Where to Take Your Special Someone: Caruso Ristorante Italiano

So, you have a special someone. If you’re not like the rest of us in this cruel world (LOL), that probably refers to a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse—and chances are you are already cooking up something for Valentine’s. Well, I have good news for you! I may have just found the perfect venue for that classy, romantic, and memorable date you’re thinking of.

My quest for the best Italian restaurant in Manila led me one Saturday to Reposo in Makati—to this chic, Milan-inspired establishment that is Caruso Ristorante Italiano. I’ve walked past this place many times years back but never got to actually dining in it. As you know, I’m crazy for Italian food, so imagine my elation when a fellow foodie invited me to tag along for lunch!

Caruso is not your usual Italian place. For instance, because of its Milanese inspiration, the restaurant veers away from vines, murals, and checked tablecloths and instead showcases more elegant interiors: high ceilings, muted tones, big windows, brass lamps, chandeliers, wood, whites, browns. Caruso’s ambience is very sophisticated—a setting fit for an important business function, an intimate family celebration, or a romantic date.

The well-stocked bar welcomes guests into the big dining room. To the left, a separate space for smokers. The far end of the dining room showcases the open kitchen and the brick oven in which Caruso’s pizzas are made. On a small elevated spot is a piano—a musician serenades dinner guests here every Wednesday.

We were privileged to have had the chance to chat with Mr. Emilio Mina, one of the owners of Caruso, over a sumptuous lunch and sample some of the dishes from Caruso's new menu. A few years ago, while trying to find the sort of Italian food closest to what he had back home (Milan), Mr. Mina stumbled upon Caruso and instantly fell in love with it. Later on, he partnered with the original owner, Mr. Dario Gardini, and introduced a few dishes of his own, including food his own mother used to cook. I enjoyed this lunch immensely because Mr. Mina and I share an obsession not just with Italian food, but also with dancesport!

Caruso has an extensive menu composed of seafood (carpaccio, gamberetti) and meat (salumi) appetizers, salads, handmade pastas and pizzas, entrees, desserts, wine, and liquor. Their complimentary bread was the perfect way to start our meal; served warm, it was soft but not chewy, with a slight crisp on the outside. This was so good and addicting! We ate it with a dip made of balsamic, olive oil, and parmesan, as well as a plate of Italian cheese and some olives.

Salami was among the antipasti choices, but if you would prefer sampling a variety of Italian cold cuts, then order the Misto di Affetati Italiani e Verdure Marinate. Prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, coppa, and salami sit on this platter, along with some delicious sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. I loved the salty-sweet prosciutto (in fact, I like ordering any pasta dish that has this), the briny and fatty coppa, and the mortadella, which I thought would work perfectly for a sandwich—the kind of baon I wouldn’t mind preparing for myself everyday.
The Vitello Tonnato looked like hummus at first glance—but what resembled chickpea puree was actually a creamy, slightly tangy tuna sauce, which cloaked delicious, incredibly tender, paper-thin slices of veal underneath. This one I loved very much!

Delicious cooked Parma ham enfolds a salad made of potatoes, carrots, peas, and cream with Caruso’s Insalata Rusa. This was something I’ve never had before—I ate it the way I would eat those Thai lettuce cups, haha! I wrapped the salad with the meat before spooning into my mouth!

Perhaps a salad you’re more accustomed to is something like the Insalata Caruso: tuna flakes, boiled eggs, mixed greens, tomatoes, vinaigrette. This one I didn’t taste as I was engrossed with the other dishes in front of me. Another curious and tasty dish was the Jumping Rice—cheese-flavored risotto cooked until crispy.

To accompany these starters, we were having some Prosecco and really good red wine (Primitivo di Manduria DOP Macchia) chosen by Mr. Mina himself. The red wine was dry and spicy and perfect and with the meats.

With all the meats I ate, I honestly thought that our meal was already finished, but you can’t leave an Italian restaurant without trying their pasta. If you can’t decide which one to get, I suggest ordering the Tritico Pasta, a sampler of three of Caruso’s pasta creations. The Garganelli al Funghi Porcini is something truly rave-worthy. An earthy mushroom sauce coats the pasta tubes topped with porcini and truffle oil. I could already smell that distinct heavenly scent even before the plate was presented in front of me. Damn, this was so good!

The Tagliatelle Crema Tartufo, on the other hand, has a delicate cream sauce, atop which sits slivers of prosciutto. Just from looking at it, one might think it’s bland—but surprisingly, it wasn’t. In fact, it was quite flavorful. The Raviolini with Spinach, Ricotta, Butter, and Sage was another story. Here, spinach and ricotta composed the textured filling; the butter-sage sauce was as aromatic as it was delicious.

Finally, we had Caruso’s best-selling dessert—the Panna Cotta. Unlike the usual versions, Caruso’s was silky, very dense, and creamy—almost like a leche flan—not an air bubble in it, and came topped with chopped nuts and caramel. In Italian restaurants, I would usually go for tiramisu, but for Caruso, the Panna Cotta definitely deserves a return trip!

Left: Caruso's famous Panna Cotta; right: some Negroni after the meal (something like limoncello)
I found everything I sampled incredibly scrumptious—I have no doubts that there was a lot of careful preparation and love for food involved before these plates were taken to the table. The flavors were simple, the ingredients fresh. And I loved how the friendly, attentive wait staff were so knowledgeable with the dishes and the drinks.

While Caruso’s price range is a little on the steep side, I think this restaurant is ideal for special occasions, like birthdaysand the upcoming Valentine’s day! In fact, had I been blessed enough to have someone to plan a Valentine's surprise for (LOL), I would definitely take that person to Caruso. If you feel like splurging once a while, you better do it with something worthy of shelling out money for, and I think Caruso is such a place. The entire dining experience—the servers, the food, the atmosphere—makes both YOU and your occasion feel special. Who wouldn't want to make memories like that?

Caruso Ristorante Italiano
210 Nicanor Garcia St., Bel-Air, Makati City
11:30AM - 2:30PM; 6:00PM – 11:00PM
Budget: PhP1,000 and up/head

Check out Caruso's special Valentine's Menu below:

Caruso has a branch in Station 2, Boracay and is opening its 3rd branch in McKinley Hill this summer!

Have you tried Caruso? How was your experience? Is it better than other Italian restaurants? Sounds off in the comments section below!

My meal was sponsored by Caruso Ristorante Italiano. All opinions, however, are my own.

If you like my posts and would love regular updates on travel photos, food finds, restaurant reviews, dance articles, and drunken tales, follow Pepe Samson on Facebook!

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