A grotto is a cave or cave-like excavation, and its Italian counterpart, la grotta is the name of a restaurant in Legaspi Village. Its somewhat esoteric location adds to its intrigue as a place far removed from the other dining hubs. Itâ€™s no hole-in-the-wall however, since itâ€™s equipped with silverware and cloth napkins and cold, cold air conditioning.
La Grotta has been around a short while and it did the blog rounds, with one blogger after another writing about it. I went there for the first time last July but came away feeling unsure about it: the waiter seemed a little dazed and almost everything we ordered had the poor guy scurrying back to the table with the dreaded words, â€œAy Maâ€™am, out of stock.â€ So I delayed my feature until my next visit. New places or at least, places that are new on peopleâ€™s restaurant radars tend to be inconsistent, which is why I donâ€™t feature brand-spanking-new restaurants on this website. A restaurantâ€™s first few months donâ€™t speak well of its capabilities.
I return to La Grotta this week. The friend I am with, Gina, is itching for something thatâ€™s away from the maddening crowds so here we are. Iâ€™m feeling a bit rebellious, refusing to kowtow to my urge to have pasta, my default dish whenever Iâ€™m in an Italian restaurant. Iâ€™m an adventurous eater, so feeding my taste buds with something new keeps them sharp, a non-negotiable when one is a food writer.
Iâ€™m wavering on having the calzone stuffed with ricotta, smoked salmon, and fresh tomatoes (P320), but today Gina and I are eating like men, that is, weâ€™re eating meat. She orders the Costoletta di Vitello (P870), roasted rack of veal braised in red wine sauce while I have the osso bucco Milanese (P650). Originally an Italian dish from Milan, the name is a direct translation of â€œbone with a holeâ€ (I assume the â€˜holeâ€™ is a marrow bone). This shouldâ€™ve been a veal shin braised in white wine with onions and tomatoes. Instead, itâ€™s the kenchi or shin bone of a cow â€“ an older cow, definitely not veal â€“ suffocated in a thick layer of tomato sauce. The sauce would go well with a bowl of pasta, thereâ€™s so much of it, and it sits atop a mound of saffron rice. It looks and tastes like risotto and probably is, with the ever so slight hint of saffron. The meat is tender definitely, but I canâ€™t help thinking that I should have veal. At least thereâ€™s a bone and itâ€™s got marrow in it, too.
I prefer Ginaâ€™s dish and tell her so. While not exactly a cutlet as the waiter had said it would be, it looks more like it was cut from the loin with the bone attached; itâ€™s flavorful with Marsala and parsley, and various herbs (with rosemary being the most pronounced) giving it that robustness I look for in a meat dish, especially one thatâ€™s been roasted or braised.
True to its name, La Grotta is small and cozy, though I donâ€™t know if caves are supposed to possess that characteristic. Itâ€™s definitely not quiet especially at the lunch hour, with a group of eight women laughing raucously at the back. But the waiters are more attentive this time and Iâ€™m having a good time with Gina.
While La Grotta may not be one of my favorite Italian restaurants, I wouldnâ€™t mind coming here again. I like its secluded location and the fact that the whole city hasnâ€™t discovered this place yet. The restaurant serves almost everything youâ€™d expect to find in an Italian cucina so those who thrive on the familiar wonâ€™t feel put out.
Here are the other things that I tried at La Grotta on my first visit:
Parma ham and melon. A classic combination and a no-brainer dish to order when it comes to Italian food.
Mozzarella and tomatoes. Ditto with the above.
Tomato soup. Thereâ€™s a fine line between tomato soup and tomato sauce and La Grotta has crossed that line. Theirs is more of a sauce, and all I need now is a bowl of spaghetti to douse in it. I donâ€™t recommend you order this, especially if your idea of tomato soup is the one that Angelinoâ€™s â€“ a restaurant whose demise I still actively mourn — used to serve.
Gnocchi with four cheeses (P290)
The group I was having lunch with during my first visit to La Grotta were green-eyed with envy when this dish came to table. Turns out everyone was a gnocchi lover, and my order was the last one the kitchen had. Delicious. This oneâ€™s a winner.
La Grotta Cucina Italiana
G/F AETNA Building, VA Rufino Street (formerly Herrera Street), Legaspi Village
894.1320 / 817.3306.