Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

la place: what quickly became our favorite restaurant in hanoi

In places on April 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

we first decided to try this restaurant because the owner is a son of a family friend. my brother jop knew exactly how to find it – it’s actually easy, la place is pretty much right beside the famous st. joseph’s cathedral. if you’re facing the cathedral, look to your right and the restaurant is right there.

the menu is a good mix of traditional vietamese dishes, other dishes from around southeast asia and some western ones. because we read that one must have bun cha for lunch in hanoi, that’s one thing we ordered

dee-licious! grilled pork patties, vermicelli noodles, dill, mint, coriander, basil (i may have missed an herb there), and nuoc cham. this one is a cool dish – perhaps to battle the noon heat. this cost 69,000 dong (P175). i don’t know how much it is on the street, but given the general comfort of eating in a restaurant, this was well worth it. and did i mention it was delicious?

the other dish we had that lunch was fried spring rolls

these may have been my favorite spring rolls of the trip (and favorite ever!) followed closely behind by their own fresh spring rolls. i can’t remember the price exactly, but i think it was around 75,000 dong (P190). the wrapper wasn’t too thick – it was nice and crunchy and served mainly as an encasement without getting in the way. the filling was very very tasty. i would have suspected MSG but their menu specifically says they stay away from that. i’m willing to believe that the freshness and depth of flavor was achieved by good old great cooking – a must try.

so we did really enjoy the food here, but one other reason this became a favorite was its very charming ambience. it’s a small restaurant, pleasantly laid out, with a great view of the cathedral

we highly recommend this place when you go to hanoi. oh, and they also seem to be known for their pastries so that should be worth a try. and for us, a good excuse to eat there again one day.

street pho in hanoi

In places on April 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm

almost every write up about hanoi contains a rhapsody about pho on the sidewalks. because of this, we were determined to make that our first real meal in hanoi. at first we tried for the famous pho gia truyen on 49 bat dan – but we got there too late, it was already closed (that was around 10AM). so we just sat at the nearest spot we saw which was also about to close shop but still ladling out pho ga (chicken).

we sat and noted the condiments

chili sauce, salt, the ubiquitous nuoc cham (fish sauce based dipping sauce) and, for an extra 5,000 dong, fried bread. we were expecting what we get in vietnamese restaurants here – a plate of herbs and lemon or lime but we didn’t – nor did we see that happening in any of the places we saw. so we got a bowl each of pho ga (with the herbs mixed in)

was it delicious? absolutely. strong taste of cilantro, which we love. and the dish was still interactive enough since we needed to mix in chili sauce and salt – it does need it, and it’s part of the eating experience. this pho ga was bright and fresh. hot, yes, but in the way that cools you after. easy to see why this is THE breakfast to have in vietnam.

we paid 30,000 dong each (about P75). not as cheap as we would have wanted, or as we imagined the prices to be based on our research, but still much cheaper than pho here. and definitely tastier.

do we remember the name of this place? not at all. for those interested, it’s at the corner of bat dan and thuoc bac (i think. i’m sure about the bat dan part though). but it probably doesn’t matter. it stands to reason that all streetside pho places are just a few small degrees away from each other in terms of taste. the important thing is you get on those tiny stools and slurp down a bowl – the experience, together with the noise of hanoi streets, is sensorily incredible.

Antonio’s is all it’s made out to be

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2012 at 8:27 am

a few weeks ago, my family went out on our first vacation together in about 25 years. we were heading to taal town (for the wonderful heritage houses) and then tagaytay. my sister helen offered to treat us to lunch in antonio’s. my first thought was – at those prices, it better live up to all its hype. and so it has.


each main course (with prices ranging from P1250 to P2500 per head) comes with salad, soup, dessert, and coffee or tea. so in essence, dining in antonio’s is always a 4-course affair (5 if you count the coffee).

the salad is a hefty one


this is half a serving. it consists of a couple of kinds of lettuce, spinach, arugula, alugbati (a nice surprise), blue cheese, candied walnuts, and candied fruit. it perhaps wasn’t the most awesome of salads, but it was very good. certainly a very nice palate primer to start the meal. the contrast of the bitter of the arugula and the alugbati went along perfectly with the pungent saltiness of the cheese. the candied walnuts sent the flavor combination over the top.

soup was cream of upland rice and vegetables, which was well done albeit not terribly exciting.

we all shared a few main courses. the one i ordered was the duck breast with braised red cabbage and mashed potato topped with foie


one bite and i instantly felt the whole experience was special. the duck was perfectly done. and that foie – now i understand all the dying-from-deliciousness that comes from seared foie.

a few others shared a couple of steaks


this is what camille and i will come back for as soon as we save up. in a word – fantastic. the steak comes with 3 condiments: gravy, chimichurri, and lemon and sea salt. the lemon and sea salt was our favorite, bringing out the flavor of that beef. wow.

there were also a few desserts such as a dark chocolate souffle with creme anglaise


a very well-done souffle, but our favorite dessert was the chocolate mandarin which was an orange sorbet coated with chocolate. 

all in all the food in antonio’s showed great execution and spot on flavors. it’s not wildly imaginative or playful or anything like that – which is fine. the food is classical, so is its ambience, and so is the whole experience of dining. we hope to be able to return



a quick note on batchoy

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

we did a major batchoy tasting during this trip to negros. we were there for 5 days and had a batchoy everyday. the full article of that will come out in sidetrip magazine, but we can’t help but still say something about this utterly delicious soup.


it’s easy to imagine the origins of batchoy as coming from the pig parts nobody really wanted. the scraps made into broth and the meat in the soup usually composed of intestines, liver, and some pork. batchoy is garlicky, having its fair share of toasted garlic. it is sweetish, coming mostly (ideally) from caramelized onion. it has crunch from chicharon and heft from the meat and noodles.

some restaurants fancify batchoy – like 21 in bacolod now puts marrow instead of liver. we didn’t try that version because the parameters of our article were to go with traditional preparations.

usually priced at P60-90 a bowl, this is truly a must-try for anybody visiting iloilo and bacolod.

la puerta al paraiso in guimaras: good potential

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2012 at 11:05 am

we did a little overnight trip in guimaras before doing work in iloilo. finding a place to stay online was a challenge – we didn’t want anything too rugged nor too crowded. la puerta al paraiso looked fine. everybody’s word of warning though was it was far from the docks.

the docks themselves are easy to get to. guimaras is a short, 15-minute boat ride from iloilo and costs only P14. boats leave as soon as they’re full (40 to a boat), or around every 15-20 minutes.  when we got to the jordan wharf and tried to find our way to the resort, we realized everybody was right. it was far. about an hour or so by tricycle – the last 10-15 minutes on pure rough road. this cost P500 going and P700 coming back. our first word of advice: take the multicab for only P200 more.

the biggest plus of la puerta is the location of their cottages


each of them face the beach or the open sea. thoughtfulness in giving everybody a view – plus points. the cottages themselves though were quite small and the verandas could have used a bit more furniture. in fact, the whole resort would totally be better off with more lounging chairs around the beach, near the rooms, etc. the beaches were nice and there should be more ways to relax by them. 

facing the restaurant, one beach to the left is where the boats dock


and on the other side was a more people beach


the beaches were quite pretty and the sand very white and very fine. but the shore was also very short. the isolation serves la puerta well – because if they ever had more than 20 people, it would be uncomfortable on the beach.

the restaurant was big and airy and the staff very accommodating


the food was ok – as resort food generally goes. the servings were big enough, but still overpriced. we attributed this to the isolation and therefore the high cost of getting things there. in the future though, these costs need to be revisited. and little things like – they run out of mangoes (in guimaras!)… makes no sense.

we got to speak with the owner and he said they never really actually formally opened and their operations kind of “just happened” – we agree. it does feel that way. a lot of little details need to be attended to for this to become a really good resort. right now we’re totally open to staying in other places in guimaras – but once la puerta gets the other things done, then it will be worth a visit again.