Destiny’s Find

9 months ago


Meet the reluctant cook behind Tagaytay’s newest dining destination


Words by Nina Daza-Puyat

Photographed by Zac Moran


Have you ever had a dream come true even though you never actually wished for it, or specifically asked for it? For 58-year old Ica Manalo Sebastian, opening a restaurant and sharing her food with people other than family and friends was never on her bucket list. It wasn’t even in her plans when she first moved back to Manila in 2010 after living in Hong Kong for 30 years. When she enrolled in cooking classes in various cities in Southeast Asia, it was purely for self-enrichment and personal fulfillment. Everything she learned in Asian art, antiques, interior design, furniture, fabric, and even landscaping—in the course of her multi-faceted career, she never imagined would come handy in the future. But it seems that her destiny was already written in the stars. When the time was ripe, opportunity and circumstance led her to an exact spot in the universe where Café Voi La now stands. Just a year before, the area was nothing but a heap of land; today, there is a lovely Swiss cottage restaurant on a hill surrounded by pine trees, right by the entrance of Crosswinds Resort in Tagaytay.

Ica Manalo

Ica Manalo

This mother of six thought she could relax and take life easy after the kids
 had grown up. Not that Ica was ever idle. Right after college in Manila, she moved to Hong Kong where she got married and eventually worked for various companies including United Airlines, Avant Garde Lifestyle Store, and Charlotte Horstmann, and Gerald Godfrey Ltd., a prestigious gallery of Asian Art and Antiquities.

Her job with the airline and her husband Francis’ posting as an international banker allowed her to travel extensively, giving her a taste and a deep appreciation for different kinds of cuisines.

Best described as eclectic, the food at Café Voi La is undoubtedly a reflection
 of Ica’s colorful journey as a banker’s
wife who loved befriending chefs from different countries in her travels, and
also as a mother who was constantly cooking at home, feeding her children and their friends. This is a woman who has developed her palate through the most exciting meals she’s had the privilege to enjoy all over the world. You can say that the menu is composed of everything this bubbly Ilongga loves to cook and eat.

A good example of a family favorite would be the Café Voi La Signature Curry. Sebastian describes it as a fusion
of three types of curry from Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, a recipe she tweaked to suit her own taste. It is not just one kind of curry—it is the ultimate red curry dish. The sauce is so versatile that it pairs well with meat, fish, seafood, or even a combination of these. Make sure you order the Café Voi La Signature Satays, a delight to see and smell as the skewers arrive on a mini tabletop grill, still smoking and literally hot-off-the-grill. The chicken meat is tender, complex in flavor and truly delicious. Smear some of the peanut sauce on the chicken and have a spoonful of the addicting yellow turmeric rice. Ica says that they use only fresh turmeric (luyang dilaw) and ground turmeric powder sourced from Vietnam, giving it that distinctive color and flavor.

Café Voi La Signature Curry

Café Voi La Signature Curry

On the more continental side of
the menu, there is the SSS or Special Senator’s Salad, an indulgent mix
 of smoked salmon, prawns, shiitake mushrooms, and generous shavings of aged Parmesan cheese on crisp Tagaytay greens. Ica is proud to say that she created this salad for former Senator Manny Villar, whose Vista Land partnered with Ica on Café Voi La. It was the Villar executives who discovered Ica’s culinary genius and introduced her to the senator. When Villar tasted Ica’s food, he urged her to “bring your home to Tagaytay.”

SSS or Special Senator's Salad

SSS or Special Senator’s Salad

And that she did. Throughout the indoor and outdoor dining areas are interesting objets d’art, as well as pillow cases picked up from her travels, urging diners to feel at home while they enjoy the view and the cool Tagaytay breeze.

When you meet Ica Sebastian in person, she is warm and welcoming and yet there is a quiet elegance about her— and that is exactly the vibe at Café Voi La. She says of her food, “When people ask me what my secret ingredient is, I tell them
it is passion. This is my passion. When customers like my food, it is music to my ears.”

Just like the French word “voilà” which translates to “here it is,” this jewel of a restaurant is just waiting to be discovered.

Café Voi La

Crosswinds, Brgy. Iruhin Central

Calamba Road, Tagaytay City

(0915) 331-4457 or (0918) 372-7499

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