A Pinoy Expatriate’s Insane Musings

Archive for the ‘Cuisine’ Category

Pres A Vi Restaurant (Presidio, San Francisco)

Posted by Marvin on February 22, 2007

A colleague came over here to California a couple of weeks ago to attend a meeting at our corporate headquarters. It’s a good opportunity for me and my wife to speak Tagalog again as well as make “lakwatsa” to San Francisco. Our friend wanted to go to Alcatraz Island (of “The Rock” fame) and this gave us a chance to eat at the Presidio – this is a national park within the city and quite near the Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of a series of historically fortified sites used by American, Spanish and Mexican forces in and around the Bay Area. The Presido-National Park Service and The Presidio Trust websites are excellent sources of information for wanna-be visitors.


We chose the Pres a Vi Restaurant among the several potential dining places in the area because of two overriding reasons: (1) we haven’t been there before, and (2) my wife wanted to eat there (which in my mind is the tipping point for the decision).

  • MENU: The menu is an eclectic collection of fusion foods with Asian, American & continental influences. The menu has items which will sound familiar to Asians in general and Pinoys in particular. Examples: Grilled Prawn Satay, Duck Confit Lumpia and the quintessential Filipino dish Pork Adobo. Yes, Filipino food is alive and well in America! There is a lot of variety and an individual could have his run of the choices.
  • AMBIENCE: I must admit that the place has a simple but classy feel to it. And the views are quite good. You could look out across the Presidio and view the Exploratorium and Palace of Fine Arts (with its distinctive “Pantheonic” dome) at the distance.
  • FOOD: The food is actually quite good. We arrived after lunch so we were not able to partake of the normal lunch menu. My wife tried the Duck Confit Lumpia and she found it sumptuous (if not a bit too greasy because of the duck). I ordered the Kobe Beef Cheese Burger…to put it simply and in not-so-eloquent language: “Goodah….” As good as any burger in any formal restaurant around the city. These were all part of their “Bar Bites” Menu which are slightly smaller servings for snacks or brunch.
  • PRICE: I think I paid around $40 for the whole thing with drinks. Bearing in mind that it was basically brunch for three (3) people, the place is relatively cheap for a formal restaurant in a good part of town. Here’s some perspective for you: I normally pay $8-$9 during lunch at our company canteen and that’s for a cup of chili, a diet coke and a do-it-yourself salad. So you will have to forgive me for being thankful for the cheap but nice brunch we had. It is cheap by San Francisco standards but expensive if you compare it with the “lugawan, gotohan or fishballan” carts in and around U.P.’s Sunken Garden. God…I miss those college days…

If you have a chance to be around that part of San Francisco, you may want to try out the restaurants inside the Presidio. The fact that it is a national park makes it less crowded and less tacky than any of the other restaurants in the area. And the answer is a big fat “NO”…The owners of Pres a Vi did not pay me to write this…they don’t even know I exist…and I would like to keep it that way…

NOTE: Avoid the restaurants around Pier 39 like the plague. These are tacky, tourist traps and the only reason to eat there is if your blood sugar has reached hypoglycemic alarm levels.


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A Touch Of Asia a.k.a. Insights On Being Filipino

Posted by Marvin on January 20, 2007

Over the holidays, my wife and I decided that we needed a dose of culture. A friend told us about an art exhibit by noted Filipino painters in San Francisco – which came as a real surprise for me. California (as many of you know) is NOT really known for its sense of culture. A “cultured American” might even be argued as an oxymoron by anti-Americans (which is pretty much the rest of the world ever since Bush became President).

So we hopped over to the BART station (Bay Area Rapid Transit for non-Bay Area residents) for the 45-minute trip to Downtown San Francisco to visit the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted to Asian art. We got off the Civic Center station and walked over to the Museum.

Along the way, we passed by the Old Federal Building which was the site of the initial incorporation meetings of the United Nations way back in 1945 towards the end of World War II. A park outside of the Old Federal Building commemorates the event. It listed the Philippines as the “Philippine Commonwealth” as we are still technically United Nations Logounder American rule at that time. Nevertheless, every Filipino should be proud that the Philippines is one of the original signatories of the U.N. Charter. There is an apocryphal story (some say it is true) about the design of the U.N. logo. As the logo was being designed, the Philippine Representative to the U.N. Carlos P. Romulo (the former General) asked the designer why the Philippines was not shown in the logo – a polar projection of the world viewed from the North Pole and sourrounded by olive branches. The designer answered, “The Philippines is such a small country that it will be as small a dot.” Romulo replied, “Nevertheless, I want that dot.”

I was recounting this story to my wife as we passed by the park. Unfortunately, the park is now a haven for the homeless of San Francisco and I wouldn’t want to pass that way at night (if you know what I mean). One poor soul even started mouthing off to us about how we Asians think we are so smart and how we are the cause of their suffering. I pretended not to hear. I would have engaged any racist bigot once on any given day and twice on Sundays but I allowed this one to slide. The guy was black and has had better days and is most probably intoxicated. There is no glory in conquering someone who is quite obviously not in full control of his faculties.


At the Musuem, we saw huge banners at the facade highlighting the names “Amorsolo”, “Luna” and “Zobel”. The exhibit on Philippine art wass in its last days and would have closed by the time I get this published online. We were both famished so we opted to grab a quick bite at the Museum’s Cafe Asia.

Here’s an e-copy of their menu:

menu_front.jpg menu_back.jpg

For a cursory culinary review:

  • MENU: The chef tried to accommodate as much variety as possible so you will find some Thai dishes, Indian dishes and the customary noodles. I would have wanted to sample some Pinoy food, Singapore chicken rice or Malay nasi lemak – but that is asking for the moon. This IS San Francisco anyway.
  • AMBIENCE: The place is laid out like any typical small restaurant. Strictly speaking it is more like the Pinoy’s version of a canteen rather than a formal sit-down restaurant i.e. customers queue up and walk over to the counter, point and click (“turo-turo”) and then pay at the register with your food in hand. Inspite of this, the place exuded a Zen-like charm.
  • FOOD: The food is not bad. My wife ordered the Thai Cococunut Chicken Soup which is basically a huge bowl filled with rice noodles, chicken chunks, cocunut milk and Thai spices. It was quite good and suited my palate. On the other hand, I got the…..(drum roll please)…All-Beef Hot Dog! I know, I know…Why order stadium food in an Asian cafe inside the Asian Museum? Well…I got the craving for a dog and a craving is a craving is a craving. It wasn’t really bad and by the end of the meal, my wife was asking me for a bite…
  • PRICE: I don’t think you’ll find a cheaper sit down place in that part of San Francisco. Value-wise, this place is a real steal. The soup set us back $7.75 but it’s huge anyway…(“Puwede ka pang maghilamos after the meal dahil sa dami ng sabaw…”) while the hot dog is a paltry $4.75. Plus, you’re inside a museum!

After satisfying our grumbling stomachs, we headed towards the exhibition halls. First stop is the Pioneers of Philippine Art exhibit. The collection was on loan from the Ayala Museum and featured selected works by Fernando Amorsolo, Juan Luna and Fernando Zobel (Give the Ayalas a break, they own the stuff anyway…). It was a real treat to view such masterpieces created by the giants of Philippine art.

Amorsolo’s pieces were typical Amorsolo. Country scenes with Filipinos working in the fields, masterful use of light and the warm sunlight which is so typical of Amorsolo’s works. I told my wife that whilst critics might say that Amorsolo’s art has an escapist theme (i.e. Philippine life is far from the optimistic and tranquil world of Amorsolo’s pieces) – you have to admit that once you see his paintings – there is no doubt in your mind that the subject is about the Philippines. In essence, Amorsolo’s works are what you might call quintessential or classic Philippines.

Luna’s pieces on other hand have a somber or darker mood. Even with his portraits of European women or European cafe scenes, this mood is quite evident. Without second-guessing Luna’s motives, this could be a case of an artist being a product of his time. He lived in a time of turmoil – when national consciousness started evolving, existing systems challenged or even overthrown. On top of this, he had a rough and troubled personal life. Not many Filipinos know this – but Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law in a rage but was spared the hangman’s noose or jail because the court judged it as a “crime of passion”. What is it with artists anyway?

Fernando Zobel, and yes he’s probably included in the exhibit because his family owned the collections, is an artist with contrasting or even conflicting styles. Some of his pieces are excellent abstract pieces which is a study in symmetry and form while others are of the more modernist bent (ala Picasso baga…). In my mind, he is a person looking for his own identity and this is reflected in his art. Could be a case of “Am I a painter or a businessman?” or “Am I a patron of the arts or an artist myself?” or even “Am I a Filipino or a Spaniard?”

All in all, the exhibit was pretty good. A lot of Filipinos who don’t sound like Filipino but who are definitely Filipino i.e. they stand like Filipinos, they act like Filipinos and their noses look like Filipinos – visited the Museum specifically to connect with their Filipino heritage. They wanted to know what it is to be Filipino. And thanks to the Pioneers of Philippine Art, they were able to have a good sense of what that meant:

AMORSOLO: Filipinos have unique qualities which make them Filipinos and you will know instantly that a person is Filipino once you see those qualities. These could range from the cultural like the Filipino’s penchant for relying on fate (“Bahala na…”) to the Filipino’s idiosyncracies as a people. For example: How will you know who the Filipinos are in a crowded place? Sumutsot ka…Pag may lumingon, siguradong Pinoy yon…

LUNA: Filipinos are a jovial people and their capacity for enjoyment is unfathomable. Patience is also one of their virtues and his ability to endure hardship and oppression is legendary. It took him 333 years to wake up and kick the Spanish and their sanctimonious friars out of the country. Marcos oppressed him for 20 years before he fought back. To a certain degree, Marcos is still oppressing him as his family and his minions are still around cavorting within the political area while enjoying their ill-gotten wealth. But be forewarned that Filipinos do have a limit and they can have their temper. In the vernacular: Ang Pinoy parang sinaing, pag nasobrahan ng apoy o tubig – kumukulo at umaapaw…

ZOBEL: Inspite of our rich heritage and the level of sophistication of our culture during pre-Hispanic times, at the Filipino’s core there is always doubt and confusion. We do not know who we are and this confusion expresses itself in the various tragedies that befell our country. We do not who we are – that’s why we do not recognize each other as brothers. The proverbial talangka mentality is alive and well to our country’s detriment. We have no sense of nationhood and that is why Philippine politics and the Philippine economy is what it is – a circus, a comedy of errors, a horror movie slashfest…

Oh dear…I can’t imagine I was able to gleam all these things from a few framed and painted canvas sheets. I guess viewing, admiring and enjoying these wonderful works of art got me thinking about the people who made them. All are what we might call Filipinos – but each one with different face.

I envy my wife. She had a good time and enjoyed herself because she viewed the masterpieces for what they are: wonderful paintings…

Here are some pictures of additional exhibits at the Musuem (Some parts of the Musuem are off-limits to photographers):

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Finding Filipino Food In California

Posted by Marvin on August 2, 2006

It is August 02…Only a few more days before we leave. I looked out of my office window and all I see is a fraction of the Manila Peninsula, One Roxas Triange in the distance and some ominous cumulo-nimbus clouds in the sky. What a time to leave the country…Two storms (“Glenda” and “Henry”) rampaging across the archipelago while it is SIZZLING hot in California – with daytime temperatures in the 40s (degrees Celsius mind you!). Just the perfect time to start thinking (and writing) about food. Specifically, Filipino food. One of the long running questions in my head is this: How in the cotton-pickin’ heck are we going to find luscious, piping-hot Filipino food in the East Bay Area of California?

Thank God for former Vice-President Al Gore and the Internet…Vice-President Gore for making it clear to everyone that 2005-06 is the year that global warming gave us a crisp whack in the head i.e. “malutong” in Indio-speak and the Internet for helping me find Pinoy food in my soon-to-be home.

Google Maps

Master-of-the-Web-Universe Google is awash with hits if you type “Filipino food in the United States” as a search parameter. Here are some of the first sites which popped out:

  • Filipino Recipes Link dot com is a site filled with links and info on Filipino recipes (Wow…That’s a surprise.) They have a special section called “Directory of Filipino Restaurants in the United States” with phone numbers and addresses (so you can google them on Google Maps.)
  • Max’s Restaurant is also in the U.S. (Yahoooooo!!!!!) They have a functionality in their site which enables a person in the U.S. to order online and have the food delivered to someone in the Philippines. This is well and good for the guy in the Philippines…but what about us hungry-folks in the U.S.? Grrr…”Nasanay kasi ako sa mga delivery service dito sa Pinas…”
  • Gerry’s Grill is also in California. They have a branch in Union City. I just hope it is near to our house in San Ramon (Near is a relative term – especially in the U.S. where “near” could refer to a place that is 15-20 miles/24-32 kms away).

Or you could approach the search like a tech-savvy geek would. Go to either Yahoo! Local or Google Maps and just enter what you’re looking for in a more or less high-level search syntax like “Filipino restaurants near Area 51” or something like that and Yahoo! and Google will do the rest. And the answer is “NO. There are no Filipino restaurants near Area 51 or Groom Lake or Dreamland or whatever it is you call that place in the Nevada desert.” If you’re not satisfied, go to Google Earth, download the free software and ogle to your heart’s content.

One of my hare-brained schemes is to visit some of these Filipino restaurants and post my reviews on this site (ala Anton’s Our Awesome Planet blog). Not that this site is the hottest blog in the world. I don’t even know if anyone reads this aside from my wife: “Hi, Honey!”

Posted in Cuisine, Links, Science | 2 Comments »