Kissing the cook is optional

Kiss The Cook Cafe seems too upscale for its location.

Or so it appears to customers who may find parking difficult, tricycles irritating, and the neighborhood itself unsettling.

After all, KTCC is situated along Maginhawa Street in UP Village, an area not exactly bursting at the seams with coño kids, socialites, and moneyed executives. (But then again, it could be argued that the neighborhood is getting trendier by the minute. About a dozen or so decent-looking, medium-rise structures are currently being constructed in what still primarily is a residential area, no thanks to record-low interest rates and Quezon City Hall’s spot zoning policies.)

In any case, of all UP Village’s establishments — from cafe cum bars to hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop operations — KTCC stands out.

Sliding glass doors, coupled with al fresco seating in front, lends some degree of charm and sophistication to the place, bringing it a notch or two above restaurants located just less than a kilometer away down the same street.

That’s not all.

KTCC’s overall decor and its dining implements indicate good taste; none of the bright and gaudy distractions plastered on fastfood outlets found on every city corner.

Of course, the ambiance is provided at a premium, which is fortunately within justifiable levels.

Besides offering impressive service — uniformed waiters are always on alert to fill customers’ goblets with water — KTCC’s food is, simply put, good.

Take one of its starters, a set of eight bite-sized spinach feta dumplings, which goes for P145.

Considered too salty by one foodie blogger, the dumplings — which consist of approximately five parts spinach and only one part feta cheese — prepares patrons for better things to come.

At first glance, the entrees appear no larger than the size of fastfood value meal servings.

But looks can be deceiving.

KTCC uses plates as big as steering wheels of regular, run-of-the-mill Isuzu Elf delivery trucks.

With more than enough breathing space between say, the brown rice and the salad, diners are given the first — but nevertheless false — impression that KTCC skimped on their servings.

That notion would be dispelled soon enough.

One of its basic entrees — the five spice pork spare ribs (P185) — manages to exceed expectations, both in size and taste.

Once dipped, bathed, or soaked in vinegar, the crispy brown tender meat morsels are filling. However, they may be too hot for those with less adventurous palates.

If that’s the case, then you can’t go wrong with the Asian braised pork belly (P285), served with a slightly sweet thick, brown sauce.

Since it is packed with flavor, every slice must be accompanied by a spoonful of rice, if only to distinguish and savor the essence of the sauce.

Gourmands, gourmets, and gluttons will hardly bother leaving any leftovers but those easily cloyed by rich sauces may find it a challenge to finish off an order.

In the meantime, those with temporarily overloaded palates can try a sip or two of KTCC’s fruit coolers. Priced at P80 a bottle, the coolers allow for temporary respites between bites, whether its lemongrass, calamansi, lemon iced tea, or passion fruit.

To provide a fitting end to a hearty dining experience, patrons are well-advised to partake of KTCC’s yogurt ice creams, perhaps among the tastiest in the city.

The dessert has one drawback though.

Of its five flavors — strawberry, chocolate, mango, vanilla, and pistachio — only three can be accommodated in a single order.

This is reason enough to get seconds or perhaps merit another visit.

Visitors may get to meet the cooks next time. However, kissing them for an excellent meal is entirely optional.


Photo courtesy of Didang Alvarez. Thanks, Ma’am.

Space — The Final Frontier

And it’s not just for crewmembers of the USS Enterprise.
It’s also for every budget-conscious entity looking for decent living space within the areas near, beside, and/or adjacent to the University of the Philippines.
The task might not be as difficult as resisting the Borg but the challenges remain formidable enough to shock a starship captain into attention.
To stake your claim on a clean, well-lighted place that has a fully-functioning flush toilet within the UP/Teachers’/Sikatuna Village area, one must have the charm of James Tiberius Kirk, the fortitude of Jean-Luc Picard, and the balls of Kathryn Janeway.
Wily landlords, devious property managers, and suspicious building superintendents are all out there, offering monthly rents that would spark outrage among the Ferengi.
High prices are, of course, part of the overall strategy, a gambit designed to separate the insane from the desperate, the tightwad locals from the moneyed Koreans, many of whom have taken over pocket neighborhoods within the area. But that’s another story.

Pittsburgh apartment living room

If you’re an apartment hunter looking for long-term yet temporary refuge within the area, it can’t hurt to have a little good luck and good karma on your side.
However, depending on them too often may result in consequences that can severely distort your time, space, and rent continuum.
More than five years ago, my wife and I found – and immediately took – a one-floor, two-bedroom affair within Teachers’ Village.
Situated within a gated compound, the unit sported new dark green tiles and a fresh coat of paint that was on the creepy shade of yellow.
Rent was reasonable for two adults and a fat cat. The fact that the owner’s son’s family lived right beside us left us with no doubt that we made the right choice.
But that was until we received the electric bill a month after.
It was huge.
We entertained the notion that our cat may have taken liberties with our airconditioner since he wanted to replicate winter weather to which he was accustomed.
An electrician my in-laws hired to check on our cables – and our power consumption – disabused us of our cat’s guilt.
He discovered that the compound’s water pump was directly wired into our apartment’s electric connection.
Our meter went full throttle everytime anyone staying within the six-unit complex peed or pooped.
As soon as we collected and secured evidence – colored photo print outs of our electric meter – we stormed into the landlord’s office, demanding reduced rent and an explanation.
We got the former, never really having cared about the latter.
Although the dispute was settled amicably, my wife and I decided to leave after the six-month contract expired.
Only after two big moves within one year were we able to find a place that suited us perfectly.
But then again, I may be speaking too soon.
After all, we might decide to move again and venture into places where no one among the three of us has gone before.

Thursday Club no more

Very few remain aware of the Thursday Institute for Transformative Ideas, a small group of self-proclaimed experts, many of whom prefer to drink in Quezon City,  because its members live there.

Like most Filipinos, members of the Thursday Institute—overworked males with few useful skills such as myself—offer solutions to the country’s urgent problems without being asked. The enthusiasm with which they propose ideas are usually proportional to the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed so far.

Which is to say that the idea being discussed gets crazier with every gulp of beer (i.e., capital punishment for traffic violators, a proposal seriously considered on the fifth round of drinks.)

Perhaps the most hotly-debated topic in recent memory involved public transportation, a favorite subject next to Maureen Larrazabal and plasma TVs.

The group recently discussed the pros and cons of putting up a bus rapid transit system along EDSA, the country’s main thoroughfare.

Establishing a segregated—and possibly even elevated—lane along EDSA to be serviced by an extended bus would do wonders for commuters. It was exactly the same system implemented in Bogotá, Colombia, one member said, with the conviction of someone who has never been to South America.

The concept was later lost in the haze of idle chatter and inebriation. After all, they knew very little about what they were talking about.

But then again, ignorance never got in the way of their enjoyment.

This explains why every Thursday, the institute named after the fourth working day of the week has kept on meeting at the same watering hole for the past three years.

Stormy weather, political instability, and professional responsibility has not diminished their commitment to drink, pontificate, and indulge in one-upmanship in the establishment that has become their second home.

Thanks to their regular patronage, the watering hole—located along Maginhawa St. in UP Village—has informally named a dish in the group’s honor.

Dubbed the Thursday special, the dish consists of tenderloin tips fried with garlic and served on a hot plate. It is so tasty that you can have it any day of the week.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks, the institute’s weekly meetings have been postponed indefinitely.

The establishment that has hosted the group’s meetings has been shuttered by the Quezon City local government, citing what appear to be reasons of very little consequence.

A few months earlier, when the establishment encountered difficulty in securing a liquor license, no one took it seriously. The restaurant’s patrons—both sober and otherwise—thought it was just a wrinkle easily ironed out by a combination of charm and chutzpah.

They were wrong.

In September, the establishment—together with a row of three similar restaurants beside it—was served with a closure order.

To this day, the order remains in effect.

Besides depriving its owners of a fair return on their investment, the order also substantially reduces our chances of getting cold beers, a nice table, and tasty pulutan during Thursday nights, an injustice any way you look at it.