Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Into the Blue in Cebu

I can’t help it: Italian food is my one true weakness. I can hold back on potato chips and ice cream, but slam a plate of pasta in front of me and I’m doomed.

Last weekend, Matt and I (along with my entire immediate family) were in Cebu for a family friend’s wedding. Like half of the guests, we were billeted in Shangri-la Mactan Resort and Spa where the wedding reception would also be held. We as a family have several fond memories of the resort, so we were all only too happy to go.

While most people were pining for Cebu lechon, I was dead-set on having a meal in Shangri-la Mactan’s Italian restaurant, Acqua. I remember having lunch there a couple of years ago, and it was a pretty good meal, if I’m not mistaken. So, it was set that Matt and I were going to have dinner there on his first night ever in Cebu.

The interior was exactly how I remembered it- the high-ceilinged dining room was awash in white and detailed with dark wood and modern fixtures. It was sleek and contemporary but totally accessible, something that would be perfectly at home at a high-end Miami hotel.

When we were done ordering, I was immediately drawn to the round table in the middle of the room topped by an assortment of wines, liqeurs and glasses. After a couple of tastes, I decided on having a glass of nicely-balanced Chianti Classico. Being a hotel restaurant, wines by the glass at Acqua come at a horrendous price. But it was really good, so I try to stop myself from calculating the retail price in my head and just enjoy.

To start our meal, Matt and I decided to split a plate of Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Essence. Seeing the pallid color of the risotto, I brace myself for probable disappointment. But then, the minute the velvety grains of Arborio rice entered my mouth, I immediately declared the dish a winner. The texture was creamy, but not thick and dense. You can still feel the al dente graininess of the rice, which is a far cry from overly-stirred, mushy versions I have tried before. Wide, generous slices of Porcini mushrooms add interesting texture and flavor to the dish, while a subtle whiff of truffle wafts into my nostrils with every bite. Matt claims it to be the best risotto he has ever had.

Still heady from the rapture brought about by the risotto, I watch with anticipation as my main dish is placed before me- Seared Angus Rib-Eye with Sauteed Mushrooms, Arugula and Shaved Parmesan. Upon inspection, the steak was obviously grilled to perfection, medium, as I have requested. The slices of meat were delicately flavored with a light balsamic reduction and freshly-ground black pepper. The subtle play on flavors- from the peppery arugula, to the earthiness of the mushrooms, to the sweet-tangy balsamic- is a welcome change from the usual richness associated with Italian food.

Matt ordered the Roasted Lamb Rack with Almond Crust and Apple Mashed Potatoes. I had a taste of this, too, and notice how the well-done meat managed to stay moist inside the thick crust. Matt actually found it to be a bit dry, but I thought it was ok.

Stuffed from our hearty Italian meal, we head out to the breezy poolside dining area to have a cig while we rub our fully-satiated bellies. I don’t know why, but our server mistakenly thought that we were celebrating our anniversary, so they brought out a complimentary serving of chocolate mousse. Chocoholic-me naturally had to have a few spoonfuls, despite my groaning mid-section. It was really sweet of them to have done that, though. I must say, this was one of the few times that being lost in translation is a good thing.

Spying the outdoor brick oven, Matt and I knew that we had to try Acqua’s pizzas before we left. On our last day in Cebu, we decided to have a quick meal there after our late check-out. We opted for two flavors in one pie- one half had Parma ham, arugula and mozzarella, while the other half had ricotta cheese, spinach and fresh pomodoro. I am happy to report that Acqua’s pizzas are, indeed, delicious and reasonably-priced. Well, for a hotel resto, at least.

My Italian meal in the land of lechon would seem outrageous to most, but I would not have had it any other way. Something tells me a bunch of little piggies are pretty happy about that.

Shangri-la Mactan Resort and Spa
Punta Engano Road
Lapu-Lapu, Cebu
Tel. no. (6332) 2310288


Anonymous said...

Hi Chinkee. In case you're still in Cebu and you decide to try what A. Bourdain called the best lechon in the world:

In case you decide to bring home some, share it with us, as it's not available in MM. he he he


Chinkee said...

Hi Ariel! Yeah I saw the show on youtube:-) Its really quite something that Anthony Bourdain said that... makes me proud to be pinoy. Hehe. Not sure if Marketman actually has a lechon place, but if he did I would surely want to try it the next time I'm there. As much as I think lechon is great, I never really crave for it. I'm more of a crispy pata gal.:-)

teddy said...

Hi Chinkee.

I met you once at that terrific dinner at Luis de Terry's LU in Rockwell.. let me just say that ACQUA at the Shang, Mactan is, for me, one of the most SUPERB restaurants of any kind (that it just happens to be Italian is not exactly the point)in the Visayas, nay, perhaps in the country today. I was in Cebu in an eating binge about a year and a half ago and I ate EVERYWHERE, and rather well.. but for me, everything else just paled by comparison after I sat down to dinner at Acqua.. and you're right, I can have lechon everywhere (I also think Bacolod lechon, which has never been written about IS better than Cebu's), so if I'm in Cebu, the trip wouldn't be complete for me without at least a meal in Acqua!

Teddy Montelibano

Chinkee said...

Hi Teddy! Yes, of course I remember you and that awesome dinner at LU:-) That was quite a night, wasn't it? Anyway, you're right, Acqua is truly one of the best restaurants I've ever been to in the Philippines. It confirms that fool-proof formula of great food + beautiful ambience = love. Hahahaha! I appreciate the fact that they try to give you that whole Dolce Vita experience with wines by the glass. If only their wines weren't so darn expensive! But, well, what can we do... In any case, that was still my best meal in Cebu EVER. Thanks for dropping by my blog. Hope to bump into you again soon:-)