By ANGELO GARCIA
There’s something about the simplicity of Italian food that makes for a great meal. A perfectly cooked pasta drenched in a garlicky olive oil and topped with salty cheese is already a satisfyingly good dish on its own. Or how refreshingly delicious a straightforward tomato sauce with garlic and basil pasta can be.
For Filipinos, however, the cravings go beyond olive oil, garlic, tomato, cheese, and pasta. It’s the well-seasoned tangy and sweet tomato sauce enriched with the earthy flavors of meat, brightened with fragrant herbs and a generous helping of cheese that gives a creamier texture. A punch of heat makes it even perfect.
Simply put, the Filipino palate needs extra care. There needs to be flavor and richness, that “tinamnam” factor so to speak.
This Filipino flavor factor is what chef Paolo Moran had to consider when he started working the kitchen of his family owned Amici restaurant three years ago. He was trained in Italy so he knew the authentic flavors of Italian cuisine.
“To be honest, yes [adjustment]. When I first came here, I was cooking for my family, they always said—politely—parang malinis yung lasa niya (it tastes clean),” he recalls.
But being a Filipino himself, he knew how to tweak the flavors, although he admits that it wasn’t easy to change something that’s been there for years. Amici was established in the ’90s by Italian priest Fr. Gianluigi Colombo. The cafeteria then in Don Bosco School in Makati City served coffee, gelato, pizzas, and pasta. The flavors were as authentic as the person in charge.
“Me coming in brought a new dynamic to the dishes. Originally, of course, we tried to be very authentic Italian starting with Fr. Colombo. He was Italian so he did what he knew. It’s a little different with me because I can only claim to be Italian but I’m not,” says the chef.
Paolo was able to combine the simplicity of Italian flavors with the rich flavors Filipinos crave, and one of his bestselling creations was the Seafood Diablo. It’s a spicy and creamy tomato-based seafood pasta with mussels, clams, and scallops. That extra kick of heat gives the pasta dish a bit more character.
Then there’s the Creamy Pesto Prosciutto, a creamy take on the classic pesto pasta. The creamy pesto sauce is served with penne pasta and topped with crispy prosciutto bits.
“Working in Italy exposed me to Italian cuisine but since I grew up here, I try to marry the two ideas together,” he says. “So far, it’s been good based on customers’ feedback. They’re not really traditional in the sense that Fr. Colombo was, but there are still a lot of Italian elements in the new dishes. “
FLAGSHIP AND EXCLUSIVES
Amici recently opened its flagship store on the third floor of One Bonifacio High Street mall in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig. The 70-seater restaurant is not the chain’s biggest but there’s a reason the brand is declaring this ninth branch as its flagship store.
“We wanted this venue to be a little bit of a playground. Amici is a chain and we want to try out new things, and given the location, it allows us to be at the center of the metro and it allows us to really play around a little bit more,” explains Amici and Cara Mia general manager and chief operating officer Philip Moran.
Because the market in BGC is very global and more responsive to new flavors, the brand wanted to give these diners something different.
“Over the years, it’s been good for me to try and be a little bit more adventurous. Of course, we want to stick with traditional Italian but sometimes, it offshoots and we come up with something special,” Chef Paolo says.
The brand is also featuring exclusive dishes at this restaurant. Twice a week, when Paolo is at the restaurant, there will be chef ’s specials available. The chef cannot disclose what dishes he plans to serve but he introduced one dish during the grand opening to give people an idea of this new direction for Amici.
The dish is unlikely seen at most Italian restaurants but is available in most Filipino eateries. The Beef Striploin Salpicao is a very Filipino beef dish served with white rice. The chef says that this is something he serves at home—true, unpretentious comfort food.
“We were being a little adventurous by trying a striploin salpicao steak. It’s something we like and I’d cook it at home personally. This is something I want to share,” he explains.
The BGC branch, however, still offers the classic Amici menu. Expect the beloved pizzas, for instance. The Il Supremo is a bestselling pizza with a generous amount of toppings like Italian sausage, ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, black olives, anchovies, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. Then there’s the newer Salmon and Zucchini pizza.
And like any other Amici store, this one also has a Cara Mia connected to it. The desserts on Amici’s menu come from Cara Mia, which sells cakes, gelato, and gelato cakes. Bestselling desserts include the famous ube cake and the luscious pistachio gelato.
“More pasta and more elevated dishes. I’ll probably revisit old recipes. There’s a salmon dish we’re going to do, then a good steak. We will be more adventurous,” Chef Paolo says.
Amici is located at the third floor of One Bonifactio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig | Facebook and Instagram: @amiciph