I believe there is no foreign cuisine in the world that isn’t good, when it’s prepared the authentic and proper way.
The first time I tried Italian cuisine I thought it was good, but nothing I’d write home about. Yet I realized that Italian food was not well represented in our shores. Whenever someone suggested eating in an Italian restaurant, I would feel bad.
Soon, when international hotel chains started opening in Manila, along came foreign chefs and imported ingredients. Slowly, good Italian food became appealing.
I once asked a friend who loves Italian fare what makes it taste good. “Fresh ingredients,” he replied.
This reminds me of the corn that chef Anne Dy made me try in Isabela. It was freshly picked and boiled white corn, and the most delicious one I had ever tried. Indeed, freshness is a major factor. If you notice, many Italian dishes have very simple ingredients, but the taste is superior.
I love a well-made aglio e olio with al dente pasta, garlic, parmesan, chili and good olive oil. Yum!
I can name less than three restaurants in Manila that serve good, authentic Italian food. Recently, I added another to this list.
Freshly baked bread
The restaurant, Francesco’s Kitchen, is named after its owner and chef. He worked at Paparazzi at Edsa Shangri-La hotel. I remember having dinner there once, on the invitation of a friend, chef Robert Bolanos. I believe we had a superb experience. And so I was excited to try Francesco’s own offerings.
Francesco bakes its own bread, like the ones placed on our table that came with mashed green olives, garlic and superior extra-virgin olive oil.
More olive oil
The other appetizer that grabbed my attention was freshly-made burrata cheese with cherry tomatoes, again with delicious olive oil.
The bread was crusty and chewy. So good! Francesco told me it was from the pizza crust.
Then came the antipasti of grilled tender octopus with baby tomatoes, haricot beans and salmoriglio dressing. The char of the octopus made this dish more delicious. Of course, there was olive oil again.
These were followed by roasted scallops and portobello mushrooms with crispy pancetta ham and truffle vinaigrette, and Italian meatballs with tomato—a light and tasty version of meatballs.
Then came pasta vongole—one of my favorites, incidentally. The pasta was al dente, the clams were fresh, and the blend of the simmered white wine plus the drippings of the water from the boiled pasta made the simple dish yummy.
The ear-shaped pasta that was served next was cooked with light, spicy broccolini, garlic and anchovy sauce on olive oil—quite good, though I still preferred the vongole.
For mains, we had grilled lamb chops with ratatouille. Perfectly cooked, they were tender and tasted very good.
For dessert, the ones I really liked were the lemon tarte and the panna cotta with truffle honey and fresh figs. The lemon tarte was dusted with powdered sugar, mildly sweet and sour with a semisweet crust, which added to the appeal of this dish.
I loved the combination of panna cotta and honey and the crunchy figs.
Italian restaurants like Francesco’s changed my whole perspective of Italian food served in the Philippines.
Until I find another, this place will be my go-to Italian restaurant.
Francesco’s Kitchen, 863 A. Mabini St., San Juan. Call 7779777.
My Japan food tour is on April 15-20 and May 5-10.