The Day Italy was Brought To Me

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Hi, I'm Giorgio Matera and if you don't know me, I'm the guy in the menu," says the guy in front. He points to the La Piadina menu, which shows his picture, and we all chuckle. It was a low-peak mall hour Monday morning. half of the new La Piadina store in Glorietta 4 was closed to several members of the media in an intimate lunch that features La Piadina's new recipes.

Before the group gathered, I arrived rather early and had a chat with Giorgio and Tetta Matera, a husband-and-wife team who owns La Piadina La Cucina Regionale, a quaint Italian chain of restaurants in Tokyo and in Manila. I immediately beamed how much I've been a fan of the Piadina stall at the Glorietta food court. It's true. My comfort food is the Pasta Arrabiata and mozzarella set.

This is Italian food from Italy," Giorgio explains to me. Italian food isn't just pizza and pasta, which are what we're used to. They've got more than pizza and pasta. There were also main courses to try. And pasta isn't just spaghetti. We also have ravioli and gnocchi, which are potato dumplings made by hand. "Are your pastas fresh pasta?" Giorgio nods in agreement and points to me his staff making fresh gnocchi with his hands and a fresh sheet of pasta being cut up. I love fresh pasta. This ought to be good.

Tetta sits two places on my right and joins us for lunch as well. Tetta is a picture of happiness and health. She mentions how her whole take on food totally changed when she met Giorgio. With minimal makeup save for obligatory mascara and bronzer, Tetta has an elegant aura similar to Monica Belluci. As her husband stays in the kitchen cooking, she's usually in the dining area overseeing everything.

For appetizer, we were served I Crostini with Liver and Tuna Pate. For someone who's not much on pate, I had quite a serving of these. First the tuna, then I conceded with liver. I noticed that there's no fishy taste unlike some pates that I've tasted. While feasting on the crostini, I opened the menu. Most people find the menu confusing, since instead of the usual grouping of soup, salad, pasta, pizza, dessert, the food is divided into regions. Regions meaning regions in Italy to emphasize food being regional. This sets them apart from other restaurants. It's a little Italy 101 lesson for us. In the Tuscan region, for example, mushrooms and truffle oil were quite popular, hence there were a lot of them. The Le Linguine ai Funghi Con Olio di Tartufo (if I get it right, that's linguini with mushrooms in olive oil) was our dish for that region, which was rich and flavorful but didn't cause my stomach to turn in somersaults. Oh here, we were served using ribbon pasta.

Look! I get to try to shape ribbon pasta too!

Giorgio is from the Puglia region in Italy. The Puglia part caught my eye and tastebuds. With a lot of fish and tomatoes, I wanted something rich and robust in favor. Tetta explains that in their menu, there are no added sugars or preservatives. Tomato sauce and tomatoes are simmered for 2-3 hours to bring out the natural sweetness.
Giorgio personally serves us sampling sizes of Le Penne con Rucola e Acciughe, which is penne with anchovies, olives, and fresh tomato sauce. He relates that this is also the same way they serve it in his home. Right before serving, Giorgio mixes in fresh arugula, so when served, the arugula isn't crumpled and wilted. I personally like arugula and mixed with the rich flavor, I think I found another favorite in place of my Arrabiata.

The sauce appears to be just touching the pasta (which is fresh, by the way) and we don't have the ingredients swimming in red liquid. Presentation-wise this is something. And this has been consistent not just in the restaurant but also in the food court version.

I've confessed I've never tasted gnocchi in my whole life, but I'm always interested in them. Here's the gnocchi served to us - in creamy gorgonzola cheese sauce. What did I say? "Why did I only taste this now?" The gorgonzola cheese had just the taste that I wanted, a bit salty but not too salty. If there were seconds I would have had seconds.

We were served two kinds of risottos. First up was a meat-lover's delight, Il Risotto Pilota, which had Parmesan cheese and homemade Italian sausage.

The second was my favorite, Il Risotto al Pesto con Scampi. The shrimps were very fresh, and these were shrimps bought straight from the market that very day, so I get none of the annoying shell sticking on the meat. In fact, there are some of clients with sensitivity to day-old shrimps who could eat their scampi without any allergies.

Risotto is actually Italian rice quite different from the rice we know. Risotto has a certain bite. However, before making risotto at home, I found out that it's a dish that really takes time and effort. You can't leave it and you have to be hands-on with it. Risotto in their kitchen takes 20 minutes to prepare, but the wait is worth it. If you're not allergic to shrimp you must try the scampi. As I tell people, I die without shrimp and seafood. By the way, this is my first time to try risotto too. Risotto is actually a favorite of Giorgio's and Tetta's children.

Main course came up, which was Il Pollo Saltato al Balsamico con Basilico. The chicken breast was soft, moist, and melt-in-the mouth. The grilled vegetables were slightly tart due to the balsamic but I totally did not complain and was lucky to get a second serving. In fact, I was glad there was one. Again, these are fresh meat and vegetables marketed everyday and delivered to their kitchen.

To cap off our lunch, we were served one of La Piadina's bestselling desserts: Tiramisu, made from real marscapone cheese. It wasn't sweet and overpowering. The taste was mild and light, and cleansed the palate from all the rich flavors we tasted.

If you go back there and ask whatever happened to the old favorites? Well they still are there. There's still Pasta Arrabiata in the menu, and in fact I had it weeks before when I dined there when it opened. Other favorites still exist, like the Pasta Scampi and Pesto, but with different twists and upgrades.

This totally new concept of Piadina still maintains the quiet and intimate ambiance of the old Piadina we used to love. Here, Chef Giorgio communicates and introduces his country via the food he serves which he believes we would all love. In fact, having dined here for quite a while, I'm glad I not only got to taste my usual favorites but also new dishes that I only see in pictures.
La Piadina (La Cucina Regionale Italiana) is located at the second floor of Glorietta 4 in Makati. :) It's right across Jolibee and next to Dulcinea.

Iced Gems are my Happy Childhood Snack

Remember these?

These little biscuits were every happy child's companion. My best Iced Gem memories (I called them "teased" gem back then, I don't know why maybe because I couldn't make out the words with the lettering , I didn't know how to pronounce "iced," or I was crazy.) were finding them in my Charlie Brown lunchbox during recess time or my mom buying them in bulk at the grocery. I was searching for Iced Gems since forever. They don't sell them in convenience stores and they're hardly in the groceries. SM doesn't even have it (please do please do please do!). I was lucky to find it in one grocery trip at Makati Supermart in Alabang and I grabbed not one but two bags. It was cornered in one section in fact, with only a few bags left.

I don't know about most of you, but I was one of them kids who would eat only the icing and leave the biscuits behind. I don't know what became of the biscuits after, but I'd behead mine during recess time and down it with my Hi-C orange or strawberry drink.

"I beheads you!" 8-}
Anyone know where else I could buy them? These are one of my missed kiddie snacks. These and a bag of Chickadees with the hop-and-pop.

Not Our Usual Makis At Red Kimono

Friday, September 17, 2010

If you're tired of your usual maki formula of nori and sushi rice either inside out and rolled in fish roe or enveloping raw tuna or kani, then the event I attended last week was definitely maki in various conoctions. Red Kimono held a contest entitled "My Maki Masterpiece", a contest that marks Red Kimono's 5th birthday. This contest encouraged participants to create their very own maki. They had to think out-of-the-box for other ingredients that could make a maki truly unique. Prior to this event, the participants were required to submit a recipe, photo of the finished maki, and a title. Ten entries were pre-selected and these were the makis we tasted that night.

Food and drinks were overflowing that night as we all gathered to witness the event where these 10 finalists would showcase their Maki recipes. These were judged by six prominent personalities namely Tweetie De Leon-Gonzales, Ricky de Vera, DJ Rob Joseph, Carlos Celdran, Dr. Edgardo Rodriguez, and Ernie Lopez. Host Issa Litton multitasks as being a judge too that night.

Of course it wasn't just them who got a taste of these ten recipes. We also did. Check out some of the favorites:

This three-in-0ne maki stresses how breakfast is an important meal of the day. These three makis contain salted egg, tomatoes, and sardines in one big cluster. Even without soy sauce, these makis are quite flavorful.

This was the crowd favorite, having incorporated kani and aligue on the recipe. I wasn't able to have seconds of these as it got wiped out in an instant. It's very tasty, in fact, and although I'm not much of an aligue fan, I found this maki delicious.

Is that shrimp I see? well I gotta have this Kurtswheel pretty roll, I think!

There were still seven more flavors that kept coming in, most of them taking inspirations from Filipino dishes. I was glad that there were also vegan makiI found the vegan makis quite refreshing and I would recommend them to someone who wants to try maki but is allergic but could take nori.

While on a maki break, Arpee tells me to lay low on the sake. At least this picture got me cheekbones!

The winners of the challenge would have their recipes included in the Red Kimono menu. That too and also Php5,000 cash and Php5,000 gift certificates from Red Kimono. Among the five winners, the grand winner happened to be a dessert maki made of mangoes and sticky rice drizzled in chocolate syrup. It was quite unusual and original to have maki as a dessert. From those who tasted it, they said it reminded them of suman. Suman and chocolate do go together! Looks like I gotta try them soon, but I have to hurry since these are available for a limited time only.