Tucked away in Batangas is a gem of a restaurant that serves fine Italian cuisine, with an ambiance that can rival any upscale restaurant in Makati or in BGC. Casa Marikit Ristorante is the “baby” of Michelle Mojares-Fabie and her husband, Ramon R. Fabie III, not only because it’s named after one of their daughters, but also because it’s their first foray into the food business.
The restaurant’s interior has a very Old-world charm—warmly lit at night, and sunny and inviting by day. There’s an antique gallery inside the restaurant compound, and a beautiful spacious courtyard at the back; you really feel like you’ve been transported to the Italian countryside.
Our gracious hosts set up a veritable feast of flavors for our dinner. I never thought that my trip to Lipa, Batangas, would include a fine course of pasta, rustic Italian dishes, and succulent roast beefs, but the experience at Casa Marikit was amazing. A fine mixture of perfect ambiance, great food, wine and the fine conversations with our hosts made that evening a memorable one.
We started with the house bread with paté and tomato-basil-garlic dip. The bread and dip was a fine way to whet our appetites. Everything was homemade, and you could tell from the chewy texture of the bread; you can’t get that with ordinary store-bought ones. The wine was already flowing with the appetizers, and the conversations with our hosts were already lighthearted and fun.
A scrumptious Caesar salad was next. The dressing was not too thick, and had just the right saltiness and tanginess. Next came the resto’s famous Tagliatelle Tartufo, tagliatelle pasta with white truffle sauce, topped with prosciutto. The pasta was cooked al dente, firm and chewy, just the way I like it. Casa Marikit is one of the few restaurants that serve al dente pasta, not overcooked and too soft. The pasta is firm to the bite, not soggy.
The sauces used were all homemade, and their recipes reflect the aim of the restaurant to bring authentic Italian cuisine to its customers. The white truffle sauce was rich, and the subtle hint of the truffle oil in the sauce made the pasta an absolute treat.
The prosciutto ham in the pasta was a perfect complement to the dish, the saltiness of the cured ham a perfect contrast to the rich creaminess of the sauce.
The rib-eye steak that came after the pastas, was rare and bloody, also just the way I like it. The Osso Bucco was hearty and delicious, and before the evening was done, my belly was already full to bursting, that I nearly had to loosen my belt.
Wine and food make any evening perfect in my book, but after the Italian feast served by the Mojares-Fabies, there was still dessert to be had. We transferred to a more private room at the heart of the Casa Marikit complex. The private room had its own liquor and coffee bar, warmly lit, air-conditioned, with glass doors overlooking the expansive inner courtyard of Casa Marikit. Again, you feel as if you’ve left Lipa and are now in Tuscany, overlooking the elegantly decaying stone courtyard of a beautiful country estate or winery.
The dessert, a panna cotta cream drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts, was divine. Coffee was served, and everyone was well and content with the universe. Good food, friends, wine, sweets and then coffee—indeed, this is la dolce vita. And all of it can be found, quaintly enough, in Lipa, Batangas.
Casa Marikit Ristorante Italiano is at Banay-Banay, Lipa City, Batangas (in front of 350 yards Fernando Airbase Driving Range). Call (043) 3120454, 0917 8692354.
Coffee culture is indeed a-brewing in Batangas. Candlelight Café is the central hub of the artistic community in Lipa. Think of the cafés frequented by famous writers in France, and you’ll get the vibe in this quaint little cafe.
And as it happens, this café is littered with beautifully handcrafted candles, all made in Batangas, that are exported to shops in France and all over Europe. Dr. Marichu Liwag Carstensen’s true passion is art, and it can be seen all over her café. Artworks from all the art classes done there fill the café— sculptures, paintings, scribbles and what-nots.
This is my favorite kind of interior in any place—a sort of artistic clutter; I really can’t do anything creative in a clean, organized and sterile environment. There has to be clutter, coffee (lots of it), and a sort of structured disarray in my environment for me to get any work done; that is why I think Candlelight Cafe is truly an artist’s café.
The coffee is great, the ambiance is conducive to creativity, the food is delicious and has great value for money. The Rigatoni Pasta was good, and the resto’s own creation, the Mortenese Pasta (invented by Carstensen’s husband) was even better. Each of the pastas are priced under P200, and they’re all tasty, hearty and perfect to fuel your brain for creative pursuits.
The juices are all named after artists: the Picasso is made of mango-orange juice with pomelo, grapes, apple and watermelon. My favorite drink was the Frida Kahlo—frozen lemonade blended with fresh mint leaves. The Andy Warhol, meanwhile, is fresh guava juice with lemon slices.
How I wish Candlelight Café were in Manila! Lipeños who have not yet visited this cafe should go, and Manileños wishing to see one of the hubs of the buzzing Batangas art culture should drop by this place.
Candlelight Café is at Km. 78, President Laurel Highway, Barangay Maraouy, Lipa City. Call 0917-8220921l visit www.candlelightcafe.com.
Valentino Resort and Spa
No need to go far for a relaxing getaway. Located at the picturesque limits of Lipa, this resort offers high-quality services and amenities while providing a calm, picturesque view of Mt. Maculot.
The entire resort is enclosed within nature, and the view from the terrace of our room was that of huge trees, shrubs and greenery. No buildings and cars could be seen. The resort has villas for families of four to six persons, suites for two persons, and separate buildings with numerous wings for big groups, perfect for corporate retreats or symposiums.
The resort also has a function hall for a hundred or more guests, a sports center, another conference hall for 40 to 80 persons, and, of course, a KTV area for the favorite Filipino pastime, karaoke. The resort also has complete spa services, massage, facials, a sauna, jacuzzi, the works.
The restaurant offers all the traditional Batangueño staples; the bulalo is exceptional here, and the homemade frozen mango sans rival is to die for.
Call 0917-5155936, (043) 783-0558; visit www.valentinoresortandspa.com.
Artisan cupcakes and Mercado Coffee Farm
Batangas is known for its coffee, so it was but proper that we visited a coffee farm. Luckily, the Mercado family had graciously agreed to entertain us at their expansive, farm in Barangay Duhatan, Lipa City.
From harvesting to drying, roasting and then grinding coffee, Jose Bryan Mercado and Joseph Receno of Café de Lipa showed us all there was to know about coffee. The Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa and Barako coffee varieties were explained in great detail, and it was very interesting to know the differences of each coffee bean.
The flavors and how they blended with each other were explained in length by Mercado. It can be daunting, but in the end, according to him, the taste of the coffee is what really matters, and that’s why its important to do a coffee “cupping” or tasting, to test the different recipes and blends of a coffee.
It all starts with the harvesting of the coffee fruit—very laborious work, still mostly done by hand. It is the preferred method of harvesting so that the coffee pickers can gauge the ripeness of the coffee fruit. The eventual flavor of a coffee bean largely depends on the correct harvesting of the fruit. Harvesting it too early, or too late, can have dire consequences on the end product. It must be harvested at the peak of its ripeness.
After harvesting, the coffee fruits are cleaned and then dried under the sun for a set amount of time. A lot depends on their experience and expertise of the coffee farmer.
After the drying process, the remains of the fruit are stripped until only the actual bean of the coffee fruit remains. The beans are then further cleaned, graded for quality, sorted and then stored in sacks, ready to be roasted.
The roasting process brings out the true flavor of the beans, and the roasting is itself a veritable art form. It is easy to disregard and forget the amount of artistry and work needed to produce your simple cup of joe, but seeing the entire process in the Mercado family farms really brings into perspective the amount of time and work needed to produce one’s favorite cup of coffee.
We were then treated to a coffee cupping, where we tasted freshly ground and prepared coffee beans of different blends and beans. The farm’s own brand, Café de Lipa, has an extensive range of coffee blends that can satisfy even the most discerning of coffee connoisseurs. Its Baraco Blend is my favorite; the distinct fruit dark flavor of the barako coffee bean is very prominent. The house blend, a mixture of different species of coffee beans, is also delicious, as is the single-origin coffee products.
Coffee is perfect to pair with sweets, and Café de Lipa has the Mercado coffee brand’s own sister brand, The Artisan Cupcakes. The brainchild of Maria Yasmin Mercado Aspili, Artisan Cupcakes is an offshoot of the bakeshop that already supplies the Café de Lipa coffee shops.
The scrumptious and affordably priced cupcakes of Artisan Cupcakes are delicious. The cupcake recipes are tweaked to the tastes of its customers, with flavors like Chocolate Concorde, Strawberry Shortcake, Party Cupcake, Chocolate Explosion, Pink Chocolate, and (my favorite) Cookies and Cream Cheesecake cupcake.
Visit www.cafedelipa.ph. Artisan Cupcakes is in SM Lipa.
Rose and Grace
Balikbayan, locals and seekers of authentic Batangueño bulalo all flock to Rose and Grace, a veritable institution of Batangas cuisine.
The food here is simple, delicious and affordable. No pretensions, just good, classic Filipino food—tawilis, kare-kare, sisig, dinuguan, deep-fried seafood, and, of course, the most well-known Batangas cuisine, the bulalo.
Hot soup is continuously served at your table. The place is newly renovated, the servers are quick and attentive, and you have a plethora of Pinoy dishes to choose from. What more can a weary traveler ask? There’s also a pasalubong center inside the restaurant, and ample parking spaces at the front and back.
The undoubted center of the Lipeños’ shopping life, SM City Lipa has a newly-renovated wing, complete with its own Cyberzone filled with trendy electronics shops. A Uniqlo shop has just opened as well. A huge and important innovation made by SM Lipa is the integration of the provincial transport system into the mall complex.
Buses, vans, jeeps and tricycles are safely housed in a roofed complex. Canteens, pasalubong shops and comfort rooms are also available to the public and drivers.