Monday, April 30, 2012

The long drive to New York


In my fourth year of college at the Ateneo de Manila, I joined a delegation of Philippine students traveling to Boston for the AIESEC International Congress. AIESEC was then – and probably still is today – the world’s largest international youth organization, composed of university students majoring in economics, business, and sciences.

It may have simply been a lack of planning on my part, but I journeyed alone from Manila to the East Coast via San Francisco without making any prior arrangements upon landing at Boston’s Logan Airport. The Philippine delegation had arrived several days earlier, but I’d delayed my departure to finish my mid-terms.

A RECKLESS START


It was my first visit to the East Coast and I assumed I would find some way to my destination, unaware that the conference site was halfway to Vermont. Neither had I planned on what to do post-conference.

I simply departed home with a month-long absence permit from school, a modest sum, some telephone numbers, and vague accommodations offers from friends and relatives in different cities. In hindsight, it seemed a very reckless decision for a young girl in a foreign country.


WANDERING BOSTON AIRPORT


But everything worked out by some amazing coincidence. At Logan Airport, I was wandering the arrivals terminal less than five minutes when I spotted some people in AIESEC t-shirts. I hurriedly introduced myself and corralled a ride to the conference site about two hours away, in a van blaring rock and roll radio with these students and about five other strangers.

Fortunately, my entire stay worked out with similar coincidences. After the conference, I hitched a ride back to Boston with other Filipinos, staying a few days with them at a Boston University student’s apartment. I spent a couple of fun days sleeping in his living room with some other friends.

UPGRADED TO A PENTHOUSE


Then I rang up my father’s old West Point classmate, who was now living in a ritzy penthouse apartment with a huge terrace in the center of the city. He and his wife took me to dinner, after which they handed me the spare keys to their home.

“We’re flying to the Bahamas tomorrow for winter holidays,” they told me. “But you’re welcome to stay in our flat for as long as you wish. Please feel at home.”


HOME ALONE
IN A BOSTON PENTHOUSE



I still remember the giddiness I felt upon entering the palatial penthouse, relishing both the realization that it was mine for a week and the independence it accorded. After the strict regimen of schoolwork, it was liberating to be free of schedules and to simply do as one wished. Not that I was irresponsible though. Frankly, the most reckless thing I did was to sit in the terrace and enjoy three TV dinners in a row with an amazing view of the city as entertainment.

One night, still in Boston, just as my AIESEC friends and I were finishing up dinner in a Chinese restaurant at 10:30 PM, someone had the idea to hit the New Hampshire ski slopes very early the following day. Everyone was enthusiastic but me -- and the fact that I could barely ski was just one of my considerations.


MARATHON DRIVE TO NEW YORK

“I can’t,” I groaned. “I’ve got to be in New York tomorrow night for a party.” My Manhattan-based cousins were hosting a get-together in an Upper East Side bar and I had planned to train to New York the following afternoon.

“Come with us,” they all cajoled. And then our host at Boston University, whose apartment I had crashed in before getting "upgraded" to my palatial Boston penthouse, added, “We’ll leave early tomorrow morning and spend the day skiing in New Hampshire; tomorrow night I’ll drive you to New York. I guarantee you’ll be there in time for your party.”



AN OFFER I COULDN'T REFUSE

I certainly couldn’t refuse such an offer. The next day, things happened exactly as planned. One of the guys came over to pick me up at 4 AM – literally a few hours after parting after our Chinese dinner – and I still remember the look on his face when I opened the front door and he walked in. He teased me: "You didn't tell me you were a princess in another life."


My Boston University host was waiting downstairs in his Range Rover. When we got down, off we drove into the Boston darkness, and we were on the New Hampshire slopes by 9 AM.

ON THE DOT

And by 10 PM, just as the Manhattan party was starting, we were driving down Park Avenue in his Range Rover, rock music blaring; and soon we found ourselves right in front of the bar. We'd barely stopped for a few minutes and already one of my cousins had spotted me and was heading out the door with the party's de rigeur welcome drink: glasses of Long Island Iced Tea.

“Why don’t you join us?” I asked my gallant escort from Boston. He’d just completed a marathon driving session from Boston to New Hampshire, then Boston again, and then to New York – and now he was planning to drive back to Boston. The least I could do was buy him a nice meal. Besides, everyone at the party wanted to meet the endurance driver.

“It’s fine,” he said, smiling and (I can imagine) very tired. “I really just intended to drive you over as I promised.”

With a smile and a casual wave, he drove off, back to Boston, leaving me to the welcoming shrieks of my cousins and friends.

Postscript: I never saw my new friend again although I just realized he's one of our Travelife Magazine Facebook friends! Hope he reads about himself on this blog...


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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Juju Juice cleanse



The idea for a major detox started at the Mercato Centrale in Fort Bonifacio, when I met a nice girl named Kat who was manning a table set up with bottles of colorful juices in a pail and lots of literature about juice cleansing. The juices caught my eye.

Chiva Som for perfect health

This encounter took place at the most perfect time last year, when I was thinking about my health (and my almost daily round of delicious lunches and dinners) and looking for something concrete and productive to do about it. In a perfect world with no magazine deadlines and commitments, I'd be on a plane immediately for Bangkok to spend a week or two at the Chiva Som Health Resort in Hua Hin --which is just about my favorite place in the world.

It's a holistic paradise not only for good health but also for de-stressing; and I can literally feel my stress melt away within minutes of stepping out of the car at Chiva-Som and getting into a golf cart for the main resort area. There was a time I used to go several times a year, but this was about ten years ago and way before a magazine got in the way.

THE FARM CLOSE BY

In a pinch, my next option, usually, is to spend a weekend at The Farm at San Benito, which is another great detox place. It has an even more purist approach to good health compared to Chiva Som, since the food at The Farm is much more radical.

Chiva Som still has three-course meals that are comparable to restaurant food, albeit with far fewer calories and close to zero fat; while The Farm takes things one step further by serving low-calorie, zero-fat unheated food. Unfortunately, I've not even managed to secure three days to myself to escape to The Farm in the past months.

JUJU JUICE DETOX
AS AN ALTERNATIVE

So the idea of a juice detox -- the next best thing if you can't actually seclude yourself in a total detox place -- sounded very appealing; especially combined with an ayurveda semi-detox program at Arogya in Makati, which is Manila's most authentic ayurveda center.

JuJu's detox juice system is perfect for me because it's completely no-fuss and no-stress. The day before every detox day, JuJu delivers six large bottles of juices in a cooler pack which are numbered to correspond to a time schedule and which go straight into the fridge for the next day. This eliminates the hassles of buying your own vegetables and preparing the juices yourself, which is heaven-sent for people like me.

"What's the minimum time for your juice detox?" I asked Kat. She replied: "We usually recommend about three days, but one day is fine as well if you just want to recharge. And there are several reasons why cleansing is important, but it all boils down to one common point: Every once in a while we need to take out the trash. The toxins and other junk accumulate and these block the body's ability to absorb nutrients and expel waste."


Juicing before the main courses

I initially opted for a two-day cleanse just to try it out.


As Kat promised, the juices arrived and looked very attractive indeed. And the next day I began my two-day juice fast which was surprisingly easier than I expected. I thought I would be hungry and craving for food all day, but somehow the juices kept me going without any energy fluctuations and I actually didn't even have the urge to eat in those two days.

Perhaps I was just lucky, but I was really busy in the two days that I did my fast, so that I actually, literally, didn't have time to eat. How convenient then it was to just take a juice out of my fridge or portable cooler and drink this up instead of a meal. It was perfect for my busy schedule at that particular time.

Eating with a vengeance

A week after my detox, I actually had two large dinners in one evening. Talk about making up for lost time after a juice detox and eating with a vengeance! But as I slid into my seat at the second dinner -- a six-course gourmet meal at Enderun 101 -- my sister-in-law stared at me and said: "You look so much younger than the last time I saw you (which was about two weeks before). What did you to do yourself?"

I thought back at my week. It had really been a busy, slightly stressful but fun week of too much work, too many texts, too little sleep and a couple of truly memorable meals. But there had been my juice detox at the very beginning. This was the only answer I could think of.

"I went on a two-day juice detox," I told her, and explained the mechanics of it all. Her comment made my day, and that was all I needed to prompt me onto the next stage of juice detoxing.

The very next morning I was on the phone to Kat at Juju, to book myself for the radical seven-day juice cleanse. I'm on Day 3 of that now (with a little bit of cheating yesterday, since I had champagne brunch at the Peninsula and a just a little bit of a kare-kare dinner) but I've never felt better. More on this in a future entry.

JUICE DETOX WITH JUJU

WHY CLEANSE?

By giving your body time away from eating, you are freeing up energy and enzymes which would otherwise be spent on digesting and processing of food, and channeling these towards much needed absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxins instead. Think of it as a full body tune-up.

WHAT'S IN A JUJU CLEANSE KIT

Each Juju Cleanse Kit contains a day's worth of freshly-pressed, nutrient-rich drinks to keep you nourished while you put aside your spoon and fork for the day and give your digestive system a much-needed break.

Benefits of juice cleansing:
1) Provides rest for the digestive organs
2) Boosts the immune system
3) Replenishes vitamins and mineral resources
4) Improves oxygenation of cells
5) Helps in the growth and repair of body tissues
6) Promotes regular bowel movements
7) Promotes pH balance
8) Flushes toxins out of the body
9) Promotes clearer skin
10) Reverses signs of aging
11) Encourages loss of excess weight
12) Increases energy

For more information, visit
www.jujucleanse.com

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sale season in Paris



Battle-ready women, long lines, secret destinations, and great bargains—the madness of the Paris summer sales

I'm writing this out from Tokyo, not from Paris unfortunately; although finally the weather here has turned from miserable and cold to sunshine-y spring, making me feel I'm actually in Paris in June.

The weather made me remember it'll soon be sale season in Paris in June, and once upon a time I used to frequent the Paris sales as avidly and methodically as a horse enthusiast would approach a horse race in England or an art collector would look forward to Art Basel, the Maastricht Art Fair or the Venice Biennale. I do like art, of course, but shopping the Paris sales is a way more affordable past time.


TEN YEARS, NO FAIL

For about ten years, until I began to get very busy with the business of magazine publishing and I all but lost interest in shopping, my Japanese friend Keiko and I would travel together for a week in Paris right about the last week of June. Elsewhere during the year, we also managed trips to Asian destinations and around Japan; but it was our week together in Paris that I always loved best.

In fact, I met Keiko on a trip -- which is probably why we made very good travel friends. I was spending a week in Florence on my own, intent on visiting museums and galleries. I flew into Florence from Vienna, and my first stop that evening was dinner at an excellent trattoria recommended by my hotel.

The place was full and I was on my own, so I guess that's why the restaurant seated me next to the only other lone diner : Keiko. We exchanged pleasantries in Japanese and by the second course we were comparing notes on museums and outlet stores.

THE PERFECT ARRANGEMENT


By the end of the evening we had made plans to meet up every night for dinner together -- one day she would choose the place, the next I would do so. It was the perfect arrangement for two girls traveling by themselves in Florence.

Anyway, this was long before Travelife came along and took the time (but not the fun!) out of traveling.

100% PURE FUN


So. for several years, Keiko and I unfailingly traveled to Paris at the end of June for one week of good food and great bargain-hunting. The annual summer sale kicks off on the same day for all stores, and not a few avid shoppers travel from all over the world to unabashedly indulge themselves in a sea of 50% discounts.

There was absolutely nothing high-brow about these June trips, although one year, we did manage an afternoon at the Louvre.

In general, however, we reserved the museums, the historical walks and the opera for visits to Paris at other times of the year, when the city was less populated by battle-ready women in slacks, flats, and with the all-essential credit cards, roaming the streets with the determined look of hunters searching for current season items at half-price.

THE SYSTEMATIC ROUTINE


Keiko and I had our routine down to pat, arriving five days or so before the sale proper and staying at a hotel within walking distance to the Fabourg St. Honore, the department stores around the Place de l’Opera, and also to the Left Bank.

I always flew into Paris from my Tokyo home, and then continued onto elsewhere in Europe for summer holidays. Meanwhile Keiko always arrived earlier in Europe, heading to Tuscany in mid-June to stay in countryside inns and track down amazing delicacies, before ending up in Paris for one last fabulous shopping hurrah.

THE SALE STRATEGY

We always deliberately arrived earlier than the sale to leisurely check shops, choose items and plan our respective first-day routes. At places where we’d become regulars, the shop girls would even keep highly coveted items for us until we returned for them once the sale (and the discounts!) began.

TOUGH CHOICES

We also took advantage of the lull before the consumer storm to indulge in our common love for food—something impossible to do once sale madness began, as it was then a choice between food or shopping, and shopping always won out. There was always next time for lunch at a Michelin three-star restaurant, but that beautiful black designer dress at 50% off was going, going, gone.

Taking turns to pick restaurants, in between pre-sale store brow sings, we would have long lunches at Michelin three-star restaurants, where a proper three-course meal at noon is often a bargain compared to the astronomical prices at dinner; and then we tried to walk off the calories in the afternoon. Evenings were reserved for more reasonable one-star restaurants run by ambitious young chefs.


FIRST DAY JITTERS

On the sale’s first day, many stores open at 8am. After an early, hearty breakfast— our next meal would be dinner at 9 PM, after all—Keiko and I parted ways for the day, wishing each other luck. She always joined the throngs at Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Meanwhile the Hermes sale was always my first stop, followed by visits to Chloe, Missoni, and Christian Louboutin’s tiny workshop/store on a very narrow street just on the way to the Marais.

LOUBOUTIN FOREVER





If you're a Louboutin fan -- they're so light and comfortable that I never wear any other high-heels if I can help it -- then visiting his workshop during the Paris sales will be the cheapest and most varied selection you'll ever find in the world.

It's important to get Louboutin out of the way on Day 1, however, as the stocks get depleted fairly quickly. However, the nice thing about the June sales is that the Louboutin styles on sale in June are mostly summer styles and therefore very wearable for Manila.



THE HERMES SALE

Meanwhile, every year I reached the Hermes sale—which, unlike most other brands, is held off-site on the ground floor of an ordinary building in a nondescript neighborhood with no signs to attract attention—at 8 AM, and was subjected to a tortuous three-hour wait just to enter.

I always regretted never arriving earlier but I never did -- preferring instead to have a civilized breakfast and then to line up for hours and listen to the same songs on my iPod, and watch impatiently as Japanese early birds leave the sale laden with so many paper bags they can hardly walk.

Some of the Japanese women take the last Air France flight out of Narita Airport the day before, arriving in Paris at dawn and heading straight to the Hermes sale to sit on the pavement until 9am in the same clothes they left their Tokyo apartments in.


The die-hards who can’t afford time away from work spend the whole day shopping and then taxi back to Charles de Gaulle airport just in time for the last flight back to Tokyo. It’s literally a shopping daytrip to Paris from across the globe.

A GREAT DISCOVERY


The Hermes sale is probably the least publicized of the designer sales, and the way Keiko and I discovered it long ago deserves to be told. It was a fine morning in June when we set out from the Park Hyatt Place Vendome for our usual pre-breakfast circular walk through the Tuileries, along the Seine and then finally past the Champs Elysees and typical working districts on the way back to the hotel.

In one of these districts, we saw dozens of women waiting in a line that snaked several blocks down outside a subway exit. Most of them were either French or Japanese. Unable to contain our curiosity, we asked a Japanese girl in line exactly what this was all about. She stared at us as if we had just asked the silliest question in the world. “This is the Hermes sale,” she replied. “No leather bags, but lots of scarves, shoes and clothes.”

That was all we needed to know. We were in our sweat pants and we had no money on us so we had to get back to our hotel to get the ammunition. Unable to find a taxi, we ran the last three kilometers to our hotel to pick up our credit cards and dashed right back. I had never seen Keiko run like this before—but this is exactly what sale season in Paris does to you!


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Friday, April 27, 2012

Lessons from Bill Gates

This is a re-post from a FB friend that is being attributed to Bill Gates. Bill Gates reportedly spoke about these 11 things that children should realize early enough, but won't learn at school. Quite interesting, and some are certainly good things for young people to think about.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

And if we may add a couple more rules of our own:

Rule 12: Treat other people the way you would like to be treated.

Rule 13: Live beneath your means.

Rule 14: Gossip is a useless and unproductive activity. Stay away from those who over-indulge in it.

Rule 14: There will always be someone better off and worse off than yourself. Just like some people will like you and others won't. Live with these.


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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Zsa Zsa Padilla in Malacca


This is a repost about an incident that happened to me in Malacca many years ago. Malacca is in the spotlight again, by the way, as the cover feature for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2012 issue.

This happened just a year or so after I'd left the Ateneo and was already working as Regional Development Officer (RDO) of AIESEC International, the Brussels-based coordinating office of what is perhaps one of the largest student organizations for those majoring in business and economics, in the world.

TRAVELING FOR AIESEC

I'd been pretty active all through college with AIESEC, starting as PR for my local Ateneo chapter, and then working with Anthony Pangilinan in the national chapter as National Committee PR Officer, and then becoming chairman of the bid committee of AIESEC Philippines to host an international congress in the Philippines.


Finally, when Cecile Marquez of AIESEC UP moved over to the Brussels office to become a director of AIESEC International, I became the first RDO for Asia-Pacific - a fantastic dream job that anyone out of college would have killed for, that involved traveling for something like six to 12 months around the region, spending about three weeks in each country, and helping the local chapters establish and strengthen their AIESEC chapters.

I've lost track since then of just how many AIESECers actually made it to AIESEC International, but during my time, it was only Anthony, Cecile, Marc Ablaza and myself. Being in AIESEC International opened a whole new and unimaginable world of travel and international relations. It also taught me very early on about professionalism and how to deal with big business and cultures different from my own.

The experiences in AIESEC changed me for life in so many ways I can't even begin to count, and the happy memories of congresses all over the world -- and the post-congress fun in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Boston, New York, Brisbane, and Nagoya are indelible in my mind and heart.

ZSA ZSA PADILLA IN MALACCA

Anyway back to my story of an interesting evening in the city of Malacca, Malaysia, where I somehow found myself in the course of my tour of duty for AIESEC International, checked into what was then the Ramada Renaissance hotel in this historic and quaint town.

At this point, I'd been living in a suitcase and on the go for close to six months, hopping from one city or country to another, and meeting only new faces in each town.

AIESEC people eveyrwhere are pretty nice and we often share the same drive and desire for business excellence that helped make AIESEC one of the best-run student organizations even then, and certainly today; but months and months of new places and people were starting to take its toll and I was hankering for something homegrown and familiar.



A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

Well, that evening, I had had my laksa and curries for dinner and was rather reluctant to return to my hotel room; and frankly I was a bit homesick after months of dealing with non-Filipinos in an ever-changing environment.

Seeing a notice about a Philippine band playing in the hotel's music lounge, I decided to just go in and stay for a while to chill out and listen to sounds from home.

LONGING FOR HOME

The band was great and they played many of the (English) popular cover songs that Filipinos the world over have grown famous for imitating even better than the original bands or singers. But for some reason, I wanted -- desperately -- to hear something Filipino after no contact with Filipinos for so long. So I decided to request a song from home.

I could've requested any song, of course, but at that particularl moment, I just couldn't think of any. So I simply reached over for a paper napkin, took out a pen and simply wrote; "Can you please play any OPM?"

Then I thought: how about something by Zsa Zsa Padilla?

It may have been the wine that night, but I honestly couldn't think of anything else to request, and I couldn't even think of a specific song. But somehow Zsa Zsa Padilla stuck in my head. Don't ask me why I thought of her. This was years ago, mind you, and perhaps she had been in the news a lot at that time, or had just come out with a hit song.

So I added on that same napkin: "(By Zsa Zsa Padilla)," and handed the napkin to the waiter to give to the band. Of course, I meant could they please play any OPM by Zsa Zsa Padillla.



SURPRISE, SURPRISE

At the band's break time, I saw the waiter hand over my napkin to one of the band members, who then read it.

Immediately her face lit up with a mixture of pleasure and surprise, and she looked out at the large and darkened audience as if she was searching for someone. Then she whispered something to her bandmates, who then also suddenly looked similarly overjoyed and they all gazed out again at the audience as if they were searching for someone.

I assumed they were all happily surprised to learn there was a Filipino in the audience, in this little Malaysian town, and this was the reason for their almost strange jubilant reaction. This was before travel became so accessible and way before the launch of all these budget airlines, so it was not very easy to move around, the way it is now, and it was much harder to find Filipino tourists off the beaten track.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT

Just before the second set was about to start, the lead singer went up to the microphone with a big smile on her face. She then proudly announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are so proud and honored to announce that one of the top singers in the Philippines is now sitting in this very audience, and we ourselves are such big fans: Ms Zsa Zsa Padilla!"

This was followed by the lights brightening and some dramatic drum rolling by the Filipino drummer.

Some of the people around me had seen me giving the paper napkin to the waiter, and so they started to scrutinize me with interest and clap. Pretty soon everyone else started to clap too.

How did this story end? I'll leave it to your imagination for now....or perhaps I'll write about it in a future issue of Travelife Magazine. In the meantime, we would so appreciate it if you get your copy of our latest issue with the Malacca cover at the bookstore today -- it's one of our best ones to date!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Irresistible Italian invitation



Today is my last day before a big holiday so I purposely kept it clear to finish all the work I have to do so that I don't have to be stuck to my computer as I sail along the coast of Japan. There's tons of editing work to finish before I leave so I'm literally counting the minutes and working as efficiently as I can.

TOO TEMPTING TO RESIST


However out of the blue came a nice invitation to have lunch at one of Tokyo's fancy restaurants. How could I resist a great meal before saying goodbye to this town? So of course I said yes and I actually went as far as making some specific requests: I wanted to do lunch again at Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon or else the teppanyaki grill at the top of the Westin Tokyo.

Joel Robuchon is of course a no-brainer as it's truly fantastic food worth every bit of its hefty price tag. Dinner here may tax the limits of some people's credit cards, but lunch isn't at all bad price-wise, by Tokyo Michelin standards. It's one of the few places where I can truly say that the lunch price is worth it -- and I wish I could've said that about a couple of places I ate in over the last three weeks or so.

The first appetizer of white asparagus
with heavy cream and bits of seafood.

NICE REMINDER OF JAPAN'S BUBBLE

Meanwhile, Westin Tokyo's teppanyaki grill isn't at the top of the Michelin list or any world's best list for that matter, but I like it a lot because the quality of the wagyu is good and the atmosphere is very much like an old-fashioned steak house in Tokyo during the more prosperous times of Japan's economic bubble. So you might say it's great comfort food for me.

The theme of Ristorante Aso
is echoed in its plates and menus

FULLY BOOKED

Anyway, both places happened to be booked out along with a couple other famous places -- is Tokyo back in the black or are there still just so many Filipinos in town eating at all these fancy restaurants? -- but luckily we got a cancellation at the Ristorante Aso, a relatively old restaurant with great food and two Michelin stars.

The view from the garden


Ristorante Aso is a beautiful restaurant full of antiques and flowers in the very hip part of Tokyo called Daikanyama, that instantly transports you to Old World Europe in terms of atmosphere and service. Again, this restaurant has been around for ages and it reminds people like me of the more prosperous times of Japan, as this was quite a popular restaurant at that time.

And apparently it still is. It's booked solid for weeks and we only got a table today because of a sudden cancellation. Sometimes some restaurants do the "full house" technique and try to make it hard to reserve just to create an image of value and scarcity. But in this case, true enough, every single table was occupied when we arrived.

The second appetizer was a rilette of foie gras and pork
served with honey. It came under a glass dome.
When we lifted the glass dome,
a wonderful smoky aroma permeated the air.

A PERFECT MEAL

What a meal we had as well. We had two appetizers, one pasta, one main dish and two desserts plus a beautiful bouquet of sweets arranged ever so nicely among real flowers. Everything was simply delicious.

Assorted petits-four arranged so nicely
within a bouquet of flowers


I especially liked the pasta dish, which was incredibly creative and tasty. When the waiter was explaining the menu, he mentioned that the pasta we would be having would be a pescatore. My face fell as this is the one pasta I don't immediately order on a menu, for some reason.

But then the waiter went on to say that it was a pescatore done the Aso-way; and indeed, it arrived so beautifully presented and so interestingly put together, with the pasta and some seafood in one plate and the tomato sauce and some other seafood on a large orange clam. Just beautiful.

Pescatore a la Ristorante Aso

NO NEED FOR EUROPE

My heavenly main course.
Chicken grilled to perfection,
accompanied by an equally perfect piece of beef cheeks.

I was just invited to lunch, but I can reveal that without wines included it came up to around 5750 yen per person -- which is well below the price radar of other similarly-rated restaurants by the Guide Michelin. It was a great bargain, not to mention a delicious meal that reminded me of the many great meals I'd had so far on this trip to Tokyo.

"With food like this, there's almost no reason to fly to Europe just to eat," I said. There are a million reasons to visit Europe, but many people I know really fly over just to have a good time eating at different famous restaurants.

But with food of this caliber in Tokyo -- Tokyo has the most number of Michelin stars in the world, after all, and many famous places in Europe do have outposts in Tokyo -- there's lots of reasons to think of flying to Tokyo instead of to France or Italy. Less flying time, no jet lag, and food just as good.

This was the Ristorante Aso's version of tiramisu.
It arrived as a stark cream block,
and then coffee grains were ground on top of it with a pepper mill.
It was so different and yet perhaps the most delicious tiramisu I've ever had.

I was so glad we ate here -- so glad, in fact, that I walked home from the restaurant. The sun was out, the temperature was perfect and it was probably the nicest day so far since I landed in Japan. In more ways than one.

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