MANILA, APRIL 9, 2012 (INQUIRER) By: Tessa Prieto-Valdes - Happy Easter to all!

Today I am in chocolate heaven. I’m probably sipping champagne while enjoying a delicious caviar cheesecake. After successfully completing several Lenten sacrifices, it is time to reward myself.

Easter is a time of rebirth, renewal and rediscovery of life. It is also the time when my travel buddies and I usually visit new destinations and scout around for shopping bargains. Unfortunately, we are in different parts of the globe this year.

We held a despedida of sorts to bid each other farewell as we traveled separately. The Impressions Restaurant at the Maxims Hotel, the only six-star hotel in Manila, was a fitting venue for our pre-Easter Sunday brunch.

Sunday brunch

Impressions is the perfect way to make an impression. Located at the third floor of Maxims, it is the only part of the members-only Genting Club that is open to the public. Whether you are there for a scrumptious gourmet brunch or an intimate dinner, Impressions is the way to experience luxury in every dish.

[PHOTO- LOOKING for animé at Akibahara. Jesli Lapus, Sandy Ocampo, Mandy and Roberto Taboada, Malou Ng, Sea Princess, Dennis Valdes]

Among the first to arrive for our Sunday brunch were Divine Lee, my co-host on TV5’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” and her beau Victor Basa. We jazzed up the French table décor with photo frames, Easter eggs and feathered hats. More guests trickled in as they marveled at the delicious selections in the food stations.

Impressions’ chef Cyrille Soenen of Restaurant Ciçou fame, introduced our little group to the buffet concept of the restaurant. Set apart from high-end hotel buffets that overwhelm with countless dishes that are more quantity than quality, Impressions Restaurant offers live-cooking stations that only prepare and cook when a guest orders. The seriously tough problem is how to hold back.

Chef Cyrille walked us through the three main stations where the freshest ingredients are combined with decades-aged cheese, succulent meats, foie gras, grilled meat, seafood and countless other delectables. PR maven Susan Joven headed straight to the special pastas.

[PHOTO -FOODIES Alex and Pia Lichaytoo]

When confronted with a buffet, it is best to hang around a food blogger, like hotelier Jean Fernando, who headed for the Charcuterie shelf to put cured meat from Europe atop her arugula salad. Check out her other food choices in her blog

Dessert spread

I suggest a day of fasting, Lenten style, before coming to Impressions. Among the offerings are Moluga caviar, fresh uni, lobster and various oysters from all over. As we were there for a Sunday brunch, chef Cyrille whipped up for fashion designer Rajo Laurel a specially designed fine pancake with special caviar and sour cream, all topped with a poached egg.

The Dessert Bar is supervised by pastry chef Miko Aspiras, who has garnered many awards from international competitions along with the likes of chef J Gamboa. The spread included fresh gelato, white chocolate fondue, Madeleines with truffle honey, cheesecake truffle, green tea trifles and strawberry shortcake. And that’s just the first row!

While we enjoyed some Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial, we played some games and gave away prizes, courtesy of generous Swatch lady Virgie Ramos and SM Accessories.

(Call Impressions Restaurant at 9088888; visit

[PHOTO- WONDERFUL Sunday brunch table setting at Impressions Restaurant in Maxims Hotel]

After the brunch, we caught the afternoon screening of the hit movie, “The Hunger Games.” Thanks to Power Plant Mall’s Malou Pineda, my elder daughter Annika Valdes was among the lucky few who got to watch the premiere.

Everyone says the characters in this movie all dress like me, but I beg to differ. My false eyelashes are wilder than theirs!

Resorts World Manila is fast becoming a destination place in our city. Aside from its fabulous restaurants, the Broadway musical “The Sound of Music” has been extended until May 27. Then in a few months, RWM is staging Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” its third spectacular production.

(Tickets are available at the RWM Box Office or through Ticketworld, call 8366333.)

Tokyo food trip

[PHOTO- IMPRESSIONS Restaurant expert chefs with ResortsWorld Manila F&B VP chef Hubertus Cramer (center), Sea Princess and award-winning pastry chef Miko Aspiras (right)]

All the food made me think about a recent food trip to Tokyo along with my hubby Dennis and his friends. Among the exciting restaurants we tried was Robataya, a traditional Japanese grill in the Roppongi District, with two chefs grilling various seafood and vegetables for the guests, all seated around them as if in a Japanese home.

Among the friends with us were triathlete Fernando Zobel and his wife, Kit. Fernando recently made headlines due to a nasty fall at the Pico de Loro triathlon, so I hope he is all recovered already.

Also with us were Alex and Pia Lichaytoo of Bacchus fame, who took us to a teppanyaki restaurant, Ukai-Tei, whose interior design was a cross between the Spanish artist Gaudi and art deco motifs. We sat alongside Ergo’s Philip and Malou Ng and former Education Secretary Jesli Lapus and Rep. Sandy Ocampo, who all raved about the quality of the wagyu.

No trip to Japan is complete without some sushi, and we had plenty, thanks to Txabi and Marissa Aboitiz, who brought us to Sushiko Honten, an intimate sushi bar in Ginza where the chefs prepare the most delectable pieces for a maximum 12 guests. We also had a few orders of the ootoro at the Sushizanmai Restaurant right in Tsukiji Market.

It was all such a foodie trip that we finally just had simple ramen noodles with Roberto and Mandy Taboada at Ippudo, in Marunochi, which was a great way to relax and have a simple meal.

The highlight of the entire trip for me was that it coincided with the opening of the newest and largest Uniqlo in the world, with its new, 12-floor store in the heart of the Ginza district. It was fun to line up just to get in, and then to get caught up in the retail frenzy inside the store. Uniqlo will be opening at the SM Mall of Asia soon, so we too will soon experience the thrill of fast shopping.

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