CAFE YSABEL 2.0

“Every­thing New is Old Again.”

Let’s Eat - - NEWS - WORDS BY SPANKY HIZON ENRIQUEZ

It was truly the last of the great romantics. The le­gendary Café Ysabel, a land­mark on P. Gue­varra St. in San Juan for over three decades, shut its doors for the fi­nal time at the end of July last year. It was a his­toric restau­rant, housed in a cen­tury-old home, and it carved out a sin­gu­lar rep­u­ta­tion, thanks to its chef and his sin­gu­lar vi­sion, that will likely never be par­al­leled. Its cui­sine with­stood the test of time—it never needed to con­form to the lat­est culi­nary trends—be­cause the restau­rant’s loy­al­ists, who num­ber in the thou­sands, across three gen­er­a­tions or more, re­sisted change. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” was their com­mon re­frain. And Chef Gene Gon­za­lez-- a fencer, a painter, a fighter, a writer – an au­then­tic mod­ern day Re­nais­sance man, val­ued and re­spected tra­di­tion above all else. And so, Café Ysabel pros­pered in its time­less bub­ble un­til the harsh re­al­i­ties of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment forced the beloved café to close. But be­fore it did, the Chef Pa­tron promised that it would one day, live again.

That day has come, and hap­pily for all, sooner than ex­pected. Af­ter a mere eight

months, the new Café Ysabel, now on M. Paterno St., just be­hind the San Juan City Hall, qui­etly opened its doors once again, and wel­comed back its re­lieved pa­trons. The restau­rant gods must have been smil­ing down on Gene when he was look­ing for a new lo­ca­tion; the new one is ac­tu­ally an­other cen­tury-old house, with very sim­i­lar ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures, so much of the look of the orig­i­nal has been re­tained. The fres­coes on the ceil­ings? Check. The stained glass ac­cents? Check. The or­nate mar­ble floors? Check. And best of all? “Se­duc­tion Lane”, the row of ta­bles­for-two on the café’s bal­cony, has mag­i­cally been trans­ported to the new ad­dress. The sex­i­est din­ner spot in all of Metro Manila now over­looks a work in progress, the sprawl­ing front yard of the house, which is be­ing con­verted to an “ed­i­ble land­scape”. It will be filled with boxes to grow ed­i­ble flow­ers, a green­house for mi­cro­greens, and ter­races, not un­like a Tus­can villa’s where figs and other fruit-bear­ing plants, not en­demic to the Philip­pines, will be cul­ti­vated by the Gon­za­lezes, now plu­ral, now fa­ther and son.

Gino, the only son of Gene, will now play a larger role in the new Ysabel. The chef on the rise will de­sign the “black­board menus”, the chang­ing platescapes-- with an em­pha­sis on sea­sonal pro­duce and a de­vo­tion to rare va­ri­eties of red, yel­low,

and blue lo­cal rice—will com­ple­ment the now 36-year old core menu of the restau­rant. Those dishes af­ter all, are sacro­sanct. All the clas­sics are still on the menu: the lengua, the cal­los, the paella, the caldereta, and that rus­tic star of the dessert menu, the straw­berry short­cake.

I’m com­forted by the thought that Café Ysabel is back. It has de­servedly earned its place in the pan­theon of great Filipino restau­rants, and I’m very pleased that it is around once again to charm a new gen­er­a­tion of din­ers and lovers. Wel­come home to the first of the new romantics.

“AF­TER A MERE EIGHT MONTHS, THE NEW CAFÉ YSABEL QUI­ETLY OPENED ITS DOORS ONCE AGAIN, AND WEL­COMED BACK ITS RE­LIEVED PA­TRONS.”

Café Ysabel’s Straw­berry Short­cake

PHO­TOS BY GABBY CANTERO

01

033 Old Café Ysabel Din­ing Room

021 New Café Ysabel Fa­cade2 Old Café Ysabel Fa­cade

044 New Café Ysabel Din­ing Room

05

07

06

10 Straw­berry Short­cake 10

5 Lengua Sulipeña6 Spaghetti with An­gry Sauce7 Chef Gene and Chef Gino Gon­za­lez8 Old Café Ysabel Bal­cony 08

9 New Café Ysabel Bal­cony 09

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