The most engaging new Italian restaurant that I’ve been returning to lately is My Kitchen, which is located off Paco Park in Manila. I mention this fact at the top of the article because those who are unwilling to travel outside the Makati-Ortigas axis or who are looking for a stylish new restaurant for a dinner date can stop reading here.
I was myself putting off checking out this place because Manila, with its gaily hued street lamps that manage to be distractingly colorful but provide absolutely no illumination to its pot-holed streets and pot-bellied predatory traffic wardens, is unfamiliar territory, and just sounded really, really far.
But it’s been a quarter long in need of a good restaurant now that Malate has gone to seed, and My Kitchen fits the bill nicely.
In fact, it’s the very model of what a neighborhood restaurant should be; and I’m just sorry it isn’t in my neighborhood, because I would be there much more often. There used to be Italian restaurants like this in very unexpected parts of town, often in odd locations: I remember one that lurked in an unassuming house in BF Homes in Parañaque, or another that was wedged in a tiny diner-like space at one end of Gilmore Street in Quezon City.
As it is, it’s very much worth a detour; and as it turns out, the detour has become a lot shorter. one used to have to go to Pampanga for chef Chris Locher’s 24-seat restaurant and a bite of what he calls “panizza.”
The “panizza” is what you should go to the restaurant for and stuff yourself silly with. It comes in a variety of flavors, which all taste vaguely similar but are equally delicious. The toppings are unimportant: What is brilliant is the dough, which, in a lifetime of trying, I would not be able to achieve.
The Italians call it friabile, which the dictionary tells me is translated as friable, which doesn’t really help much at all. It’s more easily defined by what it’s not. It isn’t crisp like a Skyflakes cracker, not doughy and bread-y like an American pizza. It isn’t crumbly, nor is it ductile. It’s exactly what a pizza base should be, and a well-made pizza with this kind of crust is difficult enough to find.
Locher has gone one step further and makes it is as thin as dough can get without it being nonexistent, tops it liberally, and serves it with a bowl of arugula and alfalfa. One then eats the pizza, cut into thin strips, by wrapping it around the vegetables and then either popping it in one’s mouth or nibbling at it like a canapé.
There’s a bit of disconnect between the “panizza” and the rest of the meal, because if you’re anything like me, you’re already full of bouncy carbohydrate goodness, and a full main course seems somewhat superfluous. I had an excellent lunch there where we shared a salad and then the homemade sausages (“I come from many generations of sausage-makers,” Locher informed us), which was just the right amount of food.
On another occasion, we had the lamb, which was a little bit too much, and the lamb had a bit too much gamey fat, and the meat that there was was coarsely textured. I can also vouch for the risotto, however, which, like everything else, is quietly excellent: nothing fancy, nothing molecular, nothing showy, just good, unpretentious, and full of flavor.
I might even nitpick a little bit and say that Locher sometimes errs on the side of exuberance, like an insecure guest who overdresses for a party. but this is, I must reiterate, a very minor niggle. I haven’t had such a slew of consistently good meals in ages.
And the restaurant, once you’ve figured out how to get to it, isn’t that far from Makati or San Juan, and is well worth the journey. For those who live or work in the area, it’s the neighborhood restaurant you’ve been waiting for, and an oasis of good food in a part of town that badly needs it.
My Kitchen is at The Oasis Paco Park Hotel, 1032 Belen St., Paco; tel. 5212371.