By CJ Juntereal
Let’s face it, Valentine’s Day has become almost as commercial as the Christmas season, if not more so. But we celebrate it anyway. Maybe because underneath all that crass cheesiness is the reminder that love, in all its forms, is a fundamental part of all the things that keep us going. We don’t need to celebrate Valentine’s Day as one half of a romantic couple. We can celebrate as friends, as family, as co-workers, sometimes even as strangers thrown together by circumstance. As that old cliché goes, it’s meaning behind it that’s important.
And so, if you haven’t quite figured out what to do yet, here are a few suggestions gathered from friends and family that will fill both your hearts and your stomachs, from expensive to wow-what-a-bargain! They’re in no particular order, by the way.
Dinner and a concert at UP Diliman
It’s the perfect way to celebrate love in all its forms, and remember your happy college days. UP Fair 2018: FLAMES is a concert at the UP Sunken Garden featuring The Itchyworms, Rivermaya, MYMP, UDD, Gloc-9, and many more. Before the show, dine on pork barbecue from Beach House, a favorite of generations of UP students, and still one of my favorite pork barbecues. You can also stand around a fishball cart and share a few sticks while reminiscing, have isaw at Mang Larry’s Isawan, or have tapsilog at Rodic’s at the UP Shopping Center. You’ll find that cheap, no-pressure dates are usually the most fun. Tickets are P80 for UP Diliman students and P160 for others.
Buy tickets at platinumlist.net/flames or reserve at bit.ly/UPFairFlamesTickets.
Amare by Chef Chris
Up north in the Clark Freeport Zone, Chef Chris Locher has done away with expensive set menus for Valentine’s Day and will be serving his excellent classic and contemporary Italian cuisine a la carte (with a few specials) for couples and groups of friends. Chef Chris is the culinary mastermind behind the old C’ Italian in Angeles City. Expect to see classics such as zuppa de pesce, cod topped with a rich shrimp sauce, a deep and dark seafood risotto made with squid ink, roasted lamb ribs with wine sauce, excellent pastas and his famous “rolliza,” and some great vegetarian dishes. For dessert, the lemon cheesecake with a crackling brulee top is a standout.
Royce Hotel 2023, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga. 63 905 444 9167.
Ikomai & Tochi
Ikomai isn’t your typical Japanese restaurant. It serves progressive Japanese food, with riffs on typical Japanese street foods such as kushitake or skewers. Best of all, it has great desserts. It makes the partnership between Chef Hideki Saieki and Pastry Chef James Antolin (he of the intensely chocolate, decadent Tochi cookie fame) a perfect match. The six-course degustation menu for Valentine’s Day includes glasses of Beringer wine (always a good pairing with Japanese food), and dishes such as a roasted Japanese corn soup with fried leeks and bonito flakes, handcrafted sushi; and miso-marinated black cod, or grilled prime ribeye for the main course. The dessert doesn’t include those glorious Tochi Cookies, but you can probably pick up some on the side. Prices range from P1,900 to P2,500 per person, depending on choice of main course.
Ikomai. ACI Group Building, 147 H.V. Dela Costa,Salcedo Village, Makati. 02 816 4588
M Dining, with talented Chef Tom Bascon in the kitchen, is one of my go-to restaurants. The Valentine’s Day menu comes with an option for wine pairing with a great selection of wines from Premium Wine Exchange, which is just downstairs. Chef Bascon’s menu keeps to the restaurant’s Italian theme, with touches of Asian flair. Some of the choices include shrimp ravioli with uni butter, a classic beef wellington, poached salmon and shrimps in truffle cream, delicious thick-cut pork chops with agro dolce, and a lovely pavlova with marron glacé and muscato sabayon. The set menus are P2,300++ and P2,950++ per person. Add P1,700++ per person for the wine pairing or P990++ for unlimited Sparkling Wine.
3/F, Alegria Alta Building, 2294 Chino Roces Ave, Makati. 02 810 3565
Chef Ariel Manuel is a chef’s chef, and was one of the first Filipino chefs to take fine dining and gastronomy out of the hotel setting. We wept when Lolo Dad’s closed, and are thrilled that he is in top form and back with Bistro Manuel. For Valentine’s Day, his menu showcases what he is known for—classic French technique livened up by his Asian palate and touches of creativity. His six-course Valentine’s Day menu includes sugba-kilaw of U.S. kurobota pork and maine lobster with ginger dressing, sesame oil poached mackarel with cilantro and lime, and a choice of US wagyu ribeye or gindara with crab fat and miso. P2,650+/pax for lunch and dinner on Feb. 14 and 15.
Bistro Manuel. 2/F, 4347 B. Valdez, Makati. 02 871 8566.
The Black Pig
Southerners need not brave the traffic to get a great meal, nor do they need to dress beyond their usual laidback style. I’ve always thought that Spanish chef Carlos Garcia is hugely underrated here in Metro Manila. He has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and brings that same effort to The Black Pig, so I sing his praises whenever I can. And because he loves to work with vegetables, his Valentine’s Day menu includes some vegetarian options. Some of the standout dishes include my favorite black truffle risotto, duck breast with a carrot and tahini puree, beetroot tartare with crème fraiche and cherry, and a warm chocolate fondant cake with tonka bean ice cream.
Commercenter Building, Filinvest Avenue, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang. Call +917 8450744 for prices and information.
Discovery Suites dinner on a helipad
Gazing at the stars from over 40 stories above the ground is romantic. The stars are nearer, clearer, brighter, and a cool breeze makes you want to snuggle. Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center will be serving a special Valentine’s Dinner on its helipad this year. Aside from a 360-degree view of the Ortigas Skyline with no glass between you and the open air, there will be a four-course meal featuring Surf and Turf—sous vide fillet mignon and grilled selva prawns for the main course. Best of all, there’s no need to fight the crowds because only six tables per night are available (Feb. 14 and 15). The dinner costs P15,000 net for two persons.
Discovery Suites. 25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Philippines 1600. 02 719 8888
Old Manila at the Peninsula Manila
Old Manila Chef de Cuisine Allan Briones was promoted from within the hotel’s ranks. He has transformed Old Manila with his philosophy of using fresh, local ingredients, and dishes that combine classic and contemporary approaches to cuisine. For Valentine’s Day he has created a four-course menu that features lobster bisque with coconut foam, kaffir lime, and lobster bruschetta, herb-crusted scallops with pumpkin gnocchi, and slow-roasted wagyu beef tenderloin. P4,600/pax with a glass of champagne. You can up the ante by staying overnight on one of the hotel’s special Valentine’s packages that start at P11,000, and includes a P3,000 dining credit at one of the hotel’s restaurants, among other perks.
The Peninsula Manila. 02 887 2888 ext. 6694 (Restaurant Reservations) or 6630 (Room Reservations).
Restaurant 101 at Enderun Colleges
It may be inside a culinary school, and some of the servers and line cooks may be students, but Restaurant 101 is run with almost the precision of an Alain Ducasse restaurant, perhaps because Enderun is a partner of Ducasse Education. It has always been one of my favorite restaurants for fine dining meals at very reasonable prices. The seven-course Valentine’s Day menu is value for money at P1,580+ per person. Some of the dishes are Pan Seared Scallops with Clam Risotto and Edamame, Roasted Sea Bass with Artichokes a la Barigoule, and Braised Beef Shank with Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Restaurant 101. Enderun Colleges, 1100 Campus Avenue, McKinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. +02 8565000.
Al Fresco Dining in Fort San Pedro, Iloilo City
If you’re spending for a plane ticket, you may as well make it a two-day trip to feast on Iloilo’s delightful cuisine—seafood, pancit molo, batchoy, biscocho, and many more. But for Valentine’s Day, P150 per person at Fort San Pedro will get you juicy chicken barbecue with unlimited rice, the cheesy romantic songs of a live band, a great sunset, cool sea breezes, and al fresco dining in dim lighting that allows you to whisper sweet nothings without being overheard. Or you can take the whole family, rent roller skates for the kids, and make it a fun activity for all. I bet the band will even allow you to take the stage to sing a love song!
Fort San Pedro, San Pedro Drive, Domestic Port Area, Iloilo City.
Tags: Ariel Manuel, Bistro Manuel, Chef Chris, Chef Chris Locher, Clark Freeport Zone, Discovery Suites, Love at first bite, Pastry Chef James Antolin, pork barbecue, shrimp sauce, Valentine’s Day, Valentine’s Day menu