cook-magazineThere’s something about a restaurant that has fireplace that makes you just want to cuddle up on the sofa and sleep. The interiors of Forest House Bistro and Café are definitely the first thing that catches your eye. The warm and homey, log cabin-y place – all brick and pine – makes you wonder why not all restaurants in the City of Pines are like this. But this branch is transplanted from its famous home in Baguio to the middle of the noxious city fumes of Silver City Mall in Ortigas near the new SM Hypermart in Julia Vargas. “Is this the same Forest House in Baguio?” asked the two ladies outside.

Still, the high-beamed ceiling, the beige and green plaid sofas and various trinkets in the mantelpiece in the foyer, despite (or maybe because of it) an LCD screen above it, transports you, even for a moment, to a log cabin. “We wanted a place that was homey, country and cozy, where people could come in, kick back and relax, “says owner Ari Verzosa. “When we started Forest House in Baguio six years ago, there was no place that we could go out to eat that was warm and cozy. We wanted something iba naman. Me and mu cousins, who are also partners, decided to put up something like that. We all love to eat.”

But apparently a place can be comfortable> “My friends tell me the problem you have here is that it’s too homey, people don’t want to leave,” laughs Ari. “When people go there, they’re there for 3 hours: dinner, kuwento-kuwento, drinks. We went against restaurants wisdom.” They even have an acoustic band o Fridays and Saturdays.

The ambiance is the same thing they want to bring to the Manila branch. Because of how the restaurants looks people often think it’s expensive, but Ari point out, “When they check it out they realize, it’s reasonable pala. You can go in tsinelas and sando. It wasn’t meant to be intimidating. It’s a family restaurant.” Forest House is clearly a family affair, which is why the atmosphere is somehow genuine as opposed to, say, the faux family heritage interiors of theme chain restos. Raquel, Ari’s missus, hand painted the lamps with sunflowers, and the water pitchers with strawberry vines, as well as some of the plates. “She’s very into arts and crafts,” Ari relates. Her influence, not just in the accoutrements but in the interiors, is clearly felt. The old style colored windows as well as the various bric-a-braces really bring you home.

The menu as well is quite varied and there’s something from everywhere, “I eat like a pig” Ari jokes. “I’ll try anything at least once. “For starters we had fried crunchy wonton wrappers with a dusting of curry powder, simple but quite addictive, spicy and crunchy. Ari admits the Manila people are “harder to please” and they had to revise half the menu. “We track what the Manila people like and then we bring it down here.” The bestseller is clearly the bagnet, which proved to be so popular that ran out on the day we were there. Conversely, a bestseller in Manila which has yet to make to the Baguio branch is the Roti CAnai. The piping hot Roti is accompanied by a mid curry sauce. Another winner is the lettuce cup with minced chicken, the restaurant’s take on Asian favorite Roast Duck. Im a sucker for scallops, so the Scallops Thermidore, bubbling cheese sauce on top, is, well, tops. The wild mushroom soup is creamy and properly rustic; you can also still make out the mushrooms from the rough puree and quite flavorful.

I really appreciate the big drink servings because I have just about had it with those tiny glasses which you just about finish before the appetizers are done. Their bread is huge, an advantage of having everything baked on the premises. “Makunat kami dun (Baguio) eh. We want value for money, “Ari explains this pecuniary Ilocano trait.” Generally thigs there are inexpensive. You have to cater to the locals, if you don’t the business is going to die because tourist arrivals are seasonal.”

Main dishes go for around P300-P600, while appetizers are half that. The tenderloin steak got the thumbs up from Dino. COOK’s food editor and in-house chef, “Perfectly seared and crusted on the outside and medium on the inside: Beef Caldereta, Lamb with Mustard sauce, and the Flounder with White Wine Sauce. For dessert we had the Pisang Goreng, a comforting creamy crunchy concoction of vanilla ice cream that is sandwiched in between fried wontons. Another signature dessert is the Strawberry Panna Cotta, which somehow makes better sense to order in Baguio where strawberries are aplenty. They are especially proud of their coffee and rightly so as it presents one of the province’s finest produce, highland coffee. The Benguet Blend (Arabica) coffee, strong and robust is truly a perfect way to end the meal, especially when you’re curled up in that fireplace.

October 2007

 The Coziest Forest
By Magnolia Silvestre