If you’re looking forward to the long weekend ahead, lucky you! (I always have work on special holidays so…) I know that a lot of people like to travel south to Tagaytay these days whenever there are long weekends, so I thought I would write about this restaurant we got to try the last time I was in Tagaytay, called The Wild Juan.
I’m going to change how I write my restaurant posts this year so that I can focus on writing about the things I enjoyed rather than focusing on how to rate them like some sort of critic, which I am not. However that doesn’t mean I won’t mention any negative experiences I had in a restaurant even though I enjoyed their food.
Take The Wild Juan for example: The staff were friendly enough but it took forever for our orders to arrive. Thankfully it was worth the wait. They also did not have enough clean glasses to be able to give our party of 9 some water, which was not good. I actually did overhear them saying this.
I guess it helps that you can keep yourself busy by looking through the interesting things on their shelves, but a restaurant not having enough glasses when the place wasn’t even filled to capacity is a first for me. Maybe it was a holiday and they were short on staff? I can only speculate based on what I observed, but this does seem to be the case.
Anyway, The Wild Juan is a three-in-one establishment that stands as a restaurant, a bed & breakfast, and a beer garden. Its chef-owner is Chef Thomas Murillo, and after a meal here, one word I would describe him is very much ‘creative’. He very much earns the label thanks to his dishes. Located along Nasugbu Highway, The Wild Juan is pretty easy to spot with its bright yellow exterior and ample signage.
The name of The Wild Juan carries with it the tagline “Where Southern comfort meets East and West”, which basically describes what you can expect with the food here. It’s like they’re saying any Juan can enjoy the familiar Filipino fare but also appreciate the Western influences added to each dish. It’s wild, but also close to the hearts of a common Juan. If you’re having a difficult time imagining exactly what that means, I think one meal here is enough to understand this tagline. They do deliver, I will say that, and you should read on to see what I mean.
The Wild Juan owns an organic farm, the Gorgeous Farm, right behind their Bed & Breakfast overlooking Taal. You can purchases their produce directly, but having an actual farm also ensures that The Wild Juan can serve up fresh veggies in their dishes. Their Juan Ensalada (Php 338) is a good example. It has fresh and crisp Romaine lettuce tossed in homemade Caesar dressing, then topped with crispy tawilis. If you’re not much of a veggies person but still want an appetizer to get you going, the Caldereta Wings (Php 288) is an interesting option. It’s basically fried chicken wings coated in a gooey layer of caldereta sauce, served with a creamy creole cheddar dip. The caldereta coating worked so well on the wings! I must warn you however that the dish might not come out ahead of your main course, so there’s that.
One of their specialties is their Krispy Kasoy Kare-Kare or KKK (Php 568). Instead of just throwing the beef into the stew to soften, they deep fry the beef brisket to a crisp first. It gives an interesting contrast to the creamy cashew-based The Wild Juan Special Sauce. The use of cashew in place of peanuts for the sauce gives it an unusual flavor I really enjoyed. They also have a vegetarian option of this dish, which is the Vegetable Kare-Kare (Php 399). I do love the veggies that are included in a traditional kare-kare and eat them more than the meat, so I loved the combination of eggplant, pechay, string beans, and banana heart in this dish, swimming in that special Cashew Sauce.
Their Black Native Boneless Lechon (Php 399 for 500 grams) is another specialty of theirs. They use the meat of the baboy damo they raised on their own, roast it until tender, then serve it with a special Barako Sarsa unique to The Wild Juan. I have to say, they really know how to make so many interesting sauces that make their dishes stand out even more. What’s more is that the The Wild Juan uses local ingredients to create them! I thought the meat of the black pig is just a little tougher than the regular pig’s, although it is enjoyable with the sauce nonetheless.
The standout dish for me was the Gumbo-Lalo (Php 558), which really showcases the Louisiana influence of the fusion dishes at The Wild Juan. It is a flavorful chunky beef shank stew with bone marrow, in a dark spicy gumbo sauce that will make you want to lick the bowl clean. Fair warning: You might end up eating more rice because of this dish!
Another standout for me was the Dirty Rice (Php 268 good for 3-4 persons), described as a Louisiana-inspired Cumin fried rice with vegetables. This is one of my favorite versions of fried rice among all that I’ve ever eaten. The spices tingle the tastebuds in a way that makes you want more! I don’t know if a lot of people like the spice cumin, but in this dish it works like a charm. For me, it’s not too strong but it doesn’t shy away either. Despite being flavorful on its own, it pairs well with the other dishes at The Wild Juan.
After the round of main dishes, my doubts about the The Wild Juan because of the first impression I got from their service was watered down. I found myself curious about what else they had on the menu, and to be honest there were still a bunch of other dishes I was interested in, but we were full already and what we wanted was a bit of dessert.
I spotted the Risotto sa Gata (Php 208), which is technically not a dessert but an all-day breakfast option. It is a sweet one, so we tried it in the end. The risotto they refer to is local malagkit rice is cooked in coconut milk, then topped with crispy bacon. Cacao tablea ganache is then poured over the top. I wasn’t expecting the serving to be THIS big, to be honest. We had such a hard time finishing it up, and we actually did despite being stuffed. It was good! The coconut milk-based risotto was creamy and tasty, with the bacon adding a different texture and a salty component. The chocolate binds it all together. Good thing we ordered this for sharing. Ang bigat sa tiyan!
Because we had not expected the Risotto sa Gata to come in such a big plate, we over-ordered with Duecert (Php 198). It’s a clever pun to describe the pairing of two different desserts: the Cashew Tart and Calamansi Crème Brulee. The Cashew Tart is made from Bataan cashews that have been roasted and chopped, then baked into something that is a cross between a sticky pie and a blondie. Its pineapple marmalade topping cuts through the sweetness. The other dessert is a calamansi-flavored firm and sticky flan with a disc of caramelized sugar on top. It needed a bit more tang in my opinion.
After having a literal feast at The Wild Juan, it was easier to forgive the missteps they initially had upon our arrival. Bumawi sila sa pagkain eh. Every dish we tried here was a memorable one, mostly because of the ingenious twists and the clever use of local ingredients on each dish. I think they managed to take the Creole influences and fit it in with the right dishes to the right degree, tweaking our Pinoy favorites but keeping them fundamentally still present in each dish. I also really loved the flavors of the dipping sauces they paired with certain dishes.
To be frank, The Wild Juan exceeded my expectations. I thought we would get Pinoy dishes with a sprinkle of Western influences here and there. I had not expected this clever adaptation of Creole flavors into the typical Pinoy dishes. It’s different yet familiar. I hope they can tighten up their service to complement their strong lineup of dishes. They do have quite a lot more on the menu that seem worth a try!
The Wild Juan
KM 68 Pinesville, Tagaytay
Nasugbu Highway, Tagaytay City
Hours: Varies daily
Contact No.: +63 9154324196 / +63 9178404211
Full disclosure: This post is NOT sponsored in any way. I received no compensation for writing this review. All opinions stated above are my own.