The Christmas season is an exceptional intersection of faith, festivities, family and food. It’s about reunions and reviving memories. For Filipinos, especially for the over 2 million who live abroad, it’s an occasion to come home and indulge in flavors we grew up with.
While nothing can beat the lutong bahay (home-cooked meals) of your favorite grandmother, uncle or yaya, the attempts of a few Filipino chefs in the Metro come close. Best of all, these are served in settings that replicate Filipino homes—shall we call them resto-homes? Consider holding that much awaited family get-together in one of these old houses that have been converted to restaurants, where the cooking brings back memories of your own nana’s kitchen.
Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant
To owners Elizabeth Angsioco and Giney Villar, Adarna is not only an ideal setting to appreciate Filipino cuisine but a venue to promote Philippine culture as well. You will see this advocacy in the details: a manuscript in Spanish of “Noli Me Tangere,” posters of old Filipino movies, and a model of a sari-sari store, complete with our favorite childhood candies such as Choc Nut, in an ante room.
The owners seek to promote Philippine culinary heritage from north to south. From the north, the resto has an Ilocano noodle soup called Ilocano pancit musiko, as well as the more traditional pinapaitan. From the southern Tagalog region, Adarna offers Cavite-inspired fresh lumpia and Batangueño-style adobo. Visayan flavors shine in the restaurant’s Leyte humba, my personal favorite among their dishes, whose strong flavors I temper with heapings of rice. And representing the south is the piassok, a dish from Sulu, which shows how coconut and spices are used in Filipino dishes.
For a family get-together, the Bituin Function room—named “bituin” because it is decorated with posters and memorabilia of stars from the Golden Years of Philippine cinema—can accommodate 25 persons for a minimum consumable fee of P7,500; the Reyna Room can accommodate 20 persons for a minimum consumable fee of P6,000. The two rooms can also be combined to become one large space good for 50.
Adarna Restaurant is at 119 Kalayaan Ave., Diliman, QC. Reservations recommended, call 0917-9618113, or visit Facebook.com/adarnafoodandculture. Major credit cards accepted. Parking available but very limited. Wheelchair accessible.
Victorino’s is the latest addition to the home-themed restaurants of Quezon City. Even from the driveway, as you walk towards the restaurant, it is obvious that the structure used to be someone’s home. A small garden to the right of the entrance makes the setting even more cozy and relaxed while the centerpiece greets guests with a warm welcome.
The menu is distinctly Ilocano, a welcome break from the usual all-Filipino or Kapampangan menu more commonly offered by Filipino restaurants. Naughty-minded Tagalog guests will definitely have fun ordering items such as poqui-poqui, the Ilocano version of ensaladang talong (eggplant). Foodies can meanwhile debate the characteristics of the Ilocano dinaradaraan, served here, versus the Tagalog dinuguan. And compare terminologies such as the use of “pindang” (dried or cured)—for beef by the Tagalog but for fish by the Ilocanos. Dessert is by well-loved master pastry chef Heny Sison although you may not have space in your tummy after feasting on the savory mains!
Upstairs is a room for 10, with a minimum consumable of P8,000. There are other rooms as well for 20, 30 and even 70 pax.
Victorino’s is on 11th Jamboree cor. Sct. Rallos, Quezon City. Call 0917-9530661. Reservations recommended. Wheelchair accessible on the ground floor only. Major credit cards accepted. Visit victorinosrestaurant.com.
Maria Luisa’s Garden Room
You would never believe that this garden room is in the heart of Makati. White curtains and a cupboard with baskets of freshly-baked bread, printed tablecloth and colorful plates make you feel like you’re in a country home, as if you were in Tagaytay. But it’s on the corner of Edsa and Ayala Avenue!
I must confess though that the menu here is not Filipino but continental, leaning toward French. I just had to include this in the list because it’s so unbelievably pretty. Anyway, in true Filipino style, the helpings are generous and the flavors hearty. The chef, Robert Lilja, is Swiss, so dive into anything on the menu with cheese, like the artichoke appetizer or the cheese fondue.
The room can be divided into two, so if you want some privacy, for a minimum of P30,000 consumable, you can have a section reserved. It can fit a maximum of 30 pax. The menu is not cheap so you will consume the amount easily and the good news is that they can waive corkage for your wines or other spirits for this amount.
Maria Luisa’s Garden Room is at the Makati Garden Club, Recoletos St. cor. Ayala Avenue. (Take Edsa instead of Ayala or you will have to cross Edsa and U-turn on McKinley to get to the side of Recoletos.) Reservations recommended. (02) 552-7051. Wheelchair accessible. Cash and checks (can you believe it in this day and age?) only.
The first thing you notice are the chic and sharp Almario-designed interiors. Black and white with accents of color. The feeling it evokes is that of a very stylish home, although it doubles as a museum. A tribute to statesman Carlos P. Romulo, the family patriarch, the restaurant successfully shares with guests the legacy of this great man through photos on the wall, while striking a poignant note by sharing heirloom recipes on the menu. There is adobo done “the Romulo way,” i.e., chicken and pork served dry with the adobo sauce on the side. Kare-kare that is unabashedly “Tito Greg’s,” with veggies neatly rounded up on the side. Beef caldereta uses cheese while the nachos are made healthy with the use of taro and sweet potato. You might be inclined to compare these with your own home versions of the various familiar dishes, but remember that these are the Romulo family’s version of classic Filipino recipes.
For your family dinner or reunion, there are rooms on the second floor good for 10 pax (minimum P5,000 consumable), and for 20 pax (minimum P12,000 consumable). You can also have the ground floor closed to accommodate 40 pax or more (P35,000 minimum consumable).
Romulo Cafe is on Scout Tuason, Quezon City (near the original Max’s Fried Chicken). For reservations, call (02) 332-7275. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible only on the ground floor. Reservations recommended. Parking available but limited.
This was literally the home of a member of the family that was saved from being sold by the elegant Peachy Roces Prieto, who has turned it instead into a tribute restaurant where the family legacy is honored.
The waiting area is lined with newspaper printouts dating back to 1939, that honor the legacy of Don Chino Roces, the founder of the Manila Times. A section of the dining hall is called Kape Chino, a play on the patriarch’s nickname. And like Romulo Cafe, the menu shares family recipes, such as lengua in mushroom cognac sauce, traditional molo complete with poached egg, and a bacalao paté appetizer.
The kitchen is run by Cravings, so on the one hand, you can expect efficiency; on the other, you can’t expect an utter replica of Roces family dinners (see the next restaurant, La Cocina de Tita Moning, for a real Roces/Legarda experience, down to the gold-edged china). But the house will haunt you—in a good way—especially if you reserve a room on the second floor, where the venue’s aura alone will transport you back to the days of Old Manila, with its unsurpassed elegance and regal character.
Function rooms upstairs are named after various publications by Chino Roces. The Daily Mirror, where President Aquino is rumored to sometimes hold meetings, accommodates 10-12 pax, with a room fee of P3,500 (not consumable). The Manila Times can accommodate 20 to 25 pax and has a room charge of P4,500; while the La Vanguardia (my favorite as it has its own powder room) can accommodate 25, with a room charge of P5,000 for four hours.
Casa Roces is just across Malacañang Palace. 1153 J.P. Laurel St. cor. Aguado St., San Miguel, Manila. Reservations recommended (especially for Sunday lunch) Tel. (02) 735-5896. Wheelchair accessible on the ground floor. Major credit cards accepted. Valet available.
La Cocina de Tita Moning
Another Malacañang heritage home is that of the Legardas. The keeper of the flame is Suzette Montinola, granddaughter of Dr. Alejandro and Ramona Legarda a.k.a. Don Alejandro and Doña Moning, whose legacy she keeps alive.
This is the most special (read: high brow a.k.a. sosyal) of all the restaurants. Dinner is by reservation only and you can choose your menu when you reserve. When you arrive, you will initially be led to a waiting area before being given a tour of the house, and then led to the dining hall. You’d be transported back in time as you view Don Alejandro’s camera, radio, skeleton (he was a doctor after all) and single malt collections (my kind of guy!).
Meanwhile, dinner showcases Doña Moning’s prowess in entertaining, through the hands and guidance of Suzette, using Doña Moning’s own china (with real gold!). Regular Filipino fare is upgraded with a sophisticated twist. A simple kangkong salad is made spectacular with a walnut vinaigrette and caramelized walnuts. Saging na saba is awakened with vermouth. Then there’s the famous La Cocina de Tita Moning bread pudding—an institution on its own.
La Cocina de Tita Moning. 315 San Rafael St., San Miguel, Manila. By reservation only. There are private rooms as well for 12-16 pax. No room charge or minimum fee but you’ll have to choose the menu in advance. Call (02) 734-2146 to reserve. Visit lacocinadetitamoning.com.
Cafe Juanita (Pasig)
I wrote this about Cafe Juanita when I first reviewed it back in 2007: “A step inside feels like a fall down the rabbit hole into Wonderland: You can’t quite place where you are. You may sit on a Spanish gallinera or on a handcarved Filipino chair and peer at the silverware collection near the banister that leads to the second floor; play “name that dog” using the ceramic dog collection on the window (that’s not a misprint—the dogs are actually atop, not beside, the stained glass window that has been placed inside the building’s real windows); play the piano in the second room of the long restaurant, or appreciate the Chinese vase that adds character to the section that holds the likewise antique air-conditioner. It almost looks confused, like the owner went on a trip around Asia, bought a souvenir from each country and housed everything in Juanita. But somehow, like a Sarah Jessica Parker outfit, the eccentricity is pardonable if not fashionable, and the confusion becomes charming. I mean, no one would ordinarily pair velvet blood-red shoes with a purple dress and turquoise accessories. But when Sarah Jessica struts it down the red carpet with a smile as bold as Sumatra coffee, you must admit it wows the wits out of you in spite of the eccentricity of it all, and you just love her. Same with Juanita. You’re drawn in, and then the magic starts.”
Cafe Juanita has moved to a new and bigger location (very near the original location) but the charm remains. The come-on is not just in the ambience but also in the food. The Good Doctor once candidly said, “For me, your lola’s dinuguan is only number 2 to this one (of Cafe Juanita).”
The place has private rooms on the second floor for 10-12 pax (minimum P9,000 consumable), 15 pax (P13,000 consumable) and 35 pax (minimum P35,000 consumable).
Cafe Juanita. 19 West Capitol, Barrio Kapitolyo, Pasig (02) 632-0357. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible on the ground floor.
Myke Tatung Sarthou made waves in the industry from a house in Quezon City, with his Asian-inspired creations. He moved his restaurant to Taguig a few years ago and re-focused on Philippine cuisine.
The results are very creative takes on flavors that are distinctly Filipino: dinuguan in a sausage, char-grilled and served with garlic vinegar; sugpo in aligue sauce; tilapia butterflied and glazed with a tamarind sauce.
There are no private rooms but dividers are available for a semblance of privacy.
Chef Tatung. Molave Lane, Acacia Estates, Brgy. Ususan, Taguig City. Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Tel. (02) 661-7703, Mobile 0915-2901001.
The table that has made the most discerning gourmets, including America’s Anthony Bourdain and the United Kingdom’s Tom Parker Bowles, fall in love with Filipino food is in the home of Claude Tayag and Mary Ann Quioc in Pampanga. Called Bale Dutung or House of Wood, the home took shape in the hands of Claude Tayag himself, who is also a sculptor aside from being a painter, writer and respected cook.
This is in Pampanga so prepare to take a two- to three-hour drive. But you will be greeted by Mary Ann’s warm smile, a cool glass of lemongrass tea and a cold bimpo (towelette). Then you will be fed the best of Kapampangan cuisine unless you choose the deadlier menu of lechon five-ways.
This is a home and not a restaurant, really, so reservations are strictly required.
Bale Dutung. Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga. Call 0917-5950218, (045) 625-0169, (02) 668-4038 . Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Own Home
Of course, nothing can beat your own momma’s cooking appreciated in the comfort of your own home. With all the natural disasters that happened this year, a more austere Yuletide seems to be in order, with the real spirit of Christmas shining through as we celebrate by giving to those who lost so much because of the earthquake and Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
From our Sunday Inquirer family, a blessed and meaningful Christmas to you all! (More details and photos at margauxlicious.com.)
DUCASSE EVENT RESET TO 2014
In the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” Ducasse Education in France and Ducasse Institute Philippines at Enderun Colleges have agreed to postpone the visit of Chef Alain Ducasse and the events coinciding with his visit—Youth With A Future, a charity dinner to benefit the culinary center of Tuloy Foundation, and “Excellence In Practice,” a press conference and student interaction.
“We will begin our fund-raising activity for Youth With A Future with a charity raffle that will run this month until the first week of February 2014. As for the charity dinner, we are moving this to 2014,” reads the statement from the organizers. •