Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Amigos' Lucena and Lucban Pre-Pahiyas Excursion -- with a verdant lunch at Isabelito's Garden

Pahiyas in Lucban, Quezon is a colourful celebration of a bountiful harvest and is one of the most famous and oldest festivals in the Philippines.  In honour of San Isidro Labrador it is held every 
year, without fail,  on May 15.
Because of its popularity, the traffic and thick crowds have made it so difficult to attend Pahiyas
When the Amigos were planning a quick, day trip to Quezon, we decided that a week before
May 15 would be the perfect time to go and enjoy the town amidst relative peace and quiet.

We left Manila very early to make it just in time for breakfast at Jay's family's home in Lucena, 
two towns before Lucban.

It's convenient to have one of Lucena's best restaurants located right across the house.
We had pre-ordered breakfast from Luisa and Daughter and it was a quite a spread -- garlic fried rice 
and eggs plus longganisang Lucban (Lucban sausages), tender beef tapa (marinated beef) daing 
na bangus (seasoned milkfish)  and the restaurant's  very own homemade bangus (milkfish) sardines.   

I tried hard not to indulge, as lunch in Lucban was scheduled for just a couple of hours later.  However, it was a losing battle. Thank you to my sister- in -law Vivian for her warm hospitality and for arranging this delicious  meal!

After tarrying over breakfast and conversation, there was a bit of time left for some photos 
around the house. 
Our Jesuit Amigo  posed before this bas relief of the mountains of Monserrat.  This was sculpted by my very creative and artistic father-in-law more than 50 years ago.  He made six of these all along
the concrete wall depicting places in Spain that he and my mother-in-law visited as part of their travels.

One last photo of the Amigos before we got back on the road to Lucban.  The tile mosaic behind us depicts Nuestra SeƱora de Esperanza, Patroness of Seville. 

It was almost noon when we got to Lucban and the first stop was the beautiful stone church of 
San Luis Obispo, in my mind  one of the country's best preserved old Spanish churches. 
First established at the turn of the 16th century, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt a few times.  

This beautiful weathered structure dates back to the 18th century, its most recent reconstruction.  
The beautifully weathered Amigos in front of it are of a more recent edition, dating back to the
20th century. 

From the church, we headed to our lunch destination -- just a hundred or so meters 
away.   I stumbled upon this place on my last solo foray to Lucban and was just so taken with it
that I knew I had to come back -- preferably with friends that I could share this delightful place
with.   It's easy to find ...  take the road that leads out from the church and walk a few blocks till
you see the sign for Deveza Farm

Inside this farm right in the centre of town is a lovely little place called Isabelito's Garden.
A small house in middle of a bromeliad nursery has been converted into a rustic restaurant.

The first time I walked through the flowers and the lush greenery, I was captivated. 
I  remember that I found this place on a hot summer day but the temperature seemed 
to drop a few degrees because I was surrounded by so much foliage.

In the evenings this wooden bench must be a lovely place to sit and enjoy an ice cold beer.  But for now, the sun is too hot so we all headed for the cool indoors.

Isabelito's is completely alluring  -- it is impossible not to be taken in by its unpretentious charms.

I had made reservations a week ahead so we were seated in the main dining area.  Isabelito's is not
a very big restaurant but an annex off on one side, closer to the bromeliad nursery can easily handle more guests or even a private party.

Since we had eaten breakfast barely two hours ago, we resolved that we would eat "light".
Not too much, just enough to sample some of the specialties that Isabelito's offers.
This Thai inspired mango salad was tart but had a surprising kick, particularly if you happened to bite into a small piece of bird's eye chili, cleverly hidden amidst the green mango strips.

Isabelito's Garden is not strong on fish or seafood but quite heavy on pork and beef entrees.
One of the few "healthy" dishes on offer is this sinigang na bangus sa miso (milkfish sinigang with miso) which was refreshingly sour.
Did you know that sinigang is one of the best dishes to have on a hot day?
The spicy-sour soup makes you perspire, thus helping bring your body temperature down.

I completely forgot about taking photos before people dug in so please excuse the messy shot of this Pancit Lucban -- an enhanced version of the local habhab.  
Using the same miki noodles that the humble habhab is made with, Isabelito's version has been piled high with pork slices, bits of longganisa, string beans and chicken liver.  
In addition to this, we also ordered the Crunchy Bicol Express, which was very tasty and made with  crackling pork slices cooked in coconut cream -- so malinamnam (tasty)  but oh so unhealthy. 
Forgetting that we had vowed not to eat too much, we also ordered Isabelito's Kare Kare, that came with thinly sliced crisp fried liempo (pork belly) instead of the usual ox tail and tripe. 
Both dishes did not survive long enough for me to take any photos -- mea culpa.

After that LDL-laden lunch,  we tried to cram ourselves into this hanging wooden "frame" -- perhaps we had gained a kilo or two from all the fatty goodness since we could barely squeeze ourselves in.

We needed to walk off some calories so I took the Amigos on a short detour to my favourite panaderia.   I can never go to Lucban without stopping at Pavino's Bakery.  Their thin, melt-in-your-mouth apas cookies are second to none.

We were lucky that the owner,  Ms. Josie Pascua was minding the store.  She very graciously let us in behind the sales counter for a souvenir photo.
Do you see the multi-colored leaf-shaped kiping or rice crackers hanging on top of us -- these are what houses in Lucban will be festooned with on Pahiyas.
But don't think of it as just decor, kiping is very much edible --  when grilled and dusted with sugar, it makes a sweet, crunchy snack.

Lucban is well known for its native hats -- in all colours, designs and shapes, they are the best way to fend off the scorching rays of summer.  Just a week before Pahiyas,  vendors had set up their attractive wares in the streets -- how could we not stop and buy?

Where did the time go?  Before we knew it, it was almost mid afternoon and the Amigos had other places to go and people to see ...
I would have wanted to take them on a more extensive tour of Lucban -- to walk through the small streets,  see the heritage houses, drop in on an indie coffee shop or two but we had to go back to Manila.
Short but sweet, I think the pre-Pahiyas excursion gave the Amigos a glimpse of the small town pleasures of Lucban, ahead of the fiesta chaos and crowds.

Parini ulit sa Lucban, Amigos!

Thanks to Jay for some of the photos used in this post and of course for welcoming us all into their Lucena home. 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ajisoo Japanese / Korean restaurant -- a valuable find at the Cartimar Market

When I was growing up, Cartimar Market in Pasay City was synonymous with expensive imported goods.  Today, it is more known for its many pet stores,  bicycle shops and a high quality wet market.  These past years, it is also where Japanese and Korean restaurants source their authentic, hard to find ingredients and supplies. 

A number of these groceries and mini-marts can be found all in a row on one side of the market.  Right beside them are a few restaurants serving a mix of both Japanese and Korean dishes.  
One such place is Ajisoo -- located right alongside the row of food stores.  After shopping, you can drop by for a casual, appetising meal.

Ajisoo is a simple, no-frills place -- it's clean and the tables are set comfortably apart from each other. 
On this hot day, I was glad their air conditioner was operating at full blast.

Ajisoo is both a Japanese and a Korean restaurant.  Kim bob or korean sushi is offered right beside California maki.  The prices were surprisingly affordable -- which made me want to order just about everything on the menu.

The bento boxes were particularly attractive -- complete with soup and sides, you could have one for as low as P145.

While there are offerings from both cuisines, I noticed a slight skew towards Korean food.  There were also noodle dishes -- I can't imagine how they could sell udon for just one hundred pesos.  
What a great deal!

We finally settled on our orders.  The California maki came on a large platter and had twelve generous slices -- I couldn't help myself and had two before I remembered to take the photo.  
The chef was liberal with the tobiko (fish roe) and the kani slices were fat and firm.   
The mango was sun ripened sweet  and the smudge of  mayonnaise,  Kewpie-smooth and creamy.

I ordered the bibimbap which came sizzling on a stone plate.  The egg was perfectly fried, the beef was tender and the vegetables were crisp and well seasoned.  The kimchi was definitely home made and one of the best I had ever tasted.  I mixed everything with a large dollop of the piquant gochujang
the ubiquitous Korean chili paste. 

We also ordered a sashimi bento that came with six firm and fresh slices of tuna and salmon, plus 
a small salad of julienned cabbage with a drizzle of more Kewpie mayonnaise.  There were two pieces of a garlicky gyoza, a spoonful of potato salad and some vegetables steamed with sesame oil .  
This bento set cost just P195  -- how can you say no to that?

While there are no desserts offered, a small freezer by the cashier is well stocked with Korean ice cream bars.  You are more than welcome to browse and reach in for your choice.

This chocolate ice cream sandwich was light and the cake was spongy and not too sweet.  
Best of all, it was just P45!  
From appetiser to entree to dessert, this place is truly well worth a visit.  
After a shopping spree at Cartimar Market,  you'll have more than enough left over for an honest-to- goodness Japanese / Korean meal at Ajisoo.
Anyeong haseyo! Irrashai mase!