Dumaguete Jan. 2013

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DH’s mother hails from Dumaguete City, on the island of Negros, in the province of Negros Oriental, the eastern side of the island, and she still has a few (ok, more than a few) relatives living there. This year his whole family decided to go to Dumaguete on a family trip just for the weekend to relax by the sea, visit some relatives, indulge in fresh seafood, and have some quality-time with each other.

Dumaguete City is a beautiful seaside town. It is the capital of  Negros Oriental, in the southern part of the Visayas of the Philippines.

negros map

Just to show you where Dumaguete is in relation to the whole Philippines….dumaguete map

Normally this area of the Philippines is blessed with fantastic weather, shielded from most of the typhoons, but with the effects of global warming, unfortunately Dumaguete suffered from the last 2 major typhoons last year.

Dumaguete is only 1 hour away by plane from Manila, and flying here is convenient and painless. There are daily flights, and the airport in Dumaguete, while small, is clean and efficient.

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Tourists fly to Dumaguete mainly for diving. The famous Apo Island, which is a reknown marine sanctuary (I even visited a huge exhibit on Apo Island in Chicago!), is nearby, and many tourists land in Dumaguete for a week of snorkelling and diving.

The thing I like most about Dumaguete is what they call The Boulevard. Its official name is Rizal Boulevard, but every local refers to this beautiful avenue beside the water by this generic name. It was designed by Daniel Burnham, the same architect and urban planner as Baguio, the Philppines’ summer capital, and, more famously, Chicago and downtown Washington D.C. (as per Wikipedia). Wow, it’s nice to say those cities in the same sentence. 🙂

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For those of you who are familiar with Manila, the capital of the Philippines, Burnham is also the architect of Roxas Boulevard. Roxas Boulevard and The Boulevard look very similar, but The Boulevard has the edge because it has retained its classic look, whereas Roxas Boulevard kind of looks worse for wear (for me) because of the modernization (or so they say) and land reclamation around it. In fact, The Boulevard kind of reminds me of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, which Roxas Boulevard could have looked like, if they took better care preserving its original design.

Bit of trivia: Burnham may have designed The Boulevard, but unfortunately, never got the chance to visit it.

A walk down The Boulevard is refreshing to say the least. The boardwalk right beside the shore is well-maintained, wide, and comfortable for a leisurely stroll. The fresh breeze from the ocean feels like it can cure any respiratory ailment. On a warm, sunny day, it is SUCH a delight to walk. And, if you get hungry, there are many food establishments, from casual family fare to bars, along the other side of the road.

Speaking of food establishments, I must mention this one restaurant whose fame has reached Manila’s foodies. Sans Rival is a Filipino rich dessert of layers of meringue, cashew nuts, and rich buttercream (more butter than other buttercreams I’ve tasted!). I still haven’t found out why it carries a French name (meaning, without rival). Anyway, there is a restaurant along The Boulevard named Sans Rival, who’s specialty is, you guessed it, a deadly sans rival. As I said, Manila foodies have long waxed rhapsodic about this particular Sans Rival. So much so that I had at least 2 requests to bring back some sans rival from Sans Rival. Definitely if you find yourself in this part of the world, this place is a must-try. At least the sans rival, or its cookie version, the silvana, is.

A very efficient and modern counter graced the entrance.

IMG_2739But the star of the restaurant is the fully decked-out pastry showcase!

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The dining room is warm and inviting.IMG_2741With interesting design details such as birdcage chandeliers….

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Wooden lattice work…..IMG_2743

And interesting knick-knacks.IMG_2744

Here’s a slice of the famous Sans Rival. Look at all that butter! IMG_2745

For those who want more traditional desserts, they also carry a long line of cheesecakes, such as this Salted Caramel Cheesecake.IMG_2746

Sans Rival’s Sans Rival and Silvanas are popular gifts for people back in Manila, and a lot of my friends asked me to bring some home for them (called “pasalubong“, or a gift from one’s travels). Sans Rival has smartly started selling their goodies at the airport’s departure area, so in case you forget to buy a pasalubong, you can just make a snap purchase of a delicious box of Silvanas. Oh, small catch: they are slightly more expensive in the airport.

As for the other food places, you can’t really go wrong with fresh seafood, hot of the grill. We had dinner at Lab-As (“fresh” in the local dialect), and feasted on fresh oysters, fresh maya-maya (red snapper), fresh stuffed squid, and….frozen yogurt.

Lab-as is a great restaurant, but its sister-bar, Hayahay (which means “chillax”), is right beside for some after-dinner entertainment. Live bands play nightly here.

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Here is the reason for dinner!! IMG_2712

Fresh oysters……..IMG_2713

….make great appetizers!
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Where the action is…..the grilling station!
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While we opted to stay outdoors to enjoy the fresh air (Lab-As is located beside the Boulevard, so it gets very windy), there is an indoor air-conditioned dining area available.IMG_2731

Dumaguete is a small city with all the creature comforts of a tourist destination. While there are no big chain hotels here (yet), there are dozens of small, charming hotels around the town that are great stopovers for tourists on the way to their dive resorts. There is also a mall with all the usual fastfood chains (I would assume. I personally didn’t go inside the mall) for those foreigners who are looking for familiar food like McDonald’s.

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Dos Mestizos in Boracay, Philippines


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DH and I decided to go to a well-reputed Spanish restaurant for dinner in Boracay. Friends in Manila have told me about Dos Mestizos, and I am fortunate enough to befriend the chef-owner, Binggoy Remedios , but I have never eaten there. Aside from the glowing reviews from fellow foodies, it got a good rating from tripadvisor (#6 out of 147 restuaurants!).

Frankly, I don’t really expect much when I dine in Boracay. I come here not for the food, but for the beach experience: the fine sand, the lounging in the sun, the lazy life. Also, I do understand that fancy ingredients are hard to come by in the island. It distresses me when I eat food that tries hard to be “haute cuisine”, but falls so short because they’re trying so hard to be something they’re not. I like sticking to the best ingredients of the island: simple, fresh seafood, without any complicated sauces or preparations masking their natural sweetness.

Dos Mestizos looks like a rustic Spanish restaurant, with earthy colors and dim lights. A large window to their kitchen dominates the dining room, emphasizing the chef’s pride in his kitchen’s cleanliness and orderliness.

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Dozens of magazine articles decorate the wall: a testament to Chef Binggoy’s talents and marketability.

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This mural of a nude maja shows Binggoy’s artistic leanings. IMG_2450

Their bar is in the middle of the dining room, inviting solo diners to sit and just people watch from the best vantage point of the restaurant. We’re lucky enough to see Binggoy by the bar, and say hello.

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After we order, Binggoy takes us around, showing us his wine room, his deli, and his bake shop. He proudly says that they make their own bread. I see ciabatta, baguettes, and gorgeous whole wheat sandwich bread.

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Two tempting legs of jamon serrano hang temptingly at the deli window, and his deli showcase displays an assortment of cheese. The deli is bright and inviting, and Binggoy says that his sandwiches are quite popular. I surmise the fresh bread has something to do with it.

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But we’re here for dinner, and so Binggoy settles us in a table and gives us a complimentary carafe of sangria. Since we’re only 2, we can’t order our usual array of tapas, so we settle for two: their homemade chorizo and slices of manchego. The chorizo was excellent! Packed with flavor of the pork and paprika, they sizzle deliciously in the  traditional earthenware dishes. They’re served with pan-fried,  diced potatoes and whole garlic cloves, both cooked perfectly. The garlic was sweet and mild, and the potatoes were crisp on the outside, adding to the textures. But the best part of the chorizos? The bits of fat in the sausage! They’re large enough that you can taste the fat.

Here’s a shot of the tapas menu, just so that you have some idea of their offerings and prices. Exchange rate was 1USD = 41PHP.
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For our main course, we order their assorted seafood platter: a combination of fish and shellfish, with a light beurre-blanc sauce. We had Aklan clams (large, sweet clams), mussels (tiny ones, so they weren’t rubbery), native scallps, grilled shrimps, and salmon. Of all the seafood, only the salmon wasn’t freshly caught (salmon isn’t a local fish of the Philippines, and are brought in frozen). While the salmon was still excellently cooked (crisp skin, and medium-rare), I felt that it didn’t belong in this platter of mostly local seafood. But, all the seafood was delicious: lightly seasoned, letting the natural flavors shine.

Sorry, but we were so excited by the food that I forgot to take pictures!

For postre, or dessert, we had the warm bread pudding with natilla, or condensed milk, and liquored ice cream.

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Mario Batali’s Lupa in Hong Kong

With the many great dining places in Hong Kong and only 2 days to spend, we had a hard time shortlisting our picks. Mario Batali’s Lupa, however, was a no-brainer. With fantastic anecdotes about their New York branch, we were excited to try famous Mario’s trattoria food.

Lupa boasts of a long, open kitchen, where chefs send out their creations to frenetic servers. It looked orderly, clean, and organized…..a credit to the kitchen brigade working in it.

The in-door dining area was spacious, cozily lit, and done elegantly with starched, white tablecloths and fine cutlery. But the ambiance remained casual and relaxed, which I appreciated. Lupa also had outdoor seating for the smokers and their wood-fired pizza (apparently, not available indoors). I didn’t bother checking it out so can’t comment.

I loved the tall pepper mills! Definitely a showpiece!

The name Lupa comes from the Italian word for she-wolf, and as per the menu, the restaurant is named after the she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. So the picture of a gigantic wolf with 2 babes nursing at her teats was emblazoned on the menu. Not your average cover, and well, rather strange for me.

The menu was very extensive! So large that we all had a hard time choosing, since there were just too many choices that sounded good. Though we pride ourselves in our appetites, I don’t think any of us could tackle both a primi and secondi course, with an appetizer and dessert to boot.

While choosing our dishes, we started off with this excellent wine.

Since we were a large table (10 hungry women!), we were able to order a lot of different dishes, much like our experience in Bistronomique (see my entry about Bistronomique here). Of course we all made each other promise to share.

For starters: sardines, golden raisins, and pine nuts on a bed of bulgher wheat. The sardines were cured in citrus (as per the menu). This was quite interesting, because the flavors were delicately balanced: the sweetness of the raisins, the tartness of the sardines, and then the crunch and nuttiness of the pine nuts. The portion was small enough to just whet my appetite (and I had to share it with the others!).

Truffled Crema Fritta: fried, breaded cream laced with truffle “essence”. I think this lacked truffles. I know its supposed to be just a whisper, but this wasn’t even audible. And as fried cream is already quite bland, this was more just texture for me: crunch.

Arugula and shaved Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) was a light salad. The peppery arugula was tossed in a light vinaigrette. Not much play with the flavors, since the arugula was the dominant taste.

This was the winner of appetizers: creamy cow’s cheese with smoked prosciutto.

For mains, my order was the black spaghetti with spicy pork sausage. I was attracted to the squid ink pasta, and what’s not to love about spicy pork sausage? The server warned me repeatedly that it was VERY spicy, but I waved her away, confident in my tolerance for spice.

Unfortunately, the server was right. This dish just had ONE taste: heat. I couldn’t taste anything else, so the squid ink pasta, mint and anything else  was just wasted. Such a shame. And yes, I LOVE spicy food, but this was just a one-note dish.

The saltimbocca was the winner of the evening, though unfortunately, terribly unphotogenic. But trust me, it tastes much better than it looks. Underneath this pink, unappetizing mass is a bed of wilted spinach, which paired beautifully with the saltimbocca.

The crispy duck looked impressive and mouth-watering, and we loved the idea of HALF A DUCK! Skin was crispy (as advertised), and we enjoyed this dish.

I forgot what this dish was. Maybe squid? Well, whatever it was, it didn’t make much of an impression.

The dessert menu:

The Espresso Bonet. Not memorable. It doesn’t even look familiar.

The Flourless Chocolate Cake: again, not memorable.

The Date Torta: again, not memorable.

Our feedback card.

So, in short: Lupa fell short from my expectations, but perhaps my expectations were because of the superstar celebrity chef Mario Batali. Some dishes were good, the ambiance was cozy, and the service competent. Personally, this wasn’t worth the price, but it’s a nice date place, including with bragging rights.

Lupa
3/F, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road, Central
2796 6500

Bistronomique in Hong Kong

Chef David Lai, who trained in Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco and Hong Kong, has opened his second restaurant, Bistronomique. A casual French bistro, Bistronomique offers classic French bistro fare such as Salade Lyonnaise and Creme Brulee, but with a little edge.

The restaurant itself is a little out of the way. We had to take a cab, and walk a bit, and the street was a bit deserted….not the usual hustle and bustle in the busy streets of Hong Kong.

Interiors are quite bright and well-lit, with no frills. The restaurant is simple: a long narrow room, with banquette seating. This was on a Saturday, lunchtime, and it was full. Good thing we had reservations for our table for 10 ladies.

Bistronomique is not cheap, but they do offer a very affordable Set Lunch Menu. Several of us had this, and were quite satisfied with portions and quality.

For those of you who are curious about their ala carte menu, here are some snapshots. As you can see, their menu is quite extensive.

Always a nice way to start a lunch: chilled white wine!

For starters, I had the herb-crusted bone marrow, on a bed of salt. This, of course, came with some thinly sliced toasted bread. Grab a toast, spread some marrow, and sprinkle just a teeny bit of salt. Swig white wine. Deeelicious!!!! The herb crust was the  WOW factor with this dish. It added a whole different layer of flavor.

Since we were a lot, we got to order a lot of different things, and we were not shy to share with each other. This is the foie gras ‘torchon’, which is a tower made of chunks of foie gras, accompanied with a side of mushrooms (which paired excellently with the foie gras). Note the sprinkle of (probably sea) salt on top.

This was the daily soup. If I remember correctly, it was a creamy leek soup. Quite frothy and light, though full of leek flavor.  A great starter, since it didn’t fill you up too much.

Loved the lardons in their Salad Lyonnaise, but then, who doesn’t like bacon?

Their Caesar Salad came a little deconstructed, but tasted good as well.

Pan-fried pork chop. I love eating pork, but this just tasted all right. Impressive size though!

Duck breast. How French can you get?

This looked beautiful and tasted wonderful. Lobster cassoulet!

This was the “daily fish” on the Set Lunch Menu, and to me, this was the best tasting dish all around. The play of flavors between the roasted red peppers and the grilled fish (I forgot exactly what it was, but it was a firm white-fleshed fish) was perfect!

This was my order. Black pork belly. The famed uber-tender black pork, belly cut. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, this was a little under-seasoned for me. Or maybe I just expect my pork to taste more than just fatty (don’t get me wrong…I have no problem with fatty cuts!).

Mushroom Risotto. Always unphotogenic, but such comfort food.

Desserts in French restaurants are always anticipated. A very, VERY, dense chocolate pot de creme…..

A mille feuille (though to me, the wafers were a little burnt….)….

…and the best thing EVER…..creme brulee with truffle oil. SO good.

So, as I said, expect simple French bistro food in Bistronomique. Nothing fancy really, but wonderful, high-quality ingredients, with just enough of a chic twist to elevate it to fancy fare.

Bistronomique
Shop B, G/F, 1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Western District
Tel: 2818 8266

Le Meridien Hotel in Kota Kinabalu

I saw some pictures of Kota Kinabalu’s summit online, and fell in love with the cold, granite surface of the mountain. It looked beautiful! So on Sept. 2009, V, M, C and I took advantage of Cebu Pacific’s promotional fare and flew to KK to climb Mt. Kinabalu, the 20th tallest mountain in the world.

Our first night in KK was spent in comfort: Le Meridien Hotel in central KK. We wanted to be well rested for our climb up the mountain, and decided to splurge on pampered surroundings (pampered compared to where we were going to sleep the next night: in the resthouse in the mountain!).

I have to say there was nothing really different about this Le Meridien. It looked like a typical 4 star hotel. We met our guide, Joel Gabutan, in the lobby.

It also had the standard breakfast buffet, and well-turned out rooms.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For dinner that night, we asked to try some local fare. Joel brought us to the boardwalk, where there were open-air restaurants. I felt that it catered to tourists, as most of the restaurants had huge picture menus with English text.

It was very easy for tourists to decide what food they wanted, since the pictures were very descriptive.

We ordered laksa…..
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
black pepper crabs…..


 
 
 
 
and nasi lemak, which was fried rice wrapped in scrambled egg. Need to carbo load for tomorrow’s climb!

The Jersey Boys in Sydney, and an Aussie Pie!

Poster from jerseyboysblog.com

My brother T watched this last year on Broadway, and loved it. Now, T is not really a big musical fan, and for him to rave about one (with retro music as well!) just meant that Jersey Boys was a production that had wide appeal. And what appeal! In 2006 it won 4 Tonys, including Best Musical.

Of course, with the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, how could it miss? My brother didn’t realize it, but he already knew a lot of the music, just because the songs of Frankie Valli are considered to great “oldies” standards today. Who wouldn’t know “Walk Like A Man”, or “Sherry”? A lot of their songs are used now in movies as part of the soundtrack. Their songs are always chosen in karaoke bars, and everybody knows the words to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”.

For me, I love musicals and oldies music, so T immediately told me that I HAD to watch this. No need to convince me (there was even one summer where I listened to “The Best of Frankie Valli” incessantly, so I was already a fan of his), but I didn’t see a trip to New York in the near future.

Since C had a dinner scheduled on our one night in Sydney, I was left to find my own entertainment. Imagine my joy when I found out that Jersey Boys was showing in Sydney! Just around 5 blocks from my hotel in fact!

(Note: I found out it was showing by going to the Sydney Visitor Centre. All tourists should make this their first stop, as the Centre will tell them where to go, what’s currently showing, and even make arrangements. Such convenience! Visit them at  http://www.shfa.nsw.gov.au/sydney-For_visitors-Sydney_Visitor_Centres.htm)

I was able to get a ticket at the Ticketmaster booth (again, near my hotel), so I was all set. Even though the play was popular, it was easy to get a ticket for 1 person.

Splurge for an orchestra center seat!!

Curtain up at 7pm so that meant a quick, unfussy dinner.

Since I was in Australia, I just HAD to eat an Aussie Meat Pie! I got one from a kiosk called “Pie-Face”, a very cute kiosk selling all sorts of sweet and savory pies. Check them out here: http://www.pieface.com.au/.

I chose the classic Steak Pie. It was served piping hot, with an appealing puff pastry crust.

Why the sad face? You're delicious!

One cut and the savory gravy oozed out, and the aroma of slowly-stewed beef wafted up. Mmmmmm…..!

The steak pie was delicious! Nothing fancy. Just a good flakey crust, tender, bite-sized steak (and they didn’t skimp on this!), and lashings of gravy.

After devouring my pie (in a flash!), I walked over to Theater Royal, where Jersey Boys was playing. See what a great seat I got at the last minute.

Before the "no picture taking please" announcement

Again, this seat was only possible because I was only one. The play was pretty much sold out.

Jersey Boys didn’t disappoint. It about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the points of view of the 4 main characters, each representing a “season”. “Spring” (or the beginning) was told by the group’s original leader, Tommy DeVito. “Summer” (when the group started getting popular) was told by the member who wrote all the songs, Bob Gaudio. “Fall” was when the group started having problems, and was told by member with the lowest profile, Nick Massi. And finishing off with “Winter” was Frankie Valli, when all the original members of “The Four Seasons” leave, and Frankie becomes a single-name act.

The music is the draw of the play, as the engaging tunes have everyone clapping along and bobbing their heads. It was also very interesting (for a fan like me) to know the trivia behind some of the songs (for example, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” was almost never released).

I thought they did an amazing job in casting, as finding someone who could hit Frankie Valli’s high notes AND look like him couldn’t have been easy. And the cast, with their Jersey/Italian accents, sounded so mafioso that you almost expected Tony Soprano and Sonny Corleone to come out and belt out a tune.

The audience left the play in high spirits, dancing to the music and probably buying the soundtrack. Who could resist?

Boppin' to the beat

The Sydney Fish Market Part 3: Oysters Oysters Oysters!!

When I think of Sydney, fresh oysters come to mind. Heaps of fresh oysters in the half-shell, chilled, slightly briny, slightly sweet, swimming in their juice. Since they were so fresh in the market, there was no need for any elaborate sauces. Just a simple squeeze of lemon and they were ready to eat!

The first counter that greeted me as I entered the Fish Market was Christie’s. As you can see, they freshly shuck the oysters right in front of you, and lay out the different kinds in a showcase window.

There were several kinds to choose from, and when I asked for help, the servers would ask me whether I liked them sweet or salty.

If I wanted sweet, this is what they would recommend:

If I wanted salty, they’d recommend these 2. These ones were farmed….

…..while these ones were wild.

I asked what the difference was, and the server just said, “Actually to me, they all taste the same.” How disappointing! But I suppose if you’re surrounded by oysters everyday, you do get a little blase!

So, like a true, indecisive gourmand, I ordered all (total: 2 dozen!). Don’t get shocked. They’re non-fat anyway :).

For me, I liked the wild ones best. I couldn’t really tell if the sweet ones were really sweet, or the briny ones really salty, but the wild ones had the best texture, and were the meatiest.

Aside from oysters, there was also lobster! I did eat one (or one-half of one) but would have preferred a simple steamed one, rather than one covered in cheese. That seemed almost criminal to me.

For those who aren’t oyster fans, never fear. There is also, believe it or not, fresh fish (see the sashimi counter in Christie’s) which you can ask to grill. Prawns and shrimps abound as well.

And fresh fruits! I just had to take a picture of the “topless pineapples”.

The Sydney Fish Market was such a clean place as well. No “fishy” smell! They open 7am until 4pm, so if you can start the day right with the freshest catch of the day!