Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

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A Little Cucina Italiana

posted by in Italian, Restaurants

pasta_2

At its basic level, this la cucina italiana offers up familiar dishes where what you know is what’s offered.

The proprietor of Spiga d’Oro is Steve Ang whose fervor for Italian cooking belies his very young age. A graduate of the Center for Asian Culinary Studies (CACS), he set up his place on sheer grit and gumption. Listening to him narrate what he went through to get his il ristorante up and running and what he does to keep it going is proof of where hard work will take a person.

pappa al pomodoro

When it comes to the primo piatto (first course), there’s a fine line that separates tomato soup from tomato sauce but that isn’t an issue here. The pappa al pomodoro (P145) is a creamy tomato soup garnished with bread cubes. As it sits, the bread softens, its texture becoming akin to mozzarella and just as satisfying. I love this.

pizza

The star item at Spiga d’Oro is pizza. Kneaded and painstakingly flattened by hand, it’s a palette for various toppings. I’m not big on pepperoni but the people I’m with are so it’s the Pepperoni Picante (P295) for us. Dinner plate-sized, the pizza is almost alarmingly crisp, random bites revealing hollows evincing the oven’s high heat. Though pizza is eaten almost always with a knife and fork in Italy, I eschew the utensils and pick up a slice. The crust is so thin that I need both hands to keep it from drooping. Outstanding stuff.

calzone

calzone

Also try the inside out pizza, the calzone (P195).  My only reason for eating calzone is for the thick dough that I enjoy sinking my teeth into. “[Our calzone] is done Neapolitan-style, that is, it’s deep-fried,” says Steve. “Oh, but it’s not oily is it?” asks my friend worriedly. Her fear is unfounded – the calzone, looking like the “trouser leg” for which it’s named after, is dry and almost pure air with a layer of ham and mozzarella. No typical thick dough here but I’m not disappointed. “It’s truly their pizza crust formed over the filling,” comments my friend.

penne pasta

It’s the rare Italian restaurant in Manila that can cook their pasta noodles to al dente instead of the more common flaccid state that often end up on plates. Spiga d’Oro’s pasta dishes shine for their toothsome sauces but more importantly, for possessing that elusive “bitey-ness.” The noodles are spot on at each of my visits here, my companions cooing their praises as well. Among the pastas, I like the penne alla vodka (P195), as well as those that have pesto in it. Unfortunately, the seafood such as in the frutti di mare pasta (P195) is overcooked, the clams especially have seen better days.

I make it a point to deviate from the pasta-pizza trap that I often find myself into when at Italian restaurants. On another visit, I order the pollo al mettone (P235), a specialty dish of chicken grilled under a brick. This Tuscan technique begins with a flattened chicken (parts or a butterflied chicken) that’s been marinated for up to 48 hours. The foil-covered brick holds the chicken flat to the grill as it cooks. The aim is to achieve a super crisp exterior and a juicy, evenly cooked interior. My “brick chix” is however, as dry as a brick; and so is the fish en papillote (cooked in parchment). Perhaps next time.

fish en papillote

While the pizzas and pastas are guaranteed to delight, try to suspend judgment – if you will – on some other aspects here. The service is quite slow especially if there are more than two parties at the restaurant at the same time. In all my visits, there’s only been one waiter since everybody else (and Steve) is sweating it out in the kitchen. Speaking of sweating, the ambient temperature of the place is quite warm. I’ve only been here during lunch and the torrid sun reflects off the traffic outside and seems to bounce through Spiga d’Oro’s glass windows. This isn’t helped either by the fact that the kitchen’s exhaust is mistakenly positioned. I tell Steve that he should kill the ceiling fans and crank up the AC (air-conditioning). I notice that the fans are acting as a sort of “air curtain,” effectively blowing away all the cool air.

With those caveats, I still recommend Spiga d’Oro. The staff and Steve especially are so willing to please, a quality that contrasts sharply to the commonly complacent service at other places. And – I shouldn’t tell you this because it’s not on the menu and it’s not always available either – but Steve offers an INCREDIBLE affogatto. A shot of espresso is poured over a scoop of Steve’s (yes, he makes gelato too!) vanilla bean gelato. Custardy beyond belief, this drinkable dessert can make knees weak and send hearts aflutter. And not just because of the caffeine content either.

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.

Spiga d’Oro
Unit 29 VMCC Bldg.
Granada St, near Santolan-Ortigas intersection, Q.C.
408.0080 / 0917.5271112

http://spigadoro.multiply.com/

11am-11pm
Closed Mondays.
Cash only.

menu

11 Responses to “A Little Cucina Italiana

  • Being a lover of Italian food, I say this place looks like an interesting restaurant to visit. Thanks, Lori-san!

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  • the dishes’ description makes me want to run there right now! i hope the affogatto is available when we visit!

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  • Sounds delicious! Will definitely check it out. Congratulations, Steve! Cheers!

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  • Steve Ang is my friend and he invited our barkada to dinner to celebrate his birthday. Having known Steve for a long time, we didn’t think of him as capable of running a restaurant. We were in for a surprise. His food was actually good, and I think his strongest suit is dough: for pizza and bread. His ciabatta is especially good: crusty and lightly browned, with a slightly firm core with airy chambers, with a slightly yeasty but fragrant smell that good bread imparts. His second strength is seafood, and the seafood pasta with marinara sauce and the seafood pizza stood out at that dinner.

    Now if only he can find a better location with parking…

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  • The last two pasta places on Gilmore were pretty enjoyable (unfortunately they didn’t last long): Carlo’s (in the early ’90s) and Pasta Pilato (late ’90s). Wonder if either or both inspired Mr. Ang in any way?

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  • The pizza and pasta look very tempting. The location is not very accessible but I guess it’s a part of the charm and it seems worth the trip.

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  • I spent 2 summers in the Italian countryside and observed that pizza there, be it in trattorias or in homes, is eaten by hand, most of the time folded over like a sandwich to keep the toppings in. Though of course the toppings aren’t that “overloaded,” as we prefer it here. The dough is super-thin, too, thinner than our thinnest, such that it’s common practice to serve one whole pizza to just one person.

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  • Italian cuisine’s my favorite, so I’m always happy when a new restaurant opens. Thanks for the heads-up. That photo of the calzone makes me wish I could go there right now!

    I agree with Kai — I don’t remember ever seeing Italians eating pizza with a fork and knife, and they do often fold it in half to make eating it by hand easier.

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  • always looking for a good new italian place :) good to hear about this one.

    speaking of cucina italiana, i remember an old place – back in the 70s called la capana. used to eat there as a kid – i guess that’s still the taste i look for

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  • i wanna try the pasta! ;)

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  • Wonderful article. I been looking for one on a similar note. I guess you always have something up your sleeve.

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