Over 60 restaurants opened in Tagaytay last year, or “Tags,” as my Bin and I like to call it, so every visit is reason enough to try out a new restaurant. Makati is only an hour and a half away from Tagaytay, the closest thing we Manilans have to a day trip that allows us to come back home on the same day. It’s also the perfect thing for that mid-week getaway, which is preferred if our wish is to get away from the maddening crowd that rushes here on the weekends.
Some of the new and noteworthy restaurants are located in an area called The Cliffhouse, a higher-end cluster of restaurants with a breathtaking (albeit sometimes foggy) view of Taal Lake and volcano. The area spreads over 5,000 square meters and hosts pastry shops and specialty home stores aside from the restaurants. At the center is a garden courtyard perfect for those Kodak moments and just taking in the scene. On the day that I visit however, there is a stench like that of horse dung. I’m told that it’s from the sewage that comes from the establishments farther up the hill, and not from those in Cliffhouse because those have their own septic tank.
Odors aside, I’m excited to try out Fire Lake Grill. It’s stark white and air-conditioned, a relief from the scorching climes outside. (I daresay that an establishment must have air-conditioning nowadays in order for its employees and customers to survive.)
Paul Huang, corporate-guy-turned-chef, has made Fire Lake Grill his playground. Lording over the kitchen, his manner of cooking is definitely Asian with a splash of the Continental. He’s a fun guy, easy to talk to, who makes an effort to entertain his guests.
My Bin and I begin with two appetizers: the blackened beef salad with Asian greens, sesame Thai chili dressing, and blue cheese crumble (P320). Someone in the kitchen has made the effort to layer the greens, arugula, and cilantro so that when cut into, the greens fan out (see photo). Once in the mouth, the dressing zings on the tongue, zigging and zagging, leaving a zesty trail of citrus and vinegar. I make sure that every forkful I put into my mouth has a bit of everything: the greens, a beef slice, an onion ring, and half of a cherry tomato, all components completing one another. The blue cheese almost seems extraneous here, but there’s so little of it anyway that it probably doesn’t matter.
Our other appetizer is the cappuccino of pumpkin with cinnamon froth and rare beef slivers (P120). Guileless in appearance and taste, this is an honest to goodness pumpkin soup, pureed very fine. The only complicated thing about it is its cap of froth which is something I stare at blissfully for a moment before taking my first spoonful. I only wish that I’d tried the soup before diving into the salad, since the latter’s bold flavors may have momentarily rendered my taste buds incapable of appreciating something as subtle as the soup.
Almost all of the meat items have ”˜C.A.B’ beside them, which stands for Certified Angus Beef. Quality speaks for itself, and the grilled C.A.B rib eye steak (P890) that my Bin and I share is a good example. Requiring just a nudge from my steak knife, the meat is succulent, its meatiness enhanced with the red wine shallot sauce it comes with, a taste so deep and smoky. Our entrée comes with a choice of one side dish; in our case, it’s the country-style potato wedges that captures my heart. Each as thick as a man’s finger, the wedges are dredged in a crispy coating and lots of paprika.
Risotto is a tricky dish to get right and Chef Paul Huang certainly knows all of them. The asparagus and mushroom risotto with Luganigue (also luganega; luganeghe) sausages (P220) is a careful balance of starchiness, cooked just til al dente. Toothsome and satisfying, the mushrooms are cut so generously it’s easy to mistake them for the sausages.
For dessert, chef Paul recommends his roasted pineapple carpaccio with Malibu rum and pink peppercorns. But I’m not fond of pineapple anything, so I make a note to come back for the flourless chocolate cake with a peanut butter white chocolate filling (P175). I would like to stay, but it’s a busy Sunday lunch and the constant stream of people coming in and out hoping for a table is making me yearn for someplace more subdued to enjoy dessert. So there will be a next time. Chef Paul says the barramundi is worth a trip back as well as the coffee-crusted striploin steak.
Fire Lake Grill
Unit 3 Cliffhouse Tagaytay
General Emilio Aguinaldo Highway
Tagaytay City, Cavite 4120
reservations recommended, especially on the weekends