"I know. That's why I love it here," I happily answered.
In terms of land area, Davao is the largest city in the Philippines. In fact, that 2,443.61 square kilometers stretch of land qualifies Davao as one of the largest cities in the world. Being such, one can imagine the famed land of the durian as a busy and sprawling metropolis equipped with the wide freeways and innumerable skyscrapers.
But busy, Davao isn't.
Just last month, I revisited the city I've always adored as a kid. My young mind failed to forget that almost paradise of a beach Davao has... the quiet suburban feel in the low-rise neighborhoods... the absence of cramped buildings... the genuinely nice and peace loving people.
After so many years of not visiting Davao, I expected Cebu-like progress (and traffic) but to my surprise, nothing much changed. I was again greeted and welcomed by the same laid back aura-- the same peace and quiet.
That being said, I shouldn't have been surprised when my cousin fixed me with a blank stare after I asked her at around 9 in the evening, "Where's the coolest bar here? What would you recommend?"
"There are no 'bars' here. At least not the ones you have in mind," she answered.
And boy, I was surprised.
So there she was, my poor cousin, pressured on where to take me at 9pm. She suggested the midnight sale, but I was pretty insistent to experience something new -- another memory of Davao I can bring home. Besides, it's already my last night in the place.
"Okay. Cafe Andessa's the nearest, around 10 minutes away from here. How about there?" she suggested. A neighborhood cafe sounded great. My experience taught me that the finest finds are often tucked within folksy neighborhoods, so Cafe Andessa it was.
"Very charming" was my initial impression upon seeing the well-lit bungalow cafe amidst the unpolished subdivision. Its front glass walls are tall and wide; the warm, cozy interiors are evident from afar. Only a couple of chairs are occupied and it made me wonder whether this is because of the midnight sale downtown, or I've just stumbled upon a hole in the wall resto unknown to others. After all, this place in Cabantian is out of the way for most Dabawenyos.
We entered and were politely welcomed. I asked for their menu. Sue Ann, whom I'll later learn as Cafe Andessa's owner, signaled the waiter to accommodate our request.
I got hold of their menu and I bet you know what she said next. After she gave us Business In Davao 101 (lesson no. 1 being "be inexpensive"), we were ready to order.
I figured I won't be getting "a taste of Davao" in this cafe, where most of its specialty dishes (i.e. Bicol Express and Laing) originate from Bicol. Nevertheless, my curiosity didn't let a couple of entrees pass.
And if interesting is the deal, I don't think there's any other dish in their menu more attention calling than the Bicol-X Spaghetti (P145).
I forgot that my cousin isn't too fond of spicy dishes so the dish supposedly enough for two was all left for me and my adventurous stomach. I asked Sue Ann, who did not appear busy that time, what made her create this one of a kind pasta. She gladly shared that they are originally from Bicol, and the Bicol Express I was about to feast on was the real deal. "That's my mom's recipe. That's how they do it in Bicol."
Excited much, the twirled pasta went in straight to my mouth. I pronged a couple of pork cubes covered with cheese and bicol-ex sauce. The heat is medium, I conclude. I like my dishes not tongue-numbing hot so I found the spice level in the dish agreeable. If you'd happen to be just near the Cafe Andessa, order this dish and I'm pretty sure you'll agree how well the ulam complements the pasta.
I've been busy enough with my Bicol-X Spaghetti that I almost failed to note how engrossed my cousin was, feasting on her Chicken Andessa (P145).
"Where's Andessa? Is that a place?" I asked Sue Anne figuring that Chicken Andessa maybe a special way of cooking chicken in Andessa, wherever that is.
"Oh, no. That's me and my siblings' names combined: Sue Anne, Dino, and Vanessa," she replied. Now there's your trivia for Cafe Andessa.
My cousin, clearly satisfied with the seemingly simple dish, already consumed half of it. I then helped myself a small piece of the glazed chicken.
"Ah... now that was good," I shared. It was in fact really good and very savory for a humble-looking chicken. If not for more than what's called for burnt edges, it may be everyone's ideal Chicken Barbecue. Though the piece is large (thankfully!), the rice that came along it was bitin. Dishes as flavorful as this calls for heaps of rice. I hope they can do something about that, too. My cousin is halfway through the rice that came along with the Chicken Andessa so I got half the rice from the last dish we ordered: Pan Seared Dory and Basil Rice (P180). Wrong move.
Pan Seared Dory and Basil Rice
The moment I tasted the basil rice, I completely forgot about the java rice and yes, even the chicken! The soft, slightly crusty and oily basil rice instantly won me over. Infatuated, I immediately discarded the chicken and proceeded to the dory. Salty and crunchy (two of my most favored sensations), the thin dory fillet bewildered me. "Why do you charge just a hundred and eighty for this?! A dish this good would cost me P300 in Manila!," I demanded.
Sue Ann couldn't help but laugh. I must be one interesting customer that rainy night. After seeing us happy with what we've ordered, she suggested that we leave space for their desserts: Banana Langka Fritters (P60) and Buko Pandan (P80).
Banana Langka Fritters
It has langka, so I didn't touch it. My cousin said it was pretty good, though. If only I can elicit a more detailed description of this dessert. Anyhow, it's turon. How bad can it be, right?
I can attest on the other dessert, on the other hand. The Buko Pandan in the tall halo-halo glass was just the perfect choice for my oil-laden mouth. Milk and ice swept away the grease from the previous dishes. The pandan cubes and sago served as gummy treats while letting my palate rest.
Seeing us done with our hefty meal, Sue Ann asked us if we're going to Gaisano's midnight sale. Just a minute before that, my cousin asked me that very question.
"Hah. Kuripot nga ang Dabawenyos," I concluded, while we head our way to the mall. I always knew I kind of belonged here.
Cafe Andessa is is located at #2 Cabantian Road, Carpio Subd., Davao City. It is open Mondays to Saturdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.