San Juan eats: This hidden gem of an Italian restaurant is worth the search

Jeeves de Veyra

Posted at Feb 19 2019 05:17 PM

Francesco’s Kitchen is located on A. Mabini Street in San Juan City. Jeeves de Veyra

'MANILA -- About a year ago, I asked one of my food guru friends what his favorite restaurant discovery was for 2017 was. He waxed poetic about this place in the innards of San Juan where a chef from one of the most renowned Italian restaurants in Manila whipped up his own rustic versions of pizza and pasta. 

Francesco’s Kitchen is one of the best kept date places for its excellent food and its intimate ambiance.

Chef Francesco Rizzo. Jeeves de Veyra

Francesco Rizzo, the chef in residence, left Italy in 1996 when he was 25 years old to spend time in Southeast Asia and China. He joined Paparazzi, the Italian restaurant of the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel, where his food found a loyal following. After two-and-a-half years, he left for Abu Dhabi. But even while he was in the Middle East, he still had a dream of coming back to Manila to open a restaurant.

“I always had a strong belief that the Philippines would become a new market destination for the food scene,” explained Rizzo on why he wanted to come back.

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The main dining area of Francesco’s Kitchen is only open during the lunchtime and dinner, although patrons can still have coffee and pasta at the café up in front. It’s a unique space in itself with a tree protected by a glass window in the middle of the café area.

Rizzo has brought over his rustic Italian cuisine to a restaurant he can call his own. His signature dish, Beef Cheeks over Risotto, is a crowd favorite. The restaurant has its own gigantic oven up in front for whipping up pizzas, while the kitchen comes up with rustic no-frills pasta dishes like Rizzo’s version of spaghetti vongole.

Pizza at Francesco’s Kitchen. Jeeves de Veyra
Beef Cheeks over Risotto is the restaurant's signature dish. Jeeves de Veyra
Elfo wines. Jeeves de Veyra

Francesco’s Kitchen recently teamed up with Vinoom wines for a five-course wine pairing dinner to show off creations from Rizzo’s kitchen.

Here's what you can expect at Francesco’s Kitchen.

For the first course, guests grazed on an assortment of antipasti. Highlights were the Olives Mini Focaccia & Stracciatella Roma Tomato Confit, the Octopus Bites, and the crispy breaded swordfish. The accompanying Muller Thurgau Spumante was a friendly semi sweet wine that was light and went well with the bite sized bits of goodness.

Rizzo pairs fresh mussels and al dente paccheri, a type of pasta that’s in the shape of a large tube. The pasta’s size and shape invite the diner to get a generous amount of the mussel cream broth absorbed into the paccheri, put the mussel inside the pasta, then drink a bit of the featured rosé, Elfo Rosato Negroamo

Think of a chicken galantina inside a piece of chicken breast with tempered with some burrata on top. This might have been better paired this with a white instead of the Elfo Rosso Negroamo, the full-bodied red version of the previous rosé, which I thought eclipsed the light flavors of the dish.

Rizzo thoughtfully inserts a green apple and mint granita between the mains. Refreshingly sour and really worked as a palate cleanser.

The baked cod bacalao was a fitting second main course. The Elfo Rosso Negroama makes a return, but this time, nicely complemented the tomato-white wine sauce which enveloped tender cod and still crispy potato gratin.

Dessert was lemon cream, quince chutney and citrus coulis with a Pasticciotto, something that reminded me of a broas polvoron. As is, this was a little sweet for my taste. But with the paired Petali prosecco that cut through the sweetness, it was perfect dessert course to end the evening.

Francesco’s Kitchen is located at 863 A. Mabini Street in San Juan City. The main dining area is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. The café is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.