Thursday, November 6, 2014

From the ruins something grows

Its official name is Cafe by the Ruins Dua ("dua" to mean "two" in Iluko). And it opens Nov. 29 on upper Session Road.

The Baguio institution on Chuntug street is, at long last, branching out. It is 26 years old, after all, outlasting flash-in-the-pan cafes, luncheonettes and similar eating spots. It has made a name for fully using what's in season, what's available in the nearby public market and what can be sourced from neighboring provinces, including children's clay palayok with which to serve the new lamb kebabs with yogurt and peanut sauce. (The lambs are raised in a farm in Tarlac.)

It is not out of whimsy that the menu changes three times a year--it adapts to what the market has in abundance. The slow movers are removed from the line-up, some favorites that had been deleted make a comeback, and if you don't find something that you liked from a past visit in the current menu, the cook can accommodate your craving.

Tall glass of Jamaica soda on the left, its mouth crusty with sparkly salt. It'll be in the new menu of the main cafe and Dua. The bloody red juice is extracted from the hibiscus. The flowers' original seeds were brought to Baguio by Filipino ICM nuns once stationed in Jamaica. Beside the refreshing soda is a bowl of cucumber soup with a chicken patty inserted in the hollowed-out part.

To hear two of the cafe partners, Adelaida Lim and Baboo Mondoñedo, and the second-generation managers, Tann Arvisu and Feliz "Fifi" Perez, tell it, Dua doesn't mean more of the same. Laida says the expansion is overdue what with the saucepans, pots and kitchen staff bumping into one another at peak hours.

Even the idea of a peak season (summer, specifically Holy Week, and December) no longer holds, if climate change should even be thanked for it at all. During its early years the cafe would be closed for renovations and repairs in August. This year, however, August was not too full of gusts of wind and rain. Baguio experienced a deluge of long weekenders who came up for just two good reasons: to eat and to sleep.

Fifi remembers a customer making a reservation for 20 people. No problem there. But when the next request came, it became complicated: "Can we all be sitting together?" Those familiar with the main cafe know that one of its distinctive qualities is its heterogeneous floor layout; last year a mezzanine was even added. Customers are never turned away; some willingly wait for as long as two hours to be seated. Thanks to SMS, too, they can go elsewhere, then return when a text reminds them that their table is available.

Dua will remedy the situation further. It will have space for big groups or for functions (meetings, seminars and workshops), a larger kitchen area to meet the demand for the cafe's baked products and for a deli-pasalubong corner that also includes take-out food ideal for condo residents or working couples who just need to reheat it. A proper gallery, too, now that the main cafe, through constant renovations, has lost many walls that used to have changeable exhibitions.

What to watch out for in that deli: the bottled beetroot atchara that packs a wallop. During a tastings session, Baboo suggested that the smoked lamb sausages be paired with something pickled instead of a sawsawan of vinegar. Laida called forth the beetroot atchara from the kitchen. Fifi and Tann opined that the sausages were a bit dry and have to be juicier for kids to relish them. Laida's solution: add beef fat.

Trial, error, perfection: a recipe for something that lasts. A heartfelt welcome indeed to what promises to be Dua's feast for the senses.

Camote chips served hot, then sprinkled with coco sugar on top. They do look healthier than when served as caramelized fries. Nevertheless, you can still hear the "M's" resound in "yum" ten chips later. Photos by Babeth Lolarga

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