printed feb 22, 2010 evmail lifestyle 2.0.
I am one who can not say no to any chance that will take me away from my mundane and almost routine super promdi living. So, when Ormoc native Jed Enfectana and my ex-workmate Bing Gaston, whose family name alone would reveal that she is from Negros Occidental, announced in our notorious Facebook thread that they will be tying the knot in Bacolod very soon, I was ecstatic not only because I played cupid to the two when they first met here at Sabin Resort some two years ago, but because it will be a much-needed respite. The minute I received their wedding invitation, I already booked a ticket to Bacolod and asked a friend to book me a room at the swanky and spanking new L’Fisher Chalet Tower II
It’s not my first time to visit this cleanest and greenest highly urbanized city at the northwestern coast of the Province of Negros Occidental. Known for its moniker “The City of Smiles” and “Sugarlandia”. Bacolod is a progressive city, and since every modern Filipino gauges the progress and indication of the economic activity in a city by the size of an SM City Mall. Well, SM City Bacolod is huge! Of late, Bacolod is already enjoying the Philippines’ sunshine industry – It is now known as the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) gateway to Western Visayas. Several big BPO companies are now in Bacolod, it is a testament of its continued progress.
Everytime I travel, I always make it a point to not just do sight-seeing or shopping, but to make it a gastronomic adventure. It is in travels like these that I get to actually taste and enjoy great food, or try something that’s brand new to my palate. I will also be able to recreate the ooohs and aaahs travel hosts do when they taste the food in places they feature, and of course to get acquainted with exotic, bizarre and interesting food/ingredients – by that I mean stuff that’s not found in our mercado or our Gaisano and in our limited culinary fare here in Ormoc. You see, I am a completely untrained, unaccomplished culinary oaf (my weight is a dead giveaway to that) with absolutely no expertise in food. But I have exquisite taste buds and a penchant for experimenting. I religiously watch food and cooking shows and was greatly influenced by my mother who is an accomplished culinaire‘.
city of smiles
I first came to Bacolod in 2008 and vowed to come here often, and one reason is that I was not able to visit a lot of restaurants that friends recommended. Bacolod is just teeming with eateries serving a wide array of cuisine, from heirloom local cuisine to fusion. The culture of a place can easily be seen and dissected through their food. So weeks before the trip I researched anything and everything about food in Bacolod, the must go to restaurants, and the must try. I double checked that I have my list with me before I hopped on the turbo prop aircraft that will take me from Mactan-Cebu to the City of Smiles.
We touched down at the New Bacolod-Silay airport just before sundown, some friends from Ormoc and other common friends-slash-ex-officemates and I, we’re greeted by Bacoleno Alex Alegarbis, also an ex-workmate and knows the city like the back of his hands. He was the perfect tour guide slash driver.
So we headed directly to L’Fisher Chalet Hotel conveniently located in Lacson St., Bacolod’s major thoroughfare. The posh hotel is a work of art. The lobby and the spacious rooms are laden with clean lines and monochromatic colors. It was like Philippe Starck meets Kenneth Cobonpue, it has a certain élan that’s truly Bacolod.
After checking-in at the hotel, the next agenda was dinner, and of course it had to be at Manokan Country located in the reclamation area which is downtown near the Plaza and SM City. Everyone who visits this city must pay homage to the holy chicken or else they cannot truly say that they have been to Bacolod. It would be like going to Japan and never eating sushi, or Italy and never having pasta. I know you get it. Everyone in this city comes here if they crave for authentic chicken inasal – in other words the real Louis Vuittons and Balenciagas will almost certainly be brushing shoulders with their first class tiangge doppelgangers at the Manokan Country, it is a good sign.
Manokan Country is a kuya version of our Barbecue Park sans the troublesome health/hygiene conditions. Chicken inasal is the most raved among Negrense specialties and can be found anywhere, like in Bacolod Chicken House or Chicken Deli, but nothing beats the ambience and experience at Manokan Country. We went to a stall named Nena’s. Alex said they are the one that serves the best-est chicken inasal. I was lucky also that there was this manang who sold big succulent fresh “sisi” or oysters. It was a steal at Php 30.00 per plate (around 30-35 pieces). They steam and shuck it for you. They were so fresh and devoid of any metallic after taste, like the ones we get from most buffets in Cebu. Gil Abano finished a whole platter of them babies. You are expected to eat with your bare hands here, kinamot only. It’s déclassé if you don’t, kinamot is the best way to eat and savor chicken inasal. But not to worry, almost all the stalls are equipped with sinks, hand soap and hand dryer.
They have unusual and hefty chicken cuts, there’s the paa (thigh and leg), pecho-pak (breast and wings) and just all wings. The chicken inasal was ambrosia! I saw Joel Gaquit cartwheel after his first bite! We all heaped praises upon the barbecued chicken. It was inarguably the best chicken barbecue in the known universe. Namit ah! And for a party of eight voracious eaters – the bill was surprisingly trivial.
A bottle full of orange tinted oil was sitting along with the toyo and native vinegar in the condiments tray, I was told that one will drizzle it in rice (bahug) para lami daw ang kaon, so I non-chalantly coated my rice with it and boy, It was the best! I later freaked out when I learned that the achuete oil was made out of rendered chicken fat and the color was from the achuete. It was a heart attack inside a bottle! I popped a double dose of my Diovan medication on our way out of the resto.
Joie de Vivre!
Bacolod’s night life is alive! There are lots of bars scattered all over the city, and even more at the Goldenfield Commercial Complex, a popular commercial center in Bacolod. From clubs, bars to restaurants, it has something for everyone. We barhopped and met fellow Ormocanons, Nacho Pangilinan and Tingtong Rodriguez who were also in town for the wedding. We went to Sibeeria where they serve you only sub zero beer, the crowd there was
great.The pulutan in most bars in Bacolod, like in Sibeeria, are gustatory delights, something that you don’t expect from a barchow. We then hopped to Ice Bar. It was jampacked. Good thing Alex got us the VIP room, and so panic attacks were at bay. The music the dj spinned was luxury house and then it shifts to electro then onto progressive, fun! Bacoleno’s has this joie de vivre that just rubs off on you. If I may add, people in Bacolod always dress to impress. So the bars are filled with people dressed to the hilt. Go to their SM and you’ll think everyone is going to a party. I felt a little too underdressed at the mall in my staple “malling” uniform: shorts and rubber shoes.
Alex then took us to a cansi house for a night cap, the name of the place escapes me – well, I was a little inebriated when we went there. There are lots of Kansi houses in bizBacolod like Timeout, Sharyn’s and in the Shopping district.
Alex said, Kansi is to Bacolod, as Pochero is to Cebu, Bulalo is to Batangas and Pacdol at Doro’s is to Ormoc. Kansi is a bone-in beef shank sour soup. They use the batwan as a souring agent. It’s much oilier than the pochero – and of course it comes with the customary cardiac delight – the bone marrow! I fell in love with the dish. If only I can get lucky and chance up on the rare batwan in our mercado and I’ll recreate the dish for family and friends.
Cafe Uma & La Calea
The next day, I woke up too late for the free breakfast at the hotel, but my stomach is grumbling and I can’t wait for lunch anymore. So I checked my list and saw Café Uma. Jude Bacalso sent me a private message in Facebook, telling me to not dare miss Café Uma. The hotel concierge revealed that it was just right next door. It was a simple café slash trattoria. I had the Smoked Malasugue salad which was absolutely divine in a
refreshing kind of way! Fresh Romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes and artichokes drizzled with balsamic vinegar and the finest of olive oil (first cold press, most likely from some Italian estate) and then topped with generous slices of smoked malasugue (you can opt for smoked salmon too) and another dressing with hints of dill. It was the best salad I ever had, bar none. It has a certain je ne sais quoi that I find very appealing.
Then I had the bouillabaisse, it was Café Uma’s owner Chef Juan Miguel Gaston’s take on the traditional Provençal fish stew. It came in a small bowl, almost like a demitasse, but the soup was something! It was decadent. Unlike your traditional bouillabaisse, the seafood was finely chopped and it was laced with truffle oil, I think. It came with garlic bread smothered with melted fresh mozzarella.
Then to satiate my hunger, I ordered the clubhouse sandwich, a little too
American for a trattoria, I know. Boy oh boy! It was a sandwich that’s only for the really, really hungry! It was a triple decker wheat bread sandwich. The first deck was overloaded with bacon; the second deck was cramped with chicken that was perfectly grilled and seasoned just right, and then scrambled egg and a rather mellow kind of cheese, lettuce and apples. It came with a heaping side of mixed salad greens drizzled with balsamic and olive oil dressing, plus a mound of handcut fries. It was one brunch that’ll cause me sleepless nights. The place is warm and cozy and they’re reasonably priced – a little pricey actually, but what you will enjoy are culinary creations that are bordering on the artisanal. The service was attentive yet unobtrusive. This lunch room was filled with busy executives; matrons who came from jogging having a tête-à-tête over what I think were blinis and caviar. They were in candy colored track suits and rubber shoes plus diamonds whose sizes borders on the vulgar and their de rigueur designer handbags sans the screaming logos, and a bunch of tikalon middle aged guys (I was eavesdropping)! Café Uma is a must try when you’re in Bacolod. Besides the food, it’s a good place for social voyeurism, mind you.
For dessert, I walked to the other side of the hotel and went to La Calea, a very popular pastry shop. I’m not much of a sweet tooth but I tried their triple chocolate mousse, it was delicious, I rate it at maybe 8 out of 10, edible, but not really cartwheel material. Their pastries are not so sweet. That is the highest compliment to cakes and pastry in the Philippines. Their selection is really vast. However, I would fail the place on ambience, it is a little too futuristic for a pastry shop though – I like my pastry shop to be like that of an English bakery, homey, country. But for what it’s worth, La Calea is a must try too.
Jed and Bing chose the penthouse of L’Fisher Chalet Tower II for their wedding reception right after their wedding mass at the chapel inside the exclusive Santa Clara Village. The penthouse is a really hip place with a stunning view of the city and there’s actually a swimming pool up there, the Starck-Cobonpue inspiration is continued up here too. The food was great! Alex was even surprised, because for years, L’Fisher is known for mediocre food. It was a feast, a culinary fête in a buffet table that seemed to be endless! Spicy hand breaded squid, tanguigue fillet swimming in olive oil with chopped green olives, capers and dill, a beef stew that tasted so good, I went for a third helping. The dessert selection was to die for…platters upon platters of blueberry cheese cake! And the flowing booze? Ah, nobody is complaining.
After Imay’s we headed to the border of Bacolod and Talisay City to see the Ruins. A rather new, but actually very ‘old’, Bacolod tourist site is The Ruins. Situated amongst the farmlands in Talisay City, this heritage site is fast become a very popular Bacolod tourist attraction. The structure of The Ruins is of Italianate architecture with neo-Romanesque columns, having a very close semblance to the façade of Carnegie Hall in New York City. In New England, they often were homes to ship’s captains. A belvedere on the 2nd floor, facing west, affords a beautiful view of the sunset in a glassed-in sunroom with bay windows. The mansion was built in the early 1900’s by the sugar baron, Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson. One of the sons supervised the construction of the
mansion making certain that the A-grade mixture of concrete and its pouring was precisely followed. The mansion met its sad fate in the early part of World War II when the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East), then guerilla fighters in the Philippines, burnt the mansion to prevent the Japanese forces
from utilizing it as their headquarters. It took days of inferno to bring down the roof and the 2-inch wooden floors.
The Bacolod Ruins, or Talisay Ruins as it is also called by some, has been a popular venue for Bacolod weddings, special events and parties. The most recent addition to this tourist spot is a mini-golf within the grounds of the site. The owners are continuously developing the area and adding new stuff to do so it will remain a top tourist attraction. Even for the Bacolod and Talisay residents and locals, it has become a place for family bonding activities and fun.
After visiting the ruins, we went back to the city to buy pasalubong. First we went to Virgie’s were we went gaga over their wide array of delicacies.The quintessential piaya, then of one should not forget the barquillos in different thickness and length (and they also have a much special version that’s made
of goat’s milk), consilva (we typically call it pinasugbo), then biscocho, mammon, bañadas, and then of course the napoleones. We also went to Bongbongs, which probably is the most popular pasalubong center and then we also went to Merci’s. I got crazy, went overboard, pardon the impulsive shopper. So, when I reached the airport I realized that there is such thing as excess baggage! I had a bog box and a small box all brimming with Bacolod delicacies.
Well, before we went to the airport, I insisted that we go to El Ideal so we I can have a taste of their fresh lumpia and their pies. El Ideal is Silay city’s oldest, if not the province’s oldest bakery. It is underneath an old bahay na bato – they say it was their first and only location. At the back of my mind, I was
telling myself that it seems a bitfrivolous to pay for excess baggage because of these delicacies, particularly since the pleasure is so fleeting. But that is precisely why I consider myself lucky to be able to indulge like this every so often. And I can always make a Consuelo de bobo assurance that this is market research for Ikea! When we took off and saw Bacolod from a distance, I imagined that I was at the Trevi fountain, tossed a coin and wished that I’ll be back in Bacolod very very soon!
Without doubt the only reason why Bacolod is enjoying what it is now is because here the old is treasured, preserved, and honored, while the new is embraced, accepted, and developed.