Astoria Greenbelt: Sanctum Sanctorum

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In academic circles, the above mentioned Latin phrase, translated as ‘holy of holies’, pertains to the ancient Jewish Tabernacle or the Temples in Jerusalem. However, in this case, it refers to a fictional address in Bleecker Street, in Greenwich Village, New York City, where a certain comic book sorcerer (whom Marvel Studios will soon grant a big screen debut in 2016) resides. I found the phrase quite appropriate because, simply put, there’s a touch of magic here at Astoria Greenbelt.

People familiar with the Astoria brand associate it with comfort, style, exemplary service and spacious accommodations. In the case of Astoria Greenbelt, the initial concern was that only three of those four qualities would be met, with spacious accommodations being an issue due to the comparatively diminutive nature of their property in Arnaiz Avenue, Makati City. Fear not, True Believer, for there are wonders here that will put your concerns at ease.

From the moment I stepped inside the lobby, I could see what others would normally take for granted, how every effort was put into making visitors feel comfortable, cozy and homey (if you consider home to be snazzy and smartly posh) while creating the illusion of space. A high ceiling accentuates a mezzanine bedecked in glass cabinets containing objets d’art – curious silhouettes of cameras, suitcase handles and shoes – shining down on the guests below. Plush cerulean cushions and walls lie in stark contrast to the lacquered black finishes of the seats, couches and bar stools, each piece of furniture carefully custom-built specifically for the hotel. Mirrors and glass partitions are strategically placed all over the café and receiving areas, to bring optical depth and breadth to the premises – after all, if everything looks larger than life and people feel that it is, then in their minds it becomes bigger than it really is. But far from this being all smoke and mirrors, Astoria Greenbelt’s luxuries and its people are the real deal.

“Originally, we conceived the idea of Astoria Greenbelt as being a hotel for businessmen and transients,” explains Ethel Bondoc, the hotel manager. “However, it became apparent that a lot of people like the way things are here. Even though we’ve only been in operation since March of 2015, we’ve already had some guests stay with us for months! In fact, some of those guests are still here!” Small wonder why Astoria Greenbelt is such a draw – stepping into the rooms and hallways feels as snug and fuzzy as Bilbo Baggins’ abode in Bag End, albeit with a more avant-garde and mostly modern Filipino aesthetics. The soft grey walls and ceilings are backlit by alcoves that create a sense of color graduation with sumptuous, inviting beds just begging for you to take a snooze. Shying away from conventional paintings to give a dab of color and character to the rooms, Astoria Greenbelt’s clever designers chose artful graffiti in the guise of fanciful shapes, bicycles, ballet shoes and slogans such as “Work like you don’t need the money” to grace their rooms. Even people with ambulatory challenges will find their needs satisfied as the Astoria Greenbelt is the only hotel I’ve ever seen that specifically has a room that caters to the disabled. This room has a larger-than-normal bathroom with an entrance wide enough for a wheelchair as well as stainless steel handholds placed throughout the bathing area. Reinforced aluminum and non-slip polymer chairs are there for a pleasant sponge bath or shower and the room also has a couch craftily placed where nurses, attendants or family members can relax and talk to guests while the client can sleep undisturbed. All of this comes at an astonishingly reasonable price – an adult couple or a family of four (children up to 12 years old) can avail of rates that are only rivaled by backpacker hostels.

Some things are worth more than money – I could see Bondoc speaking to staff in warm, eager tones about some adjustments to housekeeping, even putting an arm over the shoulder of one housekeeper in a genial, almost conspiratorial gesture. Unaware of my observing them, they smiled with equal warmth at her as they took in her feedback. Later on, the hotel manager would be nodding and waving every now and then to a guest, some of them grinning and eager to strike up a conversation. “We’re like a big family here, staff, waiters and managers,” she continues. “And that familial atmosphere extends to the guests. But we’re always looking out for their needs. Some require nothing more than privacy so we give them that. Some businessmen will just hole up in a corner of the restaurant – and each one has his own favorite corner – working all day. But even though they enjoy the privacy, they don’t feel like they’re all alone.”

Tableau, the aforementioned restaurant, is the Astoria Greenbelt’s in-house dining area, and it evokes memories of intimate date places such as the late, lamented La Cosa Nostra in Adriatico, whilst retaining its own unique verve. In place of home-cooked Italian fare, Tableau has a continental although more predominantly Asian repertoire. I started with Pork Blade Barbeque Ribs, marinated prime baby back ribs that were slow-roasted until tender and served with Cajun potato wedges and coleslaw. The ribs had that rich wood-smoked flavor that went so nicely with the Pink Peppercorn Crusted Salmon Fillet with mango beurre blanc and citrus pineapple relish. Asian Wok Stir Fry Vegetables came next, freshly cooked in oyster sauce and sesame with tofu, mushrooms and seafood.

Just when I thought I’d continue to eat healthy, the waiter brought in that mouthwateringly evil Filipino specialty Crispy Pata, twice-cooked crispy pork knuckles with pickled vegetables and chili ponzu vinegar. Luckily it was offset by that popular Thai street food favorite, Pad Thai. A staple dish of stirfried flat rice noodles with boiled egg, shrimp, leeks, scallions and parsley, the Pad Thai’s delicate but distinct peanut-infused noodles served as a tasty counterpart to all that meat.

Dessert was slices of blueberry cheesecake and red velvet cake but in defiance of convention, I noticed that Tableau’s version of cheesecake involved having an almost paper-thin crust, something I hadn’t ever seen done in a cheesecake. The actual cheesecake, creamy, thick and having a slight gelatinous texture, was so toothsome I couldn’t stop myself from having another helping.

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