This is one restaurant that elicits the very same reaction whenever it comes up in conversation: “Lolo Dad’s? Oh, it’s very expensive there!” Run by husband and wife team Chefs Ariel and Mia Manuel, the restaurant is a converted ancestral home. Lolo Dad is actually Mia’s father, Atty. Conrado “Dodo” Ayuyao, a gourmet who also used to hold office where the restaurant now stands. Predominantly French, the menu changes depending on what’s in season.
I have always thought of Lolo Dad’s as my Holy Grail of restaurants, akin to eating at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry or Daniel Boulud’s namesake café. Lolo Dad’s is already five years old, yet I have never even so much as set foot on the premises. Indeed, it may be the most expensive restaurant I know of in Manila. As I was soon to discover, however, there is great reason for and value (believe it or not) behind such exorbitance.
My dad celebrated his birthday dinner with the family at Lolo Dad’s, and it was a first for all six of us, plus a friend of the family. “Mom’s paying so order whatever you like,” Pa told us. “I told Papa that I’ll order and pay for him so that he won’t get shocked and lose his appetite,” added Mom, grinning.
Lolo Dad’s menu is selective. There are six appetizers and 12 entrees ”“ six each for meat and seafood. Clearly, owner-chef Ariel Manuel focuses on what he knows best. Our party ordered two of the most popular starters, beginning with the double espresso soup (P280+), individual cups of creamed tomato and mushroom with fleuron. Fleuron are normally tiny, crescent-shaped pieces of puff pastry used as a garnish atop hot food. In this case, however, the puff pastry was transformed into light bread sticks, to dip into or to eat along with the soups. Slick and silky, each spoonful coated the tongue, leaving a path of warmth as it coursed down the throat. “I’ve never had soup like this,” my sister murmured, eating her soup as if in a trance.
This was the soup.
At first, ordering the French Moulard duck foie gras was an outrageous thought I flirted with. At P1,490+, it definitely gave cause for pause. “But when will we be here again?” my Bin asked me as I pondered the matter, but not for too long.
I gingerly bit into the foie gras, my teeth shattering through its crispy outer coating. The gates were opened and out roared the glorious flavors of butter and earth. It didn’t matter that it was fattened duck liver. It didn’t matter what it was. Time seemed to suddenly slow down. In my mouth, it quivered and then with a final shiver dissolved, leaving the essence of itself behind. Between bites, I nibbled on the assorted salad greens and poached pear, dipping them alternately in the balsamic vinegar dressing that had been cooked down until thick and sweet, its richness creating black trails on the white plate.
This was the foie gras.
The kitchen must have expected that we’d be so enchanted with our first course that it took them quite some time to bring out the entrees. But first, redemption arrived in a teapot. To cleanse the palate, we were each served some homemade raspberry sorbet, ingeniously served atop a little smoking teapot. I delighted in lifting the lid and marveling at how one shard of dry ice could produce so much smoke.
And then came the Herb de Provence crusted rack of lamb (P1,440+) its bones resting gracefully like a satisfied samurai crossing his arms. Sliced thickly, pinkish in the middle, with a tenderness giving way to the grip of teeth, this is what lamb should be. But I learned there had to be a balance of tastes; cutting too much of the lamb from the side would yield a salty piece. I learned to balance a portion of lamb with the melted garlic-tomato confit, letting the flavors dance and play in my mouth with the blue cheese risotto. My eyes close automatically: any sense more than taste is too much when my mouth is filled with such a harmony of exotic flavors.
This was the lamb.
The Black Angus beef tenderloin (P1,150+) was superb. Snagged on a bed of what was described as inflated potatoes, caramelized onions, and cépes mushroom sauce, it was a pronouncement of succulence. The dish was flourished with cubes of bone marrow, which I wish could’ve been heated more as they were tepid ”“ the only blemish on an otherwise stellar plate.
This was the beef.
And so, on this evening at Lolo Dad’s, I finally drank from my Holy Grail of restaurants. As I ate, I deconstructed each dish, using all my senses ”“ touch, sight, sound, enjoying it all with abandon. When it was over, I wanted to weep because there was no more to eat. When it’s over, it’s over. I relish that experience of savoring every moment. Now all I can wish for is more.
899 President Quirino Ave.