Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunday, December 30, 2012

hap chan = comfort food

I can already hear some people out there scoffing, "Hap Chan?"

Try to imagine being in my shoes. Since I started living on Boracay in 1996, there had never been a decent Chinese restaurant. No fried rice, no sweet and sour pork, no wanton noodle soup. For more than a decade I was deprived and desperate. And then Mongkok came... and disappeared in a blink of an eye.

About a year ago, Hap Chan opened its doors at Boracay Regency Resort. Happy happy joy joy. In January, I celebrated my birthday there.

Shrimp siomai, P90++

Sautéed beef with broccoli flower, P265++

top 5: aubergine again

Last year, I wrote that Aubergine was one of the five best restaurants I've ever been to. I am happy to report that after taking Ma there for dinner on 19 April 2012, my opinion about it hasn't changed.

(Some restaurants from my 2011 list didn't make it this year. I still love Cuc Gach Quan in Saigon, but the others had to be dropped to make way for L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Hong Kong, Bukhara in New Delhi and Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands Singapore.)

I always know that I'm about to have a good meal when the bread is good. Bread is like a welcome greeting. It doesn't have to be fancy-- the lowly pan de sal will do-- but it must be served fresh and warm, as a sign of love and care. Cold, stale bread is just a slap in the face.

Aubergine's excellent bread and butter. Like a hug and a kiss.

I'm always amused (duh!) by Aubergine's amuse bouche. Very creative, and just the right size to pop into the mouth and get the juices going.

Amuse bouche: bacon panna cotta.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

food porn @ mango tree bistro

I was cleaning up my files before I archive them for the year when I found some food pics that I had almost forgotten about. These were taken at Mango Tree Bistro at Trinoma Mall on 30 May 2012.

Som Tum Thai. Spicy green papaya salad with dry roasted shrimp, P250.

Por Pia Phak. Deep fried vegetable spring rolls served with sweet chili dipping sauce, P150.

We had dinner there just three weeks after I came back from a month-long food trip to Thailand, so I was fully prepared to hate everything. I was pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

sting & the apocalypse

It is now 9:30 in the morning here after the supposed Mayan Doomsday, but somewhere in the world, it's still 21 December 2012-- plus there's Daylight Savings to consider. So before we get incinerated by a gigantic solar flare, here's one last blog post.


Back To Bass in Manila on 9 December 2012. I was so happy, I could have cried. Sting fans, you know what I mean.

Here's the set list that I saved in my mobile phone, typing in the dark while screaming my head off. After the concert, my high was a teeny bit marred because I was stumped by the title of number 8, but two hours of Googling and Youtubing the lyrics later, I was able to complete my list and sleep the "heavy sleepe".

1. If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
2. Every Little Thing She does Is Magic
3. Englishman In New York
4. Seven Days
5. Demolition Man
6. I Hung My Head
7. The End Of The Game
8. Fields Of Gold
9. Driven To Tears
10. Heavy Cloud No Rain
11. Message In A Bottle
12. Shape Of My Heart
13. The Hounds Of Winter
14. Wrapped Around Your Finger
15. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
16. Roxanne

First encore
17. Desert Rose
18. King Of Pain
19. Every Breath You Take

Second encore
20. Next To You

Third encore
21. Fragile

The next morning, I woke up to see that some die-hard(er) had posted the set list on Twitter already.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

a dinner for charity

Warning: This is a bit of a whingy blog post. If you're not in the mood for snark, you should probably wait for "the season to be jolly" to pass before reading it.

I remember when I first heard of Pinoy Eats World Guerilla Dinners. The blogger jinlovestoeat went last year and the way she described it, it seemed right up my alley. So when my friends told me that a dinner was being organized this December and it miraculously fit my schedule, I said OK right away.

Sad to say, there were a few disappointments.

First disappointment: Usually, you're given an address for the meeting place but it's not where the dinner is to be held, resulting in a sense of mystery and excitement because you don't know where you're going. Lo and behold, our group's meeting and dining spots were one and the same. Oh, there was a corny gag where we were led from the house's garage to its front door, but the short walk served no purpose, really, other than to highlight the fact that it was a very big house.

I wanted our venue to be more special, maybe outdoors under the stars or in a penthouse with a fantastic view. Instead, we got meh-- no offense to the homeowner.

Second: I was expecting just a few diners, like jinlovestoeat's batch who all fit in one long table. I thought that it would be an intimate affair where we would get to meet new people and learn stuff about Filipino and/or world cuisine. Nope. There were, if I recall correctly, at least five round tables and each group stuck to its own. The ambiance did not encourage mingling.

Third: I thought that since we were going to be a small company, we would be sharing our food family-style with beautiful platters laid out in the middle of the table. Instead, we were presented with... a buffet. I guess it was the most efficient way of serving 50 people or so, but unfortunately, there's just no way to make a buffet spread look appetizing, which is why I never take photos of any.

Also, how can anyone have a decent conversation when you're queuing up for food half the time?

Fourth: This dinner was way too expensive. More about that later.

Most of the dishes were pretty decent, actually. The egg salad (made with balut penoy!) on toast was nicely comforting, although I felt that the spread needed more salt to offset the sweetness of the bread.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

books 16 through 20

Oh, no. The world is about to end and I've only averaged about half a book every week this year.

Monday, November 26, 2012

last day in india

On 26 September 2012, our last day in India, I started to feel like I needed a vacation from my vacation.

The day started out well enough with a nice breakfast at our hotel, The Grand New Delhi. I had a bottle of cold pistachio milk, a crispy dosa, and for the first time in five days, we got bacon!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

shopping in india

We were "forced" to visit at least one agency-sanctioned shopping center every day that we were in India. Except for the carpet place in Jaipur, they all sold the same things-- clothes, jewelry, furniture, accessories-- that all looked the same.

Now that I think about it, there are probably hundreds of carpet places in the cities that we visited. But I enjoyed this one anyway.

I have a new appreciation for expensive handmade carpets, the operative word being "expensive".

They also have a woodblock printing workshop.

As we were leaving, they gave Desmond the piece of cloth that he "personally" printed as a souvenir. But actually, there was a stack of identical ones, already pre-made, under the table. The demo was fun, at any rate.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

india: day four

The only thing I remember about our fourth day in India was dinner at Bukhara. It took a very long time to get from Jaipur to that restaurant in Delhi-- it felt like we were trapped inside the bus the whole day. But oh, was it worth it.

When I saw our itinerary weeks before our trip, I knew that the only way I would survive all those mediocre buffets without cracking up was to have something to look forward to. After consulting The Miele Guide and reading the reviews on Tripadvisor, I sent an email to the ITC Maurya Hotel to book a table for six people at Bukhara.

To say that this was my best meal in India might not mean much, given the quality of all our other meals, but it was really good. It made me feel bad for the rest of our group who didn't join us, because 1) they missed out on an authentic Northern Indian cuisine experience, and 2) that same evening they had the worst pseudo-Chinese food-- part of the itinerary-- that they ever had in their lives.

As soon as we sat down at our table, our friendly and efficient waiter gave us some light and crispy papadums to munch on. The green chutney was OK, but the sliced onions sprinkled with spice were wonderful. Good start. 4/5

Apparently, Bukhara is the most popular restaurant in New Delhi right now and they are always, always busy, but during the two hours that we were there, we never felt rushed or ignored by the staff. In fact, all the diners seemed happy and comfortable, never mind that we had to wear bibs.

Bukhara's Sikandari Raan, a whole leg of baby lamb, is famous and rightfully so. It was tender, smoky, moist and packed with flavor. Very slightly gamey, just enough for us to know that we weren't eating beef or pork, with distinct whiffs of cinnamon and cumin. Steph took the leftovers home and ate them in Manila. 4.25/5

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

third day in india: more jaipur

We spent the whole morning at Amber Fort and then we went back to our hotel Le Meridien Jaipur for lunch. Afterwards, our tour guide Mr. Singh took us to see Jantar Mantar, an observatory that was built in A.D. 1726...

And the City Palace Museum which is still a royal residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

third day in india: amber fort

After an intense carbo-loading session at the breakfast buffet of Le Meridien Jaipur's coffee shop, we set out to explore Jaipur.

First on our itinerary was Amber Fort. Everyone in our tour group decided to ride the elephants which, after my almost mystical experience in Chiang Mai, I could not bring myself to do. I just felt so bad for the poor creatures who had to trudge up and down the hill all day in the heat, carrying uncomfortable chairs on their backs, and for what? To entertain tourists who don't know better.

I had also read that some of the elephants are suffering from malnutrition.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

second day in india: lunch & dinner

When we arrived at Hotel Laxmi Vilas (yez, that's how it's spelled) in Bharatpur City for lunch on 23 September 2012, it was already 330PM.

It's actually a palace that was built by the maharajah's brother in 1887 and converted into a hotel in 1994. So interesting! Too bad we didn't stay there. We could have, since it's only one hour away from Agra i.e. Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri. Plus Bharatpur has its own attractions such as the Iron Fort and the bird sanctuary. Ah, well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

second day in india: fatehpur sikri

From the Taj Mahal, we rushed back to the coffee shop of Radisson Hotel Agra for breakfast-- our third meal at the same place in less than 24 hours. And then we checked out of the hotel, got back on our bus and drove for a little over an hour to reach Fatehpur Sikri.

The city of Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and this was my favorite.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

mother's taj mahal outfit

Thanks to our shutterbug travel companions, here are some more pictures of my mother at the Taj Mahal. After all, she did buy an outfit especially for that day. It is now hanging in the black hole/ treasure chest/ Pandora's box that is her closet. Will it ever see the light of day again? Will we ever go back to India, or perhaps attend an Indian wedding? Who knows? But if we do, she will definitely be ready.

From Karen:

Our tour guide Mr. Singh tells us the story of the Taj Mahal.  So serious.

From Desmond:

Posing in front of one of the four 40 meter tall minarets.

Monday, November 12, 2012

second day in india: taj mahal

I don't think I can say anything about the Taj Mahal that hasn't been said before-- about its majesty, its beauty and the immortal love story. It's so famous that everyone has heard or read about it and tend to think of it as familiar. But the truth is, nothing can really prepare you for the first time you meet her.

We arrived at the Taj Mahal complex at 730AM on 23 September 2012. Our tour guide gathered us in front of the main gate (darzawa) for a briefing, but you could tell that all of us were just itching to go inside.

After a 20-minute history lesson, we finally went through the gateway and there she was. My first view of the Taj Mahal, bathed in golden morning sunshine.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

agra fort: other people's photos

We were in and out of Agra Fort in an hour and a half. It pained me to treat a UNESCO World Heritage Site like a McDonald's drive-through. It took about 20 minutes just to get from the entrance to the center of the complex. Our tour guide then gave us the super-short mandatory history lesson that I couldn't pay attention to because I just wanted to start shooting. When he finally let us go, the sun was setting and we had barely 40 minutes to see everything. Of course it wan't enough and I missed a lot of details.

Herein lies the advantage of traveling with a group of people who all have cameras and who don't mind giving copies of their stuff. Sharing is caring.

While going through everyone's JPEG files, I found out some things about my friends. Such as...

I now know that Jerry likes to take pictures of signs and maps, and he was the only one whose entryway and garden shots were properly exposed.

Friday, November 9, 2012

india: day one

Our Philippine Airlines flight left Manila at 6:40PM on 21 September 2012. With a stopover midway in Bangkok where we had to stay inside the plane while the clean-up crew did their business, we arrived at our hotel in Delhi, The Claridges Surajkund, about ten hours later, which to us was 5AM the next day.

We had to have breakfast, check out and board the coach by 9AM, Delhi time. Since Manila time is actually 2.5 hours ahead, it wasn't so bad because we still managed five hours of sleep. That didn't give me enough time to take decent pictures of our hotel, though. Suffice it to say that The Claridges had the nicest beds, bathrooms and toiletries of the five hotels that we stayed in. You'd think that it's not worth paying for five-star accommodations for such a short stay, but I really appreciated it after being contorted inside a plane for so long.

I was quite apprehensive when I saw our itinerary because all our meals would be at hotel coffee shop buffets, but our first breakfast was not bad at all. Half of the spread was Western or continental food, while the other section featured local eats. All of our meals turned out to be like that. Of course, I avoided the non-Indian dishes as much as possible.

A hearty and somewhat spicy breakfast put a smile on my face and prepared me for the five-hour drive to the city of Agra. All we saw of Delhi was the airport and our hotel, but it was fine because our flight back home would be from Delhi anyway and a city tour was included in our package.

Our tour guide said that we came to India at the right time because they had just completed the Yamuna Expressway which significantly cut travel time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

views from inside a bus

Before I start on India, let me get this out of the way first. I am cringing as I type this because I never thought that I would ever do something like this, but what's done is done...

I joined a package tour.

There are so many reasons I don't do package tours. I could go on and on, but my biggest beef is the complete lack of interaction with the local people. No, asking the tour guide insipid and asinine questions does not count.

Sunset at India Gate, New Delhi, 25 September 2012. We didn't even get off the bus.

Monday, November 5, 2012

food in the 'hood

Actually, it's my parents' neighborhood.

About ten minutes's drive from my folks' home is the Tomas Morato area which is where most Quezon City people go to eat.

Last week, I went to Amici for the first time. Taste-wise, the food was just average. Price-wise, Amici is kinda expensive. As a whole, I feel it's overrated.

Maybe in the good ol' days when Amici was the only authentic-ish Italian place in town, I wouldn't complain. But given the much-improved food scene now, I'd much rather spend my calories and moolah at Aria or Italiani's, or even Luna Ristorante Italiano in Camiguin.

Still, Amici seems like a nice, wholesome place to take the family. The menu is very safe and is sure to satisfy the pickiest eater. Kids will definitely like the gelato and cakes. I know I did.

Apple prosciutto salad with zesty lemon dressing, P188+. 3.5/5

Ragu alla Bolognese, P298+. 3.75/5

Prosciutto e portobello arrotolata (rolled pizza dough), P418+. 4/5

Mint chocolate gelato, P90+. 3.75/5

Sunday, November 4, 2012

book 15

Speaking of my father... A friend of his wrote a memoir and invited him to the book launch on 27 September 2012. Too bad Pop and I were both out of town. Everyone who's anyone in this country was at that shindig. It would have been the perfect opportunity for people watching.

That friend is the president of the Philippine Senate. And the oldest living politician in the world, it seems.