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DINING AL FRESCO at Kubli Springs@ Kinabuhayan Caf, Dolores, Quezon is an experience “you wish would never end.”

Painter/sculptor Claude Tayag’s Bale Dutung in Pampanga is a showroom for creative culinary and visual brilliance.

Entalula Island in El Nido offers exclusive picnics with gourmet food on white-sand far better than Boracay.





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Top 10 Awesome Restaurants of the Philippines

By Anton Diaz
Inquirer
First Posted 13:12:00 09/20/2007

Filed Under: Food, Lifestyle & Leisure, Travel & Commuting, Tourism & Leisure, Tourism

WHAT makes a restaurant awesome? Some would say great food and the right ambiance. ?Great food? is subjective and varies with each person?s experience and background, however. To be considered awesome, a restaurant has to take the overall dining experience to a higher level. That means food that leaves an indelible mark on your taste buds and imprints lasting memories in your mind in an ambiance that carves out a special place in the heart to share with other people.

Every restaurant in this list has been carefully chosen. Each serves gourmet food with the freshest ingredients, and combines nature elements, artifacts or a sense of history in its atmosphere. Simply put, these restaurants have a story to tell that is spread via word-of-mouth. I can proudly say that these restaurants are found ONLY in the Philippines.

Kubli Springs @ Kinabuhayan Caf, Dolores, Quezon

The road to Kubli Springs is literally the road less traveled, and when you do get on it, you?ll be glad you decided against taking your sedan car. Flashlights, candles, mobile phones, and the moon are the only sources of light. Occasionally, they may put up Christmas lights connected to a portable battery source to make the place special. You?ll find yourself in the middle of a forest, surrounded by boulders, a spring at your feet and a clear starlit sky overhead. You sit on rocks and makeshift benches, savoring the aroma of steak being grilled on the spot. Ah, this is the perfect time to play the acoustic guitar for a sing-along with the barkada (gang) without fear of disturbing anyone.

For P500 per person, you get fresh salad with flowers, grilled steak, Jay?s special rice, and a fruit platter. The meal ends with lambanog and a special roast of barako coffee. For drinking, there?s fresh mineral water from the mountains. You?d wish the night would never end.

Antonio?s in Tagaytay

Dining at Antonio?s is like entering a magical portal to a world where any food you choose is worth a rave. The service is that of a six-star hotel where you need not worry about a thing. Even going to the restroom is a chance to appreciate nature and its beauty. The positive energy in the place encourages conversation and bears witness to thousands of memorable life stories.

You won?t mind waiting for your food because you know it?s being prepared to perfection. The real flavor of the meat and other ingredients stands out without the sauce overpowering the taste. Any wine selection seems to match the food you order. My favorite in Antonio?s includes the Salad with Foie Gras, the steaks, sea bass and the souffl dessert. I envision our silver wedding anniversary at this place because of the food, service and its enchanting garden.

Ugu?s Pottery Garden Restaurant, Tiaong, Quezon

It remains a secret place in Tiaong because Ugu never advertises and there are no road signs. Even the neighbors don?t realize that such a place exists. The whole of Ugu?s Pottery Garden Restaurant is a labor of love, with the entire family designing everything from the huts, the garden layout, the pottery and the food concept.

Ugu is known for such dishes as Kulawo and Lato. Kulawo is charcoal-grilled banana heart with a smoky flavor that tastes like tuna, while lato is seaweed in vinegar. Both are traditional Filipino dishes you seldom find in Metro Manila. It?s home-cooked Filipino food served on Ugu?s signature pottery. I do hope it remains a secret.

Isla Naburot, Guimaras

Isla Naburot resort is like wine?the older it gets, the more exotic it becomes. Electricity is supplied by solar panels that can only support the incandescent bulbs in the room. Even mobile phones seem superfluous as there are no charging stations nearby. Your itinerary revolves around swimming in the clear beach, playing sungka and spending quality time with the family.

The main attraction is doing nothing and eating gourmet Filipino dishes prepared the traditional way. Fresh seafood is patiently grilled to lock in their natural juices. Meals are served with home made sinamak vinegar. Fruits are abundant, especially the famous Guimaras mangoes. The taste of the food is enhanced by the open air environment. It?s a foodie heaven I can?t wait to go back next summer.

La Cocina de Tita Moning, Manila

As you enter the gates of this old mansion, you can?t help but feel transported to a different era inhabited by the Old Rich. You are welcomed with drinks and pica-pica in the patio, before being given a mini-tour of the place, where antiques and turn-of-the-century design is evident in the living room, bedroom and especially the bathroom.

It?s a treat to enjoy Spanish food cooked from recipes handed down from generations. You leave La Cocina raving about its paella and its bread pudding. The former could rival the paellas in Manila?s Spanish restaurants. The latter tastes like bread leche flan that melts in your mouth. The service is slow but sure. What?s important is that they serve you with a smile and exert every effort to make the experience memorable. Our La Cocina experience was way back January 2005, but I?ve never forgotten it since.

Kusina Salud, San Pablo, Laguna

We need to give credit to Kusina Salud for making the Viaje del Sol travel route popular. It?s the ?Sonya?s Garden? of San Pablo, Laguna but even better because of its wide selection of gourmet dishes. Occasionally, you can chat with Nina and Chef Paul Poblador about the story of Kusina Salud. The place seems to smile back at the camera, with its odd pieces of furniture and accessories fitting harmoniously with styles from other eras.

The best time is breakfast; go at 9 a.m. and use the place as your jump-off point to explore Laguna and Quezon. I long for the hamonado- style longganisa, fried adobo flakes and bangus (milkfish) belly for breakfast. Buffets are served on special occasions but I still prefer to order from the ala carte menu. Massage service is available and would be perfect if you make this your last stop before heading back to Manila.

Vieux Chalet, Antipolo

Operating for more than 20 years now, Vieux Chalet remains a mysterious place. The house cum restaurant on top of a hill in Antipolo rewards diners with an awesome view of Manila, especially at night.

What keeps me going back to this place is the passion with which Susan Hassig prepares the food. You?ll never forget the taste of the homemade pasta, the freshly baked bread and the varieties of homegrown cheese. Some people go to Vieux Chalet to taste its refreshing lemon-grass drink or to indulge in its version of the Osso Bucco. This is our favorite hangout if we want to escape and eat good gourmet food.

Claude Tayag?s Bale Dutung, Pampanga

You?ve never really tasted Pampanga cuisine until you?ve dined in Claude Tayag?s Bale Dutung house. This is perfect for those long lunches with friends when you don?t even notice the hours passing by. Diners are greeted with frozen baby cologne-scented towels and steamed peanuts that bring back memories of childhood. The entire house is a showroom for Claude Tayag?s creative and artistic brilliance.

Mr. and Mrs. Claude Tayag will serve you personally with simple Kapampangan dishes artistically presented. They will also entertain you with the history of Bale Dutung. My favorite dishes here include the catfish with buro (fermented fish) and green mustasa (mustard leaves), and Pampanga?s version of the paella. The meal ends with a simple Paradiso dessert made of smoked ube, camote and macapuno on sweet carabao milk pastillas. After the meal it?s so nice to just laze around the house and chat up Claude Tayag before saying goodbye.

Charley?s in Lipa, Batangas

I fell in love with the place after seeing the beautiful horses at Leviste?s Equestrian Farm in Lipa. Till then, I?d seen only the tired horses in Baguio and Tagaytay and never imagined seeing such thoroughbreds on Philippine soil. Lunch or dinner is courtesy of Les Roche-trained chef Popit de Leon who?s passionate about cooking his foodie creations either in his Makati condo or in Charley?s on weekends. Popit uses fresh herbs from Charley?s garden in all food served at the farm. Diners might even get a personal tour of the farm with Charley herself after the meal.

Unfortunately, the place recently closed its doors to out-of-town diners. Popit now cooks exclusively in his Makati condo. This is a simple tribute and thank you for becoming part of our foodie memories, accompanied by a wish that the place opens its doors again.

Entalula Island, El Nido, Palawan

Imagine having an exclusive picnic with gourmet food on a white-sand island far better than Boracay. Entalula Island in El Nido is definitely a bit of paradise that you can enjoy privately for lunch or dinner. Everything is set up for you, and you can request exactly the food you like. Your imagination sets the limit on how creative you want the experience to be.

It is definitely worth saving up for and reason enough to go back to El Nido resorts. When you book an El Nido vacation, make sure to reserve the island for your lunch or dinner date. Next time, I?ll have dinner here with just my wife and lay down after in the pristine sands with limestone cliffs as backdrop.

For more information about these restaurants, please visit www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

Anton is the publisher of Our Awesome Planet (OAP), one of the top 10 blogs in the Philippines. OAP is a photo food and travel blog about Manila's food and travel secrets shared through word of mouth. He is known as a food critic and has recently been passionate about running marathons. He currently works and loves his job as an IT manager in P&G Philippines.



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