What happens when you fail to plan ahead for a long weekend? You are met with fully booked flights for almost all Southeast Asian countries (for first class, business class, economy class and even no class seats) and slapped on the face with fully booked hotels, be it high end or boutique, in local destinations.
But you can’t be bitter about missing Bangkok or Boracay when nearby there is the ever reliable destination that is Tagaytay! Gas? Check! E-pass? Check! Sweaters, shawls and sunglasses? Check! Music? Check! Appetite, check! Rooooaaad trrriiipppp!!!
First tip when heading to Tagaytay: Survive the nightmare that is the Sta. Rosa exit by investing in (or borrowing) an E-Pass, a blessing that the Virgin Mare brought on our last trip. Truth be told, it will save you from the hellish wait of what could be a solid hour just to hop the short distance between the Expressway and the tollgate on a long weekend.
Tired after the drive? Easy pick-me-ups are available at Bag of Beans. Aside from the original shop on the Tagaytay-Nagusbu Highway, a definite bottleneck on long weekends due to the volume of its customers, Bag of Beans has opened a more accessible shop beside the BPI nearest the rotonda that now showcases yet another figure of former Senator Ninoy Aquino. Here you may enjoy their House Blend (bottomless!) which is an Arabica-Robusta mix, or try some Mountain Grown Pure Arabica, which is excellent. Enjoy this over a shepherd’s pie or a steak and mushroom pie. It makes for lovely cold weather merienda.
For a fancy dinner, if you are not a Highlands member (darn those snooty places!), make a reservation at Antonio’s Fine Dining. After all these years, it has only gotten better. The hammocks have been dispensed with to accommodate the much needed bigger dining space but the ambiance of rustic opulence has been maintained. Whet your appetite and get the conversation going with the signature sangria and brave the meats. The Antonio’s trio of beef fillet and lamb loin is highly recommendable (honestly, it’s large enough for three girls), although Dr. Alfajor swears that the minted veal cheeks and goat cheese ravioli is better than sex. I cannot quite accurately use the same gauge for such hedonistic comparison but there must have been some truth to it as the Virgin Mare agreed.
Make the trip worth it by indulging in greens. At Antonio’s – whether at the Fine Dining or Breakfast – the salads are from their own backyard and are superb. If you are lucky enough to have a friend with a farm, go visit! We were welcomed by Mariela Luna and Tony Cancio of Kanin Club and Cafe Breton to their farm in Upper Silang and we indulged in the best pizza ever using fresh Italian oregano and arugula right from their garden and baked in their brick oven.
On a mission to go green, this amazing couple plants herbs and veggies that they now use in their restaurants. They have also been experimenting with alternative green sources of energy like solar panels and a wind turbine. As for recycling, they used recycled materials in constructing their house – or should we say hacienda – and they utilize restaurant waste as fertilizer. Tagaytay (and contiguous area) residents are proving that going green is great and that it can be done even in a province of a third world country!
The latest addition to the rustic restaurants is Marcia Adams. Brick walls, trellis, a view of the hills and at night the moon – the place is beautiful. But what appears to be a Tuscan-inspired restaurant serves Mediterranean-inspired food. Nevertheless these are hearty and pounding with flavor. Marcia is definitely a good cook and this restaurant has much promise. But do NOT go on a hectic weekend. They are undermanned and cannot handle too many diners as yet. The weekend crowd on the day we went missed their noontime reservations and the restaurant incorrectly accommodated the latecomers at the expense of those who reserved for a later hour but arrived on time. Boo.
Marcia’s husband Neil, a very pleasant but evidently baffled man, instead of seating us said “bear with us” – which we did – then offered his homemade bread and cheese. “I’ll give you some nibbles,” he said with a smile and we smiled back. We waited an hour and a half for both the nibbles and the seating; the bread finally arrived without the cheese; then mid-way through our meal, perhaps to cap the unpleasant service, we were told that they might have to move us to another table “if you don’t mind” to accommodate their 6 p.m. reservation. If not for the Riesling – and the delicious meal – our group of alpha females would have lost it. But that weekend was the exception, I hope, rather than the rule. Now the menu appears to change daily but if you chance upon the Corsican beef stew, order it with couscous. Marcia cooks this excellently.
If you want to stay within the vicinity of the rotonda, visit Happy Ongpauco’s Pamana Restaurant. Sadly, Barrio Fiesta and Bakahan at Manukan have been left behind by the new Filipino restaurants that have cropped up in the metro but Happy keeps their family heritage alive with this tribute. The menu is filled with family-inspired recipes; the walls have family pictures, and antique furniture completes the message of keeping memories of yesteryears. Do order the bulalo sinigang and the pancit. These are budget friendly, big enough to share and taste like home.
Finally, buy some espasol from the street vendors. Maybe if enough of us buy they will make them again in the lakatan size of yesteryears instead of today’s pathetic señorita size in lakatan clothing! Oh, and don’t go home without visiting the nuns of Good Shepherd. Their ube (purple yam dessert) is still one of Tagaytay’s bestsellers and it wouldn’t hurt to say a little prayer before the long drive home. •
Antonio’s Fine Dining. Purok 138, Barangay Neogan, Tagaytay. 0918-8992866. By reservation only. 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Wheelchair access is limited. Antonio’s Breakfast (same address and number). No reservations required. 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Wheelchair accessible. Major credit cards accepted for both.
Bag of Beans. 3650 Aguinaldo Highway, Mendez Crossing West, Tagaytay City, Cavite. Major credit cards accepted. No reservations required. Tel. (046) 413-2724. http://bagofbeanstagaytay.net/
Bahay Pastulan; Good Shepherd. Watch for the big sign near kilometer 61 of the Tagaytay highway. It’s about a kilometer away from the famed Picnic Grove. Watch out for a sign saying Maryridge that will point the way to the single-laned street of the store.
Cafe Breton. G/F The Cliff House Emilio Aguinaldo Highway, Rotonda, Tagaytay City. Tel. (046) 413-2110. No reservations required. Major credit cards accepted.
Kanin Club. Paseo de Sta. Rosa, Tagaytay Road corner Laguna Blvd., Sta. Rosa Business Park (049) 544-0332. Major credit cards accepted. No reservations required. Wheelchair accessible.
Marcia Adams. JP Rizal, Bgy Sikat, 4123 Alfonso. Get to the Alfonso arc, make an immediate right. 0917-8011456. Reservations required. Facebook: Marcia Adams Restaurant. [email protected] Cash basis only. Not wheelchair accessible unless you are willing to be carried down the steps. Three-course meal including appetizer and dessert approx. P800.