By Gene Gonzalez
One of my must-eat places in Baguio, which I enjoy as a sensory as well as a gustatory experience, is Amare la Cucina. Here one is treated to the warmth of their woodfired oven as well as the delicious aromas of sweet smoke and burning wood plus the toasty smell of browning pizza crust and the bubbly cheese caramelizing on the high heat of their stone oven. And because this is a must-go to pizza in Baguio, Edmark Bustos (who I had later befriended) set up shop here in the Kapitolyo area with the same style brick ovens that made their signature pizzas the best in Baguio city.
But it did take some time for me to go here even if Amare la Cucina in Kapitolyo is not a great distance, and the evenings seem easier with less heavy traffic. One immediately catches a whiff of the fresh and sweet wood smoke coming from the two pizza ovens. One feature of the bigger kitchen accommodates customers who want to try their hand in tossing and preparing pizzas. So on our first visit to this Manila branch, I wanted the most straightforward and simplest pizza, so I ordered their Margherita, which I order every time anyway, but had to compromise as my dining companion wanted a little more flavor so a half and half was requested with pepperoni.
Our pizza arrived all bubbly and beautifully uneven with air pockets that gave character to the pizza as well as varying textures. For pasta, their carbonara topped with crisp wafrets of bacon (instead of the typical bits) was wonderfully hearty with the cheese mix coating every strand of pasta.
The next week, we were dreaming again of the pizza and decide to go for late dinner. I guess a great ploy of Ms. Dining Companion who had something up her sleeve. It was the desire to have herself photographed tossing the pizza, putting the toppings, and shoving the flat bread in the brick oven (I didn’t mind, because I knew exactly that there would be no bungles considering the pizza dough was already premade and everything on the pizza would be their standard). To my surprise, I was given choice of toppings to which I chose again a Margherita type but now with anchovies and their pepperoncino or infused oil. But before that a request for Carpaccio served correctly cold and pink raw slices of beef served with wedges of lemon and parmesan on a bed of very fresh romaine. We also ordered their bolognese or meat sauce.
This was the first time that we would order such a traditional classic like this and I was not afraid that this beef and pork sausage combination would be a stereotype bordering on mediocrity or worse of all adapting to Pinoy kiddie preferences of sweetness. What we got was a rich meat sauce, the ground beef component was given more umami with pork sausage. The meat sauce was very chunky with its coarse grind, almost similar to hand-chopped ragouts I have encountered and was absolute comfort! It’s great to have a little of the Amare La Cucina experience within the city. If there are any skeptics and demand for the Baguio experience in this branch, my suggestion would be to ask the waiter to sit your group near the air-conditioning unit, and have the waiter point the blinds towards your table.
This article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.