This happened almost a month ago, late July, a day before Metro Manila went into another strict lockdown. I booked this almost two months prior, that’s how many people were eager to eat at Tahanan Bistro. This Filipino-themed restaurant promised a casual fine dining experience in a traditional Filipino home (tahanan) with a patio, a garden, and a view.
We drove an hour or so to Antipolo, climbing our way through the elevated, winding roads of this city. Tahanan Bistro is located inside a secluded subdivision. A massive wooden gate greets you. There’s a stylish doorbell hanging outside and you have to pull the lever to signal your arrival. This made me so eager to see what’s inside.
The hostess ushered us into a big garden. We had about fifteen more minutes before our reservation time. It was a cloudy day but the garden was still a stunner with or without the blazing sunshine highlighting every corner. The house was perched on top of the property, the second level was the garden, and another stony steps led to a third level of gravelly grounds. The whole lawn was covered in frog grass, the corners lined with big, ornate vases and huge plants with leaves of all shapes and sizes.
On the far side was a small gazebo with worn-out bistro chairs, a table, and a bench. We puttered around this gazebo, Jed eased himself on one of the chairs while I admired the many many pots and plants all over the garden. There was a special area for succulents and a dedicated overhead trellis where a handful of healthy ferns hang loose like curtains on a summer day.
From the end wall, we could see the neighbor’s massive bermuda-filled backyard. Both Jed and I were imagining what Elmo would do if we owned such a spacious lawn. I was already thinking of a big rustic table if we had this much greenery back home. I inhaled the luxurious fresh air around us, thankful to be in such a place, all the while keeping lockdown thoughts at bay for the next two hours.
The house was built mostly in old wood. To enter, we crossed a short wooden bridge in the middle of a small pond. Everything looked landscaped and put together, not a hair out of place. But the shades of wood and green made it warm and inviting. Glass walls surrounded the main indoor dining, so the garden was an ever-present view wherever you’re seated. The hostess led us way past the main dining and out into the patio. We now have full access to the garden and the blowing wind.
As we sat down, I couldn’t help but admire the wood grain of our dining table. It’s a dark grain, old and ragged, with just the perfect amount of scrapes and markings. It has obviously been used for a long time. Before I could think of where I could thrift a similar table, our first course arrived. Jed and I ordered two different sets of menu. They had three options to choose from: (1) Halcon, (2) Mayon, and (3) Iraya. These are well-known mountains in the Philippines (or at least that’s what Jed tells me). I ordered the Iraya set and Jed had the Halcon.
The menu was definitely Filipino. The recipes were familiar yet each one was made special by a new ingredient that you may not easily associate with its main ingredient. Take for example the appetizer they call “gising gising.” It’s a dumpling with prawn, leeks, and sigarilyas stuffing. These dumplings were swimming in a spicy coconut cream. Nothing is more thrilling to me than the sight of herb and chili oil floating on the surface, its orange swirls glistening with the promise of long lasting heat. And if those were not enough, they include delicate crispy pork floss on top. So this is a mouthful of salty and spicy flavors, delicate and punchy at the same time.
Another appetizer, this time from Jed’s Iraya menu, featured a baked sweet potato, “kamote,” paired with a savory topping of chickpeas, Lucban longganisa, fresh ricotta, and mint salsa verde. This one’s a play in sweet and salty. I have never tried longganisa with kamote, but anything with cheese—in this case ricotta—usually tastes good. So even if this was not as flamboyant (aka spicy) as my appetizer, Jed was more than happy.
Before the main dish, we had a brief interval with a house salad made of quinoa, cherry tomatoes, mixed greens, roasted zucchini, lime vinaigrette, and chunks of dried “danggit.“ This salad was a winner. It was tangy, sweet, and salty. I didn’t expect how dried danggit could shine so well when paired with the refreshing mixture of salad greens, tomatoes, and lime. The perfect segue to the hefty part of the meal.
For the main entrée, my set featured a familiar dish—“pininyahang manok”— which looked way too pretty than what I’m used to eating. It’s fifty shades of a bright happy yellow. At the bottom of this beautiful plate was a carrot purée with corn and bell pepper, on top was a couple of grilled pineapples, and finally four portions of pan-seared chicken thighs, finished with another layer of sauce. Guarding on all corners were three elegantly sliced potatoes, uniformly sliced like freshly baked loaf bread. My eyes definitely ate this dish. It was cooked perfectly. The chicken was crispy and tender; the sauce was salty and buttery. Then what better way to cut this richness than sweet, tangy slices of pineapples. Though nothing was radically innovative, it was still a delicious and comforting take on a beloved classic.
One of the reasons I was able to lure Jed into this lunch was the promise of “bistek tagalog.” Beef is his favorite meat and he sure looked forward to this dish. It featured a large portion of beef shank, sitting on top of adlai rice and onion purée. There were a few charred white onions on the side and a generous topping of fried enoki mushrooms. As Jed took his first bite, I could see his eyes widening with approval, a little “uh oh” escapes his mouth. I’ve seen this look a couple of times before reserved only for when he ate something really special. He insisted I take a bite as well. The meat was tender and falling off the bone. Imagine how a well-braised beef tastes like—the depth of flavor straddles between sour and salty with sweetness coming from the onions. Jed could not stop talking about this beef steak. Even after the server took our plates away, we were still talking about this dish.
As customary, there’s a palate cleanser in course meals like this. We each had a “citrus popsicle,“ all cold, sweet, sour, and tarty. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I love these palate cleansers. They’re like mini desserts before the actual desserts. I asked the staff kindly if we could include a customized birthday greeting on our dessert course, and they obliged and even gave us a whole ‘nother dessert altogether—a banana cake with vanilla ice cream. Jed just turned 32 that weekend.
For dessert, Jed was served this dainty glass of “fruit salad” that includes three colorful layers of chia pudding at the bottom, creamy champagne sabayon in the middle, and a serving of seasonal fruits like mango, strawberries, kiwi, grapes, and melon on top. With a sprinkle of edible flowers and a cashew short biscuit on the side, it’s a pretty little thing. But it’s still a fruit salad, no more no less.
Now let’s talk about my dessert. This final entrée was simply called “ube.” It’s a decadent display of dense flavors, a yin and yang of ube chocolate lava cake and cheese ice cream. It’s a play on opposites and complements. Sweet and salty, warm and cold. The cake’s texture was comparable to a moist munchkin; and when you slice into it, a luscious ube cream comes out instead. It’s one thing for a dessert to be delicious, it’s another thing to be this playful and inventive.
The sky has turned dark grey by the time we finished dessert. I could smell the damp grass below us as the steady cool breeze continuously slapped my bare arms. I reached for my jacket and thought about how a long walk would have been so good at that moment. As we refill our glasses with water, the hostess came by our table and asked us how we were enjoying our meal so far. Without any hesitation, Jed and I both flashed her with big wide toothy smiles.
Tahanan Bistro (4.5/5)
Casual Fine Dining (Modern Filipino Cuisine)
2 Loresville Drive, Lores Farm Subdivision
Antipolo, Rizal 1870
Fri to Sun 6pm – 10pm; Sat to Sun 11am – 3pm
For reservations only. Book here.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 09258801487
₱1350 to ₱1500 per person