June 22, 2008

Pride of Bacolod: Bar 21 / Bar21 Restaurant

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

June 13, 2008

Dearest Dad

Dearest Dad,

Wherever you are, Happy Father’s Day! It has been difficult to celebrate this time of the year when you know there’s nothing to look forward to. I cannot be as excited as my friends are, or be as ecstatic as the commercials are with their broad smiles and celebratory cheers. It’s reality, but a bitter one indeed. No treats for you anymore at an eat-all-you-can buffet at your favorite Japanese restaurant. Remember the time when you encouraged me to try sashimi telling me that even a sliver of raw fish can taste divine. Or treat you to a great WWII dvd movie where we can watch together as father and son. I bought one of your favorite movies, “Empire of the Sun,” just to savor that lingering feeling of you and mom being there. Oh dad, I have saved enough to treat you to life’s small luxuries especially now that your son has been earning his keep. I had hoped it would be my time to serve you, to take care of you, that you won’t anymore open you wallet just as you had before. Your generosity is your lifelong lesson for me, so that I will be equally generous to those I love.

How I wish I can regale you with my work at the hospital- the fastidious folks, the patients that I’ve sent home alive, or even the rare diseases I have witnessed. Isn’t this your life long dream to have a son who will one day become a full-fledged doctor? I had hoped to hear from you asking me for free samples for your joint pains after a round of golf or even advice about your disease when you had your esophageal CA years back.

Remember the time when you drove me to my high school asking me what college course I’d like to apply in Manila? I said I’ll take up archaeology because I have been dreaming of buried gold underneath our garden. You told me there’s no money in that, and I’d be better off being a doctor. You were so happy then knowing I took that path that even when I transferred to my dormitory to start my medical degree, you were the one who cut and applied the contact paper to my dorm table so that my books won’t get scratched.

It’s amazing how I remember all the little things when you are gone. They are like precious nuggets of memories that I try to save just so I won’t forget you, or mom. Since I can’t anymore add to those future milestones, these become important to me- the lessons you’ve drilled into me (like time management because you always catch me at the computer at 1am), the times you’ve berated me (like the time when you taught me how to drive but gave up on me on the first lesson), and your passion for living (like snorkeling and enjoying bangus bellies.) All I could say is “Thanks Dad” for everything. And even though you’re not here anymore, this day is still my tribute to you- by remembering all that you have done for me to become the person I am now and to realize that the dream you once planned for us have come true. Our success in this world is our only gift to you.

Your son.

June 01, 2008

The Dementress' Overture

This Modesto Mussorgsky symphony is the perfect composition that captures the beauty of her inner soul...

...but of course, when you see her, all you can think of is Carl Orff's Intro to Carmina Burana.

How I love the classics....