Sunday, December 30, 2007

FIRE LAKE GRILL, Tagaytay

Fire Lake Grill sits on the now popular Tagaytay Dining Haven, Cliffhouse. From what we've savored and experienced, yes, the resto is worth a try in the food compound. First, the ambiance is superb especially at dinner time. Private and romantic. Service is cordial although a little slow. When it comes to food, some were worth the wait while some were overly rated. The Panseared Foie Gras is great! Succulent, tasty and rich. Hmmm..., that delicious gustatory feel truly left a wonderful memory in my palate. I won't forget to order it again the next time. The Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Froth is real comforting. It provides the much needed warming companion in a chilin', cool breeze of Tagaytay.
The Rib Eye Steak is cooked just right. It boasts of the exact juiciness and tenderness of the meat. It's perfectly matched with sauted vegetables and mashed potato, presenting an utterly complete meal.
Being a Seafood fanatic, I'm more than satisfied to have tried this Grilled Jumbo Prawns on Angel hair Pasta, Wilted Arugula, Shitake Mushrooms and White Butter Sauce. It's creamy but not overwhelming. For those who want to leave some room in their stomach and plan to take a complete menu, this is a safe choice.
Unfortunately, my Fire Lake Grill Dining Experience did not end well with this Darne of Norwegian Salmon with Tagaytay Greens and Dalandan Buerre Blanc. This is actually my choice for the night that's why I've expected something "extraordinary" out of it. Other than it was served too late, it's the same grilled salmon I've tasted in other restaurants. It's also too heavy for the stomach which is surprising for a seafood dish. Maybe the serving is too big for single consumption. However, it can't be shared since there's a corresponding splitting charge.


All in all, dining at Fire Lake Grill is a flavorsome, grilling experience matched with a dreamy, relaxing atmosphere.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shopping in TAIPEI (Part 4 of 4; The Taipei Experience)

Blame it to the holiday rush and the contagious "busy" ambiance around, this last post on the Taipei Experience came way too late as promised. Anyhow, as they say it, better late than never.

Shopping is one thing that Taiwanese's heart to do. A living proof to that is the enormous number of shopping malls and traditional markets found in the country. In Taipei, the most popular, biggest and most varied is the - Shilin Night Market. It is Taipei's premier night market that lures crowds (massive on weekends) with affordable eats and great bargains. Think of shopping and eating at the same time! Clothing, shoes, accessories, leather goods and other bric a bracs, name it they have it! It is common to find stuffs priced at NT$100. But bargains such as these including those tagged with a specific price are hardly negotiable (take it or leave it). If you're on a budget and have a long "pasalubong" (gift) list, this is the place to be!



How to get there: Take MRT Danshui (red) Line and exit to the Jiantan Station. The market is just a short walk away. If you want to try the Toilet Restaurant, there's a branch within this area.

The newest, fashionable shopping mall built in Taipei, is the Breeze Center. It is located in Sec. 1, Fuxing Rd., 5 minutes walk from the intersection of Civic Blvd. and Fuxing South Road. It is a high end mall where international brands are abundant. This is where Taipei's Fashionistas shop. Do check the ladies room in this mall, simply amazing! The ambiance looked more of a hotel room rather than a comfort room. There's even a big flat screen TV inside the CR that shows episodes of Fashion TV. How else fashionable can it get!? What I personally liked in this mall, is the food court at the basement area. You'll feast on real good tasting, affordable meals. By the way, I noticed that it's dominated by Japanese Food Stalls. It is here where I tasted a very affordable, authentic Udon Noodles. I can't help but wished that the same food selection be offered in our own shopping malls in the Philippines. Great food, superb ambiance at a reasonable price!
Very near to our hotel is Taipei's most popular department store - SOGO. It is conveniently located near an MRT station (both the old and the new one; Zhongshiao Rd.). I was a bit surprised when I learned that this mall has 13 floors to roam around. Whew! However, if it's not sale season, things are a bit pricey here. Thus, if you would like to stick to your budget, go to the night market instead.


At the basement of Taipei's landmark (Taipei 101) is a shopping mall. There are 5 levels that house plenty of upscale boutiques and bookstore (Page One). There's a good toy shop as well. If you're in search of great international brands, hop on to this elegant mall.


High volume and low cost is the mantra at this next shopping area. WufenPu, is Taipei's version of Bangkok's Pratunam. The entire place is filled with narrow alleys showcasing diverse, fashionable garments and leather goods. Great bargains are offered for wholesale purchases.




Another cheaper alternative for shopping is the Underground Mall. Some subway stations have shops underground that sell various items at relatively lower prices compared to ordinary shopping malls. We found a store that sells shoes for NT$200 only, really good deal!







If you're looking for electronic or computer goods, Guanghua Computer Market is the must visit place. You'll find great deals of all things related to computer. If you're lucky, you'll even get freebies from your purchases. It would be better to compare prices from different stores to be able to get the best deal.


In Taipei, where you will do your shopping is certainly not a problem. It will be your capacity to spend and your energy to use up with, that will dictate your shopping mileage.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Going Around Taipei: The Must See (Part 3 of 4; The Taipei Experience)

Whenever we travel to a different place, the leading question that comes to our mind is where specifically should we go? More often than not, we battle through the process of budgeting our time to the most interesting and significant sights. Particularly, if we have very limited time to spend (like in this trip) we can only afford to prioritize the "must see" landmarks and attractions. Thus, a little research and a DIY Travel Guide made our sight seeing in Taipei (although limited), packed with amazing discoveries.


What else will top the Taiwan must visit list other than TAIPEI 101?! As they say it, you've never been to Taiwan if you never set foot on this towering landmark. Pending the completion of Burj Dubai, it is still the World's tallest building to date. Given that this breathtaking Skyscraper was built by a country as small as Taiwan, to say that this has been a remarkable achievement by the Taiwanese is still an understatement. Taipei 101 epitomizes the vigour and intellect of Taiwanese expertise. Truly deserving of world's recognition and a traveller's respect. The first time my eyes laid on it, I was seized in absolute awe! Further, when I got inside, the marvel and grandeur of its beauty made me astounded! It's as if the city found a powerful yet elegant shield.

Taipei 101 is located at the Xinyi District (45 Shihfu Rd., Taipei). It can be accessed through either taxi, bus or MRT. It's open from 1100 hrs to 2130 hrs on Sunday - Thursday and from 1000 hrs to 2200 hrs on Friday, Saturday and Holidays. A scenic view of the entire city can be seen from the indoor (89th floor) and outdoor (91st floor) observation decks. The elevator guarantees to bring the visitors up to these levels within 37 seconds, earning another official record of "fastest ascending elevator speed". The best time to visit this edifice is in the afternoon (around 4 pm) where you can enjoy the beauty of both day and night scenes of the city. To experience all these, there's a corresponding fee of NT$ 350 (P465) for adults and NT$ 320 (P425) for kids.

The next must see landmark is the Memorial Hall of Taiwan's great political ruler Chang Kai Shek. It's now known as the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. The big monument for the former president is situated in a wide, agreeably well landscaped courtyard. Since it's nearing winter time, the cool breeze and serene ambiance set the mood for lazing around.




The Chinese Garden with a nice Koi Pond inside the Park, is another spot to idle away at. It's so picturesque here! There's even a vending machine for feeds near the pond for those who would like to feed the Koi Fish. (That's Taiwan's animal welfare for you!)

To be found on the North and South parts of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall are the National Theater and the National Concert Hall respectively. These two stunning architectures are hosts to all forms of Taiwanese entertainment. I was simply amazed by the intricacy of their design and framework. Inside the National Theater are Art Cafe & Auditorium, Buffet Restaurant, Silver Works and Bookstore.Another equally interesting and historically rich landmark of Taiwan is the National Palace Museum. It's home to the largest collection of highly valued Chinese artifacts. Known as the pride of Taiwan, it's unfortunate we didn't have enough time to visit this magnificent museum. Nonetheless, everyone in Taiwan recommends this one of a kind site. If you want to be brought back in time during the Chinese Dynasties, save time for this one.

Other than that, Taiwan is also known for comforting "hot springs". Although most are located on the outskirts of Taipei and remaining provinces, it's not difficult to find a restful one within or near the city. If you want to be relaxed, dip into one of Taiwan's natural bathhouses.
Given these choices, rightly, no country is too small to explore.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Taipei International Food Show (Part 2 of 4; The Taipei Experience)

Taipei being an industrialized city is fast becoming a favorite host to International Trade Fairs. One of the most popular and largely attended by locals is the one held last Nov 23 - 26, 2007 at the World Trade Center. The 4-day Food Event was divided into three categories: 1) Taiwan International Chain Stores Fair, 2) Taipei Tea, Coffee & Wine Expo and 3) Taiwan International Food & Equipment Show. The Food Show presented the vastness and richness of the competitive Taiwan Market. As exemplified by the massive groups of consumers that flocked the event, Food is indeed one of Taiwanese's most prolific industries. Consequently, the event did not fail its local consumers with the enormous food choices and experiences it offered. But for foreigners like us, there are really not much to appreciate (or perhaps it just didn't meet some of our objectives for visiting the fair). Generally, it's all about imported goods intended for the end-consumers of Taiwan. What's more, languange is a limitation since very few can understand and speak english. Essentially though, a peek of what's inside the Taiwan Food Market is still an inspiring know-what and know-how.

The Taiwan International Chain Stores for instance, showcased the emerging players in the segment but not limited to foods alone. However, still the apparent giants are 7-eleven and McDonalds.

Health and wellness is the name of the competition. A lot of products promoting health and vitality are very visible and popular. Replenish.., refresh.., restore.., re-young! These are becoming the mantra in this country.




In the Tea, Coffee and Wine Hall, you will feast on the delightful taste and aroma of warming beverages. Most Teas present in the trade fair were produced in Taiwan, Japan and China. Coffee products on the other hand, were made from Europe (Italy, Germany), America(Columbia, Honduras, etc.) and Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia). Green Tea is largely seen as more popular than Black or Oolong Tea. By the way, Tea here is elevated into a higher level. Promoting it doesn't stop from merely providing an appealing taste and aroma. From the finest tea cups to the right choice of concoctions, everything must be delicately taken cared of. From a visitor's point of view, it's like being transported to a homey tea house with the ambiance of natural tea landscapes. It's having a "complete tea experience" that exhibitors are trying to communicate. It is a culture that is worthy to share. Suffice it to say, most tea products came in natural, dried leaves form. Instant, powdered type is hardly visible. Likewise, it's more for end-user consumption rather than for further commercial processing. On Coffee trends, increasingly being well liked is the one with "no raw sugar" claim (2 in 1). Taste is strong and bold. It's under the brand name CAFE 21 made in Malaysia.

Among the few that offered commercial tea products for instant consumption is the KING KUNG HEALTH FOOD CO., LTD. They claim to have nutritional at the same time good tasting tea drinks. Some of the products we sampled which we found true to their claims were smoked plum soup, brown rice tea, ginger tea, burdock tea, taro coconut milk, maple syrup milk tea and ten grain nutritional tea.

Other products we also found promising when made available in an up and coming health and wellness driven market like the Philippines, are these Herbal Crackers and Vital Balance Biscuits. We noticed their high acceptability among Taiwanese. It only proved then that taste and health can complement each other in a finished product.

It's also interesting to find a drink that is made to be consumed at a "specified" time. Don't you find this 3:15 PM Milk Tea very intriguing (photo above)? I wonder what's in the 3:15 PM that you'll feel the need for a cup of milk tea? To ease some accumulated stress perhaps? At any rate, what is important to note is that products are becoming very specific and tailored-fit nowadays. Food manufacturers are getting into the "lifestyle" of the consumers and providing solutions to their needs.

Generally, the notable food items in Taiwan International Food and Equipment show are dried fruits (like plum and berries), dried seaweeds (which Taiwanese normally use as side dish in every meal occasion), dried shrimps, herbal teas for cooking, dimsum products, ice cream with innovative flavors (e.g. tiramisu), biscuits and bakery products, chocolate and confectioneries and some food cart favorites (such as fried corn on the cob, fried dumplings, etc.). Food processing equipment on the other hand, is largely on coffee and tea making, fruit extracts making and dimsum manufacturing. All in all, it was a visit worth of interesting Taiwanese food trends. Taiwan left a legitimate mark of being that Asian Neighbor who owns a booming vessel of consumer goods. A country of foodies willing to spend more for good food. Thus, Food is a money-spinning business to penetrate here. The considerable number of exhibitors in the trade show is a good proof of this claim. By and large, it's for the same reason that competition among manufacturers is getting more and more stiff and challenging.