All I can think of is Marie Antoinette. To eat in a fancy place during this time feels inappropriate. I feel guilty. And to write in depth about it? Who am I Goop? Heart? Madam Imelda? It’s obnoxious. I am not unapologetic about my life choices (I wish I was), especially in the past few weeks when I’ve had to face my core values vis-a-vis my relationships. But I digress.
I’m here to talk about our meal at Antonio’s — the famous fine dining restaurant in Tagaytay. It’s not a new place. In fact, it’s a little bit of an institution in Philippine fine dining scene, the OG of fancy eating just an hour away from Manila. I’m sure you’ve heard of it before. I sure did but I never had the money nor the courage to just lavishly spend money on food. Until this past year. Now I do little to convince myself not to spend. I’ve bought into the “experience” trap and threw caution to the wind, even during this time.
But seriously, it was Jed and I’s fourth year anniversary, so I did convince myself a little. Or rather I did convince Jed a lot. It was actually his idea initially, but when we saw the price tag, we “discussed” the situation a little bit more. Lol. In the end, Antonio’s won and here goes our lunch date.
The restaurant itself looked like a rich uncle’s house, a rich uncle’s rest house for that matter. It’s out of the way from Tagaytay proper. As we were driving I kept commenting how far it seemed, or rather how only people with cars can go to this farflung location (which makes sense given the price tag).
A huge gate opening to a garden greets you upon entrance. The weather was gloomy when we went there, so we didn’t experience the bright green potential of the garden. There were multiple dining rooms inside. There was an indoor setup, a spacious lanai, and an al fresco dining area. We seemed to be seated at the upper indoor dining where most tables were for couples and most, if not all, were right beside a huge window facing the garden from above.
To be honest, it felt a little stuffy even though we were right beside a window. A thick, printed carpet covered the entire floor, the whole decor reeks of old school, proper fine dining: sturdy white table cloths, huge tufted peacock chairs, an array of extra extra utensils—and I mean heavy cutlery—was right in front of me. And the waitstaff, if my memory serves me right, were wearing traditional fancy maid uniform. It wasn’t a “casual” place for sure. I felt the need to whisper and tiptoe a little bit.
Jed and I are insufferable whenever we are in these upscale places. As if I wasn’t a try-hard to begin with. We’d giggle like immature teenagers, making fun of the formality and exclusiveness in front of us. In this case, I kept arranging the table napkins on my chest, like a baby’s bib, because I never use these stiff napkins to be honest. Every dish presented in front of us was a chance to marvel and ask “what the heck was that?” and promptly discussing amongst ourselves if it blew us away or if it was a complete waste of money. It usually goes both ways.
Now let’s get on with the food.
The menu at Antonio’s requires you to order a main entrée which then includes soup, salad, dessert, and tea/coffee. Not bad at all right? Until you’ll realize that each entrée runs around 1,900php to 2,900php. You’ll now understand why it’s a complete meal already. I may even wonder why it doesn’t include a glass of Pinot noir, a hug, or a kiss while we’re at it.
For Jed’s main dish, he ordered the Veal Cheek, Tail, and Tongue set (2500php), while I chose the safest bet on the menu called Grilled US Short Ribs (2500php). By the time we were seated, we just went reckless and ordered another appetizer— a Warm Burrata (350php) with portobello mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, two glasses of red wine, and some fancy sparkling water. I hate choosing expensive water at places like this. Sparkling? Distilled? I just want free cold water please. But that’s not the case here, and we were in the weeds already so “why the hell not” became the pervading vibe.
On the bright side, I always look forward to the throwaway bread and butter in fine dining because I always know it’s not a throwaway. I love bread! Antonio’s did give us each a hunk of freshly baked bread with some garlic butter concoction on the side. I can live off this alone, just give me some red wine and more bread and butter (and cheese), and I’m happy as can be.
For the set appetizers, we had the Lardo Arugula Salad that includes (of course) lardo, arugula, mixed greens, alfalfa, herb snippets, dressed in raspberry vinaigrette. We surely preferred this first salad over the Root Vegetable Slaw and Herb Salad, possibly because of the hunk of lardo. At first we thought it was toasted bread with cheese, which turned out to be slathered in pig fat.
Before we get to the main entrées, we were also served a minute portion of tomato soup with little bits of barley. At that time, we had no clue what these grains were. Was it rice? It was too thick and pudgy for that. Was it risotto? But rice is risotto! It was barely-there kind of tomato soup—hot, light, and swift with the lingering texture of barley.
And now for the main entrées, first up was Jed’s adventurous choice of Veal Cheek, Tail, and Tongue served with a side of onions, red cabbage, root vegetables, and sauce gribiche. I, personally, was not one to order exotic animal parts when eating at a pricey restaurant, but I do love that Jed chose such an eccentric sounding dish in contrast to my boring Grilled US Short Ribs. But as it turns out, my safe dish was, of course, a delicious serving of grilled prime meat. Jed’s veal turned looked like a stew of meat parts, swimming in what seemed like rich, brown, gravy sauce. The veal dish was a hearty stew, while mine was a slab of juicy steak. You can imagine which one we both favored.
One thing worth mentioning is a side of Tomato Risotto that came with the grilled short ribs. I’ve never tasted a flavored risotto as delicious as this. The tomato-covered risotto was comfort in a bowl—sweet and sour, creamy, rich tomato broth, almost like silky butter.
The ribs were perfectly cooked. Soft and chewy, every bite I could taste the slight char on the outer part of the steak, the insides were perfectly seasoned. And I’m not a steak person, but having tasted this juicy slab of meat makes me think I just haven’t eaten my fair share of delicious steak. I’m now convinced I’ve missed out all these years. If you ever come to Antonio’s this is a foolproof bet, not that I expected anything less.
The dessert portion is my favorite part of any meal, even at home. I get excited by the thought of eating something sweet at the end of each meal. It could be anything really. Cake is great but fresh fruit is welcome too. I know some people just don’t care for dessert, most well-known chefs treat desserts as a whole ‘nother universe, which they gladly assign to a dedicated pastry chef. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t shy away from an all-dessert tasting menu. Where can I find one of those? I’ve finally accepted that as much as I’d choose Pringles sour cream, I love me some decadent slice of cake any time, any day.
So you can imagine my excitement as we reached the sweet coda to this course meal. Antonio’s has quite an extensive list of dessert options. I had a difficult time choosing just two. Jed, I forgot to mention, is not a dessert person. He’ll have another serving of grilled steak no problem.
I ended up with White Chocolate Soufflé and Whiskey Chocolate Cake.
The White Chocolate Soufflé is infused with grand marnier, a French brand of orange-flavored liqueur. Served with crème anglaise, it tastes like a classic soufflé, soft crust on the outside and airy and gooey cream on the inside. The sweetness was cut by the orange flavor, it’s like a fancy orange chiffon cake that’s swimming in mild sweet milk.
The Whiskey Chocolate Cake is not messing around with the “whiskey” part. Jed and I were nodding our heads as the alcohol hit us from the get go. Chocolate and whiskey turned out to be a smooth combination, sweet-bitter and doozy. I love that it’s not too sweet at all. Any dessert that’s not overly sweet, especially a chocolate dessert, is a winner in my book.
We lingered for a little while with cups of coffee between us. Strong coffee by the way. Surprisingly we were at the point of perfect satiety. Not overly full where it feels disgusting, and not hungry nor craving for more. If that’s a testament to the progression of this course meal, then it was right on the money.
If you’d ask me if it was worth it, I’d say yes but with reservations. (Alma Moreno is that you?) I’d say it’s worth it for special occasions, like an anniversary or celebrating milestone achievements. If you’re expecting something adventurous or experimental cuisine, I don’t think that’s what Antonio’s all about. Antonio’s is all about feeling celebratory, with well-executed classic dishes that bring about an elegant, and albeit traditional, dining experience. I’m glad we came but I’m not sure if I’m going back anytime soon.
Jed and I explored Antonio’s grounds, all the while wishing the weather was sunnier. There was a lounge bar area adjacent to the restaurant proper, I believe they call it the Lanai Lounge where they serve after-dinner drinks. As luck would have it, the rain began to pour ruthlessly. We were stuck in a treehouse-style bahay kubo, ordered a pair of cocktails, and meditated the fact that we were four years in.
Fine Dining (European Cuisine)
Purok 138, Brgy Neogan, Tagaytay City
Tue-Sun 11:30am to 1:30pm / 5:30pm to 7:30pm
+63 917 899 2866; +63 918 899 2866
₱2000 to 4000 per person