LOS BAÑOS, Philippines -- Who would have thought that the classy, fine-dining restaurant here used to be an old and cramped bodega before?
?It was dark and dusty,? Romy recalled of the warehouse before it became Mio Cucina. ?(There were) a lot of broken tables and chairs.?
Romy and Lorna Sarabia own the 15-year-old community cable and Internet service business in Los Baños.
In April last year, they started to refurbish the space that used to be their warehouse and studio for TV programs. With a little redecoration, the couple turned the desolate space into a stylish and exquisite diner they named Mio Cucina.
Romy said the addition of food business to their cable service venture was not so hard as ?both are service-oriented.?
In the cable business, Romy makes sure his cable guys are prompt in delivering services to their subscribers. The couple personally attends to customers with free snacks and a chat whenever they pay their bills in the office.
Restaurant customers get the same treatment, he said.
Lorna would go around smiling to entertain their guests, distributing free puddings she baked.
Mio Cucina is located in an inconspicuous corner of Lopez Avenue. It measures 50 square meters and can only accommodate up to 25 persons.
Romy is glad that, in this small hub, ?big people? gather.
Barely a year old, Mio Cucina has had guests such as former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Teddy Casiño, tenor Nolyn Cabajug, and a congressman from Makati.
?Most of them were guests at the university,? he said, since the restaurant is only about a few meters from the University of the Philippines.
Scientists and researchers from the International Rice Research Institute have also been seen here.
?We don?t know how they learned about [Mio Cucina]. Perhaps by word of mouth,? Romy said.
With the type of food served and prices ranging from P150 to P200, Mio Cucina is not for everyday dining, although there are students visiting the restaurant from time to time.
?They are those who usually bring their dates in,? Romy said.
?We have witnessed here all types of celebrations, from marriage proposals, to birthdays, to anniversaries and even ?monthsaries,?? he shared.
He talked about a regular customer, a land investor, who ?orders a different dish each time he?s here, as if trying out all that we have on the menu.?
True enough, Mio Cucina offers an array of ?interesting? menu from tulingan (mackerel tuna) pasta, pasta with kesong puti (white cheese), to pako (fern) salad. But what is even more remarkable is the tinge of indigenous ingredients and the traditional way meals are cooked in Laguna.
The cooks are both natives of Liliw and Pagsanjan.
?They are those who never studied culinary, but have the talent for good taste,? Romy said.
To name a few, Mio Cucina serves Bistek Tagalog, Sinigang sa Bayabas and even the old pambonete, an old type of bread.
?People tell us the food reminds them of their mother?s cooking,? he added.
At Mio Cucina, ?everything is freshly cooked,? as they do away with canned and instant food.
For instance, the tulingan is carefully cooked for hours in banana leaves. They also source fresh pako way up on Mt. Banahaw.
?Each ingredient in our halo-halo is also natural,? he said.
While meticulous food preparations cost them more, Romy believes that the quality of their food makes all the difference, and customers know that.
Turismo de Los Baños, a group of local entrepreneurs promoting cultural and ecotourism, recognized the Sarabias? initiative in putting up Mio Cucina.
?It?s classy but uses the old traditional food,? said Los Baños tourism adviser Roberto Cereno.
?In Los Baños, being highly cosmopolitan, [with] scientists and expatriates, we really need to have a place where we can bring visitors,? Cereno added.
He said that while Italian and Japanese restaurants, as well as fast-food establishments, flourish, ?Mio (Cucina) is an innovation.?
He believes serving traditional food and Laguna?s delicacies will bridge the gap between cultures and ages.
Mio Cucina is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It accepts reservations for the entire place and offers catering packages.