Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dinner at Lolo's House

A week before the final stretch of the Lenten season, I had this brilliant idea that I would not allow myself to eat meat from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. In the end, what was thought to be a stroke of “brilliance” turned out to be a bout of insanity since I did not even go through a single day without eating a piece of meat.

Anyway, at the height of my delusion, I thought it would only be fit to have one last “good meal” before the beginning of my self-imposed torture. The Saturday before leaving for our annual Holy Week trip to my dad’s beach house, Matt and I decided to have dinner at what could possibly be the most-heralded fine dining establishment in Manila: Lolo Dad’s CafĂ©.

Reservations are a must in this restaurant, the diminutive dining room being the converted living area of the old Ayuyao home. With multi-awarded Chef Ariel Manuel at the helm, local and foreign foodies come in hordes to pay a pretty penny for a taste of world-class haute cuisine. So, imagine our initial surprise when Matt and I walked into a desolate dining room with only one other table occupied. This made more sense later on as we figured out that Lolo Dad’s mostly upper-class clientele have already gone off to their plush vacation homes in the mountains or by the sea to enjoy the welcomed hiatus. Not so bad since we had the attention of the restaurant’s seasoned staff all to ourselves.

As our server helped us with our orders, Matt decided to have the 7-course degustation menu while I chose to order ala carte. To accompany our meal, I chose from their mostly-Old World wine list and picked out a 2003 Gaillac. At first taste, the wine gave out some pretty hard tannins so I had it poured into a decanter. As the evening progressed, the relative heft and earthiness softened as I got generous whiffs of anise and black currants. For me, this wine might be a bit too brawny to drink on its own, but it worked out quite well as an accompaniment to food.

For my appetizer, the server recommended the Dungeness Crab Salad and Soft Shell Crab Parmigiana. Although not really a fan of soft shell crab, I thoroughly enjoyed this deep-fried version. There was none of the fishiness that I experienced in my previous encounters with this particular crustacean, just the pleasant crunch of the thin shell as you bite into it and the sweetish flavor of its flesh. The Dungeness crab salad was a perfect compliment which was fresh and delicate on the palate.

Matt was served his appetizer of Smoked Salmon-Mushroom Terrine, replacing the Dungeness crab sandwich which was supposed to come with it with more mushrooms instead. Quick to follow was the Espresso of Roma Tomato Cream Soup with Herb Fleuron which Matt proclaimed to be the best-tasting tomato soup ever. I took a sip from the dainty cup and could not help but agree- the perfect balance of richness, acidity and full-on flavor.

I spotted a selection of seafood in the back of the menu and decided to order a few pieces of Baked Oysters with Foie Gras. Three half shells were presented in a charming wooden box loaded with rock salt. Very pretty indeed. Unfortunately, this dish failed to meet my expectations- the foie gras tasted burnt, the angel hair pasta which served as the oyster’s bed was dry and charred at the ends. I could not help but compare it to the baked oysters I had at Antonio’s a couple of visits ago which were sublime. The one in Lolo Dad’s is its “less-attractive” twin.

The third course came in the form of a Roasted Duck Breast and Seared Foie Gras with Filled Muffin and Rose Syrup. The gorgeous presentation has the thin slices of perfectly-cooked duck fanned out over the plate, the generous slab of foie nicely charred and glistening by its side.

After a palate-cleansing Raspberry and Basil Sherbet, we had a few minutes digesting time before the next course.

For my main dish, I cannot help but be drawn to the Charcoal Grilled Muscovy Duck Breast Foie Gras and Butterscotch Pudding with Poached Pear in Saffron. Again, this dish wins in terms of perfect doneness and presentation. The sauce was a study in balance and was nicely soaked-up by the butter-soft meat of the duck. The butterscotch pudding might have been pushing the limit in terms of richness, though. I would have preferred a more delicate side dish to an already fatty protein.

Matt picked out the Roast Rack of Lamb with Blue Cheese Crust amongst the three choices for main course in the degustation menu. A small bite from his plate demonstrated the softness of the lamb chop and the robust flavors and aroma of the cheesy crust. This was served with a potato popover and vegetables.

Surprisingly stuffed, I could not bring myself to order dessert (although the Sampler of Chocolates was unabashedly seductive). I was happy enough to help Matt with his cheese course of Cotton Candy-coated Chev’s Brie Praline with Orange Marmalade and his dessert of Dark Chocolate and Almond Bar with Berries and Ice Cream Composition. We moved to the patio outside so we can lazily smoke some cigs while I shamelessly gobble up huge chunks of the brie. After overloading on spun sugar, the chocolate dessert was flat and tasteless to me, so I left it in Matt’s equally capable hands.

In terms of value for money, Lolo Dad’s degustation menu is the way to go. At P2,700 per head, it is not exactly a budget meal, but the servings are quite reasonable and the food is definitely top-notch. A big plus is definitely the fact that this establishment does not charge corkage for wine.

Despite the unexpected blunders, Lolo Dad’s can easily remain in its loftly throne as one of the best fine-dining restaurants in Manila. For sure Chef Ariel’s former colleague in Mandarin (now with his own thriving destination restaurant in Tagaytay) can give him a run for his money, but in Manila at least, he is definitely king.

Lolo Dad’s Cafe
Quirino Ave. corner L. Guinto St.
Malate, Manila
Tel. no. (632)5242295


Miguel said...

hmmmm... the Cotton Candy-coated Chev’s Brie Praline with Orange Marmalade looks like an interesting dessert....

My Life In Receipts said...

Hey Chi! I wanna try the degus menu! Oooh!

Chinkee said...

Hi Mig! Yes, it was very good:-) I forgot that it was the cheese course and so I was happily munching on the cotton candy. Then biglang, ay wait! May cheese nga pala 'to! Winner.

Chinkee said...

Hey MLIR! Tara! I really wanna go back. I think they're changing the degustation menu by next month.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chinkee,

I hope you doing fine!

I hope I am back to the Internet and my blog at the beginning of may due to delivery problems of Apple.

Take care,