I have very distinct memories of Taal Vista Hotel because it’s such a stalwart of the place that it’s practically synonymous with Tagaytay. If you lived in Manila, and in my case—the South—you would inevitably find yourself there several times a year at certain points in your life. One of my most memorable is also the silliest. It was back in the late ’90s, when my friends and I found ourselves daring to each other to roll down the long and empty carpeted hallway leading to the rooms. I believe the three of us literally laid down on the carpet and rolled all the way down.
These memories literally came rushing back when I saw that hallway again recently. I very nearly didn’t because that area in the Mountain Wing is being renovated, but as we left our rooms, bags in tow, one of the staff politely called our attention and showed us a shorter route to the main hotel…and it was the hallway of my youth. You know how certain memories make you go, “Well, it was a good idea at the time?” This one made me think that but also, well, it will always be a good idea.
Another one that also comes to mind while roaming the gardens was when on another one of our visits, this time with family, beauty-queen-turned singer Maritoni Daya was shooting the MTV for her song, “Kung Alam Ko Lang,” which went on to become a pretty big hit it must be said. In the subsequent and frequent airings of the video of that song, I would remember with a fond prosaic-ness that I was there on the sidelines when they shot that. There are countless other visits—relatives from abroad in tow, spur of the moment drives, a birthday, a wedding.
The history and heritage of Taal Vista Hotel are literally written on its walls. Its long and storied history is available for anyone’s perusal. Even with the succession of developers and operators (now SMDC), the vision for the hotel’s future and expansion always came with the provision that its heritage—symbolized perhaps by the Tudor-inspired architecture and the lush sloping and multilevel gardens overlooking Taal—will always be preserved. Even with other establishments popping up as the developments in Tagaytay in recent years have been at a rapid pace, Taal Vista Hotel’s location offers the most gorgeous and most expansive views of Taal Volcano and Lake, bar none. In that sense, Taal Vista remains singular.
I have stayed at rooms located at both the Lake Wing and the Mountain Wing and while they both offer unparalleled views, as well as private balconies wherein it could be enjoyed, I prefer the recently renovated Ridge Room a bit more. There is a cave-like intimacy to the room, (is that even a thing) because of the architecture of this particular part of the hotel. Even from inside the room, the buttress frames Taal like a postcard. You feel ensconced. It’s as if it’s just you, the forest and the mountains. The ridge rooms have been renovated recently (other room renovations are still under way), and I like the minimalist depictions of the local flora in the room mural. It could use a bit more gussying up, perhaps a finishing touch or two in terms of accessories, but nothing beats the view. As COOK magazine Advertising Manager Marlon Aldenese threw the remnants of several durian seeds he brought in from a recent trip in Davao (don’t worry, Taal Vista, it was just the flesh in a sealed plastic container, not the fruit!) into the lush sloping forest, we like to think a durian tree will eventually grow there.
Taza and Veranda:
Certified Fresh (breaker)
Taza Fresh Table, the fine-dining restaurant of Taal Vista which has been under the auspices of Chef Jayme Natividad, remains superb. On our (COOK magazine team) first visit, around two years ago, we were blown away by the food. On our return, sampling a combination of both the seasonal and the regular menu we’re still blown away. The Avocado and Roasted Tomato Salad which feature oven-roasted tomatoes, avocado, local mozzarella, basil and reduced balsamic vinegar is definitely a refreshing opener. Salads are quite beefy these days, which I definitely prefer, and you can definitely dig into the thick slices of tomatoes and avocado which are lined up like an accordion.
The Broccoli Soup, a roasted broccoli confit, cheddar and mozzarella, crème fraiche, is lovely that even the croutons deserved a savory mention. We literally all looked up from sipping and went, “ang sarap nu’ng croutons!” The tender Tomahawk Porkchop looms large and can feed a horde. We are not a horde, but we eat like one. The steaks, an Australian Grass-fed Angus prepared sous vide with potatoes and thyme and a local wagyu ribeye from Bukidnon are cooked perfectly (*kisses fingers*). Taza always had some of the best homemade fresh pasta anywhere, and with the duck and mushroom lasagna still fresh in our minds even from two years ago, the velvety fettuccine with saffron cream and prawns from the seasonal menu did not disappoint. The Mushroom and Spinach Matagliati, a trio of fresh mushrooms (oyster, shiitake and button, all locally sourced) creme fraiche and truffle oil, is both rich and earthy and this flavor profile is always right up my alley. The Braised Australian Beef Short Ribs with roasted carrots, haricot verts, roasted squash, gremolata, is so tender and weather-perfect, and also made me realize that we ate all the meat in the world. Good thing there was the Pan Seared Sea Bass with smoked tomatoes, haricot verts, marble potatoes and anchovy cream, which tastes as good as it sounds. The subtle flavors of an exceedingly pretty milky fuschia hued hibiscus ice cream topped with a candied but slightly tangy hibiscus flower is the perfect end note to this wonderful culinary panoply.
The next day at breakfast, as if we haven’t gorged on the buffet enough, we were also treated to a classic combination of the tomato soup and grilled cheese combination from the Taza kitchen with their usual stamp of freshness and utter deliciousness. Just before leaving, we had a little merienda cena at Veranda, and I shouldn’t have said a little because it’s a lot. The ginataang bilo bilo is an explosion of flavors, the glutinous balls combined with a rich gata and ube. I can honestly say it’s the only ginataan I’ve had that I liked as much as my mother’s. The lomi is overflowing with ingredients, and the broth is clearer than is traditional which is eggy, but still homey and worth noisy slurps. The Maruya is so light and airy and served still piping hot, akin more to a beignet and tasted like a fried puffy cloud. Nothing is more comforting on a rainy afternoon, and it was the day of Typhoon Ompong (international code name Mangkhut), but Tagaytay was only experiencing slightly more than a light rainfall, which is common in these parts. It is not an exaggeration to say that we didn’t eat anything those two days that wasn’t exceedingly delicious. The combination of Chef Jayme’s skills and the quality of produce available in this province always makes for a superb dining experience.
Being here on a weekday during the last breather before the Christmas season is quite nice. It’s still quiet and relaxing, and the air is beginning to be cooler. Because Tagaytay is so near and people in Manila are there so often that we all tend to take the view of Taal Volcano for granted. But seen from other people’s eyes—in this case through an American friend who liked a photograph of it on IG, and lemme tell ’ya, she’s a rare “liker,” and I thought, yeah, that view’s pretty LIT.