNG – like spinach!) and those wherein cream is the more prominent component of the dish.

Farfalle Genovese.  While working on the sauce, cook farfalle (bowtie pasta) according to package directions.  Since this was “the second batch” of pasta (after the spaghettini above), she used the same water that remained in the pasta pot.  Invest in a nice enough pasta potThe pasta pot and pasta water could be your new best friends!  By the way, this pasta shape is perfect for cream sauces because it has little ridges that sort of scoop the sauce.

Toss the cooked farfalle into the mushroom cream sauce.  Drain the farfalle from the pasta pot but don’t be afraid to let a little (dripping) pasta water get added in to the sauce!  Freshly grate parmesan cheese on top.  Freshly crack black pepper on top.  Transfer everything on to a large serving platter.  Add the pesto sauce and mix well.  Scoop a spoonful of the pesto on to the center of the dish and put a sprig of fresh basil for a nice garnish.

Segment Three: Grilled fresh fruit with mascarpone cheese and dark brown sugar

Frutti Grigliati Con Mascarpone & Zucchero Di Canna.  This is a nice, sweet, healthy ending.  Slice pineapple into wedges, navel oranges into discs, and bananas into halves lengthwise.  Coat the fruits with a good drizzling of fresh lemon juice.  Slap on the grill.  Once done, transfer them on to a serving platter.  Top with a glaze of melted butter with dark brown sugar and lemon juice.  On the side, serve a tub of mascarpone cheese (carefully removed from the tub, with the shape of the mold preserved) topped with lots of the dark brown sugar.


Café Bola, Cibo, Pepato… and now… Lusso!

“It’s my new baby actually.  It’s called Lusso.  And “lusso” means luxe in Italian.  It’s a little champagne bar in Greenbelt 5.  And the concept is more like a hotel lobby not in a hotel!  It’s a restaurant that serves slightly substantial dishes…  It is luxury with a conscience.  You can experience all the wonderful things that a luxury concept can give you.  (But) it’s not priced out of the market.  It’s priced by taking everything into consideration – especially the economic times, the way our country’s situation is.  It is a nice place to feel spoiled and enjoy yourself.”

– Chef Margarita “Gaita” Fores, talking about her newest venture on “Secrets of the Masters”