Nestled among the mixed hotpot balls dense with tofu, sambal, eggs, mung bean and cilantro, the thick rice noodles, fried to a crisp, slowly disappeared as the hot laksa soup flowed from the pot’s spout to the bowl. The pour-over experience of the creamy but spicy Vanishing Laksa is one reason customers keep coming back to Crescent Moon Café and Pottery Studio.
For so long, it has been a must-go destination in Antipolo for the pottery sessions with potter-artist Lanelle Abueva-Fernando and the buffet of Southeast Asian and local dishes. After 26 years, Fernando’s well-traveled daughters—Majalya, 36, and Celine, 34—insisted that the menu needed a facelift as they found it fusty.
Chef Vic Barangan, owner of the Crooked Fork consultancy, revamped its repertoire, shifting the focus from the buffet to the artfully plated à la carte dishes that are Southeast Asian, modern Filipino or plant-based.
Crescent Moon Café is built on a family farm of Lanelle’s husband, Teodoro “Bey” Cordero Fernando, a lawyer. In 1991, he had a kidney transplant which enabled him to live for seven more years. He pursued his passion for cooking when he opened Crescent Moon Café, specializing in Asian fusion dishes. Despite not having any printed menu, visitors enjoyed what he prepared for the day. When Bey died of renal failure in 1998, his daughters were determined to continue his legacy.
The menu has maintained some original dishes, such as its signature alagao wrap—fragrant premna leaves which the diner wraps and rolls up with shrimps, chilis, desiccated coconut, basil, ginger, peanut sauce and green mangoes or kamias (bilimbi). Customers find comfort in the gado-gado, made with homemade peanut sauce and quality tempeh; the beef rendang; and the glass noodles with vegetables. Paired with sweet mango, the homemade suman is known for its moistness as it is cooked with coconut milk from start to finish.
Crescent Moon Café is targeting a younger, albeit more health-conscious, market. Among the saleable new dishes is the burong adlai, fermented job’s tears with crispy slices of pork, all rolled in lettuce and ikmo (betel leaf), and adlai paella with mushrooms and jamon made in the kitchen with imported Angus beef belly that has been brined, smoked and cured.
A diabetic, Lanelle has been eating adlai because it slows down the rise in blood glucose and insulin levels.
Another best seller, the beef tadyang, is braised short ribs in tamarind barbecue sauce.
Barangan wanted to revive Bey’s original recipes, but his notes were nonexistent. The family recalled Bey’s penchant for duck dishes. Drawing inspiration from his clients’ memories, the chef created the Adobibe, a pun on the duck (bibe) confit adobo on top of egg and red rice. Instead of batchoy, he concocted the Duckchoy, duck dumpling soup.
Likewise, the chef introduced the all-day breakfast dishes and the salable Pinoy high tea. A tiered tray is filled with wheat pan de sal with quality kesong puti, satay (Indonesian-style skewered grilled meat), panipuri (Indian-style deep-friend dough shells) with laing and torrijas (Spanish-style bread, soaked in milk and egg, and fried) with fresh mulberry jam from Pililia. The savories are balanced with white and black suman, cooked with Cordillera black rice, drenched in coconut cream and cashews. The suman can be served à la mode.
These snacks come with custom bled hibiscus and lavender teas and medium roast Kalinga blend coffee that doesn’t overwhelm the entrées.
Rising from the crater
Barangan injects local and Asian influences in the desserts as well. The ube frappé is a contrast of espresso with homemade ube halaya. The tiramisu uses ladyfinger biscuits, dipped in Thai tea instead of the classic espresso, and layered with mascarpone. The cinnamon lends a subtle kick. The wholesome dessert is devoid of liqueur or dark rum. The ube pudding is baked with pan de sal supplied by Lanelle’s friend, served warm with ube jam, custard cream sauce and ice cream for contrast.
People seeking comfort foods will enjoy the all-day breakfast dishes such as the longganisa Antipolo, the tapa steak made with same beef as in the jamon, smoked bangus from Bataan and Con Tocino or smoked pork belly. Vegans can enjoy the sliders, filled with barbecued jackfruit.
As visitors clamored for al fresco dining during the pandemic, Fernando built a screened structure on a former bomb crater. During the war, the Americans bombed Antipolo to get the Japanese out. The big hole was a curiosity in the farm. Today, the new addition is littered with plants cultivated by her sister-in-law, architect and horticulturist Patricia “Wendy” Regalado. Diners are soothed by the gushing sound of the adjacent waterfalls.
The potter-artist’s ceramics store is located at the main dining area. Groups come over for the pottery workshops.
At 67, Lanelle no longer teaches pottery. A stroke last year weakened her left side and affected her hearing on the left ear. Seeing the visitors, who come during the restaurant’s working hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Wednesdays through Sundays), she feels energized.
“Meeting new people every day keeps me going,” she says.