Antonio’s, Tagaytay

Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I remember one of the most romantic and impressive restaurants in the Philippines, Antonio’s, located a couple of hours away from Manila in Barangay Neogan, Tagaytay City, Cavite. Like many must-visit dining destinations not only here but in Southeast Asia (Trois Gourmands and Cuc Gach Quan in Saigon come to mind), Antonio’s is a repurposed residential estate. This usually means a sprawling garden, thoughtful architecture and unparalleled ambience. This wasn’t a Valentine’s date, but rather a welcome-home dinner last October. Interestingly, a portion of our bill was for the benefit of Teach for the Philippines, the local arm of an international N.G.O. movement. Four months later, my lovely date is now a member of said organization, working towards improving the quality of education in our country by personally touching students’ lives one public school at a time.

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I brought along a corked 750-ml bottle of Chimay Cinq Cents/White Tripel to go with our meal. Corkage was set at Php 500 a bottle, but it was eventually waived. This is a versatile enough beer to enjoy at different stages of a meal. It’s bubbly enough to go well with a starter in lieu of sparkling wine, but substantial enough to go with a main course of poultry, white meat or fish. Of course, being a Trappist product, it is meant to be paired with cheese, hence:

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Foie Gras Raclette. – I always get this as a first course at Antonio’s, even if I tell myself I’m going to try something else, and even if the set menu already comes with a starter salad and soup. It’s two blisfully fatty,  luxurious personal favorites that I didn’t think would go too well together, but this dish is capable of literally bringing a tear to my eye.

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Antonio’s Organic Mesclun Salad. – “Bleu d’Auvergne Crumbled, Glazed Walnuts, Dried Currants & Cranberries with Raspberry Vinaigrette and drizzled with Basil Oil.” Their house salad is no mere afterthought to the set menu. It’s a healthy highlight in itself and always something to look forward to.

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Soup of the Day. – Again, far from mere stomach filler. Although admittedly, given the lapse of time and lack of notes, I can’t recall what exactly this was.

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Mandarin orange sorbet. – This has an additional charge, according to the menu, but the waiters always seem to “comp” it. Nevertheless, it’s listed at only Php 40, and if you’re spending for Antonio’s anyway, you might as well get a refreshing palate cleanser to prepare you for their unbeatable entrees.

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Antonio’s offers off-the-menu vegetarian alternatives as well for its set meals, which cost much less than the usual entrees. This was a vegetable couscous that was interesting enough, but clearly a substitution. It calls to mind a Top Chef episode I saw wherein the contestants were running service for a steakhouse when a table of vegetarians headed by Natalie Portman (probably the main reason I remember that episode) asked the kitchen to fix something up for them. Tom Colicchio was adamant that whatever should come out of the kitchen was still something in which creativity, thought and care went into. That said, I’m far for vegetarian, and I go to Antonios for the great meats, so  for my main course, I ordered:

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Duck Leg Confit. – with a Grand Marnier Beurre Blanc, Potato Gratin and Black Pigeon Peas. Antonio’s is known for having the best duck confit in the Philippines, and for good reason. As I’ve mentioned before, this would be a staple comfort food for me, if only it weren’t so expensive. Also, as I’ve noted previously, duck leg confit and Chimay tripel together make a delicious partnership. Unfortunately, there was a black stone hidden among my peas, camouflaged perfectly. Even more unfortunately, I bit into it. Luckily, my teeth were fine, and I was in too much of a good mood because of the amazing food to get upset. The waiter said they investigated this in the kitchen, and blamed the supplier. I think this may have been the reason why they ended up waiving my corkage charge for the night. Much obliged.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake. – Rich, decadent, and much more appetizing than the horrible photo above portrays. Definitely worth ordering again and again.

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Dark Chocolate Souffle with Cardamom Creme Anglaise. – I forgot that I was underwhelmed by this dessert the last time I was at Antonio’s, so I ordered it again. While the souffle rose properly and looked gorgeous, the flavors were too subdued to be really enjoyable. The flourless chocolate cake was the clear winner.

Dining at Antonio’s has always been an experience to remember. There are inevitably hiccups, avoidable or otherwise: getting attacked by a large beetle from the garden, having a stone in my peas, or being in the same dining room as a boisterous LGBT gang which doesn’t know the difference between a fine dining restaurant and a rainbow pride parade (Disclaimer: I am a staunch advocate of LGBT rights. If it were any other group of people, I would have blamed their lack of manners on whatever other unifying factor they had just as well, whether they were gymrats, girl scouts, Korean tourists, etc.). Nevertheless, these instances are mostly ignored and easily overlooked and forgotten. The overall experience is always something to remember, and the company is always more than worthwhile.

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