It was perfect whether-weather – whether sunny, whether rainy, whether cloudy. We got all three on a pretty day two hours out of Metro Manila.
Just as the sun began to set and soften the curves of rolling hills, there was no whether-ing about where to eat. After all, the reason for going to Silang was to find out exactly how charming, or enchanting, a place with the prosaic name of Asiong’s Caviteño Restaurant could be.
“Asiong” is the late Ignacio Lua who operated a carinderia in Cavite City. His son, Sonny Lua, moved himself and the business he inherited to Silang after he was swindled by his best friend from childhood days. In the wake of that painful experience, he decided to change his life and migrate from carinderia to restaurant. Unbelievably, he found the most imperfect place in Silang, a street best described as out-of-the-way, trees and vines growing wild without a gardener to manicure them, a setting in the middle of nowhere, half of it indoors, the other half accessed by narrow stairs leading deep down to the vegetable garden.
The rural setting is enhanced by old wooden furniture (heirlooms from Chinatown?), overhead lamps designed by Sonny (naked bulbs inside mason jars), plates and bowls that are neither plastic nor china but tin coated with white enameling. Before guests have a chance to read the menu, waiters have brought them two pitchers for cold and warm water, a minty insect repellent concocted by Sonny, a tray of bread with its own creamy spread.
Sonny grows his greens, leafy or beany or curly. Fragile herbs are nursed in a box that looks like a baby’s cradle. What he brings to the table – what locals and foodies from out-of-town look for — are dishes that he has tweaked this way and that without destroying the integrity of their taste and flavor. Adobo is “red adobo” because it’s done with achuete. It’s not pancit unless it’s “pancit pusit.” His leche flan is not flabby, but so dense and intense European chefs at a Madrid Fusion event called it heavenly.
Sonny’s a cook who loves to cook and show off, ‘cuz he cooks from the gut.