Friday, March 25, 2016

Flavors of Ilocos: A Taste of Vigan's Best and Hotel Luna's New Dishes

The historic city of Vigan offers countless attractions, and its many culinary delights are an attraction in itself...

From authentic Vigan Empanadas and Longganisa to elegant dining at Hotel Luna, you'll find Vigan's culinary heritage as rich and diverse as its colorful history.

Your culinary adventure begins at Hotel Luna (L), the only museum hotel in the country (for more on Hotel Luna, see my previous posts here and its impressive art collection). Located beside historic Calle Crisologo (R), Hotel Luna puts you right in the middle of it all (for more on Calle Crisologo, see my earlier post here). 

After a leisurely walk along Calle Crisologo, head for the Town Plaza where local delicacies are served daily, including these uniquely local "Royal Bibingka," a soft, sweet and chewy treat made with glutinous rice flour and coconut milk, topped with cheese. Unlike the usual bibingka, Vigan's version is moist and chewy with richer notes.

And you can find the best of this local delicacy at Tongson's Royal Bibingka, located at the middle of Vigan's Town Plaza. Moist, sweeter and denser than the usual bibingka, the Royal Bibingka is another unique taste of Vigan. Take home a box or two when you go back home, you won't find this or anything close to this in Manila.  

Past the Vigan Cathedral (L), don't miss the spectacular Light and Water Show (R) held every night between 7-8pm. After the show, why not sample some uniquely local pasta and pizza infused with local ingredients at Bigaa GastroPub (for more on Bigaa, see my previous post here) located at Vigan Plaza Hotel for another taste of Vigan.

No visit to Vigan is complete without a taste of the iconic Empanada, freshly prepared as you order. With its thin, light and crisp crust and savory pork stuffing of Vigan Longganisa and egg, deep-fried to perfection, it's a unique taste of Vigan that you'll remember long after your trip and miss immediately once you get back home.

At the Town Plaza, head for Evelyn's Empanada & Okoy, a local favorite for freshly made empanada. Fresh from the frying pan, your empanada is served with a special chili vinegar dip. Sprinkle some salt, add some vinegar, and your first authentic bite of Vigan is ready. The bustling sound of the plaza add to that distinct local vibe.  

Light and crisp, the richness of the Vigan Longganisa stuffing is perfectly tempered by the sharpness of the dark Sukang Iloko with chili. You can also try another of Vigan's popular empanadas in a quieter section of the city called Irene's Empanada (see my post on Irene's Empanada here). Local Filipino cuisine often reflects Spanish influences, with the empanada stuffed with local sausage as perfect examples. But the Vigan Empanada has truly evolved on its own, making it a distinctly local delicacy.

A cold beverage after exploring the different sights and flavors of Vigan's Plaza sounds about right, and it's time to head back to Hotel Luna's Chula Bar for an ice-cold beer (for more on Chula Bar's pub grub, see my previous post here) before sampling the new dishes at Hotel Luna's Comedor...

Comedor is Hotel Luna's all-day dining restaurant, with Executive Chef Raymond Quitilen at the helm (for more on Hotel Luna's Comedor, see my previous posts on their signature dishes and local cuisine. You can also find the best steaks in Vigan at Comedor, see my earlier post here). The new dishes at Hotel Luna's Comedor were developed by Chef Mary Jo "MJ" Camarista, consultant chef to the AHMGI Group, the same group behind Hotel Rembrandt in Quezon City, Baguio's Le Monet, and Ilocos Sur's Vitalis Villas and Vitalis Resort & Spa (more on Chef Mary Jo "MJ" Camarista and her inventive culinary approach on my previous post on Hotel Rembrandt's New Dishes). Executive Chef Raymond Quitilen shared Comedor's new dishes starting with the signature Paella Negra, topped with plump prawns and mussels, followed by their other new dishes...

Comedor's lightly battered, crisp and crunchy Squid & Shrimps was then served next, with fresh and clean flavors.

Executive Chef Raymond Quitilen then served a pair of Comedor's new signature tarts developed by Consultant Chef Mary Jo "MJ" Camarista, the Gambas Tart, with plump shrimps on a thin, flaky, and lightly crisp flat dough with butter and herbs...

...and the Calamari Tart, topped with tender squid rings. The light, thin crust, oozing with butter and olive oil with the distinct notes of herbs, makes these dishes a real treat, capped by the fresh, briny sweetness of the shrimps and squid. The layers of paper-thin pastry dough are crisp and chewy, the perfect base for the delicate notes of the seafood and herb topping. These savory tarts are definitely new and different, and a must-try at Hotel Luna's Comedor. Both new dishes reflect the inventive culinary style of Consultant Chef Mary Jo "MJ" Camarista, adding her own unique spin to Hotel Luna's extensive menu.

A plate of Shrimp Scampi with Linguine topped with shards of Parmesan in a rich sauce offers vibrant flavors with plump shrimps in a classic pasta dish perfectly executed by Executive Chef Raymond Quitilen and his team. Squeeze some lemon for even more flavors.

Two more savory dishes were served, with the Pork Recado topped with deep-fried onion rings on tender slabs of juicy pork...

...and the inventive Coffee Chili Beef with fork-tender strips of beef in a rich and flavorful coffee chili sauce. The nutty notes of the coffee are punctuated by the sharpness of the chili and tomatoes for balanced flavors for a refreshing new take on the classic chili con carne. The new dishes are a welcome addition to Hotel Luna's diverse menu, and I can't wait for more new dishes from Consultant Chef Mary Jo "MJ" Camarista.

Early the next day, it was time for breakfast with Comedor's impressive buffet spread. Start your day in true Vigan style with a cup of freshly brewed coffee sweetened with Balicucha...

...while enjoying the street views from my favorite spot at Hotel Luna's Comedor. French Toast, Waffles, Bacon and a freshly made Omelette prepared ala minute from the Live Station (for more on breakfast at Hotel Luna's Comedor, see my previous post here and here), and you're ready for another day of adventure as you head for Sabangan Cove in Santiago, Ilocos Sur for some sun, sand and sea in a stunning new cliff-side villa development...more on my next post soon.

Hotel Luna is located at V. De Los Reyes corner General Luna Street, Vigan City, ilocos Sur or call +632-584-4945 for inquiries and reservations. You may also contact the Manila Sales Office located at 26 Tomas Morato Extension, Brgy. South Triangle, Quezon City or call +632-373-3333 local 201-204 or email 

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