Thursday, February 20, 2014

LJC Group turns 35 years: My Cafe Adriatico Dining Experience

My foreign friends often consider Filipino food as the least exciting and least inviting of all the Asian cuisines. As tourists, they would often complain about how difficult it is to get good local food. I would patiently explain to them that it is because the best Filipino dishes are made from the comforts of our own home, but since it entails a lot of effort in preparation so we usually end up eating out. And although there's a multitude of Filipino restaurants that offer fair and decent food, I had to admit that we only have a handful that I would really take a foreigner to. In this day and age where artificial powders, premade sauces and sautee mixes have replaced the good old aromatics of onions, garlic and tomatoes, the public has slowly forgotten what REAL food should taste like. I reckon this is truly significant as it is our abilty to taste the difference will make us remember what freshly made, cooked-from-the-heart dishes and Filipino food should tastes like. And this is where the LJC group of restaurants comes in. Founded in 1979 by the late restaurateur/journalist Larry J. Cruz, LJC group first changed the concept of themed restaurants when they opened Cafe Adriatico at the Remedios Circle in Malate, Manila. Since then, the LJC group became famous for pioneering the best restaurants in the country, they are the people behind our good old favorite food establishments such as Cafe Adriatico, Cafe Havana, Bistro Remedios, Fely J's Kitchen, Larry's Cafe and Bar, Lorenzo's Way and Abe's.

For the past 35 years and counting, the LJC group of restaurants have been serving us with good comfort food, excellent service and an awesome dining experience. So it isn't really surprising that among the restaurants that we now have, the LJC group of restaurants stands out. It's not a usual thing to have 35 years of experience, right? Not every restaurant newbie or food establishment could claim that. 

My family and I had long been fans of Abe's ever since it has opened its branch at Serendra on Bonifacio Global City. We also love dining at Cafe Havana in Gateway Mall, Cubao, Quezon City. But it was only recently that I was able to come and visit LJC group's famous Cafe Adriatico in Malate. Thanks to the invitation of a fellow foodie, Edel of via It was my first time to Cafe Adriatico--and I am certain it won't be the last. I'd definitely be back here soon.

For those not familiar with Cafe Adriatico, they offer good, straightforward, hearty Filipino-Spanish-Mediterranean food, made with the finest ingredients. I found their cooking to be really tasty and most importantly balanced. The Chef doesn't shy away from veggies and greens, creating his version and own interpretation of Filipino cuisine that is bright, fresh, textural and exciting to the palate. With a simple menu, they offer a good selection of classic-with-twist Filipino dishes, impressive Mediterranean food and some Spanish influence dishes that will surely satiate even those with discriminating palate. Their appetizers alone are really worth the trip.

The classic Catalan style Gambas al Ajillo was superb! It's a little bit spicy and somewhat garlicky for that extra kick--a perfect way to start off one's meal. They also offer authentic Hummus (Eastern Mediterranean blend of chickpeas, garlic and spices) with Pita Bread which tastes really fantastic. My fellow foodie, Ted Claudio who lived in the Middle East for years even said that Cafe Adriatico's hummus tasted even better than the ones he had while working as an OFW (overseas Filipino worker) there. I really liked their cream of two mushroom soup (made from shiitake and button mushrooms). The soup is clean and flavorful, as well as the mains. That night alone, I felt that we must have practically eaten the entire menu because we left our plates totally clean and ended up with happy tummy. 

My personal favorites include the really tasty Garlic Pork Leg Espanole. As part of the LJC group's celebration of their 35th year, Cafe Adriatico offers a celebratory dish--the Garlic Pork Leg Espanole--Spanish style pork leg with fried whole garlic cloves and potato wedges in olive oil, it tastes even better than the usual crispy pata or bagnet. With or without the delightfully tangy sauce, it is an experience in itself--the crunch, that green sauce made from herbs, parsley pureed, with orange and garlic. This dish goes well on its own and pairing this with the potato wedges alone is better than having rice with it. Or if you're like me, try it with both and taste for yourself which perfectly goes with it. 

The U.S. Tenderloin Steak Solana which I hurriedly photographed so that I can eat--was pan fried and topped with seared onions and shiitake mushrooms. It is served with buttered zucchini slices and mashed potatoes in a mild peppercorn sauce. It is a huge revelation to me because surprisingly, although the onions were not caramelized, it gives the steak more robust flavor and along with the peppercorn sauce will surely bring circus to your mouth as you get to taste the texture, the bursting of pepper and the sweetness of onions all together. The best part is that it goes well with the zucchini slices and mashed potatoes. 

Pescatarians will definitely love and enjoy Cafe Adriatico's take on the Blue Marlin Provencale. Topped with generous tomato sauce with caper--it tastes just right, not bland nor too sour. 

We practically enjoyed everything that was served that night. From the herbed pilaf rice that tasted buttery to the heavenly dessert of Mango Crepes (flambeed fresh mango topped with chocolate syrup). It isn't too sweet but enough to satiate any sweet tooth indeed. Oh, if I hadn't been that full that evening, I could've ordered my all time favorite Chocolate Eh. 

It is rare to find a good Filipino restaurant where you can bring pescatarians and vegetarians together and not have them miss out on the fun and flavor. The clean, contemporary interiors  of Cafe Adriatico with a nice breezy window also make it a great place for happy hour and you'll definitely want to linger on and talk about stories and other stuff you'd want to catch up on. I loved Cafe Adriatico's rustic charm and romantic candlelight table setting--it sets up the mood not just for awesome degustation but also for an intimate conversation.

Price points are pretty affordable too, and, honestly, is worth all the effort in terms of traveling all the way to that heart of Manila. And take my word for it, for someone who lived in Quezon City, I would not mind traveling to Malate to dine at Cafe Adriatico in knowing fully well I'd certainly have a good time. 

Cafe Adriatico offers first rate variety of international cuisine and an array of exciting drinks from around the world. An exceptional menu, stylized interiors with a rustic charm, a solicitous staff---these are just a few of the many reasons why we find Cafe Adriatico to be the best place to simply enjoy life and have a good time. 

Sumptuous and delectable menu. Everyone truly enjoyed the night as Ms. Lorna Cruz Ambas, shared fond stories of LJC founder, owner and her dad, the late Larry J. Cruz. 

Making the evening more special was when the LJC group gave away Larry Can't Cook  books and delectable chocolate cakes. Here's to more years of good food to the LJC Group! Congratulations and More Power!

For inquiries, please call the LJC Marketing Office at 522-0403. Visit their website at
Like them on Facebook at

Disclaimer: I am not compensated for this post. Opinions and impressions expressed are entirely my own.


Unknown said...

Wow. that food really makes me hungry and I'm on diet this week. This is not fair...

Franc Ramon said...

Hats off to LJC group for bringing us great foods for 35 years. That just means that they are well patronized and loved.

Fred Said said...

You are so right that the best Filipino food are home-made. The ones in restaurants tend to be over spiced or over MSG'd.

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