Cafe Ysabel San Juan Review

I had lunch at Cafe Ysabel twice last week — May 19, 2010 and May 21, 2010 respectively. I was just so surprised that dining there 2x in a span of 3 days could yield experiences that are worlds apart.

My first lunch was disappointing. I ordered what the waiter recommended, which were The Chef’s Onion Soup and Norwegian Salmon Steak. Both dishes were salty, and they weren’t cheap. The soup cost almost P200, while the salmon cost almost P500. To top it off, we were seated near the entrance which was the designated smoking area. It would’ve been okay except that the students from Chef Gene Gonzales’ Center for Asian Culinary Studies occupied the big table next to us (there were about 6-7 of them) and started smoking heavily and talking in very loud voices. It was very distracting and towards the latter part of our meal, I was already having a hard time hearing out my lunch companions. They were getting louder and louder, laughing, joking, and talking. Needless to say it was conduct that was unbefitting of a fine dining restaurant like Cafe Ysabel. I understand that these students are paying 6-digit tuition fees and the waiters may not have the authority to control them, I just wish they would learn to respect the paying customers of the establishment.

Anyways, I was slated to have lunch at Cafe Ysabel again two days after that for a family affair. I wasn’t excited because I was expecting salty food and boisterous students again. My cousin took care of the lunch arrangements, and as soon as we got there we were ushered inside a big room with several tables. This area was apparently more private, more importantly it was non-smoking. Our set meal was pre-ordered and the dishes that comprised it are NOT part of the regular menu. The food was sooo good, it was such a far departure from my ala carte lunch just a couple of days before.

Cafe Ysabel San JuanFor starters, we had the Mixed Green Salad with Smoked Chicken in Honey Mustard Dressing (pictured above). It was divine. It’s the type of appetizer that makes you excited about what they’ll lay out in front of you next. The zesty dressing complemented the mixed greens and lean chicken slices perfectly.

Cafe Ysabel San JuanNext up was soup — Lobster Bisque with Quenelles (pictured above). It was hearty, creamy, and served hot. A quenelle is creamed fish, chicken, or meat, that is sometimes coated with breadcrumbs. It is similar to the oriental dumpling. My soup contained about 2-3 quenelles.

Cafe Ysabel San JuanWe had two choices for the main course. I opted for the Grilled Salmon with Hazelnut Creme Sauce (pictured above). It was incredible. The salmon was tender and the sauce was mindblowingly good. Light yet creamy in consistency, you can actually smell and taste the hazelnuts with every mouthful. It’s also served with a bit of farfalle and steamed fresh vegetables.

Cafe Ysabel San JuanMy hubby took the second option, which was Grilled Hanger Steak with Wild Mushroom Creme (pictured above). It was nothing exciting since it came off like just your usual steak with mushroom gravy. Hubby also commented that it was kind of tough.

Cafe Ysabel San JuanFor dessert, we all had Creme Brulee. It was lovely. It had just the right level of sweet creaminess topped with a very thin layer of crisp caramelized sugar. It went perfectly with the cup of brewed coffee which came at the end of our meal.

As for the ambiance, let’s just say we were able to enjoy a nice, leisurely lunch inside the inner area of the restaurant. The moment I stepped out and made my way to the exit however, I noticed the very same table from two days ago being occupied by a group of boisterous students again. I guess it’s the norm for them. At least now I know where to place myself if I want to dine in peace.

Oh and I had the chance to talk to a former student from Chef Gene Gonzales’ culinary school. I related my experiences last week. She told me that dishes from the ala carte menu are usually prepared by students while special order fare are prepared by chefs. Perhaps that would explain the big difference in taste during those two meals. Now I’m not saying that culinary students can’t cook, on the contrary I’ve had some of the best meals at Enderun’s Restaurant 101 and AICA’s degustation prepared entirely by students.

Cafe Ysabel
455 P. Guevarra Street,
San Juan City, Metro Manila
726-9326 / 725-5089

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