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The taste of care

By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

THERE are at least three ways to get lost at Mrs. Saldo’s Bespoke Private Dining. One, it’s located in a woodsy part of Silang, Cavite; two, they have a well-stocked, temperature-controlled wine cellar; and three, you can just get lost in the work of “Mrs. Saldo” (Actually Mrs. Rizzo; more on that later), trained as she was by Gaggan Anand.

BusinessWorld was taken on a trip to Silang with other media guests during the first week of October to go visit Mrs. Saldo’s. We were quite lucky: apparently, lunch at Mrs. Saldo’s has a two-month waiting list. “That’s something that we’re working on. I don’t like just saying ‘no’,” said Rhea Rizzo, Mrs. Saldo’s co-founder, along with her husband, David.

First, Ms. Rizzo explains the name: “I’m really a shy person. I don’t want to use my name in anything. It’s just my personality.” During a dinner with friends conceptualizing the name of the restaurant (which opened in 2021), they liked the name “Saldo” on the label of a red Zinfandel from Napa Valley. A friend from Argentina told them that “saldo” meant “balance” in Spanish. “I really liked the idea of that. I thought it was too masculine, so I added the ‘Mrs.’,” she said.

We had a taste of balance during our lunch, where Ms. Rizzo served appetizers of Egg and White Pepper Crab Sandwich, Beef Tarts with a Mango Veil, and Braised Pork; all paired with a Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Champagne NV. Of all these, the crab sandwich stood out, because of its nuanced simplicity that was both comforting and complex (not to mention how well it paired with the crisp champagne).

The next course was a Beef Salad with Cucumber Ice Cream, a play on contrasts in flavor and texture. The ice cream was a study in lightness; coupled with the smoky aggressiveness of the beef. Then came a pungent fish curry that awakened the nostrils wide open, but turned out to be spicy. These were paired with a Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc South Africa 2019, and the pairing made the fish curry sparkle. An Indonesian Chicken Satay and a Peranakan Lamb Curry were paired with a La Ferme du Mont Jugunda GSM Gigondas France 2018. This wine was the star of the show, fragrant as it was; and its tannic notes favored the lamb, its special partner. What could have been a fiery, cloying dish was given animation and liveliness with the addition of pineapple in the curry; and was heavy, fulfilling, and satisfying.

As one might notice, the wine pairings were just as much a part of the meal as the meal itself. Asked about their formidable wine selection, Ms. Rizzo said, “My husband is WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2-certified. We’re just both very passionate about it. If you like something, you try to learn as much as you can.”

More than the culinary expertise that guides Ms. Rizzo, there’s an emotional core to Mrs. Saldo’s, which might be the reason why people wait for months to go there (and to plunk down the P3,900 per head for the Asian Set Menu that we partially described; the wines are an extra P3,000 per head). A former marketing professional and a mother, she started tweaking her daughter’s diet to suit her special needs, even earning a Raw Vegan certification from Ubud.

In another story, she watched the Gaggan Anand episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Gaggan Anand is one of the world’s top-rated chefs, the founder of Bangkok’s Anand which consistently places on lists of the world’s top restaurants. In a fit of inspiration, she e-mailed and asked for training — and got it. She stayed there for about three months in 2017, training alongside people much younger than her. “I’m talking about kids here, leaving their country and the comforts of home… and just going for it. That’s so inspirational.

“We all have different nationalities, but we just speak the language of food,” she said.

She glowed when we raved about the Thai fish curry, which guests nibbled and savored, which we said tasted like it had been made with a lot of care. Asked how one knows when something has been made that way, she said, “I don’t know. It’s just because a lot of thought was given into a dish.”

Going back to the care in the curry, she said, “Exactly! So if you can tell from that, then absolutely — I can feel it also.”

“The technique and the ingredients are definitely important. (But) you have to cook from a space of care. Of thoughtfulness.”

A two-month waiting list to sit down and taste might sound like a dream, but Ms. Rizzo has another metric for success. “I wanted to open my own restaurant, and then you start employing people. And then you see that they’re also just as passionate as you are, and they care a lot.”

A second dining room upstairs is about to be converted into a small cooking school, while a bakery and coffee shop (cheekily called Mrs. Saldough’s) are across a garden. “I want to make sure I do a good job. Not just for me, but for them.”

Mrs. Saldo’s is located at Lot 5664 Brgy. Malabag, Silang, Philippines. For more information and reservations, all 0917-100-2983 or e-mail mrssaldosprivatedining@gmail.com, or visit the website at mrssaldos.com.

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