By Chef Gene Gonzalez
Summer has slowly crept into Manila and Johnny Revilla’s birthday dinner was the perfect excuse to catch the final low temperatures with dinner at Arni and Helen Del Rosario’s Tagaytay home.
It is always a pleasure to have some of our country’s most learned palates with the varieties of wine that everyone brought with them, which we got to appreciate in slightly higher volumes due to the cool weather and chill.
Dinner started with a spread prepared by Helen—fried chicken wings, which had the old-fashioned crisp and cornstarch coating over such a tender interior, a recipe from her mom. The wings were served with a set of grilled spicy sausage, fried kale, smashed potatoes, and mayonnaise flavored with dill from her garden.
Everyone started opening their desired bottles for their aperitifs. Jay Labrador opened his Champagne Ruinart, dry and lemony and a truly refreshing starter while Arni opened a Chateau Valentine’s rose that was bone dry but with fruity shades of lemon and cranberry. I settled for Lamoreaux Moscato, a vibrant and intensely floral moscato with shades of lychee and stone fruit. I went back to this wine for dessert, but I thought it was excellent with all of Helen’s starters, especially the dill in her mayonnaise that I mixed with potato puree, alternating it with bites of the spicy sausage, and freshly, fried, smoldering chicken wings.
The next part was even more exciting as the guests opened their reds. I started with a Monsanto Chianti Classico. Structured with medium tannins and with a lot of sweet, red, dried fruit and a hint of leather, it would prove great, I knew, with Johnny’s beef dish. But there was also the Barolo that Jay had decanted, fruity and juicy and with sweet wood spices and ripe red tart cherries, as well as Edna Diaz’s Malbec from Trivento to sample. Dubbed Golden Reserve, it had red and black forest berries and some pungent and sweet spices that would complement any beef dish. I guess that’s the Argentine style of making wine that blends with the expanse of their meat cookery.
Before the beef came out, however, Johnny Revilla brought out his 30 egg yolk pasta. Now I am such a sucker for fresh pasta, so I just dug into the parmesan and truffle treat, not minding the advice that the braised chuck would be ready as it had already been brought out from the oven. The simplicity of having this rich, homemade pasta with cheese and a whiff of truffle was enough to give credence to Chianti Classico Reserva and Jay’s Barolo. When the herb braised chuck arrived, drizzled with caramelized tomato sauce and soft browned carrots on a bed of polenta, it was so tender it didn’t take any effort to carve it. Between light quaffs of the beautiful Argentine Trivento Gold Reserve Malbec, the caramelized tomato just sweetened the deal. Eventually, a new brown bag covered bottle, brought by Ronnie and Melissa Joseph, was passed around. Everyone was guessing it was a new world wine and I guess styles do change to satisfy certain markets. The red had characters of stone fruit or stewed stone fruit and a green pepper finish, but it turned out to be an old-world Italian Valpolicella from the house of Allegrini (So we all guessed rather wrongly…). It did go very well, too, with Johnny’s rich pasta and Chianti slow braised beef. Finally after a third serving I had to shift to dessert and everyone was trying out the deep reds on my super dark Jack Daniels chocolate cake. I went back though to the Lamoreaux Moscato pairing it with the buttery bread pudding Sanju and Cutie Gopaldas brought with them, plus some crepe Samurai made with some boldly aromatic Brazilian mangoes.
The downside of wonderful dinners out of town like this was the trip back to Manila. It threatened to overwhelm the memory of delicious homecooking and one glass too many of the well-chosen wines. I should have just looked for a place to stay the night and enjoy the last of these chilly evenings.
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