Story and Photos by Chef Dino Datu
This time of the year is as good an excuse as any to head up to Tagaytay. Actually, the year-round breezes and spectacular view of Taal Volcano should be good enough reasons to visit. But come January and February, when the temperatures dip even further down, when the cool turns into chill, the drive up is even more worth it.
Depending on the time and day, driving to Tagaytay should take a little less than an hour from Makati. And unless you absolutely have to go on a weekend, I suggest picking another day or leaving very early to avoid the traffic. On peak days and times like Saturday and Sunday lunchtime, the volume of traffic around Metro Tagaytay can get crippling, potentially turning a lovely weekend drive into hours of sitting in the car, just waiting and staring at tail lights.
Driving up at noontime on a Friday as we did should be a breeze. And to fully enjoy the views and the food, it would be ideal to stay the night, enjoy the cool weather and drive down the next day, just everyone else is just heading up.
Tagaytay has turned into a foodie destination these past few years. Driving along its main highway, tourists are bombarded with choices on where to eat and where to stay. On our quick weekend road trip, we visit some of the newer offerings, as well as an institution in the Tagaytay hospitality landscape.
Taal Vista Hotel
Tagaytay City and Taal Vista Hotel have been intertwined ever since the lodge was built in the 1930s to promote tourism in the then small town. Built in the style of an English lodge, Taal Vista Hotel has seen Tagaytay’s growth over the decades to become a top tourist destination. Lording it over other establishments and situated on one of the finest locations in the city, Taal Vista Hotel’s views of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano are unmatched. The 261 well-appointed rooms and suites, plus ballrooms and functions rooms, means that the hotel can cater to anything, from a small family getaway to a large corporate convention.
Of course, aside from the views and the relaxing breeze, our trip to Tagaytay was all about the food and that’s exactly where we started. Arriving just a little past noon, we were ready and raring to sample the best of what Taal Vista Hotel had to offer.
Taza Fresh Table
I’ve been to Taza before, and had pleasant memories of the wonderful food it served. Friend and fellow food-writer Margaux Salcedo celebrated her birthday lunch at Taza over a year ago, and I got to sample its dishes alongside other foodies. Serving food to a group of local food writers and industry legends, like Glenda Barretto and Sandy Daza, can get unnerving, but to Chef Jayme Natividad’s credit, every dish was impeccable. Chef Jay, as he is fondly called, after all has worked for top New York restaurants for over a decade so he is no stranger to pressure. Places we mortals only read and dream about, such as Balthazar, Gramercy Tavern and Otto in New York, working alongside chefs and restaurateurs like Michael Anthony, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, provided Chef Jay with the knowledge and experience that he now shares with diners at Taza. With a pedigree such as his, Chef Jay could’ve opted to cook and serve whatever he wanted anywhere. But true to his humble and amiable self, Chef Jay chose a venue and a menu where he can let the ingredients shine, create food that is topnotch but still keeping it within reach.
The food at Taza is seasonal, organic and sustainable produce, cooked Mediterranean style. Taking the best of Greek, North African and Italian cuisines, applying classical French techniques results in food that is light, fresh and nourishing. Having sampled his cooking before, I was excited to let my colleagues at Cook get a taste of what Taza is all about.
Favorites include the Taza Salad, with quinoa, dried mangoes and beets served with wild arugula, farm-fresh romaine lettuce and micro greens and edible flowers in a tarragon vinaigrette. One of its pizzas, the Salsa Verde with Pancetta, is a must-try. It features its homemade pancetta and Laguna mozzarella cheese. The crust was thin and crispy and the topped with its own pancetta and creamy Laguna cheese.
We were served two pasta dishes, both reflecting Chef Jay’s experience with some of the world’s best Italian restaurants. The Duck and Mushroom Lasagne, with Laguna duck and a trio of Tagaytay mushrooms, was layered with thin sheets of pasta and creamy béchamel sauce and Parmesan cheese. Rich, earthy and quite filling in contrast to the other pasta dish served—the Lobster Fettuccine. The fettuccine was cooked perfectly, as was the Batangas Lobster, with the tomato sauce providing the tart punch and foil to the richness. Among all the dishes, though, my favorite has got to be the Tomahawk Pork Chop, a bone-in, 2-inch-thick slab of pork chop, grilled and smothered with caramelized onions and sweet banana. Sweet onions and bananas contrast with the juicy, savory brined pork. Cooked to a medium-well, still blushingly pink inside, the meat was tender, juicy with just the right amount of fat.
And just in case you still have room for dessert after that huge pork chop, Taza’s Olive Oil Ice Cream with glazed Tagaytay Pineapples makes for a perfect ending. Its Ube and Langka Cannoli is another must-try.
Chef Jayme Natividad has succeeded in using the best produce from Tagaytay and the surrounding provinces, and preparing them in the best ways. Fresh, sumptuous and organic while being sustainable is the way to go and, boy, is it ever so tasty.
Taal Vista Hotel’s newly renovated Veranda offers Filipino favorites and European specialties through Executive Chef Alessio Loddo. The bright and airy interiors of Veranda offer unparalleled views of Taal Lake giving diners the best views to go along with the specialty dishes. Among our favorites were the Rellenong Alimango, blue crab stuffed full of picked meat mixed with crab fat. Its Kare-Kare was also a hit, the sauce rich with ground peanuts and the oxtail, meltingly tender. The Veranda’s Grilled Pork Chop is also worth a try. A thick piece of perfectly grilled porkchop, stuffed with mushrooms and served over buttery mashed potato.
The Veranda also offers breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets at very reasonable prices. So whether it’s Filipino heirloom dishes you’re after or Continental favorites, The Veranda offers great food to match the spectacular view.