By Dennis Sadowski
MANILA, Philippines — When in Manila, there’s one place to do as the Romans do.
Where? Try the Ristorante delle Mitre (Restaurant of the Miter) in Manila’s Intramuros, the old city.
Among regulars, it’s known as Le Mitre, the Miter. It is located adjacent to the offices of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, across the street from San Augustin Church.
It’s modeled on a Roman cafe near the Vatican that is popular among priests and bishops visiting Rome on vacation or on official business. It certainly has a European feel, right down to the display cases of desserts that greet visitors as they enter.
Most of the restaurant’s dishes are named for Filipino church leaders with a few named for nuncios, priests and other prelates connected with the Vatican.
For instance, there’s the Palo Archbishop John Du Special Lugaw, a Philippine beef tapa served with dried pusit, which is squid. A dish named for Bishop Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan features crispy tilapia with coconut milk sauce.
Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle’s sweet tooth is highlighted in his favorite: silvana, a frozen cookie with a layer of buttercream sandwiched between two cashew-meringue wafers coated with cookie crumbs.
Everything is made on premises using locally grown and produced ingredients. Organic is preferred when possible. The menu includes vegetarian dishes. Seafood is a popular offering as well.
Sister Evangeline Paras, a member of the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, supervises the culinary staff. Her background includes cooking for clergy in parish settings.
Costs are deliberately kept low so people of all walks of life can afford a meal. There’s also a special 39-peso meal — that’s less than $1 — for anyone, but especially those who work as a driver for a bishop or who are poor.
Employees have a say in the operation of the restaurant. And there’s a special program through which deaf people are hired in an arrangement with a local social services agency.
On Tuesday I enjoyed a beef pochero, consisting of short ribs cooked in a slightly sweet orange-mango sauce with traditional vegetables named for Bishop Prudencio Andaya of Tabuk. I topped off lunch with a not-too-sweet cinnamon apple cheesecake.
For the historically minded, display cases house artifacts from Philippine bishops. The miters of Archbishop Teofilo Camomot, Bishop Alfredo Maria Obviar and Bishop Alfredo Verzosa, all proposed for beatification, also are displayed.
Owner Elivra Go opened the restaurant in July 2010. She told me that the effort really was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The idea first for the restaurant arose in 2008. She said now-retired Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu asked her to consider opening a place for bishops to enjoy a good meal at a reasonable cost. “It took me two years to say ‘yes,’” said the long-term lay church leader. “Who was I to say ‘no’ to the bishops?
“It just fell into place once I said ‘yes.’ It was the Holy Spirit at work.”
Go called the business a labor of love, saying it did not matter if it turned a profit or not.
She formerly helped run the candy-making business her father started in Manila in 1937. Her brother now heads the operation while Go, who is single, promotes church events. She also hosts a daily 15-minute radio show and a weekly television program that often features Catholic guests discussing church teaching.
“We want the people to feel that God is taking care of them with a good comfortable place,” Go said, “where the customer will go out smiling.”