Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Pizza I Cannot Refuse

Having grown tired of the rude, unwarranted remarks about my weight-gain (Geez, it’s not like I’m as big as a friggin’ house!), I decided to be more careful with my food intake and spend more time at the gym in the hopes of “getting my body back”. Despite my initial defiance at conforming to what others think I SHOULD look like, I must admit that I miss wearing tank tops to the mall and not looking like I’m busting out, or wearing tight shirts and not having to adjust the top of my pants when I sit.

So with renewed determination, I tried to hit the gym at least thrice a week, doubling my cardio each time and trying not to count in multiples of two when the trainer says “hold for ten counts”. I also took advantage of the regular supply of organic lettuce from Matt’s mom which she gets from the AUP campus in Silang, Cavite. To distract myself from Chicken Joys and Spaghetti meals, I bring a packed lunch of green salad with tomatoes, hard-boiled egg and canned tuna, hoping that Catholic Guilt (“You will have to eat all your wasted food in purgatory!”) will force me to eat it.

I was doing pretty well, eventually learning to say no to my beloved pasta dishes and cutting down on cocktails when I go out at night. I was surprised at my tenacity to stick to my new shape-up plan.

That was until Matt had one of his “Caruso Cravings”. Hypnotized by visions of melted mozzarella, generous slices of salami and prosciutto, all on a thin, bubbling crust, my plans of dieting and eating healthy were zapped into oblivion. A few thousand calories can’t be that bad, right? Well, that’s what I keep telling myself, at least.

Caruso Ristorante Italiano is, without a doubt, my top-choice when it comes to authentic Italian pizza in Manila. Despite all the places blossoming all over the country claiming the mastery of this dish, Caruso remains the uncompromising pantheon when it comes to quality and flavor. I admit that the antipasti and main courses are nothing to rave about, but that’s not really the reason I go to an Italian restaurant. For me, like most people, it’s really all about the pizzas and pasta dishes.

Caruso’s interior has been modified in bits and pieces ever since it opened. After removing the “Caffe” from its name, the restaurant has taken on a more sleek and somber persona, ultimately transforming itself from neighborhood trattoria to upscale fine-dining restaurant. The large brick oven still holds court behind the kitchen counter, where hundreds, maybe thousands, of delicious pizzas have been baked to perfection. Aside from the main dining room, they also have a small smoking area near the foyer, which I have noticed to be an indispensible element in a lot of European (and Japanese)-owned establishments.

Matt and I tucked ourselves in our favorite nook in said smoking area (which, I have to say, is quite well-ventilated and never smells like a dingy ashtray)and ordered our favorite drinks with Caruso pizza- an ice-cold beer for him, and a glass (or two) of Prosecco for me.

Having completely forgotten about my supposed diet, I ordered a pasta dish- the Garganelli in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce. The oddly-shaped pasta was cooked perfectly al dente , coated in a flavorful cream with Porcini mushrooms. I love how this dish is both comforting with the pasta and cream, and at the same time made refined and “grown-up” by the earthy and aromatic Porcinis. This is a must-try for every pasta lover, in my opinion.

For the pizza, we always order the Quattro Stagioni, where we can choose four different flavors from their selection and put them all in one pizza. As a sign of diplomacy, Matt and I allow each other two picks each. I always select the Caruso, which contains all of my favorite things- prosciutto, anchovies, olives and capers. Looks like a kidney-buster, but that- at least to me- is a combination made in pizza heaven. The other flavor I chose this time was the Picantina, which had generous slices of spicy salami and olives. Matt’s picks were the Quattro Formaggi and, surprisingly, the Salsiccia- which was covered, of course, in garlicky, fennel-y Italian sausage. Since Matt does not eat pork, he picks out the sausages from the pizza and gives them to me. Sigh… The sacrifices I have to make for love.

The pizza, as usual was- for lack of a better word- perfect. The toppings were scattered generously on top of good-quality, stringy mozzarella, and the crust was just the way I like it- thin and pliable, with just a bit of crispiness at the bottom.

As we polished off our food, the restaurant started filling up at around 9 PM. Several nationalities were represented, most of which are quite well-dressed, and some are obviously regulars of the restaurant. A good-looking, middle-aged Italian man- whom we assume is the owner- walks around to greet his friends and patrons, sometimes chatting animatedly in his native tongue with his countrymen. It’s almost like watching an episode of The Sopranos, but a more dignified version and definitely without the profanity.

The service here is always very professional and efficient. They seem to follow a standard procedure for every table and this system seems to be working quite well for them- surely one of the restaurants where the service charge is well-deserved.

The prices here are higher than your average Italian restaurant. I have yet to return to Mi Piace and Paparazzi, but I would guess that Caruso’s price point is similar to those restaurants. During this particular visit, Matt and I noticed that the prices have yet again gone up. But then, as if hypnotized once more, we shrug off the exorbitant bill and plan what to order on our next visit.

We both agree: You just can’t put a price on the perfect pizza.

Caruso Ristorante Italiano
N. Garcia St (formerly Reposo)
Brgy. Bel-Air, Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 895 2451


Miguel said...

That Pizaa with Prseco looks great. Is that In Reposo near kalayaan ave.?

Chinkee said...

Hi Miguel! Yup, right across from Alliance Francaise and L'Incontro... I can't remember what their prosecco is, but I love the fact that they serve some by the glass.

Noel said...

Hi, Chinkee.

You are right, the " good-looking, middle-aged Italian man" is, in fact, part-owner of Caruso. His name is Dario Gardini - a very friendly and accommodating fellow (he never charges corkage, so that makes him a good fella in my book).

My kids love Caruso (as well as JSG, of course) and, I think I've mentioned to you that, somehow, we always wind up in Caruso whenever my wife watches episodes of "Sopranos".



Chinkee said...

Hi Noel! Actually, I did remember your "Sopranos" story when we were having dinner. I enjoyed watching Dario while he talked to his Italian friends... I love their accent and how the men kiss each other on both cheeks. Such a charming culture. And don't get me started with the food!

Socky said...

No corkage at Caruso? You said the magic word. Haven't tried this place. Now I'm in!

Anonymous said...

best pizza period.. no corkage? are u sure?

Chinkee said...

Hi gourmandtales! I haven't actually tried bringing my own wine, but if Noel says he never paid for corkage at Caruso, then I believe him.:-) Although, there are restaurants who actually charge corkage, but waive them for their good-paying customers. I usually call first to check before I bring a bottle. There are some places with really high corkage fees that its ridiculous.