Café Adriana by Hill Station is not strictly Spanish cuisine, but the familiar kind that owner Mitos Benitez-Yñiguez grew up eating and cooking for her family. It is her third concept which recently opened in Baguio; long-time patrons know well her food at Hill Station, an institution located in the summer capital of the Philippines. It's one of the oldest restaurants in the city, built in one of Baguio's oldest structures, Casa Vallejo. The restaurateur ("I don't really call myself a chef," she shares, "but I love to cook") opened Bistro by Hill Station close to her first restaurant; and just before 2016 ended, she opened Café Adriana.
"For the longest time, I wanted to do a Spanish restaurant. I really did," Mitos shares. "Those are my roots, you know? But by the third restaurant, I thought, this is it. I wanted to do different paellas, I wanted to do my own creations. I mean, I'm not doing anything new, and I'm not a chef. I like to cook, I like to eat. So here we're doing my version of stuff which is really my grandma -- she lived with us and we grew up with her cooking. I really give credit to her. Even our Spanish theme, it's not really Spanish--it's mestiza. Because that's what we are--how we grew up. For me, that's my brand. "
Think hearty, abundant with fresh Baguio produce, made from scratch, and down-home good. While the cafe still carries 'by Hill Station,' it does have its own character, offering signature Spanish dishes with a mestizo and Filipino disposition. Here, it's not strictly Spanish, but it's the kind of Spanish food -- the comfort kind -- that their family grew up with and enjoy eating during Sunday lunches. The food here is vibrant and and fresh, thanks to the abudance of quality produce within her reach. It is locavore at its best. "So even if I do a paella negra, I use the black rice from the market. It's fun. You can really get everything from here," Mitos explains. "Even my chicken and duck liver pate, I'm using local ducks, I get ducks from Tarlac or I get my ducks from Gawad Kalinga in Bulacan. It's nice to source everything locally."
We nibble on some toast smeared with Duck & Liver Chicken Pate to start off our lunch, each crispy round bread garnished with pickled red radish, onions, and kumquat chutney. We have a pitcher of mojito served because Mitos highly recommended it, and first sip of it reveals why it is special -- it uses fresh cucumbers and mint, and during noontime, is absolutely refreshing. We got to try a couple of Adriana dishes that lean on more traditional but still homey: a Mussel and Clam Marinera (P140) loaded with lots of garlic, and a hearty Fabada (P295), the stew thick and hot, brimming with meaty flavors.
We are seated at the al fresco area of the cafe and talk about how wonderful it is to have a viewdeck that spoils her diners with an unobstructed view of Baguio, and that she is lucky to work with the freshest of ingredients, fruits and vegetables vibrant and as near as her home garden, even. "With the organic farming, all our greens--our lettuces at least--I love them," Mitos tells us. "They're doing now radish microgreens which we are putting in our salads here. I'm so happy with our farmers because they just come over and let me try things."
Her salads are a highlight at the cafe, each bowl so colorful and crisp, photogenic as it is delicious. All dressings are made in-house, and you can bring a bottle home with you, too -- they also sell their dips, jams, dressings, and some meats like chorizo and longganisa. I couldn't decide which I favored more, the Greens Lentil Salad Bowl (P240) tossed with lentils and bulgur, or the Roasted Veggie Bowl (P240) with black rice, granola, and quinoa. If we were back in Manila, these "farm to table" salads would probably be twice as expensive, making you appreciate the bountiful mix of greens, grains, and fresh ingredients more. "We use a lemon and bagoong dressing," Mitos says, "the bagoong is fish bagoong from Ilocos. I make sure that what I sell, we either make it ourselves or we directly know the source. As local as much as possible, that's what we are all about."
Another dish we enjoyed pairing with mojitos is Adriana's brick-oven pizza. The crispy thin crust is made with whole wheat flour, olive oil, and every pizza is topped with the freshest herbs and microgreens. It's a crowd pleaser and will certainly appeal to kids. Just as Mitos promised, their Mixed Sausages (P220) is truly local and made from scratch, down to the smoked sausages they used which they themselves make in the kitchen.
Café Adriana is not complete without coffee, and their selection boasts of proudly local drinks, from hot chocolate using Malagos tableya, to local roasts that is their signature blend. I keep my coffee simple and have an Americano, and we cap off our lunch with a signature dessert: a slice of Cheesecake Flan.
As its name suggests, yes, it's a darling little hybrid of the syrupy leche flan and a classic tangy cheesecake. The cake still holds that cheesecake texture I love, while it's topped with that golden-brown layer of flan that sweetens every big forkful you get from the slice. The coffee tempers the sweetness, making for a good pairing, and after cleaning off the plate of dessert, I already daydream of my next visit to Baguio to return to this new cafe.
Visit Café Adriana at the deck level of Outlook Ridge Residences, located at V. De los Reyes Street, Outlook Drive, Baguio City. The restaurant is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 10pm, and Friday to Sunday from 8am to 11pm. Call 0935-4597180, like Café Adriana on Facebook (/CafeAdrianaByHillStation) and follow on Instagram (@CafeAdrianaByHillStation).