The Romance of Dining at La Cocina de Tita Moning
Imagine walking back in time while our guide gave us a tour of this ancient mansion and relayed stories when American bigwigs and their coterie enjoyed repasts prepared by Tita (Aunt) Moning during the Commonwealth era.
The year was 1937 and this magnificent home was one of the first "art deco " houses built in Manila. One can almost visualize the genteel life of Don Alejandro Roces Legarda (a doctor ), his wife Ramona and their four children as the guide told the story behind each antique "aparador" ( armoire) or expounded on the good doctor's precious camera and radio collection. The Philippines then was in transition having been previously liberated from 333 years of Spanish colonial rule and was on its way to gaining its sovereignty after the subsequent American occupation which lasted for four decades . I swear I gained appreciation for tutoring my grade 5 son in his Araling Lipunan ( Social Studies) subject because of this.
It was an idyllic existence for the Legarda's at least until the first world war when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. At any rate, despite making Manila an open city yet being bombed just the same by Japan, the mansion escaped unscathed and its precious contents preserved to this day .
One can understand why the recipes have a strong Spanish influence.
If you are like my husband and I who love to discover restaurants off the beaten track, are museum geeks , are wary of run-of-the mill food and are presently in Manila, you will enjoy dining at La Cocina de Tita Moning ( the kitchen of Aunt Moning) in Malacanang. I have been hearing superlatives from foodies every time the simplistic name of this restaurant crops up. The whispers got louder when word got out that even our President PNoy is a regular patron.
So since the hubby was on vacay, I found it an opportune time to check out if there is substance to all the hype. Note, that the restaurant does not accept walk-ins. One must reserve two weeks prior to be ensured of slots.
The verdict :
The food was generally wonderful and the ambiance romantic. The feeling of exclusivity was evident. Instead of waiters, there were well-trained unobtrusive uniformed servers who have been with the family for decades. One felt spoiled, every whim attended to.
Here's my take on our four course meal
Pork Belly in Almond Pili Milk
Gaspacho Shot with Crab and Avocados
Gambas and Chorizo Pincho
I just love the gazpacho. It is fresh on the palate especially with the creaminess of the avocado and the hint of crab.
The pork belly in almond Pili milk was a bit bland probably a perfect foil to the hot and spicy Gambas and Chorizo Pincho which was easily my favorite among the three appetizers.
The Salsa Monja
It is what the nuns used to make for the Spanish friars to accompany meals. We were advised to eat it together with our dinner to make everything more flavorful. It is made of fermented shallots , olive and some secret ingredient . It was indeed a perfect taste bud "cleanser". When the palate becomes too overwhelmed by the rich flavors, the salsa monja was a perfect fodder preparing the tongue for the next round of delectable course.
Beef Osso Buco Gremolata with Saffron Risotto
Alas the husband had to add salt to his a-bit-bland Osso Buco . It was really tender though and the love-of-my-life enjoyed the more than generous portion after he added a pinch of sodium chloride . The carnivores with humongous appetite would love this.
Seafood Potpourri with Saffron Nage,
Julienne of Vegetables
Per wikipedia , A nage is a flavored liquid used for poaching delicate food typically seafood. A traditional Nage is a broth flavored with white wine, vegetable and herbs in which seafood is poached.
I can't stop waxing poetry over this dish. My prawn ( yes singular but humongous) was tender and flavorful and so were my squid , fish fillet and clams. The broth was divine. One can't help but spoon every bit of the gorgeous goodness of this wonderful plate till every morsel and drop of liquid was gone , never to be seen or tasted again....burp.
Home made nut cake with citrus Ice cream
Home made fritters
Tita Moning's bread and butter pudding
Polvorones of Fresh Mango
I had mine with hot tsokolate. Maybe I was full or fully sated by my Seafood Nage because after the magnificent Potpourri, the dessert sampler was ....frankly speaking quite ordinary. I love the idea of polvoron for crust in the mango pie though. Note to self : must recreate this with my mango cream pie.
This "Sailboat" painting was by Filipino artist Oscar Zalameda. It was painted in the French Riviera when Zalameda was based in France. This was purchase in early 70's for P3,000 only by Ramon Legarda. Today it is valued in the millions.
This treasure was painted by National Artist Felix Resureccion Hidalgo in Paris in 1901. It is an original and is worth millions at present currency.