While Manila has become oversaturated with Italian restaurants, it has also become disamarmingly apparent that most of these are of the second-rate, trying-hard, copycat kind. With the exception of Italianni's with the checkered, laminated tablecloths that have become familiar backdrops to one too many gatherings, there are only a number of Italian places where diners can truly get the bang that their bucks deserve. After all, it is nearly futile to attempt to compete with old-timers like L'Opera, which has been in the Manila scene since its days in the old Paseo de Roxas and its eventual relocation to a more fashionable address at the Fort Strip, or even the relatively new yet authentic Caruso, which to be frank serves the best and most rustic osso buco around. Considering the polarity of Italian places in Manila -- think, Cantinetta vs. Green Tomato -- our search for a real, fuss-free Italian meal, prepared the way a Tuscan grandmother would, was definitely justified, and worth the two-hour road trip. So, after burning a couple hundred bucks' worth of fuel on the NLEX, we pulled up to C' Italian Dining, hidden within a nondescript, unpolished and quasi-Medieval inspired building, located outside the Clark Airbase and just several blocks from Angeles City's business district. That is, the business of sales of the girly kind.
As a testament to the following of C' fans it has spawned, or maybe as a room-sized trophy case exhibiting the power of advertising via word of mouth, C's foyer is lined with white porcelain plates autographed by local celebrities, social personalities, political figures and culinary experts. And taking square footage covered by these plates as an indication of how good this place is, we were excited and undoubtedly eager to see and taste exactly what Manila's discriminating eaters had been speaking so highly of. Besides, when Edu Manzano and Martin Nievera say that this is the Italian restaurant to be, we listen.
Complementary Appetizer = Bread with Fresh Pesto Dip
As soon as we were seated, we immediately understood what all the celebrities were raving about in the autographed crockery at the foyer, when our server brought out a bowl of warm rustic bread and fresh pesto. Now you might think we'd gone crazy getting excited over bread and olive oil. But really, if a chef is meticulous with complementary appetizers, who knows the level of preparation he puts into the rest of his dishes? But we digress. Yes, the bread was delicious and the dipping sauce of suave olive oil and freshly chopped parsely was even better.
C's House Specialty = Panizza Kristina
It had been said that the primary incentive for such a long drive to the north is C's panizza, which unlike the conventional Pizza Hut pie, is an ultra-thin, rectangle-shaped crust smothered with a plethora of toppings and cheese. Unless you've been living under a rock, you would know that this is the inspiration behind Yellow Cab's Dear Darla pizza. And like it, the panizza is sliced diagonally across into two-inch strips, with each strip topped with arugula and alfalfa sprouts, then rolled to form layers of crust, toppings and crisp greens. The panizza selections here at C are virtually infinite, with toppings ranging from the more grown-up artichoke hearts to the standard pizza delivery fare of italian sausage and ham. Our choice was the house specialty, the Panizza Kristina, generously sprinkled with bacon, ham, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes and of course, cheese. As opposed to what is brought to your doorstep by a man on a scooter, this unconventional and amusingly interactive pizza presentation affords a refreshing and light culinary experience. And, with the quality and freshness of the ingredients used, you can be assured that you would be able to taste every single alfalfa sprout and sliver of cheese that went into your panizza roll. We reckon as well that this may just be the answer to every parent's dilemma of shoving vegetables down their children's throats; that is if you can get the kids' enjoyment past the rolling bit and until the actual greens-chewing part.
As an appetizer, and as if our mouths weren't watering enough, we gave the bruchetta a try. With two bruchetta pieces each of tapenade and tomato and gorgonzola salsa, this dish was enough to get more than four hungry stomachs growling. Now we're beyond positive that we brushed our teeth before heading out that day, but we found the olives in the tapenade to have been freshly harvested, from the Dead Sea that is. The tapenade was so salty that every bite of the olive-covered bruchetta had to be washed down with three bites of the salsa-covered one and a healthy gulp of water. For salty cravings, we recommend a shorter, toll-free drive to Shopwise for a packet of rock salt.
Woodfire Roasted Chicken
We were lucky to have stumbled upon the woodfire roasted chicken on the menu, for this whole fowl was so humongous it could have fed the entire Philippine National Police. But then President Arroyo would have had us shot for fattening her beloved 32-inch waistlined cops. We kid not when we say the meat was tender and juicy, and the skin, slightly charred and brimming with flavor and yes, sinful calories. We must admit though that, while the rest of the chicken was flavorful, the white meat was relatively bland and dry. Nevertheless, this dish, coupled with delicious and jus-bathed potatoes and greens, was worth the one thousand bucks it cost.
Last among the dishes we ordered was putanesca, which anyone who's eaten at an Italian restaurant knows is a tomato-based pasta with anchovies, olives and capers. While we aren't centuries-old enough to have tasted this pasta dish in its original form in Italy's carnal business district, we consider ourselves discriminating enough to ascertain that the olives, albeit generously tossed into the pasta, can be described only in superlatives of saltiness and largeness. And did we mention that they weren't pitted? We could have brought home the pits and planted an olive tree forest in the city. In general though, the putanesca was a delicious balance of spiciness, saltiness and tartness.
C's Putanesca with humongous olives
Like in most restaurants whose kitchens are not located in commissaries miles away, C's chef pops into the dining area once in a while to entertain his guests and to provide a brief pedagogy on his gastronomic creations. So extensive is the knowledge of this chef that he'd be happy even to share driving directions, which we figure lends itself to the place's cozy atmosphere. That, and the friendly and attentive staff.
One would think that, given C?s location, menu and high-profile fan base, a meal here would cost and arm, a leg and maybe your kidney too. On the contrary, what you would spend for a meal hearty enough to spawn you your own food baby would be less than your total gas and toll expenses getting to C in the first place. Now you might think that that?s a little unconscionable ? to drive that far for lunch worth a couple liters of fuel and the SCTEX toll fee ? but actually, that isn?t much considering the quality of the ingredients, the freshness of the vegetables and the impeccable service.
Whereas all Italian restaurants in the city serve the standard pizza, pasta and everything feigning Tuscan or Sicilian origin in between, only in C will you find panizza strips rolled over arugula and alfalfa sprouts. So, the next time you?re in search of al fresco dining for a date or the site of your next family gathering, take heed to Martin Nievera and Edu Manzano?s plate-inscribed advice and make the long and arduous trip to the Pampanga. It?s definitely worth the drive.
4 out of 5 salt & pepper shakers
Business hours: Monday: 5pm to 11pm Tuesday-Sunday: 11am to 11pmAddress:
1210 Don Juico Avenue,Clarkview, Malabanias, Angeles City, Pampanga
+63 (45) 892-4059
How to get there:
C's Google Map