Eat ‘em all: Cha Cha’s Poke bowl is a smorgasbord of fresh flavors and ingredients. Photos by INA JACOBE
MANILA, Philippines – By now, we’ve all probably come to know what to expect when one goes to Boracay: fine sand, glistening waters, and hangover-inducing nights — temptation island, basically. But it’s when you wake up with your head throbbing and limbs aching that your choices in lodging will make a difference.
Enter Coast Boracay and its restaurant, Cha Cha’s. The breezy, open and light-colored hotel and conjoined restaurant is not a groundbreaking idea, but what sets this combo apart is its focus on comfort. We all know that dreadful walk to and around D’Mall in search of somewhere to eat — especially during peak season — all while trying your best not to let your head explode. Cha Cha’s is only a few steps (okay fine, maybe 50 steps) from the hotel’s rooms, and effectively eliminates the harrowing experience of having to walk through throngs of people just to get a proper hangover meal. And that’s not even the best part yet.
Staying at the hotel gets you coupons to Cha Cha’s breakfast buffet. But no, this is not your usual crummy tapa, corned beef or tocino kind of buffet. The breakfast selection is pretty expansive but not overwhelming; just enough to ensure that ingredients are fresh and flavors are kept in tip-top shape. And boy, is the food good. There’s not a more accurate description other than it feels like a warm hug — and that’s only slightly exaggerating.
Chef Kalel Chan describes the restaurant as light and breezy, and they incorporated this feeling into the food as well. Better than an aspirin, if I may say so myself. A highlight of the breakfast buffet is the tapa, and no, it ain’t the crummy kind. Cut into thin slices reminiscent of Japanese gyudon, it’s a little bit sweet and not too salty. Best of all, it melts in your mouth. They also serve stone-fired breakfast pizza (because why not?) that’s light and airy, topped with a runny sunny-side up. There’s a whole lot more — breads, salads, noodles, ulam. Chef Kalel says they rotate the menu six times a week, so there’s never a dull moment and umay is not in its vocabulary.
If you find yourself just hanging out at the hotel for the whole day (trust me, if you stay at Coast, you’re never gonna want to leave), the lunch and dinner menu is even more robust. The poke bowl is, for the lack of a better word, amazing, with a punchy-spiced salmon and fresh cucumber, avocado and Japanese pickles. Freshness is emphasized not only in this signature dish, but throughout the menu as well. The chef explains that they try to get as many ingredients sourced locally, so it doesn’t get stale and a feeling of lightness is kept throughout.
But what’s a beach trip without any seafood? There’s a plethora of sea-tasting offerings, but if you’re looking for home comfort on the beach, nothing beats the guava sinigang. Served with a variety of mouthwatering fish and shellfish, it’s enough to challenge your mom’s cooking, topped off with the freshness of Boracay’s breeze and sunshine. If you’re up for something a little bit more sinful, the Ilocos style bagnet will send you right up to nirvana, with the crispiest skin, succulent pork, and just the right amount of fat on each bite-sized piece. You’ll definitely want to order extra rice for this.
Speaking of sinful indulgences, Cha Cha’s bar serves up the perfect drink for any occasion on the beach. You can always get the classic Pale Pilsen while lounging on the famous sandy beach, but their cocktails elevate the experience ‘round the clock: whether it’s dinner and drinks, sipping mai tais by the pool, or even spiking that breakfast shake — they’ve got you covered. The Chotto Matte highball is the perfect all-day drink: light enough to welcome the day, but enough to get you buzzed while working on the night’s pre-game. Their Maui Mai Tai is great for when you’re just lounging by Coast’s dipping pool or by the beach, serving up just the right amount of pineapple and cherry while basking in the sunlight. If you’re feeling a little bit adventurous, the Beach Fuel should fire you right up: it’s a version of Rocket Room’s Rocket Fuel made for the beach, with a spicy kick at the end of each sip. A couple of drinks should be able to get you up and dancing (But hey, if you’re looking to get another hangover, no judgment). They’ve got a pretty wide selection to choose from — classic, safe choices are available too — but you’re on vacation. It’s okay to live a little.
Depending on how you look at it, going to Boracay is always a paradise or an extra challenge. It’s great that there’s an almost never-ending list of places to eat and drink at, but if you’re just looking to relax and have a good time — which is the whole point of even going — then Cha Cha’s and Coast should have that all covered for you. Light, open spaces? Check. Drinks by the beach (or the pool)? Check. Great food at your fingertips? Check. Headache? Nope, not here.
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By Neal Corpus (The Philippine Star)