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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.