Dessert Comes First

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

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Grub at the Grotto

posted by in Italian, Restaurants

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. It’s no hole-in-the-wall however, since it’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, “Ay Ma’am, out of stock.” So I delayed my feature until my next visit. New places or at least, places that are new on people’s restaurant radars tend to be inconsistent, which is why I don’t feature brand-spanking-new restaurants on this website. A restaurant’s first few months don’t speak well of its capabilities.

I return to La Grotta this week. The friend I am with, Gina, is itching for something that’s away from the maddening crowds so here we are. I’m feeling a bit rebellious, refusing to kowtow to my urge to have pasta, my default dish whenever I’m in an Italian restaurant. I’m an adventurous eater, so feeding my taste buds with something new keeps them sharp, a non-negotiable when one is a food writer.

osso bucco at La Grotta
osso bucco Milanese

I’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, we’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 “bone with a hole” (I assume the ‘hole’ is a marrow bone). This should’ve been a veal shin braised in white wine with onions and tomatoes. Instead, it’s the kenchi or shin bone of a cow – an older cow, definitely not veal – suffocated in a thick layer of tomato sauce. The sauce would go well with a bowl of pasta, there’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 can’t help thinking that I should have veal. At least there’s a bone and it’s got marrow in it, too.

veal cutlet at La Grotta
roasted rack of veal

I prefer Gina’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; it’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 that’s been roasted or braised.

True to its name, La Grotta is small and cozy, though I don’t know if caves are supposed to possess that characteristic. It’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 I’m having a good time with Gina.

While La Grotta may not be one of my favorite Italian restaurants, I wouldn’t mind coming here again. I like its secluded location and the fact that the whole city hasn’t discovered this place yet. The restaurant serves almost everything you’d expect to find in an Italian cucina so those who thrive on the familiar won’t feel put out.

Here are the other things that I tried at La Grotta on my first visit:

parma ham and melon

Parma ham and melon. A classic combination and a no-brainer dish to order when it comes to Italian food.

mozzarella and tomatoes

Mozzarella and tomatoes. Ditto with the above.

tomato soup at La Grotta

Tomato soup. There’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 don’t recommend you order this, especially if your idea of tomato soup is the one that Angelino’s – a restaurant whose demise I still actively mourn — used to serve.

4-cheese gnocchi

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 one’s a winner.

La Grotta Cucina Italiana
G/F AETNA Building, VA Rufino Street (formerly Herrera Street), Legaspi Village
894.1320 / 817.3306.

14 Responses to “Grub at the Grotto”

  • Lori,Glad you found gnocchi to your liking in Manila. Been to La Grotta once, fondly referred to as “the poor man’s L’Opera”. Not that La Grotta is inexpensive. You get hefty servings so it’s good value for money. Definitely one of the better kept secrets in the city in terms of no-fuss dining. Together with Seryna, the Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo in front of the golden arches.

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  • Yup, pricey place, considering the quality of food. Have you tried Apt. 1B in Salcedo Village (Lafayette Bldg., Sedeño cor. Leviste Sts.)? Pricey, too, but at least I liked the food. Wonder what you’ll have to say about it.

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  • Food looks goooooooood!! :)

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  • You’re right about La Grotta’s food being hit or miss. Some dishes are real turn-offs. But my friends and I keep going back because they have the best truffle cream pasta I’ve tried yet. And I like the gnocchi too.

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  • Socky- Where is this place you mention? Let me know so that I can check it out.

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  • Hi Lori! I live right by this place so have been there a couple of times. I agree with Katrina, the truffle cream pasta is fantastic!

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  • Apartment 1B is on the G/F of Lafayette Building on Sedeño Street (where you also find Paseo Center) corner Leviste Street. It’s very near Salcedo Park where the Salcedo Market is held every Saturday. Apt 1B is owned by Marivic Diaz Lim of ñ and Tribeca.

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  • same here, am still lamenting the demise of Angelino’s. [sigh]

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  • Glad you got to try more dishes at La Grotta, I’ve gone back a few more times for more of the pasta dishes, and also had the osso bucco once (prefer Caruso’s best). I felt so sorry for the waiter that first time with the group.

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  • Hey Lori! It was great seeing you again at Nings’ (Ninong Chef Ed Quimson) place. Seeing you and Anna (and Ben) is always a breath of fresh air.

    You had asked me which restaurants we keep going back to. Well, in relation to this post abotu Italian food, we (Brian and I) keep going back to Cafe Caruso and L’Incontro, both are in Reposo (now, N. Garcia), Makati.

    We go to Cafe Caruso more often, though. We always look for “the ultimate” carpaccio, panna cotta, pizza, sangria, etc.

    So far, they have the best panna cotta EVER, their carpaccio is well-balanced, their sangria (red) almost as good as that of Chef Ed.

    We usually order:

    Carpaccio
    Osso Bucco on a bed of risotto al funghi (by my special request)
    Red Sangria
    this baked fish Brian gets that is SO juicy and flavorful
    Panna Cotta

    last time, though, they gave us a free slice of their Tiramisu, which was actually pretty good!

    You’ll know that Cafe Caruso serves authentic Italian cuisine because they have always had regular Italian expats go there. Some even go there regularly and play bridge!

    So, try it!

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  • Hey Lori,

    Apt 1B has their own version of samosas. They are enveloped in a light, flaky crust similar to that of a croissant or a strudel. The mushroom, cheese and spinach inside has a creamy-quiche -like consistency.

    We also always end up ordering the grilled porkchops. It comes with the skin cut off, with sides of lightly buttered vegetables that are for eating and not just for display, homemade apple sauce and a potato with corn and cheese gratin.

    Their pasta wtih clams and garlic was not good at all. Blech. It was too oily, salty and too garlicky.

    Their must-try dessert is definitely the white Toblerone cheesecake. But only with the raspberry reduction on the side. As I had told you, I am not a die-hard fan of chocolates.

    However, if you like caramel and chocolate, try their oreo woth chocolate and caramel ice cream dessert. Brian liked it.

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  • argh! angelino’s how can i forget? when i was in gradeschool this was my concept of family sunday lunch. those little pizza things were my fave.

    i love your blog,ma’am. i’m a longtime lurker but i follow you foodie recommendations. :)

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  • hi…i am a good friend of ed quimson..lost touch with him a long while ago..waah..i miss that guy! i took his classes and apprenticed with him during his rastro days…

    would you know how i could get in touch with him?

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