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Forest House. The name evokes many images: a wooden cottage set in the middle of the woods, with smoke spiraling to the sky from its chimney; a blazing hearth; the comforting smell of gingerbread and newly baked bread; the contentment of coming home to family and loved ones.

For cousins Ari and Alvin Verzosa, living in Baguio means coming home. “ Our grandparents owned the old plaza hotel at the bottom of session road”, reminisces Ari. “As children, my cousins and I used to chase each other around the block, past the old Assandas, Bheromull’s and Bombay Bazaars. When we got tired of that, we’d go biking in Burnham Park. It was so much fun growing up here”.

As with others of his generation, however, he was eager to try out life in the big city. Thus , he moved away. While working for Philippine Airlines , he met and married Raquel Fausto, However, the long hours they both spent away from a growing family soon become taxing, “ When we were both single , the job was fun”, says Raquel. “But after we got married and had children, it was more difficult. When our children were sick and we both had to travel, I’d get so guilty and worried”. This prompted the return to Baguio where life takes a more relaxed pace.

Alvin grew up in Baguio, too. Married to his childhood sweetheart Angie Trinos, He eventually moved to the United States and stayed there for 13 years. It was there where he developed a passion for cooking , having previously managed a restaurant in San Francisco and more recently, a owned country waffles franchise in San diego.

Coming from large clan that loves to eat, it is not surprising that the Verzosa’s decided to embark on a venture that dealt with food. Thus came Forest House Bistro and café located at 16 loakan road in Baguio City across John Hay.

Many of the café’s entrees are family favorites. For example, the Forest House Oxtail with mustard greens, is Raquel’s innovation in Hawaiian dish. Before the restaurant was put up, she would cook huge pots of Australian oxtail, before calling family members for impromptu get togethers.

The Sisig Dagat, a spicy concoction of mussels, fish, squid and other seafood is offered as a “no-guilt” alternative to the traditional cholesterol-laden pork dish. However, if one is not too worried about cholesterol content, Osso busco, tender morsels of beef shank in tomato based sauce with anchovies and lemon rind would be a delicious choice. Other favorites include the grilled prawns with aligue sauce, Pollo pastel, and seafood kare-kare.

For breakfast, the Lamb tapa or Belgian waffles come highly recommended. Having been raised in Ilocano country though, the Verzosa’s have included crisp Homemade Bagnet in their repentoire. One can have this for breakfast, lunch, or as an “appeteaser”. Did I fail to mention the fact that the generous servings are meant to satisfy even the most hearty of eaters?

Forest House Bistro and Café owners like to take the “hands-on approach”. Alvin supervises the chefs, taking meticulous care that the food is not only appetizing but attractive too. “ Culinary Arts” takes on literal meaning, with food as Alvin’s canvas. He plays around with the different colors and textures of organically-grown vegetables (sourced from a supplier in La Trinidad) to achieve aesthetically pleasing results. Undoubtedly, food is his passion and asked if he is as passionate with his wife as he is with food, he laughingly retorts, “Even more so”.

Ari and Raquel, on the other hand are in charge of making sure that the café’s customers are content. They are not averse to helping the staff on busy days and Ari is amused at the result that this sometimes elicits. Its seems he was clearing tables one day and a female customer left a tip, when her husband hissed, “Why are you tipping? That’s the owner. He might get offended!”

“Sayang!” laughs Ari. “ I wouldn’t have minded. “ He was surprised at the man’s reaction. “ We were brought up to believe that any kind of honest work is good,” he says. “ You know how people are here in Baguio, simple lang. Sometimes our customers are surprised when we lend them our dishes for take out food. But we see them around, know they’re from Baguio and Trust they’ll return the plates”.

That statement, to me, captures Forest House Bistro and Café (and Baguio City’s) quintessential charm. For the jaded urbanite immune to practiced pleasantries, the genuine friendliness and hospitality of the owners comes as a refreshing condiment to good food.

By Joy Angelica T. Subido