The ultimate surf and turf: Highlands’ steak & Manila Bay

- Joseph Cortes () - August 10, 2006 - 12:00am
One of the reasons why people drive all the way up to Tagaytay Highlands in Tagaytay City on a weekend is to enjoy the succulent steaks served at its Highlander Steakhouse. I should know; I’ve been there twice, and every trip was never complete without a taste of its prime rib. After an afternoon at the Spa and Lodge, and a ride on the cable car or the funicular, it’s off to the steakhouse for a full meal of tender, juicy steak that’s grilled to perfection, before calling it a night at a well-appointed unit at Belle View with its spectacular view of Taal Lake and Volcano. Of course, don’t forget the chilly weather that greatly adds to the romantic ambience.

However, you need to be a member to gain admittance at this exclusive enclave – or at least an invitation from a friend who is a member. And that limits your chance of having one of those to-die-for steaks.

Not anymore. Now you can have your fill of steaks cooked the Highlander way at the newly-opened Highlands Steakhouse at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

Barely two months old, Highlands Steakhouse has already attracted its share of meat lovers, both Tagaytay Highlands members and not. On any day, the restaurant is busy with businessmen on a lunch meeting, ladies who lunch who are off the beaten track, expats out for a quick bite, and families sharing a hearty meal. The restaurant opened to full operations on day one, says Highlands food and beverage manager David E. Chua. The restaurant never experienced the soft opening most restaurants go through.

Tagaytay Highlands’ entry into the casual dining restaurant scene was fortuitous. The firm received favorably the proposal by SM’s Henry Sy to open a high-end steak house at the mall. Sy, who patronizes Tagaytay Highlands, offered the firm the mall’s most prime location, a corner unit at the north wing of SM Mall of Asia’s Entertainment Mall that has an unimpeded view of Manila Bay and its famed sunset. The restaurant’s al fresco dining area also offers a grand view of the fireworks show that lights up the night sky on weekends.

In bringing the Highlander Steakhouse to Metro Manila, Tagaytay Highlands has replicated the cedar log cabin that is the signature of the Highlander interior. Not only that. The rustic cowboy feel at the original steakhouse is simulated in the new one: moose antler chandeliers, period photographs of cowboys and Indians, and waitstaff dressed in blue jeans, plaid shirts and cowboy hats. All that’s missing is the view of Taal Lake outside… well, sort of. This time, when you look out the window, a clear view of Manila Bay greets you. And if you prefer al fresco dining, there are setups at the terrace area that will make dining a most enjoyable experience.

Yes, the menu at Highlands Steakhouse also offers the delicious steaks at the original restaurant, but with some additions. Giving a nod to its location beside Manila Bay is the selection of seafood and fish dishes on the menu. Likewise, to draw attention to the excellent produce at Highland’s Greenhouse, the restaurant also offers the popular Greenhouse bistro salad. Garden fresh greens and vegetables are also available at the restaurant, all brought fresh daily from Tagaytay.

When we visited, executive chef Robert J. Bolaños served some of the restaurant’s popular and new dishes. The salad course was the Greenhouse bistro salad (P195) with is accompaniment of condiments. "When you have this at the Greenhouse, you can have endless refills of salad greens and the condiments," says chef Robert.

The seafood appetizer of deep-fried goujon of Chilean sea bass and sea scallops on Dijon mustard (P395) consisted of chunky morsels of fish and scallops. With the accompanying salad greens, it could serve as a salad and main course in one for someone looking for a light dinner.

A good way to sample chef Robert’s soups is to try the soup sampler served in demitasse cups (P88). It consisted of seafood clam chowder and the soup of the day, minestrone.

The restaurant’s piece de resistance is its Cowboy Steak, a slab of US Angus rib eye, available in either 15-ounce (P1,500) or 30-ounce weight (P2,500). This chunk of meat is one reason why families drive up to Tagaytay on weekends.

"It’s served tableside, so families enjoy taking turns grilling their choice of meat on a hot plate to their desired doneness," says chef Robert Bolaños.

And yes, the kids do love steak, too. "It gives the whole family a chance to bond together over dinner, cooking the steaks themselves," he adds.

At every table at Highlands Steakhouse is a potable stove that is lit by a special burner. Hot plates are brought out from the kitchen and placed on the burners. When the steak comes out, sliced into serving pieces, there’s nothing left to do but grill them to your desired doneness.

Those who can’t choose between steak and seafood can opt for the surf and turf (P1,480), a combo of baked lobster and filet mignon.

Chef Robert is now devising a smaller cut of steak for the ladies, which is smaller than ladies’ cuts at most steakhouses. "It’s a seven-ounce English cut of prime rib. Many ladies now do go for steaks, but they often have a hard time finishing them," he says.

There are also a number of fish choices. There’s the pan fried sea bass (P720), and the pan-grilled halibut (P680), which is said to be Mr. Sy’s favorite. Those who prefer chicken should try the roast Cornish game hen (P580), which is an alternative to steaks. Oh yes, there’s also foie gras (P690), which is a favorite, too.

The restaurant is also stocking up on wines, both old and new world varieties. "We discovered that those who love steaks are also wine drinkers. That’s why we’re bringing here our wines, too," says Chua.

Executive chef Robert J. Bolaños says he is drawing up a merienda menu that will serve popular items available at other restaurants in Tagaytay Highlands. He suggested an Angus beef burger and pizzas from the Toscana Italian restaurant, especially a pizza topped with shavings of Angus beef. Now that’s something to look forward to.
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Highlands Steakhouse is at the second floor, north wing, Entertainment Mall, SM Mall of Asia, Bay Blvd., Pasay City. It is open during mall hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and closing late in the evening, especially on weekends. For inquiries and reservations, call 556-0768 and 556-0769.

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