There is only one “real” pizza, pizza from Naples, its birthplace. A doctrine, if you will, set forth by the Assocciazione Verace Pizza Napoletana is very clear that pizzas be made with a specific type of flour, tomatoes, and cheese, that it’s hand-formed, and adheres to certain measurements of diameter and thickness. In addition, pizzas must be baked in a wood-fired oven at 900°F for exactly 1 to 1.5 minutes.
Having said that, I think everybody has their own opinion of what a “real” pizza is. Me, I’m mad for thick crust and a minimum of toppings; I’m quite derisive of my Bin’s penchant for thin crust afloat with its conspicuous assemblage of toppings. “Hmph, that’s a cracker, not a pizza,” I sniff. “And what you eat, love, is bread, not pizza,” he shoots back.
But we both agree on Gino’s Pizza, which we embrace enthusiastically. I, for one, fantasize about burying my face in its pillowy depths.
Resident pizza man, Jutes Templo, knows what he does best and sticks to it. The abbreviated menu lists only nine varieties of which we try two. The Bianca Verde (P335) is spectacular, truly. Teeth sink into a toothsome dough, the piquant fragrance of garlic flutters forth, followed by its sharp then subtle bite. Soft clouds of kesong puti (made in-house), ricotta, and parmesan run rings around the tongue with zips of bitter greens – arugula and basil. The menu describes each 12-inch pizza as “divided into 6 slices, good for 1-3 persons.” This is entirely correct, and it’s also entirely true that one pizza may not even be enough for one person.
Don’t even think of eating this pizza without dribbling onto it some of the most potent chili oil I’ve ever encountered. Too good. So hot! The chili flakes are equally fiery, too.
Somehow our order for a Four Cheese pizza turns into a Margherita (P295), but so enchanted are we that we fall head over heels into it. They say that this particular variety is the benchmark of a good pizzeria, and Gino’s version is notable. It’s a star in its simplicity — just tomato sauce providing a base and required acidic contrast to the creamy kesong puti and parmesan; basil leaves uplift the pie with color and its characteristic flavor.
The pizzas, as the restaurant name denotes, are baked in a brick oven. Enclosures such as this reach temperatures of up to 650°F and are designed for top-heat intensity. This results in crusts that are crackly-crispy and blissfully blistered. The pizza’s large rim – Italians call it the cornice – looks very thick; I imagine that it’s made from an active dough that puffs up dramatically in the oven’s inferno. But bite after bite yields a pizza dough that’s airy and chewy with sufficient bite to satiate and satisfy.
As supernal as the pizzas are, it’s stunting to have just one type of dish. So we order a trio of pasta. It’s astounding that the restaurant is able to make its own fresh pasta in its tiny kitchen, and a different shape for each variety too. The Salted Egg Bacon (P280), their version of carbonara sports skeins of fettuccine. The Tomato Basil (P250) lies in long, languid sheets that drape over its sauce, red and glittering. The Sea Urchin (P385) is a slick and slippery tangle of noodles slightly larger than spaghetti.
I only have this to say about the pastas at Gino’s: were it not for the exceptionally made fresh pasta, they would flop. The sauces are quite weak, watery, almost, and almost always under seasoned. The sea urchin pasta specifically, is well on its way to expiry; thank goodness for squirts of lemon to revivify it. Still, fresh pasta is a rarity in Manila, and having made it myself, I understand why most restaurants fall back on the supermarket dried kind. Props to Gino’s for not doing so.
Though Jutes admirably works to his strengths, I wish there could more on the menu in terms of protein. In the kingdom of carbohydrates, I am the queen but this surfeit of starch leaves a part of me starved. A mere Cold Cuts & Cheese Platter (P350) is far from offering succor and I’m not keen to the idea of a Mixed Green Salad (P150). When I tell Jutes this, he tells me that it used to just be all pizzas and that the pastas are a somewhat recent addition.
I can’t complain about Gino’s desserts, however. They’re cheeky and require a sense of humor.
I must start with the Cookie Milk (P120), essentially a glass of milk to which a mix of packaged cookie halves and wholes sit submerged. When Jutes recommends this dessert to me, he’s got his hand over his heart swearing to its sanctity and how this, for him, is true comfort food. I understand completely. The milk is cold and slightly sweet and when drank with bits and blobs of cookie, it tastes like a lumpy (in a good way) Oreo shake. I drink the whole thing in one long swallow and instantly feel comforted. Comfort food indeed and quite the spin on “milk and cookies.” I wonder if this would taste even better with freshly made chocolate chip cookies?
I’ve tasted many strips of bacon lavished in the arms of chocolate and Gino’s Chocolate Covered Bacon (P180) is alright. I like how it retains its crunch; I wish that more palatable bacon could be used however. It’s not salty enough, believe it or not, and there’s an off taste somewhere. Still, what a clever concept.
I must make special mention of the Crack Pie (P270). An exceedingly popular dessert from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, it’s similar to a pecan pie sans the nuts. I’ve also made this pie and it’s excruciatingly addictive; it’s also the latest dessert-plaything of Manila’s home bakers. Gino’s version of it has the grit from the requisite cornmeal, lots of yolks, butter, and cream sitting on an oaty crust. I taste the powdered milk and salt, a power pairing responsible for this pie’s power to propel one to keep on eating… and eating… and, well, you get the idea. Remarkably, the pie tastes somewhat like pastillas, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Thank goodness this pie, a mini tart, actually – is large. I eat two slices and miss it dreadfully because I’ve already had it boxed to go. When I get home, I fall at its mercy and consume the rest in a fevered, drugged-out state. Heck of a pie.
Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza
2/F 341 Katipunan Ave., Loyola Heights QC (Above Mercury Drug)
Mon – Sun: 11am-9pm
(02) 381 3963