What a pleasant long weekend we just had in Naga!
It has been hassle-free since we left Manila on Good Friday. Our early morning Cebu Pacific flight left on time and landed in Naga 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It just took a few minutes to get our checked-in luggage, and then our hotel pick-up whisked us off to Avenue Plaza Hotel.
The hotel staff welcomed the kids warmly, remembering them as regular guests since they were babies. Before 8am, we were checking-in and enjoying our breakfast at Bigg’s (http://www.biggsdiner.com) and Starbucks both on Magsaysay Ave. Thank God for these Good Friday blessings!
We were happy to host friends from Manila on this visit. Ken and his lovely daughters drove from Manila at dawn and were in the hotel before 10am. They wanted to go wakeboarding at CWC (http://www.cwcwake.com) but we decided to have an early lunch first. So off we go to Red Platter, a reliable place that has been witness to many of our family’s special occasions. There’s something for everyone in this restaurant. The dads enjoyed their salads, the pescetarians loved the sizzling seafood and vegetarian pizza, the kids loved their meats, and everybody loved the pastries.
Our guests were on their way to Sorsogon the following day so we suggested that they check-in at Giddy’s (http://www.giddysplace.com/) in Donsol, then try the firefly boat ride in the evening before embarking on their first whaleshark interaction that the town is famous for. On their way there, they can stop by Lett’s in Camalig, Albayfor our favorite Pinangat and Bicol Express. They also had the option to swing by Misibis Resort (http://www.misibisbay.com/) if they had time.
The heat on Good Friday was oppressive, Mercifully, Moonleaf Milk Tea (moonleafteashop.com/) was open. There we took refuge from the summer heat and enjoyed various flavors of their milk tea (with wintermelon and tiramusu as our favorites).
At CWC, we chanced upon Michelle Madrigal and other beautiful people doing Frisbee. The kids ended up doing Frisbee as well, while our guests braved the heat and the long lines at the beginner’s section of the sprawling CWC Complex. Meantime, my husband defied the heatstroke-inducing weather and did hid hour-long brisk-walk. A few hours later, our neophyte wakeboarders has sore arms and shoulders and were ready for dinner.
Dinner was at the Cereza Compound, a strip of restaurants along Magsaysay Ave. We ended up sampling items from two adjacent restaurants: Laksa and Uncle Johnny’s. We were pleasantly surprised to see a place serving laksa in Naga so we ended up ordering the “Malaysian” (vegetarian) and “Singaporean” (with shrimps and chicken) versions. We enjoyed the Malaysian version more. We also enjoyed the veggie stir fry in Laksa (http://www.nagacitydeck.com/food/cereza) and we resolved to visit this again and try other items in their menu. Uncle Johnny’s serves American fare (California burger is the supposed specialty, along with ribs, steaks and roast chiecken). We met Unce Johnny himself and was convinced to try hie freshly baked rye bread. It was soo good we ended up devouring several loaves while waiting for our Laksa.
Uncle Johnny is actually some kind of a celebrity in Naga because of his success at Grisinni’s, a popular Italian restaurant ). More on Uncle Johnny, who has been written about in various publications, and Grisini later.
Coffee was at the Chef’s Office, a new specialty coffee shop cum library cum cooking school that should give the Starbucks nearby stiff competition.
We enjoyed our Lavazza latte and cappuccino here. I think, I just found a new favorite spot in this city. We were joined for coffee by Uncle Johnny and another “rock-star chef”, Chef Doy, who is behind another popular restaurant called, what else, “Chef Doy”. Uncle Johnny and Chef Doy were not originally from Bicol but have fallen in love with Naga. They belong to a breed of non-Bicolanos who are injecting innovation and youthful energy to the local restaurant scene, further fueling the city’s vibrant and entrepreneurial culture. They fondly call their group, aptly, “Nagayuma”
Throughout our 4-day stay in Naga, we enjoyed the buffet breakfast at Avenue Plaza’s Café Plazuela, for three straight days. It’s great that they occasionally add local fare like daing na abo (local dried fish) to the spread. This restaurant’s staff has come to know us over the years and offered superb service as usual.
Our culinary adventures continued on Black Saturday. Lunch was thin crust pizza at Grisinni’s, a hit with the kids. We’ve eaten here a year ago and the food has been consistently good. No wonder, Uncle Johnny has been getting rave reviews.
We spent a good part of the day visiting the Hot (and Cold Springs) at the foot of Mount Isarog. Locals call it the “Hydro”. We were too lazy to drive so the hotel staff arranged for a cab to drive us up and down the mountain trails. We were looking forward to a relaxing time soaking in the hot and cold pools. Alas, when we got there, the whole pace was teeming with people! All the cottages were occupied, as were all the pools. We were about to give up and leave when we espied a vacant spot in a quiet corner in a hilly part of the resort. Our daughter reveled in the cool mountain water and we gamely posed for the requisite souvenir pictures.
It was a warm day again, so, back in the city, the kids ended up with thirst quenchers at another milk tea joint, BubbleTown (picture and website). Our five-year old son fell in love with their Mango Slush.
Dinner was at Wok, a Chinese restaurant just outside the hotel, another family favorite. We loved the sitsaro with beef, buttered chicken, and spicy pork spare ribs. To our guests, the prawn salad was the best.
We couldn’t let this vacation pass without having another Naga favorite – the baked hot chocolate and ginger/pandan/calamansi/honey drinks at The Coffee Beanery. So off we went there for dessert and nightcap.
We initially planned to attend an early morning Easter Sunday service but the kids did not wake up on time. They ended up at the Avenue Plaza swimming pool.
Easter Lunch was at Chef Doy . We had kandingga, since we have been craving for it for years now.
We loved Chef Doy’s version of this beloved Bicolano dish, served sisig-style on a hot plate, with a raw egg on top. Divine. We also had kare-kare with lechon kawali, laing, bicol express and ibos (sticky rice cooked in coconut) with salted egg and beef tapa. Everything was good! We have to sample Chef Doy’s of another Bicol delicacy, kinunot next time. As a side note, Chef Doy will share his famous Bicolano dishes with Cebuanos in April 2012, upon the invitation of Marco Polo Cebu. Hurray!
No trip to Naga will be complete without a trip to the ukay-ukay shops. This is where we get our yaya’s scrubs. She now has a collection of various imported scrubs from Naga’s, including this Halloween-themed top.
But our best ukay find this time are two brand new Viviene Westwood shirts for our daughter from the British designer’s Anglo-Saxon collection! The price? PhP 200 each, while this retails for $98 in the US.
We also checked out SM Naga for some groceries and headed to buy our pasalubong from the Giringgiting souvenir shop, and pili pastries from J. Emmanuele and RPM. For our guests, we recommended the Pili Wraps, a gourmet pastry that is served in Business Class meals of Philippine Airlines. We also sampled the chocolate with pili from RPM, which we all enjoyed.
Our last dinner was at Chicken Bacolod where the brood feasted on a seemingly endless supply of chicken inasal, liempo, barbecue, and pork chops.Then more Moonleaf and BubbleTown concoctions for the insatiable young ones before we packed, rested and prepared for our flight back to Manila.
It’s been a delightful visit, capped with so many memorable dining experiences!
As we write this, we are in the waiting area of the Naga Pili Airport.
Well, these are the only hiccups of this trip: our flight is delayed for an hour now, and this waiting area can use more fans and airconditioning units. Oh well, we can’t have it all. At least there’s free wifi to keep the kids busy. And of course, while munching on bombones the pili, we also got to write this blog post.