We’re already 10 years into the new millennium but stepping into the foyer of La Cocina de Tita Moning, I can’t help but feel like I’ve left the 21st century at the doorstep and slipped back to another era. The gleam of the afternoon sun and chandelier reflects off the polished hardwood floor. Old paintings and photos hang all over the walls. The air conditioning was on but I seem to smell (or imagine smelling) a faint musty odor in the air, reminiscent of the redolence of old houses. I pass by the souvenir/pasalubong shop immediately past the sliding doors and save for the air conditioners and big refrigerators, I can easily mistake the decade for the 1930s, not the 2000s.
I went up the hardwood stairs in anticipation of more nostalgia. While waiting for the food to be prepared, I lingered over at the main living room where a big chandelier shone brightly, putting everything into bold relief – the small piano in the corner, the big painting on one wall, the bank of old photographs on the other walls, the ornate design of the big chairs, the plump pillows, the books on the table, even the grains of the hardwood floor.
From the sala, I can see the main dining hall with a long table for families surrounded by several small ones. The warm lighting adds to the time-warped atmosphere. The same can be said of the table setting – the embroidered table cloth, the antique dinner plates, the kubyertos along with the solihiya chairs. Save for the air conditioning and the compact stereo system playing un-intrusive music, the whole scene feels like I was ready to dine back to the 30s.
I came mid-afternoon for a photo assignment for a magazine. All the other guests have left so I had the privilege of alone time, soaking the ambience of the place and the layers of nostalgic atmosphere brought by the years. I must say that I was already full before I even tasted the food. At a time when new eating places are cropping up, there’s something about this real ancestral mansion that offers something that can’t be manufactured, fabricated or replicated. Maybe, it’s the sense of place. Or maybe, a sense of history that only the years can stew and offer to the diner.
It didn’t take long after taking a seat when I caught a whiff of pesto in the air. Shortly, the affable Monet goes out of the kitchen with the Tarragon and Basil Pili Pesto Pasta. The use of pili in lieu of pine nuts was a nice touch while the addition of tarragon lends an aromatic anise-like smell to the sauce; the better to relish this favorite pasta dish.
The Lamb Shank came not too long after. I’m not a big fan of lamb but I must say that from the smell alone, I knew I can’t resist partaking of this dish. The lamb was stewed until it was meat-falling-off-the-bones-tender and served on a bed of mashed potato. The sauce lends a really savory flavor to the dish but I must note that the lamb was prepared very well, with no “fishy” flavor whatsoever. The two dishes will suffice for the average appetite; however, since I’m on an assignment, I must save some room for the Paella Valenciana (lucky me, indeed).
I’ve tasted my fair share of paellas but the one at Tita Moning was really a revelation. The rice was cooked just right, the use of olive oil was restrained so as not to make the dish oily with the medley of rich flavors of the chorizo, prawns, sausages, pork, chicken and saffron revealing itself with each spoonful. I got a taste of this dish previously, on a walking tour with renowned Manila guide, Ivan Man Dy, and he swears it’s the best paella he’s ever tasted. I wholeheartedly (or wholetummily?) agree.
For dessert, Monet first brought out the Bread and Butter Pudding. Just a small serving was enough to wash away all the heavy flavors of the previous dishes even though the syrupy concoction was pleasantly not overly sweet, the buttery caramel taste merrily mingling with the soft bread. Next came the Canonigo which was not surprising as the predominantly Spanish fare begs for this light dessert, meringue flavored with custard and caramel, then lavished with strawberry slices and peach balls.
It was already late afternoon when I finished my very satisfying meal, hardly touching the wine served with the dishes but feeling inebriated, nay intoxicated, by the dining experience – the ambiance of an art deco house still standing after 80 years and the glorious taste of food prepared the way it was done nearly a century ago lingering in my head. I stepped out into the sunset, pat the friendly Labrador by the gate and pat my tummy in contentment as I hesitantly return to the modern world outside.
La Cocina de Tita Moning serves lunch and dinner strictly by reservation. Reservation should be made at least 24 hours prior to dining. Booking for a minimum of 2 persons and maximum of 50 persons accepted. There’s a choice of Classic La Cocina, Filipino and Tasting Menus. Ala carte dining is allowed subject to availability of ingredients and discretion of the kitchen staff. Credit cards are accepted.
La Cocina de Tita Moning
315 San Rafael Street, San Miguel District, Manila
Tel. Nos. 632.7342146, 632.7342141
Mobile: (overseas): +63917.5383490; (Manila) 0917.5315203 • Email address : [email protected]