I have always been a fan of Tonyboy Escalante, chef proprietor of Antonio's in Tagaytay and his various spin-offs. The latest incarnation of his cooking chops is Balay Dako just a kilometre away from the Rotonda. This replaces Antonio's Grill which was was his less formal and more affordable restaurant that served mainly Filipino favourites and ihaw ihaw specialties.
On week-ends, go up to Tagaytay early enough if you want a good table at Balay Dako. They do not accept reservations and the place is always busy.
Balay Dako is built in the lot that Leslie's used to occupy. I had many a palayok of lovely hot bulalo at Leslie's and now, that big nipa hut is gone and has been replaced by what looks like a plantation style home -- a big house, a Balay Dako.
When you enter the restaurant there is a deli off to one side where you can shop for Ilonggo delicacies like mango tarts, piaya, dulce gatas and even organic vegetables grown from Antonio's farm. There are also jams, preserves, fresh baked breads -- the spanish bread is particularly good!
Balay Dako has transformed this into a large hall which can be used for private parties.
On week-ends, there is a breakfast buffet -- the menu looks tempting ... chorizo, tapa, tinapa, etc. All of the lovely delicious things that make up a good Pinoy almusal!
There is a nice open air deck with sofas and chairs -- perfect for al fresco cocktails at dusk!
This is the breathtaking view of the lake from the second floor veranda. On a beautiful day like this, you could just sit and and gaze at this for hours!
The manager comes up to say our table is ready so we go down to the main dining room. There are two seating levels -- if you're early, get a table on the lower level where you can look out
at the view of the lake and the volcano.
Unfortunately this table had been taken so we had to content ourselves by being one table away from a ringside seat to the stunning view. Screens are placed on the wide floor to ceiling windows -- it keeps the breezes flowing freely and yet keeps those pesky flies out.
Time to look over the simple but tastefully designed menu and order our lunch!
For starters, we chose kinilaw and calamares. The firm fresh fish was marinated in an exact blend of citrusy, acidic, spicy flavours.
The attentive waiters at Balay Dako wear white, with long white aprons, reminiscent of the uniforms at Antonio's. They were efficient, polite and yes, knew just when to smile for the camera.
We decided not to have the Tagaytay staple of bulalo but opted to order sinigang na bangus. It was a good choice -- the soup had the right touch of sourness and was deep with bangus flavours. Sabaw pa lang, ulam na!
We had wanted to order cochinillo but sadly, it was not available that morning. The waiter recommended the twice cooked lechon. It must have been fried with soy sauce and laurel and therefore it tasted much like dry adobong lechon. Hmm, maybe that would have been a better name for this dish.
To assuage our disappointment about the cochinillo, we ordered more pork -- a strip of deadly
lechon kawali. The meat to fat ratio was good, it wasn't dripping with oil but perhaps the skin could have been just a bit more crackly.
Taal Lake was represented on the table by a dish of fried tawilis -- this is truly no-waste-tail-to-head eating!
We did not finish all of the food on the table but at the end of the meal, we all had room for dessert. Hmm, maybe I am not the only one with a betsubara (Japanese term for second stomach)
We ordered turon na saging and mantecado ice cream with dulce gatas topping -- presto, turon a la mode!
I'm glad we had a third dessert -- maja blanca. It was fragrant with the aroma of coconut cream
and corn with a latik topping that was nutty and brought out all the subtle sweetness of this old time kakanin. Balay Dako's version tasted home made, in some grandmother's kitchen. This is something I would definitely buy if they started to sell it in their deli.
Stuffed with Balay Dako's good food plus pasalubong from the deli, it was time to head back, ahead of the week-end traffic. Perhaps next time we should come earlier, enjoy the breakfast buffet, eat lunch and stay until the cocktail hour!