When fact is deliciously stranger than fiction

Along B. Gonzales Street near Katipunan Avenue, a cafe is daring to be different. Cafe Xocolat boldly offers an alternative to your routine caffeine fix – a bold cup of hot chocolate. It doesn’t harm that they also offer good great meals and dessert at (almost) student prices. Craving for churros con chocolate? Sure, you can find it there! (Dear readers, I failed to take photos when I was there and it might be some time before I can go back and take my snapshots. I will appreciate if you can post your photos in the comments section in the meantime.)

On the wall at the cafe while waiting for my meal, I read a sign:

Great ideas start with completely unrealistic thoughts.

It just so happened that I just read Harvard Business Professor Teresa Amabile’s article entitled “Creativity and the Role of the Leader”. In the article, Prof. Amabile enjoins organizational leaders to “motivate with intellectual challenge” but also to “accept the inevitability and the utility of failure.” The end goal is to encourage the free flow of ideas – continuously and sustainably. Professor Amabile’s insights almost sound like common sense and promoting good ideas across the ranks in the organization should be as easy as banana toffee pie in Xocolat. Except that the great ideas may appear like absolute nonsense at first glance! Especially to leaders so accustomed to the corner office.

So what does a good and enlightened leader (and Xocoholic) do when fact appears stranger than fiction? Step back and enjoy a good cup of hot chocolate and then ask herself what the eminent Professor Amabile will do in the same situation – which, among other things, is to acknowledge that great ideas can come from across organizational rank, social and educational background, ethnicity, and gender.

Happy ideation!

The Cafe Xocolat Menu

Creativity and the Role of the Leader at Harvard Business Review

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Naga City for the Foodies

My recent trip to Naga City was a pleasant surprise. I will not dwell on the fact that Naga City is an up and coming BPO location with three IT parks – the Naga City IT Park, the Camarines Sur Industrial and Technological Park and the Naga City Technology Center. Instead, I’d like to comment on the cuisine and the pasalubong (i.e., presents, usually food items) shopping.

Pasalubong shopping in Naga City

There were, somewhat surprisingly, many restaurants and cafes that offered flavorful and affordable fare – such as Red Platter, The Coffee Table or Woodstone Kitchen. We managed to try the Bicol Express, the pinangat, and the roast pork. A good friend mentioned that we shouldn’t leave without trying the toasted siopao and the chicken mami but we weren’t sure where to go. (Maybe next visit?)

The quality and variety of pasalubong items that one can bring home to friends and family was fabulous! In the featured photo to this post, there is the Heritage Collection Mazapan with a variety of flavors and the Cream Cheese Brownies. These products are really creative, well thought out and comes in very attractive packaging. This is a far cry from what I had expected to find.

I wish we brought home 3-4 more boxes of the Mazapan…..

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Bellini’s – a Tasty Blast from the Past

Casual Italian dining at its most quaint

“Why don’t we try Bellini’s?”, my wife Amy asked. We had just finished our business at the government center at Ali Mall and were looking for a nice place for lunch. Some friends happened to mention this Italian restaurant snuck away in Cubao Expo. With the aid of Google Maps, we learned that Cubao Expo was a mere 10 minute walk from Ali Mall.

Ali Mall was the sosyal mall north of Makati during my teenage years. I remember the place fondly but its best days are clearly behind it. In fact, all the buildings in the General Romulo Avenue area have seen better days. As we walked towards the Cubao Expo, there was a lot of demolition and construction happening to make way for a major Empire East real estate project.

When we got to Cubao Expo, we were almost magically transported to a place lost in time. The rows of boutique stores in the U-shaped street were quirky and artsy at the same time and clearly a throwback to the hippy 70’s. I fell in love with the place instantly.

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We found Bellini’s in the inner sanctum of Cubao Expo. A four-foot replica of the Tower of Pisa stood by the entrance minus the famous tilt. Inside the restaurant, the ambiance was warm and kitschy. I knew it was going to be a fun lunch.

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The menu

We ordered a variety of antipasti from the buffet setting that happened to be just three feet from our table – it was a delightful combination of Italian and local ingredients.The focaccia was warm, fresh and delish – enough for us to order a second loaf! The sardines was simply heavenly.

As we were savoring the antipasti, an old caucasian gentlemen approached our table and tried to strike a conversation with me, presumably trying to ask about how we liked the food. He spoke in a rather anxious tone in what sounded to be Italian with a smattering of English. I think I smiled reassuringly and said something like the food was fine. He also looked somewhat distracted and left as quickly as he appeared. I asked the waiter who the man was and the waiter explained that the man was Roberto, the owner of the restaurant.

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Yummy antipasti sampler

The main course consisted of pasta and pizza mainly because we had all the kids with us. I was anticipating an authentic Italian meal (having met Roberto) and was toying with idea of pairing some red wine with lunch. I’m not too fond of Italian wines, though. Instead, I ordered a limoncello and asked for it to be served together with the main course rather than as an after-meal digestivo. The main course was good but mostly nothing out of the ordinary and I was glad about having the (extra-strong) limoncello  to make things more interesting. That said, the tasty Fettuccine Tartufo Funghi con Prosciuto is probably something I would order again the next time around.

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Limoncello

We are a family of sweet teeth. That meant that we had to sample some of the desert offerings, as always. And the coffee. Nonetheless, I was too full already to truly appreciate the sweets.

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Kitschy decor

Tearing the old landmarks down now
Paving over brave little parks
Ah nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
– Chinese Cafe by Joni Mitchell

Play 2 Listen to Joni Mitchell’s Chines Cafe/Unchained Melody

The decor and the ambiance made me feel somewhat wistful. I drove a VW Beetle back in the day. I discovered the country and myself riding that Beetle.  As I left the restaurant and the Cubao Expo I also felt a bit fretful that this oh-so-charming place might be gone soon. We all know what happened to heritage sites such as the old art deco Jai Alai building (demolished by Lito Atienza) and several heritage sites along Escolta (demolished by Erap Estrada). Why even the old C.O.D. Department Store which had moving Christmas mannequin displays for half a century next door to the Cubao Expo is sadly gone.

I can only wish that the Empire East and other nearby real estate developments will not gobble up this quaint cultural throwback. If you are interested, make sure you visit soon.

Finger icon Visit the Bellini’s Facebook site

Sariling Atin in Elmhurst, Queens

Nouvelle cuisine it is not, but this “turo-turo” (point-point or canteen food counter style) is attracting a lot of attention. I have never tasted seafood kare-kare but it sounds delicious! This makes flying to New York very tempting….

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Photo Credit: An Rong Xu for The New York Times

This New York Times article even has a slide show: A Buffet of Filipino Specialties

If at first you don’t succeed …

From a crazy concept to sure-fire winner: This Businessweek article takes up evolving the business model for “polished casual” dining through heuristic management principles. In other words, if your are humble, forthright and always learn from your mistakes, you will eventually stumble upon something truly delicious!

Founding Farmers: The Farm-to-Table Restaurant Chain – Businessweek

Founding Farmers

Something to remember in your next visit to Washington D.C.

Does Wine Appeal Only to Snobs?

Updated July 2016

I love traveling and one trip that I’d like to make one day is a wine tour or a vineyard holiday to the Mecca of good wines, France (bien sûr). Now it seems that France has even upped the ante. Last June 2016, La Cité du Vin (City of Wine) beside the Garonne River in the Bordeaux wine district opened its doors to the public. This over-the-top wine theme park offers everything from a museum to a tapas bar to expert-led wine tasting sessions.

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Do you like the color, tone and shade?

Courtesy La Cité Du Vin

But sometimes I wonder whether wine would be as sought after without the snob appeal? What if wine had always come in a can and positioned right next to good ol’ San Miguel Pale Pilsen in 7-11?

Wine in a can

Photo credit: Union Wine Company

Read this article in Slate magazine Pointing finger (Wine in a Can: It Exists, and It’s Not Bad) and judge for yourself. Let me know what you think while I sniff the bouquet in this cork ….