A match made in gourmet heaven
If there was a golden batch of chefs in this country, it would have to be the chefs who had trained/cooked/led the kitchen in the ’80s and early ’90s at Mandarin and Intercon. These are the chefs who, to this day, execute fine dining as it should be. Top of mind are Tonyboy Escalante of Antonio’s in Tagaytay and Cyrille Soenen, Maitres Cuisinier de France (French Master Chef). These chefs bring you the real thing: no shortcuts, no gimmicks, no idiotic fusion confusion, no micro servings camouflaged as art; just straight-up excellent food, excellent service and an overall excellent dining experience.
The home of fine dining
Chef Tonyboy stands out because Antonio’s in Tagaytay is his own. He is both chef and restaurateur. Not only did he develop the menu but also created the entire space that, to this day, is the most sought-after destination restaurant in the country for both food and ambience.
From the beautifully tiled steps to the foyer with its statement wall, the private dining area, the lanai, the balcony and now to the extension areas of the Cabana and the Garden Greens, Antonio’s always delivers a memorable experience.
Antonio’s Tagaytay was born in 2002 with just an intimate private dining space. The lanai just had a hammock and day beds where guests were invited to relax while waiting for or after their meal. But even back then, Chef Tonyboy already presented the best foie gras salad, the best risotto, the best lamb. Through the years, we would see the addition of the beef tartare, Mayura steak, and other specials to the menu, as well as the best desserts and cocktails.
Elegance on Edsa
Many have urged Chef Tonyboy to open a restaurant in Metro Manila. Every few years, there would be a rumor that he would. Finally, 20 years later, the fandom’s dream has come true.
A branch is now open at PGA Cars lot on Edsa (off Connecticut Avenue in Greenhills). I don’t know how tycoon Robert Coyiuto Jr. really convinced Chef Tonyboy, who says he had just given a drunken “yes” one night, and before he knew it, boom, Antonio’s PGA Cars was born. But evidently beyond the chill facade of the Negrense chef is a serious restaurateur who has impeccable attention to detail, does his homework, and is always at the top of his game. Because while everyone was busy with ube pastries and sourdough during the pandemic, Chef Tonyboy worked on his city restaurant. And now, less than a month after opening, Antonio’s PGA is poised to become the best fine dining restaurant in the Metro.
French Master Chef
It helps that the Negrense chef has partnered with an adopted son of Bacolod, French chef Cyrille Soenen (married to Anna Gaston Soenen of the huge and esteemed Gaston clan of Bacolod).
Chef Cyrille first made his name in Manila as the chef of Prince Albert at Intercon; then of his own restaurant, Brasserie Cicou in Makati and Greenhills; then as chef of Impressions at Resorts World; and lately as executive chef of Admiral Hotel. He has been recognized as Maître Cuisiniers de France, a title given by a French chefs’ association only to the most remarkable French chefs around the world); he was given the title in the same batch as Chef Alain Ducasse!
A match made in gourmet heaven, Chef Cyrille will now be the partner of Chef Tonyboy at Antonio’s PGA, among other restaurants that Chef Tonyboy is opening in Manila.
Fine dining menu
The menu at Antonio’s PGA Cars practically mirrors Antonio’s Tagaytay: from the signature roasted veal bone marrow and dry-aged steak tartare to new additions such as the Akaroa salmon gravlax to the escargot de bourgogne for appetizers.
For mains, the bouillabaisse is an example of elegance. It’s like a beautifully handcrafted bag, knife or dress as it is laden with flavor without being rich, and it’s generous without being heavy. And the seafood selection is so fresh. It’s just beauty in a bowl.
The lamb—cola spice glazed rack of lamb—is also exceptional. It is laden with flavor without being gamey. I hesitated to order this but its texture is so tender that it surprisingly wins you over. The sea bass is a given winner. The surprise dish is the crab with uni and ikura capellini, which is an upgraded version of the humble Italian everyday fare. This is umami on steroids.
For dessert, there is baba au rhum, which is great for conversation because they light it up in front of you. But you can also make space for the now famous Antonio’s homemade ice cream.
The fast and the curious
The restaurant closes at 11 p.m. but if you have time, they have a space at the ground floor for cocktails, where you have front seat to the latest car on display. You are also enticed to visit the showroom at the back and hopefully, go home with a new Audi after your meal!
The next time I visit, that’s what I hope to do. Now, that may be a far-fetched dream, but at least when you dine at Antonio’s PGA, you can almost taste it!