When in Manila –
By Raïssa Robles
One of the few pleasures in Manila is eating out. So whenever my family gathers together, we carefully pick out a restaurant to enjoy. We pick it for the cuisine and the ambience that make dining a gastronomic delight.
When my mother-in-law turned 85 early last month, we recommended to her several restaurants. One of them was Wooden Spoon along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City (across Ateneo de Manila University). It’s owned by Sandy Daza, son of known cookbook author Nora Daza (whom I’ve actually interviewed).
Wooden Spoon was one of the lousiest restaurant experiences we had.
I posted a complaint to Sandy Daza on my Facebook wall and on his Facebook wall, hoping it would get to him. I thought I’d keep the post on Facebook for a couple of weeks until Sandy Daza reacted.
He never did. Instead, his relative Bong Daza reacted. Bong Daza claimed Sandy Daza “spoke” to me – which he didn’t. Neither has Sandy Daza e-mailed me on my gmail account or direct messaged me on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. Or sent me a text message on my mobile.
I thought I would let it go at that, except that I was very much bothered by what Bong Daza wrote as he “apologized” on behalf of Sandy Daza. Bong Daza said:
“i guess you can’t please everyone.. tant pis!”
Now, with the little French I know, the colloquial phrase “tant pis!” (roughly pronounced tohpi) is not a very nice word, especially if you are telling it to a customer with a complaint about the service.
“Tant pis” with an exclamation point would roughly translate into English as –
“so much the worse for you!”
The policy is not good but we are are not going to change the policy.
I have posted a reaction to this so-called “apology” for Sandy Daza and Bong Daza at the end of this piece.
Meanwhile, knowing I have given Wooden Spoon owner Sandy Daza enough time to react, I would now like to share with the readers my complaint about Wooden Spoon.
Because what should have been a memorable 85th birthday for my mother-in-law turned out to be a highly irritating one at Wooden Spoon.
You see, a food blog, appetite.ph, said to come early to make sure to get a table. Another food blog, ourawesomeplanet.com, recommended getting a table near the window since the kitchen staff could be noisy.
I had tried making a reservation the day before and was told Wooden Spoon accepts NO RESERVATIONS.
I wanted a table by the window on the second floor since we were a party of five. And so we came early – a little past 11 am..
When we got to the second floor, ALL the tables near the winding stairs were filled up EXCEPT ONE that was in an alcove. I could understand why that one in the alcove was not occupied. It was darker than the rest of the room. And it was warmer than the rest of the air-conditioned room because it was in an alcove and not reached by the air conditioner.
I told the waiter that my mother-in-law had traveled all the way from Las Piñas just to celebrate her 85th birthday in the restaurant of Sandy Daza. (My mother-in-law had good memories of Sandy Daza’s mother, Nora.) Could we have a table, please, by the window.
I did not say who I was. I did not say I was media. I merely said it was for an 85-year-old woman’s birthday celebration.
You see, the second floor landing of Wooden Spoon opens up into a larger, brighter room with big picture windows overlooking Katipunan Avenue. It was where my hubby and I recently had a very pleasant lunch that stretched to mid-afternoon with psychologist-writer Margarita Holmes, her husband Jeremy Baer, and another writer, Gemma Luz Corotan-Kolb.
That pleasant memory had stayed with me and I wanted to replicate that while celebrating my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday. We had given her a choice of restaurants in Makati, SM Southmall and Quezon City. She had chosen Wooden Spoon because of Nora Daza.
But the waiter wouldn’t budge. He said that part of the room was closed.
Not wanting to spoil the celebration, I didn’t anymore argue. I left it that. I was under the impression that the room was closed that Sunday. Our group was occupying the last empty table in that portion of the room by the stairs on the second floor.
While waiting for the dishes to arrive at our table, my irritation grew as I saw customers who came in later than we did get the best seats in the restaurant – the ones by the big windows. The one that we were about to go to when the waiter blocked our path and told us that part of the room was closed.
I would like to add that even when the tables in our part of the room were emptied of customers as the diners there ate and left, the new arriving customers were still ushered to that part of the room where we had been barred from going to earlier.
I would also like to add that in the only previous time that my hubby and I ate at Wooden Spoon, the waiter had approached our group uninvited and asked us if we wanted to move to a newly-vacated table beside the window. Which we did. This was even though our group was already occupying another table. This memory of previous solicitousness only made me more irritable.
Finally, close to the end of the meal I decided to tell the manager. Her name was Rose. She told me it was the policy of Sandy Daza to first fill in all the seats near the stairs on the second floor before opening up the rest of the room near the big windows to customers.
I told her the policy SUCKED.
I told her I was pissed off because my mother-in-law had come all the way from Las Piñas to eat in Wooden Spoon and I wanted her to have a good table in order to enjoy the meal. I told her I had given in to what the waiter offered as our table, but I became pissed off because they soon started sitting customers where I had wanted my mother-in-law to sit – by the big windows.
My mother-in-law later told me that it was indeed warm and somewhat dark where we were seated.
I can understand that Sandy Daza wants customers to occupy first the tables outside the area with the big windows. That way, he would not need to turn on the aircon near the big windows.
But here’s the thing.
The table we were given was the last one near the stairs. Customers who came immediately after us were then allowed to sit where I wanted my mother-in-law to sit.
Ironically, we had decided to come in early so that we could snag one of those tables by the big windows.
The tables near the big windows are the best tables in Wooden Spoon. Ordinarily, if you come early to a restaurant you get the pick of the best table especially if you are a large group and especially if the restaurant does not accept reservations.
But it seems, in hoity-toity places like Wooden Spoon, you don’t. As my mother-in-law told me afterward, the customer who comes in early there gets penalized for coming early. But those who come late are rewarded.
I told the manager Rose that their waiters are good. We had no problem with the waiters. Our problem was with the owner Sandy Daza and his policy.
Rose told me it was indeed Sandy Daza’s policy to fill the other tables first.
Rose was not at all apologetic about it. It’s the policy, she said.
And it dawned on me. Wooden Spoon is all business. No warmth, no welcoming spirit. So unlike the restaurants of Gene Gonzales and the late Larry Cruz.
So, instead of having dessert at Wooden Spoon, we looked for another eating place and found Mom & Tina.There, we could pick any table we wanted.
Before going home, my hubby and I decided to walk back to Rustan’s to look for Shitake mushrooms. So we happened to pass by Wooden Spoon. And I saw Vic Tirol (former Pinoy Times publisher ) emerging from Wooden Spoon, followed by his wife Lorna Kalaw-Tirol (noted writer and editor).
I told them about our unpleasant experience.
Lorna said she and Vic have never had problems eating at Wooden Spoon. And they enjoy eating there all the time.
Good for them.
As for me, I will always think of it as the restaurant that made my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday unpleasant.
Interesting how the resto could not even give an 85-year-old woman a break.
Below is Bong Daza’s apology on behalf of Sandy Daza:
But as Bong Daza replied to me by way of explaining Sandy Daza’s iron-clad policy on customer-sitting: “Tant pis!”
Touch shit. Tough luck.
And so my reply to Bong Daza and Sandy Daza is my take on an old French proverb –
Le loup mourra de faim dans sa peau.
The rough translation is – The wolf will die of hunger in his skin.
Wooden Spoon, Iron Heart – customers beware.
[NOTE: I am still writing my assessment on the senatorial candidates so I thought I’d post this, meanwhile.]
Just to set the record straight – that it does not matter to me that the Daza family is pro-Marcos and their being pro-Marcos never came into the picture, here’s an article I wrote for Asiaweek magazine in August 1999, quoting Nora Daza, Sandy Daza’s mother –
Culinary expert stirs tempest in a teapot
It took a culinary expert to detect the bitter racial slur baked into a package of sweet chocolate-covered pretzel-shaped cookies. Filipino restaurateur Nora Daza said she had immediately felt “deeply offended” upon seeing cookies named “Filipinos” being sold on a counter at London’s Heathrow Airport four weeks ago.
To rub salt on her wounded dignity, the package described “Filipinos” as “brown outside, white inside”. True, she said, most Filipinos wished to be white. “But do we have to have our name, our identity as a people, relegated to that of a lowly pretzel?”
“At first I wasn’t going to make a fuss about it because I felt there were so many other things to do in life than to get excited about whether cookies were called Filipinos.” What egged her into action, though, was a segment she caught on CNN days later, where a man who was describing the interesting things he saw in Europe suddenly pulled out – you guessed it – the very same package of “Filipinos” cookies. ”That meant it was not only I who found it unusual,” Ms. Daza said. “That means, Nora,” she told herself, “you’re not exactly wrong to have been upset. It’s the reason I reacted” by confiding her find to friends in media who wrote about it and elicited outraged reactions from the public.
“Insulting,” President Joseph Estrada said.
Estrada’s classmate, Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon, lost no time filing a formal protest with the Spanish Foreign Ministry and demanded of the Barcelona-based cookie maker, National Biscuits Corporation Iberia or Nabisco to stop using the name.
Not everyone was incensed. Columnist Max Soliven said that over two years ago in Spain, he once enjoyed sinking his teeth into this “truly seductive sweet loved by Spanish children and adults”. Senator Raul Roco argued, “if the cookies are sweet, so are we. What’s so wrong about that?”
Ms. Daza bristled at such statements. “When you appraise food, sweet is not always best. You have to see the color, taste, texture and the balance of all that,” she lectured.
What she objects to is the attached racial slur. “Long, long ago, I already heard in the US that we were referred to as Oreo cookies,” another product of Nabisco. She is particularly sensitive with such “racial connotations”, given the rise of racism in Europe, especially in France.
“In Europe, we are already noted for just being domestic helpers. I think we should not accept again being relegated to a pretzel.”
This is the second time in recent years that a word sparked a diplomatic protest. Earlier, Filipino lawmakers demanded that a Greek dictionary strike out the word “Filipineza” which was defined as a domestic helper. No sooner than Ms. Daza could say “Filipinos”, however, the Filipino ambassador to the United Arab Emirates quarreled with the Hotel Regent Palace in Dubai for naming its restaurant bar the “Banana Republic Filipino Club”. Ambassador Amable Aguiluz managed to have the first two words removed from the sign because he said it connoted “unstable, undeveloped and corrupt governments that are often ruled by a military dictatorship”. That being settled, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Michael Tan wrote Tuesday (August 31) that he found a book in London entitled “Real Sex”, which described a stag party game called Filipino Roulette: “It works like this: as you and your chums are sitting at the table, the hired female performer crawls underneath, and unzips everyone’s flies…while everybody else tries to guess who’s receiving it.” This game was probably invented by local brothels. “If we want the world’s perceptions of our country and our people to change, then let’s work harder to change that reality rather than trying to censor dictionaries or filing diplomatic protests over names of chocolate cookies,” Tan suggested. Or perhaps Congress could set up once and for all a separate department of racial slurs. – Raissa Espinosa-Robles