Monday, June 30, 2014

Balai Pandesal

There is a pandesalan along Commonwealth Avenue in the Fairview district that's been highly recommended by friends residing in the area. Their pandesal is not marketed as "pugon" pandesal, referring to the earthen ovens that use wood as fuel for the fires. However, their pandesal is very tasty and one will surely remark that eating it doesn't require palaman. Since we are usually travel to Novaliches to lunch with my in-laws on Sundays, we quickly became regulars of Balai Pandesal. They also have other bread products like bread loafs, ensaymada (pastry usually topped with cheese or margarine and sugar) and pan de coco (buns with coconut filling). I like their "kalihim" that is basically a roll with a sweet red, blue or mixed sweet filling. These are perfect for merienda with whatever drink on the side.

Balai Pandesal is located along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City in the Fairview area.
Also popular at Balai Pandesal are their toasted siopaos. My father-in-law tells us that toasted siopao is very popular in Bicol and that they enjoyed these during their childhood years back in Naga City. I've seen some shops sprouting around Antipolo selling these toasted siopao claiming theirs to be "Bicol's Best." I have tasted a couple of their asado but I think Balai Pandesal's version is tastier.

Their toasted siopao is good and you have a choice of bola-bola or asado just like the conventional siopao.
So whenever you happen to be in the Fairview area and traveling along Commonwealth Avenue, be sure to try out Balai Pandesal. It's along the northbound side of Commonwealth and right after the Mercury Drug branch across from Puregold. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Another farewell to a teacher

He was supposed to be a terror teacher. At least that was what a lot of people were saying prior to our enlisting under him for our first taste of Structural Engineering back when we were university students in the early 1990s. We really had no choice at the time as there was only one section for CE 150, which focused on the design of steel structures. Dr. Ernesto Tabujara had just returned from a sabbatical after serving as Chancellor of UP Diliman and, according to those who appeared to be in the know at the time, devoting time to a leading consulting firm that he had established with his friends and colleagues. 

I have fond memories of Dr. Tabujara or "Tabu" as he is referred to by students during my time at the university. He had a lot of stories to tell and did so as he discussed design principles to our class. I remember that we were both awed and afraid of him whenever we were in the classroom. Awed because we have heard a lot about him and his accomplishments. Afraid because of his reputation as a terror professor that preceded even our enlistment in his class. He was very sharp and didn't need notes or textbooks to guide him in his lectures though he usually brought with him our text book that he usually opened only to give problems for our homework. He never returned any of the problem sets we submitted to him that semester nor did he give any long exams. He did give us a take home final exam that included instructions to state that we did the exam by ourselves and without help from other people. We did so but come enlistment for the second semester, he still had not given us our grades so we couldn't enlist in the next subject (CE 151) because we needed to hurdle its CE 150 prerequisite.

Desperate to complete our enlistment for the semester, we hatched an idea to find him and ask him about our grades. We knew that he played tennis every morning at the courts near Melchor Hall and so we bravely went there and short of pleaded for our grades. He didn't get angry with us and told us to see him at his home at the campus later. We did go to his house afterwards and again waited for him. After making some small talk (I remember he seemed amused at us and our persistence for our grades.) he told us to go back to the Department office and to wait for him there. Back at the office, he arrived some minutes after and proceeded to joke with another professor, the late Dean Marino Mena, that it seems that they were now becoming kinder professors and not the terrors they "used to be." We got our grades then and these were high marks that we were very happy about given Tabu's reputation.

Later, during my graduating semester at UP, I would always take time to arrive early for my Physical Education classes at the UP tennis court (Yes, I reserved the last semester for this so I could get the much in-demand tennis as a PE. Graduating students were priority in registration and this included enlistment in PE.) just to watch him play. I was happy that he remembered me from his class. Modesty aside but I did well under him so I had nothing to be shy about as he was surprisingly approachable for a terror teacher. He would always greet us after his doubles matches and asked us if we were improving our game. No academic talk here, only light talk about tennis. I think I was always conscious when we played as I was aware that he might be watching us to see if we hit the ball correctly.

I would eventually return to UP as a faculty member at what is now the Institute of Civil Engineering. He once expressed his appreciation to us that we decided to join the faculty. He did say that the Department needed young blood and told us in his usual tone that we should do our best to continue the tradition of excellence of UP civil engineering. The last time I saw him was last year when he was speaker at the Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series (DALS) of the College of Engineering. He was obviously older and weaker (they had to assist him to the stage), likely due to health issues he had battled a while back. These same health issues have stopped him from playing his beloved sport of tennis and prevented him from taking the long walks around the campus that had substituted for tennis.

Last Friday, June 20, we learned of his passing due to heart failure at the Philippine Heart Center. He was 85 and lived a full life. He will be remembered as a good teacher (terror or not) and a good colleague at the old Department. Thank you Dr. Tabujara for the knowledge you shared with us and the stories that also enriched our understanding of civil engineering - and life in general.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Chocolate review: Valrhona Noir Tainori

Our hoard of chocolate still includes a few bars of Valrhona that I got from the airport during a trip earlier this year. These include a couple of bars of Tainori, which is definitely a splendid chocolate. We already had a taste of this as part of a 4-bar sampler package that I recall I still have to write about and soon.

Valrhona Tainori is 64% cacao and true to its billing as "fruity and intense"

Detailed information at the back gives additional background on the cacao like its being sourced from the Dominican Republic. I assume this is single origin cocoa, which adds to the quality and value of the chocolate.

Valrhona Tainori 70g retails for about 310 PHP at the Duty Free Shop at NAIA Terminal 2 [Note: You can get a 5% discount if you avail of their "travel light" promo.]. It could probably retail for 325 to 350PHP at a regular supermarket so it is not cheap. I don't know exactly how much it retails in other countries (it's likely cheaper overseas and in other airports like Changi or HK) but I think it is worth the price. It's just not for your regular serving of chocolate and not for the chocolate-lover on a budget.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lessons from basketball

The San Antonio Spurs won their 5th NBA title last Monday (Sunday in the US). I would say that I was very happy for them. They were not my team. I was even rooting for Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. But I started rooting for them in this season after they overcame the Mavericks in 7 games. To me, it looked like they were on to something and their play epitomised the teamwork necessary to beat teams that usually featured 1-2 or 1-2-3 punches. The spurs were more like 1-2-3-4-5 and then some punches. Not as strong as the 1-2 or 1-2-3 but with 12 guys could really put the hurt on another team. That was what they did to their opponents in the Western Conference Finals who had that 1-2 combination, and that was what took it to beat the Miami Heat (1-2-3 and possibly a 4) in the Finals.

We were joking about the Western Conference Finals that featured the Oklahoma City Thunder agains the Spurs. People were jokingly referring to the latter as "Tanders," which sounded like "thunder" but was an allusion to the ageing line-up of the Spurs. Tim Duncan alone has put in 15 seasons of basketball and is probably the only player who's won NBA titles in three (yes, 3) different decades. 30-somethings are already "old" in a very competitive league that features much physicality. But then the Spurs gave their opponents a lesson in basketball and to some extent, life. They played basic basketball with the movement, passing, and shooting that was how the game was supposed to be played. It was not a case of "me" but of "we" for this team that didn't have the egos or superstar complexes you'd see in other teams. Their 1-2-3 were at least par or inferior to other teams with similar big threes or big twos and their crew was eventually what made the difference in their match-ups.

I think this teamwork is very much applicable to life in general as there are many activities or tasks where teamwork or working together with a group is important in order to accomplish your objectives. Perhaps that is what sets aside certain people we regard as leaders as they can involve other people and make them perform better sometimes even with his/her presence alone. Talent alone does not lead to success. Otherwise, the Thunder and Heat teams could have simply steamrolled against the Spurs. Michael Jordan realised that in the 80's and had to have and involve the Bulls teammates that he had in the 1990's to win championships. Of course, the Lakers, Celtics and Pistons teams of the 1980's also demonstrated the value of teamwork and it is clear that their results are testaments to this lesson.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Salcedo weekend market

It's been quite some time now since I were at a weekend market in Makati. I couldn't even remember the last time so it must be about a decade ago that we were both at either the Salcedo or Legazpi weekend markets. Last weekend though we thought about going there as we took a friend of the wife's from Singapore for breakfast. The original idea was to take him for breakfast at a restaurant in Greenbelt but then I proposed we go instead to Salcedo market given the good weather that morning and so our guest could have an experience of outdoors in Manila instead of going to a mall. Salcedo market was a winner and we ended up having Cebu lechon, chicken adobo and fried lumpia that we washed down with fresh fruit shakes (watermelon and mango). This was basically brunch and no longer breakfast but we all enjoyed the meal and I'm sure our guest also had a good experience.

All kinds of barbecues are available at the different stalls so there's beef, pork, chicken or seafood and whatever else you can or want to barbecue.
Another stall had grilled catfish and rellenong bangus (milkfish). Staff at the different stalls were dressed up for the Philippines' Independence Day last June 12.
We thought it was just impossible to enjoy the food from all the stalls. There's a lot of international food here as many expats and other foreigners have stalls featuring food from their countries. I think the Salcedo and Legazpi markets are perfect for those wanting a taste of authentic dishes and other treats from all over the world.

We promised to ourselves that we will be back for more so we are already looking forward to going to any of the weekend markets soon.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Katsu Japanese Grill at The Fort Strip

Parking at The Fort Strip last week, I noticed that a restaurant we had wanted to check out was open and so I asked the Clairvoyant to have dinner out instead. I was fetching her from her office that evening as she arrived from her out-of-town workshop and coming to Bonifacio Global City I  already saw the monstrous traffic jam along the direction home. We always thought it was best to have dinner out before embarking on our trip home so we won't have to suffer hunger should we be trapped in a jam.

Katsu is a nice restaurant at The Fort Strip along the driveway of the open parking lot facing 26th Street. I usually parked in this area whenever I have meetings in the nearby buildings so the establishments here are quite familiar to me. There are many restaurants at BGC offering really good Japanese food (ramen, katsu, barbecue, yakitori, etc.) so we just had to check it out also for future reference when we take family or friends out to lunch or dinner.

The maguro sashimi was very good and we noted that it looked and tasted like they were really careful with the preparation. Sushi in other restaurants aren't as fresh and in some were obviously defrosted a few minutes before they were served (may ice pa!).
Goma for grinding before we mixed with the katsu sauce.
A generous serving of rosu katsu with the salad on the side and a cup of rice for a complete meal. The katsu's breading and frying was perfect and the meat wasn't too fatty for a rosu.
Katsu provided us with a good dining experience mainly because of the well prepared, high quality food that we ate there. I am not a food blogger so I'm giving it straight - Katsu is the real deal! Good food and with prices that won't hurt your wallet so there's value for money. The service is also good as the staff are attentive and kind. I hope they do well in the very competitive restaurant market at BGC and The Fort Strip. There's always room for a good katsu restaurant in this rapidly expanding CBD.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Breakfast favourites

It is not often that we get to enjoy the breakfast buffet at Sofitel's Spiral restaurant. But when we do, we sort of indulge in the experience. Spiral for us offers the best buffet in Metro Manila and arguably in the country. We have dined there with friends and have taken visitors there to enjoy their lunch and dinner buffets. So far, they have been perfect and until now we have yet to really "maximize" the food and drinks available. The variety can be overwhelming and we always remind ourselves or tell friends to not eat much prior to going for Spiral's buffets. Sayang lang kung busog ka at hindi mo ma-enjoy any pagkain. 

I took this photo of the Spiral sign and it turned out well.
Muesli with fresh yogurt - I have always enjoyed cereals and great hotels always have really good muesli. The yogurt is an added bonus.
Dried fish, noodles and sautéed vegetables - something quite typical for Filipino breakfasts.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Chocolate review: Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate

We have heard and read about Malagos chocolate and wondered where we can get get their single origin 65% dark chocolate from cacao grown in Davao. The first time I read about the chocolate was online and there was a list of stores where you could purchase a bar or more of the chocolate. None of the stores were near my office so I couldn't buy a bar and we couldn't sample this chocolate that we have been curious about for some time.

Fortunately, the wife had to get some pasalubong (souvenirs) that she could give out some to friends when she met them in a conference she attended last May. While looking for the good quality dried mangoes and some handicrafts, she chanced upon a store selling Malagos chocolate at Bonifacio Global City. Remembering that this was the chocolate we read about, she got a couple of bars that we could enjoy and another few bars that she could give away to friends.

Malagos single origin dark chocolate has 65% cacao. 

More information on the chocolate is at the back of the box.
Though I may appear biased, I would say that Malagos chocolate is the real deal when it comes to dark chocolate. We were pleasantly surprised on its smoothness. There is the hint of bitterness there that is usually associated with dark chocolates. This bitter taste can be overwhelming in other chocolates that are branded dark with at least 50% cacao (those with less than 50% are usually sweet and may not even have a hint of bitter in them). Malagos is definitely a refined chocolate and something you will be proud to give away to chocolate loving friends; especially those who are more picky about their chocolates. It is a chocolate bar you can give away to friends from other countries including (dare I say) those with excellent chocolates like the Belgians and Swiss. I hope the makers come up with other variants of their chocolate including something with higher cacao content. 

The price of a bar at the shop where my wife purchased the chocolate is 180 PhP. That's about the same price as the Chocolat Stella and Emergency chocolate bars I've written about recently. I think the price is relatively inexpensive for a high quality chocolate like Malagos and this is definitely value for money as I again dare say that the taste is right there with the Varhona's that I've also written about but are more on the expensive side.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer treats - Carmen's Best Ice Cream

It's still quite hot these days so despite it being the month of June, summer seems to be pretty much in effect. Summer brings along with it a fondness for cold refreshments such as halu-halo, fruit shakes, and ice cream. And so these are still "uso" or in season. I personally like ice cream more than the other delights of summer with the exception of fresh fruits (nothing beats mangoes, kaimito, atis, etc.). And it's a good things there's a lot of ice cream brands and flavours to choose from. It helps that there are also many ice cream/gelato shops around including Bar Dolci and Gelatissimo, which serve some of the best ice cream. There are also the artisan brands of which I have so far only tasted Sebastian's and, recently, Carmen's Best.

I saw a sign stating a coffee shop was selling Tablea chocolate cakes as I was driving along Marcos Highway in Antipolo City, and was curious enough to check it out the next time I was driving through the area (which was quite regular because it was along my commute). As I parked my car in front of the shop though, I noticed another sign saying they sold Carmen's Best ice cream. The wife told me about this some time ago though I don't remember her saying she has tasted it. Likely, someone told her that it was good artisan ice cream. I ended up getting a couple of pints of different flavours so we could finally taste the product.

I first heard about Carmen's Best from the wife and saw one sign along Katipunan Road in White Plains that indicated the ice cream being sold via a pre-school in the area.

A pint sold for 395 PhP, which I thought was priced as much as or higher the Haagen Dazs. I think this was fair for artisanal ice cream like Carmen's Best.
We like Carmen's Best's salted caramel ice cream. It's creamy and the taste is distinct from similar flavours coming out of the big companies like Nestle and Selecta. We also sampled their Butter Pecan ice cream. We thought it was okay but then it seemed to be overloaded with pecans so it was more like pecans with ice cream than ice cream with pecans. For us, the jury is still out there and we have yet to try their other flavours to check the consistency of the quality. Years back, I could say that Sebastian's, when they still had that stand in SM City North EDSA, was quite consistent with the quality of their ice cream. Hopefully, Carmen's Best is at par or better. I'm not yet sure about value for money though as I have had a lot of Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry's and Baskin Robbins before and elsewhere, these are cheaper compared to this.


Monday, June 2, 2014


I had just written about taho being part of the breakfast buffet at a business hotel at Bonifacio Global City. I mentioned that I have never seen any other local hotel serving taho and would like to see this as part of giving guests the Philippine food experience. And so it came as a surprise that I spotted a man dressed (in Filipiniana) as a taho vendor at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel's renowned Spiral! The "vendor" carried with him the two containers balanced on a bamboo pole that held the taho (tofu), sago (tapioca pearls), and arnibal (vanilla-flavored caramelised sugar syrup). The wife and I were laughing with delight as we noted that foreign visitors would be curious as to what this guy was up to as he almost hesitatingly shouted (yes he did) "taho!" as he went around Spiral for whoever wanted taho

Taho vendor complete with paraphernalia roaming Sofitel's Spiral to oblige anyone wanting to enjoy a serving (or more) of this local favourite.

A serving of taho is always delightful in the mornings and evokes happy memories during my childhood
The wife was saying she saw one woman in a nearby table order taho for her and her children but the tweeners waved their cups off while making faces indicating they didn't want any. I pity the children for not even wanting to taste taho and perhaps thinking this was some sort of dirty concoction. I would like to think of taho as part of our heritage, being part of the typical street food we enjoyed for decades if not more than a century now. It is something we should be proud of, and especially as part of a "sosyal" breakfast buffet. Great job Sofitel!