Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. But there was no turkey roasting in our oven. We had foregone our annual Thanksgiving meal for a chance to dine on â€œAn Ancient Roman Dinnerâ€ prepared by Margarita Fores, held at the reknown Goldenberg Mansion beside MalacanÌƒang, by the Societa Dante Alighieri â€“ Manila, for the benefit of the Pundaquit Orchestra / Casa San Miguel Foundation. We arrived at around 7:30 at 840 Solano Street, the equally old and proud residence beside the Goldenberg Mansion, for cocktails and appetizers. Its impressive faÃ§ade, the large driveway, upon which the horse carriages could maneouver (if I hadnâ€™t been so stressed, I would have arranged for a carriage from Ayala bridge so that we could make a Bond entrance!), the gardens and beautiful lighting all set the stage for an elegant evening which would hopefully take us back a century or so to a time when dinners were how they were meant to be. Rising up some wide stairs designed so the flowing gowns of the residents or guests could easily swish behind them as they made their grand entrance to the salaâ€¦) we entered a huge sala with several large chandeliers.
The proportions of the home/rooms were definitely of another era. Ceilings must have been 15 feet plus high, enough to give every room an airy and regal feeling, and even better, to hang outrageously European crystal chandeliers. The widest planks of hardwood were underfoot and the mouldings and other architectural details were rather impressive. Itâ€™s sad that not more of these mansions have survived; and unfortunate that we get to see them so rarely these days. The home is now set up as a museum of sorts, albeit poorly maintained, and it houses all kinds of porcelain, crystal, antiques, etc. that Imelda Marcos and others presumably acquired with ill-gotten wealth (the proof of which, by the way, has eluded the courts thus far, apparently). As the elegantly garbed ladies teetering in Jimmy Choos or Christian Louboutins tripped every few seconds on the frayed carpets in the buffet area, some of the conversation turned to the irony of plunderers funding purchases of such excessâ€¦while Juan de la Cruz wondered where his coconut taxes went, the Baccarat and Flora Danica was used to serve gourmet adobo to the powers that wereâ€¦ There is a long history to the Goldberg Mansion but during the Marcos era it was purchased and annexed and used to house collections of antiques and housewares that Madame acquired all over the world.
Marketman and Mrs. Marketman were thankfully, appropriately dressed for the occasion. In fact, we possibly took to heart the â€œelegantâ€ dress code more than others. For those sartorially curious, and wondering about my recent James Bond fixation, I was the one in the dark navy blue Corneliani suit, a crisp white Turnbull & Asser shirt with French cuffs, fastened with a pair of cufflinks that Mrs. Marketman gave me as an anniversary present one year. They are a personal favorite, if a bit over the topâ€¦ they were inspired by a pair of absolutely gorgeous Faberge cufflinks made around 1900 and given by Barbara Hutton, to her third husband, Cary Grant as a wedding present in 1943. Mrs. Marketman was in an elegant black dress with a silk scarf. And yes, her heels were catching on the carpet as well!
Now to the food which was supposed to take its inspiration from Ancient Roman meals. Appetizers laid out buffet style or brought to you by waiters included crisply executed fried Squash Flowers, Oyster Mushroom and Apple fritters, the former of which was delicious albeit â€œpureâ€ in that it was not stuffed with anything at all. There was a welcome assortment of Olives and Grilled Peppers Marinated in Red Wine and Rosemary for that needed piquant hit. Also, some Grilled Philippine Tuna with a Boiled Egg-Pinoli Vinaigrette. What really caught my eye were the SautÃ©ed Snails on Polenta Squares and a dish with Sausage, Cowâ€™s Brain, Arborio and Sage. The last two dishes are the only ones I went back for seconds, though the entire buffet was beautifully laid out with a spectacular floral arrangement by Margarita as a centerpiece. If there is one thing I would say negatively, it is that laying out a buffet of appetizers for 100 people and keeping it â€œfreshâ€ is always a challenge. While the individual items were interesting, and I certainly totally enjoyed them, I suppose I was expecting moreâ€¦
From the first house we crossed a bridge into the Goldenberg Mansion itself. Here were viewed several beautiful rooms, well appointed and with the later addition of the Imeldific acquisitions that included Flemish tapestries, more chandeliers, paintings, Chinese antiques, Italian furniture, the finest Baccarat crystal that reportedly was scrubbed with abrasive brillo-like pads during the Estrada years that ruined most of themâ€¦ Dinner for 100 was to be served on several tables set up in the entrance foyer and main hallway of the mansion. The classic and simply stunning black and white pattern on the floors, the high ceilings and unusual mouldings all made for a stunning setting. The main dinner was served as three separate plates of MEAT. First, some Roast Pigeon with grapes (two on my plate), Acacia Honey and an Herb Mayonnaiseâ€¦ This, for me was the hit of the evening. Moist and flavorful, the pigeon (which Margarita confided were purchased from the Arranque market) was delicious and at half a bird, a generous serving. Before the second plate was served, a whole Roast Baby Goat was brought out on a platter to be shown to the diners. We then had carved servings of Roast Baby Goat seasoned with Garlic and Rosemary and served with some Minted Chickpeas & Onions (I got 6 chickpeas). The goat was good, not overly gamey and strongly infused with spices. Finally, we had generous servings of Roman-style Stuffed Roast Pig (Porchetta) with Fennel, Poached Oranges and Potatoes (I got one cubic inch of potato). This was good, but correctly placed at the end of the meal, there to fill any gaps you might have left in your stomach given the style of dinner service with several courses.
I completely understand the intent of the meal and the desire to serve â€œtastesâ€ of several dishes, but I personally like the family style of eating more where I can heap onto my plate that which attracts meâ€¦ But then again, I only get dressed a la Bond a couple of times a yearâ€¦ The food was interesting, again well executed for such a large party and with unfamiliar kitchens, though I would have liked a bit more carbohydrates and vegetables to go along with all of the MEAT. I suppose ancient Rome wasnâ€™t yet into pasta so this was probably a more authentic meal than our stomachs are familiar with. In my opinion, we had a wonderful meal. And frankly, the food was only 30% of the experience. The home itself counted for another 30% and the wonderful musical program by Alfonso â€œCokeâ€ Bolipata and his students/scholars at the Casa San Miguel Foundation definitely the main event. That 10 year olds from the shores of Zambales can master their violins or cellos is a truly inspiring thought. And some of the proceeds of the evening were being donated to this foundation. Imagine if â€œCokeâ€ were on a Dietâ€¦he would be called â€œDiet Cokeâ€â€¦heeheehee, sorry, I couldnâ€™t resist.
Oh, and I forgot to mention dessert. First was a plate of Goat Cheese and Ricotta, Roasted Walnuts & Chestnuts and Chestnut Honey. Good concept, outrageously chi-chi presentation. On a huge oval plate was presented perhaps as small a serving of goat cheese as might emerge from my ear on a Q-tip, a smudge of ricotta, perhaps one chopped up walnut and dribbles of honey. Sorry, I know we donâ€™t want to waste anything but this was a dessert portion for someone with 1/10th my caloric requirements to stay sane. This was followed by wine soaked apples and pears (literally two nearly paper thin slices (a whole apple could feed 15 peopleâ€¦), and a bay leaf cheesecake slice that a mouse would sniff at as being too small. Red Wine served with Dinner. Coffee or Tea. We were very happy that we attended the benefit. Many many thanks to reader “Frayed” who provided ALL of these photographs. I didn’t bring a camera thinking it would be uncouth, but everyone else seemed to have one. There are no photos of the food, sorry. For those interested in Italian language classes, please contact the Societa Dante Alighieri â€“ Manila at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 759.2016.