An array of innovative Filipino-Spanish food paired with classy “bahay na bato” interiors makes Casa Buenas the perfect spot for get-togethers of all kinds, from drinks with friends to family gatherings.
With the COVID-19 pandemic waning, people have started dining in restaurants once more. Of course, with takeaway meals and simple delivery systems in place, one could easily enjoy their favorite dishes within their home. However, what many diners look forward to—now more than ever—are not just the flavors and satisfaction a good meal offers, but also memorable and engaging experiences.
After being cooped up in their homes throughout quarantine, people are itching to make up for lost time and go back to the practices that made life all the more colorful.
What comprises these unforgettable moments? Well, the presence of loved ones is one thing. The other would be, of course, a pleasant and beautiful ambiance that entices on a visual level. The third is great service and hospitality. Then finally, a diverse menu of exciting and tasty dishes that fill the stomach and soul on any occasion.
Those searching for a place that fulfills these requirements need not look further, as Casa Buenas in Newport City is a great place for almost any kind of gathering.
The Feeling of Home
The interiors of the 120-seater establishment possess an old world charm inspired by the classic bahay na bato. The restaurant feels both homey yet sophisticated: natural light streams through the grand windows, wooden arches embellish the ceiling and doorways, touches of woven rattan can be found on chairs and sofas, and intricate tile and wood flooring tie everything together.
Staff welcome guests with a smile and service that evokes the hospitality of a mother or grandmother’s home. Veteran chef, Godfrey Laforteza III, leads the restaurant’s culinary team with a passion for providing experiential and innovative dining.
Food From the Heart, for the Heart
Casa Buenas serves a highly-curated, dynamic, and diverse menu of Filipino food with Spanish touches. The restaurant has its signature dishes like a rich rendition of the classic tortang talong (egg and eggplant) or grilled octopus with various condiments. However, Chef Laforteza enjoys shaking things up with new additions to the menu. On paper, the restaurant maintains its categorization of “Filipino-Spanish,” but one bite of Laforteza’s creations makes it clear that he gathers inspiration from all kinds of sources.
Indeed, the food is a culmination of his travels around the globe, including his years of experience as a chef in Japan. Flavors are all delicately balanced, complementing and contrasting like different instrumental sections in a symphony.
When Laforteza was conceptualizing new dishes to add to the restaurant’s menu, his first question to his executive sous chef, Paolo Vidal, was this: “What food makes you happy?”
Chef Vidal’s answer was his mother’s sinuglaw (a simple yet tasty Visayan dish typically composed of grilled pork and fish ceviche). So, Chef Laforteza requested that Vidal cook the dish so he could taste it: as expected, it was a delightful and comforting experience. Hence, the Grilled Pork & Tuna Ceviche “Sinuglaw” was added to the restaurant’s menu, with some fresh twists for elevation.
“Our wish and our work is to touch your heart,” Chef Laforteza shared in an exclusive interview with Lifestyle Asia. “When you [the guests] leave, we want you to think ‘Wow, what an experience.’”
Engaging the Senses
How exactly does Chef Laforteza and his team create these memorable experiences? It all boils down to engaging with every guest’s five senses. As a former performer, Laforteza understands the importance of putting on a good show, likening the Casa Buenas experience to that of a theater.
“The five senses: you feast with your eyes, your nose, your tastebuds. Then you eat it, that’s your stomach [coming into play], and the last is your heart,” Laforteza explained. He believes in the inimitable magic that can only unfold within a restaurant’s walls. “You want to experience the show inside the theater,” he continued.
So where does one start when it comes to Casa Buenas’ grand venue and menu? With the holidays fast approaching, many Filipinos will no doubt be searching for the right place to host gatherings of all kinds. Luckily, with the assistance of Chef Laforteza, we’ve compiled a small guide containing curated recommendations of dishes and areas within Casa Buenas for specific occasions:
Lunch with the Ladies
If lunch with the girl friends is your next gathering, try reserving seats at the restaurant’s La Cupula area. A stained glass ceiling, dainty crystal butterfly chandelier, tall windows, and white curtains envelope a circular wooden table. Alongside lush foliage, these elements create an ambiance much like a greenhouse. The gang is sure to love the bright natural light paired with funny anecdotes and the latest life updates.
As for food, a bowl of Casa Buenas’ Seared Scallops with Mushroom and Adlai Risotto is sure to please with its combination of creamy flavor, umami (from both the scallops and mushrooms), and tangy zing from yuzu shavings that cuts through the richness.
Vegetable lovers can try the best-selling Grilled Marinated Chicken Salad, which offers touches of Asian flavor and texture with its crispy wonton topping and miso sesame dressing.
Happy Hour Drinks with Colleagues
If you’re catching up with old friends or colleagues over drinks, Casa Buenas’ Aguador area is the perfect spot to enhance your happy hour. Enjoy some sangria and pinchos as you watch the sun set and let the conversation flow. Casa Buenas has crafted finger food that boast complex flavors despite their compact size.
Take the Okoy de Pulpo, a pincho with bits of octopus laid on top of a crisp base, both of which work together to create a satisfying chew. Then there’s the Barquillos Picante, a roll made from—you guessed it—barquillos filled with pork and shellfish. It’s got a slight heat to it, but just enough to tickle the taste buds.
Last, but certainly not least, is the signature Grilled Pork & Tuna Ceviche “Sinuglaw” served with toasted bread. This dish is an experience few would want to miss. Try the sinuglaw alone and savor the tanginess and umami of its delicate soy sauce jelly and fish ceviche. Then, add some more texture by topping pieces of toasted bread with it for a holistic tasting experience.
Merienda with Old Friends
Merienda is meant to be a simple but tasty affair, just enough to stimulate the taste buds before dinner. If you’re spending it with old friends, you can get cozy in Casa Buenas’ Sala area. Like any good sala [living room], this spot offers comfy sofas and little private nooks for an intimate afternoon get-together.
Those looking for a light but savory treat can indulge in the restaurant’s Tuna Tartare Kilawin. It’s made up of a melt-in-your-mouth fresh tuna topped with vegetables and roe, then served with pieces of toast.
Guests with a sweet tooth can share a slice of Banana Chocolate Pie with a friend. The creamy chocolate pie is topped with bananas drizzled in caramel, which will certainly satisfy anyone’s sugar cravings.
Granted, some people want dishes that are a little more filling for merienda. In this case, the restaurant’s Grilled Pancit Noodles with Crab Meat may be a good option. Share a bowl with a pal, or hey, have the whole bowl to yourself—no judgment, it’s just that good. The flavors of soft crab meat and garlic intermingle with the texture of al dente noodles to create a tasty pre-dinner treat (there’s a reason why the dish is so popular among guests).
Of course, what would a home be without a family? Casa Buena is built for family gatherings of all kinds, and with December drawing near, it may be the perfect place to host your next Noche Buena. Especially in the restaurant’s Comedor area with its sprawling dining tables. In fact, Chef Laforteza stated that the restaurant is planning to offer special packages containing dishes from appetizers all the way to dessert.
“It’s a full package, family-style,” Laforteza shared with Lifestyle Asia. “Now there’s also a lot of requests to have a course-by-course menu. We definitely do that here also. We can also do [customize] a package for you.”
If you’re looking for hearty dishes for a big family feast, you can start with the Tortang Talong. Like all of Casa Buenas’ comfort dishes, it retains the delicious flavor of its homey iteration but takes it to the next level with richer ingredients. This Tortang Talong is unlike any other with a presentation that resembles a pizza topped with a runny, cage-free egg. However, with some simple slicing, mixing, and folding, it transforms into the familiar home staple we all know and love.
Next is the Paella Negra, which never fails to impress thanks to a fresh serving of seafood and decadent cuttlefish ink. You can pair this with the Grilled Octopus with Vegetables, which packs a smoky flavor. This is further enhanced by three kinds of sauces: salsa vinegar, sesame, and spicy fennel salt.
For dessert, the restaurant’s Emperador Strudel is a must-try if you’re looking for a novel treat. As the name suggests, the delicate strudel (filled with fresh Cebu mangoes) is served with anglaise made from the popular alcoholic beverage. Don’t worry, the little ones can have plenty of it, since it retains all the great flavor without the after-effects.
All in all, Casa Buenas Offers a Keepsake Dining Experience
It’s clear that happiness is the driving force behind Casa Buenas, which makes sense. A home is good because it invokes happiness and comfort in the hearts of those within it. For however long one chooses to stay in Casa Buenas, they’ll certainly feel all this and more—even long after they’ve left its premises.
Casa Buenas is open daily from 11AM to 9PM. It is located at the GF of the Newport Grand Wing, Hotel Okura Manila, Newport World Resorts. For reservations, guests may contact +63 917 878 8312 and +632 7908 8988 or email [email protected].
Banner photo courtesy of Casa Buenas.