Philippines: Salt Gastro Lounge

I hate public holidays in the Philippines.

I have been staying at the Richmonde Hotel in Iloilo since August 5th, and after 4 months, it’s become my home. As a result, I’m getting a little territorial – and I don’t like to share my toys.

My oasis comes in the form of the beautiful infinity pool, where I can choose to float away without a care in the world, or sunbathe in the hot equator sun while overlooking the construction of Megaworld. Most of the time, it’s completely deserted – and I love it that way!

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November 30th was Bonifacio Day, a day where all Filipinos celebrate … well, hell if I know, but I know it involved a large number of them slipping into the tightest speedos they could get their hands on – the kind that showed off every centimeter of their water snakes – and promptly stampeding onto the Richmonde property and overtaking the pool area.

Given that my zen had been so rudely interrupted, I rounded up my co-workers, and we decided to head down to General Luna street, which overlooks the Iloilo River, and try out Salt Gastro Lounge.

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Salt was reported to be among the top restaurants in the area, specializing in steak. That sounded good to me – so I eagerly bounded up the steps, and walked right into … Greg’s Coffee House?!?

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With no disrespect intended for Greg, a layout of pastries and caffeinated options wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was told I was going to a bistro. However, my friend Eric, who had been here before, told me to keep walking towards the back. Perhaps there was steak cooking in the bathrooms.

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Thankfully, he knew of what he spoke, and behind the coffee house lay a full restaurant. I felt like I’d uncovered a secret passage way to happiness – even more so knowing that our food wasn’t being heated up by the hand-dryer in the men’s room.

Salt is a spacious restaurant, and despite carrying the Bistro name, you don’t need to slap on a tie to come here. And, as it was a holiday, large numbers of families had come together to celebrate Bonifacio by eating large portions of meat. That’s the kind of celebration I can get behind.

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My first hint that the wait staff might not be the most attentive group of people I’d ever dealt with came early. The rest of the group had been there before Eric and I, so we got caught up by ordering our drinks. He got a rum and Coke, while I opted for Coke Zero. The waiter clarified with me that it was a Coke Zero, which I repeated to ensure he fully understood. He turned back to Eric to make sure that it was a regular Coke he was getting; which he confirmed, re-iterating “yes, rum and Coke”.

Our drinks arrived, and his drink was missing a key ingredient: specifically, rum. We were getting hungry and were ready to order, but the waiter was so distraught about this he needed to call an emergency meeting with all the staff to figure out what to do. Minutes later, he returned with his solution: A cup of ice.

Of course, all we wanted to do was order, but Eric wanted to get his drink order fixed, so he told them slowly “rum … and … coke”. This led to another emergency meeting, and then all drinks were cleared from his vicinity. About 5 minutes later, they returned, with a rum and Coke, and now we could finally place our orders. Thank god.

I had spied a brisket on both the menu and the specials board, and given I haven’t had any brisket since my trip to Philadelphia back in July, this seemed like the right time to right that wrong. “I’ll have the brisket!” I happily told the waiter. A look of terror overcame his face. “Sir, we don’t have any!”

“How can that be?”, I asked pointing to the menu, and then the specials board. He shrugged, not knowing what to do. So, back to the drawing board. I settled on…

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Friends – I have the exact same question you do: what in God’s name is New Jersey fried chicken? Of all the states you can choose to get the mouth watering; Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, KENTUCKY, they chose … Jersey? The armpit of America? I won’t lie; I really wanted to know if they cooked it over a tire fire to give it that true authentic Jersey smell.

I asked to substitute my side, and they said I could. So I looked at the side dishes and asked for fried green tomatoes. I was enthusiastically shot down, and informed that anything that resembled a vegetable wasn’t available. Between my options of starch, I went with the mashed potatoes.

Our food began to arrive, and in a completely unprecedented disaster I was unprepared for, nearly everyone’s side dish was wrong. Eric had even argued with the waiter, as he stated he wanted “rice”, and the waiter kept saying “fries sir!” This happened like two or three times before the waiter pretended to understand, and then arrived with his steak and fries anyway.

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Cooking steak to order was also not their strong suit; as he had asked for rare, and he was treated to medium. As much as he would have liked to have sent it back, at the rate things were going here, he likely would have received it well-done.

I got rice-pilaf, which I sent back, slowly stating mashed potatoes. The waiter asked “rice?” At this point my head nearly exploded, and my eyes must have told the story because my table erupted in laughter as I said, moving my lips about as quickly as a slug, MAAAAAAASHED PO TA TO.

Thankfully, they understood this time.

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While the staff may possess the listening skills of a 3-year old watching Paw Patrol, the food was actually really good. The breading on the chicken was well seasoned and crunchy, and the meat was so moist it was glistening, without being greasy. Not easy to do!

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I was very satisfied, and even left a little room for dessert; something I don’t often do. I beckoned the bumbling waiters back to the table, and informed them that the creme brule sounded good; praying they understood.

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It was supposed to be a lemon creme brule, and … maybe it was, I dunno, but I didn’t taste any lemon. As a creme brule, it was very good, but as a lemon creme brule, it was awful. It was a basic vanilla custard, and that was fine by me – even if it wasn’t as advertised. Besides, is there anything better than cracking that crunchy shell?

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The entire meal cost me about 450 pesos, which is roughly $12 – a total steal of a meal. However, before we left, the wait staff insisted on treating us to the after-dinner show of incompetence by managing to screw up four out of the five bills they brought us.

We were so damn happy with our food though that we just gave them a standing ovation, and we’ll likely return for an encore performance.

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