Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pinoy history on a Plate - Crisostomo Restaurant (Alabang Town Center)

Alright so I'm having a food trip.

There are several restaurants that have opened on the newly expanded Alabang Town Center and my family and I had Sunday dinner at Crisostomo, a quaint Filipino restaurant that seriously had some of the most imaginable names to favorite Filipino dishes.

First of all, I'd like to thank them for accommodating my request for reservations. While the head waiter did not initially want to take in a reservation because it was a Sunday, at my behest and begging, he finally agreed. I think that every good restaurant MUST take in the request for formal reservations. It sets the bar of the restaurant a bit higher and defuses the greed in the owners having to contend with walk-in customers. While I understand that profit is the bottom line here, I also believe that pleasing the more discerning customers are the hallmark of what a good restaurant is. Besides, it's about time that the Filipinos learn to make reservations if they want to eat good food. It's useless queuing for forever on an empty stomach only to end up disappointed.

A party of five (5), our family started off our appetizers with Tiago's Triump (Oysters baked in Bacon and Spinach on a bed of rock salt).

Drinks were ordered with the classic gulaman and sago and traditional calamansi juices

Soup followed. The traditional Tinolang Manok was called Tinolang Matanglawin. Unlike other Tinolang Manok, theirs had a twist of sweetness in the soup because of the buco (young coconut) meat which added a flare of gusto to the broth!

What was lacking, however, was that the vegetables as main ingredients were sparse. But the young coconut was a surprising revelation at how good the soup ended in the end.

Main course were the traditional Spanish Paella (Pinoy Paella) that was divinely filled with pork, shrimps, chicken and chinese sausage;

Pampano Tausi where the fish is sauteed in black tausi and tofu;

And Don Rafael (Crispy Pata), where the pork meat literally melted in your mouth and the pork skin was cooked so crispily divine that the crunch meant a bite of heaven with every munch;

And what would dinner at a Filipino restaurant be without enjoying dessert? So we had the suman (rice cake) in chocolate fondue

and turon (bananas with langka wrapped and fried) in coconut jam!!!

Both desserts were utterly divine and never mind the added calories. Today we ate, tomorrow we burn the calories gained at work or at the gym!

Pinoy food never tasted this good.

Total bill: P3022.00 ($70)
Recommendation: Highly recommended with two thumbs up for value for money and for service. It's homey ambience is a definite plus considering the fact that it's located in the lower basement of the new mall expansion wing. The staff were very attentive and nice and had that Filipino charm in them.
Would I go back? Definitely! For my foreigner friends, this place is a definite try. After all, it's really more delicious eating Pinoy food and having more fun in the Philippines over dinner!

P.F. Chang's Alabang - Authenticity is lacking

The opening of PF Chang in the Philippines, in particular at the Alabang Town Center, was a much awaited event the past week. With over 200 of this chain restaurant, PF Chang is widely popular in the United States. The first time I tasted the dishes of PF Chang was in the US, where some of my Filipino friends would invite me to dine out in this "Chinese" bistro whichever state I would be in.

While I'm not a fan (and I hope my friends don't get offended because I think some of them think that PF Chang is their definition of "Chinese" cooking), I took the time out to have dinner at the first Philippine branch located in Alabang, Muntinlupa.

Like all newbies, this restaurant was overflowing - either out of curiosity or because some were already fans. The Alabang area is the enclave of the rich and famous in Metro Manila. And while you have the A and B crowd in this part of the Metropolis, you also need to consider that the A and B crowd can get picky and tired of the same food over and over again on weekends. Which makes me wonder why for the first franchise PF Chang, Alabang was chosen as the venue to be. I doubt if the people in the Quezon City area would flock to Alabang just to have a taste of PF Chang!

The ambience at PF Chang in Alabang is a sight to behold. And unlike most the PF Changs in the US, this one stands out uniquely as one hip, chic and bold looking restaurant akin with all the modernities and yet ancient history of Chinese heritage.

The service was impeccable. For a newly opened restaurant, the servers were polite, cheery and delightfully professional. Food came on time and the waiting time was not unduly long despite the packed crowd. It was good that we had reservations and that the restaurant accepted reservations. It is always a fair suggestion to guests that when you dine out, please make sure you have a reservation so that you all don't end up starving and irritable like the other "walk-in" guests. There were foreign (American) servers who are actually here for a month or two to train the local people.

If you're into bottomless iced tea - you need to try to Tamarind Iced Tea. It's something the US market doesn't carry and it's very Filipino. It actually tasted great and refreshing.

Obviously, I cannot blog about all the food on the menu because we simply had the Spicy Shrimp for appetizers

which was hot and crunchy.

And then we had the famous Kung Pao Chicken, Salt and Pepper Prawns and DanDan Noodles for our main course.

The presentation was neat and clean and the servings were good enough for 2-3 people to eat (a bit smaller than the US servings).

Now for the verdict. While the place has potential, the food was not "Chinese" authentic enough. While it is supposed to be a more "fusion" type of Chinese dining, there is something lacking in the gustatory sense of PF Chang meals. The freshness of live seafood was utterly absent and the food tasted very western in origin lacking the Asian flavors and spices and "everything nice" to stimulate the senses of taste and smell. The food wasn't bad tasting, but it wasn't the kind that I'd really recommend friends to go to. It was, after all, just another chain restaurant from the US that lacked the authenticity and audacity of true Asian cooking. The food tasted like "fast food" meals that had staple preparations and no master chef required.

Total bill - P2150.00 ($50).
Recommendation - uhmmm....not really and I'd still recommend King Bee over PF Chang. I would still prefer to dine where the food is good and worth it rather than just dine with the bourgeois just to say that one was "sighted" dining where the stars dine. I've always told my readers that movie personalities will say anything for free meals or get paid to endorse things that are only good for their personal gains.
Will be back - uhmmm...not if I'm paying.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dipolog City - More Fun in the Philippines Stopovers!

Year in and year out, I get invitations to speak in various regions and provinces in the Philippines. Seriously, I zap in and out of my lecture venues - the typical excuse where I tell myself "been there, done that". Really now! I've never learned to appreciate much of what the provinces in the Philippines has to give.

I will take time out in my blogsite to help promote tourism in the country. It is, in reality a great one and each of the provinces have their own rich heritage that tells a story.

First stop for this year is Dipolog City.

On the northern part of Mindanao, Dipolog City (Province of Zamboanga del Norte) is the Orchid City of the Philippines. A couple of kilometers from Dipolog is Dapitan City which one can travel by land. Dapitan is where Jose Rizal our national hero was exiled after his being implicated in a rebellion in 1892. While in Dapitan, he built a school, hospital and improved the water system in the peninsula of Zamboanga.

On touchdown on a 1 hr 10 minutes flight from Manila, Dipolog is the way I remember most provincial airports from way back when I was a child. Unknown to many tourists, many of our provincial airports still look like these.

While Dipolog has already evolved with the changing landscape of urbanization, many parts of the city has remained laid back and endearing. The small stores and houses that align the well paved roads, the rows of trees that cower the hot pavement roads, the sea that laps against the beach on the narrow roads leading from one city to another remind me of the relaxing ambience awaiting me.

Dakak Resorts was way beyond my expectations of a premier resort in the midst of Dipolog. I had read unkind reviews from TripAdvisor, but I guess there were people who were expecting a full premier 5 star resort with all the sheebang and glitz of Shangrila Hotel chains and the like. I hate to spoil the fun. True that Dakak was not at par with the high-end touristy hotels, but for the price of accommodations and the quality of food that Dakak served, I had my hands down. It had one of the best meals I have ever had without the tag price from the upper ended hotels in the country where your payment goes to paying their foreign expat GMs for staying in the Philippines to run the hotels here.

The Good:

Service was excellent and the food was superb! Especially the Crispy Pata that tasted so divine - crunchy with little fat and like chicharon that was cooked to a crisp! Heaven on earth never tasted this good. Definitely the best Crispy Pata in the Philippines. The Seafood Bouillabaisse was sumptiously good as well and a must try! It was filled with enough seafood without having to taste fishy in the end. Their Pina Colada had the right twist of fresh pineapples and vodka to make you want more!

The people at the resort try to make you feel at home and the staff is what Filipino hospitality and Filipino smile is all about. There are several things to do including a 24/7 pool for everyone and two gift shops that sell souvenirs without having to spend an arm and a leg!!! Even their drinks and water is affordable and not like other hotels that charge highway robbery just for these service items.

The Bad:

Alright so we were there during the renovation period. I can't complain. They're trying to improve and do their best. Aside from the fact that the amenities are like a 3 star resort, the place in itself is amazing! Despite the morning brownout (for about 20 minutes), they got the airconditioners and lights up and going almost immediately.

Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly to Dipolog from Manila. PAL does not have daily flights but Cebu Pac has. I took Cebu Pac on my way there and PAL on my way back. Seriously, if you really don't mind spending a few pesos more, I suggest you take PAL because Cebu Pac is such a lousy airline. On your next vacation, remember that the means of transportation IS PART of the vacation!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Family ties

The other day, the mother of my patient was frantically texting and calling me concerning the illness of her niece. Apparently, her 14 year old niece was being seen in one of the big hospitals here and was diagnosed to have Dengue. Her niece was never under my care at any point in her life. I do not know any of the relatives at all. And she wanted my opinion on whether what the doctors at that hospital were doing was right or wrong.

I understand how it is when it comes to family ties, most especially in the Philippines. I hate saying it, but I will. The Filipino will take family relationships to the extreme. It takes a Filipino to rub it in you that they are relatives with so on and so forth, even to the nth degree of consanguinity. It takes a Filipino to rub it in you that the father of the mother of the sister of the brother of your third cousin's cousin 's in-law is "closely" related to you. Even being godparents alone for the Filipino is taken to the extreme. I cannot imagine how anyone can have 24 godparents for their baptism - but believe me when I say - only the Filipino can! As my partner would say - OA!

And here's the rub. As a physician, I am aghast whenever I see patients with gazillion relatives at the bedside of my patients when I make rounds. It's like the whole "barangay" of relatives happen to be there and I need to defend my dissertation in front of them. After I explain the illness of my patient to the "crowd" and go through the academic exercise of explaining at my findings, my work-ups, the medications to be given, and of course the prognosis or outcome, it's question and answer time. Parang Miss Universe beauty pageant!!! Santissima madre de Dios!!

Most of the questions come from the kibitzers. Yes. The kibitzers! These are the relatives (many of whom are probably not related directly) of the patient. While I don't mind questions being asked for clarification purposes, I take a direct hatred (with seething eyes) on the kibitzers that come up with comments like "YOU KNOW MY SON HAD THAT DISEASE ALSO BUT HIS DOCTOR GAVE SO AND SO MEDICATIONS TO HIM. WHY AREN'T YOU GIVING THE SAME?" And I ask "SO WHO ARE YOU?". And you get the reply, "OH I'M THE 3RD COUSIN OF THE MOM OF YOUR PATIENT." And then I want to slap somebody in the room.

In short, while I am open to questions, especially when it comes to the illness of the patient and that I believe that the doctor should clarify all things with the patient and that the patient (or his/her legal guardian - usually the parents) should be made fully aware of the situation and that all consent are INFORMED CONSENTS, I have this place in my heart that loathes kibitzers and their uncalled for comments.

And so I told the mom of my patient that:

1. Your niece is not your daughter.
2. You do not have the right to decide for your niece. Her parents are there and you are a kibitzer. All you need to do is listen. If you have a question, you can ask the doctor of your niece. You can clarify things with him.
3. You should not ask me to approve or disapprove the management of another physician on a patient that is not mine, that is not your responsibility, and that I have never seen in my life.
4. It is not ethical to ask for an opinion only because you want to show off to other people that you may have some "knowledge" in the illness and then brag about the little knowledge you have. This is not the part wherein you "Phone a Friend" in order to get haphazard opinions on patients we have never ever seen in our lives.
5. When something goes really bad or really wrong with the patient, remember, all decisions - right or wrong - are the responsibility of the parents. If something terrible happens because you were interfering in the management, that your opinion compromised the outcome - you should be blamed for interfering with the management.
6. To stop texting me regarding the condition of her niece! She's like a resident updating me the platelet count day in and day out! Susmaryosep!

As for other doctors reading this blog, let me remind you that it is NEVER GOOD TO PROVIDE YOUR OPINION UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE PATIENT. Always give the reply - NO COMMENT!

We have no right "auditing" our colleagues behind their backs unless your professional opinion is sought for by the primary party concerned and not by the kibitzers!

Confusion is brought about by entertaining strangers at the bedside of our patients.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

It's more fun in the Philippines

So I've been practically around the world.

With that said, the new tagline for Philippine tourism entitled "It's more fun in the Philippines" was launched recently by the Department of Tourism.

And I couldn't agree more.

Here are only 25 fun things to do in the Philippines in our poster images of having fun in my country.

And it gets better...

This 2012, make Philippines your destination.

I guarantee's more fun in my country!

Pilipinas - Tara na!

7,107 islands...

97 million people...97 million smiles...

one of the best food in the world...

the most festive Christian nation worldwide...

one of the most beautiful sunsets and the world's greatest wonders and beautiful beaches...

The Philippines.

It's a wonder why so many of our own Filipinos prefer to go abroad for vacations. Beyond the petty political squabbles and the other diminutive negative press we receive, I have always told my friends here and abroad that the Philippines is one of the, if not the most beautiful countries with some of the most beautiful people in the world.

This is no means of exaggeration. Even my foreign friends and colleagues whom I invite to our country agree with me that the Philippines is a must see destination. Why we never took off with our tourism industry are probably related to negative press releases by other nations who think of the Philippines as a war torn area or criminal ridden nation. While there are still kinks at how slowly progressive our country is in terms of tourism for foreigners, the local people should be proud of our own natural beauty. We can only generate interest among our fellow Filipinos if we experience the beauty of our own country. It is sad that even among fellow Filipinos, we prefer to take our hard-earned pesos on a cheap flight to Macau or Hong Kong or the US or Singapore and are willing to stay in cramped backpack hotels, even if we have not seen the many wonders of our archipelago. This is such a shame, considering that we put our money in other country's economy.

The Department of Tourism has launched a new video, hoping to encourage fellow Filipinos to see, experience, and explore our country.

Come and visit the sites and take pride in the rich heritage, culture and warmth of the Filipino.

Tara na! Tayo naman muna ngayon!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Random thoughts in Hong Kong

My family and I spent the New Year in Hong Kong.

The respite from work was something all of us were looking forward to. It also was our annual bonding moment.

While we were on the PAL flight PR300, I could not help but recall the unfortunate experience on the ground. We were a party of six. The guy that checked us in was nice. My travel agent informed me that we had pre-assigned seats - all seated together. On check-in, my mom and I were given seats at the tail end of the plane! When I asked why this happened, he checked with his supervisor. She just shrugged him off. He apologized and said that I should contact my travel agent for the mess. Which I did. My travel agent was surprised and I gave my phone to him so they could talk. When he approached the supervisor again, she was dismissive. I blew my top at the bitch and told her that I paid for FULL FARE ECONOMY tickets and that these were premium seat fares! Only those flying on highly restricted plane fares are put at the back of the plane. I drew my ire on the ground supervisor and unleashed a volley of remarks that she was rude, unaccommodating and inconsiderate! Her eyes did not leave the computer and she told the guy who was checking us in to just give us the seats. Since the outsourcing of certain services of Philippine Airlines, I have never been happy with this flag carrier. So much for the local aviation industry.

We stayed at the Excelsior Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong island. Three rooms all Harbor Views. For a Mandarin Hotel, this was one of the times that I gave it a thumbs down in terms of attention to the needs of the customers. While the hotel is within striking distance to the shopping malls and the MTR at the heart of Causeway Bay, the service of the staff was sadly lacking. Even if the hotel was full to the brim because of the holiday season, it was no excuse for inefficiency and poor customer service for a Mandarin Hotel.

We took the streets after getting an afternoon nap. Moving around in HK is easy with the MTR. After those "Kodak moments" at the Tiffany Christmas Tree and Carousel, we went around Central. I could not help but "eavesdrop" on our "kababayans" working in HK. Everywhere we traveled there was a Domestic Helper who happened to be Filipino. It was the Christmas and New Year holiday and they were with other families, far from their own. Real life telenovelas. When we went to Disneyland to see the new Toy Story theme park area, I wandered into one of the souvenir shops. I overheard a Chinese woman telling her Filipina maid "I know you have two kids back home. Go get two shirts from the rack and I will pay for them. You just choose which ones you like." The Filipina maid was flabbergasted and she turned around, lugging her two chinese wards and started choosing two shirts for her own kids. She had this smile on her face that I could not help but empathize with. When I stepped out of the store, the parade was on and you could appreciate several Pinoy performers among the crowd. The band that plays in the promenade are actually Filipinos.

The sacrifices our Filipinos go through in order to send home money or bring home gifts was heart wrenching and depressing. But the simple joy in her smile told me that life was not easy back home and that sacrifices had to be made even in the most difficult circumstances. As we crossed Charter House and Alexandra House that evening for dinner, we noticed a Jollibee store near a BDO bank in the side streets. My nephew hurriedly went to the Jollibee restaurant and we noticed that it only had Pinoy customers queuing for the chicken advertised by a bee.

Of course, the rest of our stay was pure shopping - from Tung Chung to Causeway Bay, from the outlet malls to the high-end retail shopping - it was a shop till you drop scenario!

During the midnight revelry to the New Year countdown, we had buffet dinner at the hotel. The revelry items were provided by the hotel. As it approached midnight, we rushed to the room to watch the fireworks display over Victoria Harbor. Since all our rooms were fronting the harbor, the spectacle was a sight to behold. Like most countries, the fireworks display is only for 5 minutes. There is no individual firework show like the Philippines.

We needed to return to Manila on New Years day. The kids and I had regular work. We lugged back to the HKIA for the 115PM flight from Hong Kong to Manila. Our flight and all other Manila bound flights from Hong Kong were severely delayed. The reason? The NAIA airport was shut down in the morning because of the heavy smog of the revelry the night before. I could only sigh. I have probably never understood the logic of having to spend hard earned money for fireworks - only to burn them in a few seconds! In a country as poor as the Philippines, well I guess it really sounds idiotic, so to speak. And so our 115PM flight left at 4PM, with PAL having to foot HKD$75 per passenger (which meant additional expense for the poor flag carrier) and the plane getting diverted to Clark Pampanga (which meant that we could not land and just kept circling Mt. Pinatubo) and arrived sadly around 7PM. It was indeed (according to my mom), the longest flight we ever had from Hong Kong!!! All because some nut job was polluting the Philippine skylines from 11pm to dawn! Sheeshhhh!!!

There were many lessons learned in this trip and hopefully, the year of the water dragon in the Lunar Calendar brings better fortune and brains to all of us! Happy New Year!!!