Eat and drink as the Italians do

Posted at 08/28/10 11:56 AM

MANILA, Philippines - When one says "Italian food," the first things that usually come to mind are pizza and spaghetti. But there's a whole lot more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta.

Food aficionado and restaurateur Tina Pamintuan wanted to show the diversity of Italian cuisine and let Filipinos eat and drink as the Italians do. And so when she bought L'Incontro Ristorante Italiano from its Italian owner who had to go back to Italy this year, this was what she set out to do.

"We aim to create an environment inspired by the Italian dining table experience, so that our guests can enjoy how Italians enjoy their food and drink," Pamintuan said.

L'Incontro's menu was thus revamped, with new dishes added and old dishes spiced up with more quality ingredients.

And the restaurant started offering sampling menus of up to 9 courses to show the art of Italian dining complete with selected wines.

The 9-course meal

A 9-course meal is best enjoyed on a leisurely afternoon. After all, such a luxurious meal may run up to three hours, especially when enjoyed with loved ones and friends.

At a press lunch hosted by Pamintuan recently, the first course, aperitif(appetizer before a large meal), consisted of salcicia arrabiata pizzeta (arrabiata sweet sausage little pizza), pescatora bianco pizzeta, and risotto flambe with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh sage, and 24-month-old aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Peach Bellini was more than just a welcome drink as it set the mood for the long meal ahead.

The antipasto (hot or cold appetizers "before the meal") came next: Crema di squash e burro, or cream butter and squash soup. The wine paired with this dish was Zonin Prosecco.

 Crespella ala funghi en tartufo (creamy mushroom and truffles crepe)

For the primo(first course), a best seller from the old menu was served: Crespella ala funghi en tartufo, which is a creamy mushroom and truffles crepe. The chosen wine to go with this dish is said to be US President Barack Obama's favorite, the Kendall Jackson Camelot Chardonnay.

Grilled veal chop

Two dishes comprised the secondi(second course, usually the main dish): Veal chop grilled to perfection, and the tender Salmon Mascarpone. Pamintuan chose a good wine, the Pinot Noir Estancia Monterey County for this course.

The contorno are side dishes to the secondi: rosemary potatoes, onion gratin, spinach mash, and salad of cherry tomatoes and greens with crema balsamico.


Then the first of the desserts came: the formaggio e frutta(cheese and fruit; the first dessert)-- a choice of tiramisu mascarpone, bianco chocolate, and assorted cheeses. It would seem odd that cheeses are served as dessert, but they do satisfy the palate. For this course, diners were served a sweet wine, the Natalie Sweet Syrah.

The caffe(coffee) is considered a course in itself, and so is the dolce(sweet), which can be gelato (ice cream) or affogato (coffee-based dessert).

Finally, the long meal ended with the digestivo(digestive), a refreshing glass of limoncello, which is a delight after a satisying meal.

A variety of dishes

Diners can also enjoy a meal the way they want to, without having the full 9 courses.

The restaurant's all-encompassing menu features dishes from all regions of Italy.

"When it comes to Italian restaurants, people always ask whether it's authentic or classic--Northern Italian or Southern Italian--when there is, in fact, so much more diversity to Italian cuisine than these limited definitions," said Pamintuan, an executive corporate chef schooled in Le Cordon Bleu in London.

Strawberry Nutella pizza

Comfort foods such as spaghetti with meatballs and hearty lamb lasagna are there, and so are specialty dishes like vegetarian spinach and ricotta risotto and unique desserts like Nutella, strawberry and mascarpone pizza.

 Pamintuan said they use only the freshest vegetables, herbs, seafood and meat. They bake their own bread and source only high quality ingredients such as high grade extra virgin olive oil, cheeses, and aged balsamico.

"Italian food is so simple. What makes it different is the use of ingredients, so we chose to use a better olive oil, a better balsamico, among others," said Pamintuan, who was once a food columnist and host of a cooking show on TV.


Homey atmosphere

 The old L'Incontro (the word means "the meeting place") was a bit dark and was a place ballroom dancers gravitated to. Pamintuan had it completely renovated with the help of designer Miguel Rosales.

Now the restaurant brings to mind an old Italian farmhouse in the countryside with its high ceilings, wide space, and big windows. The look is thus now more homey yet sophisticated.

"I'd like L'Incontro to be a place for everyone and anyone, no matter how much you spend or how long you stay; a place that you can frequent every day," said Pamintuan. "You can spend P300 on a pasta dish or spend P1,500 per head. Hindi siya namimili ng tao."

She added that an all-day menu will soon be available for those looking for a more casual, light, and valuable meal. This all-day menu will feature lighter servings that are easier on the pocket.

L'Incontro Ristorante Italiano is at 207 Nicanor Garcia St. (former Reposo St.), Makati City. Tel. 899-0638 and 899-0642. It is open from 12 noon to 12 a.m.

Photos courtesy of L'Incontro