It’s been something of an unusual weekend for me. I don’t usually dabble in the art scene, for instance. I’m too afraid of being found out as someone who knows absolutely nothing. I also am reluctant to leave my familiar stomping grounds in Makati and Greenhills. I keep promising myself (and my editor) that I would ramble further afield, but my reviews have always centered around the restaurant scene at the center of town.
So, I was definitely out of my comfort zone at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a resort by the shore in Bataan, where two friends and I had been invited to participate in an artists’ residency program. The Acuzars first gained fame—or some would say notoriety—by their controversial conservationist scheme of buying up old houses that were about to be torn down, and relocating them by the sea.
I was on the other side of the debate when they first started, but after seeing some of my beloved Binondo structures torn down and turned into debris and matchwood, I began to change my mind. This was long before I had met anyone involved with the project.
Of late, the Acuzar family has been branching out into the art world. They have a nonprofit foundation, Bellas Artes, named after the historical fine arts institution. They hired two international curators, and they’ve set up an “outpost” at Karrivin Plaza (around the corner from Toyo Eatery), which shows works but, to the consternation of many collectors, doesn’t sell them.
Worth a visit
The latest artists in residence at Las Casas, and whose installation is currently on exhibit at the Outpost, are Freddie and Isabel Aquilizan.
I wasn’t quite sure what a residency entailed until I made the trip to Bataan to see for myself. We arrived on a stormy night, and residency seemed to consist of a lot of hanging out and chatting over red wine—something I could definitely get my head around. But it was only the next day, after the storm had cleared, that we got a glimpse of what the couple had been up to at Las Casas.
I don’t think they’d want me talking about it, any more than I would want people talking about what’s on my hard drive. But I can definitely say that I came away impressed.
For those who haven’t been, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is worth a visit. Conservation purists will have a collective heart attack, of course, but one gets the feeling that they prefer lamentations over the ashes over a second life for the house in the safety of a gated village in Bataan.
Nor do the transplanted structures go unappreciated—as the number of day-trippers and guests at the hotel attests to.
There’s a carabao race in the afternoons, lots of open space for children to maraud about in, and plenty of history in each of the structures. It’s transplanted heritage, sure—but so is any object in a museum.
But I can’t leave you without a food recommendation, so here’s one out of left field: Hai Shin Lou, on Arnaiz (Pasay Road), has suddenly become relevant again. The family has decided that none of the restaurants in the Greenhills area—Choi Garden, Gloriamaris and Xiu—were delivering the holy triumvirate for Chinese-Filipino families of good food and good service at an affordable price, and began to talk of going to Makati, of all places, for the weekly family get-together.
Hai Shin Lou is one of the last restaurants where you can get a bizarre Fujianese dessert of taro mixed with shallots. It sounds promising, but despite one of the truly authentic Chinese desserts (no, mango sago doesn’t count) it’s also greasy, calorific and downright strange.
Hai Shin Lou gets a bad rap among the Chinese because it’s not in Greenhills, the theory being that Chinese restaurants that are mostly patronized by non-Chinese won’t be as authentic or demanding as those that are. But Makati is actually ground zero for a lot of Chinese who are even more demanding—the mainland Chinese, who live and work in the area and have set up restaurants along Makati Avenue, on Yakal, and are driving up the quality in both expensive and everyday establishments in the area.
Canton Road at Shangri-La at the Fort is probably the most interesting upscale Chinese restaurant these days.
I’ve had two meals recently at Hai Shin Lou, and both were exceptional—from its house signature fried rice and the steamed fish to the scallops in egg white, the food has been nothing short of excellent, while the prices are actually a notch below what you’d pay in the overhyped world of Greenhills dining.
One problem though is that the place is already operating at more or less maximum capacity, with only one proper function room. If the exodus from the Greenhills crowd continues, then it will have difficulty keeping up. Parking is also a bit of a problem. And I really hope that despite this recommendation, it doesn’t raise its prices or become complacent. —CONTRIBUTED
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, Bagac, Bataan; tel. 3325338
Hai Shin Lou, 810 Arnaiz Ave., Makati City; tel. 7527433