Highlands Steakhouse, Tagaytay Highlands, Tagaytay, Cavite

Highlands Steakhouse is located at Tagaytay Highlands, Belleview Drive, Tagaytay, Cavite. Tel: (046) 483-0820. They also have a branch at 2/F Unit 213, SM Mall of Asia, Entertainment Mall, Seaside Blvd, Manila Bay Reclamation Area, Pasay. Tel: 556-0768.

Noodles made from red wine, caviar carved out of cantaloupe, cake that tastes like pepperoni pizza.

Cutting edge cuisine is cool and all, but sometimes, you just want that macchiato foam to be coffee, and that beef-flavored tofu to really be beef. When you’re in the right mood, there’s still nothing better than a thick, juicy, good old-fashioned, STEAK. Which is exactly what you’ll be treated to, here at the Highlands Steakhouse.

Spending the night at the Spa and Lodge in Tagaytay Highlands, Ren and I made sure not to drive back to Manila without enjoying a ravenous meal here first. Where’s the beef?! 😈

Spacious, log cabin inspired interior.

Caesar’s Salad – PHP 320 – Hand-torn tender Romaine lettuce tossed in handmade Caesar dressing served with anchovies and toasted croutons, and topped with Parmesan cheese.

Ren and I ordered one and split it between us. What you see here is an already divided, half order. I don’t know my Ceasar’s salad all that well, but Ren said that this one was really good.

Cowboy Style US Angus Ribeye (chilled) – PHP 1,958 (15 oz.)

I was about to order the 14 oz. ribeye to share, when our server suggested that we get this cowboy style, 15-ouncer instead. “Cowboy style” means that the steak is brought to you raw and precut into strips, giving you the chance to cook it yourself on a small, tabletop grill. I love fun, ritualistic food, so I didn’t have to think twice about this one. Every order comes with your choice of two sides, plus roasted vegetables and a trio of steak sauces.

Doesn’t that steak look ridiculous?! 😈

We chose creamed spinach as our first side.

Second side of mashed potatoes with the trio of steak sauces – mushroom, peppercorn, and garlic. I liked them all, but with steak this good, who needs sauce?!

Side of roasted vegetables

Heating up our tabletop burner. That blue ethanol gel is cool.

Ren searing up her first piece of steak. Love the sound of that sizzle!

Shizzle ma nizzle, the steaks here are the bomb yo! 😆

Not too thick with good marbling, this ribeye was juicy, tender, and well seasoned. I experimented with different donenesses, even eating a tiny piece completely raw, and I loved every bite. Ren exhibited commendable technique by standing the slice on its side so only the fat would continue to cook, giving it a crisp, caramelized sear whilst keeping the center medium rare. Ingenious! 😀

I had so much fun cooking these steaks up myself, that given the opportunity, I would order every steak “cowboy style” from now on. Absolutely delicious man. Engaging too.

For all you rapacious carnivores, please be advised that the Steakhouse is located within the Highlands complex, so you’ll need to be accompanied by a member to dine here. The good news though is that they have a branch at the Mall of Asia, the address and contact details for which are indicated at the top of this post. Enjoy!

Palawan Mangrove Forest

If the Underground River is Michael Jackson, then this Mangrove Forest must be Jermaine, decidedly less popular though just as pretty.

Personally, I enjoyed this tour immensely. This ecosystem, to me, had a surreal, otherworldly quality that felt mysterious and primeval. Deafeningly silent, it was teeming with life, maybe even death. The stillness made me feel as if I were drifting through some alien landscape where at any moment some giant tentacle would explode from the water and pull me down to a soupy, tangled grave. The fact that you couldn’t see beyond the surface of the water only added to the mystery. Crocodiles, after all, have been known to feed here.

A staunch animal lover, I relished observing all the wildlife in their natural habitat. On a single tour, we spotted several venomous mangrove snakes, a reticulated python, a water monitor, and a giant hive of killer bees dangling precariously from twiglike branches some 30-40 feet up above the water. Our tour guide told us that they don’t dare pass under it on rainy days for fear of it falling into their boat and releasing a swarm of stinging, certain death. Clear skies notwithstanding, crossing under it just became that much more thrilling. 😈

The voice of the forest, Lady Mangrove. Aside from giving us a splendid, well-informed tour, she also sang us an OPM tune of her own composition that expressed her sincere love for this magical ecosystem.

The beauty of this alien landscape was enchanting.

That coiled black thing with the yellow stripes is a Palawan mangrove snake (Boiga Dendrophila). A mildly venomous colubrid, it grows to an adult length of around 6-8 feet.

Here’s a close-up of a beautiful, uncoiled specimen.

Can you spot the mangrove snake in this picture? 🙂

A juvenile Varanus Salvator chillin’ like a villain on a tree branch.

Looks like the back of my pc. 😆

The forest looked so alien to me that I half-expected to hear predator growling sounds reverberate from the forest at any moment. 😆

Nestled within dead mangrove roots are tasty “wood worms” known locally as tamilok. We weren’t lucky enough to have the Tamilok King as our boatman, but tourists who do get treated to a taste of freshly harvested tamilok, straight from the forest. Fortunately, we got a taste of this exotic delicacy on another occasion, the pictures of which you can view HERE.

At the end of the tour, Lady Mangrove gave us mangrove seeds to plant before departing. Here’s Ren doing her part in preserving and propagating life in this otherworldly forest.

If you’ve ever doubted that a voiceless entity such as a forest can’t speak, think again.

Towards the end of the river, before we had to turn back, a giant mangrove tree had apparently fallen on its own some time ago. Like a police barricade, it fell from one side of the river to the other, effectively blocking any boat from getting through and shortening the tour by several boat lengths. Wisely, Lady Mangrove and her crew paid heed to this warning and kept the tree where it fell. If that isn’t mother nature’s way of telling you to “turn back now or feel my wrath”, then I don’t know what is. 😉

More on Palawan

Underground River, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa
Tamilok, the World’s Longest Oyster
The Edge of the World
Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan
Ay kay Layo ng Lamayo!

Ilocos con Los Locos

Ren and I don’t usually go anywhere for Holy Week as we both dislike the crowds of people that come with it. But since her birthday this year fell on Black Saturday, we decided to give it a try especially since her crazy cousins were renting a mini-bus to go party in the Ilocos region. They’re a boisterous, animated bunch so this trip up north couldn’t have possibly been anything but fun.

Here are some pictures from our Holy Week 2011 adventure.

The Bus

Don’t let her lumbering, refrigerator looks fool you. She may be big, but she’s got the heart of a Mini Cooper. With the very capable Mang Nards at the helm, she got us through some tight and sticky situations.

After approximately 8 hours on the road, night turns into day.

Guess which one of us just woke up?

The natives are becoming restless…

Vigan, Ilocos Sur

With the first leg of our journey complete, we arrive at our first stop: Vigan!

Calle Crisologo

Take a step back in time as you stroll down historic Crisologo Street…

The lovely Renee leading the way

Agut-agutan breaK

I love the negative space formed by the rooftops…

Renée de Crisologo de Ayala de Araneta de Madrigal

Popsicle break!

Grandpa’s Inn

This was where we stayed for the night. Very nice, inexpensive boutique hotel that fit right in with the spirit of the town.

Gastronomic Adventures

Some of the dishes we sampled here were adventurous indeed. It was the first time for all of us to try these exotic, local delicacies and we enjoyed them tremendously.

Bagnet wraps. A nice contemporary twist to the local delicacy.

Ren enjoying the day at Los Majitos

Me imitating Ren enjoying the day at Los Majitos

Uno Grille. Owned by and located directly across from Grandpa’s Inn, this is where we got to sample some of the Ilocos region’s truly exotic dishes. Everything was dee-licious!

Insarabasab. Grilled pork meat and liver topped with tomatoes and onions.

Bogi Ti Ikan. Seasonal fish roe harvested usually in the summer months.

Adobo Nga Abuos. Now this was truly exotic! It’s a seasonal dish of mountain ant larvae harvested from the tropical rain forests of Abra, available only from March to June. Ren and I saw something similar on Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin, but in Mexico. Who knew that we’d be able to sample something like it right here in our very own backyard?! Awesome!


Crispy Bagis. Crispy fried pork intestines.

Poqui-Poqui Balls. A twist on the Ilocano eggplant omelette. This was REALLY good.

Warek-Warek. Grilled pork head chop with liver and mixed with onions and vinegar.

One satisfied table of Manileños.

Los Majitos de Vigan. After our meal, we moved back to Los Majitos for the moody lighting, excellent service, and PHP 35 a bottle beers.

Rock on dudes!

The Axe effect

Ilocos Norte

We say goodbye to Vigan and make a few interesting stops on our way to Pagudpud.

Fort Ilocandia

We stopped here for lunch at the Red 8 Asian Restaurant.

Just call me Nimfa

San Agustin Church, Paoay

Beautiful church. Doesn’t it remind you a bit of Angkor Wat in some of these pictures?

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Nagpartian, Burgos

I loved this lighthouse. According to Ren, it was featured in a documentary about haunted places in the Philippines, which only added to its mystique.

Ren was too scared to go up to the lighthouse so I carved her initials on the brick wall – “To my one and only Renee.” Sobrang Cheeeeezy!!!

Bangui Bay Windmills

Breathtaking. That was the first word I thought of when seeing these for the first time. I had never seen one of these windmills from up close before and was amazed by how striking they looked. These massive, monolithic all-white structures spinning silently against the jet blue sky were just a sight to behold.

Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Finally we reach our destination!

Hannah’s Beach Resort & Convention Center

Going down the road towards the hotel, we had to stop at a checkpoint to pay an entrance fee – PHP 20 per head. They said it was a municipal ordinance to help maintain the area. The whole thing felt dodgy to say the least and was a portent for things to come at Hannah’s.

Soon as we entered the complex, we were shocked to find heavy traffic and hordes of people. Apparently the beach area of Hannah’s is public so anyone can come for the day, and come they did in droves. Whoever owns this place didn’t seem to have much concern for the environment. The whole area was chaotic and felt polluted, not exactly the pot of gold we were hoping to find at the end of our rainbow.

Overcrowded beach

The room was spacious but lacked the rustic island charm and character we were looking for.

Swimming pool with Hannah’s Hollywood-style sign. Most people swimming had their shirts on. Enough said.

The grounds were spacious but tacky sculptures abounded.

L: “Why thank you. Thank you very much.” (You can’t see it in the picture but Elvis’ guitar was covered in plastic.) R: Uhhhmm…Okaaay. I’m a big Tim Burton fan but I gotta draw the line somewhere.

L: Raaaawr! R: Boobylicious pirate with hook for hand. Nice.

This is the convention center and where they served all the meals. Again, enough said.

“Ser, may PHP 100 dighay fee po dito…”

To make things worse, they charged you extra for everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. For example, there was a basketball court but you had to pay PHP 100/hour for the ball. They offered guitars for rent at PHP 150/hour. They had pool tables which you could use for free….eaaaking PHP 100/hour. Get my drift? Look, I understand you need to make money but do you really have to charge for everything? Doesn’t customer happiness and satisfaction account for anything?!

But just when we thought all was for nought…

…the pot of gold turned out to be just a few more meters down the way. Exiting Hannah’s, make a left and take a scenic 10 minute stroll. Noises fade, crowds dissipate, and just like that, you’re in a whole different world.

Ren looking lovely

A surf shop along the way…

That’s gnarly dude

Neither of us knew what this was but it was strangely beautiful, in a Lady Gaga-ish sort of way.

Kapuluan Vista Resort

Is it Tropical Hut? No, even better. It’s Kapuluan Vista Resort.

There was nothing not to like about this place. Secluded and peaceful, it had the rustic island charm that Hannah’s lacked. The decor was tastefully done, the rooms spartan but comfortable. The menu offered a varied array of local and internationally inspired dishes like Dinakdakan and lobster burritos. They grow their own organic vegetables and even offer vegan meals. Plus they recycle and are kind to the environment. We absolutely loved it here.

Beautiful, rustic decor appropriate to the surroundings. Note the use of the rich cerulean blue sofas as an accent to all the wood and natural finishes. Very nice.


Still-life with Renée

I’m a designer so I’m always happy to see well laid-out, conceptually relevant menus, especially in a remote place such as this.

Simple, but elegantly plated dishes

INTERESTING FACT: Kapuluan Vista Resort is owned and operated by a young Filipino surfer couple from Southern California who 5 years ago decided to sell all their belongings, move back to the Philippines, and find the life they always dreamed about. This was where the wind took them and what a beautiful life they’ve built for themselves. This is what I dream for Ren and myself (though in the mountains somewhere or lakeside) and hopefully we can be as lucky as Mike and Alma one day. Truly inspiring.

Celebrating Renée’s Birthday

Suffice to say it was a no-brainer to celebrate Ren’s birthday here. Mike is a super nice guy and he allowed us to hang out here as long as we liked even though we weren’t staying at his resort. He even gave us a bottle of Bugnay wine (currant wine) as a birthday gift to Ren. Cool!

Alma’s must-try margaritas to kick off the festivities. Deliciously refreshing!

Ren’s mouth-watering plate of chicken burritos

Candy showing off her lobsters. Yum!

Tasty dinakdakan

After downing a few drinks, the girls decided to get in the drink themselves.

Pa-bungisngisan contest. I think Cands is the clear winner here.

Ziggy, the cute resort puppy, gives me an earful after I’ve had one too many.

Our Last Day

Today we drive back to Manila so Ren and I head back to Kapuluan for our final breakfast.

Today is Ren’s actual birthday. Happy birthday MBH! I love you!

This is how Ren looks every time I tell her how beautiful she is…sobrang cheeeeezy!

Just a few parting shots around the resort

Cool veranda. Love those corner chairs.

At first I wasn’t sure what this water jug was for, but at its base you’ll find a small stone with the following inscription: “Please be sweet and rinse your feet.” Love truly is in the details.

EPILOGUE: If you ever visit the Ilocos region and are looking for places to stay in Vigan and Pagudpud, we highly recommend Grandpa’s Inn and Kapuluan Vista Resort respectively. You won’t regret it. Embodying the spirit of the towns they represent, they’ll take you away but make you feel right at home.

Thanks for all the memories Ilocos! Till next time. 🙂