Circus, Circus. In the Tent. On the plate.

The news came early, long before the tents were pitched. Cirque du Soleil is coming to town and in their suitcase – Varekai!
Since its premiere in 2002, this traveling show counts more than 3000 performances before an audience of six million ++ in 55 cities in a dozen countries to date. Manila is this circus’ most recent stop and thanks to Manila Hotel, this spectacle made it to town.
Davao, on the other hand, is on the far, far south of the Grand Chapiteau. Needless to say, it’s the same old sad story when it comes to chasing foreign acts- plane fare, accommodations plus show ticket cost when totaled, may cost an arm and a leg. The die-hard fans do make it to the shows just the same.
Well, I have my plane ticket (purchased early. Thank God for seat sale!) and was hoping to win a show ticket in an on-line promotion the producers came up with- Nothing is impossible.
That much I believe. “I am in the Grand Chapiteau watching Varekai” became my mantra hoping to win a ticket to the circus. It wasn’t specific enough, “I will win a Varekai ticket” would have bagged me that prize.
Bought my seat online after 2 days of several long-distance calls from Davao to Cirque du Soleil’s Manila box office phone line. Never made it past the voice prompt, busy tone after a few seconds. Quite frustrating. Or useless?
Yet, I was given what I asked for. I made it to the Grand Chapitaue and watched Varekai but with a ticket bought on line. Still, I believed I ended up the winner. The Universe worked its mysterious ways and gave me a shower of worthwhile rewards instead- great new friends, a fabulous Sunrise Suite in Manila Hotel, tapis rouge treatment and gastronomic bliss. 
And bliss I found at the tres francais et elegant Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel. Under the gold chandeliers and crystal palm trees, the circus was served on a plate. Conceived by Executive Sous Chef Christine Zarandin, the 7-course Degustation Menu took a month to design mimicking the spirit and art of the circus tradition. When Cirque du Soleil gave the nod, the Champagne Room debuted the rich and exuberant Varekai-inspired cuisine.
In the company of my new found imaginary friend, Babyruth, the circus-inspired Degustation Menu took longer to finish than the Varekai show (another story) the dishes took its inspiration from. The whole evening, needless to say, was heavenly. 
Varekai-Inspired Degustation Menu at the Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel
Conceived by Executive Sous Chef Christine Zarandin & approved by Cirque du Soleil, the 6-course Varekai-inspired Degustation Menu took a month to design mimicking the spirit and art of the circus tradition.

How does a non-connoisseur relate of his voyage of the palate?
“A pleasure to the senses,” says this layman of his gustatory experience.
The whimsical presentation of the dishes were visually exciting as it was delectable. Each plate an act in itself.
Foie Gras Aerialist Stuffed Meringue with Apples
Apple meringue stuffed with foie gras mousse garnished with balsamic reduction and cider stewed apples.

Rekindling my love affair with foie gras…..
Chicken and Egg “Risley Act” in Icarian Sea egg-drop Soup with Lemon Chicken Herbs.
A surprising mélange of flavor. The hot soup is poured when dish is served, slightly cooking the quail egg.
Smoked Shrimp on High Wire with Crisp Bacon Balance and Saffron Wind 
A thrilling high-wire act.
High-wire act from Kooza 
Luke Highwalker is the shrimp, the unbelievably straight crispy bacon is his balancing pole.
Frozen Tomato Gazpacho Bobeche
Elevating the gazpacho to a more enticing level. Totally refreshing!
Bobeche is the name of a French theatrical clown.
This clown’s nose is edible.
What nose?
Lifting the big top aka the Grand Chapiteau.
Voila!
Steak and Lobster Marquis with wild mushroom, baby vegetables and parmesan potato gratin
Succulent beef tenderloin grilled to perfection & luscious lobster tail, with sautéed mushrooms and butter glazed side dishes.
Or what’s left of it.
Just like in any Cirque du Soleil show, there is a short break…..
From the backstage, the producer/artist/director appears & tells us ow she conceived the Champagne Rooms “circus acts.”
Ladies & gentlemen, the show will resume in a few minutes. Please return to your seats.
And now, for the trip to heaven…..
Soft Chocolate over Cornflake Feulletine, “Aba Daba” of Caramel Popcorn
and 
Cotton Candy & Raspberry Ice Cream
The Aba Daba, a circus term for dessert. This act is a selection of circus favorites: cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream.
The Caramel Popcorn trio pretty much resembles the three cute kids in the Water Meteor Act….
……who were left all alone on this stage…..
 And just when you thought the meal has reached its climax, here comes the Pralines de Chocolate!
Which marched into this bag. 
Chef Christine looks suspiciously.
And just when you thought the meal has reached its climax…. PARTIE DEUX.
Not in the menu but the Chef wanted to serve it anyway.
What’s higher than heaven?
A trio of Creme Brulee- Dark Chocolate, Raspberry & the traditional flavor.
Obviously cannot be doggie bagged.
The ladies who made the evening memorable: Ginny Banaag, Senior Vice-PResident of the Manila Hotel, Champagne Room Executive Sous Chef Christine Zarandin & most importantly, my imaginary friend Babyruth, who took this shot.
Thank you ladies for a very delightful journey!
Ok, it’s time to go….

Thank you very much Babyruth for this wonderful experience!

The Cirque du Soleil-inspired menu degustation is offered until July 31, 2011 for PhP 2,000 ++. 
The Champagne Room is open from Mondays-Sundays 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM for lunch, and 6:00 PM to 10:30 PM for dinner.   For restaurant reservations, please call (02) 527 9469.


Champagne Room’s Degustation Menu was one mean front act. Now, for the real circus. 
Varekai!

Fortunately, the Grand Chapiteau was just a few steps across the Grand Dame (spare yourself from the traffic and stay the night in this hotel). Unfortunately, I cannot bring my camera, depressing (saving this lemon story), sorry folks, no shots of the tent and the Tapis Rouge treats. Now, why was I able to take my souvenir shots in Quidam and O in Bellagio? Not during the show though, the educated audience, press or not, all know that’s not allowed (right, Cynthia?) I guess, people have to be reminded still. 

Icarus meets the Bethroted

As expected, Cirque du Soleil’s artistry took center stage, another amazing reinterpretation of their successful circus formula. The acts may not be new, but somehow witnessing it in another storyline with characters donning new and imaginative costumes bursting with colors make it as breathtaking as their other shows. It’s like being in the circus for the first time. Maybe it’s the boy in me who refuses to grow up.
But…
Even for a traveling Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai was shorter than I expected it to be, maybe because of the missing acts on my appointed night (only?)- the triple trapeze, the solo on crutches and the juggler never made it on stage, that’s 10 out of 13 acts (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/varekai/show/acts.aspx).
The missing acts?
The Juggler
The Solo on Crutch
The Triple Trapeze
For sure, there’s a valid reason why these acts were taken out of the program…..
What could it be?

Did the audience notice? Maybe, maybe not, but I did (feeling short-changed here. Disclaimer clause state “changes in the CAST occur” and not “take the act out.” My tickets, plane + show, didn’t come cheap, you know – shaking my head while clicking my tongue here). This unfortunate instance of Varekai in Manila, I am not very happy with. But it was still a good show nonetheless.
Some of the acts….
Aerial Hoop
The Icarian Games
Aerial Straps
Russian Swing
Would I recommend it? Certainly. All Cirque du Soleil shows are always a treat to watch. If you plan to see it, you don’t have much time, sorry to say Varekai takes its final curtain call today. If you hop on this morning’s flight to Manila though, you can still catch the finale performance. Or, wait until their next gig comes to town. 
What you can do and must try though, is Chef Christine Zarandin’s Varekai-inspired menu at the Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel. Varekai may have packed their bags but this gastronomic delight will stay until the month end. Now, that’s a journey worth taking. Bon voyage et bon apetit!
(All circus acts photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 24, 2011.

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