Friday, October 29, 2010
To C' or Not to C'?: The Angeles Adventure
It almost did not happen.
There was a storm coming, and when it started raining hard in the afternoon, Matt and I were hesitant to push through. We heard on the radio, though, that the sudden downpour had nothing to do with the typhoon coming towards the Northern part of the country. Just to be sure, we contacted popular weatherman/ celebrity adventurer/animal lover/our wedding sponsor Kuya Kim- and asked if a quick trip was possible despite the sketchy weather. He gave us the go signal, and so there was really nothing stopping us. And off we went to one of the most famous food havens of the North- Angeles, Pampanga.
The main reason we took the trip was to finally get to try the popular Italian restaurant C’ Italian Dining. With Swiss chef Chris Locher at the helm, this Italian resto has become one of the most talked-about and revered dining establishments in the Philippines. His food is probably one of the most blogged about in the country, while an army of ravenous fans are tireless in singing him praises. Needless to say, C’ Italian is definitely a restaurant that I must try. So, as part of my birthday treat, Matt has planned a day trip to Angeles to visit the popular eatery.
We had a bit of difficulty finding the road where C’ was located, but once we got on Don Juico Avenue it was easy to spot their now-famous sign. Walking through the lobby, I caught a sight of the main dining room full to capacity for dinner service. Matt reserved a table in the garden, which they claim had the better ambience. The set-up is quite relaxed, with tiled table tops and metal rattan chairs, the topiaries laced with Christmas lights. We were seated in the corner of a small roofed area, sharing it with a few other diners. We hand over a bottle of good cava to the server, and she quickly whisks it away to be chilled.
After ordering, we were served some complimentary bread with a platito of olive oil, fresh pesto and grated parmesan on the side. The bread was warm and soft, clearly freshly-baked.
We sipped our nicely-chilled Freixinet Ellysia Gran Cuvee while we waited, but we did not have to wait long. As soon as the server placed our Panizza on the table, we quickly went to work. This is the original, after all- the precursor to Yellow Cab’s Dear Darla and Focaccia’s version- so Matt and I were excited to taste for ourselves why this dish has become legendary. As instructed in the many foodie blog posts that made it famous, you pull a slice of the panizza, top it with arugula and alfalfa sprouts, roll it up, and enjoy. We decided to go with the panizza topped with peppers, artichoke, eggplant, olives thinking that it would be the lightest option. The first couple of rolls were quite enjoyable- the huge leaves of arugula were fresh and crunchy, the alfalfa sprouts gave a unique flavor dimension to the dish. The cheese was also quite flavorful, and Matt noted that it was not just mozzarella since it had a richer and nuttier taste… A touch of Fontina, perhaps?
Overall, it could have been quite good. What made the dish less than stellar, though, was that after a few minutes, the panizza became very soggy. It was almost impossible to roll the pizza with the center turning into mush. As much as I love cheese, I think they put way too much of it, putting too much weight on the delicate crust. Good food always calls for a perfect balance of ingredients and flavors, and this is one of the few times when it was too much of a good thing.
The risotto, sadly, had the same problem. We ordered the Katrina, which is Arborio rice with salmon, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms and truffle oil. Once again, the first few bites had us ooh-ing and ah-ing, the small particles of perfectly-cooked rice are coated in a luscious, fragrant sauce, the vegetables and fish coming together quite well. Eventually, though, we found ourselves pushing the big chunks of salmon and clunky vegetables aside, opting from the simple but sublime flavors that only mushrooms and truffle could bring. Again, I wonder why they felt the need to cram all those ingredients into that dish. Perplexed, we pushed the half-eaten dish aside and hoped that the secondi would not disappoint.
While looking through the menu, we saw that this was a house specialty, so we got a small order of the Flank Steak. It came sliced atop roasted potatoes, pumpkin and sautéed spinach with garlic. Once again, I cannot complain about the flavor- the steak was perfectly-seasoned, the spinach with garlic stood-out among the side dishes. It really could have been a very delicious dish, if only the meat was tender. Matt said it was “inedible”, but I myself would not put it as harshly. I admit I have had softer flank steaks, but the overall flavor of the dish has rendered me to be more forgiving. But after a two-hour drive to unfamiliar territory, I somehow understand why Matt feels he deserves better.
While we finished our wine, Matt spots our good friend Mark with his friends, Angelo and Wendel. Mark is a world-class DJ and is spinning at the Tim Yap/Divine Lee-owned club, Mansion, that night, so he is billeted at Angelo’s hotel, The Lewis Grand, which was also along that road. Wendel was just there to get away from the city, happy to have a “weekend with the boys”. They join our table and have the server bring their dishes over. Being frequent guests at C’, they seem to know which dishes are really good. I remember spotting Lamb Ribs with Lentil and a tomato-based pasta with seafood. They talked animatedly and devoured their food simultaneously, and I almost wished I had room for more food so I could have tasted their dishes.
After the boys inhaled their dinner, they invited us to drop by the hotel and have a few drinks with them at the club. We happily agree. Apparently, when Matt told Mark that we will be in Angeles, he told Angelo to reserve us a room. The only available room that night was the presidential suite, so that was what he put aside for us. Sadly, that was the weekend before a big typhoon was scheduled to arrive, so we were advised by my parents to not stay the night. Upon seeing the room, though, I started having second thoughts about leaving. That room was quite impressive! The art deco/modern asian design, the enormous bed (“It’s a ‘Hollywood’ king”, Angelo informs us, referring to its size), the Jacuzzi right next to it, the full-sized ref stocked with water, soda, beer and juice… It had everything you could possibly need for a wild hotel room party.
We had a round of drinks at the poolside bar, and then Angelo excused himself to get some rest before going to the club. We went ahead since Mark starts spinning at midnight.
After a fifteen minute drive, we arrive at Mansion. We got our “VIP” stamps at the door, after which Mark and Wendel led us into the main room. The club was massive with its high ceilings and grand ballroom-like design. By clubbing standards, it was still early, so the dance floor was still filling up and the VIP tables still awaiting their guests. We go past the huge bouncer and Mark shows us the view from the DJ booth, high above everyone else. He instructs the bottle girl to lead us to a table, where she lays a bottle of vodka, ice and some mixers. “Just order what you want”, Mark generously offers, “I never get to use my signing privileges”. Something tells me I’m in the wrong industry.
We stay for a few rounds (3? 4? 5?) of vodka cranberry, enjoying the party vibe and that rush you get from being in an unfamiliar place. Mark goes on and does his thing, reminding me once again why people pay him good money to play music in clubs all over the US and Asia. Tired from the drive and with that nagging thought of the coming storm, we leave just as the party was getting started.
Now, to answer the question I have been evading: Will I eat at C’ Italian Dining again? I probably would, if- and only if- I was already in the area. Somehow I cannot believe that its legions of fans were wrong about their food- perhaps the chef was not there, or he was simply having an off-night. It might not be worth the day trip like my favorite restaurants in Tagaytay, but I am more than willing to come back and try their other dishes. My friend and fellow blogger, Sanju, tells us to order a simple mushroom risotto next time, as opposed to the crazy mess that they offer on the menu. I have to admit that the risotto did have some promise, and I am very much open to being proven wrong.
C’Italian Dining1210 Don Juico Ave.
Clark View, Angeles City
Tel. no. (63-45) 8924059
Lewis Grand HotelDon Juico Ave.
Clark View, Angeles City
Tel. no. (63-45) 6253947
The MansionThe Enclave
Angeles City, Pampanga