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Do you really want to go out on Valentine’s?

This place is worth the traffic.

I don’t really do Valentine’s.

I mean, the traffic is horrible! And I don’t really like flowers or chocolate. I can buy my own jewelry. And besides, Valentine’s has had a terrible history for me and my husband.

For our first Valentine’s as a couple, he wasn’t even in the country! Another year, there was a bus explosion on a major thoroughfare, which would have been along our route on the way home. The next year, I was sick in bed.

So yeah, Valentine’s? No thanks.

But this year, we just might change our minds.

“It’s nothing special.”

Sitting quietly on the second floor of a little building in Quezon City is Tiyo Craft Kitchen and Bar. It’s a charming little place, with decor inspired by Manila’s Escolta of the 1920s. There’s a well-stocked bar, and an extensive selection of craft beers. In the function room, Managing Partner Janet Timbol Muñoz beams over the parade of dishes that are being served. It’s a charming assortment, each dish prettily plated.

Though everything looks exotic, fascinating, appetizing, Janet wants you to know one very important thing. “There’s nothing special about the ingredients. It’s just stuff you can find in your local market. It’s really just the way we prepare it,” she explains. Tiyo is all about rediscovering Filipino food and ingredients from all over the Philippines, and it’s a journey your palate will truly appreciate.

The best way to your heart is through your stomach.

Okay, I don’t really do Valentines, but I might just drag my husband here on February 15. I mean, we need to eat! And the special Valentine’s menu is available on February 14 and 15, so we might as well enjoy that.

It starts off with the onion soup. There’s something about it that is so comforting, from the rich, buttery broth to the toasted bread sitting on top. But there’s something refreshing too, as if it were onion soup redux. Perhaps it’s the sprouts, or the kesong puti, but something makes it taste light and fresh.

Then comes the Sagada Etag salad. This is perfect if you don’t really like green salads, and you prefer all your vegetables with a generous side of roast pork. The cabbage, cherry tomatoes, radish, and red onions are grilled just right, and drizzled with soy sauce, calamansi and lime.

For the main course, you have two options. Janet absolutely recommends the Pan-Grilled Salmon with fresh Mango Salsa. If you’re craving some surf and turf, you can opt for the Salpicado Steak and Tiger Prawns Thermidor with Kesong Puti. Both are explosions of flavors and textures, and feel new to the palate.

Maybe it’s just me, but the greatest revelation of the main course is in the side dish: mashed sweet potato! It’s an interesting quirk of the menu that no potatoes are served in any dish, but you won’t care. The soft, buttery mashed sweet potato will make you forget about those spuds, and you probably won’t even look for rice.

If you still have space, of course there’s dessert. Tiyo’s Palitaw is a twist on the classic Filipino rice cake. Each plate will feature three flavors of palitaw: Davao’s Malagos chocolate, dulce de leche for those who love milk, and ube or purple yam. But if you’re looking for something else, there’s Turon with Gabi Ice Cream: sweet banana fried in rice paper, sitting in the refreshing cold of taro flavored ice cream.

Down it all with a glass of red wine or one of Tiyo’s craft cocktails, which are another story altogether.

Let me buy you a drink.

When Janet isn’t trying to feed you dish after dish, she’s serving you cocktails of Tiyo’s own concoction.

If you’re looking for something more like a fruity cooler than a cocktail, the Calle Escolta is for you. You might not even notice the lambanog, the coconut wine popular in Ilocos, because the combination of mint and kamias make for a wonderful palate cleanser.

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Something stronger? How about a Trip to Quiapo? This time the kamias is mixed with basil and pomelo, coconut rum and dalandan liqueur. If you’re having only one drink, this might be the one for you.

The Buko Pandan takes the classic coconut jelly dessert and turns it into an alcoholic delight–perfect if you can’t decide between sweets or a drink.

Every day is Valentine’s Day.

The Valentine’s menu is something special, but the regular Tiyo menu has a few gems you won’t find anywhere else.

If you like ceviche, you’ll enjoy the Three-Fish Coconut Kinilaw, a tangy combination of tuna, malasugi and mackerel topped with crispy spada and swimming in vinaigrette.

In Lengua Kaldereta Nachos you’ll find a different take on the typical bar chow, with Kaldereta sauce, malunggay chimichurri and kesong puti topping the salsa and chips.

Craving some chicken wings? You can have them with crab fat or with satay sauce from Zamboanga, but for some sweet and spicy flavor, you’ll want the Honey Pinakurat variant, with Iligan vinegar and Bohol honey.

If it’s Calamares you want with your craft beer, the Calamares Negra is a great choice. The addition of squid ink gives this classic a visual and culinary twist; the lager and crab fat dip is good enough to eat on its own!

So yeah, we’re probably going to Tiyo for our anniversary. I want to try the rest of that menu.

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