Italian chef Dario Gardini opened Caruso Ristorante Italiano in 2002. In 2007, he partnered with Emilio Mina who, in 2015, became Caruso’s sole proprietor.
For the past 20 years, Caruso has continued to serve authentic Italian fare that’s amazingly consistent, hearty and specially cooked with mamma’s touch.
The magnificence of this Italian eatery is in its entirety. The look, the feel, the taste, the ambiance, the spirit and, of course, the presence of signore Emilio are what make Caruso truly one of a kind.
It was in 1989 in a hotel elevator in Florence, Italy, that Emilio first caught sight of a beautiful Filipina. Her name was Evelyn. The gentleman was quick to greet her as she alighted.
“Oh, she smiled at me,” he reminisced happily.
He couldn’t stop thinking of her the whole morning. Talking to himself, he said, perhaps she’ll be back by noon.
At exactly 12 noon, Emillio was by the hotel elevator, and there she stood.
Again, he greeted her, “Good afternoon, bella signora.” And again, “She smiled at me,” he recalled.
Getting ready for dinner with his clients, Emilio took the hotel lift at 6 p.m., and for the third time on the same day, as the doors of the lift opened—there she stood.
Believing that this was destiny, Emilio asked Evelyn to join him for a glass of prosecco, and she agreed. Thirty-two years hence, they are still madly in love.
The relationship that spanned three decades has had its share of ups and downs.
In 2003, Evelyn suffered an aneurysm. Emilio immediately flew to Manila and never left her side. It was at this time that he met Gardini, who invited him to Caruso. Dining at the restaurant reminded Emilio of home.
After marrying Evelyn in 2006, Emilio decided to become a part owner of Caruso, in the hope that his wife would one day recover and manage the restaurant alongside him. This unfortunately wasn’t how fate unraveled. Though Evelyn is fine, she can no longer be actively involved in the business.
So Emilio has his days full: He cares for his wife the whole morning, leaving her side only late in the afternoon, after she’s been given dinner and prepped for bed.
Like clockwork, Emilio heads to the restaurant where from his table, he graciously welcomes everyone.
As the maestro strikes the chords of the piano, Emilio gets up to sing “O Sole Mio,” as well as other beloved Italian and French classics. He also croons Jose Mari Chan’s “Beautiful Girl.”
Though not a chef, Emilio was raised by a family of great cooks. He loves to travel for food, venturing all over Italy to eat. He takes pride in his discriminating tastebuds.
For Caruso, “I only buy the best ingredients from Italy. I look at quality, not the price,” he says.
I love their Quattro Formaggi Pizza, how it’s so cheese-laden but not at all oily. The spaghetti they use is from Gragnano. It is excellent.
I am likewise enamored by their homemade fresh pastas—there are 10 kinds on the menu. My favorite is the Garganelli di Mamma Martina, with porcini mushrooms.
I keep going back for the Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone, veal slices with lemon sauce with a side of delicious spinach and mashed potatoes.
At Caruso they offer the real branzino, sea bass crusted in salt or al cartoccio. I prefer the former, as it stays delicately soft and moist.
The Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a must-try, made with Chianina beef, a heritage breed of cattle from Tuscany.
To cap the meal, their panna cotta is the best. It’s the texture that I crave. Their Limone Ripieno—lemon sorbet—is equally fantastic.
The quality ingredients, the attentive service and the captivating Emilio make dining at Caruso a felicitous experience.
Emilio shared the the porcini sauce recipe for the fresh garganelli pasta. You may use this with your own fresh or store-bought pasta.
20 g dried porcini, cleaned then boiled for 20 minutes until soft
1 white onion, finely diced
5 g butter
1 c cream
Salt and pepper
2 tsp crema con tartufo (black truffle sauce)
50 g garganelli (fresh pasta)
30 g Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Bring a large pan of water to a boil, sprinkle with salt. Cook garganelli in the water for 2-3 minutes until al dente.
In a pan, saute white onion in the butter until golden brown. Add the dried porcini and cream. Simmer for 3 minutes.
Tip the cooked garganelli in the porcini sauce. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Mix gently the crema con tartufo and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Portion into pasta plate and sprinkle grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Caruso Ristorante Italiano, G/F, LRI Design Plaza, 210 Nicanor Garcia, Makati; tel. 0917-7700488.
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