Friday, November 29, 2013

An Awesome Secret Foodies Tour at Tuscany

Tuscany at McKinley Hill is looming with all things gastronomic. Cooking up international flavors from all around the globe, this sizzling culinary sanctuary should be one's to-go place for delectable cravings without having to leave the comfort of the metro.

Megaworld Lifestyle Malls is giving everybody a chance to discover Tuscany's best kept secrets through a mouth-watering degustation tour open to the public this coming month. "An Awesome Secret Foodies Tour," which will run on November 30, December 7, 14, and 21, 2013 from 2pm - 5pm is a degustation tour with 8 stops for P1,000 organized by Megaworld Lifestyle Malls together with RJ Ledesma and Anton Diaz, two of the most influential foodies in the Philippines.

I was lucky enough to get invited to the very first Secret Foodies Tour, so Jericho and I headed over to McKinley Hill, giddy like schoolkids for all the awesomeness that was about to ensure, our tummies ready for the eat-a-thon that was about to ensue.

After signing up, we were given a PR packet as well as a list of all the places we would be visiting that night. You can go around and discover the restaurants on your own, or go around as a group (which is what we did) and enjoy the experience together.

Wine is always something that brings people together, and that's exactly where we started our degustation tour. For Manila's connoisseurs or for family and friends that simply want to enjoy each other's company over an excellent bottle of Pinot Noir, Planet Grapes is something worth checking out. with selections from all over the world, their extensive roster of choices will surely delight all it's customers.

The first stop was also one of my favorites that night. To help us pick our ines, the store has a wine connoisseur on standby to guide us through understanding and learning the art of drinking wine. I initially wanted to go for the Riesling, but I was told it was dry and not sweet, so she suggested I try the Gewurztraminer instead. The wine was sweet and fruity, I definitely didn't regret her recommendation! May I haz some more?

Wine Story's baby sister also features a quirky wine vending machine and a "wine meets street food" concept which is on the degustation menu. Since the aim of Planet Grapes is to make wine accessible to everyone, they encourage people to experiment with the whites, reds, and roses, and discover what their palates appreciate more.

On the degustation list, you can pick your Choice of One Red Wine and One White Wine:

  • Folie a Deux Merlot 2010
  • Joel Gott Riesling 2011
  • Kunda Family Chardonnay 2011
  • L'escargot Sauvingnon Blanc 2011
  • Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2012
  • Pircas Negras Torrontes 2011
  • Paul De Coste Blanc de Blancs
  • Chateau Tire Pe Diem Merlot 2011
  • L'escarot Pinot Noir 22011
  • Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2011
  • Lucky Country Shiraz 2012
  • Anne de Joyeuse Camas Syrah Rose 2012

We were given a sampler of Pinoy street food to pair our wines with. Since the wines I chose were sweet, they paired nicely with the kikiam, squidball, and siomai. I didn't taste the balut, but Jericho said it went nicely with his glass of Riesling.

I really wanted to spend some more time at Planet Grapes, but didn't want to continue with the tour completely sloshed, so I reluctantly moved on with the rest of my friends to Trattoria Poggio Antico.

With rustic interiors reminiscent of the street side cafes in Italy, Trattoria Poggio Antico is a restaurant that marries the owner, Roland Lorillla's passion for cooking and the love of travel. After taking a family vacation in Italy, Roland hired a chef with 15 years of training in Tuscan cuisine and put up this quaint little cafe.

On the degustation tick list was tasting portions of Prosciutto con Melone - salty prosciutto ham wrapped around a sweet, refreshing piece of melon; Crespella del Poggio Antico - a tiny crepe stuffed with ham and cheese with a sauce of mushroom with truffle oil; Pomodoro e Mozzarella Crostini - a crostini topped with Mozzarella and a slice of tomato; and Oyster Sur Pate di Fegato - an oyster on top of liver pâté.

I was apprehensive of trying the last one, since the combination just sounded so weird, but the liver pâté and oyster turned out to be my favorite at the Trattoria. The best part of our visit there was getting to know our very accommodating host, and the wine!

After enjoying our Italian starters, we hiked over to B&T Mexican Kitchen for some casual Tex-Mex cuisine. I've been hearing some really good things about this restaurant that offers classic staples such as delectable tacos and lip-smacking tostadas, and had been wanting to check it out for the longest time.

They had samples of their food on display on a table. Their portions were huge! One dish is good enough for three to four hungry people, and I found their price points super affordable.

Their degustation platter was huge, too! On the list was their Chipotle Chicken Pizza - a roasted thick tortilla topped with chipotle adobo sauce, cheese, pico de gallo, fajitas, chipotle chicken, and Mozzarella cheese; Mango Glazed Habanero Chicken that went light on the habanero chili that night; Taquitos Especial with Barbacoa - four-piece fried or torched tortillas filled with mild shredded beef, chipotle adobo,  jalapeño peppers, and melted cheddar cheese, and served with a side salad; Nacho Chips with Assorted Dips.

The food was so good, I am definitely going back here again! With more friends, to help me eat everything.

Walking back down Tuscany at McKinley, we stopped by L.E.S. (Lower East Side) Bagels for their fresh selection of gourmet bagels, cream cheese concoctions are mouthwatering combinations that no one can resist!

Another brainchild of New Yorker Chef Cuit Kaufman (of Borough and Nolita fame), you can start slow with the bagel basics and work your way up with the likes of blueberry, sesame, chocolate, and wheat bagels, combining them with cheese spreads ranging from bacon to lox - the possibilities are almost endless!

On the degustation tick list you can take your pick of Bagels with Assorted Cream Cheese Filling. There are14 choices of cream cheese to choose from: plain, scallion, garlic and chive, Vegetable, Herb, Jalapeno Cheddar, Caramelized Onion Raisin, Bacon Cheddar, Sundried Tomato and basil, Blueberry, Strawberry, Apple-Cinnamon, and Lox.

At this point, it seemed a waste to get a whole bagel only to have a few bites before heading off to our next destination. And besides, bagels go well with a hot cup of coffee, so this is just another restaurant I'll be coming back to.

Moving on, we found ourselves at Sauceria - a restaurant that believes that quality food starts with fresh ingredients that is locally farmed, has a low carbon footprint, and with minimal pesticide content. Everything at Sauceria is almost, if not always, made fresh everyday from readily available ingredients, they are not limited to a rigid commercial production line. This place sounds promising.

On the degustation list was the Feta Cilantro Tomato Cocoas - Spanish-style pizza based on Sauceria's pizza line, which I'm assuming means whatever it is that they have fresh on hand. The cocas was light and fresh, and probably something I'd have all to myself if I hadn't eaten so much already. I split this with Jericho and two other friends.

Another sampler on the tick list was the Tuna Tataki. Zaru soba is served with a homemade wasabi sour cream dip. I found the tataki to be way too peppery and the sour cream out of place, but both complemented each other nicely.

Another dish on the tick list was the Artisanal All Beef Burger that came with tuyo blue cheese spread in a Furikaki bun. This was way too salty as the tuyo blue cheese spread was too overpowering.

We had an hour's worth of time to kill at Sauceria, since everything was made from scratch, it took a while to get to our next destination. Next up on the list was Marciano's. With a kitchen led by expert Italian chef, Giorgio Buciarelli, you can expect al dente pasta creations, freshly made pizzas, as well as richly, juicy premium cut steaks.

On the degustation list was a West Side Four Seasons Pizza - a 12-inch pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, seafood, and four-cheese. I was so full from the last place I visited, I only tried the mushroom side of the pizza. It was ok, nothing really special.

Speaking of mushrooms, next on the tick list was the Woody Allen Linguine - Shiitake button and oyster mushrooms with prosciutto in truffle cream sauce. This is meant to be shared, and just as well, since a mouthful of this was all I needed. It was thick and creamy, and quite meaty with the mushrooms slurping up most of the liquid in the dish.

The pièce de résistance at the Marciano's degustation was the Dow Jones - a nicely-sized US T-bone is served with prawns, potato wedges and roasted vegetables. I think they ran out of prawns and substituted two sausages instead, with a potato gratin instead of ho-hum potato wedges.

I took a little piece of each protein, and some of the veg and carb. Everything was perfect, as expected - the steak was juicy, the sausages has a nice peppery zing to them, and the potato gratin was nice and creamy.

As an added bonus, the good folks of Marciano's also threw in Pannacotta in shot glasses - so hat we had at the restaurant was really a full on meal! This was a lovely end to our time at the restaurant. It was such a wonderful treat!

Barely able to move on after Marciano's, we trudged on to our next destination. Named after the most famous street in Vancouver, Main Street offers Canadian comfort food made available to Filipino diners looking for a twist on old favorites.

First up on the tick list we tried the Poutine, a Canadian staple - thick cut fries is served with beef gravy and cheese curds. Jericho didn't like this very much and found it too salty. I think this is best enjoyed with a cold one - whether it be a brewskie or a soda. I kept trying to sop up the melted cheese curds with my fries. Yum.

Another burger on the degustation list was their Wagyu Burger - Kitayama beef is grilled 'til medium and served sandwiched in a sesame bun, served with a tomato relish, cheddar cheese and house sauce. I could have another whole burger if I wasn't so full to throwing up.

Jericho loved the Organic Maple and Candied Bacon Artisan Ice Cream! I took a scoop to taste, gave it to him to "try", but when I took another look it was all gone! Wtf, Jericho! Hahaha! With two of his favorite things in one dish (dessert, nonetheless), he quickly polished it all off, the sweet maple and salty bacon balancing out nicely on your palate.

The Filipino-born, Canada-raised Adam Tacderas-Tan is onto something here. I'm definitely going back to give this place another go, and maybe discover a few other favorites in the process.

The last stop of the night was Sophie's Mom. Don't let the interiors and soft, floral touches fool you - contrary to the look and feel of the cafe, Sophie's Mom's cupcakes are flavorful, moist, and bursting with comforting flavors.

On the degustation list were her Oreo Cheesecake Cookies, a comforting crunchy cookie that I think would pair well with her Harney & Sons tea, and her Flourless Chocolate Cupcake - dark chocolate terrine with salted caramel whipped cream

Tonette, Sophie's actual mom and the owner, also threw in some Red Velvet Cupcakes for good measure, because who can resist them, really?

A huge thank you to all the very accommodating restaurant owners and to our gracious hosts, RJ and Anton! It was a blast hanging out with you and getting to know the stories behind the unique establishments that line Tuscany.

When mucking around McKinley and curious about what the Tuscany strip has to offer, join the Awesome Secret Foodie Tour starting this Saturday! You can purchase your ticket at Tuscany for P1,000 at the Redemption Booth near the Tuscany Grand Villas Gate between 11am - 6pm every Saturday, get the Secret Foodies pin and degustation list, and start your own Tuscan adventure in the heart of McKinley Hill! Remember: come hungry!

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Images taken by Jericho San Miguel of Lightbulb Photography

For inquiries, please call +63 2 709 0888, +63 2 709 9888, or +63 917 838 0111
* Participants may choose their preferred date for the public tour on a first come first served basis. There are no re-booking of tours and no ticket reservations. Tickets must be claimed in person at the designated redemption booth.
** All food and drinks ordered or consumed beyond what is indicated on the menu with be paid for by the customer.