Since La Cocina de Tita Moning bid farewell last year, I've been looking for restaurants that presented Filipino food with a historical angle: heirloom recipes, old house, local ingredients. Yes, there's Café Ysabel but it's closing its doors soon too.
As I was scanning Facebook posts from food bloggers, I noticed that many of them are actually featuring restaurants in my province. There's Calle Arco in Pagsanjan, also one of my go-to's in Laguna, but I am not counting it because it doesn't have the heritage feel I am looking for. There used to be Raha Sulaiman, also in Pagsanjan. It has the old house feel that attracted me to try the food out years ago but I felt that the restaurant was struggling with its identity back then. I'm not sure if it's still there and if it has finally found its niche in the restaurant industry in a town teeming with yummy food. There's Sulyap, a restaurant in San Pablo that checks all my heritage restaurant boxes. But somehow, it doesn't have a homey feel for me.
And then as I was walking in procession on Good Friday, I saw, amid the smoke of the isawan grills at the town plaza, I noticed this old house finally having its lights all lit up on the ground floor. I wondered what's in it... so sometime after the procession, I checked it out. Ah, it's now home to a restaurant called Aurora Filipino Cuisine. I took note of it, a possible restaurant suggestion for weekday dinners in Sta Cruz.
The opportunity to eat there cropped up soon after. I was in Sta Cruz one afternoon and asked Tita Mely and the rest of the gang if they're up to have dinner at Aurora's later that day. They all said yes so we walked over at dinner time. The interiors reminded me a lot of Tita Moning's mansion... not the creature comforts and the artwork (Aurora's didn't have those). There's a feel of warmth and hospitality that's typical of an old, lived-in house. Just looking at the art deco interiors, I decided that I'd eat here again if the food was delicious.
It definitely helps that while my aunts were ordering food, I could explore the rest of the mansion with my nephew and my niece.
And when the food arrived, it was so good! The chefs did such an awesome job of bringing good memories of my Lola Estay's cooking to the table. It's not surprising because the restaurant is featuring recipes that feature authentic Laguna cuisine... food that I've always taken for granted because I live in Laguna. I mean, I drive all the way to Pampanga and to Ilocandia to try regional fare.
The highlight of my visit to Aurora, surprisingly, was the minanok. It's banana heart slices cooked with coconut milk and eaten with a piece of banana fritters. There was no chicken in it at all!
I'm going to bring more family and friends here when I get the chance. This may be our next go-to spot... and it's so close to home too!