Casa Amparito, as its name implies, is the latest gastronomic venture of Amparito Llamas Lhuillier, who chose to launch it on her birthday. It was one of the grandest bashes of the season, attended by a large crowd of well-wishers.
Michel Lhuillier, ever the doting husband, was around, as was their eldest son Charles Lhuillier who came from Manila for the celebration. Completing the family circle were Anna Mari (nee Llamas) and Johnny Dizon, Chris Darza, Claudine and Mikel Ugarte, and David Paulson.
Casa Amparito is located in the Lahug area, on Wilson street, where the old Pino restaurant was housed. The mirror panels are all there, reflecting myriad chandeliers and giving it all an aura of Versailles splendor.
“I think I should put in place a dress code,” Amparito said. She herself looked ravishing that evening in a printed skirt and yellow top with a blaze of topazes and diamonds on her neck.
The main ground level can seat 100 diners comfortably, while the adjoining café and piano bar-cum-wine cellar can accommodate 70. A hardwood staircase leads to the upper level, which can take in about 80. It is ideal for private functions or special events.
This new restaurant recalls Amparito Continental Cuisine, which Amparito and Teresin Mendezona used to run on Mango Avenue during the late 1980s and early ’90s.
“We were always full,” Amparito recounted. “And I want to bring that back.”
The restaurant never had a negative month. Sometimes, it would be closed to the walk-in public for private parties. It stopped operations because the building’s owner needed the space for his own business.
It has taken about a year-and-a-half to get Casa Amparito organized, with a total refurbishment that has been personally supervised by its owner. It opened to the public Oct. 1, a week after the launch.
Of primary concern was the hiring of the right staff, not just for the kitchen and the service, but also to run the business side efficiently. For this, Amparito tapped some of the scholars from her Amparito Llamas Lhuillier Educational Foundation.
“I really love helping people,” said Amparito, who often recalled that her ambition as a young student was to become a teacher. She did obtain a degree and her first job was as a teacher, but marriage brought her to Cebu to raise a family, and all the things that she has achieved through the years.
Hence her foundation to grant scholarships. “You want to open a school?” Michel recently asked her. “I’ll give you the site.”
And it’s quite a large tract. She has been giving it a thought, but meanwhile all her energy is directed at Casa Amparito.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, says that old cliché often recalled when one gets a bite or more of something good. That was so at the launch of Casa Amparito, for the range of finger food spread on a long buffet.
The bite-size slices of roast beef on a bed of mashed potatoes were delicious, as were the gourmet balut, fritters stuffed with laing, siomai, various versions of siopao, rolled-up jamon serrano and lots more, plus an array of desserts. Tocino del cielo? Just Casa Amparito’s version of leche flan.
All throughout the party, attentive waiters kept goblets constantly filled with red or white wine from France with the Michel Lhuillier label.
Experienced GM and chef
Collecting congratulations were the restaurant’s general manager Marina Codina and chef Dino Guingona.
Marina brings with her a wealth of experience in the field of gastronomy. Until recently, she was the food/beverage director at Casino Español de Cebu. She attended food courses in Switzerland and obtained a degree in Business Administration from Schiller International School in London. Also in London, she got a culinary diploma at the Cordon Bleu School.
Though they may have known each other for quite a while, Amparito and Marina connected when they got to talk at a mediation seminar.
“Now, that’s history,” quipped Cybil Gayatin and Kaye Sala, who helped organize the Casa Amparito lunch with their A-list group.
Amparito’s encounter with Chef Dino was more protracted. She met him through her son Charles, Chef Dino being with Charles’ Brasserie Boheme, the restaurant at Picasso Boutique Hotel in Manila.
Chef Dino has designed the eclectic menu at Casa Amparito with the finicky Cebuano market in mind. There may be such exotic things as stuffed crocodile or ostrich fillets, but there are also old faves such as juicy steaks, Spanish paella, crispy pata and the Bicol specialty, laing.
Chef Dino earned a degree from California Culinary Academy, after which he worked for the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. From there, he went to the White House Hotel in Hong Kong. Back in the Philippines, he opened his own school, Moderne Culinaire Academy.
Casa Amparito is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. The café and piano bar is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m., same days, with happy hour at 5-7 p.m. For more information, visit www.casaamparito.com.