An Epicurean Fortress: the Borough

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Wikipedia says that the word “borough” refers to “a fortified settlement or a self-governing township”. Hence, places with suffixes “-bury” , “-bourg”,“-burgh” and the like (as in Luxembourg, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Pillsbury[?]) usually means that they were once fortified settlements during the medieval period.

But looking from the outside, there’s nothing quite medieval about the Borough, save for the traffic. It’s located inside the Podium mall along ADB Avenue in Ortigas, so, it’s better to go here when it’s not rush hour. Anyway, you’d get your much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life inside its walls. Choose your adventure: enter through the mall, or through the “back door”.

No drawbridges here.

This New York inspired diner claims to serve comfort foods 24/7, but for us, the place is comfort itself. Cool ambience, soothing background music, soft lighting and friendly folks frequent here. The high ceiling provides ample air circulation, too. Though we would be interested to see this place during the peak drinking hours when smokers and non-smokers have to co-exist under one roof but probably on different floors.

We chose a spot with a couch just across the bar on the ground floor. After much thought, we picked Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup for appetizer, Sole Amandine and Cheese Injected Portobello Pita Pocket for main entrées, Borough Iced Tea and Arnold Palmer for drinks, and of course, Mom’s Milk and Cookies for dessert.

Learning from the world’s most favorite cookie, the best way to enjoy the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup is to twist, lick and dunk it. Or you can just skip the licking part. Let the crunchy toast absorb the soup well then bite into the chewy melted cheese. Marvel at how well it combines with the rich texture and the tangy flavor of the tomato soup. Definitely a recommended starter.

When we think of it, this one tastes too good for a starter.

Our main courses, Sole Amandine and Cheese-Injected Portbello Pita Pocket are both very lean choices and yet very different in terms of its appeal. Borough’s version of the Sole Amandine, is more of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get entree with it’s simple yet very classy plating. It’s flavors are rather subtle; just a hint of saltiness from the capers and a little of that sourness from the lemon juice makes it perfect for people with discerning taste.  On the other hand, the Cheese-Injected Portobello Pita Pocket, especially when paired with their signature Borough chips, can easily pass as a legitimate grease bomb. It oozes with melted Monterey Jack cheese and its Portobello mushroom may yet prove tastier and more savory than most meat sandwiches. But worry not, it’s very light on the tummy and is as guilt-free as it is sinfully scrumptious.

Sole Amandine

Cheese-Injected Portobello Pita Pocket

The dessert was something else entirely. Borough’s famous Mom’s Milk and Cookies was our main reason for coming here in the first place and it did not let us down. One bite of these moist confections drenched in fresh milk and suddenly we were kids again. And the best part, there was much to go around for each serving contains 12 pieces of cookies. Wish it had more milk, though.

Which one’s the world’s most favorite cookie now?

Now, good food doesn’t come cheap. Here at the Borough, a three-course meal may cost P600-P1000+ per person. We were able to trim down our bill by splitting the appetizer into two servings. We’ve seen highly positive reviews from other sources so it’s likely that whatever you order from the menu will be worth your buck.

As for us, there’s plenty more tasty reasons why we’d like to come back to the Borough. Too bad it can’t be sooner.


Break a leg, Cynthia Alexander!

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One of the most intimate gigs we’ve been in.

We were there during the last night of Cynthia Alexander’s send-off series last Saturday, June 23 at the Conspiracy Bar along Visayas Avenue. It was our first time to see her perform live on stage and we’re glad to have been there inspite of the jam-packed crowd that would rival that of Divisoria’s during the Christmas last-minute shopping season. In fact, for us, that amount and density of people was necessary to create that very intimate and personal mood for the gig.

There were familiar faces among the crowd and the performers alike, and we can only imagine how touched Cynthia felt to see all of these people coming together to bid farewell. The artist sang crowd favorites as well as newer ones like our particular favorite, “Kabaka”, a poem by award-winning poet and educator Vim Nadera, arranged and sang by Cynthia herself. The night was nothing short of spectacular in every aspect, yet, the experience is bittersweet because the truth remains: Cynthia Alexander is leaving the country to seek greener pastures.

Filmmaker Sari Dalena documents the event.

Not his most flattering picture, but hey, that’s Mark Escueta of Rivermaya performing with Cynthia on stage.

Now, we’ve all heard of Filipino nurses, teachers, doctors and other professionals going abroad for a better future. But musicians? Something must be really, really wrong. And according to Cynthia, there is, indeed, something very wrong with the Philippine music industry. In an interview with Interaksyon.com, she’s particularly discouraged by the Optical Media Board’s thougtless regulations for artists like her, read this or view the pdf version here.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is an artist who truly makes significant contributions to Original Pilipino Music, and to see her resort to leaving the country for better fortune is a real shame.

However, she says she can never leave the country for good since this is her one and only home. That can never be good enough for the fans, of course.

Good thing we got her to sign our copy of her album, had a blurred photo together and a memory of our first, and probably, our last Cynthia Alexander gig.

Cynthia wrote: “Love will come to you.” Yes, it did.

The Pentax Optio WG-1 On Trial: When the going gets tough…

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If a compact camera could wear a raincoat, thermal wear, bullet proof vest and a full plate mail all at the same time, the result should be something like the Pentax WG-1. With its water-, shock-, cold-, crush- and dustproof built and design, it claims to be the perfect companion for any adventurer seeking thrill high up in the mountains or deep under the sea. You can check out its specs here. (specs link here)

But really. Screw the specs. We believe what we see. And so, we put the Pentax WG-1 to the test.

We went to Camarines Norte in the Bicol Region to try kayak surfing. For those who are not familiar with this sport, it’s just like surfing. Only, you’ll be riding the waves using paddles and a two-seater boat called a kayak instead of a surfboard. (kayak surfing article link here) A GoPro camera may be the most popular and logical choice for an extreme sports coverage like this, but we already have the Pentax WG-1. All we needed was a stable and secure mount. These were all that we had that time:

Clothes hanger

Packaging and duct tape

Rubber bands

Buttload of creativity

And here’s what we’ve come up with:

An inconvenient limitation here is that Pentax WG-1 can only record up to 10 minutes of video per clip.

Here’s a sample of what we recorded.



Notice that it got a lot of beating as the kayak was going against the waves. The strong current even had us biting our nails after it tipped the boat over the first time. When the surfers went back to shore, we were relieved to see that the ocean hadn’t claimed our camera, and that the rig was, surprisingly, sturdy enough for a few more rides and tip-overs. Our improvised hanger mount was a little bent, though. But the real highlight of the event was that our little trooper went on recording during the entire whitewater whacking. And what’s more, Pentax WG-1’s video output did not show any signs of distortion due to impact.

Next, we thought it would be fun to see the kayak surfer’s point of view. So, we attached the camera to a helmet using the same materials, only this time, we added a small piece of styrofoam to serve as cushion/stabilizer.

This is how it looks like when worn:

And here’s a sample of the video it took.


Then, we were off to Nasugbu, Batangas to try the Pentax WG-1 on a sumo surfing ride. It’s a relatively new extreme water sport in the country. Like wakeboarding, you’ll be dragged across the water by a jetski. However, instead of standing up on a board, you’ll be surfing face down in a Superman fashion.

Here’s how sumo surfing looks like from the shore and from the boat.


And here’s how it looks like from the sumo surfer’s point of view.


This was a tough one because we couldn’t find anything stable to attach the camera to. For lack of better options, we just decided to strap it on the sumo surfer’s wrist and asked him to aim the camera forward during the ride. But bad framing aside, the point of the entire exercise was to see how Pentax WG-1 will fare when it’s hit by water at this speed.

Next, we went helmet diving in Boracay Island, Aklan and took our Pentax WG-1, 20 feet under the sea.


Video quality was decent thanks to the sufficient light coming from the water surface. But what’s really important here was that Pentax WG-1 was fully functional at 20 feet.

Now, if only Boracay’s coral reef was 13 feet deeper…

After putting it through these tests, we can say that Pentax WG-1’s performance was well within our expectations. Video-wise, its output was decent considering its price. We were also amazed [and relieved] to see that this camera hasn’t shown any signs of corrosion even without us giving it proper care after using it in saltwater. However, there are a few concerns we’d like to point out:

First, the camera is hard to clean. It has several grooves where dust and sand can get stuck into. We were rather dismayed to find out that most of the sand that we had trouble taking out were found near the opening of the battery/memory card compartment which is basically the entry point to the camera’s internal parts.

Second, and this one is slightly related to the first one, we noticed that the lid of the compartment itself is not perfectly sealed in place, allowing a little water and dust inside the camera. This is a major concern because water and dust inside the camera means farewell to summer vacation memories or even the camera itself. We had to bring it to the service center to have it checked. We don’t know if we’re speaking in behalf of all the people who have bought the same Pentax model when it comes to this problem, but you may want to take this into account when you’re buying an underwater camera.

Finally, throughout the test, the videos have this noticeable discoloration. This is called a vertical smear. It usually happens when the lens is exposed to harsh light and is quite common among digital cameras using a CCD sensor just like Pentax WG-1. Well, each type of sensor has its own pros and cons, so what we’re really trying to say here is that there won’t be any point in getting pissed off at vertical smears simply because… they happen.

To learn more about vertical smear, click here.

Word is out that Pentax WG-2 is has been released on March 2012 this year in the Philippines. It will be interesting to find out if Pentax can deliver what we all want to see in new versions of any gadget: all the good stuff from the older model, all the improvements from the previous version and a few but useful additional features for us to explore.

Thinking Ahead: Mercedes As Your Next Summer Affair

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The rainy days are back and it signals the end of happier days, much like an evil alarm clock forcing you to end your summer vacation dream in exchange for a long day at school or work. It’s quite a bummer and while it’s wise to veer away from thoughts of your next summer vacation, it still is worth a little of your time to make a note of places you might want to go to next. Besides, it’s never too late or too early to plan for summer. Maybe take a path less trodden… to a place that requires less expenses… probably a place like Camarines Norte.

Sure, the most logical summer destination in the Bicol region will be Camarines Sur, particularly because of the CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC). Hell, if you ask Google about the word “camarines”, it will butt in and suggest CWC right away. And with good reason. What can be more reassuring than their promise of providing your dose of adrenaline rush, “wind or no wind”. But setting your sights a little bit up north may have its perks, especially for the more adventurous ones.

Mercedes, Camarines Norte is a 9 to 11-hour drive from Manila. This municipality is composed of seven islands and the local government, seeing the enormous potential of each, could already be drooling at the thought of the myriads ways they can gear Mercedes up for tourism.

Nope, it’s not Lolong. It’s Crocodile Island.

Mercedes’ beach

Early mornings in Mercedes are always bustling with life with their traditional bulungan sa pandawan (literally whisperings or murmurings). This is when fishermen take their daily haul to the fishport, lay them on the ground and, sort of, auction them to local retailers or groups of tourists planning to have an epic ihaw-ihaw party, in a not-so coat-and-tie fashion.

Haggle all you want in Bulungan sa Pandawan. It’s legal.

We came in an hour late so maybe we missed the best parts. But here’s what we observed: people don’t actually speak in hushed tones during this morning routine, but neither do they speak like they’re in a game show: “PERA o BANYERA?” “BANYERA!!! BANYERA!!!”. Still, it’s an interesting sight to see, if only for the various, and often, unfamiliar sea creatures being sold here for human consumption: manta rays, eels, and swordfish,  most of them still alive and wriggling in their slimy splendor. Yum.

And city dwellers that we are, we can’t help but say “Wow…” at how low the prices can go if you play your cards right during the bargaining. To think that in our wet markets, freshness is directly proportional to the price per kilo.

Lots of choices here. All guaranteed fresh from the sea.


Highlighting our stay in Mercedes is their Easter event called “Orogmahan sa Baybay” (merrymaking by the shore).  The whole-day festivities include an Easter Egg Hunt, water sport competitions like skimboarding and kayak surfing, and getting drunk senseless by the seashore.

Easter Sunday marks one of Mercedes’ summer highlights, Orogmahan sa Baybay.

A friendly reminder: Don’t drink and umm…surf. Seriously, don’t. Mercedes’ beach directly faces the Pacific Ocean, the mother of all our typhoons and tropical depressions. And while the waves can push you with significant force, they can pull you away from the shore just the same… even when you’re perfectly sober.

Locals dodge the waves by backflipping.

However, the white waves manifest just a few meters near the shore which makes Mercedes an excellent spot for skimboarding and kayak surfing. For skimboarding, most of the people here bring their own. Skimboards are available at P3000 – P20,000 depending on the quality. We’re not quite sure if there are skimboard rental shops in Mercedes but if you’re glib and charming enough, you can talk your way into a free skimboarding lesson from the friendly locals. We believe that the amusement of seeing tourists getting trampled by the waves will be just compensation for their trouble.

As for kayak surfing, equipment can be rented for P200 an hour which you can then split two-way since a kayak can seat two people. Included in the fee are the kayak, two life vests, two paddles, a crash course lesson about kayak surfing for beginners, and the assurance that you’re going to be fine and that someone out there will look out for you and whoever’s going to be your kayak surfing partner just in case something happens. The tourism office itself rents out the kayak equipment so don’t worry about getting ripped off. Just time your activity during high tide (around 8-10am and 4-6pm) and see if you can ride the wave pattern notorious for tipping most kayaks over colloquially known as a singko-siyete, wherein five small waves are followed by seven big ones.

Ride these waves. We dare you.

The locals yawn at these waves. They speak of bigger ones during the “-ber” months.

Fortune smiles at us: free kayak surfing clinic!

Locals show us how it’s done.

During our stay, the tourism office offered a free kayak surfing clinic to everyone who’s willing. Of course, we (or at least one of us) were more than willing because almost everything sounds better when there’s the word “free” attached to it.

That girl seated in front of the kayak got her wish.

So if you do plan to visit Mercedes, get ready to get your feet wet and everything else above them.

Before Eating, Say Grace-land

                Our dining experience in Mercedes was a bit uneventful. When we asked the tourism officials for the best place to eat, for some reason, they can’t name one at first breath. Maybe because it was Good Friday and they didn’t expect most of the restaurants to be open that day. They just told us to go to Cam Norte’s capital, Daet, and maybe we’d find what we were looking for. We took our chances, because really, just how empty will a trip be if one does not have a certain restaurant or food to remember it by?

Luckily for us, there was one. And its name can never have been more appropriate for the situation. Graceland.

And then the angels started to sing from nowhere.

In the more urbanized parts of Bicol, when you see a Jollibee branch, it’s almost always certain that a Graceland Baker’s Plaza branch is nearby. It’s quite popular here because it has successfully fused fastfood with Bicolano cuisine.

Pastries in a fastfood diner? Why not? It’s Graceland  Baker’s Plaza, after all.

Or maybe that’s just what we wanted to believe. Some say it’s because of the mascot courtesy of this blog.

They’ve got the regular chow you’d find in fastfood chains like burgers, fried chicken and spaghetti…

…as well as not so regular ones like Bicolandia’s laing…

… and we forgot what this one was called.

According to some of our Bicolano friends, Camarines Norte ain’t quite tourism-ready, yet. And from what we had seen in Mercedes, unfortunately, it’s true. We loved its waves but we didn’t quite dig the bushy growth and the poor waste management on the beach. Here, we didn’t get to taste the flavors of Bicol nor were we ecstatic about the comforts of our hotel room.

But you won’t really visit Mercedes or the other underdeveloped parts of CamNor for the food or the lodgings or the extra-wide smiles of the locals who will do so just because you are a tourist. Part of its charm comes from its people who are not yet accustomed to a tourism-driven economy. You will not find anyone with a placard who will annoyingly linger around you to get you to stay in their resort. When you walk the streets, the locals will look at you with polite curiosity because they can tell that you’re from somewhere else just by looking at your clothes, your complexion, or maybe simply because yours is an unfamiliar face. But they’ll easily get over it long before you feel uncomfortable, because when they look at you, they don’t see a golden egg-laying goose.

And then there’s the fact that we have only seen just about 10 percent of Mercedes when there are lots of attractions here we wish we had the time to explore. There’s the bat sanctuary in Canimog also known as the “crocodile island”, camping in the white sand beach of Apuao, watching the fireflies dance beneath the balite tree of Mambungalon, bathing in Colasi Falls and drinking from Lanot’s natural soda water spring.

Oh wait. Did we just say natural SODA water spring? Yes, we did.

So yes, we will absolutely recommend having an affair with Mercedes next summer or the one after that. As for us, we will definitely go back for the things we missed the first chance we get and not a day longer. And we hope we get to do so while Mercedes is still the way she is when we first met her. If you want to meet her, too, you can contact Ms. Colen Ibasco 09472060301.

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