Prepped and Plated: Café Tan-Aw at Pinto Art Museum – Antipolo, Rizal

Rarely do we find places that calm both mind and spirit. Spaces like these need a certain profoundness to them, a hovering presence of certainty, a balance between stillness and movement, a pensive peace that reverberates within.

A short drive east of the city gets you to one of these spots. Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo has made a reputation as a center for creativity, inspiration, and rest all enclosed within its expansive 1.3-hectare property.

Hanging on the walls and looming in the halls of Pinto are contemporary works by Filipino artists collected and curated by Dr. Joven Cuanang. From the surreal to the hyper real, the space is a repository of ideas, visions that artists share to the curious and the inquisitive.

Amid the Garibays, TenceRuizs, Leaños, and Salubaybas, the gallery cradles a different type of art form that is as powerful and moving as its visual counterpart. On exhibit at Pinto are oeuvres of the culinary kind created by a similar visionary, Chef Vince Rodriguez.

Much like how artists are commissioned to do artworks, the kind chef was tasked to create a menu that nourishes as well as inspires. With years of experience catering to high profile clients, from who’s who of show business to the residents of the presidential palace, Chef Vince took on the challenge and came up with Café Tan-Aw.

Chef Vince has done pretty good work in the kitchen having a hand at developing the menus for Red Garlic Bistro, Krave Restobar, Torch Restaurant, and Peppermill Restaurant and Mixology Bar.Through all his ventures, he’s relied solely on his penchant for flavors and innate talent to bring together tastes to create unique sauces that are really the tour de force of his cooking.

“If artists work with colors to create art, I have my sauces,” he shared. “I don’t buy ready-made sauces. I create my own and I do all of them from scratch.”

One example of how he uses his sauces to great effect is through one of his signature dishes, the Fire Cracker (Php375). Chef Vince takes a scallops and shrimp California Roll and adds a hot twist by pouring over a sauce made of fermented Japanese soy beans called natto mixed with an oriental chili pepper called togarashi.

The sushi comes together inside the oven and topped off with tempura crisps. The result is consistent to its namesake, a fiery festival of flavors that really gets the palate going.

Another Japanese-inspired dish on the menu is the Tuna Tower (Php415), a carefully crafted statuette that features the components of a de-constructed sushi roll. The tasty turret stands on a base of sticky rice with kani, mango, and spicy tuna stacked on top of each other crowned with an edible flower garnish.

Beautiful as it is, this dainty dish is fated to fall as it’s meant to be mixed to be enjoyed. Each mouthful offers a marriage of tastes that transition from sweet, to salty, and finally a nice kick of spice in the end. Make sure to ask for more of the roasted sesame seeds with pink Mediterranean Sea salt toppings because it really adds that smoky-savory note that enhances the feel of the dish.

Chef Vince’s affinity for strong flavors comes from his culinary roots which traces back to his childhood in Ilocos. As homage to his hometown, he added two items that infuses classics with the region’s flavors, the Vigan Pizza and the restaurant’s signature Tan-Aw Pasta.

For the Vigan Pizza (Php385), Chef Vince builds a fortress of flavors around his main ingredient of Vigan longanisa by adding pancetta ham and a balanced mix of three cheeses from stringy mozzarella, smoked gouda, and sharp padano. Finished with tomatoes and sunny side egg to stay consistent with the breakfast theme, all these components settle in atop a thin focaccia dough crust that stays crispy throughout.

The Tan-Aw Pasta (Php365), on the other hand, incorporates different level of tastes in one dish. Chef Vince balances between ease and intense effectively by using artichoke, olives,and sun dried tomatoes with Laoag longanisa on a spaghettini pasta base. The light flavors of the oil based pasta gets doses of strong flavor from morsels of lean, uncased longanisa which really develops a play between delicate to robust flavors.

Having traveled the world in search of different flavors to widen his palate, Chef Vince has made a habit of naming dishes after the places he’s gone to. Two of his latest creations stay true to the trend, the Palawan and the Sardinia.

The Palawan (Php495) is an exercise in contradiction. The dish is both complex and straightforward at the same time. What are basically sautéed prawns turn into a fascinating eat with the addition of salted egg sauce. It’s plainly done yet the flavor that comes out is unique, bordering on peculiar. The Palawan gets its umami from the salted egg that, in itself, tapers the flavor down because of the richness of the sauce it produces. Regardless of its novelty, it really is satisfying especially when served together with steamed rice.

A tribute to an island in the Mediterranean, the Sardinia (Php355) evokes the sea’s freshness with briny flavors on a light, oil-based pasta dish. Using homemade milkfish sardines with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and onion, Chef Vince lets simplicity do the talking as the spaghettini pasta base takes on the union of all the ingredients to create an easy, modest yet memorable dish.

Another seafood dish worth mentioning is the Baked Salmon Duo (Php455). A spin-off of his ‘Norway’ dish offered in Peppermill Restaurant, Chef Vince adds a new element to this version by offering two flavors in one. A slice of Norwegian salmon fillet gets a two-faced treatment with toppings of sesame nori on one side and smoked habanero sauce on the other. It all sets after a few minutes and the oven and served with ripe mango salsa and garlic and parsley rice.

One cuisine that Chef Vince absolutely adores is American Southwestern, which is a combination of American comfort food enhanced by Mexican spices, a fusion in every sense of the word. “I’m really into fusion.  I’ve actually been experimenting with combination of flavors even before the term fusion was even popular here in Manila,” he reveals.

Case in point, Chef Vince’s Agave Passion Fruit Barbecue Beef Back Ribs. This melt-in-your-mouth, slide-off-the-bone, carnivorous carnival is a sight to behold. It comes in servings of Two Bones (Php495), Half Slab (Php985), and Full Slab (Php1,695) served with French beans, carrots, and garlic parsley rice. If that’s not enough, the full slab serving comes with a Mexico, a pizza topped with tomato salsa, beef taco filling, mozzarella, and cilantro. A set fit for a hefty appetite.

With a menu that features over 80 recipes, it’s only right to carry an equally wide lineup of beverages to quench whatever thirsts may come. One particularly soothing drink is the Virgin Lychee Mojito (Php115). Each sip of this ice-cold mocktail made of lychee, lime, and fresh mint herbs really hits the spot, especially after a long trip going up Antipolo from the city. Those looking for a bit of a kick to go with their refreshment can try the Tamarind Margarita (Php120). Instead of using lime, this cocktail gets a frozen twist by mixing tequila with tamarind zest on a glass rimmed with black rock salt which Chef Vince sourced all the way from Paris.

Similar to its visual counterpart, art of the culinary kind is also subject to opinion and criticism. Surrounded by works from modern day masters, Café Tan-Aw holds its own when it comes to quality and creativity. Tan-Aw means view in Chef Vince’s Ilokano dialect. The café, as it stands, paints a pretty picture of how hard this artist worked on his craft and how well he treats his guests.

Café Tan-Aw is located inside Pinto Art Museum Sierra Madre Street, Grand Heights Subdivision, Antipolo City. For inquiries and reservations, call (02) 633-0329.


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