Gastronomic romance

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Friday, August 29, 2014

HERBED CHICKEN (thigh and leg quarter) with spaghetti aglio olio.


A gloomy Tuesday reeled off outside the windowpanes as water gushed out from the sky in a huge downpour. A snug restaurant was a sanctum. Perhaps it was Andrea Bocelli singing in the background. One wall had a copy of the Mona Lisa benignly smiling; another had “Carpe Diem!” Pizza. Ah, pasta and cheese would soon grace the table. There’s no place like this homey dimension on a rainy afternoon.

Duck inside Italianni’s Restaurant for a dose of Italian warmth. As how the restaurant is pegged, what they have is “la tradizione di compartire” (the tradition to be shared). And what practical channel is there to elaborate the art of sharing tradition than to do it through food. In custom-oriented countries like Italy, food is as essential as family—the best expression of affection.

A franchise under a collection of international dining brands (Bistro Group), Italianni’s was officially launched in Cebu late January of this year, carrying the same commitment with that of the rest of 16 other branches nationwide. The mother restaurant opened in the Philippines in 1996 in Makati City.

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The focus is to dish out authentic Italian family recipes, but a little twist in the menu (a touch of American and Filipino influences, that is) doesn’t hurt at all. Plated in big servings (which makes it kind of American), the palatable fare is a medley of antipasto (appetizer), luppe (soup), insalate (salad), pizza, bistecca (steak), della cusina carne and frutti di mare (kitchen meat and seafood) and dolce (dessert).

Pumping up the list are weekday lunch deals which were just introduced last month. These “value meals” are available from Monday to Thursday only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Another set is coming up this October.

Gorgeous in a bed of spaghetti aglio olio (garlic and oil) is a piece of quartered chicken—the “Herbed Chicken” (thigh and leg quarter). The meat is marinated for 12 with salt, black pepper and bay leaf and deep-fried. The procedure is probably the formula for the brownish, robust dish. Topped over the chicken are sautéed cherry tomatoes, caramelized onion sauce and julienned basil. Garnishing the overall entry are toasted garlic bits, Italian whole parsley and crumbled feta cheese.

Also served was a slab of “Baby Back Ribs,” with the meat taken from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs below the loin muscle. The meat is baked until they fall off bones; grilled and basted with salsa verde—Italian green, cold rustic sauce. The latter is the product of parsley, vinegar, capers, garlic, onion, anchovies olive oil and (possibly) mustard. A perfect match for this main course is spaghetti pomodoro. Italianni’s only serves tenderloin, T-bone and New York steaks, which kind of explains the soft, juicy cuts and effortless chomping.

As a a portion of Filipino gastronomy, the restaurant has “Braised Short Ribs.” The main item, which sits on a cup of garlic rice, is beef taken from the underside of the chest part and contains five ribs. Baked for two hours, the meat is braised with costina sauce, which is made with a puree of white onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, red wine, herbs and spices. The garnishing items include Italian whole parsley, French beans and fried onion rings.

The “White Fish Roulade” protrudes from a plate of spaghetti aglio olio like two scoops of ice cream. Well, actually, it’s a slice of fish rolled around a minced filling. The stellar ingredient is pan-seared, rolled dory (with spinach and parmesan cheese) lying in a base of caper cream sauce and marinara. A brush of julienned leeks and Italian whole parsley wraps up the package. By the way, Italianni’s only uses dory and salmon for its fish offerings.

Caesar salad and iced tea may be added on each four meals at a separate price.

Tempo per i dolci (time for sweets). A new entrant and a crowd favorite is the “Dark Chocolate Brownies” with vanilla ice cream. The sweetened strips of orange peel toppings make all the difference. Orange peels have a different purpose, huh? Interesting. The dessert is also best munched with pure peppermint tea.

To round off the romantic meal, wash everything down with a breadth of juices, cocktails and wines.

Italianni’s Restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the Level 1, The Terraces in Ayala Center Cebu. Buon appetito!

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 30, 2014.

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