Tuesday, March 16, 2010


4.5 out of 5 stars

Jetro Rafael is a true artist, and is reflected with his day job of travel photography. He also happens to have bipolar disorder or manic depression, along with the likes of famous people like Edgar Allan Poe, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Kurt Kobain and yes, Vincent van Gogh. Being productive about his condition, he decided to customize a meal plan to help calm his erratic mood swings instead of taking drugs with extensive side effects. What began as a personal meal guide turned into an idea for a restaurant, and hence, the birth of “Van Gogh is Bipolar.”

Make sure to leave lots of free time when visiting this restaurant because VGIB is a visual treat. His masterals in UP Fine Arts is apparent with the way the place is decorated. Every corner of the wall and table isn’t left empty. From hanging suits and headpieces, indigenous instruments and photographs, to leaving a chiffon divider with a decorative dragonfly, this place is an explosion of the senses. In fact, it got me befuddled in a manner that made me want to explore each and every nook and cranny. I only wish I had more time to take in all that is VGIB.

Even the concept of the restaurant walks off the beaten track, being that it is “semi-self-serve” and non-formal in some ways. Guests write down their names and orders in paper, which they bring to the kitchen window. Jetro or his helpers (who are sometimes his friends) will call out your name from the window, so you can pick up your food. Whenever you need anything, you ring the bell beside the kitchen window. I have used this bell to return my used dishes, request for more sauce or simply ask questions regarding my food. Jetro is quite gracious and says that if you’re not satisfied with your food, you can return it to the kitchen, and they’ll try to cook according to your specification. Apart from this, you make your own tea from materials provided in the center counter, and you’re even encouraged to compute for your own bill. Yes, the honesty system is carried through to the open container on the tea table carrying Palawan honey for 5 pesos per stick, or the travel tissue packs provided in the bathroom with a 10-peso donation box.

It is apparent that profit-making is only secondary to VGIB’s main purpose, which is for Jetro to share two of his numerous passions, namely cooking and photography. Most of the photographs and some of the artworks posted were created by him. And the menu is basically what Jetro eats on a daily basis. And in opening these interests to his guests in a restaurant where he literally lives, he essentially opens his lifestyle and heart to his guests. This sincerity shows through the effort put into the food (where the herbs come from his garden, vegetables from Tagaytay and Batangas, honey from Palawan and black rice from the Mountain Province, all organic!) and the creative way of entertaining his guests. While in the bathroom (where it’s also Jetro’s dark room), peruse through his photos, some books or drop a name of your real love in a bottle with the wilted rose. How about writing a greeting or message in the red healing wall in one corner? Or when dining al fresco, why not try eating from a bed? Not only does he advocate a healthy diet loaded with fresh vegetables, but the eclectic place encourages conversation and languid moments with friends over mood-altering teas.
Our dining area, where we ate by the red-curse healing wall

The menu is as complicated as the venue, perplexing but exciting to read. Once you’re accustomed to their system, though, it becomes as familiar as your favorite worn-out pair of slippers. The menu starts off with the bipolar concept, followed by the “House Rules,” namely:

1. Indoors are reserved for 10 diners only
2. Please enjoy your after dinner tea outdoors to accommodate other diners
3. NO SERVERS HERE. If you need anything, just ring the kitchen bell.
4. Please see the menu & write your name, orders (sic) on paper provided.
5. For tea drinkers: Read the instructions on how you (sic) to make your own tea.
6. After eating, kindly place soiled dishes at the kitchen window and ring the bell.
7. Celebrate your shit life on the red-curse healing wall or put your mark at the tea table.

Then come the Royal Bipolar Meal (Premium Platinum meals with a “narcissistic” serving), the bipolar appetizers, the bipolar salads, the Bipolar Presidents’ Manic Set Meal (Executive Premium meals), Rice Meals (Ford Coppola’s Episodic Meals), Fish Meals (Bipolar Hollywood Happy-Chill Meals), Tim Burton’s Dish of the Day, Tipid meals priced at 44 PhP (Ozzy Osbourne’s frugal Thursday’s semi-manic delight), Bipolar desserts, an explanation of Courtney Love’s Potion of the day (a special non-alcoholic drink), bipolar’s blend and concoctions (which includes teas, cocoas, and alcoholic beverages), Sunday Thanksgiving Dinner Selections, Instructions on how to make your own tea, a chart of the Bipolar diet which tabulates what to take (when you feel depressed, fatigues, stressed or in a bad mood), and articles on the unique black mountain rice as well as published articles on the restaurant. Whew! Quite a mouthful, right?

It’s almost like a book because the menu contains tidbits of information on neurotransmitters that you receive on eating a certain meal, trivia on the ingredients of a dish, how certain ingredients alter the mood you’re in as well as philosophies on life. The categories and the dishes are also named after famous people with bipolar disorder, such as Lord Byron, Isaac Newton, Axl Rose, Sting, Francesco Scavullo and too many more to mention. Noteworthy among the drinks are the Van Gogh Expensive Spicy Beer (299 PhP) where the blend of herbs and spice in the beer brew is home-made, Mel Gibson’s Darkest Sin (sweet vodka with 70 percent German dark chocolate, wild Palawan honey, almond and walnut) and Axl Rose’s Organic Egg-Jaegermeister shot (submerged in hot water for 10 minutes. Served in an egg shell. With wild honey and organic black, spicy sauce – 99 PhP)

But we didn’t choose any of the drinks since my boyfriend and I settled for the Presidents’ Manic Set Meal (a notch lower than the “Royal Bipolar Meal”), which already include both tea AND a choice of red/white wine or the Courtney Love’s Potion of the Day (which is non-alcoholic). I chose President Clinton’s Meal, which is grilled Australian lamb, along with the Courtney Love’s Potion (555 PhP), while my boyfriend picked President Lincoln’s Meal, which is Organic Turkey slow-cooked and simmered with Fresh fruit extracts and Organic Herbs, along with organic berry-based white wine (555 PhP).

We got our drinks at the same time as getting the tea, but the next time we return, we’ll remember to get the tea in the end to cap off our meal. Anyway, it wasn’t much of a biggie because you can refill your house tea thrice.

The organic wine was served with mint and garnished with strawberry. It was organic, light and fruity, but I preferred my drink so much more. The Courtney Love Potion was a mix of some tea, melon, mint, lemongrass, and had diced cucumbers, fresh mint and a strawberry on top. It was refreshing and tasted unlike any other iced tea or fruit concentrate that I’ve drank! I would go back to VGIB if only to drink this again!
From the top clockwise: Courtney Love's Potion, Mango-mint Tea
and Organic Berry-Based White Wine
Courtney Love's Potion - a very healthy non-alcoholic cold concoction made from the most fresh and organic fruit extracts with real fruit bits and pulp, varying from time to time. No sugar added, only wild Palawan honey is used. (144.44 PhP if bought alone)

We also had fun making our teas! From choosing your own teapots and teas (I chose mango for a “happy chill” mood while my boyfriend got avocado for “soothing”), to measuring the tea leaves and mint, it was quite an experience for a first-timer! Be sure to get a shot glass of that yummy Palawan honey to drizzle into your teacups for that boost of natural sugars.

Our turkey soup came along with the set meal, and it was delicious! It was thickened soup infused with turkey broth, and flavored with basil leaves, banana chips and toasted garlic. We finished it in no time, my only minor complaint being that they could have strained the turkey bones before serving it. But it was very tasty, nonetheless, and at least we knew that the savory portions were indeed infused by turkey bones and bits.

Our main courses came, and the dish is a true reflection of the place and menu. It was organized chaos with a burst of color from the fresh fruits and vegetables. My dish almost seemed like the grilled lamb chops were an accompaniment to the star of the show, the black mountain rice. Although the lamb wasn’t as tender as Jetro wanted it to be (he said it wasn’t marinated long enough), it was still satisfactory. But there may have been too little meat and a lot of the bone.
President Clinton’s Meal, Grilled Australian lamb(555 PhP)
"Grass eating animals are always a healthy source of protein which makes you energetic minus the negative effects of chemically fed animals which alter your mood in a bad way."

What was really mouth-watering was the way he prepared the black rice, almost as glutinous as a risotto, and mixed with banana chips, peanuts, mangoes, corn, basil leaves, lettuce, cabbage and edible flowers. Weird combination, but they just seemed to meld into one another perfectly, starting with the sweetness of the mangoes and ending with the soothing and rich aftertaste of the rice. What makes it better is that it is one of the healthy kinds of rice, being completely made of complex carbohydrates and low on the glycemic level.
Black Mountain Rice up close

My companion’s turkey was served inside an orange, and had the same rice accoutrement that ended up outshining its viand. Like the lamb, there was not much turkey, but whatever there was was scrumptious. It was moist and sweet and slightly tart at the same time. I preferred my lamb, though, not because of the flavor, but because I generally prefer lamb over turkey. Both dishes were accompanied with a sauce that tasted like patis and bagoong at the same time, and I chose not to use it because I was already enjoying all the sweetness coming from the rice. There were also much lettuce and cabbage leaves that we ended up making lettuce or cabbage rolls of our food, and we still kept on eating the rice even when there were no more lamb or turkey, it’s that good!

President Lincoln’s Meal, Organic Turkey slow-cooked and simmered
with Fresh fruit extracts and Organic Herbs, (555 PhP)

TURKEY contains a natural chemical - "trytophan"- that activates serotonin hormones in the brain that flush out bad mood and gives you that super chill mood..."

This place is only open late afternoons. According to an article written by Anne Jambora in the Inquirer, "For a time, his restaurant was open 24 hours, with guests knocking on his door at dawn for some teatime. He was amused at first, he said, since it felt like he had visitors coming over to his house. But when word spread of the place and more people trooped to his place, he decided to open only for teatime (5-7 p.m.); dinner (7-10:30 p.m.); and late teatime (10:30-1 a.m.)."

This restaurant is not the place where you’d be focused on cooking technicalities, but its vibe and creativity all the more makes up for it. Nobody puts it better than Jetro himself, as quoted from the same article where he says:
“You’re not here to experience fine-dining service. You have to go to the counter, ring the bell, write down your order, wait for your order to get cooked and then come back for it at the counter when it’s done. You’re not here for good food, either. You’re here for an experience, to understand the life and world of a bipolar…. Here we celebrate our imperfections; here we embrace our flaws and weaknesses. I set this up as a way of sharing my life and my diet. Van is not about me; it’s not about the place. It’s a personal experience about the people who come here.”
Jetro Rafael : Owner of VGIB
part of the menu. Click below to magnify.

Van Gogh is Bipolar

living art space. cafe.
154 Maginhawa St., Sikatuna Village

*open everyday except Tuesday from 5:30 pm to 12:30 am
*cash basis only, wheelchair friendly
Su: 6:00 pm - 1:00 am
Su: 12:00 pm - 2:30 pm


Shaikh Reza said...

Following the widely praised (with the exception of Buzz Osborne) Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck, Benjamin Statler crafted his own conspiracy theorist docudrama on the Nirvana frontman titled Soaked in Bleach, which will now see its theatrical release in the UK.

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