Have you ever been to a restaurant, and the moment you open the menu, everywhere you look.. no matter what corner of the page you glance at, you see a dish that you just HAVE to order?
Well, that's exactly what happened to me when I went to Village Tavern last week. I swear, I was just staring at the menu, with my tummy growling at me and I just drew a blank. The dishes just sounded so amazing, I was completely overwhelmed. I honestly wanted to order practically EVERYTHING.
Which is why I turned over the ordering reins to my friend Mitzi of The Bistro group, figuring since she has declared The Village Tavern one of her favorite restaurants to eat at, she wouldn't lead us astray.
Funnily enough, I was right. Everything Mitzi recommended knocked it out of the park.
During my lunch at Bulgogi Brothers with Mitzi and Lisa of The Bistro Group, they had mentioned to me about the opening of their newest restaurant in Bonifacio High Street Central, called Village Tavern. Despite the fact that I was stuffing my face with some amazing Korean BBQ'd Prime Rib, I couldn't get the thought of Village Tavern out of my head. You see, as a no frills kind of guy, I'm a sucker for American food.. More so than even the more sophisticated entrees Italian and Japanese cuisines can boast of, and lucky for me, Village Tavern just happens to specialize in classic American food.
Village Tavern is actually an american restaurant chain, which has a string of branches around The United States, starting in North Carolina, the spreading around places such as Atlanta, Florida, and Denver. This is their first branch outside the United States.
I gotta hand it to the Bistro Group though. Can they Pick 'em or what?
Walking into Village Tavern takes you into another world. I've never actually been into one, but I imagine this is close to what a hunting lodge would look like, complete with deer antler chandeliers. The place was elegant, with its exquisite interiors impressive, yet exuding nothing but comfort.
In true Bistro Group Fashion, service was impeccable, with the staff going out of their way to make sure you feel right at home. I was also quite impressed with how our server totally memorized all our orders easily.. remembering dishes that I already forgot we ordered.
Because of her colds, Rina started off her meal with the freshly squeezed Dalandan Juice (P140). She found the natural flavors of the fruit to be quite refreshing, and though the citrus taste of the dalandan was evident, it would pass her throat smoothly.
I ordered a Banana Milkshake (P160) as my drink. It was nice and thick, and you could feel the freshness of the bananas. it had a delicate creaminess and didn't go overboard with the sweetness. I loved it!
Rina started off her meal with the Asian Tuna Salad (P495). It featured some greens with a fresh center cut Ahi tuna. Because I know Rina liked this, I sacrificed my portion in order to ensure that she gets more for herself. You see, that's the kind of husband I am.
When ordering, Mitzi said to me, "I want you to try the Grilled Chicken, Spinach & Mixed Greens Salad! Spanky Enriquez's loved it the last time he was here!".
Wait. Hold the phone.
Spanky Enriquez ate a salad? Spanky Enriquez, the same guy that helped bring the glory of the Lechon Degustation and the Cochinillo al Horno ala Castellana into my life.. ate a Salad? No let me rephrase.. The same man who has a conspiracy theory about there being a movement of restaurants to deliberately under-season dishes in order to appease health buffs.. LOVED a salad?
Surely there had to be a mistake.
Needing clarification, I asked Mitzi, "Spanky really enjoyed the salad?". "Oh yes, he loved it! He practically finished the entire order all to himself!", she replied.
Do you remember the moment when you found out that *SPOILER ALERT* Santa Claus was your mom and dad all along? Sort of like, when Neo discovered that his life in the Matrix wasn't real? Well, that's more or less how I felt.
My brother in bacon completely annihilated a salad.. and loved it.
It was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but I had to accept the truth.
Rina forked up a few pieces from the plate and held it out to me and said, "Why don't you try it?". I gave her a sad shake of the head.
She then said, "Look, I gave you a big chunk of bacon!".
And that totally changed everything.
"Oh so there's bacon in it!" I beamed. The Grilled Chicken, Spinach & Mixed Greens Salad (P595) was easily the best salad I had ever had. Granted, that may not mean much because I haven't had very many salads in my lifetime (I promise I will when they replace the lettuce with bacon), but in fact, this is the only one that comes to my mind when I think of salads that I can say that I enjoyed thoroughly.
It had sweet vinaigrette that had the right amount of acid, which played off perfectly with the smokiness of the Applewood smoked bacon and the grilled chicken. There were also bits of cranberry that gave the greens an added punch of sweetness.
At first I thought the apple muffin was out of place on the plate, but taking a bite out of it, made me thank my lucky stars it was there! It was moist and soft, and I ended up eating it separately.
So in what would be a lunch of Epic Firsts for me, this was,
"Epic First #1: The first salad with Greens that the Pickiest Eater actually likes"
Rina always complains that I never order any shrimp dishes. She has a case. I honestly am not a big fan of shrimp, with the exception of Ebi Tempura, which is essentially Prawn, not shrimp. When she was looking throught the menu, I told her to order anything she wanted. After a few seconds of reading, she said, "The Blackened Shrimp!". Naturally that was met with a frown from me, and I said, "But that's an appetizer.. not a main course.. you sure you want that?". She rolled her eyes at me, mumbling something to the effect, "Nagtanong ka pa.." (Why bother asking in the first place).
When Mitzi joined us, she was adamant that we MUST try the Blackened Shrimp (P595), much to the delight of Rina. I'll be honest.. I had no intention of trying it. But when they placed it in front of me, I took my spoon and dipped it into the sauce and gave it a little taste.
My mind was then promptly blown away.
The delicious bayou cream took your senses on to an amazing ride. The spices were evident but swirled around the richness of the cream. After that first taste of the sauce, I realized it didn't matter what protein they put in that bowl.. Wildebeest.. Jabberwocky.. Yeti.. For as long as it was bathed in the bayou cream sauce, I was eating it.
"EPIC FIRST #2: The first Shrimp Dish I enjoyed"
Another thing Mitzi highly reccommended, was the Maryland Style Crab cakes (P550 regular, P695 to share). I don't know if I've mentioned it in the past, but Rina and I are a junkie for anything Gordon Ramsay. Something we had noticed was when he would go taste restaurants in his TV Show "Kitchen Nightmares", a dish he would order quite often was "Crab Cakes". I had tasted crab cakes a long time ago when I was a child, and it sadly wasn't done very well. Afterwards, I began my aversion to shellfish, so I never really bothered to try them again.
Rina, however has gotten more and more curious over the years.
And she felt it was definitely worth the wait. Ok, I normally don't eat crab. I wouldn't even eat a cream of crab soup. The only crab dish I can safely say I enjoyed was crab wonton from P.F. Chang's but you could really taste the crab.
I must say, however, that this was exceptional. The exterior crust was fried beautifully, and slicing through it revealed a gorgeous lump crab meat in a creamy mixture that tasted simply amazing. Coupled with the coleslaw and the fries, it made me wonder why I waited so long til I had another bite of crab.
"Epic First #3: The first Crab tasting dish that I loved"
As you can imagine, Mitzi did NOT order the Cowboy Burger for me. I ordered this bad boy on my own volition. From the moment I glanced upon the picture, it was clear that this burger was created with me in mind.
Think about it this way.. A meaty half pound Black Angus ground chuck Patty, laid out on a soft artisan bread bun, topped with cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and bathed in a smooth barbeque sauce.
The burger was so good, It took everything I had not to yell out "YEEHAW!" after my first bite.
I also felt it was important that I try the Barbecued Pork Sliders (P425). After eating all those veggies and seafood, I felt I needed an extra helping of pork.
The sliders were filled with delicious pulled pork, whose texture was extremely tender, giving me the impression that it was slow cooked for hours. The coleslaw was a nice counter to the strong tangy taste of the BBQ Sauce, although I felt I little more mayo wouldn't have hurt either.
The burgers come with a choice of potato or sweet potato fries.. I haven't tried the Sweet Potato fries yet, but Mitzi swears that they're amazing.
By the time dessert came along, Rina and I felt like we were about to explode. However as soon as they placed the Banana Crepes (P395) in front of us, a compartment in our stomach we never knew existed magically surfaced.
The banana ice cream that is specially made for Village Tavern was wonderful, and wrapped in a light crepe, laying perched on top of sliced bananas, and in a pool of caramel.
And yes, it tasted as awesome as it sounds.
The only adjective I use to describe my trip to Village Tavern is epic. The journey Rina and I went through before we could go (drama, ba?), the sheer volume of food ordered, and the incredible flavors, and all the surprising firsts.. Made for an epic lunch experience.
The prices are a little bit steep. I'm guessing that a dinner for two would easily set you back no less than P2,000. But I think the quality of food you get, coupled with the ambiance, makes for a dining experience well worth the price of admission.
I'm going back soon to try the Applewood Bacon and Gruyere Flat Bread Pizza, as well as the Maple Cured Pork Tenderloin!!