Baguio days in June tend to be overcast with hardly a hint of sun. So I guess our growing Butones was hopeful that morning for something special to happen. She had been spending a lot of time inside the house because we'd waken to wet and windy mornings that always ruined plans for a walk (actually, a sprint for her now that she's learning to run). So she'd stare out the window with the dusty screen that overlooks the common parking space, waiting for the older kids to come out and ride their bikes or for the neighbors' cars to warm up.
But rain or shine, I had promised the man of the house that I'd treat him this once to Hill Station's Latin American luncheon buffet billed as "El Dia del Padre." He couldn't bear the idea of leaving Butones, her mamay Kimi and yaya Mackenzie home or being sent off to another restaurant so we could have this date to ourselves so he decided it would be his treat with yours truly adding my share to the bill. Who was I to contradict him?
The little one got to wear her birthday outfit once more that was a tad loose in April, making her look like a manang than a year-old celebrator. It had a nice tulip hem and made her look like a young sophisticate like her Tita Ida who couldn't be with us.
In late May, Padma Perez of Mt. Cloud Bookshop told us about the Hill's Father's Day plan, how she was helping the restaurant's dynamo, Mitos Benitez, with the promotions that involved writing the advertising copy in Spanglish.
I thought aloud to the man in the house that there may be a lot of meat involved since I was imagining the Lat-Am grasslands and cows and Argentinian corned beef.
I was secretly hoping for guacamole and chips and came out not disappointed at all. En punto, on the dot, I loaded my plate with tacos, the smooth guacamole dip, one or two oysters Rockefeller, the same amount of grilled barbecue potato skins, and right away I felt it was a sweet Sunday.
While I enjoyed that first swing around the appetizer table, Kimi, who was cradling a sleeping Butones in her arms, put on a sour face and reminded me to think of her as hungry mother, too. Her gustatory discovery in the food lineup was the biscuit-like Chilean style sopaipillas that made this grandmother think of flattened Russian tea cookies. Well, we had it with everything from appetizers to dessert.
We couldn't pass up the Caesar salad, it being part of the Benitez family's restaurant tradition.
When Butones woke from her power nap, she had an appetite for the spaghetti vongole and the not-too-sweet, just-right arroz con leche. She just had a spoonful of mashed potatoes and returned to the pasta and arroz. I could almost hear her humming her secret tune while eating.
Her grumpa, whom she calls Tats like the rest of us, was predictably partial to the oysters (the Caviteño in him) and frequently stopped by the carving station for lechon and the slow roast US beef which he preferred to eat with gravy than the chef's recommended chimichurri sauce.
Kimi was all praises for the vegetable moussaka and I for the paella Negra con aioli and made sure I had no black squid ink between my teeth. The arroz de leche mentioned earlier was the perfect foil to the cloyingly sweet flan de sevilla, a staple at the Hill's dessert list, and the tocino del cielo. The marquez de chocolate was served in shot glasses (where was the tequila?) with tiny plastic spades to scoop out the goodness. Two of those and I felt like shooting through the roof from the choco and sugar high.
In keeping with the Latin American-Mexican theme, there was a mariachi band, Los Bandidos (too amiable to look like bandits), to serenade the diners with popular tunes like "Guatanamera," "Besame Mucho," "Quizas Quizas Quizas," all of which brought back memories of old chum-compadre Amadis Ma. Guerrero, now a choir singer going places.
Most photos taken by Babeth Lolarga