Baguio’s finest

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Millie & Karla Reyes (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2013 - 12:00am

MILLIE: There’s something about the cool, pleasant air of Baguio that relaxes me. I yearn to visit whenever I can get away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Manila. It’s where I can find solace, peace and tranquility, and the respite allows me to be more focused, allowing me to easily buckle up, concentrate and work faster.

Last month, my Why Not group of friends came up for a weekend to celebrate Dr. Larry Mallari’s birthday in the City of Pines. Since Karla and I were both pressured to finish off some projects, we decided not to stay with the rest of the group at the Phinma cottage and instead stayed at the Baguio Country Club so we could work during the day and join the gang for dinners.

Although there are many new eating places in Baguio, I was quite happy that Larry decided to treat us all to dinner at Mario’s Restaurant, one of Baguio’s finest that has been around for quite a while — at least 30 years, to my recollection.

We were all in the mood for paella and Mario’s famous Caesar’s salad, which tastes exactly the same as I remember it. Larry ordered three paellas for our group to share and we each ordered our main entrees in addition. As usual, it was a toss-up between the callos and the lengua for me but Ramon Tan said he would order the callos, so we could both share. So I instantly decided on the lengua, which was tender and tasty.  The callos was yummy and exactly the way it should be. The paella was delicious, as most of us said, and others amusingly even started to compare the paella on the other end of the table.  Larry and Lizette Licaros ordered the prawns Thermidor and believe it’s one of Mario’s classic dishes — through the years walang kupas.

Vivian Recio had the filet mignon, Len Enrile ordered her standard gambas and was also happy with it. Rene Alcala and Leo Teope, on the other hand, found their lamb too thin and bony, but enjoyed the paella like the rest of us did. Karla ordered beef salpicao, one of her favorite dishes.

For dessert, instead of ordering a whole birthday cake for Larry, Len ingeniously thought of ordering a slice each from the different cakes on display and surrounded it with a leche flan in the center, which housed the birthday candle. She probably could not make up her mind which one to order or she wanted to try all the available flavors. I don’t remember what the cakes were but for me, the key lime cheesecake was the best.

A month later, Karla and I were back up in Baguio with my goddaughter Nicole Marsens, who was visiting from Switzerland, and my niece Vada Mendoza and her four-year-old son Zach. This time around, we were invited to dine at Le Monet by Ana Mendoza and because Larry had been raving about breakfast at Le Monet, we were more than happy to oblige.

KARLA: Le Monet is a boutique hotel named after the French painter Claude Monet. Le Monet is located inside Camp John Hay, equipped with 65 deluxe rooms and five luxurious suite rooms.

We finally got to try Le Monet’s specialties for lunch. We had two salads, the Le Monet Salad with mixed field greens, candied walnut, fresh strawberries, shaved parmesan cheese and balsamic vinaigrette; and chopped salad with mixed greens, roasted sugar beets, hard-boiled eggs and apple dressing. For our main entrees, the dishes kept coming and we were so overwhelmed but enjoyed every bite.  We had miso-glazed baked Norwegian salmon, beef bourguignon, bistek Tagalog using thin, sukiyaki-cut slices of US Angus beef short plate, kaldereta using American Wagyu short ribs, which was so good and tender mom absolutely loved it, and a Vigan longganisa pasta topped with a sunny-side-up egg. The piece de resistance was a 34-oz USDA CAB porterhouse steak, dry-aged for 36 days, served with wholegrain mustard, creamy horseradish, ponzu wasabi sauce, Le Monet steak sauce and herb salt.  We had the pleasure of meeting chef Raymond Quitilen, who came out to greet us after preparing all the delightful dishes, which was truly impressive.

To top this all off, there was room for dessert. We had a fresh fruit platter, plus strawberry and chocolate mousse in shot glasses. I have no idea how we finished all of this, but we did, and to say it was good is an understatement. After lunch we stayed out on the balcony to enjoy the cold air while having coffee. Zach, on the other hand, was restless and went around to look at the horses and played around the pond. We then were given a quick tour of the hotel. Upon seeing the pool, Zach already wanted to jump in. He even bent down to check the temperature of the water. After checking the rooms, we decided to go back to the cottage as Zach wanted to play at Baguio Country Club’s playground and go swimming after.  

The next day, we were once again invited by tita Ana to experience Le Monet’s claim to fame, the breakfast buffet. Since Vada and Zach overslept and Nicole was obviously still coping with jet lag, Mom and I decided to leave them behind. The breakfast at Le Monet consisted of an assortment of breads, cereals, fresh fruits, fruit juices, French toast, and pancakes. For the heavier items, they had crispy bacon, sukiyaki-cut Angus beef tapa, Vigan longganisa, tocino and crispy fried Cebu danggit and crunchy spada from Pangasinan. They also have an egg station where they make eggs Benedict, prepared a la minute. It consists of a poached egg served on an English muffin, bacon strips and tomatoes covered with sauce hollandaise. This was definitely the star of our brunch! The eggs were cooked perfectly as the egg yolk was runny and oozing out. I’m not a big fan of runny yolks and I don’t even usually eat the egg yolk, but for some reason, I finished this dish in an instant.

Le Monet’s breakfast buffet spread is on the same floor as the main lobby. It also has a deli counter offering Dinelli sausages and deli products as well as a cheese assortment and coffee bar.

MILLIE: After a sumptuous breakfast, we decided to visit the Bencab Museum all the way on Km 6, Asin Road, Tadiangan, a good half hour’s drive from Le Monet. This was the main highlight of our trip and we enjoyed viewing and appreciating the various works of art by National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto Cabrera, better known as Bencab.

For this alone, it was well worth the trip and I look forward to revisiting Baguio on another occasion to sample other restaurants that have sprung up and enjoy the cool weather!

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Send e-mail to milliereyes.foodforthought@gmail.com and karla@swizzlemobilebar.com. Find us on Facebook and read articles you might have missed: Food for Thought by Millie & Karla Reyes.

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