One of the most treasured “hidden” restaurants in Quezon City is a tiny Italian restaurant at the very heart of Cubao X (the space formerly known as the Cubao Shoe Expo): Bellini’s.
Often described as out of place amongst the thrift shops, shoe stores, and bookstalls that populate Cubao X, it has been one of the few places in the National Capital Region (and the whole country, for that matter) that serves autentica cucina casalinga Italiana – good, old-fashioned home-style cooking. Since 1999, people have waxed poetic over Signor Roberto Bellini’s crisp-crusted pizzas, al dente pasta dishes, and a host of other sweet and savory delights.
Quite recently Signor Bellini’s son, Daniele, set up shop in the middle of Sucat Road in Paranaque – a most unlikely place to put a restaurant in, considering that it’s virtually in an industrial suburb and flanked by hardware stores and, worse, gravestone carvers! (The Manila Memorial Park and Loyola Memorial park – both cemeteries of repute – are but a stone’s throw away.) But thanks to the word-of-mouth of die-hard foodies – some of whom are fans of Bellini’s – Daniele’s Casa Mia has become quite a dining destination for those in the southern suburbs.
Much like his papa’s restaurant in Quezon City, Signor Daniele’s casa is rustic and homey, decorated with pictures taken during his and his father’s careers as professional paparazzi (the broadsheet kind, not the trashy tabloid kind) covering world affairs, pictures of la famiglia Bellini, and assorted knick-knacks and objets d’art showing off the beauty of Italy’s most scenic venues. (Check out the model of Pisa’s famous Leaning Tower!)
The air is fragrant with the smell of baking bread and you’ll see why when you peer into one corner of the restaurant and see the massive brick oven in which they bake the breads and pizzas. And speaking of bread, as soon as you’re seated, the friendly waitstaff bring in a fresh, still-steaming loaf of rosemary and sea-salt foccacia together with a small dish of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil in which to dip the bread. It is properly rustic bread: crisp-crusted on the outside, soft and fluffy within, and made even better with the herby flavor of rosemary and the saline crunch of the coarse salt sprinkled over the top.
Ideally, the best thing to drink would be a proper Italian vino, but my family decided to have a pitcher of the house iced tea – which, really, was quite an excellent choice. If you love peaches, you’ll like the tè freddo at Daniele’s: the drink is infused with the flavor of peaches – a rather honeyed sweetness that, when paired with ice, is most refreshing.
Not quite hungry for antipasti – though Daniele’s continues the Bellini tradition of offering a rather impressive array of these richly flavored tidbits – the pizza menu was quickly perused and the family decided on two variations on a theme.
The Quatrizza (shown above) is a spin on the popular Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) in the sense that it features four specific ingredients on top of a tomato and mozzarella base: ham, mushrooms, black olives, and crisp-tender artichoke hearts. It’s a good choice for those used to more conventional toppings (save for the artichokes) and aren’t really into surprising tastes. The ham is smoky and goes well with the flavors of the tomato and cheese. The veg on the pie provided an excellent, slightly salty and mildly tart counterpoint.
Daniele’s Quattro Stagioni, on the other hand, features the traditional four quadrants with different toppings:
- ham and sausage;
- thinly-sliced zucchini, sweet onions, and black olives;
- tomato and Gorgonzola; and
- anchovies and capers.
The tender-tongued will like the first two quadrants mentioned; but those of us who prefer richer, stronger, more robust flavors will certainly appreciate the latter. The Gorgonzola on this pie, incidentally, is magnificently flavored: pungently aromatic, strong, salty, with the slightly wine-like flavor that comes from properly aged blue cheese – and, really: this is not the garden-variety blue you use for dipping chicken wings in! It’s much better than that!
By the way, the crusts for Daniele’s pizzas are the almost paper-thin, crispy, crunchy kind with proper char-marks on the bottom that lend a pleasantly smoky taste to these brick-oven-baked discs.
For our secondo piatti (second plates), we opted for pasta. But don’t expect your typical Italo-American or Filipino sweet-style (ick!) spaghetti here. At Daniele’s, as with any proper self-respecting Italian ristorante, the pasta never comes to your table soft or soggy; it is al dente, regardless of whichever shape you’ve ordered, firm to the bite and chewy. You can really taste the wheaty character of the pasta that way and it provides contrast with the sauce and toppings you choose to have.
We had two white pastas for this particular meal. The fetticine bianco con vongole is heady with the tastes of the sea: fresh, briny clams with a hint of their natural sweetness, their flavors amplified by the judicious addition of garlic and parsley.
While it may not look too impressive, the fusilli bianco con salsiccia delivers on flavor: robust, meaty, slightly herby Italian bulk sausage tossed into buttery-rich pasta spirals.
Of course, a proper Italian meal would not be complete without a proper helping or two of dolci (sweets/dessert). Thank goodness, then, that there’s house-made gelati for afters! These creamy ices are all amazing, but not all of the flavors are available at any given time. When we were at Daniele’s the popular nocciola (hazelnut – think Nutella in ice cream form) wasn’t in stock. But we weren’t disappointed with the straciatella which features finely-chopped dark chocolate folded into a creamy vanilla base, the bittersweet little bits going well with the buttery sweetness. The fragole – strawberry – wasn’t shabby, either: a sweet-tart pink ice cream that bore all the flavor of fruit at the peak of ripeness.
The menu is extensive, by the way, and prices are quite reasonable. If you’re craving for pizza and pasta or want to experience proper Italian food as it’s done by generations of mammas and nonnas throughout la bella Italia, Daniele’s should certainly be on your map.
Daniele’s Casa Mia: 8351 Dr A Santos Ave. (Sucat Road), Bgy. San Antonio, Parañaque – (02) 826-5163