Rainy day eats and conversations at The Wild Juan

I’ve always found myself a bit conflicted about rain. On the one hand, it gets difficult to get around with the inevitability of getting soaked; On the other, I welcome the escape from the oppressive Manila heat and humidity. Rain seems to be the unfailing catalyst for wanting to hole up somewhere, unplugged. 

The Wild Juan in Tagaytay offers a welcome refuge. “Where Southern comfort meets East and West,” their tagline aptly reads. More than the allusion to Southern American hospitality, it was the saloon-inspired charm and the lure of the new within the familiar that drew me in. This was my third visit to Tagaytay this quarter, but my first time to stay at The Wild Juan even if they’ve been open for nearly a year now. You can visit a place over and over and still discover something new, so they say. 

The welcome dinner- Steak Tagalog and Caesar Salad

The lure of white sheets and fluffy pillows.

It may have also been the anticipation to catch up with their head chef, Thomas Murillo or simply Tommy, who has been a friend for eleven years now. Recollections of teen folly were obligatory after a Steak Tagalog for dinner, which was a generous 300-gram serving of Batangus (Get it?) tenderloin cooked medium, paired with buttery mashed potatoes, vegetables and proper drippings for gravy. As the evening progressed, so too did our conversations—from the business viability of craft beer (over, of course, craft beer. We had Pedro Elementary English Ale and Cebrewery Chocolate Hills Porter.) to the vision Tommy has for The Wild Juan- “It’s intended to be a second-home for both Manileños and the locals here. A cozy place where we can all enjoy great food, down some drinks, and eventually spend the night. Everybody thinks Tagaytay is an accessible escape. It’s our goal to be analogous to that.” Sitting in the balcony with the breeze blowing, in the midst of great company, I thought it was a vision well-grounded in tangible reality. 

Owner and Head Chef, Thomas Murillo in The Wild Juan's Beer Garden

Adobo Flakes and Chicken N Pancakes

With a full-fledged cafe in the works and the possible extension of the bed and breakfast to a campsite within the rest of the property, Tommy’s plans of expansion for The Wild Juan are bold, but clear and vivid, and beguile the entrepreneurial chef’s youth. Did I mention he’s just 24? After abandoning a possible career in foreign diplomacy to pursue culinary, Tommy’s--and consequently The Wild Juan’s--story is quite the common millennial narrative, albeit one that proves that the millennial pursuit is grounded not on entitlement, but on forward thinking self-awareness. “I was studying hard [for diplomacy] but I just didn’t see myself as an ambassador or an attaché, so I had to make a decision [to stop], and see what else was out there for me. It took a while before I found myself in culinary, but when I finally did, I dove head first and just sought to learn. I took a course and worked at a kitchen, until I was capable enough to build something of my own. I’m also lucky I met a co-chef to partner with to help me with The Wild Juan. It’s all been very hands on work and continuous learning, fuelled by passion for innovative food.” The excitement in his voice was palpable, and nothing short of inspiring. Also, I couldn’t help but wonder- what am I doing with my life? 

Grilled Pineapple Glazed Pork Belly and Vegetable Kasoy Kare-Kare

While I’m not quite sure I’ve watched enough The Food Channel to figure out what makes food innovative vs. merely trendy, I can attest that the food was indeed delicious. For breakfast the next day, I had the best fried chicken I’ve ever had (and I’m not even really a fan of fried chicken. Not even Chicken Joy.) with fluffy cinnamon pancakes and hazelnut brewed coffee. For lunch, Paolo and I had pork belly and vegetable kasoy kare-kare, and wiped our plates clean. If we had the luxury of a third day in a weekend, we would have hibernated stayed another night just to try the rest of the menu al fresco at the beer garden after the skies cleared.

Ah, well, it’s a compelling reason to go back.
I'm looking at you, Risotto sa Gata.

The Wild Juan is located at KM 68 Pinesville, Tagaytay-Nasugbu National Highway, Barangay Niyugan. For reservations and inquiries, call +63915 4324196 or +63917 8404211, or visit their Facebook and send them a message.

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