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Monday, August 31, 2009

When in Laguna

This past long weekend led my husband and I to pack a few things and take to the highway for Liliw, Laguna. The trip commemorated many firsts for us - it was the first time for us to go to Liliw with nothing but general directions from a couple of people, it was the first time for us to travel without our daughter, and it was the first time my husband and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary with a roadtrip. In anniversaries past, it was usually celebrated with hotel or resort accommodations and/or dinners in a well-appointed restaurant with reservations in advance. But this had a different yet exhilirating feel about it.

Ahead of us, we were perenially greeted with a smooth highway, arching branches from trees that probably stood by there for ages, which open into vistas of fields of palay cradled between mountains. We passed through Tanay, and onto Pililia which led to Siniloan, Sta. Cruz then later on, Lumban, Paete, which opened into charming Pagsanjan with its old but well-maintained houses, and finally in through Magdalena then Liliw.

We were pleasantly surprised to find out we arrived at a time they were celebrating the feast day of John the Baptist, more specifically, his beheading, to which the town cathedral is dedicated to. However, I have to admit at this point that what led us to Liliw, was first, a cafe called Arabela (which we read about in F & B Magazine), and second, every woman's weakness - fabulous shoes of every design and size. Much to my delight, the shops are on sale due to the religious fiesta.

My husband deftly led me to Arabela first, lest I forge on ahead with my shopping spree without having had any lunch. Arabela Cafe is located in the basement of the family-owned property of Bobby and Tonet Camello. This property is luckily located in the middle of the bayan, and like us, we found it just by asking people around. It is quite popular.
The cafe has low ceilings and charmingly decorated with kitschy pieces. They specialize in Italian fare - more of the pasta, pizza and pannini variety. I was quite happy with my eggplant parmigniana served with pasta al'arrabiata, while my husband found that his porterhouse steak retained its tenderness after careful cooking.

After our shopping bout which was evidenced by bags and bags of shoes, we came back for a shot of our afternoon espresso and their fudgy walnut cake and bread pudding, all excellently moist and chewy.

We left Liliw with a promise of coming back to explore it with more time to spare and more money to burn (for those shoes - what? I'm a woman who can't let go of good bargains, after all).
After Liliw, we wound our way towards San Pablo, in search of another cafe - the Sulyap Gallery Cafe located at Barangay del Remedio, Cocoland Compound. Much kudos should go to the owner Roy Empalmado who has restored the Spanish colonial house to every last detail. Such attention is also transferred to the service rendered by his waitstaff who are very deferential to the cafe's guests, precise in their movements and very helpful. It is quite obvious that the waitstaff are proud of their jobs and are happy doing it, which I may say is so lacking from the usual service crew of the restaurants in Greenbelt and Eastwood in Metro Manila.

For dinner, we had the Crab and Cheese Lumpia as appetizer, followed by the Crispy Tilapia with Oyster Sauce and Kulawong Puso ng Saging (Ceviche of Heart of Banana) with Grilled Pork Belly for our main dishes. The tilapia was fresh, and crispy to the bone, the latter of which you can even crunch on. The Kulawong Puso, on the other hand, was said to be indigenous to San Pablo cuisine. It is rendered more tasty with coconut cream and the grilled pork, which complemented the tilapia very well. Sulyap offers crepes and ice cream for dessert, which sadly, we didn't have room for anymore, but the coffee we noticed, is excellent. It was served to us with the crema still there - again the details.

After a sumptuous meal, the gracious waiters accompanied us to the gallery located in the building fronting the cafe. It was a treasure trove of real gems collected from a rich Filipino past - furniture, dinnerware, crystals and various knick knacks including old Coke and medicine bottles. It was quite charming. There were also a couple of large halls which we were told can be rented for special occasions or parties. Imagine holding get-togethers there made more memorable by Filipino antiques. Every little object was lovingly preserved. Upon further inquiries, we were told that the owner is planniing to set up a hotel or bed & breakfast to accompany his cafe, but he is still in search of just the right house to acquire and match the charm of Sulyap Cafe. The hotel will definitely house the furniture and fixtures on display at the gallery.

My husband and I are looking forward to discovering that when it opens - it'll certainly be a good reason to go back to San Pablo.

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