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30 June 2008

Restaurant Review | Isdaan: The Floating Resto-Park

Fresh Catch Isdaan: The Halfway to the North Floating Resto-Park
Gerona, Tarlac
Type of Cuisine: Filipino, seafood
Average cost per person: ~Php 300 (US$7.50)
Overall Rating: starstarstarstarnostar

My mum was very excited to bring us here on our trip back from Baguio. She told us about how she and her friends had eaten here on when they had gone on a roadtrip a few weeks back and that we couldn't miss out on dining here. When she had said that the name of the place was Isdaan, I imagined it to be like one of those many, many dampa that have been mushrooming everywhere.

Isdaan is owned and operated by the same entity who holds ownership of many popular, well-known restaurants like Barrio Fiesta, World Topps, Bakahan at Manukan, etc, and you can see quite a bit of similarities between those places and Isdaan. And my mother was right: we couldn't miss out on dining there.

The place was big. Comprised mostly by walkways and huts floating above the very waters where they fish for, well, your fish. Various entertainers go from table to table, performing for the diners. (There are signs around that inform diners to give only Php 20 as tip to the entertainers.) Many Balinese-inspired statues are scattered around the area and, although we had gone there during the day, you can tell the place looks even more amazing at night.

The service wasn't as fast as you'd want it to be, but with an operation so big, I suppose you have to give a little allowance for "travel time." The place is so vast that the waitresses (all of whom are quite pretty) have walkie-talkies.

Beyond the good food to be had here, Isdaan also has several interesting activities for diners who want to make their experience at Isdaan more than just a food excursion. The most popular activity is probably the Tacsiyapo wall, where you hurl crockery at a wall naming various possible sources of frustration.

If you ever happen to pass by Tarlac, Isdaan is a great place to stop over for a good meal and some midtrip rest and entertainment.

Inihaw na PusitInihaw na Pusit (0.5kg: Php 160, US$4; 1kg: Php 320, US$8)
I adore grilled squid! One thing about having grilled squid is that sometimes it can be quite tough. This one, however, was rather soft and chewy and very flavourful.

Pinakbet IlocanoPinakbet Ilocano (Php 211, US$5.23)
I'm a big fan of vegetables, and an even bigger fan of Filipino vegetable dishes. I've never had pinakbet Ilocano before. I expected the vegetables to be a bit crisper, but despite the not as crisp as expected texture, this was delicious.

SinampalukanSinampalukan(Php 254, US$6.35)
Sinampalukang manok, or sinigang na manok, was one of two dishes I looked forward to most when going home to my grandparents' house back when I was much younger (the other was kaldereta). This wasn't the best sinampalukan I've ever had, but after a long trip, it was very much welcome comfort.

Sizzling Tanigue (Php 289, US$7.23)
Tanigue is one of my favourite fish (beginning to see a pattern yet? haha) and this particular tanigue dish made me quite happy. It was a bit crisp on the outside and very tender and moist on the inside.

Marinated Inihaw na Liempo (0.5kg: Php 210, US$5.25; 1kg: Php 420, US$10.50)
This was maybe the best liempo I've had ever (that's inclusive of our inihaw na liempo at home!). The meat was very tender and flavourful.

Buko Pandan
It came to us with actually very little buko in it. We had it sent back and came back just overflowing in buko -- perfect! We've yet to go wrong with buko pandan yet. This was very refreshing.


Joey in \IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in IsdaanJoey in Isdaan

Review and photogaphy by Joey.
See more photos on my flickr.

27 June 2008

Restaurant Review | Tokyo Cafe

Tokyo Cafe
Level 1, The Block, SM North EDSA
Type of Cuisine: Japanese
Average cost per person: Php 160 to Php 200 (US$4.00 to US$5.00)
Overall Rating: starstarstarstarnostar

If there's something to be said about this place, it would have to be that their service is fast. After having ordered our respective lunches, we waited for only about 5 minutes before all our orders were on our table, ready for us to devour them. Even better news? They were all perfectly cooked and wonderful.

Another thing we noted was their dishware. They make an effort to make sure your food looks not only appetizing but also pretty. From the eclectic bowl Bong's bisque was served in, to the colour, shape and form of the plates they used for each dish, each served to make your meal not only tasty but that much more delightful to your eyes. (Joey's Note: View the photos and see for yourself what I mean. :] )

The Tokyo Cafe experience for us was a good one: good food, lovely plating, great service and nice ambiance. And Harrell says the waitresses are pretty. What more can we add to that? :P

Shrimp BisqueShrimp Bisque (Php 85, US$2.13)
This creamy soup had a lot of flavour in it: a bit spicy and a lot herby. Bong's only complaints were that there was false advertising ("The photo in the menu had a shrimp in it. My bisque has none at all.") and that he would have enjoyed it more had it been accompanied by a slice of baguette or ciabatta.

Tuna Salad SandwichTuna Salad Sandwich (Php 125, US$3.13)
The tuna salad sandwich was good as well. It's basically tuna chunks with greens, tomatoes, and mustard in ciabatta bread. It's a refreshing dish which Bong really enjoyed. It came with a serving of fries, which made for a happier Bong. (Bong likes potatoes.)

Shrimp Aglio Olio (Php 230, US$5.75)
This was quite light, for pasta. Mildly spicy and briny, and, unlike with most food establishments, they were very generous with the shrimp.

Tokyo Boneless Chicken (Php 160, US$4.00)
This was great! The chicken was very juicy and tender, and the dish in its entirety was very flavourful. Joey highly recommends this dish, especially if you want something savoury but isn't heavy.

MF @ Tokyo Cafe
Reviewed by Bong, Harrell & Joey.
Photography by Joey.
See more photos on Joey's flickr.

24 June 2008

Jetsetting Foodistas | Baguio: Wanderings in the Summer Capital

JoeyJoey's Wanderings in the Summer Capital
Jetsetting Foodistas: A Travelogue by Joey
Part 2 of 2: Cafe by the Ruins, Forest House & Choco-laté de Batirol

My second day in Baguio was spent on a mini quasi-tour of the city. Our first stop was Café by the Ruins (23 Chuntug Street, Baguio City), a coffee shop that my auntie's friend told her about. We were all curious about what ruins the cafe claims to be by.

Café by the Ruins is located near Rizal Park and city hall. It claims to be a meeting place and the venue of many canaos (rituals to please the gods), as well as poetry readings, art exhibits and dance performances. The ruins they speak of are apparently the remains of the home of Phelps Whitmarsh, the first governor of Baguio.

Their menu boasts of a selection with ingredients natural and local to the region. Much as we would have wanted to try their food, we were all still full from breakfast. But since it's a café after all and the highlight of their menu is their beverage offerings, we ordered two cups of Ruins Coffee (their specialty, said our server, Nestor), a cup of Rizal's Tsokolate-eh and a pot of salabat (native ginger tea).

While waiting for our orders to arrive, I gazed around to appreciate our surroundings. The café had a very warm, serene ambiance and even its furnishings boasted of the style of the region. Even their tissue holder had a lot of character.

Ruins coffee is described to be "filtered with cardamom, topped with whipped cream, mozcovado sugar and cinnamon powder." My cousin and I noticed a twig-like thing that came with the coffee, and my mum, seeing it, exclaimed, "Tira-tira! These were what ruined my teeth as a child, haha!"

Tira-tira was one of my mum's favourite snacks as a kid. It's very hard and very sweet. It's basically caramelized sugar candy, kind of like a candy cane only, in my opinion, much better. My mum said they used to sell these when she was younger. (Do they still now?)

My cousin had the Tsokolate-eh, which seemed a bit more like tsokolate-ah, since it wasn't as thick as we expected it to be. The salabat I had was, of course, very spicy and refreshing, like good ginger tea ought to be. It came with a small glass of honey, if you want to have a little more sweetness in your tea.

Cafe by the Ruins really has a certain charm to it. It's too bad I wasn't able to try their other offerings, but it gives me a reason to come back, doesn't it? :) This place is great place to pop by for a nice hot cup of tea, coffee or chocolate (or all three?), especially on a particularly chilly day.

Cafe by the RuinsCafe by the RuinsCafe by the RuinsCafe by the RuinsCafe by the RuinsCafe by the Ruins

Our next stop was the Lourdes Grotto on Mirador Hill to climb the 252 steps to the shrine of the Lady of Lourdes. The grotto is one of Baguio's main tourist spots, with many devotees and, well, tourists climbing the steps either as an act of sacrifice/devotion, or just to say that they have.

After stopping by Easter Weaving Room, we were ready for lunch. I had a list of restaurants to try, but a friend of my mum's (my mum was born and raised in Baguio) recommended Forest House Bistro & Cafe to us. Forest House is a quaint restaurant along Loakan Road, near Camp John Hay. Entering it feels like entering someone's cozy country home, with the furnishings and homey ambience.

We ordered their sari-saring inihaw from the Our Family Feast section of their menu, which consisted of grilled pork belly, squid and tilapia, farmers salad, garlic and tofu soup, and steamed rice good for four. We also ordered one of their specialties, the Forest House homemade bagnet (crispy fried pork belly with papaya chutney).

Although a rather simple lunch, everything was perfectly cooked, from the steamed vegetables to the grilled food. I especially liked the grilled pork, which was very flavourful without being too heavy. The garlic and tofu soup looked unassuming but was quite salty.

Bagnet is one the signature dishes of the Ilocos region. Deemed the "Ilocano Chicharon", bagnet is one of the key things I remember most from our trip to Vigan ages ago. It's crispy, though not as crunchy or light as your regular chicharon. The Forest House bagnet was a bit like crispy pata bites for me, probably because of the sauce it was sitting it. Not to say that it wasn't good, which it was. Mmm cholesterol :9

Forest HouseForest HouseForest HouseForest HouseForest HouseForest House

We were tempted to try one of their cakes for dessert, but I remembered one of my favourite places in Baguio: Choco-laté de Batirol.

I cannot say just how much I adore this place enough. Whenever we head up to Baguio, it is imperative(!) that I have a mug of chocolate de batirol before our return to Manila. They also have a branch in Serendra, but there's nothing quite like drinking piping hot chocolate de batirol in cool Baguio weather.

For those of you not yet familiar with what exactly it is, I'm going to cheat a little and provide you an excerpt from my own blog from almost a year back:
Chocolate de Batirol is just about the best thing you can have when you're cold. It's a very thick, sweet, rich chocolate drink made from tablea, which are chunks of blended cacao and ground peanuts, which give it its trademark gritty texture and hints of nuttiness. You can get them either sweetened or unsweetened at supermarkets and in the palengke (wet market). I particularly love the ones from the palengke, since the texture from their tablea are thicker and grittier — yum!

If you have read Noli Me Tangere (Rizal), I'm sure you still remember the Chocolate eh! and Chocolate ah! If you're visiting someone and your host requests their help to make you some Chocolate eh!, it means that they like you. If they request for Chocolate ah! to be prepared, then it means quite the opposite. As I'm sure you can deduce, Chocolate eh! is the preferred preparation. It is thick, rich and sweet while Chocolate ah! is much more watery. That was back during the time of the Spanish Colonization. I don't think anyone still has Chocolate eh! (or ah!, for that matter) prepared for their guests anymore. That's a pity :(

You prepare it by taking a cup of evaporated milk (or regular or low-fat milk for those of you who don't wish to be that sinful :P) for every 1-2 tablea you use. Once you've mixed the paste (tablea + milk), you pour it into a mixing bowl (or a traditional tsokolateria), add some hot water, and then whip it into a foam using the batidor by rubbing your hands together with the batidor between them (thus rolling the batidor!). Of course, if you don't have a batidor, you can use a whisk or a fork -- but you won't get it all nice and foamy (that's okay tho; will still taste v. good).
We wanted some of their always delicious bibingka to snack on, but it was late in the afternoon already and they had a great many customers by then, a good lot of whom apparently also had the same freshly cooked bibingka-craving. Instead, I ordered us a plate of suman sa lihia, which came to us still steaming.

Suffice to say, it was "¡Muy delicioso!" The suman was very soft and sticky, topped with a generous amount of coconut and sugar. When you go and try this out for yourself, try and dip a bite of the suman in your chocolate de batirol — a little piece of heaven, right there. All in all, it was the perfect late afternoon snack combination.

Choco-laté de BatirolChoco-laté de BatirolChoco-laté de BatirolChoco-laté de BatirolChoco-laté de BatirolChoco-laté de Batirol

After yet another round of bumper cars and an hour of roller skating, we went back home to our cottage for more mahjong. Unfortunately, I have no restaurant to feature for our dinner meal, since we prepared it ourselves. But, as much as dining out and trying out new and interesting food stuffs and places, it's still a good, hot home-cooked meal I most look forward to any day. ♥

Thus I conclude my two-part Baguio travelogue. It's not quite over yet though. Watch out for the review of Isdaan, the Halfway to the North Floating Resto-Park, to be posted soon :)

Joey in Baguio
Baguio 08: Day2Baguio 08: Day2Baguio 08: Day2Baguio 08: Day2Baguio 08: Day2Baguio 08: Day2

See many more photos of my Baguio trip on my flickr.
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