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Desserts at Sugar

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After having some steak at The Hollywood Steakhouse Aissa and I moved on to Sugar, Seven Suites’ new dessert place.  Like THS  Sugar is tastefully decorated but this time with a more laid back zen/victorian look.  We settled into one of the tables and waited for someone to serve us.  15 minutes passes.  I decide to get up and inform the front desk of seven suites that they have customers.  Our waiter is very nice and informative, but it’s still frustrating to have to wait that long for any kind of service.

The list of desserts manages to be both amusing and annoying at the same time by virtue of their sometimes clever names.  It’s amusing to pick a dessert that you think calls out to your personality (I chose the Philosophical highly concentrated chocolate fudge brownie) but annoying that there are no descriptions for the desserts.  This can present numerous problems to the innocent diner.  For example, I know from another blog that their truffle dessert is fried in grated coconut.  I hate grated coconut, but I like truffles.  I might’ve gone for the truffles if I didn’t know they were fried in grated coconut.  To be fair, this isn’t unique to Sugar.  There’s been a trend lately to give your food items clever names that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s in them.  The restaurants Mr.Kurosawa and Marciano’s (both owned by the same group of people)  are the biggest culprits here.  The most egregious thing is that when you finally summon the gumption to look up at your waitress and ask “ano ‘tong Tequila sunrise maki?” they’ll look at you with a blank stare and retreat to the kitchen to ask the chef.  At least in Sugar our waiter seemed to know what he was talking about.

Nostalgic dark choc. cheese crumb in front, Philosophical fudge brownies in back

Finally, we get to the point of the post which is, were the desserts any good?  First off, they were HUGE.  I don’t know if this is a trend they’re trying to start with THS were everything seems to be served in double portions, but our desserts were way too much for just one person to eat (also something not mentioned on the menu).  My chocolate fudge brownie was two triangular slabs which were rich and chocolatey, but too much for me to finish in one sitting.  The other half of my brownie would eventually meet its fate in my house at the hands of my mother.  Aissa’s choice of nostalgic Dark choc. cheese crumb (I dare anyone to make sense of that) took the figurative cake.  The dark chocolate mixed perfectly with the lemony cheese crumble on top, and we devoured it in minutes.

I have mixed feelings about Sugar.  I don’t really understand why they couldn’t just serve those desserts in THS, although at the same time I have to admit that I’m really not a desserts person.  I’ll have to ask her if she thinks it’s worth going all the way up Antipolo for dessert, but if I were to come back to this area it wold certainly be for the Steak and not the Sugar.

Hollywood Steakhouse

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Aissa and I aren’t exactly gourmets but we do enjoy food a lot (meat in particular), and we got a LOT of that last night at the Hollywood Steakhouse up in Antipolo.  The Hollywood Steakhouse is a new restaurant run by the Cravings group, who also run the venerable seven suites hotel.  The drive up Antipolo was uneventful, and eventually we saw a sign announcing the entrance into the small Cravings enclave in Antipolo which also contains Grilla, Old Spaghetti House, and Sugar, a dessert place we’ll be trying afterwards  (we’ll talk about that in another post).

I was mildly surprised to see that dining is al fresco only.  Shouldn’t be a problem in the evenings but I can’t imagine eating here on a hot summer day.  Regardless, the restaurant is tastefully and subtly decorated, and the warm yellow lights help to put you at ease right away.  Each table is graced by a wine bottle, but oddly enough there are no wine listings on the spartan, straight to the point menu; Pick an entree then choose the salad, soup, and starch (a choice between mac and cheese and an assortment of rice) that you want to go with it.  We ended up choosing with the Pepper rubbed Rib Eye steak (medium rare, Tomato soup, Japanese slaw salad) and the eponymous Hollywood T-bone Steak (medium, mushroom soup, Japanese slaw salad).  The soup and salad were served quickly and tasted good, if not not exceptional.  I’d have liked the Tomato soup better with a little cheese and maybe some freshly chopped basil on top.

Tomato soup and Japanese ‘slaw salad

Here’s where the experience started to fall apart a little bit for me.  Before we could finish the appetizers, the steaks emerged from the kitchen on sizzling plates.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but the steaks and the wooden planks holding their sizzling plates were huge, and the table was soon unappetizingly (yes, I realize the irony) crammed with food.  The Steakhouse is still on soft opening, so I’m willing to overlook the lapse in timing, but I’d suggest that the wait staff, if they’re already aware of how soon it takes to cook their steaks, wait until the customer is halfway through the appetizer before signalling the chef to start cooking.  I’m not sure if that’s asking too much, but the inadvertent feeling of being rushed through a meal always puts me off.

The sizzling plates were another matter.  Watching a steak sizzle on a plate lost its charm on me soon after I hit puberty, and at this point all I could see was hundreds of tiny oil spatters littering the table and possibly ruining a romantic evening.  Let’s just say I equate sizzling steaks with beer houses, or any other place where the mess they create would feel perfectly at home.  The sizzling plate also created a problem that really shouldn’t have been present at all;  The steaks were huge and could barely fit on the plates, creating a logistical nightmare for anyone who likes eating without making a mess.  There was also a generous serving of togue piled quite unceremoniously next to the steak that we had to transfer into the soup bowls in order to create room for knife and fork.  If anyone from the Hollywood Steakhouse is reading this, please just serve your steaks on plates.  It makes eating easier and frankly it just looks a lot classier.

Hollywood T-bone Steak (550 pesos)with said unceremonious togue

Pepper rubbed rib-eye steak (650 pesos)

You’d think at this point that I’d have been really disappointed, but the food makes up for it.  As mentioned earlier, the steaks were really huge, and they were perfectly grilled.  The meat, when not hindered by fat, was tender and ridiculously easy to slice through.  The gravy really made the flavors of the meat come out for me, and surprisingly it was a little sweet, which is not normally something I’d like.  I’m not enough of a gourmet to be able to tell the difference between Rib-eye and T-bone, but I had no complaints about the taste of the food whatsoever.  The mac and cheese was serviceable, and it was while trying to finish it that i realized i would have appreciated the option for a glass of wine in exchange for the side dishes, which were made superfluous by the steak.  A combination of soup, steak, and wine would be a killer combo for me.  Regardless, I do see myself visiting the Hollywood Steakhouse again sometime this year, and hopefully they’ll have the kinks straightened out by that time.  You can find out more about the Hollywood Steakhouse here, where they’ve also posted their menu so you can see what else they have to offer.

Walking tour with Hanoi Flash

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The following is a draft of what I wrote 2 years ago on the merits of having a bunch of high school kids take you around Hanoi.  It was to be part 4 of a 4 part series on Hanoi, back when we thought we could actually pull off such lengthy articles for a travel blog.

Our second day in Hanoi was actually spent in Halong Bay, and when we arrived in our hotel after dinner that night, we received a message that the kids from Hanoi Flash would be meeting us the next day for our city tour. Hanoi Flash is a club of the Hanoi Amsterdam High School that gives tourists a free tour of the city, and in exchange they get to practice their english. They don’t outright ask for a donation, but you can also give them a donation for an orphanage that they’re sponsoring if you want to thank them for the tour.

We got up bright and early for the tour, and found that our first guide, Quang, was already waiting for us. He helped me get a mini baguette and cheese sandwich off a nice Vietnamese lady for about 10000 dong, and we settled in to wait for his partner and senior member of the club, Toan. Quang’s english was a little rough, but I managed to understand him most of the time, and he explained to me that he was a math student in the high school (apparently they start to focus on certain subjects even at that stage) while Toan was an english major, so his english was much better.

Toan finally arrived and as we wanted them to show us the best spots in the city to eat, he suggested a bum ca stall just down the corner. Bun ca is vietnamese pork barbecue eaten with noodles, and is one of the more popular dishes in Vietnam. Unfortunately the store was closed at the time, so we headed off to another side street where we sat down and had some Vietnamese halo halo! Well they called it something else but it was basically Halo-halo, with langka and curiously enough carrots and other vegetables in it.

I’ve forgotten too much to go into any more detail, but I do remember them bringing us around the city to their favorite eating spots, like a hole in the wall beer house where I finally got my hands on some Bia Hoi (I’m not quite sure what the drinking age is in Hanoi but I suspect that I was encouraging underage drinking).  It was in this same beer house that Aissa and I got a taste of what continues to be our favorite fried Tofu.  It sounds and looks  ridiculously simple but we’ve never managed to recapture that taste to this day.  We also visited the American war museum (ie the Vietnam war) and an ancient temple/university.  We ended the hot day of walking around by having a local treat; green bean (aka monggo) flavored popsicles.  They seemed to be popular and I remember thinking how awesome it was that we found another monggo based food item in Hanoi.

Anyone looking to go to Hanoi should definitely take these Hanoi Flash kids up on their free tour (they do ask you to contribute to one of their charities) of the city.  Our friend Toan looks like he’s already graduated high school, but Quang’s still there, and maybe he’ll get to take you around.  They’re not professionals by any means, but if you want a taste of the city from a local perspective, they can’t be beat.

On Vigan

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I’m reposting my thoughts on Vigan here, based on my review of the area that I posted in Tripadvisor last year:

Vigan is one of the most well restored Spanish colonial cities in outside of, and it deserves its reputation as a UNESCO world heritage site. Unfortunately it can be very difficult to get there, even for people within the Philippines, as it has no airport capable of accepting commercial air traffic. The nearest airport is Laoag city, which is an one and a half to two hour bus ride away.

But when you get there it’s worth the wait, as Vigan charms you with it’s old world glories, delicious food (don’t forget to try the Vigan longganisa and empanada!) and friendly people. I absolutely loved how the salespeople here weren’t pushy or abrasive like some other sites we’ve been to around southeast asia.

Certainly the city could use some more development, it took us about an hour jsut to find two doubleA batteries for our camera one night, something that could be resolved by opening a 7-11 or similar convenience store along the main street. it looks like development is well under way though, so Vigan’s time as a premier tourist destination in the Philippines is still yet to come!

It really is a shame that Vigan is still underdeveloped as a tourist destination.  It frustrates me that BongBong Marcos has the gall to show ads saying what a good job he’s been doing when he can’t even manage to expand the local airport and generate more interest in Vigan as a tourist destination.  As it is, we had to take a plane to Laoag, ride a tricycle (roughly 200 pesos) from Laoag airport to the Partas bus station, take a bus ride (100 or so pesos per person I think?) to Vigan, then take another tricycle to our hotel.  Call me spoiled, but there has to be a better way (and no, I don’t consider a 10 hour bus ride from Manila a better way).  Once you’re in Vigan proper it’s small enough to get around to lots of areas, and for the surrounding area (like the zoo, lighthouse and museums) we happily paid 1000 for a kalesa for the whole day.  There’s a pretty good tourist information office in the city proper if you need any help, jsut ask your hotel where it is.

I would love to see Vigan more fully developed, perhaps even have a section where local actors would portray the day to day activities of Vigan during colonial times.  Laoag could do the same, as we noticed some colonial buildings scattered around the city.  Speaking of Laoag, I find it slightly ridiculous that there were no taxis at the airport.  I don’t mean to rag on the city, but since it has an international airport and receives lots of foreign tourists, you’d think they’d have a few taxis on standby at the airport, never mind the exorbitant fares they’d charge.  There have been improvements made in the last year to the Diosdado Macapagal airport in Clark recently, so hopefully Laoag will follow suit with its own airport facilities.

Despite my complaints, I’m certain that I’ll visit Vigan again one of these days, perhaps with my sister’s family in tow when they visit from the US.  I certainly hope that the transport situation will be a lot easier by then.

Hotel Review : Gordion Inn (Vigan)

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Usually when booking a hotel our first instinct is to check Tripadvisor.  However the Vigan section on Tripadvisor is not quite as robust as other travel destinations, so we went for plan B: scouring the internet.   We eventually decided that the Gordion Inn was our best option, based on the quality of their website (we assumed people who take the time to make their website look nice will take the same care with their hotel), affordable rates, and the quickness of their email responses.

Upon our arrival we weren’t disappointed as the place was just as charming as their website portrayed it (the rather off-putting yellow and blue color scheme on the outside being the exception). You’ll have to forgive my memory (this visit was in November 2009) but as far as I can recall the current Gordion Inn was built around an old Spanish colonial home, which actually still serves as the lobby and is also where the suites are located.  We stayed in a standard double bed room for 2000 pesos, which was on the otherside of a small courtyard.  It looked like they were still expanding the site at the time, since we would run into carpenters and construction workers every now and then.

I suppose the best thing I can say about the place was that I had absolutely nothing to complain about.  The staff was efficient and helpful, the rooms were cozy and the airconditioning was excellent, and the room rate includes a daily breakfast which almost always ended up with us choosing the garlicky vigan longganisa (pictured above) and dining al fresco in their cafe area. If you’re going to Vigan, make sure to keep the Gordion Inn on your list of places to stay.

Check out more pictures of the Inn and our trip to Vigan here.

Air Asia 2 day international sale!

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Just giving people the heads up about the Air Asia sale that’s going on from May 13-15.  0 fare sales to all of their international destinations, as long as you travel from January 2010 to April 2010.  Aissa and I have alrady booked tickets to Yogyakarta to check out the temples at Borobudur, and our tickets came out to a little less than 5000 pesos, including pre-bought in-flight meals and baggage alowance.  When you consider that we actually have to fly to KL first before going to Yogyakarta, that comes out to 1250 pesos per person for each return trip (Clark to KL and back, KL to Yoyakarta and back) which, all things considered, is a ridiculously good deal.

Picnic at La Mesa Ecopark

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Last Sunday Ry and I packed a picnic lunch and spent the morning at La Mesa Ecopark. It was pleasantly surprising to find that such lush greenery still exists in Metro Manila. It was a hot day, but the density of the trees provided lots of shade and the cool breezes weaving through the foliage made it very pleasant to be outdoors.

In the picnic basket: Deli wraps with three kinds of cold cuts, crackers, assorted cheeses (gruyere, gorgonzola, La vache qui rit), spinach artichoke dip, parma ham, salami. I was too lazy to bring a bottle of wine, which turned out to be a good thing, because apparently alcohol is not allowed in the park.

We recommend going early in the morning so that it’s not so hot and there are less people. We left after lunch and on our way out we encountered hordes of people coming in. If you want to avoid the noisy crowds, steer clear of the pool area and the Ipil, Narra and Neptune Pavillions. We set our picnic blanket down in a relatively secluded spot by the Petron Ampitheater.

The park is probably really pretty around sunset/in the evening. If so inclined, you can pitch tents and spend the night there. Camping isn’t really our thing though. Half a day was enough communing with nature for us city folk.

About La Mesa Ecopark: La Mesa Watershed in Quezon City is the primary source of drinking water of about 12 million Metro Manila residents. La Mesa Watershed is 2700 hectares, 700 hectares of which is the reservoir and 2000 hectares of which is the surrounding forest. This forest is the last remaining one of its size in Metro Manila and serves as its carbon dioxide sink. Bantay Kalikasan, in partnership with the MWSS and the Q.C. Government, rehabilitated and renovated a 33 hectare public park located right outside the natural boundaries of the watershed and 40 meters below the reservoir. In September 2004, it was renamed La Mesa Ecopark and reopened to the public. All revenues generated by La Mesa Ecopark are utilized for the continuous preservation and protection of La Mesa Watershed. Read more

Directions: Take Commonwealth Avenue towards Fairview past the following landmarks: UP Diliman, Iglesia ni Cristo Templo Central, Ever Gotesco, Sandiganbayan, Litex, Mercury Drugstore. Turn right at East Fairview Subdivision’s Winston Street, right at Marlboro Steet, then left at Dunhill Street. Follow the road all the way to the bridge and you will arrive at the La Mesa Ecopark guard house.

Contact information:
(02) 430-4051/ (02) 430-5207/ (02) 430-5207 (telefax)
Sarah – 09062234125
Dong – 09159013772
lamesaecopark@abs-cbn.com
http://www.lamesaecopark.com
http://www.bantaykalikasan.com
http://www.abs-cbnfoundation.com

Click here to view the full set of our La Mesa Ecopark pictures on Flickr.

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