EDITORS’ NOTE: We treat food reviews as journalistic pieces. We do not, therefore, inform the owners of restaurants that we are doing a review, we pay our way, and we do not accept freebies.
In the era of Twitter and Instagram when every meal is preceded by food shots, no longer by saying grace, the temptation to make food look good and “Instagrammable” or “Twitterable” has become far stronger than the lure of the apple (it is presumed) offered by the snake to Eve (sorry feminists, that’s what the Good Book says).
Marketing gimmicks abound, flavors have taken a backseat to fanfare or presentation or to the so-called experience-based dining.
This theory says that restaurants should give more to the customer. Hence, restaurants have artworks or Instagrammable walls, and coffeeshops are perched on cliffs. Never mind if that resto serves soup that tastes like instant noodles in a cup or if that coffeeshop or cafe (as the fake woke or feeling woke prefer to call them) serves coffee that is no longer coffee but dirty water topped with cream and colored sprinkles.
In the past, dining places were called eating houses – the most appropriate term to me for restaurants. One comes, orders, eats, pays. Eating is the sole purpose. Bonding? Getting inspired? Yeah. Yeah. All those take a backseat to eating. And nourishment.
That makes Maslow correct. No self-respecting ideologue would disagree with that. Unless he or she is on crack.
I digress though.
It is hard to miss Balboa even if one is semi-blind with hunger. Tucked in the south corner of the Mayfair Plaza, 13th Street on the side, the main thoroughfare Lacson in front, glass walls wrap the quaint restaurant that evokes a bistro feel once you stride inside.
But a bistro it is not.
Like all brands under the Cajili line of restaurants (Chicken House, Pepe’s to name a few), Balboa is a family restaurant with a casual dining feel.
The name itself evokes family, Balboa being the street in Eroreco Subdivision where the house 10-22 of the founders, Joe and Pat Cajili, is located, and where their children grew up to become fine gentlemen, one of them, Vito, the award-winning film editor who is now operations manager of Chicken House.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The Paper’s executive editor, Julius D. Mariveles, was a classmate of Vito Cajili in high school at what is now University of St. La Salle-Integrated School.
The waiting staff is friendly but does not feel overly familiar, like trained butlers. The one who waited on us could have been more friendly though (read: talked more to us when we asked questions), Balboa being a family restaurant after all.
We ordered what looked new and original as appetizer: tinapa cheesesticks.
It arrived quickly.
The serving size was good enough for its price. Five golden-brown lumpia rolls about half an inch in diameter, unlike those rolls in bistros and bars that are as frail as the thump thump of the EDMs are stout. Or like sugarcanes the haciendero forgot to have his obreros fertilized. These came with a vinegar dip in a mini ramekin bowl, a cute and homey touch.
The sticks tasted unlike any other in Bacolod. The flavor of the smoked fish, which reminded me of bacalao (cod), was not simply notes but stayed throughout the bite-to-swallow process, which meant that there was actual FISH mixed with the cheese (which I presume could be the ordinary processed filled kind), a perfect combination, I could say.
Dinner was our first full meal for that day so entrees were on the heavy side. Hannah ordered seared salmon with mashed potato on the side.
I had a whole sizzling Balboa steak, medium rare, with a serving of garlic rice. Both of us also had sugar-free soda.
The steak came in a hot plate (naturally). “200 grams, sir,” the waiter said when I asked him successive questions, like I was interviewing Gen. Jovito Palparan, to arrive at descriptions of the formerly mooing being in front of me.
I prefer steak on a cold plate, rested well enough to let the juices recirculate but I was not about to wait that night.
If Salma Hayek offered to bring me to her room at that exact moment, I would have waited for the steak. Plus of course I had a date.
Beside the two medallions or small round steaks, also on the plate was the small mixed vegetables pile of carrots, baguio beans, and sayote (which is meant more to assuage one’s guilt over a carnivore dinner than to provide the daily nutritional allowance needed for roughage).
Gravy came separately in a boat and I being my OC self that night, did not pour it on the steak sitting on the hot plate. I was not in the mood for splatters that night.
The steaks were almost fork tender but, as expected of a medium rare cook, pink and moist.
The taste? Perfect. Salt and pepper, just those two, coaxed the flavor out of the meat, bringing to the fore the umami flavor, like Cesar Millan coaxing an intemperate pit bull into submission.
And the rice. Yes, even the rice. Garlic rice at Balboa is not steamed rice topped with lonely fried minced garlic but fried rice topped with golden brown minced garlic.
This attention to detail, like an investigative journalist, shows that the cooks, the owners of Balboa, care for the Juans, Pedros and Marias who enter its doors.
Like a truly family restaurant.
Intercontinental. I think if there is one word that could best describe Balboa’s offerings, it would be that. Most continents in the world (except I guess Africa? And I’m not familiar about Antarctica too) were represented in that quaint homey restaurant.
There is good ol’ kare-kare, for instance. And paella. And that to-die-for pancit molo.
There is something for everyone – whether it’s prime steak you are after, or just plain salad for those watching their weight – and therein lies the charm of the Balboa.
Located at the ground floor of Mayfair Plaza, the restaurant offers has a semi-rustic, semi-casual feel from the pastel furniture to the tiled tabletops.
The place is unpretentious, yet tastefully designed.
And the food?
Unpretentious yet tasteful.
Not surprising as the place is conceived and run by a family whose name has been synonymous to food: the Cajilis. This is the same family that gave Bacolod two institutions: Chicken House, and Pepe’s.
I ordered the pan-seared salmon (very affordable) in béarnaise sauce. It came in two thin slices and I thought, “Oh no… this is going to be dry.”
It wasn’t. In fact, there is just enough of the salmon-y taste which wasn’t drowned out by the sauce.
My slices of salmon were seared just on the right side of rare (which is exactly the way I want it).
It complemented well with my choice of carb, the creamy mashed potatoes.
I drowned both in the sauce, and they hit just the right spot.
My partner also ordered the tinapa cheese sticks, something that I wouldn’t dare order on my own.
But then again, my partner has a more adventurous palate than I have, and I’m glad I followed his lead.
Tinapa, see, wouldn’t sit down well with anything with dairy, or so I thought (yeah, my palate could veer towards the boring and primeval).
The tinapa cheese sticks have just the right amount of moistness from the tinapa, and the cheese was anything but cloying.
It was also larger than my partner’s thumb (boo those commercial cheese sticks that is all rice wrapper and close-to-no-cheese), so three of those suckers and I was more than satiated.
I would have ordered dessert too (the mudpie looks positively divine) but I was too full to even say another word – plus, I slyly took a slice from my partner’s steak, so I really couldn’t take another bite.
But hey, there’s still another day, right?
And that was definitely not the last time we would be dining from the restaurant. Nope. Not by a long shot.
The tab for the hearty meals: less than P1,000, exclusive of tips.
For cleanliness, service, and flavors, our aggregate rating is four forks.