Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Restaurant Review: Forest House Bistro and Café (Baguio City, Benguet)

Forest House Bistro & Cafe

Stepping into the Forest House Bistro and Café, a 275 sq.m., casual yet upscale bed and breakfast, bistro and restaurant built into an old American-era structure along the zigzagging and pine-forested Loakan Road, is like entering the homey atmosphere and serenity of a gracious and warm log cabin created by pinewood, yellow bricks and colored antique glass windows.  The warm light and soothing feel of the interiors and the accouterments are definitely the first thing that catches your eye.

The foyer

Opened last April 8, 2001 by couple Ari (Baguio-born, raised and educated, he prefers to be called “Manong Ari”) and Raquel Verzosa, with cousin Alvin Verzosa (who has an eye for detail and penchant for good food), its foyer (where guests wait to be seated) has a cozy sofa and two armchairs facing each other. 

Between is a small, brick fireplace that would surely warm guests during chilly evenings (in Baguio, this happens more often than not) with the heat of its crackling firewood. Above the fireplace is a painting of Charlemagne vanquishing the Saracens at the border of old France and establishing the first Germanic empire in 800 AD.

Main Dining Area

A coffee and tea bar, on the side of the restaurant, boasts of an excellent selection of coffee and tea from Chicago-based coffee masters (a choice of decaffeinated brew in a variety of granules, depending on your preference of richness), while on the opposite side is a pasta bar. 

The overall look of this storybook restaurant is country, its various walls and nooks adorned with de rigueur collectibles. The well-thought-out, warm, intimate and cozy ambiance (sitting well in a natural setting), well chosen décor, winning color combinations, faultless table settings and arrangements was perfect. 

Main Dining Area

Its charming bathroom is decorated with a box of potpourri, scented candles, a square-shaped seater and a wall décor with an uplifting message, “Greet each day with your eyes open to beauty, mind open to change, and heart open to love.”

The carefully planned and laid out menu of Forest House offers a wide variety of delightful dishes, which are mainly of Asian influence -  Fresh Green Salad with kani and Mango (organic greens with mango and crabstick), Spicy Thai Squid (Stir-fried squid in Thai chili sauce), sesame crusted Mahi Mahi (fillet of Mahi Mahi grilled to perfection topped with Asian salsa) and Pisang Goreng (banana slices on rice wrapper, topped with vanilla ice cream). The house specialty (and its most sought dish) is the homemade Ilokos bagnet (crispy tender fried pork belly).

Pancit Canton

Start up with the creamy and properly rustic wild mushroom soup. Appetizers include the piping hot Roti Canai (Malaysian unleavened flat bread served with curry dip), Scallops Thermidore (half shelled scallops with white, bubbling cream sauce), minced chicken in lettuce cups (Asian marinated chicken in lettuce caps with hoisin sauce on the side) and Forest House platter (a combination of smoke fish spring roll, buffalo wings, bagnet and tomato bruschetta).

The author

Also on the menu are popular international (Spanish, American and Italian) dishes such as Lengua con setas (ox tongue in rich gravy mushroom sauce); succulent Prawns Thermidore (baked prawns in rich Bechamel cheese sauce); Beef Caldereta; Lamb with Mustard sauce; Flounder with White Wine Sauce; Chicken Alexis in mushrooms sauce and red wine; Jakero Pork Chop (grilled pork chop topped with chili on a bed of fries); Forest House wine-sauced Chicken; Vegetable Kebab; Sesame Crusted Fish Fillet; Callos; Salpicado; and Roasted Dijon Rack of Lamb (roasted rack of lamb rubbed in soy Dijon Mustard and spiced with herb and blue cheese).

Diners from E. Ganzon, Inc.

There is also an array of pasta to choose from (Putanesca with capers and black olives, Country Garden Linguini with Mozzarella, Fettuccini Carbonara with smoked ham and wild mushrooms, etc.) as well as crisp, green and very tasty salads (Grilled Chicken Caesar, Smoked Salmon Salad and Forest House). All these are coupled with a serving of fresh strawberries and iced tea drinks that come in various flavors.

Desserts like Pisang Goreng (a comforting creamy crunchy concoction of vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between fried wontons), Strawberry Panaccotta, Carrot Cake or Black and White Cheese Cake and home baked cakes liked Black Forest, Blueberry Cheese Cake, Apple Pie or Belgian waffles are best with a simmering, bottomless cup of Benguet’s well-known, strong and robust Arabica coffee brewed to perfection with a secret concoction.

The terrace, the best part of the restaurant, is where you can dine al fresco, breathing the crisp, bracingly cool air and admiring the pink bougainvilleas and the breathtaking, spectacularly priceless view of the mountains. The country touch is enhanced by the use of the original structure’s old pine wood panels as well as antique wood pieced together from the old materials or obtained from antique houses around the Ilocos Region.

Forest House Bistro and Café: 16 Loakan Rd., Camp John Hay, Baguio City 2600, Benguet.  Tel: (074) 447 0459. Website: www.foresthoush.ph

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Hotel and Inn Review: Star Plaza Hotel (Dagupan City, Pangasinan)

Date of Stay: January 1 - 2, 2019

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: *******
Condition and Cleanliness: ********
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: *******
Value for Money: *******

Star Plaza Hotel

Pantal River
The 6-storey, 3-star Star Plaza Hotel, overlooking the Pantal River, features 86 spacious and well-appointed, non-smoking airconditioned rooms with flat-screen cable TV, private ensuite bath, telephone, work desk and free newspaper.  Certain units have a seating area and a terrace or balcony. 

During our visit to Dagupan City, we stayed in a 20 sq. m. Junior Twin Room (Php1,500 net) with 2 semi-double beds  (Room 510) and the 32 sq. m. Family Suite (PhP2,500 net) which has 1 king-size bed and a mini-bar (Room 509). Both had no window view and natural lighting and, thus, were quite dark.  There was also no free bottled water and tea/coffee making facility for guests.

Hotel entrance

There are other room types. The 20 sq. m. Junior Double (Php1,500 net, has 1 double bed but no window view.  

The 22 sq. m. Royal Suite (PhP2,100 net), has semi-double beds, balcony/terrace, mini-bar and a river view.  The 22 sq. m. De Luxe Twin has 2 single beds, mini-bar and balcony/terrace.  

Family Suite (Room 509)
Family Suite (Room 509)

The  32 sq. m. Plaza Suite (PhP3,000 net) has 1 super king bed, mini-bar and balcony/terrace.  

The 51 sq. m. Presidential Suite (PhP5,000 net) has 1 super king bed, balcony/terrace, river view, mini-bar, seating area and a bathroom with jacuzzi whirlpool bath. 

Extra mattress is PhP300 while Joiner’s fee is Php200.  Normal check-in time is 2 PM while check out time is 12 noon.  To check in, you have to shell out a PhP1,000 bond which will be reimbursed upon checking out.

Hotel Lobby

Front Desk
The hotel also has three food and beverage outlets.  

The 150-pax, ground floor Star Ocean Restaurant offers seafood and Asian and Chinese cuisine for fine dining.  Open 3 PM to 12 midnight (dinner only). 

The second floor Patisserie offers a basic but tasty ala carte breakfast (not free with the room) and light meals (freshly squeezed juices, sandwiches, ice cream and brewed coffee).  Open 7AM to 12 midnight. The second floor videoke bar, open from 8 AM to 12 midnight, has 12 private rooms with audio visual music entertainment.  

Junior Twin Room (Room 510)
Junior Twin Room (Room 510)

Business center
Stairs to second floor
Star Plaza Hotel also has a 24-hour front desk, two elevators, 500-800-pax grand ballroom, 150-pax function rooms and a business center (fax services, photocopying, document printing, and equipment rentals).

There's also a flower/gift shop (open 8AM to 7 PM), unisex salon (open 10 AM to 8PM, Mondays to Saturdays, and 11AM to 8PM, Sundays) and secured but limited and open onsite parking along the river. 

It offers room service, currency exchange, daily housekeeping, safety deposit box, laundry and pressing service.

The fine dining Star Ocean Restaurant

The hotel staff was courteous and helpful.  Check in was fast and efficient.  The hotel does need a major facelift as it is quite old.  Located at the center of the city, Star Plaza was very accessible to establishments around the Dagupan-Downtown area.  

Most are just a stone’s throw away (Chowking, Jollibee, Am-Ams Restaurant, True Brew, etc.).  It is also a 10 min. walk to Dagupan City Plaza and Nepo Mall.  

The author and Jandy having breakfast at Patisserie

Flower/Gift Shop
Videoke Bar
The hotel is also located 4.4 kms. (2.7 mi.) from the Annunciation of the Lord Parish Church, 4.6 kms. (2.9 mi.) from St. Peter and St. Paul Church (Calasiao), 9 kms. (5.6 mi.) from Bonuan Beach,  9.2 kms. (5.7 mi.) from the Japanese Garden,  27.6 kms. (17.1 mi.) from Urdaneta Museum and 28.1 kms. (17.4 mi.) from Immaculate Conception Cathedral, both in Urdaneta City. Good value for money

Kyle, Bryan and Cheska at the Reception Area

Star Plaza Hotel: Angel B Fernandez Ave., Downtown District, Mayombo, Dagupan City, 2400 Pangasinan.  Tel: (075) 523 4888 (Trunk) and (075) 523-4680 to 85.  Fax: (075) 523-4777 or 522-0030. Mobile numbers: (0999) 857-4355 (Smart) and (0915) 906-5004 (Globe).  E-mail: info@starplazadagupan.com. Website: www.starplazadagupan.com.