"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.