SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2014 - 12:00am

I found myself checking the signs to see what level I was on. Ah, the second level. Now, the third level, across Toy Kingdom at SM Aura. That’s where Bella said Shine! was. Actually I don’t remember if it has an exclamation point or if I added it because of the experience I had there.

I was the first to arrive promptly at noon. Sunshine Pengson met me. She is such a sweet, very pretty, totally outstanding pastry chef who delights me with her calming ways. Sit with me and tell me a little about this new restaurant of yours, I say.

Well, it’s conceptually a very informal restaurant with lines of comfort food that we’re experimenting with and offering. You will try some of it later, she says with a smile. The interiors are sort of Willy Wonka-ish. You remember the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?

I don’t but I thought Sunshine would provide the best chocolate desserts with her talent but before I could tell her that Sandy Daza walked in.

Sandy is a dear friend of my oldest daughter, Risa. Through her, Sandy met me at the Vancouver airport in 2004, the last time I visited my mother there. I feel a special friendship with him. I find him to be unusually kind. Come sit beside me, I say. Just then Bella, Sunshine’s mother and my friend, walks in. She joins us at the table. A little later in walks Cyrene de la Rosa, who reminds me we have met, and yes, I remember meeting her with Amy Besa, who owns Purple Yam in New York. Margaux Salcedo will be joining us, Bella says, but she will be a bit late because she’s taking her parents to the doctor. What am I doing here?  I ask myself. I’m a gourmande (matakaw in Pilipino) not a food writer. I have no experience in chef-hood. I just like to eat.

In walks Rob Pengson, for me a chef par excellence, and the food begins to stream in. We begin with an amuse bouche, French for to delight the mouth, to tease the palate. It is made from a date with goat cheese and it is absolutely wonderful. Then I think it was followed by a soup that tasted like it was made from fresh tomatoes and then a salad with big bacon chips. I love big bacon chips. We also had French fries with Japanese green something and cheese, which I also loved, followed by tiny cheeseburgers, which were deliciously moist and flavorful.

I don’t know if I remember the sequence right. Probably not because there was so much food spiced up with interesting chatter. I know we had linguini Alfredo, which I found totally delicious. Sandy served me the linguini and I was grateful that he did. Once upon a time I was a genius at eating pasta. Picking it up with your fork, twirling it around your spoon until it was at its neatest point and sticking it in your mouth. That was 40 years ago. I can’t remember when I last ate pasta gracefully. I’ve forgotten how. Concentrating on my noodles I overheard Sunshine telling Sandy that there was a bit of chocolate in the sauce. Whatever. I thought it was totally to die for.

That was followed by a duck confit served with waffles and a special maple syrup, something that looked and tasted like a roast pork that Bella served me to try. Then there was a chicken breast something that was also delicious.

Then came the desserts. There was a bread pudding and there was a plateful of chocolates made by Sunshine. Sandy and Bella forced one on me and it was totally delightful. It just melted wonderfully in my mouth. I felt I had put on a hundred pounds at that lunch. 

Rob joined us. He and Sunshine are leaving for an eating holiday in Japan in a few weeks so he’s fasting. First, he says, he gets ready and pigs out on pan de sal and chocolates. Then he goes on a fast – only drinks water for around 10 days to clean his system. Sandy says he does that too. I listen, remembering a time when I did that too,  I must have been in my 30s then. I went on a water fast for around a week and felt very good, very clear, different. 

But there was no need to say that now. Now I am old and I ate too much. But I shall return. I want to try their chicken fried steak. It reminds me of an earlier lifetime when I had that chicken fried steak while driving through the US south. I am sure this one is more delicious than the first chicken fried steak I tried.

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