From month-long fiesta spectacles to waking up before sunrise for Simbang Gabi come Christmas season, many Filipinos’ childhood memories are laced with Sunday masses and the celebrations of the Catholic faith’s different devotions. These memories also mean time with the family, and the rest of the day spent catching up over that post-mass lunch or brunch. If you step into one of Intramuros’ narrow streets, you’re not only given a glimpse of the lives of friars and the ilustrados, but may also be brought back to those Sundays spent with family. The CBCP’s own restaurant, Ristorante delle Mitre, brings one back to such days with its ambience, location, and home cooked style Filipino dishes.
Ristorante delle Mitre is located in Intramuros’ CBCP building and is just across the San Agustin Church. The narrow nature of Intramuros’ streets makes this restaurant easy to miss at times, but those who take a second look will find an entrance with cozy al fresco seating and a warmly lit interior that’s inviting to the curious wanderer. The interior has several tables that belong in a house setting, but are set against paintings of saints, photos of priests and bishops, and encased bishop hats that tell of this restaurant’s purpose. The “mitre” in the name translates to miter, which is the term for the tall headdress worn by bishops and senior abbots. There’s also a piano by the pastry and coffee bar, and the instrument acted as the accompaniment during the restaurant’s fourth anniversary mass last July 28, 2014. The displayed cakes indicate its initial concept as a coffee shop, which was inspired by the Italian coffee shops Filipino bishops enjoyed conversing in back in Rome. The Catholic church has Mrs. Evelyn Go to thank for bringing this experience back to Filipino bishops and priests. As Mrs. Evelyn Go said in her speech during the anniversary, the restaurant has become a place for the bishops to gather and chat as they feast on their favorite dishes. And even though they make very little from the food they sell, the restaurant is thankful for the locals, tourists, and laity who come in to try the dishes.
Majority of the dishes on Ristorante delle Mitre’s menu are the favorites of bishops and priests across the country. Most of the items are familiar to the Filipino palate, but the difference lies in knowing which dishes the priests prefer. At the same time, visitors will be pleased by the rich flavors and home cooked comfort each dish has to offer. For our visit on a rainy night, we ordered Father John Christian Young’s Sinigang na Crispy Pata (PHP 348), Father Beltran’s Tuna Belly with Mashed Potatoes (PHP 198), and Monsignor Dennis Villarojo’s Seafood Pasta with Marinara Sauce (PHP 238). The rest of the menu is a diverse selection of Spanish, Italian, and local Filipino breakfast choices that include paella, dried beef tapa, and other classics like adobo. They also have set menus that go from PHP 538 to PHP 648 and each set includes various salads, soups, meat viands, and pasta that are likely best for family sharing.
Just ten or so minutes after making our order, the Seafood Pasta with Marinara Sauce was immediately served. I was apprehensive at first that they cooked it so fast, but one fork-full of the pasta proved otherwise. The spaghetti pasta soaked up the marinara sauce and allowed us to taste the right amount of sourness in each mouthful. The pasta also didn’t hold back on the seafood, as the dish was coated in the flavors and textures of squid, mussels, and shrimp. We only wished they didn’t put so much cheese as it got in the way of enjoying the tomato sauce and seafood. The pasta immediately felt like an appetizer upon trying Father John Christian Young’s Sinigang na Crispy Pata. The broth was thickened by the deep fried pork’s fat, which complemented the soup’s sourness. The eggplant, kangkong, and labanos all tasted fresh and brought a fuller experience to our bowls of pork fat-filled broth. The sinigang was so rich that one can either end up eating more rice to soak up more of the soup or just have half a cup to enjoy more of the ingredients the sinigang has to offer. This dish may question your loyalty to the sinigang you grew up with. After all, who else to beat your mother’s cooking than a mother superior’s?
Even with the lemon squeezed all over the Grilled Tuna Belly, our dinner didn’t end on a sour note. The large slab of fish tasted as if it was grilled in garlic. We don’t advise soaking it in the soy sauce and vinegar dip, as this could get in the way of enjoying the fish’s grilled flavor. A dab of the sauce is enough to add more zing to the tuna. The mashed potato tasted like instant mix, but that could easily be ignored given the tuna belly’s overpowering nature and the fact most Filipinos will probably have the grilled fish with rice. Whether you’re a Catholic devotee, a tourist visiting Intramuros, or a lover of straightforward Filipino favorites, a meal at Ristorante delle Mitre shouldn’t be missed. The food itself is worth the reasonable prices and the very mass-like ambience is actually soothing on a slow day or night.