My 101-year old grandma, Lola Bats, faced several challenging weeks as the summer began, so my family flew in from the USA to visit her. Mommy and Daddy arrived two weeks after her birthday. Biboy arrived a week later. This marks the first time, albeit a very short time indeed, that my family is complete. Only Barbara, Biboy's wife, was absent... she's holding the fort in the USA while everyone's here.
He had two wishes for this visit: eat good food and spend time with Lola Bats.
Naturally, all four of us went to the airport to pick up my brother. Since he arrived around midday, it was the perfect opportunity for us to have lunch together before Anna had to go to work.
We had lunch in Buddy's (Eastwood), a restaurant that served Filipino fare... the servings were huge! It's as if we were attending a fiesta! Anna has found a real gem of Filipino cuisine surrounded by restaurants serving foreign cuisine.
Since his purpose was really to visit Lola Bats, we went straight to her house so that Biboy could immediately surprise her. Lola was elated to see her youngest grandchild at her house, albeit unannounced. Kuya Eldie and Richelle dropped in for a visit too. They took care of bringing in the ice cream as a mini-welcome back party for Biboy.
Previously, I promised Biboy that I'd bring him to the best restaurants in the Philippines. This year, I took him with Mommy and Daddy to the Vask Tapas Bar, the restaurant of Chef Chele Gonzalez, a friend of mine. His other restaurant, Gallery Vask, has been lauded as Asia's 35th best restaurants (out of Asia's top 50)... the only restaurant in the Philippines that got into the Top 50.
He was totally blown away by the food. I kept joking that now that he's eaten at the top fine-dining restaurant in Manila, there's no going up anymore. We're going to resume our exploration of Filipino restaurants serving delicious food during the rest of his visit.
Our first stop was Claude Tayag's Downtown Café in Angeles, Pampanga. Yes, I drove all the way to Pampanga for food! I was originally planning on bringing them to Bale Dutung but Biboy and I were outnumbered by senior citizens... the decathlon of food might not be a good idea. So, we ordered a similar set of dishes à la carte so that they won't be overwhelmed. Tita Ising and Tito Sibing certainly enjoyed the day trip.
And then we went a bit closer to home, to Iskargu in Calauan, Laguna. No, Iskargu doesn't refer at all to the famous French escargot; the name play was all about ISda, KARne, at GUlay. I particularly liked the kulao here and Biboy got (forcibly) introduced to it.
Filipino food is best cooked at home. Hence, our next stop was a visit to our cousins in Sta Cruz, Laguna. My Lola Estay's house is where my favourite sinigang and fried chicken can be found. Tita Mely really inherited the recipes and the secrets of my grandma's best dishes.
But since Biboy's here on a food trip, we all trooped to a new restaurant in Sta Cruz called Aurora. Tita Lucy says the house where the resto is now was formerly owned by her relatives; hence, she used to frequent this place. More recently, Aurora's become a stop in food bloggers' pilgrimage in Laguna... and so I thought Biboy might want to experience dining here. My favourite here? It's an appetiser called minanok.
I also brought Biboy to one of the restaurants I frequently eat at while in Los Baños: Dalcielo's. Since this was a Friday, it was good way to wind down the week with a family dinner with Val. My go-to dish at Dalcielo's used to be the panna cotta but it has since become the capellini pomodoro. Both Biboy and Val are avid basketball fans and were rooting for the Golden State Warriors this year.
After dinner, we went to Siento Café, Man's first venture into the food business. It features locally produced coffee, borne of his interest in "third-wave coffee". He introduced my parents to the intricacies and subtle flavours of V60-brewed coffee. Anna and Val tried café lattes and I had a fruit shake (I can't drink coffee beyond the tasting portions... too bitter for me). For me, though, since I couldn't stand the bitterness of the café's specialty, I automatically order a slice of one of Hiraya's cakes (featured in Siento). My favourite so far is the chocolate cake with black pepper, but Hiraya's been exploring local ingredients like sampinit (a Philippine raspberry) to expand the brand's repertoire. Delicious too, I have to say.
As Biboy's short visit came to a close, it was back to Lola Bats' house. The family gathered to celebrate Lola's birthday for a second time. It also served as Biboy's farewell party because he flying out straight after this family party.
It was a good chance for our nephews and nieces to touch base with my brother even if this was but an afternoon. A lot of laughs and Lola even felt well enough to join us at the garage for snacks. It's fascinating to watch the kids talk to us about college, work, and their lack of knowledge about Filipino games. Maybe next time we gather for a reunion, we play patintero outside the house to introduce them to the games we used to play. Question is, are the titos and titas still limber enough to play?
And that was my brother's quick but jam-packed visit to the family in the Philippines. I'm sure he's exhausted but happy for the brief break from routine. I am now looking forward to his visit here in October, this time, with Barbara.