September 2008

Antonio’s: A fine evening for food and friends

Author: Ann DeMart | Photographer: John Brackett

A friend recently asked me to join her at Antonio’s at The Village at Wexford. Someone had suggested that she check out a piano player there. That sounded good to me. When dinner was added to the plan, it sounded even better. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, it won’t take long to see why Antonio’s is one of the island’s few AAA Four Diamond restaurants.
When I arrived, my friend was chatting with Susan Wilson, the manager, whose radiant smile and genuine enthusiasm echoed the look of other guests in the welcoming atmosphere and set the tone for the evening. As it turned out, the piano player was not there after all. Although the news temporarily dashed my friend’s hopes of draping herself over the piano a la Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, we were quickly consoled by a glass of wine, some bites of flatbread with a delightful cucumber dill spread—and the menu. We pored over possibilities that looked as luscious as the wine tasted.

Where to start? The appetizer choices included shrimp bruschetta, beef carpaccio with lemon aioli, mussels with chorizo in lobster broth and more. We gobbled up the Chef’s Favorite salad of grilled romaine lettuce with bits of bacon and creamy gorgonzola. An intermezzo of banana gelato and cantaloupe sorbet was intriguing and refreshing before the house-made gnocchi with crab, local shrimp, wild mushrooms, asparagus tips and pesto. Other primi piatti choices, like the four cheese lasagna or handmade parpardalle looked equally appealing. The seafood and meat dishes are exceptionally well prepared, lightly sauced and paired with such accompaniments as basil mashed or roasted potatoes, penne, grilled asparagus or delicate broccolini.

Antonio’s, long a favorite for fine Tuscan dining, now boasts executive chef Jonathon Hagins and sous chef Yuri Gow, who are gradually shaping the Italian-Mediterranean menu to their excellent taste and talents. Hagins, a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate, joined Antonio’s last year, following 18 years experience in prestigious restaurants, where he earned several Four Diamond Awards. Food and wine must run in the family; Chef Hagins’ sister, Suzanne, had a hand in the making the evening’s special wine, an exquisitely balanced Montepulicano Fieri from Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa. (It’s no surprise to learn that Antonio’s has won Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for years.)
Sous chef Gow, another CIA alum who cooked at CQ’s for three years before coming to Antonio’s, took a few minutes to talk with us. “We’ve been focusing on flavorful, lighter preparations of fresh local ingredients and products. The shrimp on your table tonight was in the water this morning. The polenta is from Anson Mills in Charleston,” he said. Asked about some of the best items on the menu, Gow mentioned the pan seared sea scallops with polenta and bacon, veal chop saltimbocca, osso bucco and a braised rabbit dish. “I also like to simply pan sear a nice fresh piece of fish,” he added.

Antonio’s recently introduced a terrific three-course, $40 prix fixe dinner, which features a wide selection of appetizers, entrées and desserts. It’s an amazing value. Speaking of desserts, we weren’t going to have any until we started reading—cannoli, Limoncello cheesecake, chocolate torte and tiramisu. So, we shared the crème brulee infused with lemon and rosemary and talked workouts as we shattered the perfect sugar shell and spooned the incredibly light and silky crème into our mouths.

Other guests were also obviously enjoying their food, friends and the lovely ambience. Coined “rustic elegance” by my fellow diner, Antonio’s features warm woods, soft lights, colorful local artwork, a large brick fireplace and comfortable seating arranged just far enough away from other diners for private conversations. Accompanied by background music, we savored our meal and chatted away, barely noticing the attentive, well-informed service until we paused to make another decision.

In the sophisticated lounge, guests were enjoying treats from the diverse bar menu, which includes panini, artisanal cheeses, Tuscan flatbread, hand-cut potato chips and a Kobe beef burger. We’ll be heading back again soon to sample that or the prix fixe menu. After all, my friend still has to meet the piano player. (Call or visit antonios.net to check the entertainment schedule, which includes a number of musicians). Antonio’s also hosts exclusive wine dinners, private groups for rehearsal dinners and wine tasting events. Manager Susan Wilson said, “Each night, we strive to create memories for guests, whether they’re first-timers, regulars or celebrating a birthday or anniversary. We keep histories of our guests and their preferences in food, wine and seating. That’s why it’s a good idea to make a reservation—we can provide more personal service!” Wilson certainly knows what makes a successful Hilton Head restaurant; she grew up in the restaurant life. Her father owned the Old Fort Pub, and Wilson has been smitten with the business all her life. She added, “We give a warm welcome and fond farewell.” What happens in between is mighty fine, too.

Antonio’s, located at The Village at Wexford on Hilton Head Island, is open nightly. For reservations or more information call 843-843-5505. Or visit antonios.net.

Q: Why Hilton Head?
A: It’s where we are.

Q: How long of have you been open?
A: Under Lowrey Group ownership, for 10 years.

Q: Reservations or no reservations?
A: Not required, but recommended.

Q: What inspired your menu selections?
A: Fresh local products, authenticity, something to appeal to everyone

Q: What was your biggest tab?
A: Well, we accommodate large groups, so it’s hard to say. But we did have some golfers who ordered a few jeroboams of a very special wine.

Q: Most memorable restaurant moment?
A: We strive to create great memories for our guests every night.

Q: What is your favorite thing on the menu?
A: We have several—the scallops, veal chop and osso bucco.

Q: Most unique entrée?
A: Rabbit Agro Dolce

Q:Attire?
A: Nice casual.

Q: Should I save room for an appetizer or dessert?
A: A must!

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