(EDIT: Cafe Vinny’s reopened around the first week of December. They expanded the menu to include Filipino dishes, more Mediterranean stuff, and a few more drinks. A cocktail menu is on the way too.
Despite being a nice, quiet place to dine and hang out as it was before, it’s still pretty much empty. They’re still improving the place, though. I hope people would take time to visit the bar and spend time there.)
There was this bar at one corner of Remedios Circle in Malate that’s far away from the district’s noisy, and bright, buzzed night-time environment. Here, one could just hang out, sip wine or beer, and dine while listening to 70’s and 80’s pop-rock. The place was quiet, the meals were worth every peso, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. It was a nice place for a break away from the chaos of the world, a bar that’s more than suitable for a relaxing night-out.
Now why am I describing this bar in the past tense? Because it’s already closed!
I discovered Cafe Vinny’s around June while I was looking for a new bar to visit. Admittedly, I miss hanging out in music bars just like Anthology, which already closed down months ago. Going to dance clubs and such is out of the question, but that’s another story.
Not so much when I entered the bar, though. From the bar counter I could hear Queen playing on the background. The place was almost empty, save for the few foreigners happily drinking nearby. Inside it was brightly lit, but the lights were relaxing to the eyes, unlike the laser beams and strobe lights and spotlights in dance clubs. The counter itself sported a decent selection of wines and spirits.
Vince, the owner of the bar (and a European), was the first to welcome me. He told me that walk-in customers like me are kinda rare in his place; most of the people who come were just invited to visit. He was mighty proud of his bar, and how!
After a few pleasantries, I noticed a bottle of beer being brought to my table.
“If you finish that quickly, you can have another one for free,” he said. This guy enjoys his alcohol well, I guess.
I learned from the staff that Cafe Vinny’s opened last May, ironically with little fanfare usually practiced by bars in the area. The bar offers Mediterranean, Italian, and Indian cuisine, along with a wide selection of liquor (and a few types of wine as well).
The first stuff I tried was a platter of beef salpicao, one of the best-selling appetizers, along with a goblet of Carlo Rossi. While I’m not so much into having pica-pica or other food stuff with my liquor, they did a mighty good job in convincing me to try out the combination.
And was I in for a surprise! The beef was tender and succulent, and its sauce was spicy and flavorful. The fragrant scent of the hot salpicao was the best of all, appetizing and teasing to the senses. The red wine complemented the strong flavor of the salpicao too. Mmm-hmm. Doesn’t look like the usual salpicao.
Vince also recommended their pasta. There were only four or five items in the line-up, and I’m not an expert in Italian cuisine, so choosing what to try out was quite a challenge… In the end, I settled with the porcini e salsiccia, a baked pasta dish.
The porcini e salsiccia consisted of a bed of linguini, Italian sausage, porcini mushroom, and red creamy sauce (the chefs said these were cooked with red wine). As I mentioned I’m not an expert in Italian cuisine, much less pasta, but I could humbly say I found the dish to my liking. The sauce was creamy and fragrant, and it had a whole spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. It was a small dish, but very filling.
I learned that the menu was supposed to boast of a wider selection of pasta, main course meals, appetizers and other stuff, but they’re still on some sort of a test run.
Vince however admits the bar is not as lively as he hoped to be. “This is an empty bar,” he laments.
Lyn the bartender, on the other hand, said Vince had big plans for the establishment. She said above us was a wide area suitable for a sports bar. Everyone who wants a rowdy night would go to the sports bar, while those who just want to chill would end up at Cafe Vinny’s. Not a bad idea, actually.
I spent a few more nights at Cafe Vinny’s relaxing, chatting with everyone, and also talking about food and wine and the potential Cafe Vinny’s holds as a great hang-out place. The bar remind me of the nights where I get the “me” time I deserve after a week’s work: listening to Sting, sipping wine, grabbing a bite or two, getting drunk in a good way.
So imagine my frustration when one Saturday night, I came to Cafe Vinny’s and found out that it’s closed… No advisories, no word of mouth. The place just closed down… Just like that.
I wonder, in this age when most people prefer establishments that let them do loud, rowdy ways to unwind and have fun, if there are places in Malate that can compare to Anthology, or Cafe Vinny’s for that matter. I guess no one could blame me if I prefer more quiet places for me to relax at. I mean, not only do I get to dine in peace or enjoy music, but I can hang out in a place where I can say I belong. Either I’m just that laid back or I’m really getting old. Where was I? I hope to discover some quiet place where I could hang out soon.
|The King of Pain approves!|
Today I’m not going to write something about food or any of my food adventures. Instead, I take this opportunity to enjoin everyone to remember, to reflect, to ponder what happened last night, that rainy night at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
It all started as a simple hostage taking. Ronaldo Mendoza, a disgruntled cop sacked for various criminal complaints, took hostage a bus full of tourists and holed up at the grandstand. He wanted his benefits back, and his charges dismissed.
Police negotiators tried to coax Mendoza out. Certain members of the media were asked to let him air his grievances. His sympathetic brother-cop tried to negotiate. But when the police took the brother away for questioning as an accomplice, and when many others interfered, agitating Mendoza, everything went downhill.
The hostage taking ended around 9PM, as the rain fell down on the lifeless body of Mendoza dangling at the buss door, while the police cowered outside the bus. It’s like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, except that there were no badass negotiators or cops, just one bloody mess.
In the end, nine of the hostages were confirmed dead. Hong Kong has banned travel to the Philippines. China has slammed the incident. President Benigno Aquino III expresses disappointment as fingers are pointed everywhere and every concerned official starts cleaning up. The rest of the world is left in shock.
I don’t intend to speak like an expert on the hostage taking, because I’m not. I’ll leave this to the news analysts and scholars and opinion blogs. In fact, I don’t even know where to start when it comes to this issue, or if there’s anyone to blame for the bloody end of the incident, if there could have been better ways to deal with it, or what went wrong in the first place. Or something like that.
Was it the cops, who failed through and through to get to Mendoza, first in the negotiations, and then at the assault? Was it the negotiators, who were unable to appease him long enough into letting the hostages escape? Was it the media, who unwittingly broadcasted what instigated him into going on a rampage, and then made every single move the police made known even to him? Was it the government? Was it the kibitzers? Could it be that Mendoza had it coming? Again, I’ll leave this to the news analysts and scholars and opinion blogs.
I would like to urge everyone to reflect on what happened last night, to ponder, and finally, to pray. The hostage crisis left such a great scar on the hostaged and wounded tourists, on their families, on the already tarnished image of the police and government, on the Philippines itself. What we need now is healing, prayer, solidarity, and strength to rise up and rebuild.
Let us all pray that this country can clean up this mess, the sould of those who died may rest in peace, those who survived and were left behind, the government may find enlightenment and wisdom to handle this. Let us all pray that such an incident would never happen again.
In other news, Miss Philippines Venus Raj is now among the Top 5 in the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant. Too bad for me, my TV signal’s gone kaput, and live streaming of the pageant is out of the question. I’ll just tune in to the internet news and see if Venus will be the silver lining in the cloud hanging over the country now. Get that crown! We’re rooting for you!
As I’m writing this, I’m trying to get up despite being emotionally and physically drained, especially after what happened since yesterday. I’m thankful enough that God has given me one more day to live, especially that until now my chest is aching and I can’t breathe properly. Don’t worry, I won’t bitch about my heart as I did before. Wait…
Now then, I wonder what I should have for lunch. I don’t have the appetite, but well…
(EDIT: Miss Philippines Venus Raj won 4th place!)
By now it already sounds cliche, but balut remains to be one street food that will make the uninitiated Filipino (and the unsuspecting foreigner) cringe in terror or make his stomach turn.
C’mon, the sight of the hairy, pale duck fetus swimming in its juice, lying on a soft yolk-like bed with its blank eyes staring at you would be nightmare fuel for most people out there.
Balut is one of Western culture’s most trauma-inducing culinary topics. “Fear Factor” shocked its contestants with it. The castaways of “Survivor Palau” ate some. Andrew Zimmern endured eating one. Anthony Bourdain ate it in Vietnam with herbs and a sauce, and he says it’s “not bad”. (But when he did a “No Reservations” episode in the Philippines, he said, “We’re NOT doing balut. Been there. Done that.”) Cracked.com says it’s a dish enjoyed in “the fifth and seventh levels of hell”, in a good way.
Balut-making is native to the Philippines. This is actually a major product in the town of Pateros (in Metro Manila), which is famous for its duck-raising industry. Balut is also common in other Asian countries such as Laos (where it is called Khai Luk), Cambodia (Pong tea khon), and Vietnam (Hột vịt lộn). This is usually sold in the streets at night. Just get yourself a bottle of beer to chug with it and you’re all set. Recently though, some restaurants allegedly serve this as appetizer.
Info overload aside, I’ve seen foreigners freak out when I eat balut in the streets. Balut’s reputation is worse than what I’ve heard, so it seems.
Unlike those on TV who act disgusted as they stare at the balut, the foreigners in the group (most of the tourists with us were Europeans, though one of them was Korean) were cool with seeing one about to be consumed before them. That, or they were just acting brave…
…Until one of the tourists bought a balut. Sure, he was prodded by his Filipina companion to do so, but still. And then the other guys followed.
Our tour guide Ivan Man Dy was quick to point out that “balut eating, step by step” is a good way of cultural understanding. Balut, he assures, is nothing to be scared of.
Ivan demonstrated to the group how balut is eaten: crack the top part of the egg, sip the soup inside the balut (he described the liquid as “nice and sweet”), break the shell halfway, add vinegar or salt to taste, and then much your way through the duck fetus and the yolk. (Munching on the white, rubbery egg part is optional.)
The tourists who ate balut actually liked it. They were even amused with eating it, as they found the egg tasty, and not as yucky or scary as it is always depicted. “Sometimes, Discover Channel has a bad habit of making everything not normal to them look scary,” Ivan said.
And then he uttered the magic words which made balut so exotic-sounding: “It’s good for the knees, and good for the bed.”
And why not? Balut is considered as health food, a cheap source of protein, fat, calcium, iron, and other nutrients. Plus, some say it replenishes lost stamina. Its virility-enhancing properties are still up for debate. The cholesterol content, on the other hand, is catastrophically high.
Ivan mentioned that balut is just one of the country’s exotic foods. Just like in other parts of the world, people eat lizards, intestines, exotic fishes, and field rats, something that the group agrees on. As long as something’s safe, clean and edible, people eat it, I guess.
Balut will always be associated with the Philippines and Filipino cuisine. Never mind the scare factor; even if appearance matters when it comes to food, balut in all its gory glory makes for a nice personal culinary experience. Believe me, balut is better than it looks like. I think I’m gonna get myself one on the way home.
So, craving for a balut now? 😄