Sunday, May 15, 2011

va bene = ayuz!

What do you do when (arguably) the most powerful and influential blogger in the country says that he has just discovered "the BEST authentic Italian pasta place in Makati"? Why, you gather your friends together and go, naturally.

Because I am obsessive-compulsive, I called ahead to make reservations. Good thing I did, as they have become so busy after Anton Diaz sang their praises in his blog that they now have two seatings BOTH for lunch and dinner-- 11:30AM, 1PM, 6:30PM and 8PM-- and they are always packed wall-to-wall, no kidding. Plus they have a tendency to run out of food.

I communicated with the proprietor Carolyn Veronesi and she recommended that we pre-order to be sure. She emailed her suggestions, I made some counter-suggestions, and then we were all set for 8PM on 5 April 2011.

We had three salads. Actually, it was one salad, one foie gras dish and one Portobello mushroom dish. But all of them looked like salad, acted like salad and tasted like salad. 

Buffalo mozzarella with marinated tomatoes, basil pesto and mixed lettuce, PHP310.
Pan-roasted foie gras with organic arugula and caramelized apples in balsamic honey reduction, PHP700.
Stuffed Portobello with spinach, gruyere cheese and mixed lettuce, PHP380.

To tell you the truth, the foie gras and mushrooms by themselves were unmemorable. But the greens were fabulously fresh, and the dressings were sublime. Those were the best salads I've had in a long time. You could tell that they used the bestest-quality ingredients.  

We all ordered soup. They had two choices on the menu, but only one was available. Carolyn described it as being "similar to minestrone".

Toscana soup with pancetta, maltagliati pasta and basil pesto, PHP165.
Crostini with chopped tomato, basil, Parmesan and olive oil, freebie.

That Toscana soup just blew me away. The flavors were very bright and lively. You could taste each component, but they all melded together wonderfully. If this is "similar to minestrone", then I've probably been eating fake minestrone all my life.

And that tomato dip thingy on toast was TDF.

We pre-ordered three mains (which of course did not suffice). The squid ink spaghetti is on their regular menu, but the ravioli with veal cheeks, and the chicken Milanese were specials that night.

Black ink homemade spaghetti with seafood marinara, PHP350.
Spinach ricotta ravioli with soft egg yolks, veal cheeks and creamy mashed potatoes in red wine, PHP1000.
Chicken Milanese with buffalo mozzarella and tagliatelli boscaiola (white cream-based pasta sauce) with fresh Portobello mushrooms and truffle oil, PHP900.

I'd say that the squid ink spaghetti with marinara sauce is fast becoming Va Bene's signature dish, and rightly so. Because the ink is IN the pasta, and not in the sauce, unlike other squid ink pasta dishes, theirs won't make you look like you're one of George A. Romero's living dead. Plus the inky essence is more concentrated, and the sauce isn't slimy. Genius!

The veal cheeks were so-so, but that chicken Milanese was expertly done. Eating it, I felt a light bulb go on in my brain: THIS is what chicken Milanese is supposed to be. And that tagliatelli was a rich and indulgent dish on its own. Cookie Monster even ordered spaghetti boscaiola because he liked the sauce so much. (Not as good as the tagliatelli. The sauce goes better with flat and wide pasta.)

We needed more food! Unfortunately, the kitchen was winding down, more from a lack of ingredients than a lack of energy from chef/ owner Massimo Veronesi (used to work at Mi Piace at the Peninsula Manila). The only things left were the ravioli and two kinds of tortellini (or ravioli or capellaci, whatever).

Rolled spinach cannelloni with smoked ham and light tomato cream sauce, PHP300.
Mushroom tortellini, I forgot the check the price.
Salmon tortellini, PHP280.

They were all fine, I'm sure. My taste buds were still too bowled over by the squid ink spaghetti and tagliatelli boscaiola to judge the cannelloni and tortellinis fairly.

I appreciated Carolyn's proposed desserts because they made use of fruits that were in season: mangoes and strawberries.

Traditional panna cotta with mango, PHP140
Marinated strawberries in balsamic with ice cream and mint powder, PHP190

While pretty good, both desserts were uninspiring. Even the strawberries with balsamic vinegar (which some of us didn't understand) were not great, even though they should have been. So then, to end our meal with a smile, we had to order some Paradis ice cream that they kept in their freezer.

Verdict: We were a group of nine people and we paid about PHP1000 (US$23) per head. Not cheap, think Peninsula Manila prices, but given the variety of dishes that we were able to taste and the quality of ingredients in those dishes, we were all very satisfied. It really pays to get a gang of gourmands together in this type of dining setting. Over dessert, we started making plans to go back and try the pizza and some other things on the menu.

Update: A couple of my friends returned to Va Bene a few days ago. They ordered a pizza and a pasta dish with prawns in white wine sauce. Salads were out of stock that day. They didn't like the pizza because the crust was too thick (It was their style, I guess). And they didn't have any nice things to say about the the prawn pasta. Ah well, we'll just stick to the minestrone, squid ink spaghetti and the tagliatelli boscaiola next time, I guess. 

Va Bene Pasta Deli is located at the 2nd floor Petron station, EDSA corner Pasay Road, Dasmariñas Village, Makati City. Phone +632.5569442 or 9046063. SMS +63.917.3456869. Email: You MUST make reservations. They also deliver via 212121.

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