La Cocina de Tita Moning: A taste of the past

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Dec 23 2010 05:11 PM | Updated as of Dec 24 2010 08:25 PM

MANILA, Philippines - In some homes, food is a family tradition.
That's the case for Chef Suzette Montinola who follows the heirloom recipes of her grandmother, Doña Ramona "Tita Moning" Hernandez-Legarda.
"She enjoyed throwing big dinners and lunches," recalled Chef Suzette. "This is something we grew up with and when she passed away, her recipes most loved by everybody [continued to live on]. It was just a matter of documenting them and recreating them."
Chef Suzette said the recipes are mostly Spanish in influence and executed with a Filipino interpretation. Among the most popular of Tita Moning's recipes are her lengua, bread pudding and whole baked lapu-lapu which people come back for.
On "Taste Buds" on [email protected] this week, Chef Suzette dished out a beef osso buco for a fine dining experience inspired by decades past.

An old art deco house
The experience began with a tour that takes guests from the venue's patio area, which used to host elegant cocktail parties, then up a grand staircase, and into the Legarda's ancestral mansion. 


The Legarda ancestral mansion in decades past


One of the first art deco houses built in San Miguel, Manila circa 1937, the mansion still houses the clinic of Ramona's husband and Legarda patriarch Dr. Alejandro, his collection of antique cameras and radio equipment, and various family memorabilia including valuable artworks of the country's national artists, and photographs of the original house which document the ambiance of stately dinners and those who came to wine and dine.
"The house is something we're trying to preserve. It's very beautiful and all those who come here help in preserving it," Chef Suzette said.

The house today is home to La Cocina de Tita Moning, which is more than a restaurant, Chef Suzette said, as it offers a dining experience which aims to recreate the elegant banquets during the 1930's served on no less than antique china.


Many stately banquets were held at the Legarda mansion.


Despite its being strictly by reservation, the 10-year-old food business is going strong, thanks to a regular pool of clients made up of diplomats and members of Manila's political clique, and its store of kitchen treats.  
"The idea was to sell the food, never to have a business or turn the house into a restaurant. It was through serendipity and a lot of luck that we get to entertain different groups, sharing with them our history and the food our family has perfected through the years," Chef Suzette explained.
The restaurant's quezo de bola spread made from Edam cheese is a best seller all year round. 


Quezo de Bola spread: a best seller not just during Christmas but all year round


But the business also prides itself in its dedicated staff, some of whom have been with the Legarda family for decades.
"The secret to its longevity is really the staff. We have very dedicated staff who work tirelessly. As for the charm, in a city that has a lot of history, sometime we get the impression that we are too busy building new malls and establishments instead of preserving the old. 

"The charm of La Cocina de Tita Moning is we take you into an actual old house. It reminds you of what an elegant city Manila used to be. It's a dining experience that many of us don't get to appreciate in this day and age because we're all too busy. It makes you stop and experience the way life was in Manila back then, when the dishes are brought to you. It's a dining experience of a very personal kind," said Chef Suzette.

Beef, not veal, osso buco
Chef Suzette demonstrated how to make the osso buco, which, while traditionally done with veal, used local beef shank that was stewed and braised in tomato sauce for 4 hours until it was tender.
She began by seasoning the beef shank and dusting the marrow with flour to keep it from melting, and browning the shanks.

Chef Suzette then put some diced onions, tomatoes and garlic, and added roundness to the flavor with some white wine. After 4 hours, it was done.


Beef osso buco gremolata

She topped it with gremolata made up of chopped garlic, parsley and some lemon zest, and served this with saffron risotto.

The best part of the osso buco is the marrow, whose flavor makes for an even more indulgent feast.
La Cocina de Tita Moning is one of 12 restaurants participating in Virlanie Foundation Inc.'s "Brighten Smiles" campaign, which is part of its "Dine to Smile" project. This month, the restaurant will donate a portion of its sales to the foundation to help street children.

La Cocina de Tita Moning is at 315 San Rafael Street, San Miguel District, Manila. Tel. Nos. (632) 734-2146, (632) 734-2141, and (63)917.5315203. E-mail: [email protected]




3 kilos (5-6 pcs.) beef shank
flour for browning
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 kilo tomatoes (peeled, seeded and diced)
3 pcs. white onions (diced)
parsley (finely chopped)
2 cups white wine
6 pcs. garlic cloves (peeled, diced)
2 pcs. yellow lemon
salt and pepper

For the gremolata:
grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
parsley (finely chopped)
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
Mix together and set aside.


1. On a tray, dredge the beef shanks in flour, covering both sides.
2. In a pan, melt butter, and brown the beef shanks on both sides, all around.
3. In a braising pot, arrange the browned beef shanks side by side.
4. Add olive oil, tomatoes, onions, parsley, white wine, and garlic.
5. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for an hour until the meat is tender. Season according to taste.
6. Top each piece of beef shank with gremolata. Serve with white wine and saffron risotto.