It’s been several years since we were last at Antonio’s in Tagaytay, and I can only say that it keeps getting better with age. Mrs. MM and I were invited to lunch and dined at Antonio’s with about a dozen other folks, many of whom were chefs and culinary professionals, and here was the superb lunch we ate that day. So much has already been written about Antonio’s that I would just like to do a quick post, heavy on the photos. I would encourage you to experience this wonderful restaurant, if only for that one absolutely special occasion you are saving up for, or if you just want to have a great meal, in a beautiful setting, with generally very good service. The visit starts after you enter the property’s gate, curve around the cement and grass driveway and pull up to this porte cochere to alight from your vehicle (ideally a horse drawn carriage…) to begin your lunch or dinner experience. The recent rains have helped to make the gardens even more lush and green than usual. The outdoor temperature must have been in the high 70′s, but intermittent heavy downpours meant being seated indoors would probably be ideal.
The entry hallway is partially open to the elements, so you get a preview of the garden and dining areas on several levels terraced below. A brightly painted red wall is the backdrop for several dozen sepia and black and white family photos of the owners of the restaurant. After a brief walk down to the gardens, and to see the relatively new and wonderfully designed “Breakfast” restaurant that was transferred from another location and appears to be open for special events or weekend breakfasts, we sat down to lunch.
I didn’t take notes at the meal and it’s been a while, so I may have difficulty remembering all of the dishes in detail. My apologies if I describe a few of them with some of the ingredients perhaps missing. We started off with a warm roll, baked in-house, flavored with fennel seed and onion, accompanied by a compound butter with black olives. It’s a throwback to a different era in dining to still get freshly baked or warmed rolls, and I have to say, I am a huge fan of this practice. The rolls were delicious, and I managed to have two. :)
The first appetizer to arrive was a brilliantly executed steak tartare. Raw meat conjures up all sorts of issues with respect to the pristine manner in which it must be handled and prepared and served, so there aren’t many places I would feel comfortable ordering this dish. Antonio’s version was STUNNINGLY good — excellent quality meat, nicely chopped, just the right mixture of capers, lemon, oils, mustard, herbs and spices mixed in that it was music to the tongue.
I could have feasted on the entire contents of the silver-plated silver bowl chilled with ice with a good glass of wine and that would have been my entire lunch. As it was, the table shared two orders and most of us managed two slices of toast with a generous helping of tartare on top. A memorable dish indeed.
This was followed with a rather surprising combination of watermelon with very gently poached scallops with a lemon-herb dressing. It was refreshing and an unusual mixture of textures. I have to say I wasn’t completely thrilled with the almost sous-vide (or was it sous-vide?) slightly mushy texture of the scallops, but overall the dish was still an unusual one — so simple but probably not simple to do.
A dozen mushroom souffles appeared simultaneously, and they were served with a rich cream sauce. The souffles were superb, but several had collapsed before they were served, a victim of timing or the fact that we were just such a large party which is frankly, hard for a kitchen to contend with.
The lack of pouffiness aside, the souffles were delicious and just the right balance of lightness, richness and savory flavorful goodness… A nice segue into several more courses that were about to follow.
Next up, a tortelloni(?) (definitely not a ravioli) with four cheeses appeared at the bottom of soup bowls, then waiters served an intensely tomatoey broth poured from tea pots.
The essence of tomato present in the light broth was quite intense, and I wonder if local fresh tomatoes were used, as it’s often difficult to find flavorful tomatoes here, with very rare exceptions.
Next up, some shrimp or prawns encrusted in nori (black seaweed squares) and flavored with squid ink I believe. This was served with a salad that had a dressing that included fresh passion fruit pulp with seeds that provided an acidic counterpoint and unusual crunch as well. I thought the idea was nice, but this was my least favorite of the courses served. It just didn’t seem in the same league as the other dishes that were presented that day. But this is quibbling, on it’s own, it would have made a nice starting salad or a small main course dish. The black encrusted prawns were not particularly visually appealing to me.
A couple of glasses of a very drinkable Malbec and several glasses of white wine as well had me rather giddy midway through the meal. Gejo Jimenez was also at this lunch (after we had visited his organic farm, previously called Kitchen Herbs Farm and since renamed Malipayon Farms) and he too was smiling from ear to ear with the lunch so far…
A little break, a palate cleanser of mango sorbet served with Grand Marnier, Triple Sec or other liqueur, was a welcome respite and pause before the main courses arrived. The sorbet was freezer hard, and almost certainly pre-scooped and frozen as a ball, and it took several minutes for it to thaw and make it easier to eat.
The main course was a semi-deboned meaty roasted quail served with a truffle cream sauce and a foam of some sort that I can’t recall. Could there also have been morels in there? There were a few red grapes which gave nice sweet counterpoint to the savory quail. I don’t get to eat quail that often, but this dish was so good it inspired me to send one of the crew to the Arranque market a few days later to hunt down some fresh quail for me to experiment with!
A snapshot of the terraces that have been retiled with retro machuca cement tiles with painted designs reminiscent of flooring in older homes… ponds with large carp and lush greens that have really grown in nicely over the years.
Giant ferns and more foliage.
And finally, a snapshot of this little sitting area (complete with white chandelier!) in one part of the vast gardens. We had several desserts but I was so sated that I didn’t taste many of them and didn’t bother to take any photos. Overall a gorgeous and delicious meal, and yet again proof positive why Antonio’s is so oftened mentioned as the best restaurant in the Philippines. I would certainly agree. Many thanks to our host for the wonderful lunch, and to the company we dined with for keeping the conversations so interesting and lively. Kudos again to Antonio’s!
Purok 138, Bgy. Neogan
Tagaytay City, Cavite