Casual Italian dining at its most quaint
“Why don’t we try Bellini’s?”, my wife Amy asked. We had just finished our business at the government center at Ali Mall and were looking for a nice place for lunch. Some friends happened to mention this Italian restaurant snuck away in Cubao Expo. With the aid of Google Maps, we learned that Cubao Expo was a mere 10 minute walk from Ali Mall.
Ali Mall was the sosyal mall north of Makati during my teenage years. I remember the place fondly but its best days are clearly behind it. In fact, all the buildings in the General Romulo Avenue area have seen better days. As we walked towards the Cubao Expo, there was a lot of demolition and construction happening to make way for a major Empire East real estate project.
When we got to Cubao Expo, we were almost magically transported to a place lost in time. The rows of boutique stores in the U-shaped street were quirky and artsy at the same time and clearly a throwback to the hippy 70’s. I fell in love with the place instantly.
We found Bellini’s in the inner sanctum of Cubao Expo. A four-foot replica of the Tower of Pisa stood by the entrance minus the famous tilt. Inside the restaurant, the ambiance was warm and kitschy. I knew it was going to be a fun lunch.
We ordered a variety of antipasti from the buffet setting that happened to be just three feet from our table – it was a delightful combination of Italian and local ingredients.The focaccia was warm, fresh and delish – enough for us to order a second loaf! The sardines was simply heavenly.
As we were savoring the antipasti, an old caucasian gentlemen approached our table and tried to strike a conversation with me, presumably trying to ask about how we liked the food. He spoke in a rather anxious tone in what sounded to be Italian with a smattering of English. I think I smiled reassuringly and said something like the food was fine. He also looked somewhat distracted and left as quickly as he appeared. I asked the waiter who the man was and the waiter explained that the man was Roberto, the owner of the restaurant.
The main course consisted of pasta and pizza mainly because we had all the kids with us. I was anticipating an authentic Italian meal (having met Roberto) and was toying with idea of pairing some red wine with lunch. I’m not too fond of Italian wines, though. Instead, I ordered a limoncello and asked for it to be served together with the main course rather than as an after-meal digestivo. The main course was good but mostly nothing out of the ordinary and I was glad about having the (extra-strong) limoncello to make things more interesting. That said, the tasty Fettuccine Tartufo Funghi con Prosciuto is probably something I would order again the next time around.
We are a family of sweet teeth. That meant that we had to sample some of the desert offerings, as always. And the coffee. Nonetheless, I was too full already to truly appreciate the sweets.
Tearing the old landmarks down now
Paving over brave little parks
Ah nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
– Chinese Cafe by Joni Mitchell
The decor and the ambiance made me feel somewhat wistful. I drove a VW Beetle back in the day. I discovered the country and myself riding that Beetle. As I left the restaurant and the Cubao Expo I also felt a bit fretful that this oh-so-charming place might be gone soon. We all know what happened to heritage sites such as the old art deco Jai Alai building (demolished by Lito Atienza) and several heritage sites along Escolta (demolished by Erap Estrada). Why even the old C.O.D. Department Store which had moving Christmas mannequin displays for half a century next door to the Cubao Expo is sadly gone.
I can only wish that the Empire East and other nearby real estate developments will not gobble up this quaint cultural throwback. If you are interested, make sure you visit soon.