The family has just spent a most fabulous weekend in Punta Fuego and Tagaytay City and will be posting the pictures tomorrow.
Allow me to let you in on a secret: while New York is my most favorite city in the whole world, Tagaytay is my favorite city in the Philippines. Surely, there are no comparisons between the two but I am simply enamored by Tagaytay’s dainty charm, its cool weather, enchanting greenery and of course, the majestic view of Taal Volcano. This is the reason why am paying an arm and a leg for a piece of land 20 minutes from this city and it is here where hopefully I will build my dream house next year.
Surprisingly, I have been to Tagaytay only with my friends and kids, not with a special someone. Still, this has not stopped me from enjoying its scenery and culinary offerings to the hilt. My most precious Tagaytay memories consist of climbing the volcano and then sailing around Taal Lake on an official tour with former Phivolcs chief Raymundo Punongbayan, sampling the numerous offerings of the high-end Tagaytay Highlands, horseback riding near Casino Filipino, roaming around the Mahogany Market, enjoying a leisurely lunch at Tagaytay Picnic Grove and trying out the different restos: yummy native food at RSM, foie gras and spanferckel (boneless suckling pig) at Antonio’s, gelato at Massimo’s, steak & kidney pies at Bag O’ Beans, coffee and pasta at Sanctuario Cafe which is very small yet intimate and is one of my “must” stop-overs in Tagaytay.
Although the city can be toured in one day, there are still other places I haven’t been to and which I promise to go to one of these days: Nurture Tropical Spa with its authentic Ifugao huts, Sonya’s Garden Bed and Breakfast, the Flower Farm and Ming’s Garden. Other must-see’s in Tagaytay are the Marcoses former guesthouse, the People’s Park in the Sky; the mini-zoo at Residence Inn; and the St. Anne’s Shrine which houses a life-size statue of St. Anne and the child Mary.
For this trip, the family checked in at Taal Vista Hotel which is reputedly now Tagaytay’s biggest hotel with newly-renovated 128 rooms overlooking the verdant gardens and Taal Lake. It was good that the hotel fronted a McDonald’s branch where the kids feasted on spaghetti and fries ( the servers sporting flowers on their hair a la Jasmine Trias did not inspire my appetite though; ditto with the singer’s posters all over the place).
After relaxing in the bath tub, Harrassed Mom attended the Flavors of Spain foodfest in the hotel’s picturesque Cafe-on-the-Ridge. Unlike other events I went to in the past months which teemed with Tsinoys, this one had the whole Tisoy community in attendance including the Ambassador of Spain, the Zobels, Elizaldes, Berenguers, etc. The one exception was taipan Henry Sy. His low-key simplicity overlooked the fact that he owns the hotel, the majority shares in Tagaytay Highlands and all those giant SM supermalls. How boring it must be to be that rich!
For the dinner, I had to brush up on my Spanish 101. The tapas table had the usual tortilla, croquetas, bacalao with garlic, champinones (mushrooms) al ajillo and mejillones (mussels) en salsa verde. The capsicum in olive oil as well as the artichokes (alcachofas) with vinaigrette sauce looked good enough for the Fear Factor but I tasted then and they proved to be surprisingly edible.
The gazpacho was too cold for me and would have been good if I was in a more humid climate. Likewise, I skipped the salad bar which had ensalada Valenciana and proceeded to the carvery which had jamon de cerdo asado (roast pork leg with peppercorn sauce) as its centerpiece. Yes, Emeril is right when he chants “Pork fat rules!” There is nothing more delectable than melt-in-the-mouth pork fat, eaten of course in moderation. There was paella and a full selection of entrees but I particularly liked the callos, the frita de pulpo (octopus fried Spanish-style), the roast lamb with potatoes and the estofado de rabo de torro al vino tinto Rioja or oxtail with Rioja wine (Rioja being a common Spanish wine). For that extra poundage, the diners had the option to end their meal with any of the tempting desserts such as crema catalana, turrones de alicante and milhojas de calabaza (pumpkin delice).
Guest chef for the promotion was Mikel Arriet Arruiz who worked with the Michelin-rated Martin Berasategi resto in Spain. From Mikel, we learn that Spanish cooking is all about the use of olives, olive oil, chicken, seafood, sherry, fish, garlic and of course saffron, the world’s most expensive spice which Spain produces in abundance. I think I also heard it from somebody before that Spaniards take their lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner between 9 to 10 p.m. What a way to eat!
Thankfully, the long years of Spanish rule in the Philippines ensure that we will always have the Spanish influence in our cooking, not only in fiesta fare like callos and paella but also our cocido, mechado, afritada, leche flan and tens of other things.