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Sonya’s secret

She names her grand little enclave Sonya’s Secret Garden/Bed & Breakfast, but denizens of Tagaytay City know that it’s not at all a secret.  Not to the city’s residents or visitors from Metro Manila who want a little hideaway on a particularly stressful week, or who just want to smell the flowers of this famous city, or probably just want to have a healthy meal after all that meat and fatty foods of the metropolis.

The day my crew and I were there just recently, the main dining room had a full seating capacity, and it was a weekday! As usual, it was going to be a late lunch for us, but we were amazed to see a full room of diners at 2 p.m., and people were still trooping in. Mostly Pinoys, one could see long tables of people enjoying their meal, chattering and enjoying the fresh greens that just kept coming.  There were quite a few foreigners too who seemed to truly enjoy what they were having, and I suspect that there were quite a few balikbayans in that lunch crowd. You see, Sonya’s Secret Garden has become a must-bring, must-see for our come-backing countrymen.

Exactly what is it that has placed Sonya’s in that exclusive category? First, check out its lush gardens.  I was last there several years ago, maybe seven or eight years ago, with my family and some friends on a Sunday. It was in fact Father’s Day and we were out to celebrate and wanted to avoid the usual mall crowd in the usual dining places. So Tagaytay seemed the perfect answer.

I remember being surprised that such a place remained a secret waiting to be discovered.  To begin with, the area was huge, and it was planted with hundreds of varieties of flowering and fruiting plants. That was the tail-end of summer and the garden was still a-bloom, a veritable burst of colors that is a feast to the senses. The trellises were heavy with clinging vines, the shrubs were thick with foliage, and the trees were just so healthy and strong. The smell of herbs just tickled the senses so, and finding them at the dinner table just seemed so natural.

Lunch was several helpings of fresh salad, and salad consisted of several types of greens which they harvest fresh from their garden every morning. Sonya stopped by our table to point out the greens, and I remember a strange-sounding vegetable named arugula which my wife immensely enjoyed. They added young native corn kernels, slices of papaya, cucumber and frozen langka to add zest to the salad. The result was a very refreshing salad indeed.

When you have had your fill of the greens, the pasta dish would follow, with a choice of tomato-based or creamy chicken sauce. Incidentally, they bottle these sauces now for take-out.  In between, they fill up your glass with freshly-squeezed dalandan juice or passion fruit from their garden.  Table water was pandan-flavored.

Dessert consisted of sweetened kamote in light syrup and sesame-encrusted banana fritters, light and just right to cap a good meal.

Several years later, on my next visit, the meal remained delightfully the same — the salad, the pasta, the dessert.  They now include another healthy add-on which is grilled or fried strips of salmon belly for those who still want a healthy version of fats. They have also added turon to their dessert line-up.

It is rare to find a dining place that has not changed their menu in years.  Save for one or two things they have added, Sonya has retained its old menu, but people still come in throngs. In fact, they have increased their patronage tremendously over the last few years, and it is only through word of mouth. Sonya tries to veer away from any form of traditional advertising, and Business & Leisure, the TV show was lucky enough to have been granted a rare interview and feature for our show’s viewers, good life lovers all and I find the new discoveries of this destination so delightful to be missed by this column’s readers as well. Sonya’s assistant, Nette, was gracious and toured us around.

I was amazed at how the place was grown from the last time I was there. To begin with, the largely untamed garden is now a wonderful enclave, with more people-friendly walkways, easy to traverse paths.  Seeing the vast areas to be developed, it must have cost her a lot to “pave” these areas, but Sonya knows that she has to be dynamic if she wants the place to grow.

It is also now a bed-and-breakfast place. This idea is big in Europe, with back-packing tourists all over the cities and countryside, but it is only in recent years that it is gaining a wide following here.  It is a pleasant experience for families to enjoy and, veering away from the traditional weekend at a 5-star hotel, it can be both pleasurable and economically viable as a weekend treat.

Imagine sleeping au naturelle, no aircons and TV sets to disturb the tranquility. Tagaytay is famous for its cool nippy air and the weather is so pleasant one actually does not need air-conditioning. Despite all the plants, there are no pesky mosquitoes because natural repellents abound in the gardens. And imagine waking up to the smell and sight of an abundant garden, just outside your window. That is the Sonya experience they want to share in their bed-and breakfast notion.

Sonya’s is now the prime choice for more private and solemn weddings.  A friend’s son chose to have his Christian wedding there late last year, and it was colder than artificial air-conditioning!  The function room where it was held (they now have several function rooms to choose from) had beautiful glass-backed waterfalls in the background, and plants and flowers were abundant all around. It was a beautiful, personal experience for all the guests.

They have added something new — they now have a bakeshop where they bake everything fresh daily — from bread to their famous chocolate cake and brazo de Mercedes. Nette’s husband, who was Sonya’s trusted driver for several years before he discovered his true calling, is now the baker, and Nette gave us a few samples of their bakeshop goodies.

They now also have a spa where you can luxuriate with a massage, and even have a pedicure.  How’s that for service?

Sonya’s Secret Garden/Bed and Breakfast has gone a long way.  The entrepreneurial spirit of Sonya Garcia, the Garden’s owner, is unmistakable, undaunted by the huge possibilities that faced her when she first purchased the property. She is truly a Proud Pinoy!   

Hold ‘Em at the Sports Den

The popularity of the game, Texas Hold ‘em continues to rise in the country as more high stakes tournaments held in the US are shown on Philippine television. Add to this the yearly Philippine Poker Tour satellite tournaments that climax to a million peso grand finals, which is presently the local enthusiasts’ dream recognition-being in the final table.  

As the numbers of Hold’em buffs swell there are those in the ranks that just want to have the excitement of being able to play the mind game without having to gamble cash or the prospect of having to lose money.

Well, if you are one of those, here’s your chance to “have your cake and eat it too”.

There will be regular Texas Hold’em non-cash wager tournaments to be organized by the Poker Club of the Philippines in cooperation with the Philippine Poker Tour at the Sports Den of Valle Verde Country Club. 

If you’re interested to join, call the Poker Club of the Philippines secretariat at 633-44-22 and sharpen up your mind, hone your skills and develop infinite patience.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments: (e-mail) businessleisure-star@stv.com.ph

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