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Gourmet drives south of Manila

Gourmet drives south of Manila

We are free. Well, kind of. With the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions and a lot of us catching the virus last January, everything feels normal again. So normal that I went to Revel for a birthday party (Happy birthday, Pam Solapsi, Franco Saycon, and JM Rodriguez).

But kidding aside, another kind of revenge is happening—the gourmet drive destination. Car enthusiasts/foodies have been flexing their driving and gourmet haunts after being subjected to home-cooked meals and take-out for a long time. As they say, you can’t eat adobo every single day.

Here are some of the gourmet drive destinations in the south you might want to visit starting this Holy Week break.

Chef Rizza (in brown apron)with friends

Mrs. Saldos in Silang, Cavite

Tucked in a garden property, this resto owned by a Gaggan -trained chef has made a gourmet sanctuary in Malabag, Silang. Helmed by Chef Rhea and husband Dave Rizzo, the restaurant once adjudged as among the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia offers brunch and bespoke dining experiences for groups.

It took the Rizzos three years to develop the property, resulting in an envy-worthy wine cellar, a coffee shop, and a teaching studio on the second floor, the main dining with patio extensions.

Each corner made it evident that she is a “plantita,” The design cues are a melting pot of all her cooking influences. We had the Asian menu, which included air-flown hamachi and a unique but certainly relatable langka ice cream on honey bread, similar to putting dirty ice cream in pandelimon of our youth. Their macadamia pancakes are a must-try.

Casa Marikit in Lipa

This authentic Italian restaurant was quite a surprise when we visited.

The unassuming façade and location gave the same vibes when Antonio’s Tagaytay was new. It has a great Italian villa feel on the interior (see main photo), and its courtyard is very Instagrammable. They have giant barrels that add character to the sprawling property. The space is casual enough for family gatherings and fancy enough to have a romantic dinner.

The food was also impressive and worth the price. We tried their pasta, pizza, steak, soup, and a couple of appetizers. Even their bread selection is yummy. Some of the must tries are the Zuppe de Mare, Pizza, Costata di Manzo and Zucchini Ripiene. They have an extensive menu to choose from, and reservation is a must.

Ijo Bakery in Lipa

Another Gaggan alumni and Michelin-trained chef has made his mark in the south. Pastry Chef Joaquin Manapat opened his Ijo Bakery Viennoiserie in Lipa, Batangas during the pandemic. This is undoubtedly a bold move as Batangas already boasts the best panaderias in the country.

After living in Bangkok, Spain, and Manila, the Lipeño wanted to return to his hometown. We usually get our stash when our friend Leah Caringal, another Lipeño, goes to her hometown and come back to Tali Beach with a box of butter and chocolate croissants for the kids. It is flaky and still good after storing it in the fridge and toasting it. My kids would enjoy it with a dash of Echire butter or homemade Nutella.

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Breakfast at Antonio’s

Our family’s favorite stop on the way to the beach has always been Breakfast at Antonio’s. Now made even better with al fresco dining at the back with Taal Lake as the backdrop. A couple of years back, Chef Tonyboy Escalante (of the Antonio’s fine dining restaurant, a 50 Best Restaurants in Asia awardee) mentioned that his favorite food is breakfast. Hence, he created Breakfast.

Food prices, quality, and service have always been consistent with Chef Tonyboy’s restaurants. Most of the items on the menu are winners from their eggs, benedicts, gourmet tapa, waffles, and lunch offerings. Our favorites include housemade longanisa, bacon, and Roesti potato pancake. My new must-have is their potato chips dipped in the housemade curry ketchup.

Potato chips dipped in curry ketchup

Another item that you certainly should not miss is their ice cream–the rocky road flavor ( with candied walnuts) is to die for! Other items we can’t leave without buying from the deli the Spanish bread, chorizo, raspberry dressing, and jams. Although sometimes there is a long wait for tables, best to come in between meals for either an early lunch or late lunch.

Next destination: Samira at Anya Resort Tagaytay

The kitchen of another 50 Best Restaurants in Asia awardee, Samira at Anya Resort Tagaytay, is being manned by Chef Chele Gonzales. My friend Bambi Sia was raving about their salt-encrusted salmon and deconstructed buko pie. She loves how the dessert pays homage to Tagaytay using the freshest ingredients from the backyard. Made from young coconut and homemade ice cream with the crust of tofu, graham, and nuts.

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