One delectable evening at Cafe Adriatico

I was recently invited to join other Open Rice bloggers in a dinner that was hosted by the LJC group as it and its first restaurant, Café Adriatico, celebrated their 35th year anniversary. I was a little shocked to find that this vanguard of my teenage years is a year younger than I am. If these walls could talk – it has seen the rise, fall, and rebirth of the Malate economy, stood staunch against political change, and even weathered a kitchen fire that destroyed almost half of the establishment.

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Cafe Adriatico harkens to all romantics – whether you be in love or just love good food.

The restaurant’s quietly elegant façade has not changed at all since I first saw it, and neither has the group’s dedication to providing their customers with memorable experiences accented with excellent food.

Stepping through its doors was like stepping through history, and with good reason. Apart from the restaurant’s own rich history, I had, like all the people who loved and partied in the Malate area in the 80’s and 90’s, a very personal relationship with it.

It was where I calmed my nerves after my first Pride March, sipping ice-cold sweet tea and trying my darndest to look sophisticated (and hopefully of legal age, which I wasn’t). I retreated to its cool wood-paneled dining room after I broke my first heart, too young and stupid to do it kindly. Café Adriatico was always somehow in the background as I grew older (most people maintain that I have never grown up) and bumbled through love and lovers, rediscovered friendships, met future business associates, nursed hangovers and heartaches, and ultimately became comfortable in my own skin.

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CEO and President Lorna Cruz Ambas has been born into the business, and it’s evident that her dad’s passion and dedication has been passed on to her as she tells us the group’s history.

Of course, Café Adriatico has done its own evolving. From what was a small enterprise of an almost unwilling journalist and a hyper-optimistic free spirit, it grew into a corporation that is recognized as one of the most respected names in the hospitality industry.

Today the LJC Restaurant Group has several restaurants, aside from the LJC Group Catering Service which specializes in bringing the different goodies from LJC kitchens to your doorstep.

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I used to adore the Beef Salpicao – but now I love another. Not too big a fan of the greens, but the mushrooms and onions are the perfect on the succulent meat.

Like kids, each successive restaurant has been carefully spaced from its siblings. While it was a time-consuming process, it ensured that each one had time to properly develop and deliver a unique form of the founder Larry J. Cruz’ legacy of good food, warm service and charming ambiance.

Café Adriatico, is the eldest, serving a full menu of its take on Filipino, Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. Then there’s the controversial and yet titillating Café Havana, the classy Bistro Remedios, the fun but cozy Larry’s Cafe and Bar, the Capampangan culinary delight Abé, and the comfort food expert, Fely J’s Kitchen.

I find, though, that the most recent addition to the LJC Restaurant Group’s stable of tasty spots is pretty unique. Lorenzo’s Way, a tribute to Larry J. Cruz featuring dishes that Larry himself conceptualized and that have become favorites in the different LJC restaurants. Lorenzo’s Way features Larry’s personal preferences such as baklava, paellas and tapas, examples of the founder’s tastes and love for traditional, simple, good-quality food.

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The picturesque Abe’s Farm, a must-see getaway for foodies.

During dinner, I was also surprised to learn that Abé’s Farm, a quaint getaway nestled at the foothills of Mt. Arayat also belongs to the LJC Group. I’ve always wanted to visit, especially with its reputation for the fresh organic food and the calming spa and resort. Maybe someday I will, but for now, I am content with a planned visit to Café Adriatico to sample its new menu with my family.

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A dish good for four, best taken with rice, soup, and good faith in your cardiologist.

Fellow PBN Blogger Raffy regaled us of Cafe Adriatico’s classic menu, which starred such delicacies as lobster thermidor. But during the anniversary dinner, the kitchen brought up platters of brand-new additions to the menu, most of which became instant favorites after the first mouthful.

The Garlic Pork Leg Espanole, in particular, had me making plans to come back and have it again even before I had cleared my plate of its first serving. A handful or so of garlic cloves were fried until they were golden little knobs of lovely sweet, slightly pungent goodness that was creamy enough to be speared on a fork and spread on chunks of crsip-tender meat, or dipped into the vibrant green sauce and eaten in a single bite. The lively herb sauce, which served to heighten the delicate pork flavors in the meat, had a bright, tangy taste and reminded me of a finely made chimichurri sauce.

The steak was another revelation. Normally I don’t appreciate that much sauce on my meat – good steak shouldn’t have to swim – but this was absolutely amazing. The meat was fork-tender and perfectly seasoned, and it just melted in one’s mouth. The mushrooms and onions were also done to perfection, serving to bump up the dish’s savory flavours up to a whole new level.

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Allergies prevented me from trying these, but I have it on good authority that they were plump, juicy, and everything baby gambas should aspire to be.

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Blue marlin in a tomato and caper sauce … they really outdid themselves with this one.

Then there were the sides – fluffy pilaf rice and thick mushroom soup that had two kinds of mushrooms mixed in with cream and butter, and gently cooked buttered veggies. And for dessert, though we were stuffed to the gills, we all found room for strong coffee and soft pliant rolls of sweet mango crepes.

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Rolled crepe and coffee, to round out the meal and you.

We all had a great time between the food and the company. It was a gut-busting visit to an old familiar haunt that now offers new enticements and an invitation to see a new, revived Malate, complete with the ghosts of times gone by.

I’ll be visiting again soon, and hope you’ll drop by, too. Try the pork leg!

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Doing the bunneh with head chef Chef George Lizares!

Verdict: Amazing meal, definitely worth a splurge.
Budget : Allot for around 500 per main dish (inclusive of VAT) and around 600-700 per head for a full-course meal.
Recommendation: Seafood lovers should not give the marlin a miss, while the steak and pork leg dishes will carnivores like myself wet dreams for a while.


For inquiries or reservations, please call 5220403. Visit us at www.ljcrestaurants.com.ph or like us on Facebook/LJCRestaurantGroup.

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    posted on by Little Bunny posted in noms and nibbles

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