Sunday, December 4, 2011

Of friends, retirement and Sweet Bella

It was a lunch out I will never forget.

I have made many friends in the pharmaceutical industry. Some are still with the companies I speak and advice for. Some...well, they've retired, moved on or sadly, passed away.

There were musings from Veron on having lunch with her. When she told me that after 19 years with Glaxo Smith Kline she finally hanged her heels of having to work them, I was initially shocked! We've been through a lot and she's practically been not only a colleague, but a wonderful friend whom I've shared many quiet moments of my life and the stories of our cats.

Over lunch, I could tell that she was really happy over the decision to retire from corporate life. This was the part I could relate well with. After 23 years of teaching at the University of Santo Tomas, my retirement from the academe was a decision that only I could appreciate. Like me, Veron had her "moments" with GSK. And retiring from what you routinely do daily does not come easy. But some things just need closure - so we let go and life goes on.

But the blog isn't just about Veron and I.

It's about this quaint restaurant on Burgos Circle at the Fort where we had lunch called Sweet Bella.

First, I'm not a food critic. I just love to eat, and I have a passion for good food. I just hate spending money on fast food chains not because they're cheap, but because they're unhealthy and believe me when I say that it's the road to obesity and heart disease.

The other thing about blogging about restaurants is that while first impressions may be good, sometimes some of the restaurants are unable to sustain their great food and service they initially have. And the review becomes moot and academic. But great raves are due to those that have made good impressions so here's my review on Sweet Bella.

The restaurant has that homey feeling when you enter it. The patisserie is located on the ground floor and what hits you right at the sugar rush level are the macarons on the display cabinets. Alright, so I have a soft spot for macarons and cakes. My experience points to the fact that restaurants that serve great pastries are just pastry restaurants. It's rare that you get to have a cafe or restaurant that serve both great food and excellent pastries.

The menu is not extensive but the choices are quite healthy. Since I was on a diet, I simply had onion soup and seafood pasta. Veron had her all time fave - beef salpicao done medium rare. Beef salpicao medium rare? Now this I gotta see!

The onion soup was just the way onion soups should be prepared. With a lot of onions underneath and not pungent to both the olfactory and gustatory senses. It wasn't salty and neither was it laden with MSG. The onions were crunchy enough without being too soggy. The seafood pasta was perfectly cooked in olive oil. Not too much seafood splashed all over the pasta, otherwise it would have tasted like stench. The pasta noodles wasn't sticking together (pasta shouldn't stick together otherwise it's overcooked) and the texture was perfect. The texture of a well cooked pasta should be slightly firm in the middle when you bite and this was the way my seafood pasta was. I was watching with curiosity how in the world could you make a tenderloin beef salpicao medium rare? I mean, I've ordered beef salpicao in various restaurants and I've never liked them because they end up hard as a rock. In short - the Filipino beef salpicao is just plain "pulutan" (appetizer). To serve it as a whole meal and medium rare - this I gotta see and see it I did! As you sliced into the tender meat, you could see the middle part cooked rare! Their beef salpicao had a warm and moistly pink center - firm on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside - so much like you were eating chunks of tenderloin steak!

The piece d'resistance was the desert. It was, after all, a patisserie!

Veron insisted and I took the challenge to gain an extra pound or so. So I picked the macarons. After all, any pastry shop that makes macarons should live up to the challenge of making the best macarons.

They laid out the 8 flavors on a long plate.

As you can see from the picture - white chocolate, chocolate, strawberry, lemon, passion fruit, rose, coffee (and not in the pic is salted caramel). I picked rose, and had it with TWG tea. To make a great macaron, you had to have the best rose macaron. And a rose macaron is not easy to make nor easy to appreciate. A perfect rose macaron needed to satisfy the olfactory and gustatory senses - you needed to taste it and smell it altogether. And even after the meal, the smell of the rose macaron lingered in my mouth and nose, two hours after the tete-a-tete we had. Seriously, I think they had the best macarons in town - freshly made! It reminded me of Laduree (in Paris) and the macarons were so divine that after a few days I asked Veron to order several boxes for me to give away to some of my friends this holiday season.

It turned out to be a great afternoon.

People come and go in our lives and many of us who go into retirement or exile miss out on the road less traveled - the great bond of friendship we establish along the way. It was a few hours of saying goodbye, telling stories, catching up with life, enjoying a great meal together, laughing our hearts out, making new friends and yes, it was a way of saying - here's to a great friendship.

See you around my friend!

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