Thursday, January 29, 2009

Muruve

Tucked at an unnoticeable corner at the back of the Ortigas Home Depot Complex (which is going under a lot of development with cheap eats and specialty shops), and beside Pier One, Muruve's lights are dim yet inviting. Talk about being hidden. The newest wine venue, Muruve offers an alternative to wine lovers who frequent Barcino's nearby.


I really love this place. I saw one of their roadside ads along Julia Vargas, and being a new resto, I was excited to try it out. Turns that that the place was more of a wine hang out. I was able to visit it one night, and after that, I came back the next night and 2 nights after, bringing in different people.


Their food is mostly Spanish and I can commend them for having great dishes at reasonable prices. On my first visit, we sampled the Tapas Platter, which had yummy chorizo bilbao and spanish sardines. In other occasions, I was able to try their Lengua, which was satisfactory like it came out straight from Mom's kitchen. The serving was not that big though. The Goat Kaldereta was a better choice, with the goat meat tender and flavorful as well. The Gambas had nothing special, and I found the shrimp a bit tough (signaling unfreshness). Their Cheese Platter was quite disappointing, and the presentation sloppy. They do have Manchego though, but was always unavailable.


Finally, the wine. I am a sucker at wine, and I have my friend Jason usually pick out the best ones. I have given up mastering wine pairing, and knowing all the different classifications, simply because I want to enjoy drinking instead. So, I can't really give much feedback and details. I just want to mention that their wine is relatively cheap, at P350 to 500 a bottle to get good quality.


Muruve is not perfect, not a culinary haven, but it achieves something that I have trouble finding these days: a good and quiet space. It may not be good for business, but when I go there, they only have two to three tables occupied. Perhaps, this is so because they are still new, and relatively hidden. But this is what makes me keep coming back. It's such a nice hang out, perfect to spend a weekday night cap with friends (which we usually do now).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Persian Square

After the Kebab Factory, I head off down Ortigas into the Home Depot complex where another new kebab place makes noise. Welcome to the Persian Square.


Persian Square looks nice from outside, with all the adornments. The same ambience is present inside, and I'm guessing people are telling themselves, "well at least they don't look like the old Behrouz". There's a map of Iran in stone on the floor as you enter the door (Persia is the ancient name of Iran). We skimmed through the menu, and found the prices like Behrouz, thus, had it as our benchmark. We ordered this bread, forgot the name but it's the one that's P30. We thought it would be more like roti, but it came out like a toasted thick naan with sesame seeds. As a result we ordered hummus to dip the bread on.


My friend ordered a keema, which came out under a bed of long grain rice topped with an unopened pack of fresh Anchor Butter. The butter is usually mixed with the rice, but I prefer to smother it over the kebab. You can ask for extra Anchor butter anyway.


This is what a plain kebab looks like. You have to order extra onions ad tomatoes and pita as well to make this perfect. The kebab was quite dry, but had satisfying flavors.


Finally, the beef tenderloin slices (sorry, forgot the receipt, hence, no name). I just remember it was less than P350. It came with the same rice. I found the steak too dry though. Another thing I didn't like about Persian Square are their sauces. The garlic yogurt was completely lacking in substance and it was too liquid. I could do better in making one. The hot sauce, well, seemed like bottled hot sauce. No Persian spices I thought.


So, was the visit worth it? I was told by my friends to go there, and ever since it was under construction, I was already excited for it to open. Now, I am a fan of Persian, Middle eastern, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, and kebabs are my "diet food". Although they may taste the same, I could notice the difference in quality and measure value by price. When you have Uncle Mo's nearby, and have tasted the best keema in a wonderful roadside kebab place called Brothers in Maginahwa in QC, I wonder there Persian Square would sit. Well, it's a nice place, given it's cozy. There are also sishas for only P350. So, call it a casual venue for bonding over kebab with your family or a date. If you want real value, there are more Persian spots out there.

The Kebab Factory at the Megamall Atrium

There is truly a Persian invasion. A lot of these restaurants have sprung out and they range from roadside eateries like King Kebab and Mr. Kebab to high end ones like Hossein's. One of the two newest ones making quite a buzz is the Kebab Factory at the brand new Megamall Atrium.

Located on the 2nd floor, the Kebab Factory offers Persian cuisine at a casual and modern atmosphere. It looks more of a bistro. We looked over the menu and was happy with the variety. It also had Indian dishes. The shawarma was packed, and had a lot of beef. You'll be already full with this supposed snack.

We also had a Lamb Kebab, which was very good. The flavor of the lamb was distinct and its juices were oozing as I sliced through the meat. I wrapped it in fresh pita bread and mixed in some onions and tomatoes. It was one of the best kebabs I ever had, believe me. 

We also ordered Grilled Chicken in a yogurt sauce (I just keep forgetting the name of the dish, which I order in most Indian restaurants). It wasn't that spicy since my sister wanted it that way, hence, I thought the dish lacked the kick.

The dish though was still great, as I ordered more bread to dip into the sauce. As you can see, the bread was bigger than usual, and this made the meal more satisfying.

All in all, I liked Kebab Factory, and would recommend everyone to visit it, especially if you're a fan of Persian and Indian food. It was quite full when we arrived, considering it was just a week old, and surrounded by other new restaurants like Bigby's, the Friday's of the VISMIN.  There's also Blenz, a Canadian coffee chain which opened its doors in Megamall (pic below). This means I'll be in Megamall more often, given the new set of restaurants that have adorned the new Megamall Atrium.


Mallbery Suites: Cagayan De Oro

It's a weird name, but Mallberry Suites was named such because it is located beside the Limketkai Center and Robinson's in Cagayan de Oro. It's a great location to be at when in the city of Golden Friendship, having a lot of restaurants and happenings nearby.


Mallberry Suites is a relatively new hotel, and thus, looks modern and clean. The lobby is spacious and the staff are warm and friendly. It's more of a business hotel, and you can get wifi in your room, but for a price (which was disappointing). For around P2000 to P3500 a night, you get a comfortable experience with breakfast. Take a look at the pictures of my room:


The room was quite spacious, though a bit bare I think.


The bathroom was also spacious and even had a tub.

Oh, and there is a nice restaurant near the check in area. Rosso serves Italian and American food, which are relatively cheap. I tried their Blue Cheese Burger and it was satisfying. Their pastas look normal. We did order one, I forgot, and I remembered it was nothing special. 

So, try Mallberry Suites at the Limketkai Center in Cagayan de Oro. It's superb location makes it my top choice in the city of golden friendship.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Beaches near the Bataan Nuclear Powerplant

When we arrived in Coral View in Morong, we didn't plan to go somewhere else. But I saw boats on the shore, and asked the resort staff if they can be rented and where they could take us. They pointed the edge of Poblacion Beach, where another beach can be seen. I didn't hesitate then to take the boats, which cost us P100 per person. We were off to a new discovery.


Well, the unknown beach looked great from afar, but as we approached it, we realized it was rocky, although had white sand. The surrounding rocks were also interesting, and it formed a sort of lagoon nearby.


When we docked on the shores, I noticed a trail going somewhere inside. We bravely took it, and realized it was a short path to another beach. And lo and behold, we saw something unexpected, the Bataan Nuclear Powerplant.


I was surprised that it was just there. I didn't know it was nearby, so it was definitely a treat. I didn't take my camera, since I thought the path was just going to take us somewhere inside the trees. I was so excited with what I saw, that I started to trek the jagged crags that dotted the edge of the cape to get better views. We found very great viewing points, after rock climbing a bit. It was a place that made you feel lost.


We didn't see anyone else around, although, nearer the power plant, we saw smoke coming out. Trying to get a better view, we discovered there was a another beach and it looked inhabited. There was a tower like structure and some boats. I wondered if it was some sort of a government secret lair. Yeah right. I thought of reaching that beach by foot, but it was already sunset, and some of our friends called us to go back to the boats. We quickly took our last pictures on top of rocks at the edge of cliffs.


We headed back, half hearted, and was greeted to a wonderful sunset, that was always my experience in Bataan (also in Subic). The sun was like a yolk in deep orange, and the skies were filled with melancholy colors. It was an awesome moment, and we spent a bit more time taking pictures.


This is why I don't like to stay put. I've always been known to take boats to wherever, and end up discovering new places, new experiences. It becomes more magical when the element of surprise is there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Coral View Resort: Simple Delights

Last year, my company had its Christmas Party in Morong, Bataan, an adjacent town to Subic. Going there meant passing through Subic, towards the Safari and Ocean Adventure to the Morong Gate. From there, several beach resorts line the coast of Morong. We did an impulsive ocular one afternoon, and decided to go with Coral View Resort, which is around 30 minutes from central Subic. I've already talked about Subic Sweetwater and its gorgeous sunset in a previous entry. Coral View Resort is further away, in the town of Poblacion, which is after Anvaya Cove. Poblacion Beach is a long 2-kilometer stretch of light gray sand, and is also known for the Pawikan Conservation Center.


Coral View Resort is like one in a score of resorts along that beach. We chose Coral View for its charm and intimacy. The one beside it, White Sands, was huge, and we just didn't feel at home there. Coral View was smaller, but still big for a resort. They have different types of accommodations, from the standard rooms for two, some by the pool, some facing the beach, to dorm types, that can fit up to 16 people (perfect for barkadas). It has two swimming pools, something I find weird, since both were not small. I'm assuming it gets full during the peak Summer months.



The resort is surprisingly well kept (clean and comfy), despite its hugeness. One can walk around the resort without finding any trash. Even the common restrooms were well-appointed. The restaurant has a sufficient menu, and the prices are not that steep.


There were around 20 cabanas of different sizes on its beachfront, which was also wide and sandy. It had three floating cabanas, where one can lounge at or have a feast in. You can even paddle yourself to the sea with 4 of their small outrigger boats. There was even an obstacle course, a camp fire area, and a pavilion by the beach for functions.


Over-all, Coral View Resort provided us with the right ingredients in having a wonderful vacation after a very busy year at work. We thank the equally wonderful staff who attended to all the needs of our 30-strong team. I see Coral View Resort as a perfect weekend getaway for families and friends, and even companies who plan to have their planning sessions or team building activities on a beach (Call us 6874639 for events like these, haha, sorry for the plug).


It's just a delight to have such a clean and affordable resort near Manila, definitely an alternative to the crowded Batangas area.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Canibad: The Worst Secret

I previously mentioned my worst beach experience last year. I have now found the photos of our trip to that beach for me to share to you. But before that, some background. We love Samal, and whenever we're in Davao, we make it a point to explore new places in that lovely island. So, we searched for other beaches in the Internet, and we found Canibad. A lot of bloggers swore that the beauty of the place, and the pictures were amazing. In no time, we were on the dirt road to Canibad, leaping in excitement and anticipation.


Canibad is located on the northeastern part of Samal. From the row of beach resorts fronting Davao City, you can hire a multicab to take you there. But we didn't know that, since we heard the road was bumpy and all. After all, it was a "secret paradise". So, we were offered a habal-habal, riding at the back of a motorbike. We were four, so we got two bikes, at P1,000 per bike. Pretty expensive, but we were so excited, so we said, what the heck. The journey took 1 and a half hours, yes, at the back of a motorbike. It was more like a bumpy rollercoaster ride, very uncomfortable for a long trip. But it was an experience doing so, and again, we were excited.

After asking our driver 10 times if we were near, he finally answered yes. And after 5 minutes, we saw a line of parked multicabs and SUVs. We were here, and the line of vehicles made me wonder. The best kept secret of Samal is not a secret after all. Still, we were excited, and so we found our way to the steep downhill steps to paradise.

When I took my first steps, I heard something that really bothered me, the sound of videoke. Yes, there was videoke in paradise, and because we were so excited, we still had high hopes that it was going to be a great beach. I already had a glimpse of the long white sand beach from uphill, probably not the one I pictured, but again, I thought it must be better down there. Halfway through the descent, there was a sign that said, TOLL: P10. Hmmm....I wasn't sure if it was a joke. Paradise had a sign of P10 for its pathway to its beach. It is at that time when I heard the laughter of people, another videoke machine, and dogs barking. Okay. Now I was worried. But we came a long way, so we had to think positive.


But that positivism didn't last long. As soon as we hit the sand, I wanted to turn back. There was trash around, and the "resort" we entered was like a rundown seaside beer garden in Cavite. There were a lot of people, children running naked, and drunkards powering the videoke. The beach in itself wasn't special. The sand was white but coarse, much like Galera's. It actually reminded me of Galera, which has sadly been abused by irresponsible tourism. Canibad was on the way there.


We were already pissed off. We knew this much anticipated paradise was not what we expected it to be. We were charged P200 for a hut where we could eat our lunch. I slept for an hour after lunch, because I wasn't in the mood to explore. I woke up and walked on the shores to the other end of the beach, and was charged for taking photos. Yes, P10 per shot. It may have been a joke, but the guy who was teasing us told us that this was so because he owned part of that beach. Wow. First time I've heard that.



So after, we decided to head back to Chemas. We had to hike up the steep steps, and ride the motorbike for another 1 and a half hours. We passed by some mangrove areas, which uplifted us in a way.


Canibad was one of my worst beach experiences. We were blaming the bloggers, the ones who took gorgeous pictures, and even ourselves for being so excited. But I've learned several things about the trip. I'm writing about a bad experience in Canibad, and sharing you what I had seen. That may not have been the case for those who went there previously. I may also be expecting too much, when in fact, to some people, Canibad may already be paradise. So, I therefore learned that in reading blogs, one should take note of the writer as well. He may not have the same standards as you do. And don't believe everything you read or hear. The best thing to do is, experience it yourself. That's what we did, and we're glad we got over Canibad already. At least we now know we won't recommend it to our friends.


PS. These pictures make Canibad look better, believe me.

8 Spices: The Il Terrazo Series

8 Spices is a Thai resto in the newly opened Il Terrazo along Tomas Morato. My first impression was, the interiors looked like it has been plucked out from a province in Thailand. It's not classy, like KIngdom or People's Palace, so it's more of the Chinese looking Asian restos. So I wondered, will their food be authentic?


Of course, I enjoy Thai food, so I was very weary in trying another Thai resto in a country where there is no "real" great Thai restaurants. We were there for lunch, and since it was still new, only a few guests were present. But compared to the other restos in Terrazo, they had more luck. So I look at the menu, which was extensive. They offered a lot. Since it was a first time, I had to order the basics to measure the standards of the restaurant. But first up was a relatively new dish for me, a Tofu and Eggplant Salad. This tasted really good and the flavors authentic. The tofu was cooked well, not too flimsy. The eggplant was marinated with bold flavors.


Next was the Tom Yum Seafood. Now this is always on a Thai menu's list. The soup was just okay, nothing special. I thought it lacked a bit of flavor, and it was more on the sweet side.


Finally, the Green Curry Chicken. For me, when a Green Curry Chicken is served excellent, then the chef knows what it is doing, and thus, churns out better dishes. Well, sad to say, their version was not okay for me. The curry lacked substance, and the chicken was already swimming in the soup. I still think the best Green Curry dishes are those with thicker sauces, and are cooked longer under low heat for the chicken to absorb the curry flavor more.



So the verdict? Well, 8 Spices is not superb, but it is something worth trying. I may have not been satisfied, but there are a whole lot more in the menu. Do let me know if their other dishes are good. 8 Spices, I think, is best for Sunday lunch with the family.

Market Cafe at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino

I've always been a fan of hotel buffets. I think I have eaten in almost all noteworthy hotels. I think the top five ones are Spiral in Sofitel, Circles in Makati Shang, Paseo Uno in Mandarin, Seven Corners in Crowne Plaza and Tides in Shangrila Mactan. I wouldn't say the next one is at par with the ones about for the quality of food, but I am beginning to fall in love with this quaint buffet venue in the heart of Malate in Manila. Let me take you to the Market Cafe at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino.

Why am I recommending you to go all the way to Malate for a buffet experience? Well, here are three reasons:

1. The Intimacy

As it is not a big venue, like Spiral, Market Cafe becomes an intimate escape for a dinner with friends or family. There are never a lot of people, and this makes it more casual and relaxed. You won't feel too uptight.




2. The Service

Aside from Crowne Plaza, the service of the wait staff and chefs in Market Cafe is excellent. They treat you like real guests, and they are willing to bring you everything you ask for. They are courteous and attentive.


3. The Free Drinks

For the price of around P1,500 nett, you not only get a wide selection of different cuisine, but also free drinks! Yes, unlimited drinks. And not just soft drinks, but also beer and wine! It was too late for me to discover that there was indeed wine. I don't know if it was a Christmas promo, but that made the experience very satisfying. You get your drinks from the chillers, or you can ask your friendly waiter for some.


So, there. Three simple and basic reasons why I like Market Cafe. Over-all, it's just fun and relaxing to eat there. I just enjoy being there and all money spent was well worth it. Eat, drink and be merry, all the way from soup to dessert and more beer afterwards. Just don't get drunk.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Movies of 2008

I'm on a roll summing up lists for the past year, but movies do not fit this blog. But I'm a lover of films, and most of my friends know that. 2008 was a drought for me for movie watching. There just wasn't any time for me to watch. Recently, I bought DVDs and downloaded movies that were shortlisted to be the best of the year. I search for them as well in the Internet, and I try to find these movies for me to watch come awards season. And it is awards season already, and I have watched a lot of the contenders already. Here are the top 10 films of the year for me:

10. Doubt (directed by John Patrick Shanley)

Starting off the list is the disturbing drama about a charismatic Catholic priest caught up in a pedophile controversy and battle with the religious and traditional sisters of St. Nicholas in the Bronx. With performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, who can go wrong?


9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (directed by Woody Allen)

Set against the luscious Mediterranean sensuality of Barcelona, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen’s funny and open-minded celebration of love in all its configurations. It is wicked, wild and has the appeal of Y Tu Mama Tabien (maybe because of the Spanish). But a story of love expressed in all freedom is something that is quite refreshing, and thought provoking as well. And it was genuinely entertaining, like an adult film that teases till the very end.


8. Happy-Go-Lucky (directed by Mike Leigh)

The most charming movie of the year, Happy-Go-Lucky is a tale of a young woman, Poppy, who is unmistakably optimistic and well, happy about her life. Of course, there's got to be conflict, and it comes when she crosses the paths of individuals who are not happy. Happy-Go-Lucky is a feel good film, very simple and clean. It's just a pleasure to watch Poppy go about her whimsical routine everyday, giving us a introspection about that elusive human quality: happiness.


7. The Class (directed bu Laurent Cantet)

Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, my choice for Foreign film of the year goes to The Class. French films are difficult to love, but director Laurent Cantet takes us to an absorbing journey into a multicultural high school in Paris over the course of a school year with such realism and sincerity. Shot on HD and working with a cast of young non-actors, Cantet gives us a moving fictional drama that has the spirit and energy of a documentary.


6. Milk (directed by Gus Van Sant)

MIlk is about the life of the first openly gay public official elected in the United States, Harvey Milk. Initially, I wasn't interested in a political film that had a gay theme. But Gus Van Sant, known for his realistic approach to movies, brings the characters of this unforgettable era to life that you will be able to relate to them, whatever your sexual preference is. And that is what the movie fights for, gay rights, which eventually means human rights. The ending will draw you to tears and move you to appreciate the history of liberalization in our society. Sean Penn also gives the best performance of the year.


5. The Dark Knight (directed by Christopher Nolan)

No doubt the best superhero movie ever made. I watched it in IMAX and I was literally blown away. Breaking all box office records in the US, The Dark Knight is deemed to be the hope of ailing Hollywood in this recession. The Dark Knight is indeed a milestone and a classic, with stunning performances especially by Heath Ledger. Truly, its darkness elevated the superhero genre and the way we look at blockbuster films as well.


4. Frost/Nixon (directed by Ron Howard)

All I know about the Watergate Scandal is that Richard Nixon, then president of the the US was involved in a corrupt political cover-up. As we are used to corruption, Frost/Nixon will instantly connect with Filipino viewers. The story about the a momentous interview between Nixon and a British talk show host, David Frost, where the resigned US president Nixon confesses and apologizes for his wrongdoings during the Watergate scandal. Frank Langhella plays a brilliant performance as Nixon, who surprisingly resembled Erap in the movie. Frost/Nixon is a film full of tension like a boxing match, but gradually progresses in subtle strides.


3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (directed by David Fincher)

A visual and cinematic series of unfortunate events that led to the conglomeration of two lives, The Curios Case of Benjamin Button will keep you up for almost 3 hours anticipating how Brad Pitt will grow younger. His performance with Cate Blanchet is truly a match made in heaven, as you just seem to forget that this movie is indeed a fantasy. It is a story of seemingly impossible things happening. It has its similarities with Forrest Gump, as the screenwriter is Eric Roth. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will sweep you off your feet from beginning to end.


2. The Revolutionary Road (directed by Sam Mendes)

I am a fan of movies about relationships that are real. These are not your fairy tale romances, or even those of epic love stories. The Revolutionary Road is one such movie that depicts a real, hard biting relationship. The reunion movie of Leonardo de Caprio and Kate Winslet has the tones of last year's Little Children (which also starred Winslet), but now set in the 1950s in a Connecticut suburb. The nostalgic feel of the movie enhanced the drama, passion and relentless screaming arguments of a "normal" American couple under stress. For me, Kate Winslet is the Best Actress for the year for her powerful performance in this movie.


1. Slumdog Millionaire (directed by Danny Boyle)

It was the last movie I watched after a long line. It was also one of the hardest for me to acquire, and as soon as I was able to get it, I was glued with great expectations. And it didn't disappoint. Danny Boyle is one of the my favorite directors for being so innovative and spontaneous. He is a genius for me, because he can work across genres and still come out with great results. The Beach has become one of my philosophy films (even if it is shallow in a way). Slumdog Millionaire is one of the most uplifting, feel good movies I've ever watched. Set in India, the movie is also one of the most beautifully shot I think as it paints wonderful colors in the most depressing and horrid sceneries of slums of Mumbai. I'm so tempted to tell the story, but again, this is a list. Slumdog Millionaire is definitely the movie of the year for me, fresh, entertaining, moving, uplifting, mesmerizing and awe-inspiring. I jumped at the end of the film, and wanted to celebrate my life afterwards.



There you go, my best movies of 2008. Watch out for these movies for the first quarter of the year. Benjamin is showing so see it! I am placing my bets on Slumdog Millionaire or Benjamin Button to win Best Picture at the coming Oscars. It was indeed a year of great movies, and I was glad I caught up. Better late than never.

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