The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure.
-Michel de Montaigne
This unassuming restaurant at the corner of Bacolod's swanky restaurant row has been serving good Negrense fare for more than two decades already. Known before as 21st Street Food Corner where they cooked simple pleasures like Burgers and Batchoy, it has evolved to become one of Bacolod, if not, its only upscale restaurant where one can confidently bring foreign and out-of-town guests.
Its muted off-white and dark mahogany interiors reflect the choices of its proprietors. It tells about the class and breeding of old families like the Aranetas and Gamboas- sublime, graceful without being crass, strong yet delicate, sumptuous yet accessible. Everything from the old-world twine-wound chairs to the orchid-laden tables (which remided me both of Hemingway) to the barong-clad executioner-looking maitre d' to the attentive waitresses, and even to the incandescent glow from the chandeliers, all contribute to the richness of the Bar 21 experience.
However, the main reason why this restaurant is still standing while its back-neighbor is not is the fact that the food is delicious yet affordable. Yes, it's that simple: delicious and affordable. Period. Probably it's more than that: it's delicious, cheap and classy. It's the only non-hotel restaurant here that serves flambèed desserts. It's the one of the few restos that serve steaks and other high-end products. Patrons won't feel any price-gouging here. You get what you order. Imagine a plateful of spare ribs served with Spanish morisqueta (old Spanish-Filipino term for fried rice as in morisqueta tostada) and fried onions costing you about ~P140 ($3.50) or its bowlful of special batchoy with its cracklings and noodles for only P60 ($1.50). You can have the same fare at a mall restaurant for the same price. This is certainly more filling than a damn PizzaHut pizza where a slice can cost a dollar. This means that the parity of "deliciousness" of Bar21's food to the amount of food is unbeatable, and the ratio of the amount against the price is wallet-friendly. This is why those who eat here come back for another day. This observation is seen also in many of Bacolod's restos like Calea and Bob's.
Another point for Bar21 is for their creativity in making simple food complex. I remember eating their delectable Moist Chocolate Cake with its icing hot and melting. It's more like Chocolate Lava than a cake. This goes to show that even as simple as a chocolate cake was made special by heat. How about their Toasted Ravioli with its parmesan sauce?
A restaurant will not thrive if its patrons feel that their stomachs and wallets are being cheated either by lousy taste or by the disproportional amount-to-price ratio. Perhaps this is why such franchises such as Krua Thai, Bo's Coffee Club and Gerry's Grill cannot compete with homegrown and home-loved joints like Bob's and Pendy's. The former can be logically sustained in a city of 10 million like Manila where the rich and educated can splurge on these restaurants anytime, but not in 500,000 strong Bacolod where local tastes tend to be fickle. And I don't think 20+ years in the business is a sign of fickleness in the city of smiles. Salut!
Bar 21 Restaurant (official site)
Lacson Street cor. 21st Street
Tel: 034 -4334096 /435-3852;
*pics were "borrowed" from the Bacolod FoodHunters and Wyatt Belmonte's Site. Links below to their sites feature more stuff about Bar21.
Bacolod Food Hunter's take on Bar21's Cheeseburger
Wyatt's Kitchen and his Bar21 experience