The place is called Pagliacci. No, don’t pronounce the “g,” it’s silent. Thus, “pahl-YAH-chi,” which is Italian for clowns. Why clowns? Well, once you step inside, you’ll know. The restaurant’s walls are tastefully decorated with various clown masks, similar to those found in Venice. You’ll notice that the restaurant is sparsely decorated, which is exactly how Italian chef-owner Maurizio Gibillini wants it. He says, “I don’t want to have a place so heavy in layout. One thing is important in a restaurant ”“ the food. In Italy, some restaurants are very, very good, but really, really plain.”
Pagliacci is far from plain. Consider the ambience as the foil to the food, which really shines. We begin with a Warm Octopus Salad (P200). Cooked gently, the meat is tender and not rubbery, delicately seasoned with olive oil, lemon and mixed with potatoes. Alternate the salad with bites of the Panzanella (P150) ”“ olive oil, onions, tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar topped on crusty bread. Oh, and don’t forget the Peperoni Alla Torinese (P180), a mix of roasted bell peppers, onions, capers, and anchovies or the Pasticcio di Melanzane (P220), which is similar to a vegetable “lasagna” consisting of eggplants, tomatoes, mozzarella, and basilico. Both dishes are a tasty accompaniment to the basket of hearty breads that grace the center of the table.
Care for an Alla Contadina piadine (P270), one of the original sandwiches from Romagna? No, this isn’t the piadine that another Italian restaurant specializes in. What it is is beef tenderloin, tomato, and arugula encased in thin, soft bread. Delectable.
Of course Italian food is incomplete without pizza. But why don’t you try one without cheese, for a change? Go for the Pizze All’ Agricola (P270), a thin and crispy crust carrying an exquisite combination of fresh tomatoes, followed by a layer of arugula, and topped with parma ham. You won’t even miss the cheese.
Before you ask for mercy on the grounds of an overstuffed stomach, leave room for two kinds of pasta. Yes, why don’t you and your companion each order one and then share? A suggestion is the Casereccie Terra e Mare (P260), where tomatoes, clams, mussels, mushrooms and arugula merge beautifully in olive oil. Pair that with the Tagliatelle alla Boscaiola (P300), where home made pasta is dressed with a butter, mushroom, tomato, and cream sauce.
Chef Maurizio is quick to point out that the food he serves at Pagliacci is “…really Italian, one hundred percent. I don’t give absolutely any fusion, any Filipino way.” He explains that when he visits a Thai or Indian restaurant for example, he wants the food to taste as close to the original as possible. In short, nothing at Pagliacci has been tweaked to accommodate Filipino palates ”“ no noodles drowning in sweet sauces, and no Parmesan cheese when the chef thinks it will overpower the pasta’s fine flavor. One last thing, no balsamic vinegar-olive oil mixture will be served to accompany the foccacia. Chef Maurizio explains that that is an American-Italian practice, which most full-blooded Italians don’t imitate.
Chef Maurizio intimates his wish for Filipinos to learn how to eat Italian food and understand what it is. He says, “It’s like being able to distinguish whether olive oil was used in your dish or another kind of oil. Start to develop your taste. In this way, you are able to understand what you eat.” He understands how Filipinos eat, considering his stints in Boracay beach, at the now-defunct La Tasca, and at Pazzo, an Italian restaurant he helped set up, and where he was the Executive Chef for a year.
Striking out on his own, Chef Maurizio wants to help Filipinos appreciate authentic Italian cuisine. He believes that the problem lies in how the Filipinos were introduced to Italian food. “It passed by the US. There you have the carbonara with the cream or the balsamic vinegar with bread. The taste not ours, the style not ours.”
It may seem a bit harsh to the uninitiated, since most people do want to eat their food the way they’ve been accustomed to. But being open to food as they are served in their countries of origin widens one’s culinary horizons. Within this mindset, you can begin to truly appreciate the authenticity of the pasta, oil, vinegar, anchovies, and black olives, all of which are imported from Italy, including the salami and cheese.
Soon, Chef Maurizio will introduce his homemade gelato, which will be made fresh daily with milk. Scoops will be available, as well as creative gelato concoctions. These will be included in the desserts of Pagliacci which already include Panna Cotta (P120) and Tiramisu (P180) made with mascarpone. After all, as Chef Maurizio says, tiramisu made without mascarpone is not real tiramisu.
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
18 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center