Barangay Malabag, Silang, Cavite
(SPOT.ph) "I’ve always wanted to put up a restaurant," says Rhea Rizzo, the chef behind Mrs. Saldo’s. The bespoke private dining venture has been the talk of the local food-loving community in recent months, with dining enthusiasts going out of their way to drive out of the Metro and over to their compound tucked beneath Silang, Cavite’s winding side streets and back roads.
Also read: 10 Best Tasting Menus in Manila Right Now
This bespoke private dining venture is a must-visit on your next drive to Cavite:
Rizzo can’t put a finger on when her desire to work in the food business began, but dreaming up dishes and experimenting with flavors had always been at the back of her head. Rizzo also ran her own creative marketing company for two years, doing consultancy work for restaurants. "When we started building Mrs. Saldo’s four years ago, I thought of places I fell in love with—not just because of their culture and their design sensibilities, but more importantly because of the food and the soul that thrived there."
"It sounds weird on paper, but I pulled from so many cuisines—Peranakan, Japanese, San Sebastian, Malaysian, and Thai… and I guess it all worked out," she laughs. Even the name of Rizzo’s restaurant has its roots in a different locale (Saldo is a wine from Napa Valley). Not limited to one single cuisine, Mrs. Saldo’s offers ala-carte all-day breakfast options as well as themed set menus that showcase the celebrated chef’s versatility in the kitchen.
For a made-it-to-the-weekend celebration, your best bet is to go for their special brunch menu, which she describes as "borderless" comfort food. Think familiar yet leveled-up fare like the Pan-Fried Salmon, Saffron Risotto, Asparagus, Bearnaise Sauce, Lumpfish Caviar (P1290); fluffy Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Pancakes (P550); powerful Crab Dip and Sourdough (P790); and hearty Dutch Pancakes, Jamon Burrata, Maple Syrup (P790).
Mrs. Saldo’s also has set menus that highlight different cuisines: Asian (more specifically Southeast Asian), Southern (inspired by her mother-in-law’s home state of Virginia), and South American (spurred by Rizzo’s leanings toward Mexican food by way of California).
The Asian Menu (P2,900) takes you on a tour of the Southeast side of the continent, with entries that include their zesty take on classic Vietnamese pancakes Ban Xeoh, Nuoc Cham; the decidedly punchy Thai Fish Curry, Air Flown Hamachi, Cilantro, Fried Shallots with air-flown Japanese amberjack; and tender Indonesian Chicken Satay, Air Flown Hamachi, Cilantro, Fried Shallots brought to nuttier heights by the subtly sweet peanut sauce served on the side.
From there, a dose of Southeast Asian comfort comes by way of the Peranakan Lamb Curry, Blue Pea-Coconut Kaffir Rice, Cucumber Cilantro Salad, Fried Shallots, Pineapples dish—where the heartiness of the curry is balanced out by the zing of the accompanying elements. Finally, the Honey Buns, Coconut Ice Cream, Kaffir Caramel, Peanuts dessert cools your palate down and takes you out on a tropical trip by taste.
The diverse flavors offered by Mrs. Saldo’s mirror the space’s colorful, lush, bohemian décor. The entire compound was designed and decorated by Rizzo herself. "I like to joke that the only thing I didn’t buy for this place were the metal parts—but everything from the hollow blocks to the pots and plants down to the doorknobs, I sourced," she explains. Rizzo worked with a dedicated foreman to create the one-storey structure housing the main kitchen, [the] main dining area fit for 14 guests, as well as smaller dining spaces meant to accommodate smaller groups. Every room is outfitted with vibrant, well-curated artwork, tchotchkes, and a plethora of plants. "I’ve always loved the idea of indoor-outdoor spaces. I like to think I meshed both by incorporating plants. Nature adds to the dining experience and it may be a feat to water and care for them, but I think it’s well worth the effort."
Winding garden paths from the main structure take you to a contained, temperature-controlled wine cellar, outdoor dining spaces, as well as a garden fit with Adirondack chairs surrounding a fire pit. Off to the other side of the property is a two-storey structure designed to house a future bakery as well as a second-storey cooking school inspired by the many classes Rizzo had taken everywhere from Ubud to Bangkok, where she trained under culinary genius Indian chef Gaggan Anand.
Running Mrs. Saldo’s as a private dining restaurant has been a wonderfully creative experience for Rizzo—something that has taught her to be flexible and adapt to the times. Heavily inspired by Ad Hoc and California chef Thomas Keller, she initially intended Mrs. Saldo’s to be a place with menus that could change day to day. "Operationally, it was very challenging," says Rizzo, who was immediately impacted by supply chain issues stemming from pandemic-related bottlenecks to the war in Ukraine. "Something may be happening in Eastern Europe, but it affects everyone, even people in Asia. Without grains, for example, lambs aren’t fed and that has a direct effect on what we serve." Eventually, Rizzo was able to settle for set menus that she could still get creative with, but could offer some stability as far as her kitchen goes.
Rizzo also had to figure out what was most sustainable for her restaurant and her menu, considering the small farming plot she has within the compound. “We had to learn about the seasons, what happens when you’re out of herbs or when the dog eats the cilantro,” she says. Rizzo then began to tap local farmers to build sustainability into the business. “We source most of our vegetables from Ayala Foundation and the small farmers in the surrounding area. We also try to employ most of our workers from within the community and source most of our supplies from here too. It’s a fantastic thing to be able to help.”
The result of Rizzo’s efforts to incorporate fresh ingredients, build community, and continuously be inventive in the kitchen comes off effortlessly in the lovely dishes she serves and in the lush, well-thought-out spaces of Mrs. Saldo’s. The restaurant is currently fully booked until June, and Rizzo intends to take a bit of time off, travel again, recharge, and—fingers crossed—gain inspiration once more from new places. Fans of Mrs. Saldo’s and newcomers alike have much to look forward to once Rizzo returns with fresh ideas, new recipes, and exciting dishes—making it a vibrant addition to the local dining scene you’ll be driving out to, time and time again.
Photos by Toto Labrador
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