PastAmore in Kapitolyo, Pasig | steppanyaki

On a regular Tuesday night, my boyfriend and I decided for a change to have dinner in the Kapitolyo area. It had been a while since we had last had dinner out, and it felt like a refreshing change.

We initially decided to eat at Oriental Pearl–formerly known as Jade Palace–but having passed by and seeing that the parking area was fully occupied, we  decided to cruise around the area until we could see a random restaurant we hadn’t tried, and one that had ample parking space.

Just past Juanito’s Bistro, we noticed a new restaurant, PastAmore. I had noticed it before a few months back, when I had a random dinner by myself in the area, at Red Panda.

They were on soft opening and had plenty of parking slots available. A huge green tarpaulin banner outside bearing free wi-fi care of Sky Broadband also caught our eye.

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At that time, there were only two other customers. I had no idea what to expect with the food as I entered the restaurant. Ambience-wise, you would put PastAmore into the family-friendly establishment category.  Brightly lit, with hanging orb lights, black leather-upholstered wooden booths, with red brick accents adding a contrast to the stark off-white flooring and ceiling.

I also noticed that the restaurant has a second floor, though I wasn’t able to investigate if you can also dine up there, or if it’s just plainly storage space.

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We were immediately greeted by a server and were handed the menu, and we discover that PastAmore’s unique selling point is unlimited pasta and DIY pizza.

While on a different day we would gladly dive into the customizable pasta and pizza option, we weren’t exactly that hungry at that time; we only wanted a place to hang out with and enjoy a light shared dinner.

My boyfriend marveled at PastAmore’s logo–featuring a fork with swirled spaghetti noodles, enveloped in a heart. Pretty clever, huh? Really simple, but it captures the essentials of the brand in a single stroke.

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We decided to get some Nachos (P149) and Garlic Shrimp Pesto (P239). While waiting, we looked around and noticed an assembly line counter.

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If you make your own pasta (just for P249), you go through a three-step process.

First, select the kind of pasta you’d like for your creation. You can choose from spaghetti, penne, fettuccine, angel hair, macaroni and whole wheat spaghetti (something for the more health-conscious folks out there!).

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Next, choose your sauce. You can opt for alfredo, bolognese, sweet spaghetti meat sauce, chunky tomato, pesto cream, tomato cream, hot tex mex, garlic cream, meaty palabok, spicy curry, satay, queso fundido, eggplant pomodoro and wasabi (imagine that!).

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Finally, have a go at your toppings. You can choose from ham, grilled chicken, bacon bits, beef mix, pork floss, sliced jalapenos, dried luncheon meat, powdered chicharon (oh yes!!!), sweet corn, roasted mushrooms or roasted vegetables.

The final touch is choosing your cheese–either orange cheddar or parmesan.

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If you’re creating your own pizza, it’s essentially the same process without the pasta selection part.

For the less adventurous diners, you can just go for the chef’s specials, where you have fettuccine carbonara, spaghetti puttanesca, squid ink fettuccine, kung pao chicken pasta, aglio oglio, ligurian pesto, OMG! pasta (why didn’t we see this?), somethin’ porky spaghetti, somethin’ fishy fettuccine or classic lasagna.

So our nachos arrives and the portion is pretty glorious for sharing. Okay, I have a thing with chips so I pretty much wolfed this down on my own. Topped with a generous serving of cheese sauce, ground beef and salsa, this one was not difficult at all to consume in a few minutes.

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Next, our garlic shrimp pesto! We weren’t able to take a photo, but they also served us complimentary crusty bread. At first, I couldn’t really taste the pesto, but after a few forkfuls, I tasted just how rich the sauces and oils were in my mouth. The pasta was just the right springiness, and the portion, again, is good for sharing (Or maybe we’re just light eaters).

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One setback, I would have to say, was that we didn’t know they served dessert, which was what we could have settled for initially. But at least we got to try their specialty–making pasta!

Also, they should do something about the free wi-fi. It involves a really slow loading login process, and I hardly got to check anything online.

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For sweet endings, PastAmore has strawberry cheesecake, blueberry cheesecake, avocado cheesecake and oreo cheesecake (all at P120 per slice). Something to try next time, too!

By the time we were done with our dinner, the place was packed–from couples, to friends just chilling. There’s just something comforting about good pasta dishes during this rainy and unpredictable season.

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Whatever you’re hankering for, there’s literally something for you in the menu at PastAmore. Now, obviously, we have to go back because the options are endless!

PastAmore is located at 52 East Capitol Drive, Brgy. Kapitolyo, Pasig City, and is open every day from 11 am to 12 midnight–perfect for those late night cravings! For inquiries, visit their Facebook page.

A chat with Isay Lagunzad, creator of St. Hale aged cookie sandwiches

It’s been over a year now that I’ve been seeing St. Hale’s amazing cookie sandwiches on Instagram, and I’ve been meaning to try it and learn more about it ever since.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I had just this golden opportunity. I had an entire afternoon to talk to Isabel “Isay” Lagunzad, the genius behind these baked goodies. And they’re not just any kind of cookie sandwiches. The cookie dough, apparently, is aged.

What does it mean when you “age” dough? How does it work? And what does it do to the dough, actually?

I had all these questions in my mind when I spoke to Isay, who has been actively driving the St. Hale business since 2012. At that time, she had just left her first job, and she wanted to pin down what her true passion in life was, and after some soul-searching, she discovered that it had always been baking.

Though having had studied baking for a month at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAM), and under the tutelage of Mrs. Isaac—the first cake-decorating instructor to teach the Wilton Method of Cake Decorating in the Philippines—Isay humbly does not claim to be a food expert.

She had always had a penchant for baking in her family of six, and had started as early as her elementary days. Naturally, the first people to have had a taste of her baking were her parents and siblings.

How it all started

When Isay launched St. Hale in 2012, she was making ice cream cookie sandwiches, which were a definite hit, but which were also already a common treat and proved challenging in terms of storage, ingredients and product development. Since a key ingredient at that time was the ice cream, she thought of ‘hail’ and played around with the spelling, adding the ‘St.’ in the end. “I didn’t want to call them ‘Isay’s cookies’ because I knew I didn’t want to limit myself to just one kind of product,” she says.

Isay longed for a product that would resonate among both kids and kids at heart. In fact, her long-term goal is to eventually put up a shop or café, taking inspiration from this desire. “I want this restaurant to promote the kid in you, ” she says with a smile. She thought about her own childhood with her siblings, recalling how they would heat marshmallows on the stove to make their own s’mores.

Struck with inspiration, Isay in 2014 started creating homemade marshmallows, which would soon become a key element in her new and improved cookie sandwiches. She also began researching more about cookie preparation and soon she stumbled upon the process of aging dough.

Aging cookie dough and doing ‘cookie gigs’

‘Aging’ is the closest term Isay can use to define her unique way of preparing her cookie dough, which produces the unique texture, flavor and aroma in her cookies. The process involves freezing the dough and a few more steps which overall takes up to two months, before the cookies are finally baked and ready for selling.

Now, when we mean selling, we actually mean ‘performing’. That’s because another fascinating facet of St. Hale is that Isay prepares the cookie sandwiches live, in what she calls ‘cookie gigs’, usually taking place in bazaars.

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Photo by Majoy Siason

First, a chocolate cookie is laid upside down on a dish, upon a revolving mechanism (it kind of looks like a tree stump).

Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason

Isay slathers on a generous scoop of rich chocolate on a chocolate chip cookie, sprinkles some salt, adds a block of homemade marshmallow, then proceeds with torching it, creating that mouthwatering s’mores effect. “I got the idea from my dad, who happened to watch a chef on TV torching a dish, and then he suggested it to me,” Isay says.

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Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Photo by Majoy Siason

Another chocolate chip cookie is then plopped on top, then Isay sprinkles some sea salt for some contrast to the sweetness, a final touch to the sandwich—about the size of a cheeseburger. It’s a bit tricky avoiding any of that melted, gooey goodness not dribbling onto your chin, but it’s oh so worth it. The whole process, which takes several minutes, has onlookers oohing and aahing and asking all sorts of questions.

Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Photo by Majoy Siason

One of her interesting bits of trivia is that she uses antibiotic-free eggs for her dough, and she even has them on display—slightly smaller than regular eggs, with a bluish-green tinge. Apparently they’re from a different and foreign breed of chickens. Aside from the antibiotic-free eggs, which Isay is an advocate of, she also uses mostly local ingredients, such as chocolate from Malagos, Davao, which recently won silver in an international chocolate competition, and sea salt from Pangasinan.

Photo by Majoy Siason
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Photo by Majoy Siason

But the beauty of St. Hale’s cookie gigs is that they’re a great conversation starter and Isay gets to interact with her customers, telling them about the process of aging the cookie dough. She also gets suggestions to consider for her business.

“Some customers have said they would heat them in the microwave; my sister says the sandwich is yummier when chilled,” Isay says. “I’ve also had a friend who stored the cookie sandwich in the fridge for over a month, and she said it tasted even better. Though to be safe, I would peg the shelf life to two weeks.”

Nevertheless, Isay still recommends that customers stick to the classic way she serves her cookie sandwiches—hot and with a freshly torched marshmallow. “Some people think the sandwiches are fine without the torching, but without it, I think you lose on the whole visual experience—the unique taste, texture and smell.”

The whole setup of Isay’s cookie gigs resemble a cooking show, which is a definite scene stealer during events. At one point, she was able to sell as much as 100 cookie sandwiches at a bazaar. St. Hale usually has its cookie gigs in Katipunan and recently, in Alabang.

Passion, pride and ambition

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Photo by Majoy Siason

Isay takes pride in having set up her business on her own, but with the help and support of her family. “It’s not easy when you have this kind of business on top of a regular 9 to 6 job,” she says. “This is where most of my free time goes to—when I get home from work, I bake. On weekends, I bake. My only rest is the sleep I get during the lunch breaks at work, and I try to sleep more on Sundays.”

While the option of considering a business partner or expanding is on the horizon, Isay is for now content to focus on sustaining the business and product as it is currently, though there are plans of having the business registered and determining the nutritional value of the cookie sandwiches for her more health-conscious patrons. She’s also considering coming up with a smaller version of her cookies so she can also target a wider market—currently the regular-sized cookie sandwiches cost P130 to P140 each, depending on where her cookie gig is.

“It hasn’t always been this easy,” she says. “At my first bazaar, it flooded but I still kept on selling. May isang beses lumubog pa ‘yung dough ko. Even if it’s hard and sometimes stressful, I choose to keep doing it because it’s really different if you’re doing something you love. Today, I’m slowly getting a taste of accomplishment. Now, I’m thinking, what other flavors can I do?”

For inquiries and orders, visit St. Hale’s Facebook page, Instagram account @sthalecookies, or text Isay at 09778372015 or 09163055679.

Did your mouth water from any of the food photos in this feature? Head on over to www.majoy-siason.com to see more drool-worthy pics!