Authentic farm-to-table dining with a view
Terms such as “healthy eating” and “farm-to-table” may sound like clichés now, but are actually relevant. Chefs at Taal Vista Hotel want to do such meals right.
Veranda all-day dining restaurant and Taza specialty restaurant are using local organic produce, animals bred humanely, homemade pastas and sauces, artisan dairy products and sausages. Executive chef Alessio Loddo and executive sous chef Jayme Natividad are pursuing farm-to-table not as a fad, but as a passion.
“We try to use the best fresh ingredients available, and we try to work with the farms here,” says Loddo. “We visit them as much as possible and ask their farmers to grow something especially for us. We make everything from scratch to bring out the flavors and make the dishes healthier.”
In an interview with Inquirer Lifestyle, the chefs showed off their unique styles. Loddo artfully composes dishes with sculptural results. Natividad innovates his version of classic dishes.
Loddo is upping Taal Vista Hotel’s ante by raising it to international standards. When he opened Veranda, his goal was to offer a mix of familiar Filipino favorites such as the bulalo, retro dishes such as beef bourguignon and chicken a la Kiev.
The kids’ buffet slowly introduces vegetables—eggplant skewers, polpettes or fried balls of eggplant and cauliflower.
Still, Filipino cuisine dominates the menu. “We are a heritage hotel,” maintains Loddo. The fried tawilis, freshwater sardine from Taal Lake, marinated with calamansi and served with achara or green papaya relish, tops the appetizer items.
Veranda uses slow-cooking methods of old favorites. The kare-kare or oxtail stew contains toasted malagkit rice, while the peanut sauce is prepared from roasted and mashed peanuts. The homemade bagoong or sautéed shrimp paste uses small shrimps simmered for a long time. Loddo notes that the Caesar salad has a hint of bagoong in the dressing.
Next month, the restaurant will introduce heirloom recipes, just like grandmother’s cooking.
In Tagaytay, where bulalo or beef shank soup is the signature dish, Veranda prepares its broth for up to 42 hours. Moreover, the meat is simmered until it’s melt-in-your mouth tender.
Loddo prefers to keep the simplicity of the bulalo, with just black peppercorns and white or yellow corn, and a dash of fish sauce.
Loddo says that although kare-kare and bulalo are deceptively simple, the preparation is as time consuming as traditional Italian dishes. The bulalo’s Italian equivalent is the Milanese osso bucco, braised beef shank served with saffron risotto.
For dessert, Veranda is proud to use Davao chocolate for its dark chocolate ganache and mousses. The product is as good as Valrhona, the famous Belgian chocolate.
The kitchen also puts Tagaytay’s banana, the señorita, in the turon with ube jam, jackfruit and macapuno, served with vanilla sauce and dulce de leche, a confection of sweetened milk.
Loddo says that despite the demand for heritage cuisine, Veranda’s repertoire is international. The traditional lasagne Bolognese takes a long time to prepare with its homemade noodles, béchamel and Bolognese sauces, the latter made from scrap meat. The dough is prepared with organic eggs.
Another pride is the homemade ravioli stuffed with locally-grown organic spinach and fresh ricotta from carabao’s milk.
On his own
Since its opening in 2015, Taza has been a proponent of showcasing organic and artisanal produce. Natividad’s work experience in New York and California reinforced the work ethic of using quality local ingredients as simply as possible.
Yet he says he cooks more like Pino Luongo, author of “A Tuscan in the Kitchen,” who concocts food according to his tastes and instincts.
The salads taste as if they’ve been plucked from the backyard rather than masked in dressings. Natividad quotes Elizabeth Sy, president of SM Hotels and Resorts which runs Taal Vista, that the salad should come alive. One of her favorites is the signature Taza salad with quinoa, wild arugula, fresh romaine, micro-greens, beets, mangoes and blue ternate flowers for aplomb.
The garden-grown kale and barley salad is made luscious with roasted vegetable dressing and local ricotta.
Taza has been famous for its Batangas lobster over homemade fettucine and backyard-grown tarragon; juicy pork chop tomahawk and Bukidnon wagyu tomahawk; pompano glistening with genuine olive oil; and the Moroccan-style chicken with tzatziki, local turmeric ginger, cilantro and coconut rice.
Everybody clamors for the wood-fired salsa verde pizza topped with homemade pancetta and gooey local ricotta, and pizza with grilled vegetables enriched with sweet Laguna mozzarella and salty parmesan, earthy truffle oil and tarty balsamic glacé.
“I love sourness, sweetness, saltiness and crunch coming together in my mouth. That’s how I cook,” says Natividad.
There’s a sense of play in his dishes. Who would ever think of making alugbati or vine spinach salad stand out with salted egg and citrus vinaigrette?
For the cold weather, he prepares a thick and comforting potato and corn soup with roasted pepper. Among the popular new dishes are the duck confit with balsamic and honey glaze and lamb Bolognese with homemade ricotta. Taza also makes its own gluten-free pasta.
Making use of Tagaytay pineapple, Natividad whips up glazed pineapple with olive oil gelato or pineapple tarte tatin. Last Independence Day, he made sineguelas or Spanish plum ice cream using Tagaytay’s Mr. Moo milk, which was a hit.
He can make items not on the menu, such as the ribollita, vegetable stew using a thick tomato base with garden fresh herbs and bringing the flavors of eggplant, zucchini, carrots, celery and white beans together, topped with grilled bread.
“Everybody tends to do the same thing. You’ve got to be different to stand out,” he says. “I never follow a recipe. I always make it my own.” —CONTRIBUTED
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