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Cool Kampai – Epilogue November 13, 2017

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink.
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By Alex Sawit

November 13, 2017




   Last April, I was featured as a guest writer on Gail Sotelo’s blog Two Shots and a Pint, with this article entitled Cool Kampai, in which I discuss the everyday appeal of two of Japan’s most popular whisky brand labels, Suntory Kakubin and Black Nikka.

   As a postscript, I’m happy to let you folks know that the high-proof variant in the Black Nikka range, called “Deep Blend”, is THE everyday whisky that I enjoy in a Glencairn glass more than any other everyday whisky. Deep Blend is bottled at a very commendable 45% abv. (instead of the very watered down 40% abv. that is now standard with whisky producers around the world), which means you get to taste the full flavor-profile that the Black Nikka style is capable of offering. If you’re not a whisky snob, then you may just be persuaded to embrace Deep Blend as the best-value whisky on the planet.

   If you haven’t read it yet, you can read my article “Cool Kampai” at 2shotsandapint.com (pics below are reposted from the article).


Suntory poster of Haruka Igawa, demonstrating how to make a Kaku highball.


Nikka poster of the standard variant of Black Nikka,
called “Clear” to indicate unpeated malt.


Igawa promoting the Kaku highball with deep-fried Japanese food.


Screenshot of Nikka commercial with actor Tetsuji Tameyama mixing a Black highball.

WATCH IT ON YOUTUBE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kL46q4fsYqE






Honest Food for Real Wine Drinkers May 12, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

May 12, 2016



A simple charcuterie platter of paté, rillettes, saucisson, and chorizo…yum!!!


   In preparation for Cyrano’s move to its new location, I’ve been freely listening to the suggestions of different friends who are culinary professionals, asking for ideas on how best to update our food menu.

   One chef friend, Ian Padilla, who trained in France at the famed Taillevent restaurant, eventually got around to saying that in spirit Cyrano reminded him of a famous wine bar in Paris called Le Baron Rouge (“The Red Baron”).  It’s a tiny wine bar (about the same size as Cyrano) that has been described as a “blue collar bar” that doesn’t have time for pretentious wine snobs.


Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.


   Interestingly, their original menu was famously simple: cheese boards and charcuterie platters (check the top picture of a typical charcuterie combo of paté/terrine, rillettes, saucisson, and chorizo), plus fresh oysters on the shell on weekends.  That was it.

   My friend Ian says it was only when foreign tourists started crowding the place all the time and ignorantly asking for “other stuff” that the Baron expanded the menu to accommodate their untrained palates. At Le Baron Rouge, the original food concept was to keep things authentic and simple, nothing fussy or fancy, and it worked.


Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.


   “This is the kind of place I like,” e-mailed my business partner and Cyrano friend Joco, after seeing the e-mail reference I sent him about Le Baron Rouge and recognizing the similarities. As every Cyrano friend already knows, we’ve never had a kitchen, yet we still managed behind the bar counter to cook tasty treats for you to enjoy with your wine. And we’ve always kept our menu simple.

   “Yeah, my thoughts too,” I e-mailed in reply. “It was Ian who pointed this place to me, because Baron Rouge doesn’t even have a real kitchen, just a bar set-up.  Their charcuterie platters don’t require cooking, but these are their signature menu items that customers love.  It’s old school and simple, yet a lot of customers in our new location have never been introduced to this fun style of eating while drinking.”


Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.


   “Also,” I continued. “When the place gets too crowded and customers have to stay outside, notice that they stack plastic crates and top them with serving trays to make a makeshift high table. And they get away with the look because they’re “Parisians”.  I wonder if we’d be able to get away with doing that…haha!”

   “I think we can,” Joco e-mailed back with a smiley face.

   Thumbs up. More than that, I look forward to getting away with keeping it nice and simple at our new place – just tweaking our menu with more of the honest, uncomplicated food that always gives comfort to real wine drinkers (aka Cyrano friends).





Appealing February 13, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

February 13, 2016

Unlike Ueno’s version at The Curator, the standard Negroni is made with equal
parts of gin, vermouth rosso and Campari, garnished with an orange peel.


   This is too good not to mention.

   Some nights ago, I slid open the dark wooden door at the back of Cyrano and crossed into The Curator, the cocktail bar that recently featured Japanese legend Hidetsugu Ueno as its celebrity bartender. As I often do when interacting with their staff (our two bars coordinate for a lot of shared needs that happen during the course of an evening, from tap water to extra chairs for additional guests), I paid them a visit behind the counter, where they are shielded from customer view by thick, black curtains.

   “Faye,” I asked their pretty, olive-complexioned bartender and cashier, “do you remember how many lemon peels Ueno put in his Black Negroni?”

   Faye, together with her fellow bartenders, had previously discussed with me their surprise about how Ueno chose to use lemon to make his version of the classic Negroni cocktail, which is typically garnished with an orange peel. She promptly answered my question in earshot of Vito, her fellow bartender and Curator’s resident pop balladeer at closing time, who was over by the sink washing dishes.

   “Sir,” Faye replied, “Ueno used one lemon peel per drink.”

   “Just one? Are you sure he used only one?”

   “Yes, sir, just one.”

   “So when you make a Negroni now, you also use only one peel?”

   “Yes sir.”

   “Are you sure you don’t want to use six?”

   “Huh? But sir…,” she asked, her pretty features suddenly looking perplexed. “Why naman are we going to use six?

   “So that way, you have six apeel.”

   We all cracked up, including Vito all the way over at the sink, with Faye doubling over in mock embarrassment.

   Yeah, haha, I’ve always wanted to say that.





An Educated Taste for Drink January 31, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

January 31, 2016



The maestro of mixology, Hidetsugu Ueno, at his Bar High Five in Tokyo.


   Truth: all drinkers drink, but not equally. The great British drinks writer Michael Jackson (in my opinion, the most eloquent whisky writer who ever lived) used to say that any drinker who claims to possess a cultivated palate ought to drink first and foremost for the taste of it. “In the end, there are only two kinds of drinker,” he wrote. “The discriminating and the indiscriminate.”

   Let’s be honest. Not everyone really cares to have an educated taste for drink. At any given bar on any given night in any given country, you won’t have trouble finding indiscriminate drinkers – the boozers if you will. Boozers are fairly easy to spot; they’re the ones who tell you that all they want is to get a “good buzz” while appearing to drink fashionably, throwing their money at whatever expensive horse piss the bartender is passing off as chic. I apologize for the unkindness, but I just want to be emphatic. Spend all you want on expensive drinks; that doesn’t make you a better drinker.

   I find it more rewarding to drink at a bar with genuine people who know how to taste what they’re drinking and care about sharing that appreciation. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy such company when The Curator – that no-nonsense cocktail bar hidden by that dark sliding door at the back of Cyrano – invited the great Hidetsugu Ueno to serve as its celebrity guest bartender for one special night last December.

   “I have the world’s greatest bartender in my bar!” cheered a beaming Jericson, The Curator’s founder, happy with disbelief that he was able to bring this living legend of Bar High Five in Tokyo for a gig in the Philippines.

   “He wasn’t bothering to measure the drinks,” admiringly commented Poch, The Curator’s senior bartender, about their celebrated Japanese guest. “He was doing it by eye, making adjustments with each drink based on how he felt each glass needed it.”

   Now, I’m not the world’s most ardent fan of cocktails. Offer me a good whisky or a nice wine and most of the time I’ll choose either of those over a mixed drink. Having said that, this doesn’t preclude me from favoring three classics: the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni.

   Invented by the Italians, who possess an enviable wealth of experience when it comes to making beautiful drinks, the Negroni properly made can be a sublime experience – lusciously smooth in the mouth, with a refined interplay of sweetness, richness, and sharpness over ice, making it one of the rare cocktails that can be perfect either as a casual treat over lunch on a sunny day, or as a suave gesture in the presence of evening companions. Unfortunately, local bartenders usually make this cocktail by applying a typically Pinoy sweet tooth, resulting in a syrupy slop that overwhelms the possibility of yummy subtleties. Hence, leading up to this night at The Curator, I had never previously at a local bar had a Negroni that was worth remembering.

   This night, however, our celebrity Japanese bartender offered guests his version, labelled a Black Negroni, which Ueno-san crafted with intuitive proportions of Tanqueray, Carpano Antica Formula, and Fernet Branca.

   “Here, try it,” said Joco, my Cyrano business partner, after he placed a glass on the counter. I took one sip and was immediately quieted. I wasn’t expecting Ueno-san’s interpretation to taste like this. Having been acclimatized to how local bartenders make the Negroni, I felt compelled to pause in silent reflection. I took another sip just to be sure about how I felt.

   It was exquisite. It was perfect.

   “This is an outstanding Negroni,” was all I could manage to say to Joco in that humbling moment. Joco, who is the first genuine Negroni aficionado I ever met and whose influence is the reason I acquired a liking for this classic drink, wholeheartedly agreed with my pronouncement.

   “I know,” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s so perfectly balanced!”

   As if on cue, our mixologist hostess Tiff entered the scene and happily parked at the bar counter next to me.

   “Tiff,” I told her sincerely, “that is an outstanding Negroni.”

   “Yes!” she gushed with a big smile, unable to hide how awesomely she felt about it. “That’s an outstanding Negroni!”

   Tiff, who is one of the co-owners of The Curator and who holds the distinction as the mixologist who made the best Martini I’ve ever had anywhere, then compared notes with me about Ueno-san’s skills.

   “He used a larger than normal sized peel for the Negroni,” she said, fully aware that Ueno chose to use lemon instead of the usual orange peel to create a signature twist.

   “What amazes me,” I observed, hinting at the effect of that chunky lemon peel, “is that he figured a way to keep it balanced even as the ice continues to melt. The taste gets milder and milder as the drink gets watered down, but all the flavors still meld and beautifully come through.”

   If only boozers could understand this about drinking.

   There were other cocktails on Ueno-san’s guest menu at The Curator, but the fact that I was able to share drinks that evening with good folks like Joco and Tiff, who understood how I felt and whom I understood in return, only made tonight’s bar experience that much more fulfilling. Without folks like these at the familial heart of any bar, a bar becomes a soul-less community.

   And oh, there were plenty of boozers that night too, mindlessly downing Ueno-san’s superlative creations one after another as if they were popping pills for a fix. Whether they were just faking that they could taste the difference in Ueno’s drinks or whether they only understood the “cool factor” of being served $15 cocktails by the world’s most famous bartender, they still got the good buzz that they came for.

   Sigh…ignorance is bliss.





Our Awesome Lambanog January 14, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

January 14, 2016



Photo originally posted by FlipTrip founder April Cuenca on Instagram.


   “Lambanog tasting at Cyrano tonight!” happily announced the Instagram post of Ms. April Cuenca, founder of acclaimed Pinoy travel gateway FlipTrip, when she uploaded a photo last Saturday. “Say goodbye to rocket fuel-type lambanog. Blended lambanog from Quezon and Batangas will change how you see our awesome local alcohol!”

   Believe it or not, Cyrano friends, lambanog tasting nights are now one of my favorite things at the wine shop. Yes, we now offer lambanog in a wine establishment!

   Sometimes referred to as coconut “moonshine” in the Philippines, lambanog is a traditional distilled spirit of the islands, made from the sap of the coconut tree’s unopened flower pods. What makes it so rewarding to serve this at the wine shop is that we now have our very own “house lambanog”, which we ourselves crafted according to our uniquely original style. It’s even more rewarding when we get to serve it to appreciative guests who know how to taste with discerning palates, which was exactly the case at last Saturday’s exclusive tasting event for Ms. Cuenca and her artist friend, Ms. Ina Jardiolin.

   I started the tasting session by explaining to my two special guests that consistency is a problem in this Pinoy cottage industry. Lambanog-making families typically resist suggestions to modernize their backyard production methods, which hinders the evolution of a better-quality product that can capture the imaginations of both local and foreign connoisseurs.

   “This made me think about how scotch whisky developed in Britain as a modern consumer product,” I said while I carefully arranged bottles and glasses on the counter in front of the two young ladies, who were seated at the bar.

   “In the old days, booze merchants needed a way to supply the British market with whisky of consistent quality and in large volumes. The problem was that even though whisky distilleries were plentiful in Scotland, each could only produce relatively limited quantities. The solution was for each merchant house to bottle its own “house” blend – selecting different whiskies from different Scottish regions from as many suppliers as necessary, then blending these whiskies with other grain spirits into a single product of consistent style and quality. That’s how blended scotch started, and that’s how Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, and all the others became the successful global brands that they are today.”

   “So I thought,” I continued, after pouring some lamabanog for April and Ina, “why not do the same with lambanog?”

   That’s how I told my guests that Cyrano Wine Shop is the first in the market to innovate the concept of blended lambanog.

   “The first one you’re tasting,” I said as the girls tried the clear spirit that I poured from the heavy, impressively square-shaped bottle, “is a blend of Quezon and Batangas lambanog, which uses a very high proportion of the Batangas variety to give the blend a beautiful, floral softness.”

   “The second one,” I continued when the girls moved to the next offering, which was poured from the big, stocky, rounded-looking bottle, “has a higher proportion of Quezon lambanog, which gives the blend a more intensely flavored finish. The recipes for both blends are a trade secret, of course.”

   “Ours is the kind of lambanog that deserves to be leisurely sipped and savored in a bar,” I said, concluding my presentation. “Serve it chilled and neat or with a little ice…have it as your first drink of the night or as your nightcap…make a lambanog martini…just enjoy it as you please.”

   When the girls compared notes, April professed her preference for the more floral blend and Ina went for the one with a more intense finish. Regardless, the girls were visibly excited about both Cyrano blends, which they found so delicious and classy that the experience has changed the way they look at lambanog.

   My gratitude to both of you, April and Ina, not only for the valuable insights you offered about our new branded product and but also for your genuine appreciation of it. And yeah, thanks for calling it awesome!





A Thirst for Wine Fusions July 19, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink.
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Guest post written by Gail Sotelo

Reposted from 2shotsandapint.com

July 15, 2015





   “You’ve never liked a drink this much this soon,” said Chad.

   I agreed.

   Well, he has seen me drink so often that I took his word for it (in my defense, I tried very hard to act cool in Burgundy while having that divine glass of Aloxe-Corton).

   Going back to the drink I was having at the time that merited Chad’s statement, it was the newest offering of Cyrano, simply called “Brew-Blended Wines”.

   By definition, the drinks are classified under the “beer-wine” cocktail category. They come in two flavors: The “White Label” Torrontes-Weizen, and the “Red Label” Sherry-Shiraz-Weizen.

   Oh, and did I mention that these are proudly Cyrano’s own concoctions? Alex, the bartender, told me the recent craft beer trend inspired them.


Yummy, creamy Red Label.


   For that evening, I decided to try the Red Label.

   I was immediately blown away.

   The taste is reminiscent of a Belgian Stout Ale in terms of flavor profile and effervescence. I personally love the notes of chocolates, raisins, prune, and earthy malt, all tied together with a decadent, creamy texture.

   It can be consumed in any situation: a nice dinner, while watching TV, having dinner with friends, watching Eurovision (I have Alex to thank for this), and even on date night (especially if the decision between having wine or beer leads to an impasse).

   So, if you’re a traditional beer drinker who wants to develop a taste for wine, a wino looking for a change, or an adventurous drinker willing to try something deliciously different, you should try a carafe (or two) of these fabulous beverages. Tell me what you think. Cheers!





Guest post written by Gail Sotelo

Reposted from 2shotsandapint.com

July 18, 2015



White Label fresh from the carafe.



   We finally managed to try out the White Label version of Cyrano’s new Brew-Blended Wines last night…. We weren’t able to do so last time because, according to Alex, it was all Feona’s fault.

   Seriously, people should drop by Cyrano just to see these two banter.

   Anyway, the white counterpart of their home-made cocktail is refreshing, easy to drink, and easy to finish. It’s perfect for people who like drinking more feminine, effervescent beverages.

   Don’t get me wrong, though. The crisp notes of this drink can appeal to beer lovers as well (especially those who prefer Pilsners).

   Try it out and tell us what you think. Cheers!





Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu June 20, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

June 20, 2015





   Just to be clear, I didn’t invent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

   Haha, no, I’m not talking about the martial art. In that regard, it was the Japanese immigrant community who introduced jujutsu to Brazilians during the 20th century. Over time, the plucky South Americans used their signature panache to reinvent the Japanese import, resulting in a version of jujutsu which is now famously Brazilian in ownership. So successful was this Japan-to-Brazil transplantation that today, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is firmly established as one of the most popular skills of choice in the global sport of mixed martial arts.

   But I digress. What I’m talking about is the new, amazingly refreshing drink on our menu at the wine shop.

   If necessity is the mother of invention, then the need to quench one’s thirst is a motivation for creativity that all cultural communities across the world share. The inevitable and joyful result is what one could call “people’s drinks”. Perhaps the most famous example of a people’s drink is sangria – wine steeped with fruit in a pitcher – which the Spaniards invented and evolved as a fun way to beat the Iberian summer heat.

   In Brazil, the sizable Japanese community not too long ago came up with a people’s drink of its own. Just as they had done with their martial art, the immigrants introduced sake to the locals, in this case taking a classic Brazilian mixed drink, caipirinha, and reformulating it with Japanese rice wine. Known in Brazil as a sakerinha or a caipisake, the new drink can only be described as a perfect harmony of Brazilian flamboyance (lime and sugar) and Japanese samurai spirit (sake), served in a glass tumbler over a heap of crushed ice that wows you into submission.

   Invented in Brazil with Japanese techniques…just like Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s the perfect name with which to rechristen this drink (admittedly, it’s also easier for our customers to say, the majority of them finding it a struggle to pronounce the original names correctly).



   “This is better than a mojito,” is what folks around here have been excitedly saying about this Asia-meets-South America beverage, which tops at around 14% alcohol by volume.

   So drop in anytime for a winning bout of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a knockout…haha, my bad, I meant tap out.





Introducing Brew-Blended Wines March 4, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink.
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By Alex Sawit

March 4, 2015



Brew-blended wine in a glass for a bloggers’ event.


   I’m not exactly fond of accepting copywriting requirements – commercial writing is unrewarding unless I’m properly compensated (my fee is expensive, by the way) or it’s for a worthy cause.

   But when the marketing group partnered with Cyrano needed a primer for the new brew-blended wines they were helping us promote, I figured, “Who else should do this but me, right?”

   Your little neighborhood wine shop is absolutely a worthy cause, Cyrano friends. Enjoy the copy.



    A Primer to Cyrano’s
           Brew-Blended Wines


       Wine or beer?  It’s the typical dilemma when thirsty friends want to go on a night out.

       But there’s a wonderful trend in the U.S. craft beer industry that’s creating common ground between wine lovers and beer drinkers.  As outrageously simple as it sounds, the solution was to combine wine and beer into a delicious new beverage for the 21st century, now popularly referred to as the beer-wine hybrid.

       Although mixing wine and beer may sound radical to some folks, the idea actually goes back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization. Evidence found at archaeological sites from Egypt to China shows that ancient mixologists were freely combining wine grapes and beer grains, resulting in hybrid beverages that would surely have excited many of today’s bar hoppers.

       One pioneering craft brewery, Dogfish Head, was so enthused by these archaeo-beverages that it re-created them for the modern market, releasing its first such bottling in 1999.  Named Midas Touch, this creamy, sweetly complex brew was reverse-engineered from a 2,800 year-old discovery in Turkey (the archaeology suggests a link to the King Midas legend), re-creating the ancient recipe using muscat grapes, barely, honey, and saffron.  It proved so successful that the producer went on to invent all-new, modern recipes, and not long afterward many craft brewers followed suit.  Others went in a similar direction by partnering with winemakers, using winery techniques (wine-barrel ageing) and products (grape must and wine lees) to create crossover beverages that blur the distinction between wine and beer.  Today, beer-wine hybrids are the most revolutionary beverages in American craft brewing, with more producers creating a wide diversity of styles and with ever increasing demand among sophisticated consumers.

       Inspired by these exciting developments, Cyrano Wine Shop launched its own unique range of crafted beverages, called Brew-Blended Wines.

       Introduced last Holiday Season 2014, Cyrano’s Brew-Blended Wines are made according to our own in-house recipes.  Each offers a loving harmony of flavor that amazes both wine lovers and beer drinkers, who easily recognize the fun characteristics of both wine and beer in our blends.

       Cyrano’s Brew-Blended Wines are available in two high-alcohol variants.  Our “White Label” (9% alcohol by volume) marries a sweet-style Torrontes white wine with the fruitiness of a wheat brew, resulting in a creamy yet refreshing banana-mango flavor.  Our “Red Label” (10% alcohol by volume) is a dessert-like combination of Shiraz red wine, cream sherry and dark wheat beer, with a rich chocolate-caramel taste finished with a hint of raisins.  Both variants are prepared, mixed, and served in a carafe per order, allowing you to enjoy a delicious taste as freshly as possible.

       So if you’re out with friends and can’t decide between wine or beer, why not just have more fun with both?

       Come over and enjoy Cyrano’s Brew-Blended Wines, only at Cyrano Wine Shop.





Behind the Gate December 25, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

December 25, 2013

“Is Cyrano open na? The back room? :)”

That was the text from my friend after she saw a Facebook photo of other Cyrano friends in the newly renovated space (if she sounded excited, it’s because she still hasn’t sneaked away from capoeira class to see what’s new; also, the back room has sentimental value to her as this is where, under the influence of the Fat Bastard, she merrily introduced herself to Maegan Aguilar onstage in the middle of a live performance).

I texted back, asking her to visit soon. I hope she’ll be okay with the changes because, like a lot of her fellow Cyrano friends, she enjoyed the set-up of the old room. I also guess it’s time for me to make a full, official statement about the back room of Cyrano Wine Shop, which for years had been a hideaway in its own right for merrymakers wanting more privacy.

Yes, the place is open again. But no, it’s no longer our back room. We’ve leased it to a cool group of friends who’ve turned the place into The Curator. Remember this: it’s the only place in town that I trust for cocktails made the way I like them and for coffee drinks made the way that not everyone is lucky enough to try.

Just don’t call it a speakeasy. The owners have made it clear that they don’t like that description for their place (sorry but it’s an anachronistic term, a marketing name that keeps getting hijacked by trendy bars, luring the uneducated into paying for poorly made yet overpriced cocktails). They also don’t like it being called a dive bar, even though it was Playboy magazine that famously described a dive bar as a place “for down-and-outers and those who romanticize them, a rare place where high and low rub elbows – bums and poets, thieves and slumming celebrities.” That description actually comes close to expressing it. The Curator is the anti-hero’s drinking den, social status be damned.

It begins when you pass through the gate – a dark wooden slab that new customers often mistake for a wall panel…until it deceptively slides open to grant you access.


Walk past the wine racks. Dare you knock?


“You know what this place reminds me of,” I told Jeric after I slid the gate shut and settled into a chair at one of the long tables. Jeric is one of the owners and he’s the lead mixologist, his word being law at the bar where cocktails are concerned.

I sat in very subdued light admiring the nakedness of the concrete interior, which helps emphasize the bare honesty with which The Curator fashions its coffee beverages and cocktails. Again, it’s the opening and closing of the gate that begins the process of tickling your imagination.

“It’s like a secret bunker,” I continued, “like one of those caves tunneled under the trenches in World War I, where the officers would hang out, drink Champagne and Cognac, and be oblivious to what’s happening above in no man’s land.” I brought up the movie Blast From the Past for additional reference. I even said that in a zombie apocalypse, this place would make an awesome hideout for survivors taking a break from their war versus the undead outside these pseudo-impregnable walls.

He seemed to laugh and then agreed about the cave analogy, saying that he really likes the look. The design of the bar itself is so rustic, so simple, so restrained with its open structure of re-used wooden beams; in the context of the interior and carefully considered lighting scheme, it feels very warm and welcoming. No doubt it inspires Jeric when he’s behind the counter mixing drinks, much like an authoritarian sushi chef who advocates omakase service because he knows what’s best for you.

His coffee counterpart, Sly, is also thrilled with how the place looks. A consummate coffee geek, Sly has a reputation for training champion baristas and was the creative genius who turned Craft Coffee of Quezon City into a mecca for lovers of the bean. He’s now doing the same thing for The Curator, which serves artisanal coffee from morning till early evening before the baristas turn over operations to the bartenders.

Dave likes the look, too. Every bar needs a good cop and Dave definitely plays good cop among the owners who run the place (borrowing appropriately from the term “Soup Nazi” popularized in the 1990s hit comedy series Seinfeld, the “Coffee Nazi” is Sly and the “Cocktail Nazi” is Jeric). He’s the glue guy who maintains harmony between caffeine fixes and alcohol hits, either of which he can make for you.



Now, how many other other bars in the metropolis will you find where the owners toil behind the counter to personally make drinks for you? I think none. That’s why I have no respect for all those trendy places that jumped on the speakeasy bandwagon, all of them trying to cash in like so many soul-less fast food joints.

In contrast, listen to my story about how The Curator served me a Martini, courtesy of their other mixologist-in-residence, Tiffany, who not surprisingly is also a co-owner.

Don’t let her soft-spoken demeanor fool you. Tiff may be a kindergarten teacher by day but by night she’s one of the top guns of the local cocktail scene (she and Jeric are co-instructors for The Curator’s private classes). One night, as a test, I asked for a proper Martini. An apologetic Tiff informed me that they were out of Tanqueray. Would I trust her, she asked, if she were to make one using Bombay Sapphire instead? I was fully aware that Tiff’s proposal is considered heresy by Martini purists, who preach that Bombay is too mild and that only Tanqueray gives the right balance of flavor and aroma needed in this classic gin-based cocktail.

“Go for it,” I told Tiff. “I trust you.”

It was the best Martini I ever had. It was more feminine, I commented as I drank at my table, than any other Martini I’d encountered – so delicately floral, light yet fleshy, with just a whispered suggestion of sweetness and a hint of citrus…and perfectly stirred (by the way, never ask for it shaken when you’re at The Curator unless you want to be schooled for being as ignorant about a Martini as the fictional James Bond is). She explained that it comes out this way because she makes very sensitive adjustments to balance the flavors when using this brand of gin. Actually, she revealed to me with a smile, this is the taste she prefers when making a Martini for personal enjoyment.

Hats off to you, Tiff. Truthfully, every pretentious cocktail bar out there can learn a lot from what these folks at The Curator are skillfully doing right.

I suppose I could go on because I have more stories of praise to tell but I would only be accused of being biased. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

So I’ll just end this by saying that Cyrano friends have nothing to be sad about. We wine lovers may have lost our back room but we’ve all gained a great, complementary neighbor in return – a hideout for the anti-hero in all of us.

Don’t forget to knock on the gate.



The art of coffee at The Curator.


Eggnog for the happy holidays!





Top 10 Deli Snacks in the Philippines April 8, 2011

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.

By Alex Sawit

08 April 2011


Although the word delicatessen is of German origin, it ultimately derives from the Latin delicatus, which very loosely translated means, “Little goodies you can’t stop popping in your mouth!” Hence, “delicacies” are happily found when one steps into a modern deli shop.

People’s expectations of deli food vary, however. In North America, it’s popular to think of a delicatessen as a sandwich shop with menus for sit-down customers (my favorite movie reference is Meg Ryan’s famous “faking it” scene at Katz’s Deli in When Harry Met Sally). In Europe, the deli is a specialty grocery for top quality foodstuffs (curiously, in America they refer to this differently as a “gourmet food store”).

In the Philippines, we basically follow the European meaning: a delicatessen is a store that retails cured meats and cold cuts, sausages, cheeses, gourmet breads and other fine foods that can be served with minimum or no cooking. That’s how we at Cyrano understand deli food and this being a wine shop we want what goes well with wine, which is why our bar chow consists of easy-to-serve snacks for wine lovers to nibble on (like an old-fashioned enoteca, right?).

Alas we can’t have everything on our menu. It’s unfortunate because there are lots of good local products to be found, even from the far corners of the country (let’s thank our Cyrano business partners, Joco and Ric, for finding great stuff from as far away as Cagayan de Oro and Davao). The least we can do is acknowledge those we believe are worth praising to you.

So here is your wine shop’s list of what we feel are the Top 10 Deli Snacks made in the Philippines. Chances are you may have already tried or heard of some of them but please seek out on your own the ones that you haven’t. Remember to enjoy them with our wines!



But Before Our Top 10…A Special Mention

Snobs would think it pedestrian to think so highly of pork rinds but what do they know? Our thanks to Manito de Borja, one of our oldest Cyrano friends and the fattest thin man we’ve ever met, for explaining the sophistication of Chicharittos (only an eating machine like Manito would have lobbied for this as a snack with wine). Try Chicharittos in all flavors with a smooth, dry South African Chenin Blanc and ignore those lobotomized Vegans who cannot fathom the rewards of so much unhealthy goodness.

Chicharottos are available at Rustan’s Supermarket Main Branch, Rustan’s Building, Ayala Avenue, Makati City.






10. Chef Philippe’s Party Breads

Chef Philippe Agnesi, in a moment of candid satisfaction over the caffe latte he was served, told me that our shop makes “very good coffee.” Coming from a French pastry chef with a reputation for being a merciless perfectionist, it was flattering, especially since we aren’t an espresso bar. We now return the compliment. Chef Philippe’s Party Breads are uncompromisingly excellent. They are meals in themselves but are best sliced, as the name implies, as party hors d’oeuvres. Among the savory breads, my favorite is the Mediterranean, a soft brioche that’s a romance of pesto, tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, sun dried tomatoes and black olives, to be enjoyed with a Côtes du Rhone Villages.

Chef Philippe’s Party Breads are available at Chef Philippe Commissary, 2310 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati (visit http://www.chefphilippe.org for details).


9. Zaragoza Sardines

I’ve been a fan of this Pinoy brand for a while and it impresses me that Zaragoza Foods, which is based in Dipolog, is so consistent on such a commercial scale. Well, okay, they’ve had tiny slip ups but these have been rare. Whatever their secret, these sardines are absolutely the best value gourmet treats in the country, especially for gourmands who know what to do with good sardines. Available in Portugese- and Spanish-style in corn oil and in Spanish-style in tomato sauce, these are delectable with good bread and a Southern French Viognier.



Zaragoza Sardines are available at Rustan’s Supermarket Main Branch. Export versions in olive oil are available at S&R Price Mart, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.


8. Dial K For Kitchen Pâté

After pursuing culinary careers in Europe for nearly 20 years, sisters Georgina and Kim Ramos returned to the Philippines to nurture something closer to their hearts. The result is Dial K For Kitchen, a gourmet business that radiates with their cultivated food experiences. Among their products, nothing expresses this as luxuriously as their bestselling pâté. “This has got to be the SMOOTHEST, the absolute CREAMIEST chicken liver pâté you can ever find,” they claim on their blog, “with no gamey aftertaste!” I won’t disagree. Bring some to the shop so you can share it with us when you order a South African Rosé.



Dial K For Kitchen Paté can be ordered at facebook.com/Dial.K.for.Kitchen.


7. Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses

Mrs. Olive Puentespina has been making artisanal cheeses in Davao under the Malagos Farmhouse label for several years now, winning acclaim from local and foreign gourmands who are astounded that Western-style cheeses of such quality can be made in our tropical climate. Her fromage de chèvre (French-style soft goat cheese) is a favorite of European expats, who say it’s indistinguishable from the French import. Pile it on thin crisp bread and pair it with a well-chilled Italian Prosecco. I go for the “peppercorn brie” and “demi-blue Styleton” (that’s what I nicknamed the latter because it reminds me of an extremely mild Stilton), made from cow’s milk, both of which are nice with a creamy Australian Chardonnay.



Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses are available here at Cyrano Wine Shop.


6. Chef Cyrille’s Pork Rillette

I’m going to take flak for this because not every Cyrano friend is a fan of Chef Cyrille Soenen’s rillette (our adorable but painfully fussy Cyrano friend, Georgina, derides it by saying it tastes like canned corned beef in fat…ouch!). Many agree, however, that it’s like lechon you can serve with a butter knife and to me this stuff is bursting with flavor. Rillette is meat, often pork, cooked in its own rendered fat and reduced to a spread. Other rillettes can be like fine paste but Chef Cyrille makes a rustic style whose flaky texture I prefer, especially on flat bread. Try it with a Southern French Syrah and then decide if this is the best rillette in town.



Chef Cyrille’s Pork Rillette can be ordered from Cyrille Soenen Restaurants, Inc. (visit http://www.restaurantcicou.com for details).


5. Säntis Chorizo

I order this in advance at Säntis Forbes because they can run out as quickly as it arrives. Säntis Delicatessen has been selling beer sticks for years but something clicked last Christmas season when customers in the affluent neighborhood developed a liking for this Spanish-style, dry-cured sausage (so it’s technically not a chorizo but a salchichón). Suddenly, folks were loading them in gift baskets and hoarding them for their pantries. Its chewy tenderness and mildly sour, mildly spicy meaty flavor make it so versatile, allowing you add it to anything from fresh salads to different pastas. I like slicing it into rounds as a snack, preferably paired with a red like a Spanish Tempranillo.



Säntis Chorizo is available at Säntis Delicatessen, WIC Building 7431 Yakal Street, San Antonio Village, Makati.


4. H-Cuisine’s Frozen Microwavable Takeaways

Chef Hannah Herrera gets great reviews for her catering service, H-Cuisine, and folks who visit her stall at the Salcedo market can’t get enough of H-Cuisine’s famous slow-roasted Angus beef belly. There’s also marrow-filled ossobuco and rich callos and a whole lot more. Here’s the kicker: H-Cuisine also offers these items as frozen takeaways that are awesome after proper reheating (folks at the shop were surprised at how yummy they turned out after microwaving). Nothing beats food fresh from the kitchen but this shows what’s possible if you know the tricks of reheating (Chef Hannah includes precise instructions with the frozen products). Try the beef belly, ossobuco and callos at the shop “pica-pica style” with a smooth Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon.



H-Cuisine’s Frozen Microwavable Takeaways are available at the H-Cuisine stall in Salcedo Market, every Saturday at Salcedo Park, Leviste Street, Salcedo Village, Makati.


3. Donau Deli Sausages

Anyone who knows anything about charcuterie would be foolish to dispute that Donau Deli makes the best sausages and cold cuts in town. Founded by Chef Roland Sager and his wife Marietta, Donau is so reputable that they regularly produce sausages and cold cuts for other delicatessens, who then proudly package them as their own (shame on Mickey’s Delicatessen for not giving credit where credit and more are due). They make a wide variety of classic German-style sausages but ironically my favorite is the fully cooked Polish-style Kielbasa, a glorious meld of lean and fat with the right sweet smoky flavor, all nice with a Chilean Pinot Noir.



Donau Deli Sausages can be purchased at Donau Deli, 7904 Lawaan Street, San Antonio Village, Makati (for inquiries, call 899-6810 or send an e-mail to donaudeli@yahoo.com).


2. SLERS Pastrami

I must confess that I had misgivings after I tasted a new batch recently only to find that the product was a bit underwhelming. It was very good, mind you, just not as impressive as what I’m accustomed to because the SLERS Pastrami that I know and love is unassailably delicious. I wasn’t fond of pastrami until I tried SLERS. What an epiphany! SLERS breaks away from the popular style of American pastrami by making something truly ebullient – it’s more tender and juicy and much more flavorful, with more of the natural sweetness of the beef coming through (even our Teutonic Cyrano friend, Thilo, who is always on the lookout for products for the German Club, called this the best pastrami he’s tasted). SLERS is a small family-run business making high-quality meat products in Cagayan de Oro, so the brand isn’t visible in Makati’s premiere supermarkets. But all their products are top notch and I’m envious that the folks in CDO have this for their daily sandwich satisfaction. In the end, the new batches I’ve tasted are probably just rarities of inconsistency, so future ones should be perfect again, especially when paired with a good South African Côtes du Rhone-style red blend.



SLERS Pastrami is available here at Cyrano Wine Shop.


1. Feng Wei Wee Smoked Duck

Of all those honored in our Top Ten list, our No. 1 has an unbeatable “wow factor” thanks to a winning combination of lip-smacking goodness and impeccable consistency. Feng Wei Wee Taiwan Cuisine in Quezon City is a no-frills eatery that is guarded by its Chinese patrons (even those who live out of the way insist on coming here rather than to the more convenient branch in Green Hills). Forget the cafeteria-style setting; if you’re no snob, this deceptively inexpensive place will rock your world. The bonus was recognizing a snack that pairs with wine. Their smoked duck breast elevates you to a state of bliss, especially when harmonized with the light sauce accompanying it. Serve it as cold hors d’oeuvres, slicing it thinly to show off the wonderful layer of duck fat against the meat, to be enjoyed at leisure with a superb Chilean Carménère.



Feng Wei Wee Smoked Duck is available at Feng Wei Wee Taiwan Cuisine, No.82 Banawe Street corner Samat Street, SMH, Quezon City.