Monday, September 22, 2008

Gasthof at A. Venue

Since I was able to try Gasthof in Boracay around 4 years ago, I couldn't get enough of it. When I'm in Naga, I also couldn't stop for a visit in their branch there. Now, Gasthof is open in Makati, in A.Venue along Makati Ave to be exact.

Of course, Gasthof is known for the ribs. I was just disappointed when their servings decreased in size significantly. I remember that for a little over P400, you are served a full slab. Now, it's just half a slab.

We also ordered a platter of cheese since we ordered some wine.

Gashtof also has some good entrees on their menu other than the ribs. I love their laing (great with ribs) and this pasta dish, just because of the sausage that came with it. Of course, this is a German resto, so their sausages must really be good.

The last dish was supposedly the appetizer, but because they seemingly had a hard time preparing and cutting the cold cuts, it came in late. We even forgot we ordered this platter. Anyway, as you can see, it was huge, and thus was good value (almost P400 I think for the entire thing).

So if you've never tried Gasthof, well, they're finally here. But I would still suggest you get your first bite in Bora or Naga. For some unsurprising reason, it's just not as good. Go figure.

Sta. Cruz Island (The Pink Island)

When I visited Zamboanga last year, I saw this island that was calling on me form a distance. I wasn't able to go, since it was the time when there was an all out war in Basilan, and there was a boat curfew starting at 3PM. I ended my business in Zamboanga at 3:30PM, and I was to fly to Davao early next morning. So when I was back in Zamboanga last month, I didn't let anything get in my way of going to that island, the Sta. Cruz Island or more popularly known as the Pink Island.

So, how do you go there? It's about 15 minutes via a pump boat that you can hire from Lantaka Hotel near the pier. But before doing that, there are some steps you must undergo. First, go to the Department of Tourism office beside Lantaka to secure a permit to travel and a request for tourist police (they call them escorts). After that, you have to go to the Tourist Police office in the building on the other side of Lantaka. It is the last room on the ground floor along the driveway. Once there, present your permits at request to the Head Officer. Wait for a little processing of papers and for the escorts to come with you. In Lantaka, you have to seek the permission of the manager there for your boat to dock on their beachfront. If no, ask the boat person to go to the pier near the boardwalk area. I know, I know, it's a hassle, but this is the procedure in traveling in the troubled South. Once everything is set (negotiate with the boat man, P800), you're off with a couple of guys with machine guns.

The ride was smooth, and seemed long. I finally reached its shores and we docked in a designated area. There were picnic tables and some deserted rooms.

Sta. Cruz is a small piece of land surrounded by fine white sands. Why pink? From afar, it didn't look as pink as I thought it would be. The reason for the pinkish hue was because of the coral below that was abundant in the area:

Sta. Cruz Island is inhabited, so you could see a village on one part of the island. When we arrived, I noticed that these villagers began to pack up some things, took on their small boats and rushed towards us. They came a dozen, running and with merchandise that they laid out at the back of the picnic area. They really took time to set up, and when they were done, they just looked at us. With all that effort, we just had to buy something.

Sta. Cruz was a peaceful island. It was unspoilt and I was happy it was kept this way. They told me some rebels hid out here, so I was very cautious exploring a part of the island.

I was ecstatic that I finally made it to Sta. Cruz, but I just had a short time (an hour) because I had to catch a flight back to Manila. I wasn't able to swim or do anything else. We didn't even had snacks. Our guides told us that more people came during weekends and that it was possible to stay overnight, only if you had a special permit.

I just love the South. Next year, I hope to visit Tawi-Tawi. I just couldn't stop myself from seeing more of Mindanao.

Oh My Khan!

Oh My Khan is another top drawer in the City of Pines, Baguio. It is located near Cafe by the Ruins and the City Hall. I think there's no big sign, because at first, I couldn't find the place. They told me it was a hit among locals, so, off I go to sample their Mongolian fare.

The interior is not impressive, though they tried to put a lot of Mongolian elements, like this glass panel. I was wondering if the owner ran out of Mongolian ideas, and decided to put in Chinese stuff instead.

Of course, to us in Manila, a Mongolian Buffet is not new. Mongolian Stop in Galleria Food Court is a good choice for first timers, while the one at Sweet Inspirations in Katipunan Ave has already been deemed a classic. It's hard to tell what buffet is good, since most taste the same given the same sauces. I think the difference lies in the quality of ingredients used.

The ingredients of the Mongolian Buffet in Oh My Khan are no doubt fresh. Of course! This is Baguio. The vegetables were pumped up and tasty. The leaves were crisp. The rice was soft. Mix in whatever meat (chicken is best and the safest I think), and you're in for a treat.

Oh My Khan! is great for the hungry ones. For P150 (I think), devour as much as you can. Oh, and they serve cakes.

Idea Italia

When in Cebu, I try to eat in as many restos as possible. For some reason, this is the restaurant that I always go back to, probably because it's the safest and I'm always in Ayala. Idea Italia is located on the ground floor of Ayala Center Cebu, just near Oh! George, another nice place. They have a simple Italian menu. Their pastas are mostly of the normal stuff. Below is the Arrabiata.

I'm not a fan of their pizzas, but it's not bad. I just have tasted a lot of better ones (just tasted one of the best in Davao).

But, I am raving about my pasta dish, the pungent Gorgonzola. It was done perfectly, and I mean it. It had a right blend of pungency in the cheese, saltiness and creaminess. And the pasta was aldente. I had the pasta changed to linguini, instead of penne. That may have brought out the flavor more.

So, when in Cebu, come to Idea Italia. Have a nice meal with a nice glass of wine in a convenient location.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Zamboanga Delight

Next stop in MOTY: the city of Zamboanga.

When one thinks of Zamboanga, you imagine the colorful vintas and the uneasy peace situation. When I first visited Zambo, I thought all these vintas would line up the harbor or the coastal areas. It turns out that these are only seen during the Hermosa Festival. And about the uneasy peace situation? Yes, there were military all around, but Zambo looks like any ordinary peaceful city, surprisingly clean and organized.

We stayed at the Lantaka Hotel, already a landmark in Zambo. It has undergone a much needed renovation, so the restaurant area looked new and modern already. It was a great place for breakfast. They had one of the best bacon and eggs I have tasted (so crisp). New rooms are being constructed and the old ones, renovated. It is a relaxing hotel as it is situated beside the sea, with a small beach (not swimmable) and just beside the ferry. It has a pool with cabanas around it.

Again, we visited 3 nominees for the Microentrepreneur of the Year Awards. One had a business of crab fattening. They buy small crabs and feed them until they are fat and huge. One crab I saw was huge and heavy at 4 kilos. These crabs are fed in crab pens submerged under lakes and surrounding mangroves.

Of course, we ate these wonderful crabs.

There was this boat named HINDER. I thought it was weird but interesting.

Okay, going back to the center of the city, we passed by another nominee, a bamboo furniture maker. The nominee had a German customer who orders from her twice a year. She ships these to Europe in container vans.

The highlight of the shoot was when we visited our last nominee, the makers of Topher's Ice Candy. The ice candy was special as it wasn't hard as ice, but was more like sorbet in a narrow plastic bag. It tasted really great.

They freeze the special mixture of coconut juice, milk (Alaska), coconut bits and cheese by submerging it in a freezer of saltwater. It was really interesting how they do it. No wonder they achieve a soft "sorbet" like texture.

Finally, let's talk more about food. We visited two popular restaurants. The first one was dinner for the 1st night: the much talked about Alavar.

This seafood restaurant is known for its crabs as well and indeed, it was succulent.

I also enjoyed the baked clams they served. It was drizzled with sugar, which gave it an interesting flavor and texture.

We ate so much, as we were a group of 20 people.

We then had lunch the next day in Greenfields, an open air resto serving Filipino food. We had crispy pata and lechon. Talk about cholesterol.

But Greenfields was known for their Kalderetang Kambing, so we had to try it. I didn't like it though so much, as I am not a fan of the kaldereta sauce.

We then headed back to Lantaka, and had some dessert. Their selection of cakes and pastries was interesting as it had cheesecakes, chocolate mousse, durian tarts, sansrival, quiches, huge cookies, and even truffles.

Finally, because our flight was delayed, we walked down the street near the airport to grab dinner in Chinito's. It was a new restaurants, and had a nice ambience. It served Zamboanga White, a lychee and pineapple drink popular in Zambo. The food was not that great, but it was a nice place to hang out.

All in all, Zamboanga is one of the best cities in the country for me. It is clean, organized, and had so much culture and interesting places to go to. I like hearing Chavacano as well, which is a blend of Spanish and Bisaya. Si senor. You'll feel you're in Spain. Even though the situation in Zambo is alarming (they were on red alert when I visited), you will still feel safe, compared to other places in Mindanao.

Isabela MOTY

It's the time of the year again, and despite the overload of work and seemingly impossible schedule, I still find my way i Isabela in the Cagayan Valley.

An eight hour drive up north is one of the longest I've ever had, but taking the bus proved to be convenient. We took a Victory Liner bus in Kamias, Cubao and embarked through Bulacan, the endless Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, finally hitting Isabela.

I was in the province in search of the Microentrepreneur of the Year, a yearly award given by Citi, the Bangko Sentral, and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines. We had to interview 3 nominees in the province. We stayed in the Cauayan, which is a sleepy city an hour away from the capital, Santiago. There was nothing of interest in Cauayan, so the highlight of the trip was interviewing these nominees. One couple made chicharon for a living, the other a former soldier who is now making puto and kutsinta, and the last one, a mother who had several agricultural businesses in her backyard.

They were all interesting, but I was fascinated most in how chicharon was made. And would you believe they use the skin of carabaos, and not pig's skin?

It takes long to "marinate" the dried skin, and only a second for them to pop into chicharon once thrown into a steaming kaldero of oil. It's nice to see the innovative use of the electric fan cover as a large sandok.

Mix in lots of salt, and you're in cholesterol heaven.

It was also interesting that they used candle light to seal the plastic bags of chicharon, ready for distribution.

As usual, any visit to the province is a food experience. One nominee served us this feast just before having lunch. Yes, we were eating nonstop. So you may guess how big I am right now.

The search for the Microentrepreneur of the Year 2008 has begun.


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