Louie chose to celebrate his birthday at Café Ysabel last weekend. We were so happy to have finally tried food cooked and prepared by San Juan’s “best-kept secret” restaurant. 🙂 Lauded as a neighborhood bistro where guests can walk in to have their morning cup of coffee, a quiet lunch, or dinner with family and friends, Café Ysabel has really gone a long way satisfying customers for over thirty years now.
Café Ysabel has become a San Juan foodie mecca for visiting tourists who are taken by their expatriate friends in Manila. Its menu is quite coherent, featuring classic comfort food favorites of Filipino cuisine plus some European dishes also thrown into the mix, which is not surprising given Chef Gene’s background. The result is interesting and delicious but not trying too hard.
Review of Café Ysabel (Addition Hills, San Juan City)
Housed in a refurbished 1927 ancestral home, Café Ysabel looked impressive with a rustic vibe, artsy-decorated ceiling, collections of china, glassware and silverware, and period furniture. The dim-lit ambiance was intimate and the space felt special without being pretentious. Colors everywhere were awe-inspiring. With the interior design, you can probably look back and imagine Manila’s bygone era of sophistication and culture. If you’re looking to have a special dinner to impress people or take someone out on a date, this is the place. Hey, we even witnessed a marriage proposal here that night! Sweet. 🙂
Food were served in a timely manner and with a heightened level of care. Service was downright friendly and on point, attentive but not overbearing. This is one of the restaurants where you can feel welcome and comfortable, just like visiting a relative’s home.
Fried Mozzarella in Anchovy Dressing (PhP 198) for appetizer was fine but not upstanding. The anchovy on top brought a certain deep oceanic savoriness out of the almost tasteless cheese. Tender, stretchy and not stiff, the mozzarella was enveloped with coating that’s slightly thicker than the standard breading we have tried in other restaurants. It was nice though that the coating did not overpower the cheese or border on “batter-like.”
Ordering Café Ysabel’s Paella Sulipena (PhP 578) was absolutely best. Made with classic saffron rice, this paella contained a vibrant mix of seafood and mixed meats coming also into play. Seasoning tasted great and the dish was assembled with tender grains of rice which soaked up the saffron flavor very well. Arriving in a healthy portion, it’s a delicious and filling meal for two (or maybe three).
As if carbs from paella wasn’t enough, we had Polly’s Pasta (PhP 348) which turned out as silky spaghetti noodles coated in briny, garlicky flavor studded with grilled white cheese, Calumpit sausage, kalamata olives and basil. The combination of the ingredients just hit all the right notes. We added a touch of lemon zest which imparted sort of a discordant sourness but nevertheless worked so well in making the simple taste even more sublime.
Price for Value:
A must-try in San Juan area, Café Ysabel is truly a gem. With dishes that are built to please and food that personify elegance, expect to pay a premium price but one that can make your visit worth it for any celebratory occasion. Warm service and the romantic atmosphere also add up to a great fine-dining experience. Reservations are highly recommended.