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More than four hundred years ago, a Dutch warship led a Spanish galleon on a merry chase along the coastline of a pristine promontory west of Batangas. The hastily Commissioned galleon, San Diego, was not tested to be battle-worthy and listed badly – supposedly because of the weight of her cannons – eventually submerging her portholes and sinking, all without her rival, the Mauritius, firing a single shot (ironic given that fuego is Spanish for fire). In 1992, the San Diego was salvaged with a fabulous (and rather hefty) haul of Chinese porcelains, Portuguese cannons, Mexican coins and Japanese swords, which probably explains why the poor ship sank in the first place.
Nowadays, travelers, vacationers and sightseers flock to the promontory of Punta Fuego for treasure-hunting of a different sort. Club Punta Fuego is a gem of a resort filled with various distractions to soothe the soul, sate the senses and put spring in one’s step. “We’re slowly opening up the club and making it a bit more accessible to the public,” reveals Mikel Arriet Arruiz, the club’s General Manager and longtime former Executive Chef. “We have great package deals with agoda.com for two-night stays with breakfast.” It’s a challenge keeping everything in tip-top shape with lulls during the work week. “A lot of people come in during the weekends, but on weekdays, there are a lot of rooms available. We’re trying to get more people to visit us during the weekdays, so it keeps the staff on their toes – if they’re not busy during the week, when the weekend hits, it’s like a rusty machine with people slow to respond. We can’t have that.”
He has good reasons to keep everything and everyone in shape – there is just so much to do and see in Club Punta Fuego and it’s not easy keeping all of it in working order. I got to check out a whole slew of diversions – squash courts, tennis courts, a golf course, a mini-golf course, billiard tables, volleyball areas, mountain bikes and even a cozy little movie theater. And that’s just the stuff on land. The resort has lots of large infinity-style swimming pools (single or double – your choice) and a plethora of beaches and coves with yachts (and a yacht club, to boot), powerboats, SCUBA gear, jetskis, banana boats and even sumo tubes (if the urge strikes you to become an inflatable human bullet).
I was exhausted from a long night of last-minute work details and a trip to the resort at dawn, so none of these things particularly appealed to me at the time. However, I got to go to my snug little casita where a pair of plump queen-sized beds sprinkled with soft kalachuchi flowers, crisp sheets and overstuffed pillows seduced me into a long, deep sleep. The last thoughts I had as I stared at the high vaulted ceiling and whitewashed walls came about as the steady, almost imperceptible thrum of the split-type air conditioner purred on and lulled me to oblivion.
Even with all these reasons to book a stay at Club Punta Fuego, the food itself is a big enough draw to brave the almost three-hour transit to Nasugbu from Manila. I got to sample the fare of Il Jardineto and the San Diego Restaurant (yes, it’s a namesake of the Spanish galleon), the two mainstays of the resort. The former specializes in Italian cuisine, while the latter offers a more cosmopolitan lineup of tempting dishes. We began the meal with humble but hearty Baba Ghanoush and Hummus with homemade multigrain bread. Spicing up the palate was Gambas al Ajillo, sautéed shrimps swimming in fried garlic and bird’s eye chili pepper slivers with a fiery bite that could rouse the inebriated into total sobriety in an instant. There was also some Potato Cream Soup with Truffle, heady, frothy and fragrant. Creamy Croquetas de Bacalao followed next, little potato dumplings dusted with a little turmeric with salted cod smothered in béchamel sauce. For pizza lovers and health buffs, the Vegetarian Pizza can’t be beat – it’s loaded with shiitake mushrooms, local pechay, feta cheese, mozzarella, button mushrooms and capsicum served on a wafer-thin hand-rolled crust. I’m particularly fond of paella, and the Arroz Caldoso was an eye-opener – a wetter version of seafood paella made of prawns, squid, clams, capsicum and fish fillet cooked porridge style with the fat long grains of rice normally used for the dish. It was served with aioli sauce to give it a lively zing. The Lamb Stew with Boiled Crispy Potatoes was a lovely mulligan of juicy lamb cooked for hours with potatoes that were first boiled with their skins on, then lightly fried to produced a smoky aroma that goes quite nicely with the lamb. One of the highlights was the Spaghetti Gambaretto, a tasty shrimp and tomato pasta that actress and TV host Kris Aquino is reputed to have liked so much she asked for its recipe for home use (it incorporates blundered carrot in the tomato sauce, lending a sweetness that is mistakenly identified as sugar). Capping the meal were two luscious desserts. The first, Zuccotto, was a Florentine dome cheesecake with rich chocolate sauce, almonds and Grand Marnier with a kiwi, mango and cantaloupe compote. The second was a Banana Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream, a banana bread pudding stuffed with raisins, caramel and walnuts. Now isn’t that a treasure trove worth seeking?
One of the most striking dishes you’ll find at Punta Fuego is their Black Shrimp Tempura. Fried crispy with traditional Japanese rice flour batter, Black Shrimp Tempura has a secret concoction of squid ink added into the mix to give it its signature obsidian hue and rich, otherworldly flavor. An invaluable partner to beer and sake, Black Shrimp Tempura is a toothsome treat, whether eaten alone as an appetizer, or paired with rice or noodles. This dish knows no boundaries and works well with bread and hummus, pasta or even on one of Il Jardineto’s mouthwatering pizzas (ordering a dish from either restaurant is no trouble)
Terrazas de Punta Fuego
Lest you find yourself feeling a bit of cabin fever inside Punta Fuego, you can explore the Terrazas de Punta Fuego. Although a separate development and ten minutes away by car or bike, Terrazas is a complex of 28 bungalow style wood and brick cabanas with terraces facing the sea (hence the name). Aside from having its own set of pools, the Terrazas have its own eateries, the Cafe Sol and Boardwalk Juice Bar, where one can get tropical-themed cocktails, bracing fruit shakes and ice-cold beer. The Café in particular, is known for its steaming-hot paella plates. After a day of frolicking in the sand, sea and sun, you can pamper yourself with a vigorous and thorough massage from Terrazas’ skilled attendants.