When I crave for a chillier atmosphere or a quick roadtrip getaway, Tagaytay is always on the top of my mind. With its numerous restaurants, hotels and destinations promising good services "with a view," I tend to overlook the neighboring cities and keep my eyes on the more famous establishments. Little did I know that there's a little secret of three years just kilometers before reaching the city of cool climate, sitting along Robinsons Terazza in Dasmariñas City, waiting to be discovered.
Be it a little unique souvenir or a wonderful food find, you'll be able to treasure something new at Souk Kafé. 'Souk' means marketplace in Arabic, and as its name suggests, this family-run restaurant-cum-store offers a charming dining and shopping experience.
A quick look at their establishment gives one the Middle Eastern vibe, with its interiors and details, ornaments and fabrics. But it's more than sharing the Middle Eastern culture, Operations Manager Jerome Mayuga says. They want to bring to their clientèle a unique combination of flavors, colors and spices inspired by the Silk Road, weaving in touches of Asian, Mediterranean, and European flavors.
And being a little marketplace, they are more than just food. Unique items and souvenirs from around the world are displayed and sold at Souk Kafé. In fact, as I was admiring one of their colorful lamps, Jerome tells me that they can sell whatever is on display. Just tell them what you wish to purchase, so they can have the items shipped to the country.
My day's agenda however was skewed towards the dining experience rather than the shopping, so I settled myself in one of their tables and prepared for a gastronomic lunch, Souk Kafé style.
We start off our lunch with Crab Crostini (P149), six bite-size pieces garnished with a little mix of veggies. This appetizer is actually soft kani sticks atop fresh slices of tomato, which are then tenderly coated with cheese and melted. Simple and delectable.
A pair of pizzas made their way into our table, much to our delight. Souk calls their pizzas Manquosh -- Mediterranean pizzas using thin, chewy bread. The soft pizza dough is also lightly spiced with turmeric and cumin.
The first one we tried is the Marinara (P215) , their take on the seafood pizza with tuna flakes and crabmeat amidst traditional toppings of mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, olives, and cheeses.
The second pizza is the Souk Specialite (P225), Souk Kafé's best-seller from the oven. It's basically the pizza 'with everything on it': different meats (pepperoni, sausage, bacon), with different cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan), mixed in with mushroom, olives, onion, tomato, and basil.
A little seasoning to add extra 'oomph' to every bite
I liked sprinkling my pizza slices with some of their spices, like the lemon and black pepper that gives a zesty kick in every bite. These spices are also imported and are for sale, by the way. And also, since the pizza dough is quite soft and thin, we tried rolling it up and eating it like a shawarma. It gave an entirely different experience. You may want to try it, too!
My friends adored the Crumbed Dory (P205). It's one slab of fish that is pan-friend, then coated with a creamy white leek sauce, and served with rice and a siding of potato salad. The presentation of the dish also deserves some plus points.
The outer coating is light and crisp, dampened a bit with the sauce, and the inside is very soft. The leek sauce is thick but is light on the palate, and the potato salad leans toward the sweeter side. The dish receives thumbs-up from my friends.
My favorite had to be the Chicken Senape (P245), a dish of crunchy and tarty proportions. Several chicken strips are coated and pan-fried to a crunch, and artfully positioned on a plate with rice, garnishings, and mustard cream.
It's a comfort food dish for me, as crunchy chicken strips with rice is a simple meal but it definitely gives a throwback to home cooked dishes. And with the creamy, tarty mustard sauce, the combination is just enough to make me smack my lips in satisfaction.
After our hearty feast, we take a quick break before dessert arrives with a serving of Turkish Coffee (P90). In Souk, it is served the traditional way, on a small Ibrik.
Turkish Coffee (which is actually Lebanese)
From the Ibrik pot, Jerome tells me to pour the coffee into the demitasse and let it sit for a couple of minutes, to make the granules and coffee sludge settle down.
Ibrik is used to brew and serve Souk's Turkish Coffee
Traditionally served black, it is not recommended to be taken with milk, and Jerome says it is best served with cold water (since it is served very hot). Souk's version of the coffee is milder, to cater to the Pinoy taste (Turkish coffee, I am told, packs a wild punch). It is also lightly spiced, not too strong, and already sweetened, so you can skip adding sugar the way I took my cup.
A little trivia: the coffee grounds of Turkish coffee are used for fortune-telling! The formal term for it is Tasseography, and it is uses the same interpretation methods as reading tea leaves.
Just as I finished my Turkish coffee, dessert arrives. I was relieved to see we were having light servings of fruit, as I was getting fuller and fuller by the minute.
The Helwa Mangga (P135) is a serving of ripe mango slices that are glazed with caramelized butter. A small sprinkling of white chocolate, decorates the mangoes, and the immaculate white plate is transformed into a little artwork with a dollop of cream and swirls of chocolate syrup and grenadine.
Our group favored the Cibamel (P125) more, which is caramelized banana slices spiced with cinnamon, and topped with milk chocolate bits. It also had the cream and swirly plate artwork, which we attacked by dipping our banana slices into the syrup. The marriage of banana and cinnamon in this dessert is just so easy to like.
Discovering Souk Kafé was such a pleasure for my friends and I -- we now have a new place to dine at when we find ourselves in yet another roadtrip towards the cool weathered cities to escape Manila for a while. With its different trinkets for sale and flavorful food to try out, this place is worthy as a destination in itself.