My high school History teacher was named Ms. Casanova. My classmates and I never did find out what her first name was but she was quite unforgettable: she always wore her black hair in a tight ponytail; in my four years in high school, I never saw her with her hair down. She once even came to class with hair extensions. She was the snootiest of teachers and I was terrified of her really, but I had a begrudging respect for what she knew about History.
The Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) we all know however is that legendary Italian lover of whom all modern day Lotharios aspire to be. His memoirs detail his fascinating but dubious romps with 122 women, a number that in this day and age might actually be insignificant in some circles. Aside from his reputation as an erotic hero, Casanova was also a soldier, spy, diplomat, adventurer, and a prolific writer.
But heâ€™s best known as the master romancer and itâ€™s this fact that a cafÃ© in Manila has named itself after him. Gran CaffÃ¨ Casanova Ristorante Italiano or CaffÃ¨ Casanova as Iâ€™ll be calling it here, is a two-month old testament to this great (!) Italian man. Now, donâ€™t be thinking otherwise â€“ this is a most honorable cafÃ©. It has â€˜Casanovaâ€™ in its name because itâ€™s a most romantic idyll within the city. Located beside the new residential area called Corinthian Hills, the restaurant is part of the large commercial complex called The Clubhouse. Still a very new area still smelling of fresh concrete, thereâ€™s already a Starbucks there and a Rustanâ€™s Supermarket soon to come.
CaffÃ¨ Casanova at night. Photo courtesy of Mark Anthony de Jesus
CaffÃ¨ Casanovaâ€™s appeal lies in its al fresco dining â€“ a tranquil environment surrounded by trees and open spaces. If you come at night, thereâ€™s a view of the metroâ€™s skyline: Ortigas on one side and the hills of Antipolo on the other. Itâ€™s afforded these treasures because of its location along Temple Drive where itâ€™s quiet, congestion is rare, and the air is still clean (by Metro Manila standards).
Any restaurant in Manila will soon die without air-conditioning, so CaffÃ¨ Casanova has that too. While 80 can canoodle outside, its tiny dining room sits only 30. Itâ€™s pleasant and full of bright colors with a few Venetian masks (Casanova was born in Venice). The tables are quite small however prompting those with fuller figures to complain about the lack of leg room.
Owned by the same person responsible for I Dogi de Venezia at the 6750 in Ayala Avenue and La Capannina Ristorante in Boracay, CaffÃ¨ Casanova serves Italian cuisine that stays true to its roots. Prepared with the gusto and passion that the Italians are known for, the food has its origins in Venice, Milan, and Rome.
Restaurant manager Mark Anthony de Jesus urges me to try the Involtini Vegetali Alle Due Salse (P320): grilled eggplants that have been rolled with bell pepper and zucchini and then misted with a sun-dried tomato sauce and served with pesto; or the other popular antipasti: cherry tomatoes stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella and rolled in parma ham (P320). But I already have my eye on the Quattro Stagioni (P420), four of their pizza assortments served as one. Itâ€™s a resultant mix of salami, mozzarella, seafood, tomato, and parma ham. It might actually be best for just two people to share this because if there are too many at the table, you wonâ€™t be able to try all the flavors — each slice is different from the one beside it.
Iâ€™m told that a lot of the pasta is freshly made in house. I adore fresh pasta for its toothsome, al dente character, a quality echoed in the Chitarra in Salsa Veneziana (P370), a typical Venetian pasta of â€œhomemade guitar string-shaped noodles.â€ Itâ€™s very peppery and redolent of onions, although I hardly detect any anchovies . Thereâ€™s also a gnocchi dish on the menu that Iâ€™m eager to try out next time.
My cousin orders the Capelli Dâ€™Angelo Al Tartufo, Asparagini E Speck (P370), angel hair pasta with the haunting, lingering taste of truffle cream and parma ham. The few asparagus spears draped atop lend a casual elegance. Expressing concern that the pasta is a bit dry, she requests for some more of the cream sauce and is quickly given a fresh serving.
The two four year olds that Iâ€™m with nibble happily on the pizza that we order, although Boo murmurs repeatedly that sheâ€™d like noodles. Assuming sheâ€™d like nothing too exotic â€“ sheâ€™s still a foodie-in-training after all â€“ I order an Alla Bolognese (P320) for her, that traditional ground beef sauce. When it arrives, she proceeds to scrape off the parsley garnish (four year olds are averse to anything green) and enjoys her pasta dish thoroughly.
CaffÃ¨ Casanova is such a cozy place that I feel like making it my own, never to tell anyone about it. As I eat, I watch the cooks behind the counter at the front â€“ Iâ€™m especially enchanted by the man with the pizzaiolo, a charming red and white checkered headpiece, rolling out pizza dough. The cook beside him is busy slicing parma ham with a slick silver slicer.
Photo courtesy of Mark Anthony de Jesus
For my next visit, Mark recommends the Pappardelle Nere Al Granchio (P390), homemade squid-ink pasta with crab meat in olive oil and white wine or the Trancio Di Tonno Con Peperoni E Mentuccia (P430), yellowfin tuna fillet sautÃ©ed in olive oil. I for one, am entranced by the enormous calzone that has just passed me by. I practically accost the waiter and ask to snap a quick photo before this wondrous breadstuff of indescribable appeal reaches its most lucky beneficiary.
Alas, thereâ€™s no room for dessert. (Horrors!) But I do have room for my favorite coffee drink, a latte (P70): one layer each of milk and espresso teeter precariously on a bed of froth. Thereâ€™s a choice of either muscovado sugar or white. I choose the former and am rewarded with a creamy, utterly satisfying caramel sweetness. Delicioso!
As with any new restaurant, have patience and an open mind when you come here â€“ some menu items may not be available yet. But the staff seems to have their act down pat so there shouldnâ€™t be too many hitches. Whatever you do, try to eat outside when youâ€™re in the mood for an al fresco experience. Itâ€™s the best way after all, to channel the Casanova in you (or your companion).
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Gran Caffe Casanova Ristorante Italiano
Corinthian Hills, Temple Drive
Quezon City, near White Plains
Open from 11 am â€“ 12 midnight (Monday-Sunday)
(632) 638-2989 / 632- 7617
Many thanks to Gran Caffe Casanova Ristorante Italiano‘s PR Manager, Mark Anthony de Jesus for his help.