Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Top Dining Experiences of 2009

Now, let's get to business. 2009 was not a highlight year for dining. No new restaurant shook me. It's a good thing I was always in Cebu, so I had a lot of new places to experience. Here is my list for 2009:

1. Maya (The Crossroads, Banilad, Cebu)

I have seen new Mexican establishments sprout about in Manila, such as Jalapeno in Ortigas Home Depot. And with the growing popularity of Zapata's in Clark (which I also visited this year only), Mexican was on the up trend. Though among all the new Mexican hotspots, only one caught me on fire. That was Maya in Crossroads, Cebu. Probably the only high-end Mexican establishment in the country, it has been the place to be when it opened. The interiors will transform your mood instantly - exotic and modern. Owned by the Abaca proprietors, their food was top notch as well. And drinking here was an experience as well. I highly recommend a night out in Maya when in Cebu.

2. NY Buffalo Wings (The Food Strip, Ortigas Home Depot)

My comfort food of the year. Located on a bustling new nightspot in Ortigas Center called the Food Strip, NY Buffalo Wings is one of the first establishments to garner a following in the area. I love munching on their Garlic Parmesan Buffalo Wings. I also love their Fish and Chips. With affordable prices and a very bright and alive environment, NY Buffalo Wings will definitely go a long way.

3. Eat Well (Net Cube, Fort Bonifacio)

Everyone has been raving about Eat Well so I don't have much to say anymore. In fact, I just tried Eat Well later in the year, since it's always full. And yes, the buzz was valid. Great Chinese food at affordable prices at the Fort make up the blockbuster success of Eat Well.

4. Charlie's (West Drive, Kapitolyo, Pasig)

When I heard of Charlie's, I instantly rushed over to Kapitolyo and experience what they say are the best burgers in town. I am not an addict for burgers, but we all have that craving sometimes. Charlie's is located beside a car wash, so when the car wash is not full, I always have it washed there. And while waiting, I savor the juiciness of their Angus Beef burgers and gobble up on their Philly Cheesesteaks. They also serve some international beers that go well with burgers. Perfect hang out.

5. Adarna (Kalayaan Ave., QC)

This year marked the rise of Filipino boutique cuisine. Filipino food finally was more than just the fiesta fare. We saw a lot of dining establishments that served Filipino cuisine in a more modern setting that have started with Bistro Filipino at the Fort. Adarna Food and Culture is one of those nice and exotic places that served good Filipino dishes. The old house ambience weaved a showcase of antique memories, to match with dishes from different regions of the country. And some of them were still served family style, which I guess makes it a hit to those who frequent the place.

* Similarly, Pamana in Tagaytay has the same feel and menu. Though more modern looking than Adarna, Pamana is a good place to take foreign guests.

6. Lusso (Greenbelt 5)

I can swear by their Foie Gras Bruger. It is one of the tastiest I had. This small posh establishment in Greenbelt 5 also served some of the best brunches this year. I like the smallness of Lusso, it just makes the experience more exclusive and intimate. Though located near an entrance, it still manages to block the world off. With Margarita Fores at the helm, no wonder Lusso is a brilliant experiment in cuisine and dining.

7. Alexandre (Grand Hamptons, Fort Bonifaco)

This is a case of having great ambience with average food. Actually, I was ecstatic when I had a meeting in Alexandre as it looked like a modern parisian cafe indeed. I was just disappointed with the pastries, but the plain crepes were good.

8. Canvass (Ayala Center Cebu)

I looked up the Terraces at Ayala Center Cebu and pointed to every restaurant I could see. It seems that I have eaten in all except one. And the reason was that because it just opened. Canvass calls itself an art restaurant, cliche but I embraced their concept. The waiters in fact were dressed in handpainted uniforms. The dishes were presented like art indeed. The open kitchen made the ambience more passion-filled. Oh, and the food was good. I can particularly single out the Pesto Linguine (no the exact name). With small servings at lower prices, you will be tempted to order everything for a grand tasting session.

9. Terrace at the 5th (Greenbelt 5)

The other good restaurant in Greenbelt 5 is on the other end of the ground floor strip. It's called Terrace at 5th. It is a beautiful restaurant, designed like a garden terrace of course. It's just relaxing to eat here. The food is also excellent, especially the Roast Pork and the Beef Ribs. You're safe to have a good meal here, so bring your guests and entertain on a unique garden setting in Greenbelt in Terrace.

10. Thuk Thai (San Miguel Ave. Ortigas Center)

This hole-in-the-wall stall serves magic the same way SOMS did. Though significantly smaller (it's just a food stall), Thuk Thai can whip up tasty Thai dishes that can satisfy anyone's lunch craving. You could have the food delivered as well, so if you're working in the area, just call them at 215-2524 or 0917-800-8485. Try their Curry Rice Toppings and Flat Noodles.


***

And now for the infamous WORST RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE of 2009. Last year, I had to give it to Arama in Serendra at the Fort. Though may be an isolated case, I still thought nothing beat that experience, until another new restaurant in a more popular area gave me just that.

Johnny Rockets (Eastwood Mall)

Okay. It is one of the most popular restaurants in Eastwood now, and the diner feel really attracted a lot of curious diners. The wait staff danced to tunes every 30 minutes I think, and nostalgic rock music played on. There were huge glasses of frothy shakes on tables, and sumptuous looking burgers. I just had to try this joint.

However, it gave me my worst experience this year. As soon as I got out of the restaurant, I knew this would be one for the books. Let me enumerate my case: Their burgers didn't have any taste. They were bland. I wasn't alone, I had two colleagues dining with me, and I was hearing the other table comment on the blandness of the burger as well.
The burgers also came in 45 minutes after ordering. They told us they had a lot of customers that lunch time. Well, so did all the other restaurants. The waiter even looked at me as if I was being unreasonable for being impatient. Their soft drinks cost P100 for a bottomless. I don't know if Friday's cost it this way. The shakes, well, were priced at more than P250. The burgers, well, the cheapest was P300 - and it was plain and bland. The more expensive ones were also bland. Their fries came out soggy and unsalted. Who serves unsalted fries in a diner? And finally, I asked for some tissue 5x, from, guess who - the manager herself. It was a waiter who even attended to my tissue needs. The manager was just on the other table chatting with some other wait staff. Even though it was just tissue, I thought the place had the worst service. And the bill came out, after asking for it twice. To think I was already showing signs of frustration. I wanted to walk out.

This may have been an isolated incident again, but there were other diners who were being ignored. And to think they had the time to dance. And mind you, their burgers were forgetful. I didn't bother to order the shake for dessert. Johnny Rockets was a case of great marketing, to cover up the lousy food and service. My worst for 2009.

My Top Playlist of 2009

It's the end of the year, and it's time again for me to present my BEST LISTS for the year. This time, I am adding my best music for the year. As some of you may know, I am also addicted to all types of music, from trip-hop, opera, pop rock and metal. As long as the tune is unique and what I call musically superior, they would be repeating in my iPod for a month or more. Here are my best and noteworthy tunes for 2009 in no particular order:

1. Make You Feel My Love by Adele (Album: 19)

If last year was Chasing Pavements, this year, I've discovered that Make You Feel My Love is even better. Beautiful and moving lyrics that stir the soul to love without condition.

2. Use Somebody by Kings of Leon (Album: Only by the Night)

My rock song of the year. the same way that some electronic beats put me into a trance, Use Somebody mesmerized me with a soothing rock melody if that's even possible. Reminds me of U2.

3. Eet by Regina Spektor (Album: Far)

Her new album Far is not a departure from her previous sound, but the songs are more upbeat and memorable. The melodies have soothing patterns and the arrangements are simple yet amazing. Eet stood out for me from the rest of the pack. You've also got to see her music video, which I think was brilliant (where she uses a typewriter as a piano). Simple and amazing.

4. Hey Soul Sister by Train (Album: Hey Soul Sister)

After two years, Train releases a new song, and it didn't disappoint. The first time I heard it, I knew I would love it. It is a happy, feel-good song, with a melody that is great to sing along with. I just hope we had it in videoke bars. Hey yeah, hey!!

5. Who Says by John Mayer (Album: Battle Studies)

At first, I didn't like the song. But when I got my earphones and listened to it on a rainy day, the song talked to me like a best friend. It was comforting, soothing and relaxing. Though I am not a big fan of the new album (I loved Heavier Things), Who Says made me realize that John Mayer is indeed a brilliant artist.

6. Empire State of Mind (Parts I and II) by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys (Album: The Blueprint)

The version of Jay-Z came out first, and made me want to go to New York. But when I heard Alicia Key's solo version, I almost booked a flight to the city where dreams are made of. Let's hear it for New York.

7. I Gotta Feeling, Meet me Halfway, Alive, Simple Little Melody and Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas (Album: The E.N.D.)

It's the year of the B.E.P. and with a different sounding yet still rousing album, it's definitely one of the year's biggest. I just couldn't single out my favorite, so I included all of of them. I just loved The E.N.D., and with all the mash-ups of their previous hits and remixes of their current releases. Meet me Halfway got me singing like crazy while Boom Boom and Simple Little Melody got me pumping. Tonight really became a good night because of the national anthem of parties.

8. Sexy Chick by David Guetta and Akon (Album: One Love)

Another great dance album, One Love by one of my favorite DJs, David Guetta, turned in some irresistible beats, with Sexy Chick being one of the most unique and addicting. One Love with Estelle and I Wanna Go Crazy with will.i.am also got me spaced out.

9. Here on Earth by Tiesto featuring Cary Brothers (Album: Kaleidoscope)

This was my chill out song of the year. The great melody and addicting beat never failed to keep me sane while driving through horrendous traffic. Probably, this has got to be my song of the year.

10. Crawl by Chris Brown (Album: Graffiti)

The latest album of Chris Brown was surprisingly good. Released late in the year, I couldn't believe at first that Crawl was sung by Brown. Talk about PR, his manager have done well in releasing songs that are inspiring in sound. Crawl also has excellent lyrics, a twist to the common phrase, let's start all over again.

So there you go. I realized I liked happy songs for 2009, to combat all the challenges I experienced this year. Happy music from DJ heroes like David Guetta and surprisingly Tiesto, and of course the BEP still reigned my playlist. Chris Brown has a lot more in store, while I was disappointed with Rihanna's new album Rated R. I also liked Cobra Starship's Good Girls Go Bad and Hot Mess and admittedly Taylor Swift's You Belong To Me.

Happy listening!

The Beauty of Baler

Since we were technically in Aurora for work, we only spent a night here. So the most I could savor was the beach of Baler. We arrived on a strip by the coast that had very few resorts/hotels. One of them was a new one, called Bahia de Baler. It didn't have a beach front though.

We were brought to Bay's Inn. I thought the name of the place was Basin when it was mentioned to me. It was the most popular resort here. I was told there was a resort on top of a cliff at the edge of the bay.

Bay's Inn was a quaint beach resort, something you would expect in Aurora. The rooms were old but decent. There were better, newer rooms at the building where the reception area is. We opted to stay nearest to the beach.

It had a pleasant terrace where I spent some hours working while hearing the loud yet soothing crashes of waves on the shore.
Baler Bay was actually a long stretch, so long I was so tempted to walk or jog back and forth. But since I had no time, I just walked on the beach in front and tried to submerge my feet on the black fine sand.

The waves were not that high, but they were strong. As night came, the sound even became louder. The locals told me that I could surf in the morning, which is the best time to hit the waves.

There were a lot of surfers, of course, but mostly local. Well, probably because I was there after Ondoy and Pepeng. But Baler really had that surfer vibe.

It was that vibe that made the place very charming and peaceful. The beach was relatively clean, which was contrary to what I have been hearing. I hope the local government really implement rules on tourism development that would protect the beauty of Baler Bay.

Because Baler, Aurora is a serene place, a place that will make you feel really far away from the madness of the city. Mountains, beaches, rice fields, small towns, unpaved roads...it's as provincial as provincial can get.

And with some of the most friendly people I have ever met, Baler and even Aurora can become more than just a surfer's paradise. It could become a great escape.

The Road to Aurora Province

Ondoy destroyed some of our work in the office, and some of them were tapes brought by some of our colleagues. It was footage on an interview conducted in Aurora Province. After Ondoy, we had no choice but to reshoot. I took the lead to go to Aurora just after Pepeng struck for the first time (he went back remember).

The road was relatively easy. We took the NLEX and SLEX, until we reached Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija. There we took the road to Aurora. We had to pass by Pangtabangan Dam to reach the once isolated province.

I knew we we're supposed to take pictures, but I just couldn't resist. The water being released looked so magnificent, yet this was the cause of flooding in the plains of Luzon. I witnessed the release of water with awe, knowing that there was another dam like this that contributed tot he destruction of our Provident Village home.
Well, moving on, the roads were unpaved already as we hit the mountains. Some parts of the road was unpassable by normal cars (sedans). You should really take an SUV or pick up truck or something.

There was a bridge that was closed due to the floods, so we had to take a longer alternative route. We reached Nueva Vizcaya, and traversed the Sierra Madres.

And saw another dam as we approached Aurora. The views were excellent. It was a sea on top of the mountains.

The majestic Sierra Madres seemed endless, and we kept crawling up mountain after mountain, dusting our tires with dirt and mud.
The view of forests all around was soothing. I have not been a mountain person lately, but this made me fall in love with them again. How I wish I had a house perched on top of one of the cliffs, and wake up everyday to this spectacular view.

Finally, we arrived in Aurora. It was a nice day, not too hot, and it was breezy. We made our way across some zigzag roads before reaching Maria Aurora. All in all, it took us 6 hours of travel. Our way back was even faster. I know, we were traveling fast. But with all the infrastructure developments, Aurora will soon be opened up, and will begin thriving on tourists who seek more adventurous alternatives up North.

MB's Tavern

I have so many backlog reports on Cebu, and am gonna try to start writing with this restaurant. Tucked in a corner of a small road in Mactan, Cebu, you really wouldn't notice the place, even though the outside has a lot of lights. You would think that MB's Tavern Restaurant and European Deli Shop is more of a beer joint, than a place that serves some nice comfort food.

MB's Tavern has a simple menu, some of which include German dishes (I am assuming the owner is German). But people go here for the pizza...worth P230 only for 14 inches and good by the way (I was worried it would taste like Greenwich, but they were so generous with mozzarella cheese).

But the highlight was this...something they call Pizza Sketti.

Pizza Sketti is not pizza at all, but spaghetti baked on huge flat claypot. The claypot resembles the crust of a pizza as you can see. This dish was P245, big enough for 6 to 8 people. We were four that night, and we couldn't even finish half of the dish. And it tasted good. They mixed in sausages as well, giving more flavor to the dish. And all these for only P245.

Imagine, our bill was only P600, with an appetizer and 4 iced teas. I was really happy since the pizza and spaghetti both satisfied my craving for comfort food.

MB's Tavern, Restaurant and European Deli Shop is located at Basak, Kagodoy, Lapu-Lapu City, Mactan Cebu. Coming from Cebu City from the old bridge to Mactan, just go straight that long road to the beach resorts, and you will see a sign of MB's Tavern. You turn left on a road and it's just around the first corner. They also sell bread, wine and deli items. And, there's a beer garden upstairs. Yes, all in one place.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fantasyland: Gloria de Dapitan

I have to admit, when Dakak gave us free tickets to Fantasyland located in the Dapitan town proper, I thought it was one of those "peryas" found in most provincial capitals. I thought it would be something like Boom na Boom. But since the tickets were free, and we wanted to do something else, we rode on a shuttle to Fantasyland in Gloria de Dapitan after a hearty buffet dinner. We were already amazed entering the gates of Gloria De Dapitan, as shown in my previous post. We were dropped off in front of the entrance of Fantasyland. This was the facade that greeted us.


To our surprise, Fantasyland wasn't any come-and-go and carnival. It was more like Enchanted Kingdom. The tickets sold for P250 I think, for unlimited rides, which was a steal I thought. There was a promenade at the entrance that had several shops, even a Mac Store! There was a haunted house near the entrance that was still undergoing construction. It looked so good, I wanted to go inside.


There was a stage and an open area for events. A band was setting up at this time. It had just rained, so the maintenance people were sweeping off the rainwater.

Fantasyland had a lot of rides. There was the staple rollercoaster, that had single cars - meaning, one car was only big enough for one person. Though not as thrilling, this ride would be perfect for kids who want to experience the thrill of a rollercoaster ride.

There was also the log jam ride. Although it was a short ride, it was still a hit among the visitors who get wet after the splash.

There was also a space ship simulator. Most of the other rides are common already for any carnival, like the Galleon, a Swing Ride, Bump Cars, Carousels, etc. There was also a section for younger kids.

The ticket also listed a ride called Jump Bed, which intrigued me. We then realized that it was the trampoline. You get into rubber bands and tumble yourself as you jump high up. It was fun but tiring. I was able to make several somersaults.

All in all, Fantasyland really felt like a mini-Enchanted Kingdom. There were photo booths all around, souvenir shops, food stalls and all of them maintained really well. You can even take a picture with princes and princesses.

Fantasyland was indeed a pleasant surprise. I was expecting our pictures to look nostalgic, think provincial carnival, with old rides. Fantasyland was a modern carnival on the contrary, very well maintained. It will surely be a tourism drawer, now that the carnival is fully operational.

This ends my posts on Dapitan, the trip that was full of surprises. I commend the local government of Dapitan for investing on tourism facilities. I am assuming there are more attractions in Dapitan and further down in Dipolog. I just can't wait to go back and explore more.

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