With apologies to Jules Verne.
I was in Cebu for holiday last week and stayed at my favorite hotel, the Mactan Shangrila.
Long time friends from Cebu invited me out for dinner and suggested that I take a break from my usual gorging at Golden Cowrie and discover another restaurant, Lantaw in Cordova.
Why go all the way to the city they said, when Lantaw was right in Mactan Island, where I was staying? And why not, I said. So I agreed to take a cab from the hotel to meet up with them in Lantaw for dinner.
Little did I realize that Lantaw is at the edge of the island of Mactan, right on the pier in Cordova City. It was a good 30 minute cab ride from Shangrila, this on roads that had very little traffic.
The taxi driver was quite apologetic when he explained that my destination was literally at the end of the road.
And true enough -- Lantaw's parking area is at the very edge of the old pier of Barangay Day-as, Cordova City. Right across the expanse of dark water are the twinkling lights of Cebu City.
Such a pretty sight -- it certainly was worth it after the long ride.
Lantaw calls itself a "floating restaurant" since it sits right on top of the water. You walk across a wooden bridge to reach the first dining area. The thatched roof is lit up and looks golden, like a beacon in the evening darkness.
For atmosphere and ambience alone, it already scored high points with me. However, I am sure it is much more attractive and comfortable at night but horribly hot and humid during the day.
From the main entrance, a large open dining area is already full of diners. While we had no reservations, we were lucky enough to find one of the last empty tables for ourselves.
Beyond the open dining area is another large floating platform, this time covered with a canvas tent. More brightly lit and with bigger tables, it looked ideal for big groups.
The beer was extra cold! More points for Lantaw on my list! With its casual, convivial feel, soft mood lighting from the native lamps and the panorama of Cebu City's lights in the background, Lantaw also feels more like a huge open air bar rather than the restaurant that it really is.
Because it is where it is, Lantaw is essentially a seafood place. Crabs, shrimps, native clams, scallops and fish dominate the menu.
Naturally, the ubiquitous crispy pata, lechon kawali, inihaw na liempo were also available. It wouldn't be a Pinoy restaurant without these favorites.
I really wanted to try the house specialty -- saang or spider shells which I had never tried before. Unfortunately, they had run out so I made do with the tried and tested baked scallops.
On the plus side, they were fat and fresh -- however, the heavy hand the chef had with the cheese and garlic drowned out their delicate taste.
Since I couldn't get the saang, the waiter suggested I try their other specialty -- bakasi or small eels which are found in the waters of Cebu but are particularly plentiful in the Cordova area, which is where Lantaw is situated.
These are eels grow to 6 to 8 inches in length and Lantaw serves them fried or in a sour, sinigang style soup which they call nilarang.
We ordered bakasi both fried and nilarang and I can't say I became an instant fan.
It's too spiny, not so fleshy and has a slightly bitter aftertaste.
However, my bigger issue was the thought that I was probably eating something that is not sustainable and that by ordering bakasi, I was perhaps adding to the depletion of this species.
In any case, I don't think I will be having this again.
A grilled boneless milkfish is at least something I know is completely farmed and therefore not in any danger of being endangered.
We also ordered calamares which was crisp and a good match with my second bottle of cold San Miguel beer.
Our very efficient and attentive waiter suggested the Lantaw special which is much like Bicol express although they use seafood instead of pork bits. It came in a coconut half shell and was creamy with just the right spice and kick. Great for eating with the pandan flavored rice.
All in all, Lantaw ... the light at the edge of Mactan Island was a good discovery on this Cebu trip.
While the food was not spectacular or even memorable, the native hut, the open air setting, the cool sea breeze and most specially, the vista of Cebu City's lights and skyline spread out before you as you drink a cold bottle of beer ... these definitely make it worth a visit!