Happiness is a matter of perspective. We love the spontaneity in travel and we love surprises when in comes to food. We’ve long ago decided to embrace the curve balls, good and bad, life throws our way. Ready to deal with the bad times, happier to deal with the good times. So how happy can we get with the evening surprise we discovered at the Ilocano culinary stronghold of Victorino’s?
What was originally planned as a group dinner ended up as a lovely date. Teenagers do this intentionally, of course, telling their parents that there’s a class/barkada/whatever group dinner which (surprise, surprise) includes the setup date. Group date. Nothing new, really. So for those who are thinking, “why are they saying that, when the kids would now know how to do it,” better stay ahead of the game. If you don’t know this modus operandi yet, now you know it.
Going back, there’s a slight difference between a group dinner and a two-person dinner date. A dinner date involves the heavier stuff. The best illustration would be the buffet or eat-all-you-can meals and the “boodle fight” tradition of the military. A pack of hungry human beings, no different from a pack of hungry wolves, is designed to tear through what’s offered on the table. Main course is fair game. The eating aggressiveness of each one is heightened by the esprit of the group. It’s a group thing that cannot be replicated when there are only two of you on the dining set.
A dinner date, in crystal-clear contrast from a group dinner, is more restrained. Even if you both would want to laugh your hearts out and talk like you own the entire restaurant, there’s something in the two-person experience that tones down the energy of the couple. True, it would be very different if the other person is a walking energy generator like Robin Williams (God bless his soul) but you’re not Robin Williams, are you? It’s really hard to understand why the Higher Being would almost always choose to call back someone who’s not a total nut job.
Now, where were we? Ah, yes, a dinner date. It’s more restrained. Less on the main course, more on the lighter stuff. Like the dessert.
So, if you were planning for a group dinner when choosing the restaurant and ended up having a dinner date on that same restaurant, would the ambiance still be the same? The answer is? It depends on the place. Some restaurants can’t really handle the shift. They’re good only for one purpose — either for group dinner or for dinner date. Some restaurants, like Victorino’s can take the shift sitting down.
Victorino’s — over at the intersection of 11th Jamboree St and Sct Rallos (or Scout Limbaga, if you’re coming from the other direction) Laging Handa, Quezon City, near Timog Avenue and Tomas Morato) — is an old-style house that is known to serve good Ilocano food. The dining area is amply flooded with warm light that fills the high ceiling. The tables and chairs are simple yet elegant, matching the 60s atmosphere of the entire place. Families and older couples dominate the eating clienteles, which gives the place a somber, mature and a little intimidating atmosphere. Any hint of the intimidating side is neutralized by the homey air, like a grandmother gently asking a child to come join the family at the dining table.
Victorino’s serves Filipino food, Ilocano to be exact. It would have been great if somebody walked us through the menu and recommended the must-taste items. No guide was there so we hovered over what’s traditionally associated with Ilocano food — Bagnet and Poqui-Poqui (grilled eggplant sauteed in onions and tomatoes). We added the Adobo nag Baby Pusit and the Gorgonzola with Spinach to expand the usual circle.
We started to doubt what we know about Ilocano cuisine when we tasted the Adobo nag Baby Pusit, which was on the bland side. We’re not from Ilocos and we’re not sure how salty Ilokanos would want their food, but we’re sure it should not be on the edge of ebing bland. Victorino’s has clearly toned down the salt level of their dishes. Still, the Poqui-Poqui is still heavenly and the Bagnet hellishly delectable. My husband’s only complaint? When the staff cleared the plates right before dessert, he also removed the fish sauce with sliced tomato that goes with the bagnet — the sauce is so good, my husband said, that he wanted to drink the entire thing. Good thing they took it away.
What caught us by surprise, however, was the dessert — you don’t expect a Red Velvet and an Ube Cake in an Ilocano-inspired restaurant. There was a big debate on the Ube Cake, my husband saying that it’s the ONLY ube cake he likes. While I don’t agree with him 100%, the Ube Cake served in Victorino’s is indeed delicious. On the Red Velvet, we were of the same opinion that it’s a top contender even against the cupcake varieties. The secret? The cakes at Victorino’s are supplied by Heny Sison. The Heny Sison.
It’s always about the experience, whether the experience relates to food or any other aspects of life. Some surprises are pleasant; other surprises are not. It really depends on how we look at it.