On my last trip to Balesin Island Club, the Lamon Bay resort in Quezon province inaugurated Toscana. It’s the seventh and last village of the resort. Others are Balesin, Phuket, Bali, Costa del Sol, St. Tropez and Mykonos.
Toscana is home to two restaurants, a trattoria and a pizzeria. Trattoria Toscana specializes in Tuscan dishes, mostly favorites of Balesin’s chairperson, Roberto Ongpin, whose personal touch you see and feel everywhere in the resort town.
Upon entering the restaurant, you’ll find a table filled with an assortment of cured meats—salami and a leg of prosciutto, all personally picked and flown in from Tuscany by Ongpin himself. (And it’s not just the meats that he has brought home but the table and furniture as well.)
Ninety percent of the wines on the wine list, said Dominik Mueller, the village’s assistant manager, is from Tuscany. The selection covers not just the classics but also bottles from smaller wineries in and around Toscana. Many, he added, are not even exported to Asia and, like the cured meats, are also handpicked and flown in by the chairperson himself.
Atop the dining tables are bottles of olive oil from olives grown and pressed in Ongpin’s own villa, Villa di Gello, Famiglia Ongpin, Anghiari, Toscana.
The olive oil is the highlight of Insalata di Monica, named after Bobby Ongpin’s wife, Monica, who developed the salad for the restaurant. It is her favorite. The salad consists of island-grown greens, chopped hard-boiled egg, tuna, corn, spring onions. The salad comes to the table undressed. You dress it yourself with Ongpin’s olive oil and vinegar.
Balesin takes pride in growing many of its vegetables. Mika Santos, farm manager, has come a long way since she started putting up the garden. Balesin executive chef Mark Biddle said, “There are eight varieties of tomatoes growing now and farmers are instructed to wait until they’re red ripe before they harvest.”
There are also eggplants and different types of lettuce. Biddle has brought many of the seeds from his travels abroad and has them planted here. And they are thriving!
When I visited Toscana, I saw an irresistible plate of island-caught sardines, grilled, drizzled with olive oil, topped generously with chopped garlic and capers, served with grilled lemons on the side.
Other specialties are Cacciucco, classic Italian seafood stew (delectable, smokey, spiced, intense seafood flavor, rounded, perfect starter to a meal); Spaghetti alle Vongole Veraci alla Roberto, spaghetti with fresh baby clams in white wine and whole garlic a la RVO; Costoliccio, pork ribs marinated for days in garlic and island-grown rosemary, grilled to perfection.
Dining at Trattoria Toscana is a multisensorial experience, a feast to the eyes and to the palate, where food is prepared just as it should—devoid of unnecessary frills, made with only the freshest and finest ingredients, seasoned just to enhance, leaving the dish bare enough for you to savor at its purest and most natural state.
All pizzas from the pizzeria, by the way, are baked fresh in wood-fired ovens.
Chef Edo San’s Sakura is always a staple for me. I can’t leave the island without visiting him at least once. I allow him to excite my palate with his creativity.
This is the man who uses six different sauces—spicy mayo, wasabi, unagi, egg, strawberry, blueberry (sounds strange but it works)—on his Edo San Maki, a monster sushi roll that has practically every Japanese restaurant bestseller in it, rolled into one—kani, tempura, cream cheese, cucumber . . .
I take great delight in his “Filipino-Japanese” cuisine. My staples: Kaki to Papaya Yaki, grilled oyster and papaya with special sauce, a unique blend of sweet, fruity, creamy, sea-salty, all
in one; and Aburi, nigiri sushi topped with your choice of seafood, drizzled with two sauces, egg and unagi, lightly torched.
The seafood is flown in from Japan’s Tsukiji market twice a week, said the chef. The minute the plane lands in Manila, the seafood is brought straight to the Balesin hangar and flown directly to the island.
For lunch, chef Edo made me try his new creations—delectable, premium Miyazaki Beef Aburi glazed with a special sauce. The beef sinfully melts in your mouth.
Anago Aburi (sea eel) was equally delicious. Other great sushi dishes: Buri Toro Sushi, fresh yellow tail belly; Akagai ark shell; Tako, Japanese octopus; and Kani Royale, shredded kani with creamy cucumber salsa for crunch.
If you wish to try Balesin cuisine, you may do so starting today till March 30 at City Club, Alphaland’s private, members-only club located along Ayala Avenue, Makati.
City Club features all but one of the outlets on the island: Balesin, which features Filipino cuisine; Toscana (Tuscan); Costa del Sol (Spanish); Sakura; A Taste of France; and Salathiep (Thai). In the absence of Mykonos (Greek), City Club has Hai Shin Lou (Chinese) and Prime Rib Steak House.
For City Club reservations, call Roxana Rotaru at 0998-9852667.