At La Spezia, The Chefs And Their Food Remain Idealistic
Is it too hasty to make a presumption based on something as simple as polenta fries? Maybe, but there we were, surrounded by other available crowdpleasers like pasta and pork belly, digging into a bowl of thick, gold batons drizzled with homemade cottage cheese like it had the last morsel of food on earth. How they treat these spectacular sticks of cornmeal speaks of La Spezia's food. It's a single-page menu where everything is a specialty and nothing was left to “just because.”
Chef Aaron Shiu in the kitchen at La Spezia
La Spezia is easy to miss. At this corner of Dr. Lazcano Street, cars are everywhere, double-parked, engines running, loitering, waiting for a space big enough for them to fit so their owners can finally escape into the already crowded Filipino restaurant across the street. La Spezia is quietly behind all this commotion. It's a tiny, unassuming structure that looks as though it's only been waiting to be discovered—not that it's been idle, but there are no obnoxious tarpaulins announcing 3+1 beers or a barkada bundle or other hackneyed draws. In the one year it's been open, their quiet reliability has helped it build a solid reputation and loyal customers.
La Spezia's story is nothing new, especially in the current restaurant atmosphere. Here are two idealistic young men just out of culinary school who decided they wanted—nay, needed—to breathe life into an industry that was on the brink of stagnation. After graduating from culinary school and living in Europe, Sean Yuquimpo and Aaron Shiu, both 25, knew that they wanted to set up their own place in the Philippines. The original plan was San Juan, where they felt that their brand of classic cuisine would fare better. They ended up a few blocks down, on Tomas Morato, where the restaurant industry was tough and the customers even tougher.
“It's weird, eh. Our prices aren't expensive, but they're not cheap. They're reasonable. The neighborhood...they won't pay for P400 carbonara in QC, but they will if it's Makati,” says Yuquimpo.
So La Spezia became a lesson on quality, and how customers will always find a way to sniff out and enjoy fine food. Though the cars out front may not always be there to enjoy their pasta, they've attracted people from all parts of the Metro who are assured that despite the traffic, at the end of the journey is a pot of gold.
Unlike other young restaurateurs, Yuquimpo and Shiu talk about food with a mix of idealism and pragmatism. Their menu is neither dizzying nor out of this world, and there's probably nothing in there that you won't find in other Italian restaurants, yet somehow it makes you want to order everything maybe because there's no one dish that defines them.
The carbonara is made using the traditional style, with parmiggiano, pepper, and a delightful sous-vide egg to finish—a beloved dish that's made even easier to love. The burrata, where things get inventive, always finds contrasts depending on the season—sometimes it's grilled corn, sometimes with beetroot, and now, fresh orange slices.
"We've already had an argument with one customer about putting cream in the carbonara," Yuquimpo says with a shake of his head. "We also want to educate our customers with what makes food good." This is, according to him, what makes them different from other Italian restaurants.
"We visited this new Italian place that even has an Italian chef. I ordered a risotto and it looked right. It looked like something you would get in Italy, but when I tasted it, I knew right away that the chef used chicken powder," he narrates. The chef came out to ask for their opinion and Yuquimpo dutifully called him out on his shortcut. "He admitted that he had to adjust for the Filipino palate."
You could mistake it for arrogance, but the sincerity of his concern and their food reveals that it's simply a dedication to maintaining the finer points of the cuisine. Yuquimpo and Shiu aren't here to compromise. They painstakingly import canned tomatoes from Europe because of the inconsistency in quality of local ones. The result is a light spaghetti dish that teeters between sweet and tangy, generous basil leaves giving each forkful a blast of peppery flavor.
Weekends at La Spezia are a special treat because that's when the bistecca is available, cooked sous-vide then fired to a nice crust that slices open to reveal a beautiful pink middle. Salt, pepper, and nothing else, but a choice slab of beef. You could call it gratification at the end of the week, but it's really for the owners to maintain the quality of the steak.
La Spezia Alveare (honeycomb, figs, beetroot ginger coulee)
Camicia Pear, Gelato (poached pear, flambéed pear, graham crust, balsamic syrup)
La Spezia may not be flooding social media feeds or coming out with the next big thing, but it's one of the few new(ish) restaurants where pride and purpose continue to be relevant. Yuquimpo and Shiu aren't here to share a slice of the bubbling restaurant industry. They want you to actually enjoy and understand food.
La Spezia is at 90 Dr. Lazcano Street, Laging Handa, Quezon City; open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.