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Like Bedouin tribesmen, caribou, and Canada geese chefs seem nomadic souls. They lose interest, they disagree with the owners, or the establishment closes and before you know it, they’ve packed up their culinary tools and migrate. Some died-in-the-wool chefs revel in this model. Jose Antonio Garcia, Senior, however, has decided to end his march.
Antonio made his reputation starting the kitchens of both the Herndon and Leesburg Zeffirelli restaurants. His latest success was brining his signature dishes to start a restaurant called Pasta Bella, begun by the same family that owns Zeffirelli. Once Antonio left Pasta Bella, it closed. He and his son, Antonio Jr., took over ownership and serve the kind of cuisine he is famous for, now in their new Italian bistro called Café Antonio. Antonio Sr. himself can be seen wandering to and fro like a captain on his bridge, muttering commands, insuring all fares well.
Café Antonio has an extensive menu with all of the best Italian entrees and most that Pasta Bella served. As would be expected, it is building a full bar and select wine list. Lunch meals range from $6.95 to $11.95; dinner they range from $6.95 to $21.95 with Antonios signature dishes to $29.95.
The first dish I sampled began with a salad of crisp, standard greens, shaved carrots, tomato and cucumber, touched with tangy, sweet dressing reminiscent of an aged balsamic. A steamy bowl of Cioppino made with mussels, pearly shrimp, calamari, clams and scallops sautéed in a saffron and light tomato broth followed. These were only precursors, however, to the more substantial, satisfying entrée, Maui-Maui bedded upon perfectly wilted spinach over al dente julienne carrots and green beans fans, all drenched in a creamy saffron sauce. The finish was one of the finest vanilla Gelatos I have ever experienced, imported from Italy through a New York supplier -- it must be experienced.
My second visit began with the same salad and was to sample Antonio Senior’s signature dish that he had introduced to all restaurants he mentored, I have now christened after its creator, Veal Chop Al Antonio. Though I requested, and was told I received, the smallest portion in the kitchen, I carried fully a third of the zesty vitello home with me. In addition to the generous size, the flavored wine sauce perfectly complemented the grilled crust of the French cut chop and prime marbling flavored every bite. Artfully presented al dente carrots and snap beans joined a lightly garliced mashed potato dollop, all surrounded by the generous wine sauce. The dessert this time was a slice cheese cake personally made on site by Antonio. The consistency was not that overly rich creamy New York style I had feared but was ideal to my palate and had a semi-moist base and crust with a flavorful vanilla herb taste I could not identify but enjoyed immensely. It was plated on a dark chocolate pattern and bordered by small spots of fresh whipped cream topped by strawberry slices. It was a perfect finish to my samplings.
The friendly service was unobtrusive and unhurried. The atmosphere is casual, but the place settings are formal and the service is excellent, similar but somehow superior to its predecessor, Pasta Bella. Soft Christmas music soothing the mood for the season will be replaced in the New Year; I’m sure, by similar Italian background music.
I submit your experience will parallel mine and strongly recommend you visit Café Antonio.