A difficult task was laid out before me: a food tour of Cavite including Silang, Indang, Alfonso and Tagaytay.
Girding my belly for such an assignment, I discovered that while there are a lot of good restaurants in the area, the food served was improved and made more enjoyable because of the province's beautiful scenery and serene surroundings.
Chateau Hestia is a relatively new place nestled in the heart of Barangay Sukal, Silang, Cavite. Many city folk often go for day trips just to have lunch in Chateau, said manager Lope Torres. The restaurant has warm lights, European home accents, and brick walls that lend a comfy, cluttered feel. Owners Johannes Zehethofer and Maria Flora Falcon injected personal touches to improve the ambiance and make it conducive for relaxation and gastronomic appreciation.
There's a well-stocked deli where you can find European cheeses and wines from Spain, Australia and France. The menu is a mixture of European flavors, a fusion of Austrian and Mediterranean cuisine.
We sipped Beronia Rioja Reserva, a red wine suggested by Chateau Hestia's executive chef, Natalia Moran, and nibbled on homemade focaccia with eggplant sauce, oyster mushrooms fried to a crisp and served with fresh tomato salsa and mango beurre blanc.
Other dishes we tried included Reale Pizza topped with prosciutto, pancetta, salami, bresaola (air-dried salted beef, aged for two months) pepperoni, speck, trancio and ground sirloin; Say Cheese pizza with mozzarella, pecorino, scamorza, asiago, taleggio, and gorgonzola; Pasta di Mare, a combination of scallops and prawns in tomato sauce; Beef Polenta Lasagna; Baked Spinach and Cannelloni. Those were just the appetizers.
The main courses served were Osso Bucco Milanese, Baked Salmon and Sauteed Shrimps, and Fried Pumpkin Chicken. The Osso Bucco was made with beef shanks slowly braised in a rich tomato sauce. The baked salmon is a must-try-lemon-and-pepper-crusted salmon fillets served over potato gnocchi, shrimp and fresh vegetables. The pumpkin butter-filled chicken was fried till golden brown and served with mushroom sauce and scalloped potatoes.
Chateau Hestia has a total area of two hectares including herb and vegetable farms where many of the ingredients are sourced. The meats and cheeses are imported from Europe. After eating, guests can walk and take in the beauty of the property's expansive gardens and walkways.
Bawai's Vietnamese Kitchen
If you're looking for something authentic, warm and unpretentious in the Tagaytay-Cavite area, then Bàwai's is perfect for you. The quaint little restaurant offers charm, good food and great service aplenty.
Hidden from the main road of Silang en route to Tagaytay, the restaurant is built on the second floor of an unassuming but well-designed modern house. You need to book your lunch or dinner in advance here, folks.
The entire space is well thought out, you feel as if you are in a familiar space like the house of your lola. In fact, Bàwai is derived from the Vietnamese word ba ngoai, which means grandmother.
The proprietors, the Tatlonghari family, are of Vietnamese-Filipino descent themselves; they see the restaurant as "a way of celebrating Filipino traditions and our Vietnamese heritage," according to Paul Tatlonghari, corporate communications officer of the restaurant.
We were served appetizers like Goi Rau Muong, fresh watercress salad with wild herbs and seared beef tips; Goi Cuon, fresh rolls with steamed prawns, caramelized pork, vermicelli noodles and vegetables; and Gha Gio, fried roll filled with chicken and pork, served with greens and the house dressing.
I have tasted lots of Vietnamese vegetable rolls, but theirs are special-the prawns are big and the vegetables really fresh. The mains included Com Suon Cha, double grilled pork belly with mushroom egg pie; Ga Quinhon, seared, hickory-smoked chicken; and Bung Rieu, mixed crab and egg noodle soup with pork ribs and fresh tomatoes. The dessert was Ban Da Lon, pandan and yellow mung bean rice cake. Bàwai's is a great restaurant for people looking for a refreshing and unique Vietnamese restaurant.
Balay Indang is a rustic and serene B&B in the town of Mendez in Indang. It is a great alternative to the busy and congested Tagaytay Ridge.
The house, rooms, and restaurant are an eclectic mix of Spanish-Filipino, Southeast Asian and Western interior designs. Balay Indang uses herbs and vegetables sourced from the nearby hydroponic herb and vegetable garden, Yoki's farm. Menus can be customised for vegetarian guests as well but visitors need to book in advance.
Try their fresh green salads and delicious fresh fruit juices. My favourite dish was their fresh Tuna with Light Wasabi Sauce. The tuna was crisp and juicy while the wasabi added a wonderful kick.
There's a secret garden in the compound where guests can meditate and rest. Those who book a room can look forward to fireflies in the evening.
The Dining Room
With a façade straight from Mykonos or Santorini, The Dining Room promises Mediterranean cuisine even before guests are seated.
Highly recommended are their Greek salads with ingredients sourced from their own farms. The adjoining culinary institution in Tagaytay, The Gourmet Farms, is a sister company. Try their Mediterranean pizza; chicken, lamb and beef kebabs; bolognese pasta sprinkled with Greek cheese; and shawarma with homemade dressing.
The Lake District
Cool and hip interiors, great continental cuisine, and a second-floor al fresco pub area with amazing views of the Taal Caldera-that sums up The Lake District. Proprietor Carlo Medina says that this restaurant is his baby, a dream project that made him leave his corporate job.
Executive chef Francis Tolentino served us Baked Pork Ribs flavored with their homemade barbecue sauce; Tawilis Pasta with garlic oil in linguine pasta; and Deconstructed Bulalo, crispy shredded beef brisket on top of rolled pechay leaves stuffed with spicy rice, pureed cream corn on the side, bone marrow and bulalo soup served on the side.
For the dessert, we tried the Choco Cornball in butterscotch sauce, chocolate truffles stuffed with cornflakes, peanuts and Nutella in a butterscotch sauce with vanilla ice cream. Their coffee is made with beans sourced from the proprietors' coffee farm in Amadeo, Cavite.
For good-priced Pinoy food in Cavite, Balinsasayaw is the place to go. The restaurant is named after the species of birds found in El Nido, Palawan, hometown of the proprietors.
Try their Chicken Binakol, chicken tinola with coconut juice and coconut meat; classic bulalo with bone marrow served with generous portions of meat in a hot soup with vegetables; Pansit Buko Guisado; and sweet and sour lapu-lapu.
The house specialty is bird's nest soup that is thick and hearty.
Marcia Adams restaurant
At Marcia Adams in Alfonso, Cavite, it's as if you've been transported to a villa in Tuscany. There are brick walls, exposed wooden beams, and huge arching windows that look out to vast green fields.
The dishes are decidedly Mediterranean-inspired. Try their Aegean Salad filled with grilled pears, mixed greens and Italian ricotta; and the Italian Pork Chop seasoned with fennel and pepper. The pork chop is expertly cooked, its delicious aroma of fennel and pepper lending the dish an elegant simplicity rarely found in restaurant dishes today.
Taal Vista Hotel
Taal Vista Hotel has always been my go-to hotel in Tagaytay. The hotel was our base of operations when trying out all these establishments in Cavite. The breakfast and lunch buffet is very choice, and the views of the Taal Caldera from the hotel are astonishing.
I have fond childhood memories spent playing on the immaculate lawn, even if my late mother's favourite anecdote was when I broke out in rashes after rolling around the grass as a toddler. Apparently, my body was still not yet accustomed to so much nature and we had to cut our Tagaytay vacation short because of that.
Taal Vista is still the place to go when looking for a quality place to stay in Tagaytay. The rooms are spacious and equipped with modern conveniences like WiFi and flat-screen TVs.
Sky Ranch Tagaytay
At Sky Ranch next to Taal Vista, take a ride on The Sky Eye, the tallest Ferris wheel in the country that offers the best view of the Taal Caldera. At the highest point, you can actually see the other side of the Taal Caldera.
Other rides offered are the Sky Cruiser, Sky Jump (trampoline), roller coaster, Hot Air Balloon ride for the kids, a two-tier carousel, Top Dancer, and my favourite, the Super Viking, a ship that sways side to side in belly-aching 45-degree angles.
Visitors in Cavite can also take a quick trip to the centre of Caviteño shopping life, SM Dasmariñas. The mall has all the international brands present in SM malls in the metro like Uniqlo, Giordano, The Body Shop, Starbucks and Krispy Kreme. Bon Chon is present in the mall as well. Homegrown brands like Khay's Desserts and Cakes, and Lady Christine's Baby Back Ribs offer mall-goers some homegrown culinary goodness.
"Krispy Kreme has become a local tradition already," said April Stephanie B. Elumba, the brand's assistant marketing manager. "It has become one of the staple pasalubong for families by loved ones working in the city. And now, Krispy Kreme has become closer to Caviteños, thanks to our branch in SM Dasmariñas."
Scott Tan, owner and managing director of BC Chicken Philippines, joined us when we visited the new Bon Chon branch in SM Dasmariñas. The unique way of cooking the chicken and how their cooks individually glaze the pieces are the reasons of Bon Chon's success, Tan said.
"We Pinoys love to eat. Adventurous tayo when we pick our food, we like experimenting with flavor, and Bon Chon wants to capitalise on that."