I love Italian food. Absolutely. My consumption of mass amounts of pizza and pasta is probably the cause of my difficulty with my weight (though thankfully that has been arrested by regular trips to the gym), yet I somehow cannot bring myself to pass up a good Italian meal.
I was pleased to discover a new Italian restaurant, thanks to Mom.
Amici is located along Tomas Morato avenue, where California Pizza Kitchen used to be located.
While the restaurant is not particularly cramped, we went there on a Sunday night and thus had to wait for a table. We didn’t have to wait long, however.
We ordered the following:
–Penne alla Arrabiata
–Risotto Alla Osso Bucco
–Gelato (various flavors)
I’ll discuss the dishes one by one later.
The restaurant uses semi-self service: One has to place an order at the counter, then wait for the dish to arrive. Condiments, utensils, and napkins are all available at a side table. This is similar to the method of service seen in other deli-style restaurants (Almon Marina comes to mind). This is different from semi-fast food restaurants such as Sbarro and Chef d’Angelo Express, however–the food is only cooked upon ordering. Semi-self service allows the restaurant to cut down on costs related to full-service restaurants: the actual service charge, along with service water and table settings (which cost money, whether disposable or washable).
This style of service, when coupled with the generally crowded and noisy dining area, makes Amici a rather informal restaurant, so I don’t really recommend it for intimate dates. It would be perfect, however, for barkada and family dining.
Now on to the good part: the food.
PENNE ALLA ARRABIATA
Price: Php 160
The first to arrive was the pasta. (No pictures, unfortunately.) Arrabiata sauce is tomato-based, and includes a good amount of fresh red pepper in it. This of course, makes it very spicy.
The sauce was thick and chunky–an indication that it was made from fresh tomato, and not pre-packaged tomato sauce. However, despite the menu’s claim of the sauce being “devilishly hot,” it really wasn’t. There were moments of heat, but the pepper flavor didn’t really work itself into the whole batch of sauce. Furthermore, my brother commented on the lack of the tomato’s acidity. He was looking for a sour edge in the taste.
The pasta noodles were firm and chewy; they were at the right consistency. This is where a lot of pasta fails: either the noodles are too stiff and rubbery, or they are soggy and pasty. Amici got the consistency right.
In any case, all three of us were able to get a third of the pasta. The servings are rather large, and if a family orders multiple dishes, each person can get by with a third. If one is on his own, however, a plate of this penne will be more than filling.
Verdict: Not what I hoped it to be, but not bad. It’s fresh and filling for the price.
RISOTTO ALLA OSSO BUCO
(Already partially consumed in this image. Taking pictures only occurred to me halfway through.)
Price: Php 275
Next to arrive was the risotto. My mom admits that she never thought of risotto much, her only experience with it being soggy wet rice. However, this dish proved to pleasantly surprise her.
The dish consists of risotto with beef shank in a thick, rich, sauce of tomato and capers. My mom began by eating the risotto and, forgetting what it was, said that “the mashed potatoes are good.” My brother and I were quick to remind her that she was eating rice.
I tasted it myself and was very, very, pleased with it. My brother said that risotto is cooked with Parmesan cheese added constantly. The melted cheese seeps between the rice grains and binds the rice into a fantastic, sticky, gooey mess. This particular risotto was just that–cheesy (and you could taste it was real Parmesan) rice with just a hint of saffron. My brother enjoyed the dish a lot as well, and though he said that he’d expected more flavor from the beef shank.
The beef was commendable–the portion was lean and just the right texture–not tough or soggy, and was cooked thoroughly. However, the sauce did seem a bit overpowering. Still, this dish was at the very least pleasant to eat, not to mention very filling.
For the ingredients involved (Saffron and Parmesan), the price was reasonable, and the serving was big enough for us to split evenly. It might be too expensive to eat alone, but if you split it with a buddy or two, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
Verdict: Very good, especially considering the price.
Price: Php 270.
This is the highlight of the meal. The pizza arrived last, but just in time for us to finish the previous dish.
All of Amici’s pizzas are 12 inches across–a commendable size in the age of 9-inchers. The closest comparable pizza in terms of price and size is Yellow Cab’s smallest size (10 inches). As of late, Yellow Cab’s smallest pizzas have already gotten mighty close to the 300 peso mark. As such, this makes Amici’s pizza a good deal.
This particular pizza is topped with capers, black olives, and anchovies and is baked in–get this–a real, wood-fired brick oven. (You can see the oven from the restaurant interior). This seems to give the crust a doughy, flaky texture even though it’s not much thicker than Shakey’s thin crust (which in my opinion, feels like eating a cracker). The edges of the crust were neither stiff and flat nor thick and dense. Instead, they were where the flaky-doughy texture was most concentrated. Good stuff. My brother was also pleased.
The crust wasn’t the only pleasant thing about the pizza–as you can see from the image, the toppings are fairly generous, considering the price of the dish and the cost of the ingredients. The cheese is real mozzarella (though commercialized–the mozzarella that is used in Italian home-cooked meals, according to my brother, is made from water buffalo milk. Hence, it is closer to native Filipino kesong puti than anything else), which is especially pleasing when one is used to pizza restaurants using cheap, flavorless imitation cheese. The sauce is, like the pasta sauce, is rich and made from fresh tomatoes and not from standard tomato paste.
Verdict: Good and solid. Not something you’d expect given the price.
Price Php 50 per cup
To finish up, I treated everyone to a cup of gelato each.
For the longest time, my brother, a culinary arts student, has been searching for the perfect gelato. He hasn’t found it just yet, but Amici’s gelato came really close to his lofty standards.
For one the texture was much closer to the traditionally gooey gelato, as opposed to the simple texture of regular ice cream. The cost isn’t bad either, since gelato tends to be extremely expensive. (I usually see Php 100 per dip.)
My mom, brother and I ordered three different flavors: I ordered espresso; Mom ordered mango jubilee (mango base with berries); and my brother ordered chocolate.
The espresso definitely tasted like espresso. It had the rich, almost bitter coffee flavor without excessive sweetness or creaminess. There were also little bits of chocolate. Very good.
The mango jubilee gelato was interesting–while it had the sweetness of dessert, it had real blueberries and strawberries (I think.), giving it a tart undertone.
Finally, the chocolate. Amici’s gelato does not use the typical sweet chocolate flavoring–instead, they use Valrhona chocolate, or something very similar to it. As such, it’s rich and bitter–an excellent and unexpected flavor in an age where every dessert is excessively sweet.
Verdict: Again, given the price, very good. Notice a pattern here?
I find that Amici is generally an ideal place for casual affairs, say, having a party with one’s barkada or a late night dinner after a movie with the family. It may be pricey for some individuals, but given the value one gets, I’d say it’s worth it. 😀