By Rosemarie Reyes – SouthTrip Editor-in-Chief
When friends made plans to try a newly opened fine dining restaurant in Tagaytay, I dutifully drove to meet them. I wasn’t expecting anything, having pretty much tried the food options along the ridge. There’s a certain wisdom in not having any expectations — one gets a most unexpected surprise. Lunch at Charito Fine Dining was one of the best experiences in recent memory.
Entering a spacious parking area filled with mature trees and a wide variety of greenery made me remember visits to my grandparents’ house on weekends. The abundance of nature and the quiet calm were the first things I noticed. When I saw the rotonda where guests are dropped off, much like where we get off at my grandparents’, I had that calming feeling that lunch will be good. It brought back warm, beautiful memories of a childhood spent with love and family. Later I would find out that the 2,500 sqm. property was originally a house built in 1975 before it was converted to its present-day function as a restaurant. This seems to be why the place exudes that warm feeling that comes with years of happy memories.
Inside, the bright white color and French-inspired furniture and decor made me relax even more. Then I stepped into the patio where my friends have chosen our table. The view of Taal with a few grown trees is a blessing to have over a fine meal. That vista will never get old.
Lunch was a feast especially with the spontaneous laughter and lively chatter among friends. As is our habit, we shared a generous bowl of Greek Salad, with assorted green lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions, eggs, black olives, capers & feta cheese. We continued with more healthy plates: Fresh Spring Rolls, our favorite Vietnamese dish made with fresh vegetables, shrimps and served with nuoc mom sauce. The Grilled Salmon in White Wine in Dill Cream Sauce. After all these, we felt we deserve to cheat a bit and had Chicken Teriyaki, grilled boneless chicken marinated with sake soy sauce, mirin, sugar and served with sautéed cabbage, beans sprouts, carrots and bell peppers. Of course we just had to follow this with the Grilled Pork Chop “BoB Style”, marinated pork chops grilled to perfection. Plus Grilled Rib Eye Steak — 300g of USDA Grade A choice rib eye, seasoned with sea salt and cracked pepper. This was yummy, fork-tender and so flavorful paired with a choice of mushroom gravy or pepper corn sauce. Dessert was Blueberry Pie and Black Forest Cake. I must stress that four ladies shared everything (greens, flavors, calories, you know?) except for the drinks: Mojito, Coffee, Iced Caramel Macchiato, Oreo Cookies and Cream.
The food and especially the coffee was exceptional. But then again, we expected that because Charito comes from the same person who gave us Bag of Beans. The restaurant’s name is actually the owner’s, Charito “Chat” Antiquera. Her elegant handwriting is seen in the logo. Site Manager Andro Mallari narrated that it was the owner’s vision to venture into fine dining after the successful string of Bag of Beans branches in Tagaytay. Bag of Beans regulars will recognize some of its signature dishes in Charito. But most of the entrees are created just for the fine dining restaurant. My friends remarked that Bag of Beans branches are found in close proximity to each other, and now with Charito added to the mix when it opened this March, they seem to be quite a lot. Mallari said that is exactly the strategy and concept of the owner; that people will closely associate Tagaytay with Bag of Beans and its sister restaurant like Charito. “Gusto nya pag sinabing Tagaytay, one destination: Bag of Beans. And now may Charito pa,” Mallari said with a smile.
Charito, however, is distinct from Bag of Beans with its French-styled interiors and fine dining concept. “Unlike the casual dining style in Bag of Beans where food is served family-style (dishes are all placed in the middle of the table so family members can share them), we at Charito serve dishes in a more formal way, following the courses that the customer has chosen,” explained Mallari.
It is Ms. Chat’s personal decorating style that is evident in all of her restaurants — there is always something interesting to look at on the walls, floors, nooks and crannies and yes, including the ceilings. Charito has original artworks, vintage gilt mirrors, sculptures, Vigan tiles and marble floors that are part of the original house, crystal chandeliers and cheeky cherubim hovering from the ceiling and hanging from mature trees.
Because the original layout of the house was preserved, there are several dining spaces where you can enjoy your fine meal. The main dining space with a working fireplace is on the ground floor adjacent to the the patio and bar. It is perfect for cool nights with live piano music (guests are encouraged to sing) on Friday and Saturday nights. A bakeshop carries freshly baked breads and pies and its aroma entices guests even before they enter the restaurant. What used to be the library is now the “Spring Room” done in pleasing colors of turquoise and pink which can accommodate up to 20 people. On the second floor are two bedrooms now used as function rooms: the “Winter Room” in stately grays and whites which accommodates six to eight people and the “Summer Room” in citrusy shades which can hold a maximum of 15 people. A sizeable dining hall on the second floor has more tables while the open deck encourages alfresco dining. From this upper floor, guests have an even more impressive view of the lake.
Lounging in our table savoring coffee and pie while we wait for the rain to stop, i just felt utterly relaxed. You know the feeling when you are just content right where you are? That is my experience at Charito Fine Dining by Bag of Beans. Maybe because it used to be a family home, it has retained the inexplainable yet palpable feelings of quiet comfort and elegant warmth. Truly one of a kind.
Charito Fine Dining is located at Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway, Maharlika East, Tagaytay, Cavite. For lunch with gorgeous views or old-fashioned romantic dinner dates, call 0927.778.0868. It is open daily: 7am-10pm on weekdays and 7am-12nn on weekends.
Note: originally published in October 2017.