Thursday, November 14, 2013

Negros Museum Cafe in Bacolod City

Negros Musuem Café: A Love Story


Bacolod boasts of many destinations that will satisfy the curious palate. The city is known to bless travellers with extra calories and a few pounds on a weekend stay. Beside the Negros Museum along the idyllic part of Gatuslao Street is a restaurant café that might as well be one of Bacolod’s best “undiscovered secret.” A rare gem—amongst fast food restaurants, pop-up joints, bars and hotel buffets—this place seduces with its sights, tastes and smells; lingering on your mind like a lover from across the miles.

Negros Museum Café has a spacious dining hall—the PHINMA gallery—that has natural lighting during the day, with streams of sunlight passing through glass windows. The walls display various artworks—paintings, wooden carvings, and other curated pieces currently on exhibit. Outside, there’s al fresco seating, to better romance you with the town’s local sights and sounds.


Head chef and proprietor of the restaurant café is Guido Nijssen, a Dutch native who fell in love with Bacolod and his Filipina wife, Gemma. Chef Guido’s enthusiasm for local ingredients and dedication to making the most of what’s available to you (or your land, for that matter) is simply infectious. He couldn’t stop raving about cassava, and how the sweet kind is excellent as fries because of its earthy flavors and starchy texture.

Chef Guido Nijssen and wife Gemma, with the Museum Cafe staff

Cassava Fries with homemade mayo
Surprisingly, yes. Deep fried in coconut oil and drizzled with sea salt, the Cassava Fries with homemade mayo (P45) are exceptional, healthier, and cheaper to produce, too. Makes you wonder what other readily available Philippine produce you might have been ignoring.
Then, there’s the Bitter Balls (P150), or Bitterballen, which are common merienda or “pulutan” in the Netherlands. The chicken-based balls are fried to a golden crisp in coconut oil, and possess a soft and creamy filling on the inside. They are served with delicious homemade mustard, which has little seeds that burst with every bite.

Bitter Balls

For beverages, they serve shakes and different kinds of juice, all of which are organic. The Hibiscus Juice (P60) is served cold, separate from the ice, so it won’t get watered down. Hibiscus is more commonly known in the Philippines as the “gumamela” flower. Its petals give the drink a deep crimson color, with a slight sweetness and tart flavour reminiscent of cranberry.

Hibiscus Juice
Snacks are served all day at the café, although, they aren’t exactly what you may call light. Their sandwiches are hefty, and always freshly-made. They use bread that they baked themselves, and ingredients that are organic and locally-produced. Such dedication to quality is what makes one fall in love with Negros Museum Café. 
Take, for example, the Norwegian Smoked Salmon Sandwich (P180). Choose your bread—whole wheat, grey sesame bread, poppy seed baguette or 50% whole wheat—and let them top it with lettuce and fat slivers of salmon. Drizzle with lime and you’re all set. Simple and divine, it’s the kind of sandwich that celebrates flavour instead of hiding it with unnecessary sauces or spreads.

Norwegian Smoked Salmon Sandwich

The Roast Beef Sandwich (P130) is likewise outstanding, with meat that is also homemade and tender to the bite. The sandwich leaves a feeling of satisfaction, and not the usual guilt that usually comes with eating beef. Eating clean and organic does this to you.

Roast Beef Sandwich

Weekly Specials are served and rotated on the restaurant’s menu to showcase various ingredients and recipes. During our visit, we were able to try the Pork Tenderloin with Pepper Cream Sauce (P290), which comprises of two thick slabs of meat embraced by creamy green peppercorn sauce, and served with salad and four kinds of bread. The tenderloin cuts like butter and the sauce heightens the rich taste of the meat. The entire dish is filling, and may actually be shared by two.

Pork Tenderloin with Pepper Cream Sauce

Another full meal is the Grilled Blue Marlin with Mushroom (P340) served with organic brown rice and salad. Surprisingly, their brown rice isn’t rough, unlike most kinds I’m used to. The fish is fleshy, well-cooked and flavorful, with a texture that is akin to chicken. Like all the other dishes, their salad is fresh, organic and colourful—which is how vegetables are supposed to be.

Grilled Blue Marlin with Mushroom

The most memorable dish I’ve had is the Full Meal Young Cheese Salad (P260), which is actually a platter of different kinds of cheese. Rejoice, cheese lovers, this platter isn’t even over three hundred pesos, and you can already enjoy several kinds: goat’s cheese with cumin, goat’s cheese with green pepper, goat’s cheese with chives, cow’s cheese with pepper,  plain goat cheese, smoked cheese and old cow’s cheese.

Gemma Nijssen shows their impressive selection of fresh organic cheese

Full Meal Young Cheese Salad
Eaten with the fresh vegetable salad and tomato salsa, the dish is a true celebration of nature’s finest flavors. It’s one of the things that makes you sad about living so far away from Bacolod.
The café serves outstanding desserts, as well. One particular dessert blew my mind because I’ve never encountered it before, despite its seeming simplicity. They serve pie made of chico (also know as sapodilla)—the brown, fleshy fruit with an exceptionally malty flavour. Their Chico Pie (P125) is served with a scoop of whipped cream. Take a forkful of the pie and a smidge of whipped cream—the flavors meld in your mouth and you’ll wonder why chico pie isn’t more readily available. The crust is buttery, with a moist but crumbly texture. The chico filling is sweet with a light caramel taste, slightly grainy, but still sublime. It’s one of the best pies I’ve tasted, and is reason enough to visit the café again.

Chico Pie

Another freshly-made dessert that is closer to home: the Green Apple Pie (P95).

Green Apple Pie
Pair the desserts with their Candoni coffee (P75) served with three kinds of sugar (white, muscovado, brown) and a slice of coconut or banana bread.

Candoni coffee
Or, if you’re up for something to keep you through the night, try their Bacolod Sunrise (P180), which is made of tequila, grenadine and lime juice. It has a strong citrus smell and an equally solid punch.

Bacolod Sunrise
Want to bring something home from Bacolod? Get the Negros Pili Nut-Muscovado Cookies (P90/pack), which are reminiscent of panotsa, because of its muscovado content. The cookies are made of pili nuts, organic muscovado, egg whites and sea salt. It is based on a Dutch classic recipe of bitter cookie called Bitterkoekje. Nevertheless, these muscovado cookies aren’t bitter, but are in fact sweet and rich.

Muscovado cookies

Organic Chocolates
These Handmade Organic Chocolates are perfect for the holiday season. Every piece is handmade from Swiss chocolate, and devoid of preservatives, artificial colorings or artificial flavors. As such, these bonbons will keep in your fridge for a limited time only, so don’t scrimp—indulge!
So, I guess the “secret” is out. Negros Museum Café is the best restaurant in Bacolod. For Manila folks, it’s unfortunately across the miles and you need a plane ticket to get there, but hey, the things we do for love.
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