Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sabroso's at Libreria: A Most Unusual Meal at a Bookstore

I've had my share of lechon. And now that my husband is frequently in Cebu, lechon has become fairly common dining table fare.

So, maybe, I'm a little bit jaded now.

But I was in for a surprise treat with my first try of Sabroso Lechon.

One day before 2010 ended, we got invited to a lunch at the best bookstore in the planet, Libreria.

Libreria is a quaint, little bookstore tucked into a corner of the metro's most happening art spot, Cubao X. Outside, it looks a little bit like Hugh Grant's bookstore in Notting Hill. Inside is a scrumptious melange of white brick and Caribbean blue walls, floor planks salvaged from a bowling alley, shelves and shelves of books, kitsch (the good kind), and the heady scent of brewed coffee. It's small in area but big on personality. It's a place one goes to not just to buy and browse affordable books in great condition; it's also a place for friends to chill, to discuss books, to party.

And this little party last December was called by Libreria's lovely owner, Triccie Cantero. I didn't know if she was thanking us for our patronage or bribing us to come over when she whispered that lechon (roasted pig) would be on the menu. She neither had to bribe nor thank us because we go to her bookstore just because we love it there. But still, lechon! Who says no to a lechon invitation? So, even if my husband and I were off to an anniversary vacation, we had to stop over.

My husband, artisan, surgeon, demi-god of lechon carving, showed off his skills and left not one splatter on the books. He didn't even break into a sweat. And he finished carving in pretty good time too. He was in his element. And I was in mine, surrounded by books, good food, and my bookish friends.

Sabroso Lechon, as the packaging says, is incredibly flavorful. I have yet to find food that is better than sex, but this comes dangerously close. This is lechon that comes from the Cebu tradition of pig roasting, but deviates a little to make it unique. For one, it comes with a thick garlic sarsa, which might raise the eyebrows of Cebu-lechon-purists. And to my palate, there's a distinct flavor, something that resembles sinigang and something I cannot guess. I wanted to take a sampling of the stuffing to have our resident science geek Mike analyze. Maybe I have to try it again to find better words to describe its interesting flavor. For now, all I can manage is that it's lovely, lovely lechon.

Lechon and books -- a most unusual combination, a fusion of heaven for the senses and hell for the cholesterol conscious. At least now, I can argue that my vice (books) is so much healthier than my husband's (booze and baboy).

Lechon without rice is like, well, lechon without rice. Good enough, but a little sad. So, Triccie made sure the experience was complete by supplying seafood paella lovingly prepared by her mom. Cholesterol + carbohydrates; now, what else is missing?

Ah yes! Sugar. Fellow book club friends Blooey and Czar took care of that with a box of Krispy Kreme and the famous ADB chocolate crinkles, respectively.

Then, finally, the appetizer arrived. Like we need it. Our friend Mike (yes, the science geek slash sports watch endorser) contributed the ridiculously delicious hummus made by his mom. All of us now want to be adopted by an Iranian family.

And finally, a cupful of Libreria's house blend. The bookstore gives out free brewed coffee. Didn't I tell you this is the best bookstore in the planet?

Unfortunately, my husband and I could not stay longer for the reincarnation of the lechon in paksiw (cooked in vinegar and garlic) form. Pampanga beckoned.

We can always have some more of the lechon by visiting their shop at 1237 E. Rodriguez Ave., Corner Tomas Morato, Quezon City. And according to my Manila by Day book (Thanks, Peter and Rhett.), they serve meals there too. According to the same book, a full lechon costs PhP3k.

For delivery, you can dial +632-725-0711, or +632-515-8253, or +632-515-8259.

Thanks, Triccie! Thanks, Libreria, for this splendid lunch like no other.

Anniversary Weekend at Abe's Farm

My husband and I recently reached the 15th year mark as Mr. and Mrs. Yeay, us! So we celebrated by having an out-of-town weekend in the middle of the week. I love it when we do that, because that means we get to have two weekends in one week! Always fun.

We headed for Abe's Farm in Pampanga, a restaurant cum bed and breakfast place we've heard so much about.

As is the norm, the Mrs. slept through most of trip as the Mr. channeled Kimi Raikkonen and tried to beat some imaginary world record. Our Trooper zipped through NLEX, creating a psychedelic, impressionistic, moving painting of the rice fields, swamps, and trees surrounding the highway. I knew this even as I slept with my mouth wide open. I know it's true love because my husband still loves me even after watching me, the world's ugliest sleeper, sleep. Ooops. A.D.D. alert. I won't apologize anymore for digressing because I always digress anyway. What I'm trying to say is, don't ask me how to get there. When I travel, it's like entering a time machine. I just close my eyes and then I'm there.

Just check out their homepage for directions.

I woke up as we neared Magalang, Pampanga. I always love the approach to a town. It's a predictable, comforting pattern. You first go through the suburbs, where progress is constantly changing the landscape, old homes and rice fields giving way to the sprouting of gated subdivisions. Then you pass through the busy bayan (town center) with it Jollibees, and post-war market buildings, and all sorts of enterprise and merchandise. Then as you go deeper into the more parochial parts of town, things quiet down and the roads get a little rougher, the sights greener, the structures fewer and farther in between. And you can even roll down your car windows to breathe in that unusual smell -- they call it fresh air.

I never fail to appreciate it when we pass a tunnel of trees that almost completely shade the road, branches interlocking overhead as if embracing me in a warm welcome.

We followed the signs. Then, finally we saw the farm's gate, where a man ushered us into a large, shaded parking lot loosely paved with river stones.

Abe's Farm is owned and operated by the LJC Group. Whenever I think LJC, I think: squid tactics. binukadkad na pla-pla. Claude's Dream. Abe's chocolate eh. These menu items have been in the Metro's culinary scene for ages that they've become comfort food for me, and I dare guess for others too. These are also the dishes that told me that going to Abe's Farm in Magalang, Pampanga would be worth the trip. Because if all else suck, at least, the food won't disappoint.

But we discovered that's at Abe's Farm, it's more than just the food, there are many other reasons to visit.

The calm. Within the walls, you feel you're far, far away from civilization. You're surrounded by dense foliage, muffling the sounds of the outside world, covering you, making you feel like you're one with nature, even though, I admit, I'm not the one with nature kind of girl. There's no rush. Paths meander; it's never about getting from point A to point B in no time. People seem to walk around and talk in whispers, as if reverential of the country quiet.

The charm. The brochure described the place with the phrase tropical art deco. It's that. Plus architecture and decor that fuse our rich Filipino heritage and Asian aesthetics. The architecture of the main house and the varied cottages do not disrupt nature one bit as they are low rise, unassuming, and finished in indigenous materials. Divans, solihiya lounge chairs, and four poster day beds decked in cotton canvas slip covers and batik pillows are scattered in various places inviting you to sit and read, or slumber, or just sigh and soak in the sounds and scents of provincial life. The air is of unpretentious luxury.

The romance. We arrived just before sunset, settled into our rustic cottage, and by the time we left it to go the spa, the dim of dusk and the sprinkling of outdoor lights have turned the place into a romantic garden of brick lanes and cozy tryst spots.

In the rooms, there are no hi-fi, no wi-fi, no TV. Just a bed. And a tub for two. This absence of high tech pleasantly forces you to go high touch instead. To converse. Or to read in bed together, something I find strangely romantic. And to just share silent space, as old married couples find comfort in doing.

The luxury. Okay, I admit it. Even though I love my creature comforts and backpacking does not make me a happy camper, I'm quite easy to please. Just put a muslin netting over my bed, and I'm easily impressed. I know it's just for effect, because the air-conditioning and glass walls and doors keep the mosquitoes away. But it just adds a touch of opulence, comfort, sexiness to an otherwise rustic ambiance.
The spa is housed in a cottage similar to ours. My full body massage was glorious. And painful. Just the way I like it. When the therapist asked if the pressure was fine, I requested for her to make it harder. She obliged. She kneaded my holiday-weary body so hard, I almost wanted to shout, Uncle. The next day I was black and blue. And if I weren't already married, I might have proposed marriage to my therapist, so I can have a lifetime of spa bliss.

Then dinner. Ah, back to food.

Rice with dilis and tausi. Squid tactics. Inihaw na tadyang. Pako (fern) salad. Chicharon bulaklak. I thought we ordered too much. Yet, at the end of the meal, all that was left was the rice, which we asked them to serve with our breakfast the next day. The tadyang was a bit too crispy for me. I want it crispy on the outside, but tender, juicy, beefy inside. This one was crispy all throughout. Other than that, everything was perfect.

We washed all that with merlot, and we brought an order of leche flan to our room.

Because this is in the province, where the townsfolk turn the lights off early, service ends at 8PM.

So off to our cottage.

Insert 60s style hazy fade outs and sound effects to indicate a long time lapse because the censors cut the good parts in the bedroom.

We woke up excited to cap our weekend. LJC style breakfast awaited. We pre-ordered the night before.

We first built up an appetite walking around the grounds; checking out the Ifugao huts and the swimming pool; and admiring the orchid collection.

Moving around the main house, I wished we could stay longer to laze, to just lie on daybed and read.

We broke our fast with tapsilog for me and tocilog for him. Darn! I forgot to order chocolate eh. But the coffee was a delicious picker upper anyway. We wolfed down our breakfast because we were excited to visit the museum.

The museum is a relocated, reconstructed house, and is a great example of adaptive reuse as a means of preserving traditional architecture and decor. It also makes Abe's Farm more than just a bed and breakfast place as it gives it a story, history, charm, and romance.

In size, it's not much, which means it's not overwhelming and you can tour the place in minutes.

But because I am fond of minutiae, the museum was a wonderland of details that clue you in on Abe, his family, his art, his lifestyle. This museum is certainly another good reason to make the trip to Magalang.

We eventually tore ourselves away from Abe's farm to meet a friend who manages a business at the Clark Economic Zone.

Aside: I was amazed to discover that U.S.-based companies that restore old cars actually find it cheaper to ship the vehicle and parts to the Philippines, where local workers have been trained to do restoration work, and then ship back the finished goods to the U.S. Whew! Long sentence.

Lunch. I've been hearing about Zapata's (now Iguana's), the Mexican restaurant known for its margaritas. And I was glad to learn that the buzz was not all hype. That was mighty good Mexican food and an awesome margarita.

We managed to coerce our friend, one bottle of beer at a time, to extend her one-hour lunch break, but we eventually had to bring her back to work with her promising to grill some steaks for us pretty soon.

Because our car was coded that day, we had to stall -- first by passing for some Paning's butong pakwan (watermelon seeds), and then having an early dinner at Marquee Mall, an Ayala Mall in Angeles.

Aling Lucing's sisig, Susie's pansit luglug, Susie's tibok tibok (similar to maja blanca, but uses carabao's milk) -- our mini Pampanga food tour, all consumed at the food court beside the supermarket.

I almost don't know how to end this post, in the same way, that it was hard to end that weekend in the middle of the weekend. So, because the 15th year is merely a milestone in a what I hope to be a long, long marriage, I will not just say The End. Instead, I end with To be continued...

Abe's Farm, Pampanga Office
Phone: +(6345) 865-1930
Mobile: +(63915) 595-5501