Good food and pleasant conversation are frequent partners, but excellent food and silence is a rarity—and a compliment of the highest level. The recent additions to the menu at La Spezia were the catalysts of the silence at our table. Hardly a word was said, but instead, “ooh’s,” “ahh’s,” and groans of delight filled the restaurant.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, La Spezia is an Italian restaurant located in the Scout area of Quezon City. It also happens to be a portside city on the northern coast of Italy. The restaurant evokes the feeling of its namesake, with its rustic wooden elements and cozy atmosphere.
Before entering the restaurant, you’re greeted by its al fresco seating area. After passing through the black gates, you’ll see framed pictures of Italy and other knick knacks decorating the wooden walls. The light wooden furniture and metal accents are reminiscent of seaside restaurants that dot the coast of the Mediterranean.
“It’s beautiful out there during the night,” said Sean Yuquimpo of their outdoor seating area. Yuquimpo is one of the co-owners of La Spezia, who along with chef Aaron Shiu redeveloped and refined the restaurant. Though the restaurant has been around for a few years, they’ve recently revamped their menu, which brought new life to the space.
Though named after a specific city, the restaurant doesn’t confine itself to the regionalistic cuisine Italy is known for. “We wanted to make Italian food,” Yuquimpo stated. The colors of the different regions of Italy are proudly represented through the dishes and ingredients they use.
The 18 month-old Parmigiano Reggiano hails from the Parma region, veal is a protein commonly consumed in Sicily, and the Lazio region (where Rome is located) is famous for its pasta dishes. But putting their own spin on the cuisine was also essential.
“We tried to create a dish off that and make it playful and as Italian as we can, then we elevate [it].”
But aside from Italy, what the restaurant also represents is truly fine food.
Skipping to the mains or the pasta is something I’d consider to be a cardinal sin at La Spezia. The joy of eating Italian food doesn’t come with just the flavor, but also the variety and the leisurely pace you consume different courses.
The two new antipasti on the menu are classic Italian dishes with the restaurant’s special touch. First up is the classic burrata made with mozzarella di bufala, charred corn, cherry tomatoes, and microbasil.
Unlike most of the burrata you can find in restaurants, their take on it includes a very special ingredient: burrata made from the milk of a buffalo. Both the typical cow’s milk burrata and the buffalo version are rich and creamy, but the mozzarella di bufala has a bit of a brighter, tangier texture.
Another unique addition to the dish is the presence of tomato jelly made with the liquid of fresh cherry tomatoes. It contributes a subtle whisper of tomato in each bite, which pairs well with the creaminess of the burrata and the sweetness of the charred corn.
If you’re looking for more bang to your burrata, you can opt to order it with freshly shaved black truffle.
The second antipasto is the salsiccia Italiana, a classic sausage dish made with a homemade Italian sausage roll on brioche with caramelized onion sauce, jus, and served with a side salad. The peppery sausage is crumbled and pan fried into the brioche, which gives it a crunchy texture and toasted flavor.
Like most traditional Italian sausages, there’s no shortage of richness and juiciness, which calls for a bright hit from the (shockingly, but unsurprisingly) delicious side salad.
My favorite method to consume this dish—like most dishes—is to take a bit of everything on the plate and take a bite. The acidity from the salad’s dressing neutralizes the extra richness from the sausage and the brioche, which brings the dish to a deliciously happy balance.
At this point, the volume of the table’s conversation has been unconsciously turned down to half of what it was before the meal began, and the food was only getting started.
The pastas dreams are made of
Three pasta dishes were served during the meal, namely vongole, spaghetti limone, and pasta di capesanti. Vongole is a constant presence among Italian restaurants around the world, but I have personally never tried a vongole like this before.
On paper, La Spezia’s vongole is as simple as vongole gets: clams, extra virgin olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, smoked bell pepper, and chili flakes. But with the quality of the ingredients they use, simple becomes simply spectacular.
The first bite of the pasta evoked a feeling similar to wading slowly into the ocean. You can smell the fresh saltiness from the sea, then a certain joy overtakes you. The vongole was a rich, briny, light bite with a bit of acid from the addition of some balsamic vinegar.
While people may worry that this dish may be too briny, the presence of the bell peppers do well to temper any extra saltiness and add a crispness to the dish. The secret to the vongole, Yuquimpo shared, is cooking the pasta in the same liquid the clams were cooked in.
Heat also plays an important role in the dish. Red pepper flakes may seem intimidating to people who aren’t fond of spicy food, but the light kick at the end of your bite only enhances and magnifies the flavors of the dish.
This pasta was voted by the table as best in show.
The second pasta is the spaghetti limone, another deceptively simple sounding dish that’s also simply fantastic. The beauty of this specific pasta is the simplicity of it. The menu’s description reads, “lemon, lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, and 18 month-old Parmigiano Reggiano.”
If the vongole tasted like wading into the ocean, the spaghetti limone tastes like the brightest, most beautiful day of summer. It’s a light, fresh, straightforward dish done well. The lemon’s juice and zest generously coats every string of spaghetti for a refreshing and rich bite.
For people who want to experience a little more luxe with the (personally, already perfect) dish, you can opt to order it with freshly shaved white truffle—which is another experience in itself.
The final pasta dish served that afternoon was my personal favorite, the pasta di capesante. Pasta di capesante is a scallop pasta, and the restaurant’s version is made with sizable Hokkaido scallops, a dried Japanese scallop emulsion, and of course, Parmigiano Reggiano.
Eye-widening and groan-inducing are how I’d describe my first bite of this dish. Hokkaido scallops play an irreplaceable role in the pasta. It’s smaller than its U.S. counterpart, but it’s firmer, sweeter, and more flavorful.
The construction of this dish is also worth lauding. Dried, shredded scallops are mixed into the pasta to make sure that every bite has scallop to it. The rehydrated scallop meat makes for a hearty bite along with the rest of the dish.
Every forkful is meaty, bountiful, and chock full of scallop flavor. The sweetness of the Hokkaido scallops is a delight, and the shredded scallop bits provide a savory flavor and interesting texture that factors into the overall experience of the pasta.
It’s worth ordering again and again.
A meaty, truffly feast
The main dishes at La Spezia are no short of an edible spectacle. The two main dishes that were served were the carré di agnello, a veal dish, and the bistecca rib-eye. Both dishes were cooked to medium rare, which is the only acceptable way to have them.
In truth, I am not much of a lamb person. Gamey meats like lamb and goat were force fed to me as a child, which I did not enjoy. The carré di agnello, though, did a spectacular job of changing my mind.
The dish is composed of a half rack of lamb, mint gremolata, aged balsamic vinegar, and a side salad. Its components are that of a typical lamb dish, but the attention to detail set it far apart from any other veal I’ve eaten.
The veal is cooked to medium, but its sides are given extra attention to bring a layer of rich, crispiness to it. As the crust forms, its center is still a bright pink medium rare. The gamey flavor works in this dishes’ flavor and makes you want to gnaw any remaining meat off the bone.
Undoubtedly, though, the scene stealer is the bistecca rib-eye. While the steak itself is already delicious, the optional addition of black truffle skyrockets it to unforgettable. Like the burrata and the spaghetti limone, you can opt to add freshly shaved truffle to the dish.
Black truffle is, of course one, of the most premium ingredients you can add to any dish. And the process of adding it on to the steak resembles a sacred ceremony. Your server will arrive at the table with a wooden box filled with the truffles. Before opening the box, they’ll have to don white gloves to ensure that it’s handled with care.
Your server then takes a single truffle and shaves with a specialized tool as you watch the slivers gently billow down onto the meat. It’s a visual spectacle to be sure, but where the truffle really shines is when you take your first bite.
The flavor of the truffle melds together with the steak and produces an eye-rolling gastronomic experience. Truffle and steak are already a match made in heaven, but there’s nothing quite like having the real real thing.
Truffle wasn’t the only highlight of the steak, though. The bistecca is also served with a plate of twice-fried potatoes that are crispier and fluffier than any other potato I’ve ever had.
You’d think that after two appetizers, three pastas, and two generously portioned mains that the meal was over. But no.
Now it’s time for dessert.
Yuquimpo admits that dessert isn’t La Spezia’s specialty. He explained that there were people who cooked and people who baked, and the team behind the restaurant were more of the former.
There’s only one dessert on the restaurant’s menu, and it’s the salame di cioccolato. If you’re wondering if there’s any meat in it, the answer is no. The salame di cioccolato is a dark chocolate log filled with biscuits and pistachio, then topped with gold leaf. The gold leaf doesn’t do anything flavor-wise, but my goddess it does look pretty.
While Yuquimpo claims that they’re not dessert people, the salame is the perfect (not too) sweet finish to punctuate the end of the meal. It’s a rich, decadent, almost fudgy affair with the biscuits and pistachio adding flavor and interesting textures.
The dark chocolate provides a smooth, subtle sweetness that makes the desert resemble an elevated version of Choco Crunchies—which is definitely a compliment in our book.
As the empty plates of our meal were carried away, the volume of our table increased. The meal was nothing short of a success and our conversation reflected it.
It’s safe to say that La Spezia’s new menu is something worth trying. The ingredients and flavors are of the highest quality that will leave your stomach and heart feeling more than satisfied.
If you think that this review might be a little over the top, just know that our photographer, Samantha Ong, returned to the restaurant the same weekend we ate there to dine with her family.
That should be telling enough.
La Spezia is located at 90 Sct. Dr. Lazcano St, Diliman, Quezon City. They’re open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.