By CJ Juntereal
I spent last weekend in Dumaguete—visiting my brother, and introducing my friends to everything that I love about Negros Oriental. That basically means the food, the seafood, and that lovely relaxed feeling that washes over me whenever I visit. So we explored a little bit, and spent a lot of time eating along Rizal Boulevard because to me, that is the best way to experience Dumaguete City’s vibe—sitting at a sidewalk table, beer in hand, watching the world pass by the Boulevard.
On this trip, I rediscovered a couple of favorites, and discovered a few more that I’d like to share with you. Because it is a university town, and a haven for expat retirees, restaurants are either cheap or reasonably priced, and serve generous portions.
Allegre is a cubbyhole of a tapas bar on the Boulevard. Its walls are crowded with kitschy items and sayings about wine, and its drinks menu is long. It also has a kitchen that produces a plate of crispy anchovies that are so addicting we went back three times on three different days. Lightly battered, with a fresh from the sea taste, and a crunch that remains long after they have cooled, the anchovies are served simply with vinegar. They don’t need anything else—except maybe a bowlful of garlic rice that you need to order separately. The rest of the menu is nothing to sneeze at either. The tortilla de patatas is golden brown outside, with an eggy creaminess inside—perfectly cooked. An order of callos is enough for two, if paired with rice and other tapas. At P380, the seafood paella is generous enough for four people. While it doesn’t have my beloved socarrat at the bottom of the pan, it has a rich crab fat and saffron flavor. Don’t order the very tempting sounding home-made tapa because it is dry and tough, but do order an arugula pizza—which isn’t Spanish, but has an impossibly thin crust heaped high with fresh, peppery arugula to contrast with a simple tomato, basil, and cheese topping. Some might say that the prices are on the high side for Dumaguete—P150 to P250 for the tapas—but they seem reasonable to a Metro Manila person like me, and the portions are large.
Why Not was the first disco and Swiss restaurant in Dumaguete. It has stood in its spot on Rizal Boulevard since I first began visiting my brother in Dumaguete in the ’90s. Today, it has become one of those hybrid establishments that has everything in one place—a disco in the back, karaoke, pool tables, a business center, a travel agency, a gourmet deli named Chicco’s, and a Swiss restaurant named Le Chalet that serves Thai and Filipino food as well. Expats who have made Dumaguete their home hang out in the sidewalk tables facing the Boulevard at all hours of the day and night, and locals stop by regularly for their European food fix. Why Not is as much a Dumaguete institution as Jo’s Chicken Inato and Hayahay. My brother discovered Why Not because he was homesick for the sausages, European-style bread, and charcuterie my dad would by at Santi’s—and we have been eating at Why Not ever since. The bread is baked fresh daily, so my dad always asks for a loaf or two as his pasalubong when I’m not able to buy torta—the tuba-leavened sweet rolls baked roadside in charcoal ovens along the road to Zamboangita.
The owners are Swiss, so we always stick to the Swiss and European items on the menu. My brother’s kids love the chicken cordon bleu, which oozes melted cheese when you cut into it. Other dishes to try are the zuri ceschnetzeltes(sliced pork braised in white wine and cream); grilled pork chop with herb butter; and a traditional Swiss-Alpine macaroni and cheese dish served with a side of applesauce, that is made with sharp cheese, cream, ham, and diced potatoes. And while it sounds strange, the fresh flavor of the apple sauce prevents the dish from being too rich and cloying. If you decide to order soup, the French onion soup is made with a rich beef broth and lots of caramelized onions—at R130 per order, it’s enough to serve four people!
On this trip, my brother Rene—who has an eye for spotting the best stuff to eat in Dumaguete—introduced me to M. Michel, a Frenchman from Bordeaux who has a tiny bakery (MPS French Bakery) at the edge of Dumaguete’s city limit, inside a dusty compound that houses a sports bar frequented by expats. He bakes bread daily, clad in shorts, a shirt, and an apron, battling heat and humidity in his tiny kitchen to produce some pretty authentic products. His baguette is made with no sugar, and has a crisp exterior, and a slightly dense, chewy interior; and his croissants have flaky, buttery layers, with just a little bit of a chew. The chocolatines (chocolate croissants) ooze chocolate, quite unlike the stingy amounts used by bakeshops in Metro Manila. When I asked how he manages the heat when making croissants, he laughed and said that he rolls out layers very quickly, before the butter melts, and quickly places the dough in the freezer to chill before doing another layer.
In the typical French style, M. Michel sells fresh bread daily, refusing to serve his customers day-old bread. His daily offerings include baguettes and half-baguettes(P25/ea), farmer’s bread, croissants, chocolatines (P35/ea), and often, quiche Lorraine (P60/slice) or an apple tart layered with pastry cream (P45/slice). He has a couple of tables outside his bakery, and serves brewed coffee or soft drinks for people in the neighborhood who drop by for a snack—although, he told me that he plans to build a bigger space soon so that he can have a proper café. I’m looking forward to that, because I bet that he can also make patés and terrines! In the meantime, because he makes limited quantities daily, it’s always best to send him a message to check on availability or reserve.
On our way to airport, frustrated because Sans Rival bakeshop seemed to be perpetually out of stock on their sans rival and silvanas, we stopped by Ana Maria Bakeshop for coffee and dessert. Visitors often overlook Ana Maria because of the more famous Sans Rival bakeshop with its blue and white floral packaging, but locals are frequent visitors. Their specialty is the fudgy chocolate cookie monster cake, but I’ve now discovered that I like their silvanas better. When asked if their silvanaswere better than those of Sans Rival bakeshop, Ana Maria’s manager gave a diplomatic answer. Sans Rival’s silvanas were had more buttercream, with a thinner meringue layer, she replied. Ana Maria’s silvanas have a little less buttercream and a thicker, more toasted layer of meringue. Since I sometimes scrape off the butter when I eat silvanas, I’m now an Ana Maria silvanas convert. Ana Maria also makes bottled boquerones—small, white anchovy fillets soaking in a vinegary, garlicky, olive oil dressing that make great tapas with thin slices of crisp baguette. The fish are seasonal though, and were not available—all the more reason to plan a return trip to Dumaguete soon!
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Allegre Bar. Rizal Blvd. cor. Bishop EpifanioSurban St., Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.
Why Not. Rizal Blvd., Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.
MPS French Bakery.Bacong, Negros Oriental. 639154127544. (On the right side of the road if you are heading for Dauin and Zaboangita. Just outside Dumaguete’s city limit, beside a Fil-Oil gas station. Look for the sign for Octagon Sports Bar)
Ana Maria Bakeshop.#54 EJ Blanco Drive, Dumaguete City; or Perdices St., Dumaguete City.
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