The time of the day: afternoon. It was a hot, sunny day in San Juan when I stepped off the trike who’d gotten lost in Little Baguio on our way to Antojo’s Restaurante. I knew where the restaurant was; I could see its location in the Google Maps app of my phone. The driver just didn’t know the street I’d directed him to find.
It was a good thing that the place was near the Balkan Express. I sorta knew my way around that area, and with the help of GMaps, I was finally able to make my way to Antojo’s. The place was in some side street off Little Baguio’s Abad-Santos avenue, a stone’s throw from what looks like a pretty serious antique store. This wasn’t exactly quite out of place, since at noon, Little Baguio’s a relatively deserted area, save for some spots, and this area was pretty quiet.
The antique store was quite the partner for Antojo’s, if you think about it. Stepping into the restaurant was like stepping into the galleries of the 70s. The lobby leads to arched doorways framed by white lace billowing in the wind (whenever the front door is opened, anyway), an instant giveaway that this place wasn’t quite average. I don’t recall if the floor was made of marble, but I remember tiles. Stepping inside in the afternoon, while all the lights are out and the restaurant is lit up by natural light streaming in from the windows, is like stepping into a dream.
|Yes, as always, I ate first and didn’t shoot photos. Photo by Shoot First, Eat Later.|
Antojo’s doesn’t open up until noon. Lunch is perhaps is its least busy hour, but already head chef and owner Anton Amoncio is busy, darting in and out of the kitchen, checking his mail on his laptop, seeing to the guests personally. His head waitress is also on the job, but this young man goes the extra mile to check that everything’s just right for opening.
The menu is…evolving. I was told by Chef Anton that, upon ordering their kare-kare, that I had only missed an iteration of the dish called curry-kare, a curried version of the Filipino peanut stew. No matter. Their kare-kare was phenomenal, if unusual in that it wasn’t chunks of beef swimming in a stew, as I’ve gotten used to, as it was slices of prime beef and veggies arranged on a plate slathered with the peanut sauce. It gave the dish new life as a saucy dish instead of a stew, and it went deliciously with rice, if a bit drier than usual (a problem easily solved with their special blend of iced tea).
My companion, on the other hand, ordered another Filipino staple: Antojo’s take on the perennial beer match and bane to gout patients, tokwa’t baboy, only this time Chef Anton deigned to use lengua instead of pork cutlets. The serving was generous, and it was light to the taste buds, not screaming of vinegar and sugar like most iterations of the dish. It would have been better on its own, however, not as a companion for the kare-kare, as the heavy taste of the beef overpowered the taste of the lengua. Lesson learned, and noted.
For dessert, we had coffee and the Mango Semifreddo, a mango cream pie with a Graham crust, which was the most delightful thing I’d had in a long while. The kitchen used fresh, sweet mangos arranged neatly over a thick layer of light whipping cream frozen right through, and it tasted like a Graham cake made by a 5-star Michelin chef.
This restaurant is fairly new, hardly half a year old, if at all, but it had all the old-world charm you’d expect from the classy, old hotels of the 60s and 70s. I think they’re still rounding out their crew—some positions have yet to be filled, as of this writing—but Chef Anton runs a tight ship, and his dishes are exquisite. I haven’t seen the place at night—I’ve seen photos where the chandeliers (they have really high ceilings) are lit up, and the place looks like an oak-lined ballroom, though, and that gives it a mysterious double identity at night. It could also be less quiet then, but that would only make it perfect for loud parties of friends and families looking for a good time with good food.
So it goes without saying that I will be back to Antojo’s Restaurante. The charm, the food, the people all exude a charming kind of class that makes this place a visit worth the commute. I just have to try their alcohol selection next time.
If you’re interested in giving the place a shot, you may visit them at:
#3 General De Jesus corner J. Abad Santos streets
Little Baguio, San Juan, Metro Manila