What are your family's memorable food traditions? I am sure we all have different, and many, stories to share. My growing-up years always saw my weekends to be all about food and family. My Lola was the ultimate cook (being a Pampangueño Henson), and would ask my brother and I to help out in the kitchen. My brother was more fascinated in the nitty-gritty of her recipes than I was (he's a good cook!). Meanwhile, I was a happy camper wrapping and sealing lumpias (I still remember Lola's signature process by heart), rolling ground meat into little balls for her almondigas soup, and mixing her macaroni salad in her old, worn down but trusty yellow plastic bowl. When prep-time was over, I'd go back to playing or watching television, until Lola would start clinking the little bronze gong in our dining room. She sometimes used a bell to call everyone to the big round table, but it's the sound of the gong that's embedded in my head -- the signal that we're about to have a really, really good meal. After that really, really good meal, we nap and we play; come merienda time, my cousins and I would run outside our house and chase the taho vendor down to fill bowls upon bowls for our afternoon snack. Those were the days...
Unfortunately, my family has not continued on with most of our food traditions upon the passing of my grandmother (I learned that growing up changes everyone's weekend schedules quite a lot, too). No one can cook our family's favorite dishes exactly the way she does (lost in translation, perhaps). Oftentimes, my father would fondly smile upon tasting a new albeit familiar dish when we eat out, and say, "If Lola was still alive, she'd like this." While our family has lately been seeing more bonding moments with cousins and aunts and uncles by traveling and eating out, nothing still beats having the pleasure of being invited into a big house by your favorite lola or tita, with a bountiful spread of comfort food all for our taking. I've recently discovered a place that can give that heartwarming feeling of having a feel-at-home lunch experience with the family -- the sort of dining experience that lingers on till the afternoon over a cup of coffee and shared laughter lounging by the patio. The Roces family recently opened their doors, and is now inviting everyone to Casa Roces to partake of their heritage and heirloom dishes.
An ancestral house is now a full-service restaurant and cafe
Casa Roces is at J.P. Laurel corner Aguado Streets, a stone's throw away from Malacañ Palace
The Roces family renovated their 1930s pre-war ancestral home located in the district of San Miguel, Manila, and decided to transform the elegant, old-world structure into a full-service restaurant and cafe. The result? A white house surrounded with lush greens; a spacious, warm and welcoming environment, and interior and decor that both pique one's interest and beckon you to stay longer.
Casa Roces has a spacious driveway and a valet service. It was pleasant to have our transportation circle around the property and have ourselves dropped off right in front of handsome wooden double doors. A walkthrough of the ground floor revealed a casual and brightly-lit area: a cafe with an al fresco wooden deck, a dessert corner, some knickknacks and memorabilia displayed and are for sale. On the other side of the house, lower couches and chairs are found, looking like a living room area. There is a bar in one corner, where you can have cocktails, beer, and wine come evening time.
Al fresco area
When you climb up the wooden stairs, you will see a more gallery like layout, with walls and chairs housing different framed portraits of the Roces' ancestors. There are several private rooms that evoke the elegance of the age of Commonwealth, with ornate wooden chairs and a particular chandelier that I could've sworn my grandmother also had in her bedroom before. A Filipiniana themed intimate wedding is fitting here. Have you observed how in some reconstructed old homes turned into restaurants, the overall mood you get is foreboding, slightly moldy and stiff? I'm glad to report that it is entirely the opposite at Casa Roces, and for that, the architects and interior designers should be commended.
Have your special events in one of their private rooms
When it comes to the culinary offerings of Casa Roces, the family has entrusted the Cravings Group to reinterpret some of the Roces family's heirloom dishes. They have developed a menu that showcases comfort food influenced by Filipino and Spanish cuisine. Their coffee house is called Kape Chino, named after Joaquin "Chino" Roces. After our tour around Casa Roces, we seated ourselves on one of the couches nearby the bar, and had our lunch at Kape Chino. We actually had some refreshments while walking around the house, and some baguettes topped with Choritos en Balsamico (P295), which definitely whet my appetite with its salty and meaty combination.
Choritos en Balsamico
Upon sitting, we were served Truffle Mushroom Puree (P190) and Mussels Ala Roces (P355). The soup tastes homemade, and that's a good thing. Its texture was grainy and consistency thick; the bitterness of mushrooms enveloped the layers of rich truffle flavor. The mussels make good chilled appetizers, each shell serving as a bed for a refreshing salad with chewy mussel chunks, small lemon slices, cherry tomatoes, dill and arugula.
Truffle Mushroom Puree
Mussels Ala Roces
One bite into our salad, the Marinated Artichoke Salad (P160), told me to order this dish the next time I visit Kape Chino. Although, the flavors also tell me it might not be everyone's cup of tea. It's tarty, very tarty, the balsamic-olive oil vinaigrette coating the hearts of artichokes, pimientos, olives and cherry tomatoes. It's the addictive sourness that makes your lips pucker up like a goldfish. If you're a fan of tart and vinaigrette, this is what you must order. I also found in their menu a Crispy Lengua Caesar Salad (P145) which just sounds so appetizing. I love ox tongue dishes, so I'm putting this also in my must-try list.
Marinated Artichoke Salad
I think they heard that I like lengua, because the next dish up for sampling was Lengua in Mushroom-Cognac Sauce (P330). Now this one is a truly classic take on how ox tongue is prepared -- braised, drizzled with a creamy mushroom sauce, and served with crisp veggies and mashed potato on the side. It was as if my grandmother was in the kitchen cooking this, surprising me with one of my favorite dishes.
Lengua in Mushroom-Cognac Sauce
Kape Chino's Oven-baked Salmon Wellington (P380) is quite a delight, too. The chewy layer of pastry crust embraces a slab of salmon. While I found the salmon piece I had just a tad dry for my liking, the tarty, creamy Boursin cheese and the delicious spinach lemon cream sauce won me back.
Oven-baked Salmon Wellington
We decided to move to the patio for our after-meal Brewed Coffee (P95) to enjoy the pleasant windy afternoon. When you dine at the outdoor wooden deck of Casa Roces, it feels even more at home, without the heavy noises of traffic and pedestrians -- the usual ambiance of busy restaurants situated in malls and more commercialized districts. It was as if time decided to take a siesta, and we had an entire day to linger on at the house.
Malacañang Frozen Souffle
Oh, but how could I forget telling you about the most memorable part of our meal? It was certainly a unanimous decision that the Malacañang Frozen Souffle (P380) is a stellar dessert. The restaurant manager shared to us that since day one, it has been the most sought-after dessert at Kape Chino, that they had to make more of them than normally expected. A mini cocotte carries a dessert with interplay of textures -- soft, creamy, frozen, crunchy. A frozen lemon custard souffle is topped with a couple of chocolate flakes and dotted with ground pistachio nuts. The top part is fluffy and light, while your spoon hits a more solid, frozen base when you dig deeper. It's both tart and sweet, and an absolute joy to eat after a savory lunch.
At Casa Roces, one truly feels at home with the warm, welcoming ambiance, paired with culinary re-interpretations of family heirloom dishes that both delight and comfort. Like how my father puts it, if Lola was still alive, she'd like this.
Getting to Casa Roces
Casa Roces is at 1153 J.P. Laurel corner Aguado Streets, San Miguel, Manila (just across Malacañan Palace). Call 735-5896 or 708-4020 for reservations and inquiries.