If you had enough of Manila environs and you want to try something new, the best thing is to drive out of the city and check out the latest happenings in the provinces that are in close proximity. You can drive out in the morning, be there by lunchtime, and drive back to Manila before sundown.
One of the quaintest places we discovered on our way back from Quezon Province to Manila, was Isdaan, a huge roadside restaurant along Caluan, Laguna. We were surprised because we encountered a similar establishment some years ago in Gerona, Tarlac. This branch here in Calauan just opened october 2011.
The ambience is native, pastoral. The beautiful Mt. Makiling serves a fitting backdrop. Dining table are on little huts, set on floating balsa. No. they don't raise the Tilapia on the water, to be served later for lunch. :) Rather, colorful Koi fishes dot the ponds and can be feed by the kids.
I cannot quite place the exact theme of the place. The designer went over-the-top (to say the least!) with variety of iconic images from Buddhism, Philippine History to Disney and Pixar. But the effect is an interesting larger than life tableau, that are feast to the eyes.
For awhile, I felt like I was some place in Thailand, perhaps Chiang Mai. But then again, they had a a replica of Cory Aquino, Joseph Estrada, and even the Obamas got their place in one of the nooks.
For the kids who might not be so familiar with Buddha and politics, they will surely feel affinity with these....
Isdaan is owned by the Ongpaoco's of Barrio Fiesta / The Botique Hotel in Tagaytay/ Singing Cooks and Waiters fame. If it's still blank to you, Heart Evangelista's family. There! Ring a bell?
Another nice thing about the place that I really, really appreciate, they have these "little extras" for the enjoyment of everyone, especially the kids, and they're free! (unlike some establishments in Manila, every galaw, Vendo, Drop a Coin...may bayad!)
There's a free kiddie party, every weekends and holidays. Magic Show, Face paintings and even the kiddie diners get free balloons and lootbags! There are plenty of Little Tykes Toys, Bicycles, Rocking Horses and even a free boat ride along the pond, to keep the kids busy while waiting for the food.
In the middle of the property, they have a floating stage where local talents perform Folk Dances and perform pang "Karnabal" entertainment. Very Pinoy!
Taksiyapo, a fun portion that can be a great therapy for anger management. It literally allows you to smash plates, glasses, even a whole television set, to release your anger against your Mother-in-Law, your boss, the haters in your life...etc. etc You can smash a plate on the wall for 10 pesos! Ted tried it once, probably because he can't smash my Corelle at home. Try mo kaya! :))
Now, let's talk about the food! They cook openly in the outdoor kitchens, located in different parts of the place. So, it's not nakaka-sulasok, especially the grilling part.
The Menu was a collection of well-loved local dishes, but also includes rarely heard-of Philippine folk dishes, cooked in interesting ways like Ginataang Manok sa Buho (chicken with coconut milk cooked in Bamboo poles), Sinampalukang Palaka (frogs cooked in tamarind soup) etc. Food cost is not pricey, just reasonable. Around 250-350 Php per dish, depends how complicated one's order, really.
The kids had been eating in the car throughout our journey, so we decided to go easy on our orders, lest we don't finish. We got Golden Kuhol (Esgarot) saute'd in tomatoes, Fish sisig, Lumpiang Sariwa and the Chicken cooked in bamboo... (unfortunately, I wasn't able to take a pic while the waiter was cutting the bamboo, I was out watching the folk dancers.)
While we were dining, two singing gentlemen serenaded us with Pinoy pop music. When asked for requests, my husband's usual favorite Faithfully by Journey, almost always had the singers biting their lips in worry and apologies that they might not hit the high notes.
Before leaving, be sure to grab a few of the yummy pasalubongs to take home ~ my favorites are Pili Tarts & Mazapan, Pastillas, Uraro, Lady Fingers or Broas, Peanut Brittle, Lengua de Gato and adobo peanuts with lots of toasted garlic. The extra cost is worth it, the quality of the items is good, rather those those bought from roadside bus stops or street vendors.
Isdaan sa Caluan, Laguna is a fun place to visit, especially if you have friends from abroad, and you're cracking your brains for new places to show them. I definitely will go back!
'til next adventure!!