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Chef Florabel serves love in a bowl

By THERESE JAMORA-GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 03, 2022 5:00 am

Now that we can travel freely, one of the Pinoy’s favorite pastimes is to go out of town to relax, see the sights, and eat.

And sometimes, getting there can be more than half the fun.

One destination restaurant worth going to, which is little more than an hour’s drive south of Manila, is Love-A-Bowl, a new concept created by chef Florabel Co and her husband, businessman Chris Yatco.

Worth the trip: Love-A-Bowl at Km. 36 of SLEX in Biñan, Laguna

On the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) headed towards Laguna, stop at the Caltex station in Biñan and turn inside. Wend your way past Sisa’s Secret, another Florabel restaurant popular for its home-cooked Filipino flavors and takeaway delights, and go to the very end of the complex, where you’ll see a charming, bungalow-style resto with lots of parking in front.

The charming restaurant is designed for the new normal, with a wall of Sisa’s Secret take-home treats on the right side.

This is Love-A-Bowl, whose pun-ny name was supplied by Chris, “because it sounds like ‘lovable’ — best word to describe my wife and her food,” the entrepreneur says.

Chef Florabel Co-Yatco and husband, businessman Chris Ponce Yatco: “Since the pandemic it's always my husband who pushes me, kasi kung ako, I really want to be a housewife again,” laughs Florabel.

“And then we really wanted a concept with everything in a bowl,” adds Florabel.

Consequently, Love-A-Bowl’s menu offers all sorts of Pinoy comfort foods in bowls: rice toppings, goto, batchoy, lugaw, pares, and all-day breakfasts that come with free coffee or iced tea from 7-10 a.m.

Lugaw Halo-Halo is so comforting and good.
All-day breakfast: Twice-Cooked Chicken Adobo with Hamonado Longganisa comes with free coffee or iced tea from 7-10 a.m. daily.

Bestsellers include Angus Beef Bulgogi with Cheese and Kimchi Rice (P298, with a Spicy Chicken version for P10 less), Twice-Cooked Chicken Adobo with Laing Rice (P288), and Boneless Chicken BBQ with Java Rice (P278).

Bestseller: Angus Beef Bulgogi with Cheese and Kimchi Rice

“During the pandemic we opened (in October 2021), but it was two years in the making because it was hit by the pandemic,” Florabel says. “My husband really wanted to open something more comforting, you know, more sabaw, more soup. But still, the market of Sisa is different from the market of Love-A-Bowl, because at Sisa, like the titas, they would still want to choose. At Love-A-Bowl, more of the millennials or more folks just want to eat simple arroz caldo.

Boneless Chicken BBQ with Java Rice

The tip to millennials and Gen-Z can be seen in the presence of a robot waiter, or in the Korean-inspired fare on the menu, like the bulgogi and chicken wings that taste like Korean fried chicken.

Worthy of the ’Gram: A robot waiter is a high-tech touch.

I ordered the Lugaw with Tokwa, Dilis & Peanuts myself (P238), and it was so comforting and good: hot, tasty, with different textures I could really sink my teeth into.

Seafood standout: Salmon Belly and Eggplant Miso

For my main I tried the Salmon Belly with Eggplant Miso (P338), and the eggplant was such a standout that my vegan colleague Kathy Moran said she could eat a whole plate of it by itself.

Sizzling Beef Pares with Garlic Rice

Love-A-Bowl also offers excellent beef pares with garlic rice or noodles, Tendon Pares with Bone Marrow and noodles; and Grilled Liempo with Bagoong Rice (P288) for the carnivores among us.

The restaurant is perfectly designed for the new normal, with a spacious alfresco area, big fans to circulate the air when the resto is open to the outdoors, and state-of-the-art air-conditioning when it’s not.

Beef Tendon Pares with Bone Marrow

And yes: Chris even supplied the robot waiter who brings your order to your table — not only an adorable, high-tech touch but also very worthy of the ’Gram. “There’s a distributor here but the robot came from China,” he chuckles.

Chris met Florabel through a common friend, architect Rolly Mercado. “He mentioned Florabel to me,” Chris relates. “Sabi niya, ‘I have a friend, medyo kahawig mo. You look similar.’ So one day a friend invited me to go to Megamall, and then we decided to eat at her restaurant, so I met her that night.”

Heart-y breakfast: Tablea Champorado

Continues Florabel, “That was the first year that I opened the restaurant, so a friend of mine helped me in the dining since I'm in charge of the kitchen. Fortunately, that friend is a longtime friend of his friend.”

Summer coolers: Love-A-Bowl’s Halo-Halo and Mais Con Hielo

So what did Florabel serve Chris to win his heart through his stomach? “He loves burgers, so I gave him a foie gras burger.” It apparently sealed the deal. The couple now has four kids and lives happily in Alabang.

Chris, who owns and runs the Caltex complex together with his family, encouraged Florabel to set up Sisa’s Secret first and then Love-A-Bowl. “Since the pandemic it's always my husband who pushes me, kasi kung ako, I really want to be a housewife again,” Florabel laughs.

Together with Chris’ family they’ve developed the 3.6-hectare complex into a place where you can find not only everything you’d ever want to eat and drink, but also a destination where you can shop and ride go-karts in an air-conditioned space. Chris built a Brick Barn that houses a shopping bazaar, Macao Imperial Tea, the go-kart track, and pay lounges where people can take that “pause that refreshes” in spanking-clean facilities.

On display: A Porsche and Mercedes from Chris’ vintage car collection

Their food trucks, like Floring’s BBQ to go and Mr. Franks hotdogs and nachos, dot the complex. Chris has a vintage Porsche and Mercedes on display from his collection, and he even bought a red double-decker bus that was initially supposed to be the site of Love-A-Bowl, but now he’s thinking he might turn into a barbershop instead.

Whatever he decides, as we left with our appetites sated and comforted by Love-A-Bowl, and pasalubong bags of egg pandesal, pan de coco, Spanish and monggo bread and pianono from Sisa’s Secret, it’s obvious that this enterprising couple have maximized the space that they have to offer travelers and neighboring communities a hub that the whole family can enjoy.

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Love-A-Bowl is located at Km. 36, South Luzon Expressway Southbound, Mamplasan, Biñan City, Laguna. To order, call 0917-189-2512. Follow on IG and Love – A – Bowl on FB for more info.