(pasensya na, walang pictures ang food. I ran out of films.)
Yesterday, our community (or what’s left of it as everyone and their mothers went home for the summer vacation) went to this little quaint restaurant in Pasig that’s been earning foodies’ raves for two years now, the Cafe Juanita. It’s our visitor’s treat to us (kung kami-kami lang, Dunkin’s lang yan). We arrived a bit early so the restaurant is still closed. But though we’re the first customers, we already had a problem on parking. The restaurant hasn’t any lot for that purpose. Anyways, we went by the Meriendahan (Kainan au Gusto) side of Cafe Juanita, which is always open and found ourselves staring at a jungle of bric-a-brac (play here Disney’s Part of Your World: “I’ve got whatzits and whatnots a-plenty, I’ve got gadgets and gizmos galore…”), all with price tags on it (actually, they’re just scotch tapes with prices written on them). Suffice to say, it’s a curio shop and a restaurant at the same time. The main door of the restaurant soon opened and as we entered, we were greeted with more knick-knacks, weird chandeliers with christmas lights, old shawls and strung sequins everywhere. One thing for sure, this is not a place to bring your toddlers. The room is just filled up, wall-to-wall, with frabile antique (and mind you, expensive) stuffs. Even adults, if they’re not careful, are liable to break a display. I guess it’s also the restauranteur’s way of civilizing there patrons. One has to be as genteel as he can be, else it’s not only his meal he’d be paying for. And also, this can be a ploy to dissuade customers from bringing along young kids who’ll probably just order a burger or fried chicken anyway.
We then placed our orders. Our superior, a regular at Cafe Juanita suggested which food on the menu should we choose. We were served appetizers, which is chicharon bulaklak on a bed of fried rice noodles (my guess is it’s bihon). An irresistable abregana, it’s gone in 3 minutes flat.
Next came our soup. We had two kinds, the richly spiced and flavored tom yum shrimp soup, which catches on the throat , and Sinigang na Corned Beef, which is, well, corned beef cooked like sinigang. With due respect, it’s very original, something a dormer can’t repeat at home as substitute to ramen noodles.
Gambas followed, served with a piece of sliced french bread. Siguro, I’m quite used to have gambas as pulutan so I thought that bread, though fresh and tasty, seemed out-of-place. Tinitinapayan ba ang gambas? Then we had bagnet salad, which is basically sliced bagnet in quartered tomatoes dressed with aromatic vinegar. It’s one fusion (Ilocano and Pacific) food that actually works for me.
Vietnamese spring rolls are great and fun to eat, especially when one has to slather it with delicious peanut sauce and wrap it in cabbage before stuffing it straight to the mouth. One ingredient I just can’t get used to is the cilantro leaves, which, for me, smells like crushed bug and probably tastes like one too. There’s also fried rolls which, truth to tell, isn’t any different from the lumpiang shanghai our cook prepares.
For the plato principal, we had flaked adobo, the traditional sisig and my personal favorite, chicken in pandan leaves, which our visitor friend praised lavishly. The flaked adobo is very creatively plated, crispy and doesn’t tastes like the adobo we knew. In fact, the slices of pork meat found hidden among the flakes is more like asado or hamonado. The sisig is a revelation. It’s actually two types of sisig on one plate, poured over soft tofu. Very effective sa akin ng ganung pakulo. This is because some restaurants uses tofu as extender, a legal pandaya on any fried food. But here, the sisig experience seemed incomplete without the lowly tokwa. The waiters thoughtfully cut the pandan leaves from our third viand so the slivers of chicken won’t be too tangled on them. The chicken is tender and is marinated lightly, kaya di natabunan ang lasa ng manok.
For rice, my companions preferred crab rice and fried rice. Ako, I usually take the plain rice so as not to confuse my tasebuds. Sayang ang experience if the rice I’m having is more aromatic than the viand I’m having. For fish, we had crispy lapu-lapu fillet which came to me as an unlikely comfort food or even as chichiria. Kasarap talaga, pramis.
We skipped the dessert as we hope to have our postre at MOA so we now come to the last important part of a retaurant, the comfort room. Pastilan, ansikep! Ang gulo! The doors doesn’t even carry any gender signs.
All in all, I will recommend Cafe Juanita to anyone who likes fusion food and a bohemian ambiance. The bill, when it arrived, is not as galactic (as opposed to astronomical, sabi ni Badette) as we expected it to be. Magandang dining experience ito, kapatid! Teka… sino pala si Aling Juanita?
(btw, I’ll be gone again for three days. hehehe…)