Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy (Chinese) New Year

I have about a dozen draft posts...  I simply have to catch up before news gets too old... :)

Anyway, as long ago as it may be, I just wanted to share with you my family's simple celebration last New Year's Eve.   However, if you are Chinese, this post is not really too late... allow me to greet you a Happy Chinese New Year!  
I prepared some of the family's favorite party canapes to be enjoyed after dinner, while waiting for the clock to strike midnight.
Along with Spinach and Artcihoke Dip, the Torta di Formaggio has become a regular in my kitchen.  It used to be made on special occasions only, but due to the request from my kids, I now make it as often as I can.
The Smoked Salmon and Caviar Pie is a new recipe that I tried just for New Year's.  Everyone loved it as well as it has all the ingredients for a success.  Norwegian Smoked Salmon and Caviar.  What's not to like? 
Since C is under strict orders from his cardiologist to abstain from ALL alcoholic drinks till March, we made do with the next best thing -  sparkling juice!

If you think about it, it is not such a bad alternative... if you count the fact that even the young ones amongst us can raise their glasses, and say Cheers!
Kiong Hee Huat Chai!  
Kong Hei Fat Choy!
Happy Chinese New Year!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

What Are Your Plans For Valentine's?

A few more weeks and it is Valentine's already. Do you still celebrate it?

For me, Valentine's is always a good excuse to dress up and put on stilettos, to go out at night and celebrate - simply because it is also C's birthday. For this year, I have made reservations at The Establishment.
We are looking forward to enjoying an elegant and sumptuous 4-Course Dinner at The Establishment’s Crystal Room with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. The Valentine's Day menu is created by Chef Godfrey Laforteza, former omakase chef at renowned Manhattan restaurant Nobu.
To whet your appetite further, read on as they describe the menu:
Your first bites belong to the Golden Camembert w/ Mixed Berries Compote & Warm Goat Cheese Salad. This appetizer is the epitome of contrasting pleasures: crisp savory cheese dipped in a refreshing sauce of mixed berries and warm goat cheese eaten with slightly sweet balsalmic reduction on the salad both create perfect sweet-savory sensations in your mouth.

Soon, your Pumpkin Cappuccino follows. Expect hints of cinnamon to pleasantly surprise you as you enjoy this heartwarming soup made of roasted pumpkin.

For your entrée, you can choose from 2 of The Establishment clientele’s favored dishes. Your first choice is Hainanese Salmon, freshly broiled in sake and tastes just like the authentic Singaporean dish it was inspired by. The gingery flavor is balanced well by the moist and rather addicting Japanese Teppanyaki Rice it comes with. For this limited-time offer, a glass of crisp Chardonnay flawlessly accompanies this dish.

The other entrée choice served with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon is no other than Crystal Room’s signature dish, the Pan-Seared US Beef Tenderloin w/ Lychee Truffle Sauce. Foodies in the know have been raving about this dish, as the beef is uniquely toasted on the outside but soft and tender on the inside. When taken with the sautéed lychees drizzled in truffle oil, every bite is a cherished delight which makes this dinner all the more memorable.

The 4-course dinner comes to a close with Crystal Room’s signature dessert Pistachio de Lupe, created by chef Mara dela Rama, which is 20 layers of crepe and cream made with pistachio nuts. Light and moderately sweet, it offers an uplifting end to a lovely dinner.
What makes this dinner extremely lovely is that I got this dinner at a 50% discount.  It is originally valued at P1,600 per head and it is offered at a discounted price of only P800.00 (Inclusive of 12% VAT and 10% Service Charge) for a limited amount of time.

I got this amazing deal online from the DealGrocer webpage.
Actual prices are in US dollars, and I paid a total of $34.90.  A friend introduced me to this site after she got a 3-day/2-night Bellaroca vacation for her family of four at just P20,000.00.   Click here to learn more about their other promotions.
Terms of this Deal:
  • February 1 to 28, 2011, except Feb 17
  • Mondays thru Saturdays, 6pm – 10pm (Last order is at 9pm.)
  • Reservation required. Subject to table availability.
  • 1 Person per coupon
  • Consume all portions of coupon in one visit
  • Unused portion of coupon non-refundable
  • Orders not included in package will be charged as incidentals
  • Dine-in only
  • Not valid with other promos
The Establishment
Unit A The Fort Entertainment Complex
26th St. corner 5th Avenue
For Bonifacio, Taguig City
Phone: (632) 844 3634
Fax: (632) 844 9093

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hong Kong: Disneyland

Yet another late but still relevant post for all of you out there still planning your trips this summer vacation.

Disneyland is indeed the “happiest place on earth” for my kids.  The park has plenty to keep my young kids occupied as most of the rides and attractions are seemingly designed for this age group.  For my children’s ages, a 2-day park visit is ideal at this time to ensure that the outing goes along at an enjoyable, leisurely pace.

For little girls, going inside any castle is always a dream....

The glittering Disney Holiday Parade always brings cheers.
Aren't the green little men just so delightfully creepy
For all the toy story fans out there, you will be happy to know that the park will open a Toy Story Land in 2011.  Among the additional rides include a Green Army Men-themed parachute drop, a Slinky Dog-themed caterpillar ride, and an RC Racer-themed shuttle coaster.  It is too bad that it is not ready yet during the time of our visit.  I am sure R would have loved that.

Sapce Mountain is top on the list for C and the 2 girls.  J, who can't seem to get enough of it, rode it twice and would have wanted to line-up for a third time if I didn't stop her.

I am not very adventurous, and I usually choose the "safe" (otherwise also known as "boring") rides.  
The Mad-Hatter Tea Cup looks like a safe and gentle ride...

... that is until you turn the wheel in the middle and it gets faster and wilder... "it turns into the wackiest tea party this side of the rabbit hole."

Dumbo (at Fantasyland) and  the Orbitron (at Tomorrowland) are rides that make the kids feel as if they are flying in the sky- without the face-pulling speed of Space Mountain are also perfect for me.

It's a Small World is a slow sail in an imaginative journey through the different cultures around the world.  Needless to say, I found it very comforting. 

For older kids, Ocean Park might offer more alternatives, as aside from Space Mountain, there are no other rides that can possibly gratify a teenagers’ need for thrill.  But the one area in which HK Disney beats Ocean Park is in dining.  The dining options at Disney is more varied and the dining accomodation are more comfortable.  Our personal favorite is the gothic-styled Royal Banquet Hall located at Fantasyland.  This fast-food style outlet has four food stations: The Kettle kitchen offers curries, satays and stews; the Steam kitchen serves dim sum and other Chinese dishes; the Grill kitchen that serves the typical American food such as steaks and sausage; and the Tempura kitchen serves sushi, tempura, and other Japanese fare.  The food that is consistently good and comes with an affordable bill. 

Insert pics

Aside from the Disney Parade, be sure to catch the 8PM Fireworks Display by Cinderella’s castle. It’s amazing to watch colorful fireworks light up the sky accompanied by Disney’s well-loved songs. 

Staying at one of the Disney hotels is highly recommended.  When I first brought my kids to HK Disneland, we were billeted at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel.  The  Victorian styled hotel is the premier hotel in the resort.  My kids enjoyed the breakfast with the full cast of Disney characters on call.  This time around, we chose to stay at the Disney Hollywood Hotel.  Although the rooms seem to run a bit smaller, the amenities are pretty much still the same Disney standard. 
As you can see from the photos that follow, there is nothing to complain about...

Phenomenal Tip:
~ There are three attractions where you can use FASTPASS:   Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters,  The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,  Space Mountain. The queues for these attractions are generally longer, so what you can do to use your time wisely is to can insert your admission ticket into Disney’s FASTPASS stations to get your FASTPASS ticket, go ride another attraction, return during your given time and join the much shorter FASTPASS queue.
~ You are only allowed to bring a personal-size bottle of water inside the park.  Do not even bother to sneak in snacks, they check. 
~ If you want to get a good view of the fireworks,plant yourself at the benches in front of the castle at least 30 minutes before the scheduled firework activity.


Hong Kong: Must-See Lantau Island

Lantau Island is the biggest island in Hong Kong.  It has been relatively obscure to tourists until recently when it became recognized because of the developments in the island such as the relocation of the new airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.

We spent our last 2 days in HK at Lantau Island where we booked an overnight stay at the Disney Hollywood Hotel.  We arrived in Disneyland mid-morning and quickly left all our luggage with the hotel concierge since check-in was still at 3 in the afternoon.  Since the kids had previously visited the park, the adults decided that a quick visit to the nearby Citygate outlet wouldn’t upset any of the kids.  We boarded the train going to Tung Chung and we all enjoyed riding the Disney train... complete with Mickey silhouette windows, and Mickey handrails.
The seats are more plush, too

Citygate Outlet is located right next to Tung Chung MTR Station and approximately just 10-minutes away from the HK International Airport.  It is the only outlet mall in the entire HK and the place boasts of offering up to 70% discount and its location makes it great for last minute shopping. 

Sorry, as it would seem that I only took photos of the Christmas display... R kept bugging me to "take a picture of that..."  They do look cute and cuddly, like giant sized marshmallows.

We got to the outlet just in time for a very early lunch and afterwards went in fast pursuit to see what this mall had to offer.  The mall has some designer brands like Burberry, Diane von Furstenberg. Ralph Lauren, DKNY and the Armani bridge line, Armani Exchange.  There are a lot of mid-priced brands, some of them being Kate Spade, Coach, Mango, Esprit, Giordano, Levi's, Quiksilver and Timberland.
There are a lot of athletic apparel stores, too.  It is a runner's heaven as there huge discounts on shoes and dri-fit shirts and compression shorts.   More than half of the SRP in Manila.

I would also like to share a new shopping find, which also has an outlet store in Citygate.  Dr Kong is a manufacturer of one of the most comfortable shoe insoles I have ever tried.  My mom discovered this on her HK trip a few years ago, and she swears by it.  They also sell shoes with their special insoles inserted in it, but the designs are not that great, so I suggest just buying the insoles to put in your traveling shoes.
We got back to Disneyland just in time for the Holiday Parade.   
Hong Kong Disneyland is, obviously, the city's No. 1 attraction for families with young kids, and I am sure the Disneyland franchise is familiar to almost everybody. It is the world's smallest Disney Park, but nonetheless, it is well recommended, most especially if your kids range from 3-9 years old.

There is also another attraction in Lantau Isalnd that I really wanted to visit, but we fell short of time so will have to do that next time around.  The Ngong Ping 360 is a dynamic new tourism experience, which combines a 5.7 km cable car journey with a cultural themed village and easy access to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue, the world’s largest, seated, outdoor, bronze Buddha statue.  You can know more about it here.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Hong Kong: Must-See Kowloon Peninsula

While the Kowloon area is heavily residential, a lot of tourist attractions can be found in Tsim Sha Tsui.  Shopping, sightseeing, museums, heritage parks, restaurants, hotels… this place has it all.  Tsim Sha Tsui is easily one of the more prosperous areas in Hong Kong.  Canton Road alone has almost all the major luxury brands lined up and well-represented.

I am the characteristic Filipino tourist whose primary objective when visiting other countries is to find the best deals, sights are secondary priorities.  C is the archetypal glutton gourmand – scouring the finest dining options everywhere we go.  It is then our greatest karma to have kids who are captivated with exhibits, and practically anything else put on display.   

Tsim Shat Tsui caters to my family’s varied interest.  I know my kids adore TST because of the Science Museum.  While I find the district irresistible because of Harbour City.  You would understand that C appreciates the fact that Din Tai Fung, one of his fave restos, is just right across one of my preferred shopping complex.

Hong Kong Science Museum
Without asking my kids, I can tell you right off the bat this is their favorite spot in the whole of Hong Kong.The kids were spellbound by this interactive museum which features hundreds of exciting hands-on exhibits that cover almost every aspect of science:  light, sound, motion, electricity, solar energy, magnets, etc.  

B marvels at how the energy from moving air can make the ball seemingly fly...
DC3 airliner perched from the ceiling. A replica of an ancient Chinese war ship
 J calls this the hamster treadmill...
During our visit, the Museum had a special exhibit of the works of Leonardo daVinci.  I know him as a painter; I did not know that he is also one of the greatest inventors of mankind.  His innovative mind and technical genius is on exhibit at the Museum's Marvellous Inventions exhibition.
More than 50 machines and interactive models have been constructed from the Renaissance artist's drawings and notes, ranging from war machines and aviation to hydraulics and civil machines. 
His artistic genius is not overlooked either, with 16 replicas of the painter's most famous works such as Mona Lisa and The Last Supper also on display.
Right after we exit the da Vinci hall, R hurriedly pulls C’s hand, dragging him excitedly…
There is a small exhibit area dedicated to dinosaurs.  

B in front of an inter-active learning screen about dinosaurs excavated in China
Interactive learning center for electricity and magnetism...
The World of Mirrors is a fun exhibit that incorporates mirrors set up in unique ways.  The kids were in stitches as they saw their reflections in a way they have never seen before.

There is a hall in the ground floor level that is filled with interesting puzzles that test spatial relations skills, logical reasoning and numerical ability.  
There are different levels of difficulty to accommodate visitors of all ages, and hints are provided should you find yourself in a stalemate.
But just between you and me, I really think this is meant for the entertainment of all the TIRED DADS...
I have been consciously pushing my kids to have a natural fascination for the world around them.  As a parent I want to build in them curiousity about constellations, habitats, science, inventions… Happy would be not be a word I'd use to express my feelings at how the marvelled at the exhibit.  I am beyond happy!   Nonetheless, C and I did not expect to spend 5 hours as seeming hapless witnesses to their rabid absorption.  5 hours?  Exag na di ba?   I remember finishing the Smithsonian’s Space and Science Museum in an hour, and the National Archives a little bit longer.  I do not linger more than necessary on each exhibit.  Tsk! :)
I tell you, after the first three hours, it was a reversal of roles as I hear C asking, more like begging actually, the kids if we could wrap up the visit already.  5 hours!  I dread bringing them to the Smithsonian!!!

When the kids decided that they have had enough, we all came out of the museum with various reasons for the smiles on our faces –  but all of us none the worse for wear.

Address:  2 Science Museum Raod, Tsim Sha Tsui East.   
Tickets:  Tickets cost HK$ 25 for an adult and HK$ 12.5 for a children and seniors
Phenomenal Tip: 
~ Go on a Wednesday, admission to ALL museums is FREE.
~ If your schedule doesn't allow a Wednesday visit AND if you are planning to visit all the four museums (Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Museum of History, Hong Kong Space Museum, Hong Kong Science Museum, and Hong Kong Heritage Museum), buy the museum pass for HK$30 valid for one week; it will save you HK$35.  

Hong Kong Space Museum
Space Museum is relatively small museum which shows a static exhibit of the basic history of space flight.  It also has interactive exhibits, allowing you to fly a hang glider, work a space motion system, and simulate walking on the moon. The museum has a planetarium attached that shows movies projected onto the planetarium roof.  

My kids left the museum having a better understanding of the mystery of the heavenly bodies.  Although, I can honestly say that this museum is better appreciated by kids 10 years old and up.  I am ashamed to admit that R (and myself) used one of the viewing sessions to catch up on some zzzz's. 

Address:  10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Tickets:  HK$ 10 for an adult and HK$ 5 for a senior
Phenomenal Tip: 
~ Go on a Wednesday, admission to ALL museums is FREE.
~ If your schedule doesn't allow a Wednesday visit AND if you are planning to visit all the four museums ( Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Museum of History, Hong Kong Space Museum, Hong Kong Science Museum, and Hong Kong Heritage Museum), buy the museum pass for HK$30 valid for one week; it will save you HK$35.  

Kowloon Waterfront and Star Ferry
The Kowloon Waterfront offers splendid views of the Hong Kong island shore and skyline. The view is similar to what you would see on the other side of Victoria harbor, on the Hong Kong side.  

Canton Road and Harbour City
Canton Road is THE place to max out your Platinum credit card.  Home to designer brands such as Burburry, Hermes, D & G, Prada, Louis Viutton, and the likes.

Harbour City, located along Canton Road, is the Hong Kong equivalent of our own Megamall.  It would be helpful to pick-up one of the in-house maps, as it is easy to get lost in the nearly 800 shops stretched over three kilometers long. It has a pleasant mix of mid-price stores and luxury brands.
Address:  Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Just as we were rounding up the corner of Canton Rd., we saw 1881 Heritage. It is a beautifully refurbished historical site that has been turned into a refined and elegant place for upscale brands, restaurants and a hotel. 

With its well-designed Victorian buildings, double decker carousel, giant snowglobes and open space, it is a nice place to take photos. In fact, when we visited, there was a pre-nuptial photo session going-on right beside the banyan tree.

Address:  1881 Heritage, Salisbury Road, TST, Kowloon
Tickets:  free

Due to H&M's affordability and  its unavailability in Manila, I consider this one of the major attractions in HK.  hahaha!  The Silvercord branch is biggest next to the one in Central, I think.  Clothes shopping is not really ideal during Christmas, considering they are selling winter fashion.  However, there is a superb collection of accessories at very wallet-friendly prices. 

30 Canton Road
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

68 Queen's Road Central
Central, Hong Kong

Mong Kok
Mong Kok is popular for consumer electronics and computers.  To be clear, it is not an ideal destination for a family with kids.  So what are WE doing here?

As can be expected from my family, we sniffed our way in the middle of Mong Kong through our noses searching for Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.  While there, we passed by several street markets.

This is actually a good place to stock up on Chinese ingredients for your own pantry, should you feel the urgent need to replicate the fine dishes you tasted in HK as soon as you get home. 
Up next:  the Lantau Island (Disneyland and Citygate outlet)

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