There’s a gem of a restaurant in Baguio that is owned and managed by trio of young entrepreneurs who have chosen to return to the city of their birth.

 Ari and Raquel Verzosa had been flying for the national carrier since the mid-1980s. They met at Philippine Airlines and eventually got married. Ten years and two children later, Racquel decided to give up her career and attend to the children. Three years later, Ari followed suit and they “migrated” to Baguio, where Ari was born and raised. The first business venture was a computer school for children on busy Session Road.

Drawing from their years of travel and experience, the couple, with cousin Alvin Verzosa, decided to put a casual yet upscale restaurant on Loakan Road, a hundred meters or so from that other Baguio Institution called Nevada Inn, where an array of shops can now be found.

“Ari and Alvin come from a family that cooks well and loves to eat,” say Racquel. Alvin spent 15 years in San Francisco managing different restaurant and running the family-owned franchise of Country Waffles in San Diego, California. With Ari and Racquel’s training in service and Alvin’s eye for detail and penchant for good food, the trio makes a good team.

Warmth of a log cabin

Stepping into Forest House (074-447-0459) is like entering a gracious and warm log cabin. The foyer is filled with lush plants from which a manmade waterfall gently cascades. In the foyer are an armchair and a sofa where you and your kids can plop down to read a favorite book or magazine while waiting to be seated. There is a small, brick fireplace to warm you on chilly evenings, which in Baguio happens more often than not.

On the side of the restaurant is a coffee and tea bar that boasts of an excellent selection of coffees and teas from Chicago-based Coffee-masters. On the opposite side is a pasta bar where Forest House’s chef whips up pasta. The overall look is country, complete with the de rigueur collectibles that adorn the various walls and nooks of the storybook restaurant.

The best part of the restaurant is the al fresco dining at the terrace where one seems to be transported to another place and time. On the day that we dined the there we over heard a
European lady gush, “Oh, it reminds me so much of home.” It must have been the crisp, cool air, the pink bougainvilleas and the breathtaking view of the mountains. The ambiance was perfect and the food, as we were to discover later, just as delightful.

Combination of cuisine

Forest House’s chefs spent many years in several of Manila and Baguio’s top restaurants – Tagatay Highlands, Mario’s, Baguio Country Club and the Manila Pen. Their baker, a Baguio resident, was at Camp John Hay for many years. The cuisine is a mix of Spanish, American and Italian. No chateaubriand or paella here but there are other equally memorable dishes.

There is an array of pasta to choose from- Putanesca with capers and black olives, Country Garden Linguini with Mozzarella, Fettuccini Carbonara with smoked ham and wild mushrooms and the list goes on and on. The salads- Grilled Chicken Caesar, Smoked Salmon Salad and Forest House- are crisp, green and very tasty. The Salpicado is tops, with beef so tender and just the right amount of garlic. Their grilled prawns are succulent and the Chicken Alexis in mushrooms sauce and red wine is quite a treat. Special mention goes to the iced tea drinks that come in various flavors.

Of course, you can’t go to Baguio and not end your meal with a serving of fresh strawberries. Forest House tops them with a dollop of fresh cream and a dash of cinnamon. In the forest, you can throw dietary caution to the wind.

Ari and Racquel are owners of a rare breed. They do not hesitate to bus tables and serve the guests themselves, especially when the house is full. “The airline training certainly came in handy,” Racquel says with a grin. The staff at Forest House is warm and solicitous but not overly eager.

They know the menu well, and offer suggestions or describe a particular dish for you, if you’re open to that.

The crowd here is AB and prices are on the higher end. Lunch or dinner for a family of four composed of a drink, a salad or soup, main course and desert cost P300 to P400 per head. But every peso is well spent at the Forest House. Returnees have been keeping the Verzosas busy since they opened in early April.

Forest House, located on Loakan Road, Baguio City, is open daily from 7-11 a.m.

Treasures in the Forest

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Thursday, May 31, 2001

Text and Photos
By Cathy Babao Guballa