Luca Magnini hails from Modena, northern Italy where Ferraris are made but he sheepishly admits Caffe Milano was named after another famous city where a recent local film was shot to give it more recall.

But what he wants people to recall from this quaint three-month old Italian restaurant, however, is that it serves genuine Italian food quite apart from other pizza-and-pasta places. Or at the very least, for people who love Italian food, that they may remember Caffe Milano Ristorante Pizzeria for its specialty – seafood.

Luca speaks about Caffe Milano’s cuisine with much gusto typical of Italians. According to him, authentic Italian cuisine is heavily and equally dependent on two things – ingredients and on the man with the tall white hat.

“To follow authentic Italian recipes, you’ve got to have ingredients that are not available here,” he says. Describing

Caffe Milano gets its regular monthly supply of ingredients from abroad – mozzarella cheese and tomato from Italy, meat from Italy, for example, not to mention the olive oil, anchovies and of course, Italian wine and Molinari espresso coffee. The only ingredients bought locally are salt, vegetables and, thankfully, seafood (Their lobsters come from Palawan, Luca says proudly.)

Tomatoes, for one, need to be of high quality when making pasta. In comparing imported Italian tomatoes with those from Baguio City, Luca comes up with this analogy: “It’s like when you want real pineapple juice you get fresh pineapples and put it in blender yourself versus buying Del Monte at the supermarket.”

Caffe Milano also bakes its own bread and makes the excellent pesto that goes with it. Since the specialty of the house is seafood, it’s without surprise that spaghetti marinara is the best-seller. Also recommended are salmone al cartoccio, or baked salmon fillet with buttered vegetables, and frittura di pesce, or fried shrimps, squid and small fishes in spicy tomato sauce.

For appetizers, there is the gnocco fritto—a Modena-style fried dough topped with slices of Parma ham. It is made with flour, milk and olive oil imported from Italy. For people who can’t live without rice, there are a number of risotto dishes like Risotto Al Funghi Porcini, which is Italian rice that come with porcine mushrooms, an expensive kind found in Italy, and served with a creamy sauce.

For dessert, there is the standard tiramisu cake along with cassata and panna cotta. Caffe Milano also serves gelato in many flavors.

Great tasting Italian food, though, sometimes requires a bit of patience. Luca says sometimes waiting time can take as much as 40 minutes to an hour since everything is cooked from the time of order. This leads us to the other fifty percent in Luca’s equation – Tiziano Cavellini, Caffe Milano’s celebrated chef.

Chef Tiziano, who also hails from Modena, has been in the country for more than seven years (but sounds more fluent in Tagalog than English) and interestingly, first worked at an Italian restaurant in Cebu called Tegola. Since then, he has had stints in Bravos, Grappas and most recently at Cafe Puccini located in Fort Bonifacio.

But probably his greatest claim to fame was some 30 years ago when he was working for a renowned Italian restaurant FINI and had the chance of cooking for England’s Queen Elizabeth. Speaking in his native Italian about the experience (translated of course by Luca), he remembers whipping up seafood pasta for the Queen.

Luca stands by his claim that Caffe Milano is the only Italian restaurant in town that has an Italian manning the kitchen. More arguable though is his claim that it is the only Italian restaurant in the area, considering Malate is just a few blocks away. I’m pretty sure it’s the restaurant with the biggest, wall-size picture of the Italian soccer team; Luca and Tiziano are avid football fans.

Although only a few months old, Luca has his sights set on opening another Caffe Milano in Makati, where he admits there is a larger market but a lot more stiff competition between fine dining restaurants. “Italian restaurants today have a bigger following compared to five or six years ago,” he says, noting the Filipinos’ fascination with pizza.

At Caffe Milano, though, there’s nary a room for anything ordinary. To his amusement, Luca kindly shares an Italian culinary secret: “Real carbonara has no cream. It’s supposed to be just bacon, black pepper and eggs.”

Caffe Milano is located at 555 UN Avenue, Ermita, Manila (beside McDonald’s). Open from 7AM until 10:30PM. Price ranges from P200 to P300 for entrees.

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