I believe I have expressed time and again that Baguio is food for the artistic soul, which makes it one of my absolute favorite places in the country. There is something passionate and earnest about the City of Pines that is lacking in the otherwise metropolitan savannah of Manila.
And when I’m finally saturated by the life, art, music, and the chilly temperature that inhabits this northern capital, I come back for the food, if nothing else. If there is anything that makes my trips back and forth to Baguio all the more delightful, it’s discovering new gastronomical finds, be it a hole-in-the-wall eatery or the newest up-and-coming bistro.
Bayleaf is one of those gems. It is this charming rustic restaurant that gives off a pleasant and homey vibe right in the heart of Baguio City, reminding you something of a garden and your mom’s kitchen. Fitting is the location, after all, as Bayleaf is reflective of the city’s best, as seen in its fare such as their DIY salad bar, chock full of quality ingredients sourced from Baguio, as well as the passion by the brains behind this venture, Chef Maricris Salinas-Agas.
Chef Maricris’ creation, after all, is a love letter to the city that has inspired her culinary dreams. Originally from Pangasinan, after graduating from the University of Baguio with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, she furthered her talents in Manila culinary schools CCA and ISCAHM and had her share of international culinary competitions to her name. Now resting on her laurels, Chef Maricris is back as a visiting chef and instructor at her alma mater where it all started. “It is but a must to bring back the blessings to Baguio by means of putting up a restaurant which I think and believe the “reflection” of my fruitful journey in the city of Pines”, she shares.
The specials, roasted pork ribs with smoky barbecue and pineapple sauce, and Andrej’s meatball spaghetti came highly recommended upon our visit, and it was not a surprise why. The vegetables were crisp, the roasted pork ribs had the much sought-after tenderness in the meat, and the pineapple sauce was a welcome complement to its smoky flavor without being too tart or tangy.
Andrej’s meatball spaghetti is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s a gustatory delight of garden-like appeal from the freshness of its sauce, blended with original flavors from a more Filipino palette. The flavor of the meatballs reminded us of the sweet kind of longganisa or chorizo, but it turns out, the actual blend is even more interesting. Hear it from the chef herself: “Blends of beef and inadobong shitake mushroom formed into meatballs with sweet and flavorful beef ragout sauce: Filipino style.”The pasta was a perfect al dente, as well.
A personal favorite was the potato salad, which was the potato salad, which was delicate in flavor with its mayo dressing. I personally love potatoes yet somehow indifferent to potato salad, yet this dish had me consuming every bit of it.
The servings of each plate were not a disappointment either. We ordered one of each dish, a perfectly filling amount for two. I also enjoyed how the dishes were wonderfully presented– in a city like Baguio, you learn to forego first impressions of meals in favor of flavor and generous portions, but the effort in crafting these eye-appetizing dishes were reflective of the chef’s skill and dedication.
For its flavor and potential, we were slightly dismayed at the limited offerings at the time. Understandable, as Bayleaf had just been open for three months after transferring from Kisad Road, which enjoyed a 2-year run in its former location. Chef Maricris assures, however, that this is only the beginning, as more exciting Asian dishes are lined up as new additions to the menu in the months to come, reflective of the restaurant’s concept, and the chef’s bread and butter.
Thai offerings such as curry, Thai chicken satay with peanut sauce are in the works, as well as Asian noodle soups such as Vietnamese pho, Japanese ramen, and the local lomi soup. An array of Asian-influenced chips and dips are also in the making, which is pretty exciting stuff.
Bayleaf is also open for breakfast. For the morning meal, the chef recommends a quintessential Filipino favorite: Beef tapa served with fried quail eggs,garlic rice and pickled atsara, served with their house blend spiced vinegar. Feel free to enjoy their signature dessert any time of the day as well, nilatikang turones banana langka, glazed with caramel sauce topped off with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
With a warm and pleasant ambiance from its rustic interiors fitting for family dinners, there’s no reason you should skip Bayleaf on your next weekend trip up north.
*Bayleaf is located at the ground floor of Dela Cruz Building, along North Drive, Baguio City.