July 30, 2011

Chef Danny's Aquaknox - A Taste of Vietnam

One casual evening I was invited to Aquaknox Vietnamese Kitchen in Arnaiz Avenue, Makati. Vietnamese food was something I wasn’t a fan of. I had a notion that it was something close to Chinese food - and trust me I’ve had enough of that. Surprisingly, after my chat with the chef, I immediately realized how wrong I was.

Chef Danny Vu is of Vietnamese descent but migrated to the States during the Vietnam War. His family moved to San Francisco and opened a restaurant there. He shared to me that he loved cooking ever since he can remember. At a young age, he started on his craft through a lot of home cooking with his mom and aunt.

An interesting fact about Chef Danny is his degree in Chemistry. He tried to do lab work after graduation but his passion for cooking prevailed. Eventually he worked at different restaurants, honing his skills. He fondly shared that he was not formally educated in cooking – learning all styles and tricks in different cuisines through personal experiences.

Opening Aquaknox was unplanned. While on a business trip in Manila, Chef Danny tried a lot of restaurants but felt that he wanted to bring Vietnamese food the way he knew how. He has been running restaurants since 1988 so he somehow took it as a challenge to open a Vietnamese restaurant in Manila.

More than just the traditional “Pho” that people associate Vietnamese cuisine with, he wanted to introduce a wider range of Vietnamese food. He said that, “Aquaknox is more specialized in a way since the recipes came from my family’s recipes of 2 generations already, and how I learned to adapt and apply it to the Filipino market.” One of his biggest challenges was to give Filipinos a better taste and idea on Vietnamese food. At that time, only people who had been to Vietnam were the ones who tried or appreciated the cuisine.

Not knowing anything about Vietnamese cuisine, I was eager to know what was the distinct taste that I can expect. Chef Danny shared that the base of a lot of Vietnamese food is fish sauce. He explained that there is a lot of influence since the country was under the colony of China, Japan, and for the longest time, France. Because of the French influence, there’s a unique blend of fish sauce with different herbs.

The Fresh Spring Rolls are the easiest to make. Though not everybody can make the sauce as flavorful to blend with the almost bland taste of the rice roll and vermicelli. Everything is not pre-rolled and is prepared only when ordered.

The next dish was the Steamed Mussels with Garlic Shallots, Lemon Grass and Thai Basil. The seafood stock is cooked everyday, simmering the stock with white wine (of French influence). I loved how this was not as salty as the Filipino way of steaming mussels with just salt.

I thought that the Shrimp and Pomelo Salad is Thai food but it’s actually a Vietnamese dish. The dressing is a blend of fish sauce and lemon. The tangy lemon taste enhances the sweet taste of the pomelo.

The soup of the Beef Pho and Rice Noodle is boiled for 6 hours with bone marrow and tendons. One of the cooks arrives at the restaurant at 6 in the morning to prepare the broth, ready when they open the resto. You need to put drops of limejuice, leaves of thyme, onion slices and bean sprout to the soup to add flavor.

Bringing in the northern Vietnamese influence, the next was the Cold Rice Vermicelli with Pork and Fried Rolls in a Bed of Lettuce. The fried rolls are stuffed with ground pork and crabmeat. To eat this, you need to first put the fish sauce and toss it so the sauce will seep through the dish.

The Tenderloin Beef is a mix of eastern and western style of preparation. The beef is marinated overnight with soy sauce and garlic, infused with red wine. It takes a long process to make the meat soft and tender but stir frying the meat needs to be right and quick to immediately serve to waiting clients. They use only US tenderloin beef to ensure the quality of the meat.

The specialty of the house is the Naked Crab. He said that this is eaten with the Garlic Pasta to enhance the garlicky flavor. 


The term naked describes how the crab is presented. You just need to take the head out and the meat is exposed for the picking. It is prepared with a mixture of herbs and butter. The crabmeat is not ground and the meat is still full, in big portions. A lot of people try to imitate, but no one can pull it off like Danny. This is the San Francisco meets Vietnam because of the strong garlic taste.

The resto incorporates the proper d├ęcor with the food. Aquaknox wanted to have a perfect match with the interior and food. The Vietnamese murals further showcases Vietnamese culture with women in the traditional "ao dai" costume and the straw hats. It has a very oriental feel with strong shades of red. The venue can hold a hundred people for parties and other events.

Aquaknox wants to be known for the uniqueness of their recipes. Clients can expect the quality of food with or without Chef Danny manning the kitchen. All of the cooks have an intensive minimum of one month training per station. “I want to keep the consistency of the cooking and the quality more so people can expect great food and appreciate the quality”, said Chef Danny.

I had to ask the secret to his cooking and he openly shared it, “Our food is based from the freshest ingredients, no short cuts in the cooking and no msg! The cardinal rule in cooking is if you use the freshest ingredients possible, 80% is already done; the rest is the chef’s creativity.” Applying his instincts and background as a chemist, Chef Danny mixes different herbs like thyme, oregano, etc. He loves using a lot of herbs but stresses that there is a need to understand the flavor of these herbs.

I learned how to be adventurous. My pre-conceived notion was shattered after all the dishes that Chef Danny prepared. The price is quite competitive, basing it to the caliber of the food. What I appreciated most was how Chef Danny puts a lot of thought and dedication in his cooking. He stressed that, “Any chef who does not go around and learn their craft does not get to learn much. You basically have to apply what you learn and be hard working.”

Aquaknox is located at 800 Arnaiz Ave. (formerly Pasay Road), Makati City.
You may visit their website at: http://www.aquaknox.com.ph/
They recently opened Xoi Vietnamese Kitchen at 5th floor, Building A, SM Megamall to reach clients in the Ortigas area.

July 24, 2011

Valii: Luxury of Time

What is the outcome when a fashion trendsetter and an advertising strategist blend their aesthetic taste to the vision of a jewelry artisan? They bring together a collection of luxurious timepieces fit for the different lifestyles of the stylish ones.

Introducing Valii - a range of elegant and stylish watches for men and women. The union started when fashion designer Michele Sison became a long valued client of jeweler Anita Chan. They eventually became close friends, and now as business partners. Product consultant Arnold Vegafria, who also is a client of Anita Chan, also became a partner of the venture.

Watches are one of the most favorite accessories of the simple dressers to the style conscious. Other than the necessity to keep track of time, watches serve as an addition to complement our persona. Men and women go gaga over the best quality watches that could bring a greater sense of fashion to their looks.

An elegant night of fashion and champagne marked the launch of the new set of timepieces. The night was filled with the most stylish set waiting to view the collections. Everybody was eager to see first-hand the cool and elegant designs of Valii. The collaboration among the creative minds really awed the crowd. A fashion show was held to showcase different watches with the models wearing clothes designed by Michele Sison.



I personally go for pieces that not only looks great but has strong versatility. The Tecno collection is my ultimate favorite. I like how the contemporary design can be both casual and formal. Valii watches were co-founded by an expert Italian watchmaker assuring that the quality of the machines used is sure to be of best standards. After inquiring, I realized that with the craftsmanship of the watches, the price is quite reasonable.

From left: Tessa Valdes, Arnold Vegafria, Michele Sison, Anita Chan, Abs Abdelkader & Grace Lee

After the show the watches were put on display to guests who wanted to have their own Valii. Everybody was busy looking for the piece that best fits their taste and personality. There are a number of collections that feature different designs. There's something for everyone since the different collections have sporty, casual, formal, and trendy appeal.

I met some more creative minds during the event. My mom loves Tessa Valdes so much that I had to take a photo with her. I finally had the chance to personally meet the friendly Jun Jun Ablaza whose event I featured some time back.

I am super thankful to gorgeous / sexy twin Michele Sison who was so busy entertaining everybody the entire evening. She is sincerely one of the nicest and coolest people I've met in the many events I've been to. Congratulations to the success of Valii!

Valii is available at: Anita Chan - G/F Powerplant Mall, Rockwell Center, Makati
You may view all of the collections at: http://www.valii.eu

July 20, 2011

Now Gallery - New Works

This was something new. Last Friday, I dedicated my evening not with loud beats in a club, or looking at fabrics and cuts in a fashion show, but on visions of abstract art. Since I had no in-depth knowledge on paintings - or modern and contemporary art for that matter - my initial concern was that I might get lost in a sea of artwork and enthusiasts. My hesitations backfired and I enjoyed the entire night. It was a great experience for me to understand different aspects of art, other than fashion. :)

Now Gallery opened its doors to showcase top Filipino artists, and their masterpieces, with the keen intent to exhibit the beauty of art. The opening featured various abstract paintings. The new works were done by three artists who studied in the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, under the guidance of Mr. Jose Joya - one of the Philippines' National Artists known for his pioneering work on abstract expressionism.

Mr. Norberto Carating 
This award winning artist had his first solo exhibit at the Galerie Bleue. Since then, he participated in international exhibitions such as Havana Biennale, Museo de Universidad de Valencia, Museo de Antropologica. He recently had solo exhibitions in the Art Forum Singapore and at the Karen Weber Gallery in Hong Kong.

Mr. Rock Drilon
Drilon was part of the board and managed the Brix Gallery and the Art Association of the Philippines' Kanlungan ng Sining. He also won numerous prizes from the Art Association of the Philippines, eventually leading him to be one of the Board of Directors. He is the owner of Magnet Gallery in Quezon City.

Mr. Nestor Vinluan
As an educator, Vinluan was a faculty at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts and served as the Dean of the college from 1989 to 1998. Adding to this, he has also offered talks and workshops to a number of academic institutions. He was awarded the Fernando Amorsolo Professional Chair in 2004.

I had to take one photo with Mr. Patrick Reyno, President and Founder of Now Gallery. I got hold of their gallery's brochure and I found what Mr. Reyno stated about modern and contemporary art interesting. I hope that with reading this, people may have a better insight on what sets these two apart.

Quoting directly from the brochure, Reyno mentioned that, "Modern art seeks to re-interpret aesthetic conventions and depictions of reality but ultimately still strives to create art that is objectively beautiful, even purely on a visual level, espousing different principles and styles or "isms". Contemporary art is more sociological than aesthetic. It tries to comment on contemporary issues in society, which in our view, should be done in an inventive, clever, and original way. It should be technically difficult to produce, or superior in its execution, whatever the medium may be. It can refer to previous artists and appropriate them in a dialogue with the past, but at the same time, good contemporary art should push the envelope further, and not just mimic what has come before it."

Special thanks to Mr. Robert Young and my friend Gordon Lee for bringing me to the event.
Now Gallery is located at the Ecoplaza Building, 2305 Chino Roces St., Makati City.

July 17, 2011

The Chihuahua in Makati

A new Mexican place opened in Makati and I was there when they started to serve the margaritas. Chihuahua Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar had its grand opening last week. Don't be fooled by the name! Chihuahuas may be the smallest dogs but the margaritas here are big on taste.


The interiors are a splash of red and white, with walls filled with photos of friends, international personalities, and customers. It's really a place where you can just unwind after work, savor a burrito, and laugh with friends. The atmosphere is a little laid back and filled with a lot of fun.

I was really amused with the condiments section and all the hot sauces all lined together. I'm not a fan of spicy food but I'd like to see someone try the hottest sauce on the rack.

Salsa was played throughout! I couldn't get over taking a break from club music and having a sample of world music for one night. Pretty cool...

They made food quite simple. Ordering at the counter is easy with the  4 steps that you need to follow. Freshness is guaranteed with the food prepared only when ordered.

I really felt how the grand opening was anticipated. Prominent people attended to do the official cutting of the ribbon. From left, there was US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr., Ms. Ines Cabarrus of Chihuahua, Mexican Ambassador Dr. Tomas Unna, and Mr. Elian Habayeb of Chihuahua.

I couldn't resist. I had to take a photo with Ambassador Harry Thomas. He was really having a lot of fun that night. He was so cool that he even tried to learn how to dance the Salsa.

A reunion of sorts, I was with model / mom / business woman / friend Anne Feo. :)

Chihuahua Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar is located at 7838 Makati Ave. across A Venue.
You may add their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/chihuahuamexicangrill
Special thanks to Mr. Elian Habayeb!