Serendipitous is perhaps the best word to describe how Elbert Cuenca hatched two very promising restaurants this year.
This month he opens Elbert’s Pizzeria, to be followed in April by the much-anticipated Metronome with partners Miko Calo and Alain Borgers.
The idea for offering Naples-style pizzas began with Cuenca’s cousin Joel Magsaysay. “Back in 2008, I would often visit him in his Ilog Maria Bee Farm in Silang, Cavite,” Cuenca recalls. “There, his pride and joy was a wood-fired brick oven, which he built himself. It was the centerpiece for many great cookouts with friends and family.
“In one such occasion, I invited Alex Lichaytoo of Bacchus International. He brought Italian ingredients for making pizza—tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto. That’s when I fell in love with the idea of wood-fired pizzas. More than just the goodness of the dish itself, what struck me was the amount of pleasure it provided everyone who ate it.”
The concept of running a pizzeria played in Cuenca’s mind. He thought of sponsoring Adrian, his brother and executive chef at Elbert’s Steak Room, to do an intensive, month-long training with maestro pizzaiolo Gaetano Fazio in Ischia, just off Naples in Italy. It didn’t push through due to the lack of wood supply.
“Through the years, I saw how much wood Joel collected —usually after strong typhoons—how long it took him to dry them, and how much space they required,” says Cuenca. “I wasn’t confident I would have a sustainable supply of wood for the operations.”
But then Bacchus International began bringing in compressed beechwood logs, also known as pizza logs. Cuenca knew it was a good time to open a pizzeria.
To set his brand apart, he will offer Neapolitan pizzas with thin, yet crunchy and chewy crusts. His oven, flour, wood logs, tomatoes and cheeses are all from Italy. And he has also carefully curated the toppings, such as the olive oil, prosciutto, anchovies, and arugula to guarantee the high quality of ingredients.
Even beverages such as beer, bottled water, and sodas will come from Italy. His coffee is from Naples.
Elbert’s Pizzeria will have a dozen items on its maiden menu. It includes the classic Margherita with tomato pulp, mozzarella fior de latte, and basil; Siciliana with olives, capers and anchovies; Quattro Formaggi combining gorgonzola, emmental, parmesan and mozzarella; and Margherita al Salsiccia e Fiarelli with sausage and broccoli rabe.
There’s more than enough to satisfy any craving, though Cuenca might also offer pizza customized for diners.
Opening a French bistro was never in Cuenca’s business plans, too. But after meeting chef Miko Calo, who happened to be having lunch at Elbert’s Steak Room one fine day, Cuenca knew it just had to happen.
“My cousin RJ Galang and I have been really thinking of opening a restaurant, but we knew we needed people with the same mindset,” says Calo, who trained in a string of Robuchon restaurants. “By chance, I was introduced to Elbert and his brother. We got to talk about what I wanted to do and he asked me about my career and work experience thus far. He said, ‘Why don’t I try your food?’”
And so she prepared a small lunch for Cuenca and the French ambassador about a year ago. Cuenca was so impressed that, after a few months, he contacted Calo about collaborating. In three days, they found the perfect space in Makati.
“It was serendipitous,” says Calo. “Things just happened fast.”
The restaurant’s name, Metronome, refers to the instrument musicians use to play a regular pulse, but it also symbolizes cooking techniques, explains Calo. “Being creative also comes with regulated technique. Doing things properly guides me.”
The restaurant’s concept has been in the back of her head for five years. “This is the end goal,” she says. “I bled for this. I can back it up when I say I know French food. I wanted to learn as much as I could [abroad] because I wanted to come back here and show that what I know is legit.”
The food at Metronome will be modern French, but the flavors will be more global: “I mix everything. I want my food to be approachable. It’s the kind of food I got fascinated with when I lived in Paris—bistronomique, a marriage of gastronomique and bistro. It’s a more casual approach to high-quality food.”
In a pop-up for friends last month, she served butter-roasted grouper with a coconut bouillon, smoked eggplant velvet with diced pears, pan-seared duck liver with honey and tamarind, and braised veal cheeks with the creamiest potato puree.
The restaurant space will be separated into two—one for house guests who wish to order à la carte, and another for degustacion.
“Its Miko’s restaurant and we’re just here to validate the stuff she does,” says Cuenca, who will manage it with wine expert Alain Borgers.
“It’s a perfect balance,” says Calo of their working relationship. “We each have our own expertise. When we went to Paris, it was surprisingly easy. It was so organic. We gel.” –CONTRIBUTED
Elbert’s Pizzeria, V Corporate Center, Leviste Street, Salcedo Village. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m., six days a week, no delivery in its first weeks of operations.
Metronome, G/F, The Grand Midori, Bolaños Street, Legazpi Village, Makati