By: James Z. Carpio

Famished after a long drive to Legazpi from Naga, my brother and I decided to dine at the now famous 1st Colonial Grill. It is located at one of the bigger malls in the city. When we set foot at the cozy restaurant, the cool air-conditioned temperature was a welcome respite. The place was full and luckily we saw a table in which previous patrons had just left. It’s lunch time.

There is a huge panoramic painting of majestic Mount Mayon with native Filipinos in regal pre-colonial attire. It was wonderful but I came here for the food. I was really excited to sample their dining experience because I have heard so many good reviews and have seen positive features on the internet and television.

Incidentally, the owners of the restaurant are friends of the family but of course I have remained objective and unbiased as I sampled their cuisine. We were to meet with them later at a different location at their branch in Daraga in the afternoon. That is why I decided to try their well lauded dishes without their presence first.

The food server quickly cleaned the table and set the table. We ordered tinapa rice, honey glazed squid, crispy pata and for dessert ice cream. The tinapa rice’s presentation was magnificent; there was smoked fish, salted eggs, green mangos, tomatoes and green onions. The sight is truly a feast for the eyes and a filling treat for the hungry. The honey glazed squid came with intricately chopped pepino and tomatoes. The presentation of the crispy pata can be described with just one word- heavenly.

I particularly liked the well-cooked crispy pata because it was crisp just right and it is very comfortable for my grinders. Sometimes, I do away with this viand because the level of cooking is not very good. I was pleasantly surprised that the crispy pata was remarkably delectable to the palate: evenly cooked and without a portion burnt. The squid was soft and sweet just simply delicious.

For the dessert which I think was a great adventure for any food lover was one of the best parts. That was what I have been waiting to experience for the longest time. We requested pili, chili, and burnt rice ice creams.

Spicy ice cream is there such a thing? A resounding yes! And what a glorious event it was. It is the only ice cream that has a long after taste of spicy goodness. Don’t drink water.The effect will disappear like a forgotten friend that you wished had never left.

The reputation is untarnished, truly first rate and world class. I have been there and done that and I even bought the t-shirt. But this experience proved me wrong. There can be new innovations that can be created to please the palate of every gourmand. We left the restaurant as happy well fed customers.

After about a couple of hours we went to Daraga’s branch for snacks and to meet up with the owners of 1st Colonial Grill. The gregarious Mr. Bong Aspe welcomed us with a beaming smile. Then later on we were joined by his stunning wife, Rowena.

Let the food parade begin: pasta bicolana, sisig pasta, kandingga pasta, bangus pasta. And followed by more ice cream flavors; malunggay, cacao, taro, salabat, and kalamansi ice cream. The over-all experience can be summed up again in one word: spicy. Now if you are not used to spicy food you can specifically request for a mild version but for those who want a fiery experience you will definitely not be disappointed. You can even try the Level II mode. A feature reserved for the select few who simply love them supra hot .

An afterthought, this Bicolano innovative gastronomic delight continues to draw in varied local and foreign clientele. If I have a guest visiting Naga I would surely take then to the recently opened branch here and another soon to open along the Quince Martires Plaza. Last one for the road, a must try, is a non-alcoholic medicinal innovatively concocted drink by a well renowned Bicolanomixologist the “Albay Langkawas Punch”. Ten percent of proceeds go to scholars. Inspired, I told Sir Bong that he can have a free ad space on my blog to also contribute for the funds for the students. Something this wonderful is truly worth the while.

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