Thursday, October 28, 2010
Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant, a magnificent reminder of our rich Filipino culture
It’s easy to leave this place smiling. Why not when it feels like stepping through time when the ilustrados lived and Maria Clara outfits were in style. Going to the food writing workshop by Writer’s Block Philippines in Adarna that early morning, I almost passed it as the restaurant’s façade is devoid of blinking lights or large signs, just an unobtrusive beautifully handcrafted wooden board. So I wasn’t expecting much as I arrived here. I barely researched about this place and dismissed it as another restaurant with stuffy old furnitures. I’m glad I was wrong.
Yes, it had old furnitures, even antique ones but the way it was carefully arranged was far from being stuffy. It reminded me of my Lola’s living room in the province where there were three sala (living room) sets for guests, the ones my cousins and I used to play in during our summer vacations. In Adarna, there were three or four quirkily mismatched sala sets where you can sit on after marveling at the different memorabilia surrounding you. Old plates hanging on the wall, an old jukebox, old softdrink bottles lined up in a shelf, old commercial ads of by-gone moviestars and many old trinkets and treasures from the past.
Inside the main dining area, hanging lamps in subdued lighting and an elegant table with antique chairs in well-done table setting welcomes you. Paintings and tokens of the past keep your eyes peeled to the walls. Meanwhile, arched window frames with a view of the fountain adds a romantic melancholy feel to the place.
But the beautiful set-up doesn’t end there. Inside the conference room called Silid ng mga Bituin (room of the stars) comes another elegant long table covered in knitted tablecloth reminiscent of the ones used in another time. It evidences the owner’s attention to meticulous detail in keeping up with their theme. Muted lighting bouncing off old pictures of past moviestars and interesting lamps makes this room an alternative venue for small meetings or family get-togethers. Probably one of the most unique places I’ve been to in a while.
But what about the food? Adarna serves Filipino food the way they presented their restaurant, in their own style, definitely not your usual lutong bahay (home-cooked meal). For the workshop, they served an appetizer of steamed vegetables consisting of eggplant, string beans and okra with alamang (shrimp dip) and chopped tomatoes. It was light and the sour-sweet taste of the shrimp dip complemented the unflavored vegetables. The main course consisted of adobong batangas (pork cooked in vinegar and soy sauce) and green chilis cooked bicol express style (green chilis in coconut milk and shrimp dip). The adobong batangas, unlike the typical adobo one may fancy is on the dry side. It has none of the sinful oily adobo sauce we liberally drizzle on warm rice. But just the same, it was as tasty because it was marinated well and is a good take on another version of adobo.
Honestly, when I saw the green chilis, I was kind of intimidated. Yes, I am open to spicy food but I’m not sure about munching on a chili. But being a sport, I tried it. And I’m glad I did. The sauce was a good play of flavors given the slight sourness and spiked spiciness from the chili combined with the creaminess and the hint of sweetness from the coconut milk. It definitely had depth. Moreover,I was also pleasantly surpised as the chilis had slivers of ground meat inside similar to our tortang talong (eggplant cooked with egg and ground beef).
And for dessert, we had small pieces of banana roll, a smaller version of our turon (fried wrapped banana) with caramello sauce on the side, a mix of caramel sauce and crushed peanuts, a sweet appeal to one’s sweet tooth.
For merienda, we had their ensaymada topped with a zestful portion of cheese and their ginger pandan tea which I really loved because it was refreshing, and definitely something I never tasted before. Yes, I was bowled over by this drink. It had the light golden color of champagne and had a soothing, almost cleaning effect to the palate. But then again, not all can share my enthusiasm as my seatmate commented that it tasted like tinola (chicken cooked in ginger). Well, to each his own, it still didn’t dampen my joy to discover such a unique drink.
Did I mention that I also loved the elaborately designed floral teacups the coffee and tea were served in? It had such a whimsical feel to it. You also had plates that looked like they came from Chinese traders with its blue and white patterns similar to the ones you find in large vases and starched folded napkins with embroidery on it. If you’re in a meeting, it’s easy to get distracted by these fine and delicate things. But this is what makes this place special, the attention to details which I quite admire.
I’m sorry there were no food pictures. I wasn’t able to fully charge my trusty camera phone the night before (I fell asleep early, tired from some errand, yeah I know, so amateur) and I was so awed by Adarna’s ambiance that I exhausted the battery taking pictures of it before the workshop started. Besides, I don’t think I have fully tasted what Adarna had to offer, maybe only a sneak peak. So I’m planning to take my husband here in one of our infrequent dates, maybe an anniversary. I know he’ll love it. He loves history so much especially the old Manila concept. And despite my leanings on more modern or more Mediterranean flavors and themes, I find this place quite unforgettable given their true appreciation to our rich Filipino heritage which I sometimes forget. Moreover, this place is so unassuming, it doesn’t force you to like it, you just do.