The Brothers Cuenca. Photograph by Jar Concengco
Food & Drink Restaurants

First bite: Obsessive attention to detail and top-tier ingredients set Elbert’s Pizzeria apart

At an exclusive tasting last weekend, we got to experience the much-anticipated new concept from Elbert Cuenca: a Neapolitan-style pizzeria where you can be a bit of a slob.
Ricky Carandang | Jun 03 2019

Pizza is probably the most universal food. Pizza recipes and techniques are so widely disseminated that you can find a recognizable, decently-made pizza in any country in the world. It is so well known and loved that you can even find a pizza joint in North Korea

Given its global popularity, when someone in a cosmopolitan city like Manila announces they’re opening a new pizzeria, the bar can be set pretty high. And when that someone is Elbert Cuenca, the bar goes up even higher. Elbert is, after all, the guy who put up some of the city’s favorite restaurants: Mendokoro Ramenba, Elbert’s Steak Room, and Kazunori. In a few weeks, Elbert and his brother Adrian will open Elbert’s Pizzeria in Salcedo Village.

Margherita Al Funghi (margherita with mixed mushrooms) Prices range from PhP200 for a Marinara to about PhP480 for a Quattro Formaggi E Funghi because of the top shelf ingredients. But typically in the 300- peso range says Elbert Cuenca.

 

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We were invited to a tasting dinner Saturday night, and we say it doesn’t disappoint.

Almost all the ingredients for Elbert’s pizzas are sourced from the mother country. Particularly noteworthy are the yellow-colored cherry tomatoes, which Elbert says are sweeter and juicier than ordinary cherry tomatoes, even the ones from Italy. The anchovies are not overpoweringly salty and, combined with capers and olives, make an assertively flavoured pie.

In contrast, the margherita pizza is created with a lighter touch that draws your palette to the more subtle quality of the cheese.

“What we chase whenever we make a pizza -why we wanted this oven is to find the right balance of crunch and chewiness- that is really what we want to achieve, that is the holy grail. If you don’t have the right wood, the right technique, the right oven, you’re not going to get it.”

All the pizzas are made Neapolitan style, with a thin crust, and cooked for 90 seconds in a beechwood- lined oven to give it the right combination of crispness and chewiness. You can wash the pizza down with Italian beer or Italian wine, but in keeping with the casual pizzeria feel, there will be no sommelier at hand and the wine will not be served in some expensive crystal glass. You don’t have to worry about being too posh or fancy while you drink it.

And that’s the thing about this pizzeria: there is that obsessive attention to detail about how the pizza is made—which guarantees that it will be delicious—but it’s also meant to be casually consumed and truly enjoyed in an atmosphere where no one will care if you spill a little wine or tomato sauce on your shirt.

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Elbert’s Pizzeria will initially open for take-out orders and will announce when it will open its doors to sitting customers within the week. 

Quattro Formaggi E Funghi, the priciest of all ten pizza choices at Elbert’s Pizzeria. “The size of the pizza is slightly smaller than what they would do in Napoli. We did it by design because we wanted it more personal. We wanted people to eat pizza na kaya mag Isa,” explains Elbert. 

“It takes exactly 90 seconds to cook a pizza, says chef Adrian Cuenca, “beyond that sunog na. If it’s more than 90 seconds, the oil from the cheese would separate. Are the pizza makers timing it, we ask. “It’s all by feel, almost to the second, it’s 90 seconds.” The kitchen staff aren’t assisted by a timer to check if a pizza is ready. 

The Margherita Speciale (semi dried yellow cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, basil) “I am brave enough to say it that we are the only one with a yellow cherry tomato, “ pronounces Elbert. They are prized because of their extra sweetness. 

The Margherita (tomato pulp, mozzarella fior de latte, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, basil). 

Siciliana (marinara with olives,capers, anchovies and basil). 

All ingredients are from Italy except for the homemade sausage and chili flakes. 

Spicy Pepperoni. 

The Brothers Cuenca. 

Nothing is left to chance. “The compressed beechwood will burn exactly the same amount of heat, smoke and have an even burn rate, they are engineered for pizza making and are farmed sustainably,” according to Elbert.  

The star of the pizza joint - the stainless steel wood-fired pizza oven. Unlike the traditional brick oven, this takes only an hour to fire up & produces heat and smoke more evenly. Especially when it is fed compressed beechwood logs made for pizza ovens and imported from Italy. 

The 16 seater pizzeria is really meant for quick eating. (Soon there will be about 25 seats outside) Elbert Cuenca says, “It’s not a place to linger and make kuwentuhan that is why we have pizza boxes, you want to have a quick bite and then go.” 

Elbert on perfecting their pizza crust: “It’s a balance of chewiness and crunch. So there’s a light crunch and a light chewiness to it.” 

Elbert's Pizzeria is located at V Corporate Center 125 LP Leviste St, Salcedo Village, Makati.

Photographs by Jar Concengco