Siargao is the hottest destination in the Philippines these days, as troves of the cool kids from Manila flying in every weekend, as well as flocks of surfers from Europe, Australia, and North America. Known as the surfing capital of the Philippines with a long and fascinating history of wave-riding, it’s now home to this steady stream of vacationers, a lot of young expats who want to surf every day, an annual International Surf Competition, and even a popular indie movie by the same name!
But do you know why I love visiting Siargao (other than the island hopping, as I suck at surfing?) The food! Yes, this remote island (it’s one of the eastern-most islands in the Philippines and damn close to the Philippines Deep, which is the third-lowest spot on earth and one of the reasons they get great waves) has some surprisingly incredible cuisine.
A lot of the quality restaurants I find there are thanks to the foreigners that move to Siargao and open these eateries, and so they’re remark ably diverse as well as healthy (a huge relief from terribly-unhealthy and just plain terrible Filippino food!).
Well, upon my recent trip to Siargao, I found a great new Italian place that’s so new, they don’t even show up online yet. In fact, Trattoria had only been open two weeks since their soft opening when I visited, but it was still an impressive operation.
Located on the main Tourist Road that parallels the snaking coastline, only a few hundred yards from the beach, Trattoria is hard to miss, as they smartly put their brick pizza oven right up front for everyone to see. Stepping into the restaurant open to the air on three sides, you’ll be directed to a small area where you take off your shoes and put them on a big rack. Keeping with the Filipino custom of taking your shoes off before you enter a home (to k eep the dirt from outside out). But that’s a welcome start to the Trattoria aesthetic, which blends Japanese traditional, Italian, and Filipino design. No matter where you’re standing or sitting in Trattoria, you’ll also be given a fantastic view, as the dark wood floor planking leads to pathways around stone gardens and gorgeous tropical landscaping.
I quickly found that the food is out of this world, too. My friend and I had a tomato with mozzarella appetizer, a Margherita pizza, a crab fettuccini, and gelato for dessert. The servers were extremely friendly and putting forth their smiling but serious best effort, although it was apparent that they had some more kinks that would be worked out after more than two weeks.
But the owner – a thirty-something Italian man in a Hawaiian shirt – also came over frequently, checking on us, make conversation, and making sure our food was fine.
The food was stupendous, on par with Italian food I’d expect on the east coast of the U.S., not the east coast of the Philippines. The highlight for me was the vanilla gelato that was infused with chunks of mango, which was heavenly, with a texture that nearly floated off the plate.
However, that’s not the reason I can assure you that Trattoria will be a smash success. The owner is obviously VERY passionate about food and making people happy, and that’s a wonderful combination. Case in point: When I ordered my margarita pizza, I was informed that the kitchen was out of basil (that’s nearly impossible to get there unless you ship it in). No problem, I told the waitress, they can just throw extra oregano on it.
But the owner overheard and apologized profusely. I assured him that it was no problem at all, but I could tell that it bothered him.
“Look at that pizza,” he said mournfully when it came to the table. “With no color, it’s just not right.” It looked fine to me but he said, “Wait!” and ran off. I saw him actually go into the little garden area at the front of the restaurant, handpick some leaves off of the basil plant there, run it back to the kitchen to wash it, and then ran back to my table to place the fresh basil leaves perfectly on each slice.
THAT is a love of food and love of service, and why I’ll be back to Trattoria again and again!