We had passed Manoâ€™s Greek Taverna several dozen times in the 7 months since it opened its doors just a few meters from the Tagaytay rotunda when driving up from Manila via Santa Rosa. It always seemed inconvenient to stop and we kept putting it off until one of my readers Spanx suggested I check it out. I also thought I would try it in honor of Schatzli, one of my first and most frequent visitors since I started the blog. She calls Greece home and I thought I would see if this restaurant would do Greece justice. We arrived early last Sunday under a clear blue sky worthy of a Grecian landscape. We were the only ones in the restaurant. With a very literal blue and white Grecian color scheme, it was modestly appointed but clean and light filled. Mano is from Crete and married to Stella, who I think hails from the Ilocos region â€“ they moved back from Greece and decided to open a restaurant in Tagaytay where the weather was more pleasant.
We decided to order mostly appetizers and light dishes so we started with some Tzatziki or cucumber and yoghurt dip. A nice rendition, this was surprisingly â€œfreshâ€ tasting and we were later told that Mano makes his own yoghurt on the premisesâ€¦which would explain the appeal of the dish. Served with slices of dense homemade bread, this was just the right start to the meal. We also ordered a saganaki, or a dish of shrimp with tomatoes, feta and oregano and other spices. This was pretty good, though leaving the shells on the tail end of the shrimp was distracting. Overall, the flavor was good and again it went well with the bread served. We later found out they had taramasalata (caviar dip made with fish roe hand-carried back from Greece) which wasnâ€™t on the menu and bummed we didnâ€™t order that.
My daughter had a lamb gyros or shawarma that was well received. Nice chunks of sliced lamb and vegetables and a yoghurt sauce wrapped in flat bread (probably made on the premises) was good. My wife and I thought it would be better with a spicier sauce but we like chilli, what can I say? We also ordered some cabbage rolls that was the blandest dish of the lot but again we finished the dish. The oddest dish of the lunch was a great looking greek salad. Delivered on a plate piled high with lettuce, ripe tomatoes, lots of feta, black Greek olives and lots of oregano, this looked terrific. The first bites were delicious, but I noticed an odd tinge to the vinegar. Red wine it was definitely not. I told my wife it appeared to have â€œfumesâ€ and we later investigated and Stella, the cook, said it was specially made basi or cane vinegar from her hometown. So itâ€™s best to describe this greek salad as having a Greepino (Greek and Filipino) dressing. It had character, but I would have preferred a wine vinegar instead. Nevertheless, I ate most of the salad despite the â€œfumes.â€
This is not fine dining. It is home-style Greek food with soul. Precisely why it is called a taverna. If you have a hankering for Greek food and you are tired of all the same old same old restaurants on the Tagaytay ridge, this is worth a stop. We never got to the grilled meats and fish that are supposedly Manoâ€™s specialty so I will definitely go back for more. What I really liked about the place is its obvious honesty. Run by a Greek with a passion for his food. Everything cooked in extra-virgin Greek olive oil made right on the plantation of the restaurant ownerâ€™s family. They use freshly made homemade yoghurts and in the future, they will attempt to make their feta cheese from scratch. They also bake their own bread. And despite all those positives, our generous spread with 3 drinks cost just PHP715 or less that PHP250 a head. With prices like that, you can deal with a few fumesâ€¦ I personally liked Manoâ€™s and will return to try their other offerings soon.