Part 1 here
Initial plans to eat upstairs al fresco are called off because of a slight drizzle. We sit at the long banquette and wait expectantly. I chat with T House Chef Emi Mendoza about the menu she’s created for the boutique hotel. “It’s all about health here,” she begins. “We serve food that’s healthy and nourishing. All organic products and good fats like olive oil, everything that’s good for the body.” “And large portions too,” pipes in April. “We don’t like those big plates with tiny portions.”
Admittedly, I have feelings of trepidation about the forthcoming meal. T House serves as a sanctum for healthy living and I have no doubt that its food will reflect that. I certainly can’t expect country fried chicken and biscuits awash in gravy. “And the dessert!” I wail inwardly. “What’s to become of the dessert?” I can only pray that I won’t be served a plate of pineapple (I’m not too fond of the fruit, and Tagaytay is teeming with them.) While I practice tenets of clean living, when I’m at a restaurant, I want to eat food that’s as satisfying as it is plentiful. Perhaps this isn’t the place for that, so I have to wait and see but in my experience, “spa food,” as I call it, is anything but. “Don’t worry Lor, if you’re still hungry after the meal we can go to another restaurant,” my Bin whispers in my ear.
T House offers a four-course meal for P550 (all charges in) that include two choices of soup, salad, an entrée, and dessert. Shooters of soup, as the restaurant calls them make their debut on our table. I look quizzically at the little containers and wonder how to eat the soup properly. “You sip from them,” Emi says kindly, noticing my confusion. There’s a tiny spoon meant for dessert that I use gingerly at first but the shooter appeal is lost so I ditch the implement and sip away. Wild Mushroom and Fresh Tomato are paired on one plate and on the other, Broccoli and Almond and Carrot and Corriander. The latter pairing is thin and watered-down, true models of what I consider to be spa food. I hurriedly transfer to the other plate and feel much better. The tomato soup is vibrant with a blush of sweetness to temper the tomato’s acidity. My favorite is the wild mushroom ”“ do I detect cream? Hooray!
Immediately following are salads, two kinds: the T House Signature Salad with Honey Dill Dressing and Tuna Citrus Salad with Roasted Capsicum Dressing. I’m enamored with the former’s chunks of laguna cheese (kesong puti), and the sweet dressing that plays off of the dried mangoes’ sweetness. This is only the second time that I’ve encountered the dried fruit in a salad and it bolsters my belief that it’s a rightful addition. The menu states that there’s also a sprinkling of roasted coconut present but I don’t detect it either by sight or taste.
Two courses in and two more to go, it’s going as I expect in terms of healthy (spa) food. I don’t know what’s to be served next but I’m already imagining a portion of steamed fish glazed in a teriyaki-miso sauce, ”˜cause that’s healthy, yes? Food aside, I’m thoroughly enjoying the company and the conversation with my Bin, T House owner April Inocentes, and of course, Chef Emi, who’s especially endeared herself to me when we start comparing cookbook collections.
I also listen in rapt attention to April, whom I’ve discovered is vegetarian. Though I don’t think too kindly of people who are such, I admire them for their decision to take a stand on not eating meat; in the same way, I hope they’ll accept my decision to have steak. Live and let live, after all. I listen as April recounts “that moment” when she realized that she would swear off meat. “But don’t you even miss it sometimes?” I ask in horror, visions of roast beef and lamb cutlets dancing in my mind. “Not at all,” she replies cheerfully, spearing a lettuce leaf. “It was a decision I made.” Lordy, I know I could never be that mighty of mind.
As if on cue, a server sets down a plate of Spiced Grilled Chicken and Vegetables with pesto dressing. It comes with a side of noodles bathed in aioli sauce (if I remember correctly), a foil to the curry top notes of the chicken. Bites of the roasted ratatouille-like vegetables are already leaving me feeling virtuous. I’m eating healthy!
A rather dark dish is brought on, this one a Roast Rack of Ribs with Caramelized Honey Onions. I almost can’t believe my eyes that there’s actually a blatant meat dish here ”“ I thought all beef and pork were verboten. Chef Emi says they’re baby back ribs. So dark (almost too dark) are the onions and sweet that I can only assume that they’ve been slow-cooked for an hour. There’s a smell of rich burnt-ness about them that liven up the pork. On this visit however, the meat is overcooked, thus dry.
Two drinks that we’re urged to try are T House specialties: April’s Mint — named after guess who? — and the House’s Signature drink, a sprightly four-fruit blend that tastes dominantly of guava. It’s a heavy drink, almost a dessert. April’s Mint however, is more suited to accompany a meal and while I’m no fan of mint, its revivifying flavor and color encourages one sip after another.
Save the best for last is my motto, although I didn’t expect it to apply here at T House. Salmon Meuniere with Wasabi Mash is a dish that obviously has Japanese influences. As is typical of that cuisine, flavors work as complements or counterpoints to each other as opposed to blending and orchestrating. The salmon is cooked just ”˜til it’s opaque; it’s painfully tender, rendering teeth almost unnecessary. Its characteristic flavor blooms in my mouth and I feel myself getting giddy with joy. The mashed potatoes, despite their color, aren’t that peppy ”“ just a hint of wasabi is noticeable and they’re smooth through and through. “I love this dish! It’s my favorite!” I proclaim at the table. “It’s our favorite too,” April and Emi echo.
So far, I’m happy with the way the meal has progressed. None of my fears came true: plates overflowing with cave-pungent herbs, dishes with a dire lack of flavor, and food so dietetically pure that they seek to show me, a food sinner, the way, the truth, and the “lite.” I thank the food gods that I didn’t have to mime a performance of a woman eating. How little I know about healthy food, mostly because I choose to be ignorant about it.
It’s time for dessert and I feel dread. Do I see pineapples in my dessert future? No, but what arrives is a fruit just the same. Rather anemic in appearance, it’s a Banana-Nangka (jackfruit) crumble. It stares forlornly at me and I feel the same, although I try to mask how I feel. I’m expecting this dessert to be rather chalky and dry since bananas have a lower water content than any other fresh fruit. Nangka also doesn’t take too well to being baked unless it was parboiled beforehand to release its sugars and liquid. My hosts are watching me expectantly, though I’d really rather skip this course. I force myself to pick up a spoon and try it. Surprisingly, the dessert is moist not dry. It’s sweet enough too, but two spoonfuls is all I will take. Whatever the dessert question is, this banana-nangka curiosity is not the answer. It doesn’t do justice to the high-flying meal that even I, healthy food atheist, give kudos to. Dessert here needs to be re-thought.
Thank the food gods for breakfast and thank you Emi and April for giving me something anti-healthy to drown myself in: pancakes with peanut butter. A three flapjack stack over three inches high, these saucers are the zenith of pancake-dom. Pancake House, eat your heart out. My joy at this breakfast can’t be contained. And there’s native hot chocolate too ”“ furious with notes of nutmeg, it offers itself to be dipped into with some of the house wheat rolls. I don’t get to try Boo’s chicken tocino but it’s clear the little girl is happy too.
3195 Calamba Road, Tagaytay City
For inquiries and reservations: (046) 483.0011, (046) 483.0012
Breakfast is included for T House guests.
Walk-in diners may be accommodated but reservations are highly appreciated and recommended.