Juanita – this name has always fascinated me. Apart from the fact that it reminds me of Desperate Housewives :), it is also, to me, a name that represents a strong woman, someone who is determined in achieving her goals, yet does so in an elegant and gracious manner. How will that translate when Juanita is named for a cafe then? I will never know, but my dinner at Cafe Juanita Pasig, in Manila, is one hell of an experience that I will remember for a long time to come.
The Manila traffic jam during a rainy day
Situated at the end of a row of shop houses, customers may have difficulty finding the entrance, as it is located to the side of the restaurant, through a small door. But once we’re in, lo and behold, we were swept away by the elaborate decoration in the charming restaurant. Plenty of chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling, soft dim lights and colourful lamps and lamp stands all around the restaurant. It almost seemed mystical not to mention eclectic.
Filipino-Spanish inspired decor of Cafe Juanita
Plenty of chandeliers
Some of the hanging lamps
We were there for our final dinner in Manila before returning to Malaysia the next morning. Our gracious friend wouldn’t let us leave before trying out authentic Filipino dishes, how could we?
Table setting at Cafe Juanita
I was recommended to order the Atis Juice, apparently a nice and sweet tropical fruit in Philippines. Truth be told, I had no idea what Atis was, and our friend’s description didn’t ring any bell. I thought I was taking a risk by ordering it, but when it came and I took a sip, I instantly knew what it was – Sugar Apple! Wait, perhaps I should have added more exclamation marks to that sentence, because I absolutely adore sugar apple! It’s a fruit that my grandma used to by for me when I was little, and I loved to suck on the sweet and creamy flesh before spitting out the black seed. Now, I don’t have to worry about the seeds since all the flesh was extracted out into a glass of juice – what’s not to love? Extremely delicious and refreshing too especially when it’s served cold.
Atis Juice / Sugar-Apple – very good!
Atis / Sugar Apple fruit (source)
Our first dish was Crispy Lapu-Lapu, also known as red grouper fish. It’s the first time we had grouper fish fried this way, with all the parts chopped up into pieces, including the fish head. I am very particular when it comes to deep-fried food, because I’d worry if the batter is too thick. Thankfully, they didn’t not overdose on the batter here. Each piece was lightly coated with flour and fried to perfection, while maintaining the moist fish fillet within. Best of all, it was also not overly oily – a bonus point for being somewhat health conscious.
Crispy Lapu-Lapu / Red Grouper Fish
The next dish was my favourite of the night, hands down. What appeared to me as Pork Knuckle was known as Crispy Pata over there, which essentially meant the same thing. Regardless of what it’s called, this dish had the most amazing crispy skin that I’d ever tasted before. Each bite was accompanied with a loud crunch first, then followed by juicy and tender meat within. I really wonder how they do it – the meat inside was so tender until it fell off the bone effortlessly, yet the skin was so crispy. I don’t know about you but most of the time when I encountered crispy skin, it would also mean that the meat within had a tendency to be dry and rough due to the excessive frying. But this, this proved me wrong. Very well done!
Crispy Pata / Pork Knuckle
Kare-Kare was the only dish with vegetables that we ordered, apparently also a specialty of Filipino cuisine. It was actually Oxtail and Vegetables in Peanut Sauce and it turned out to be pretty delicious. The sauce resembled very much to our own Satay peanut sauce, except that it was more milky. The oxtail was extremely tender, while the generous amount of vegetables within made this a rather wholesome dish. Very good with white rice too!
Kare Kare ni Juanita / Oxtail and Vegetables in Peanut Sauce
Last but not least, our friend recommended for us to try the Special Cassava Cake, a local dessert in Philippines. Since it came with the tag of ‘Special’, how could we resist? The cassava cake was served with cheese on top and drizzled with caramelized sugar on the side. The texture of the cake was very similar to the Tapioca kuih bingka that we have in Malaysia, except that it’s a little softer and a lot more sweeter due to the addition of caramel on the side. This portion was good enough to be shared by 3 persons since it was quite rich and could be rather cloying if we had too much.
Special Cassava Cake
Staircase to the Mezzanine floor
Needless to say, our final dinner in Philippines was far from disappointing. It was, in fact, very memorable in a good way, plus we could not stop ourselves from being in awe with all the chandeliers decorating the place. The ambience was simply romantic and peaceful, it makes one want to stay on for a nice long chat over a good cup of coffee after dinner. If we ever return to Manila, we’ll definitely be back!
Cafe Juanita in Pasig
#19 West Capitol Drive,
Pasig City, Metro Manila,
Tel. No.: +632-632 0357