Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Of barbers and barber shops

My favorite barber passed away earlier this February. I only learned of this a couple of weekends ago and was a bit sad that I wasn't even able to visit the wake. I considered him a friend even though we met only on for my regular haircuts typically at the end of the month. However, "regular" here actually spanned roughly 30 years since I could remember as my father first took me to this makeshift barber shop at the Cainta Public Market sometime in 1983/84. The only significant break from the regular haircuts was in 1996-1999 when I was studying in Japan and I had my haircut at another barber shop.

I was introduced to this barbershop in the Meguro district of Tokyo in 1996 by one of my good friends. I helped that the barber shop was a few minutes walk away from the JR Meguro Station of the Yamanote Line and I could easily go there whenever I was in Tokyo. Being a creature of habit, I made the effort to go there for my haircuts even though I lived in Yokohama, a good 45 to 60 minutes away by train. My Nihongo wasn't really good so I always asked them about the pictures they had showing different haircuts in front, side and back so I could point to how I wanted them to cut my hair. I remember that I never had a bad haircut there and always got my money's worth. They even had a promotion where each haircut a customer was given a coupon indicating points earned. You could exchange the points for a haircut or perhaps items they had on display that you may exchange the points for. I still have the nail cutter and nose hair scissors that I got from accumulating so many points

I remember at least 3 barbers who usually gave me a haircut. One was a mute, one was a woman and another was a young man sporting long hair. I'm sure I picked up their names at one time but I forget them now though I do remember their faces. The last time I had a haircut there was in 2008 when I stayed in Japan for 1.5 months. That was good enough for 2 haircuts and again, I made the effort to travel the distance from Saitama to Meguro just for the haircut and shampoo that's always been my routine whenever I was there.

With all the changes in Tokyo from 2008, I wasn't sure that the barber shop would still be there when I made the trips to Japan from last year. I really didn't have time to go for a haircut last October as I wanted to re-explore Kamakura and Yokohama. This time though, with some time on my hands and feeling a bit sentimental because of the passing of my old barber, I decided to go around Meguro and check on the old barber shop there. I did find the old barber shop but it was closed and there was a sign there saying it had moved. I couldn't read Japanese well so I couldn't get the details from the sign. However, after crossing the street at the next junction and walking along the other side, I quickly found  where the barber shop had relocated - just across the street from its old location.

The old barber shop is now closed.

And that's because it had reopened just across the street from the old one.
Peeking inside, I happily saw that at least two of my old barbers were still there - the woman and the guy with the long hair. Surprisingly, they looked the same as when I had last been there in 2008. With this knowledge, I now look forward to the next time I could be in Tokyo and maybe have the time to get a haircut at Meguro.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Roadhouse Grill

We were curious about the steak restaurant beside a gas station along Ortigas Avenue Extension in Taytay, Rizal. We had passed by the area quite frequently the past months as we monitored the construction of our soon-to-be home in Antipolo but we had never had the chance to eat there. We only speculated that it must be a good enough restaurant judging from our observation that it appeared to be usually full whenever we drove past it. We finally got the chance to sample their food one weekend last January.

The Roadhouse Grill along Ortigas Extension is a straightforward, no frills steak restaurant. The menu is not complicated and unpretentious. I used that last word as some other restaurants have lots of items not their menus, indicating different kinds of steak but then they all seem to be the same taste and texture. That is, it doesn't really matter if you order sirloin or tenderloin as you won't be able to tell the difference. In other words, they don't pretend to be in the league of Outback or other more reputable steak restaurants.

Grilled pork chop

Mango salad

Tenderloin steak with mashed potatoes

We enjoyed our meal at Roadhouse Grill. The tenderloin and pork chop were cooked just right and served within a reasonable time. The surprise was their salad, which we thought was really good given the fresh ingredients. The lettuce wasn't soggy and the mix of mangoes and crab sticks were just right to go with the meat dishes we ordered. What's more is that prices are very reasonable so it won't hurt your pockets to eat here from time to time.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sushi Horikawa

Back in Tokyo after only a few months, I was trying to compile photos before posting them on different articles. However, after our reception today after completing the final symposium for our study on ASEAN, I just had to post some photos I took of the sushi section. Featured is a really experienced sushi chef who was preparing the sushi as participants quickly queued. The Japanese among us seemed excited in their own way and I understood that there was something special about the guy behind the counter who even had this old lady to assist him in preparing the trays and shoyu for the sushi. It turned out that this was Sushi Horikawa, a very good sushi restaurant here in Tokyo. It's probably one of the best if not the best sushi I've tasted and made me crave for more of this and at this high level of quality. I already look forward to eating at a sushi restaurant we found in Asakusa six years ago, the last time the Clairvoyant and I were in Tokyo together.

Preparation of sushi from the raw sea food and Japanese rice (note the assistant on the left)
The chef taking a slice of fish before fusing it with rice and wasabi
The chef molds the fish and the rice in a manner that's artful in technique while the assistant pour shoyu on the sushi tray
Each sushi is a handmade work of art


Saturday, February 15, 2014


It snowed heavily in the Kanto area last weekend and again yesterday. Friends residing in Tokyo and Yokohama posted photos of snow covered streets and homes. I have only experienced snow maybe five times in my life, and all those times were when I was in Japan where I lived for a few years while studying to obtain an advanced degree. I didn't count the wet snow or the icy rains (like slush) I've also experienced many times.

Following are some photos I took from February 2008, the last time I experienced and enjoyed snow. At the time, I wasn't much into checking the weather forecasts and so it came as a surprise that as I was returning home from the supermarket one evening, I felt the first flakes coming down from the skies. I didn't hurry back to my room at the International House but instead walked normally but excited about the prospect of snow. I was actually happy if it were only wet snow with the consistency of slush and it seemed that way at first until the flurries became heavier and I soon found my grocery bags starting to pick up some of the snow. I arrived at the dorm in time to watch the snow start to accumulate over the parking lot across from my room's balcony. Later that night, as the snow continued to fall, I could hear and see students playing in the snow. The following morning it seemed like everywhere was a winter wonderland and my friends and I wandered off to the university to check out the field that by then was a vast area of white.

View from my room at the International House
Posing beside a snow dog at the snow covered Saitama University field
Enjoying the snow with the wide, snow covered field at Saitama Daigaku
I lost my older photos on my experiences of snow in Japan. All were damaged beyond recovery by the floods of 2009 including photos I took with other foreign students at Yokohama National University. The forecast for Wednesday is snow in Tokyo and some more on Thursday. It would be nice to experience snow again and this time with the Clairvoyant who will also be in Tokyo next week. It will be her first despite traveling to the US, Canada and countries in Europe so it will definitely be a memorable trip for us.

Friday, February 14, 2014

UP Diliman's Beach House

Word got out that the Beach House, a popular eatery behind the Main Library building of the University of the Philippines Diliman, was closing down. This was after so many years of feeding so many students at UP Diliman. It is so popular for its affordable food featuring barbecues, munggo, misua and other typical turo turo fare that alumni keep coming back to have lunch at the restaurant. It is also favored by many faculty and staff as well as employees from nearby offices. Its peculiar name is said to come from its location between the library and the vast Sunken Garden and the sandy texture of the soil around it. Then, there is the structure providing shelter for the kitchen and the staff that resembles a cottage in a beach, and the outdoor tables and chairs. The barbecue is grilled outside and away from the dining area so as to keep the smoke away from customers.

I first ate at the Beach House when I was a freshman Engineering student in 1988. We ate here usually during Saturdays and just before formations for our Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC). Every since that time, we had occasionally eaten there - not everyday but at least a few times in a month. There are many other eateries and canteens on campus and we didn't have lunch everyday at UP because of our schedules and the occasional trip to the newly opened SM City North EDSA.

Pork barbecue, salted egg, tomatoes, misua soup, bananas with tapioca and leche flan
Outdoor barbecue grill

It turns out that the contract of the concessionaire for the Beach House is up and as per government regulations, it was put up for bidding. Unfortunately, the current and only concessionaire for the last so many years lost the bidding so they have to move out eventually and within the year. I don't know when that will be but it is likely that they only have this semester remaining or perhaps until summer to pack-up and clear the way for a new concessionaire. While it is likely that the next one will be serving their own version of barbecue, there are no guarantees for the quality of the food. To be fair, we don't know yet who won. And so we should give them the benefit of the doubt in so far as their food is concerned. I guess the only regret for many concerns their being sentimental about the original Beach House. There are just too many memories for a lot of people (several generations at that) so it won't be easy for people to let go of the old Beach House (or at least its old concessionaire).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Requiem for a barber

I learned over the weekend that my favorite barber passed away last week. Mang Alim was my barber from way back. If my memory serves me right, way back is freshman high school (1983). The only long spells from that time when I had my haircut elsewhere were the times I was in Japan studying (1996-1999) or as a Visiting Scientist (2001). I had no choice but to find a good barbershop there and was fortunate to have a suking barbero in Meguro, Tokyo.

I remember Alim had no questions or never contradicted the instructions given to him by his clients, whether they were suki (regulars) or new with the barbershop. He was always the silent type and seldom spoke or related tsismis (rumors) or other stories such as people would expect from traditional barber shops (i.e., kwentong barbero). We were regulars for a long time that whenever I or my father arrived at the barber shop, we were always given preferential treatment, going ahead of other customers except other regulars who were also familiar faces.

He always knew what to do when I sat on the barber's chair
Middle of last year, Alim wasn't around when I came for my regular, end of the month haircut. When I returned the following weekend, he was there and related that he was sick. He shyly asked me if I could help him with his medicines as the doctor prescribed several including expensive antibiotics. I didn't think twice and gave him money to purchase medicines. The following month he seemed better and asked me to grant him some time for him to repay the money he borrowed. I told him he didn't have to pay me and jokingly told him to give my father a free haircut when he comes to the shop. That was the last time I had a haircut with him as barber. 

Here's a toast to a decent person whom I consider as a friend. May your soul rest in peace Alim!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snacks: Pocky chocolate Midi

I like eating pretzels. But for this post I will not talk about the "Auntie Anne" type of pretzels but instead feature snacks that I usually get whenever I'm in Japan. Glico produces a line of pretzel snacks under the Pocky brand. Pocky chocolate Midi by Glico is part of their dessert line-up and features a shorter but thicker stick. The chocolate is also more generous compared to its regular Pocky sticks (the regular ones in the red box and the bitter variety in the green boxed Men's Pocky).

Pocky chocolate Midi boxes contained 12 sticks.
A description of each chocolate covered pretzel stick is stated at the back of the box.
There are 3 packs of 4 sticks each inside the box so one doesn't have to feel obliged to consume all 12 sticks in one sitting.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Wild Flour Croughnuts

I couldn't write about Wild Flour and not mention what a lot of people came there for. While the items on their menu are really good. There's one item that people specifically desired and not just one at a time but a lot - croughnuts. There was a craze for a combination croissant and doughnut that Wild Flour became well known for. It's probably because their version was and is perceived as the best. They did start the craze which influenced others to follow suit and offer their own versions of the croughnut. In fact, their croughnuts were so popular that the supply at their BGC branch is depleted even before lunch time. And they had to impose a quota so people won't just buy a lot and leave others unable to get even one croughnut.

One cannot say he or she has tasted a croughnut until he or she has eaten The Croughnut from Wild Flour. And I can say this as I tasted the croughnuts of the competition before I had tasted Wild Flour's. It is the real deal and something that you would probably go back and line up for. The difference, I think, lies in the dough. It's not the consistency of a croissant nor a donut. It's not flaky (like your typical croissant) or soft (like your regular donuts). And the fillings and toppings are excellently fused into the pastry so each bite is a guaranteed treat.

Dulce de leche
I've been informed that nowadays there are no more limits to the number of croughnuts you can order or purchase at a time from Wild Flour. Perhaps the demand has waned? I'm sure that there's still a high demand for these but knowing they only make a few, it seems the supply is limited so towards the end of the day, there are only a few, if any, available for sale. I would like to think that people would likely have settled for the other croughnuts as they are more accessible (there are only a few Wild Flour branches) and less expensive than the goodies from Wild Flour. Still, when there's craving for the best it helps to know that its still available and now there are no lines or quotas for the croughnuts. Maybe the limitation now is with you. That is, what your blood sugar or blood pressure will allow you to consume!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Breakfast by the sea at Sofitel Philippine Plaza

You don't really have to go to the beach in order to enjoy the seaside. In Metro Manila, there are still many places along Roxas Boulevard where one can get a clear, unimpeded and free view of the sea and a typically majestic sunset at Manila Bay. After a destructive storm surge a few years back, which destroyed much of Manila sea wall, the area has been rebuilt and is now a favorite for joggers, walkers and just about anyone who wants to wile away the time. 

The Sofitel Philippine Plaza is one if not the only remaining place in Metro Manila where you can still enjoy dining outdoors. It's Sunset Bar offers a full menu that's okay for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks. Of course, there's the hotel's Spiral restaurant and its impressive buffets but this time around we decided not to "pig out" but instead enjoy our stay by heading outdoors and enjoying our food and drinks in a less crowded area of the hotel.

It helped that the weather was excellent and temperatures were cool when we stayed at the hotel last month to celebrate the wife's birthday over a weekend. There were no stinky smells from the sea. The comfy temperatures and low humidity surely contributed to this and made the outdoors very pleasant. We thought that it was a pity a lot of people stayed indoors instead of spending some time outside to enjoy the nice weather and surroundings.

Hotel staff have the seaside cushioned mats and tables ready for guests. The buildings in the horizon are of SM's Mall of Asia. On a clear day, one can see the province of Cavite further on.
Here's a view of Manila Bay towards the direction of Bataan and Corregidor.
The hotel is relatively near the airport and the flight paths of aircraft takes them near the area of the hotel.
The coconut trees added to the ambiance as aircraft flew above us.
Our Filipino breakfast of tapas and longanisa (local sausages), eggs and fried rice were served by staff. Not pictured are our drinks - juice for me and coffee for the wife.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chocolate review: Royce' Pure Chocolate

Celebrating the Clairvoyant's birthday last January, we decided to get us some chocolate to enjoy over the weekend. Conveniently, there was a Royce' chocolate stand nearby from where we had our lunch and it was some time since we had Royce' so we got a box to tide us over the weekend (Note: We finished the box about a month after.).

The box of Royce' Pure Chocolate consists of two types of chocolates: Venezuela Bitter and Ghana Sweet. Both are dark chocolates but with the first having a more pronounced bitter taste than the second.

The packaging indicates the kinds of chocolates within the box
The back has information on ingredients and maker
Removing the wrapper shows a white box with the same info in the front...
...and the back.
The goodies inside the box are individually wrapped.
As expected Royce' chocolates did not disappoint and each serving was delightfully smooth dark chocolate that's perfect foil for savory lunches and dinners. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lunch at Wild Flour

The Clairvoyant and I had a light lunch at Wild Flour at the Podium in Ortigas. It was my first time to eat at the restaurant despite our planning to lunch or dine at the branch at Bonifacio Global City. It turned out that the branch at The Podium didn't have the same menu as the one at BGC. The former was simpler, apparently considering the typical crowd having lunch in the area. We ordered tuna melt sandwich and baked macaroni. The Clairvoyant ordered their garlic bomb, which was a pastry with roasted garlic inside. The bomb was a pleasant surprise as the garlic was "melt in your mouth" and sweet. It went well as a side to the baked mac (which was also very good according to the wife). I had fresh greens to go with my tuna melt, and I can say that that sandwich was the best tuna melt I've had. It's a no fuzz sandwich with just the tuna and cheese on good bread. Opting for the greens instead of the potato chips made it a healthy meal just the way I liked it.

Tuna melt with fresh green salad on the side
Baked macaroni
Something missing with the Wild Flour experience? That's probably going to be in the post. :-)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chocolate review: Chocolates El Rey

Last year, the Clairvoyant received a pack of chocolates as pasalubong from a colleague from Venezuela. Chocolates El Rey reminded me of the Scharffen Berger chocolates we bought whenever we were in San Francisco, CA. Reading the labels on each chocolate, I decided to hit the internet to check out the translations. And so I learned some terms that aptly described each square of chocolate. "Chocolates El Rey" translates into "king of chocolates" or "chocolate king." "Chocolate blanco" is white chocolate. "Chocolate con leche" is milk chocolate. And "chocolate oscuro" is dark chocolate.

The chocolates are in a plastic package that reminded us of Toblerone. There are 12 tablets in the package.
Icoa on the left is white chocolate while Caoba on the right is milk chocolate with 41% cacao
Bucare on the left is dark chocolate with 58.5% cacao while on the right is Mijao, which is dark chocolate
Gran saman is dark chocolate with 70% cacao and Apamate is dark chocolate with 73.5% cacao.
Information on the maker of the chocolates that originated from Venezuela
Additional info on the other end of the package showing the weight of each tablet/square.
The chocolates were smooth and made you crave for more. I think it was best to package it in tablets because it would have been hard to stop eating the chocolates once you started. We really liked it that we were able to distinguish the dark chocolates according to the cacao content so it was an enjoyable experience for these chocolates. The "chocolate king" tag is well deserved.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chocolate review: Dude, Sweet Chocolate

The Clairvoyant took home a curious box of chocolates given as pasalubong by her boss from Dallas, Texas. I found it a bit funny that the packaging looked like a spent tube of toilet paper but then the wife mentioned that this is a popular brand in Dallas and thereabouts. The name made me remember an old film that features a young Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner - "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Really now...what does the packaging look like to you? :-)
The chocolate boasts of all-natural ingredients.
I tend to agree with the use of the "devour" term here.
The chocolate actually reminded us of chocolate crinkles. If these were chocolate crinkles, I would say they are of the highest quality and among the best we've tasted.