The sign said ‘Tagaytay Highlands’ – portent of things to come (a.k.a. ‘Up in the Highlands with a steak so good!’)

4 12 2008

Breathless in anticipation of yet another lunch date tomorrow at Tagaytay Highlands, I am writing this down – a tribute to one of the most unforgettable feasts I have ever had in my life.

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It all started with little to no expectation, especially since the date of the lunch fell on my most toxic day at work, Thursdays.  I was actually already begging off but good manners prevailed and I honored my RSVP (that I had given a couple of months before!).  Besides, it was in celebration of one of my dear friends’ birthday.  Gotta be thankful she was born to this world!!!

 

With the persona of a brooding melancholy young man, I joined the lunch invitation with a bit of hesitation.  But the moment the gentle breeze caressed my face as I alighted from the car, I knew I made the wise choice to show up.  The nobody that I am – a perennial hanger-on – I made sure I kept an arm’s length’s distance to my gracious hostess as we walked to the steakhouse, lest the security personnel of this gated resthouse community remove me from the premises.

 

So there we were, right at the steps of The Highlander Steakhouse.  As some of my friends were uttering praises about ‘the steak’ with unrestrained enthusiasm, I knew it was just proper for me to bow my head in front of the sign, as if saying a prayer of thanks in advance.  The main restaurant was full-packed with gentlemen and ladies ‘who golf and lunch,’ and I soon realized that we had a set-up waiting for us, by the verandah, overlooking the rolling ‘cliffside.’

The moment the plated salads were served by the cheerful wait staff, I knew that I was in for a very welcome respite from the daily grind of my life as an engineer.  The salad was beautiful – whole leaves of bright green not-so-bitter hearts of romaine lettuce; thin slices of cool cucumber; lovely and peppery baby arugula (my fave!); plump and juicy corn kernels; crowned by a pile of carrot strings!  We had a selection of dressings – the classic thousand island, caesar, and italian.  This is where I had one of just two ‘kinda low’ points in this lunch.  I was raving about the vegetables – they seemed like they were just plucked from the backyard – but the dressings could be improved.  The thousand island, I could make it in my sleep.  The italian, I found it a bit tangier than I’m used to.  The caesar?  It was a far cry from what I know as really good caesar salad dressing.  I couldn’t sense the anchovies, and the garlic was really faint.  The consistency was a bit disappointing too.  But know what?  The freshness of the vegetables more than made up for the shortcomings of the dressing selections.  If my mother was there and if I were still a kid, she would reprimand me for playing with my food as I was picking out all the arugula with my (clean!) hands, setting them aside, and ceremoniously muching one leaf after another.

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Only the freshest vegetables make it to a 'The Highlanders' Steakhouse' salad.

Then came the Steakhouse Clam Chowder (Php 90.00).  It was just alright for me, nothing special.  It had the requisites of a soup, a chowder in this case – really warm, chunky, with clam but not ‘fishy’… clean-tasting even.  I relished the creamy soup while grabbing bites of the house bread.

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The Steakhouse Clam Chowder

 I suddenly became impatient, waiting for the staff to clean up my soup course, upon the sight of the next two dishes they were parading from the kitchen – Henry’s Barbecue Baby Back Ribs (Php 780.00) and Roast Cornish Game Hen (Php 680.00).  A check of their menu description didn’t help at all to stop me from salivating over these pieces, no, slabs of meat.  The ribs were “tender barbecue bourbon-flavored imported baby back ribs” and were of fall-off-the-bone-then-melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.  The marination or basting was just right.  It didn’t drown the meat.  I could actually taste the meat and I loved it.  And lest you forget, that’s coming from an herbivore!

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Now that's what I call ribs!

The roast cornish game hens were cooked with rosemary, caramelized shallots and bacon.  And lying on the big serving platters, they looked like the ‘high society’ kin of the lowly (but always fulfills!) “litson manok” (roasted chicken) street fare. Our gracious hostess issued marching orders to the others at the table to pile my plate with slice upon slice of the ribs and the chicken.  I could only manage a sweet smirk because there was no pretending to the hostess, who unabashedly shared to the big group the tale of how we first met and when she first realized I could be one of the “special” people she would keep as friend.  We first met each other over a Pampanga ‘foodtrip’ dinner and she still let out guffaws everytime she would recall how surprised she was learning that I had already downed six cups of steamed rice, when everybody else was just practically starting!  Bwahahaha!

 

Up to this point, I was already satisfied, and I thought everything I had had prepared me enough for the ultimate course.  But boy was I in for a huge surprise!  The moment the steak landed on our table, I needed a 6th, even a 7th sense just to be able to take in the experience.  My olfactory nerve went on overdrive as I savored the smell of the restaurant’s signature dish.  My text message to ‘my public’ kinda summed up the experience: “The 20-oz. dry-aged certified U.S. Angus Beef Rib Eye Steak, served with Peter Luger Steak Sauce at Tagaytay Highlands’ ‘The Highlander Steakhouse’ is really to-die-for that I could die!  Even when well-done it was still oh-so-tender and succulent, oozing with its ‘jus’!  It’s the best steak – and I’ve been to a lot of restos so I guess I know somehow.  Anybody who loves steak should have it!”

Purists wouldn’t want anything to meddle with the flavor of their steak, and would shun any marinade that would mask the meat’s taste.  Sometimes, they’d end up feeling wanting, as the resulting piece of meat would be bland.  But Highlanders’ was really a cut (pun intended) above all the rest.  My steak was well-done but all my fork pierced were tender slices, oozing with the most flavorful jus that could only come from the highest quality meat to start with.

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The star – 20-oz. dry-aged certified U.S. Angus Beef Rib Eye Steak! See the 'jus'!

And I have to make special mention of the Peter Luger Steak Sauce.  At Php 800.00 a bottle, it was well worth it!  I spent time going thru its label with a goal to reproduce the same sauce from scratch, at home.

I left Tagaytay Highlands with my mind imprinted with the details of one of the best lunches I have ever had.  I’ve never tried the steakhouse’s branch at the Mall Of Asia.  But I’m so damn glad I got to dine first at the original.  You should too!

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This is the best steak sauce ever!

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One response

9 12 2008
Steven

boss enteng. not to sound cheap or “kuripot” but 780.00php for a platter, hahaha… i wish i could have your atm as what “brian” said awhile ago (december 8). if that’s the case, i really would have more than just a plate…

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