Two years strong, my girlfriends and I have made a little tradition of traveling to Boracay every February. It's always a mix of crazy fun and happy hearts with them, not to mention a mighty portion of it reserved for food tripping. Aria Cucina Italiana has been a staple food stop for me at the island whenever I'm in the mood for pizza or pasta. Some regulars call it their home away from home, with waitstaff knowing them already by first name basis, and instantly know what they want to order upon their visit to the restaurant.
This summer, I still have yet to hit Boracay, or any beach for that matter -- and this city heat can drive anyone to crave for a quick dip in the water. I doubt if I have the time nor the budget to fly to that island the next few weeks. However, a little piece of Boracay I am assured I can find in Manila, now that Aria showcases their signature flavors from the shores of Boracay to the metro's Bonifacio High Street Central.
Just from its facade, you will see how the Manila counterpart of the popular Boracay restaurant looks different. Everything is sleeker, a notch more upscale. Instead of customers in flipflops and sporting fresh tans, we have the city dwellers hanging out at Aria for a hearty lunch or an evening nightcap after a day's work. While the beach may be far, far beyond walking distance from Aria Manila's front doors, it's still the choice for a sweet, sumptuous escape for people who want to spoil their bellies with Italian favorites -- summertime or otherwise.
Gran Misto Aria
I was glad that a personal Aria favorite, Gran Misto Aria (P435), made it to the Manila menu (the Manila branch has an almost carbon copy of the Boracay menu, save for a handful of new dishes). This delicious appetizer may have skipped on the meat, but absolutely not on the flavor. Your tastebuds will enjoy the different layers of texture, tart and sweetness with the mix of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, grilled bell pepper salad, mashed eggplant, and fried zucchini.
Insalata di Cocomero, Rucola e Pinoli and Insalata Tartufa con Parma Ham
A great way to savor the flavors of summer is by ordering a refreshing cold salad, with crisp and fresh ingredients. A hefty salad can be found in their Insalata Tartufa con Parma Ham (P480) which has grilled eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes, parma ham and smoked scarmoza cheese. The truffle dressing makes everything extra lip-smacking. A favorite of mine is Aria's Insalata di Cocomero, Rucola e Pinoli (P480). I have named this the 'summer salad' with its chunks of crisp and sweet watermelon complementing the arugula, pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette.
Of course, an Italian restaurant has to showcase their pizza and pasta. At Aria you may choose from over a dozen pasta flavors, and you can also choose to have it prepared with penne, spaghetti, or fettuccine pasta. I've always been a tomato sauce kind of pasta lover (only exception is when I'm eating creamy truffle based sauces, of course), so I found their Marinara Pasta (P450) flavorful with just the right amount of tartness. You can have this seafood pasta with an olive oil based sauce, as well.
For pizzas, Aria bakes all of them in their wood fire oven to give them that distinct earthy flavor. The Rucola e Pinoli (P590) puts an interesting spin in the regular cheese based pizza by topping it with pine nuts and fresh arugula. Another pizza flavor I can recommend is the Capricciosa (P580), with generous toppings of cherry tomatoes, artichokes, farmers ham, mushroom, and olives. Not much pizza places offer artichoke as topping, and I must say it gives the pizza a unique texture.
Wood fire oven baked pizzas
I was able to try a couple of new dishes that weren't originally offered in Aria Boracay: the Risotto con Porcini, Mantecato al Mascarpone (P620) and the Gnocchi al Tre Formaggi (P420). I just had to try these two items with my friends because of the amount of cheese we imagined them to introduce to our bellies! The risotto definitely did not disappoint, showcasing the back to back cheesy goodness of mascarpone and aged Parmesan, and the porcini mushrooms gave it this distinct aroma and slightly nutty taste. The three cheese gnocci was simply heaven sent. The little warm and gummy potato dumplings were generously coated with gooey cheese sauce. Just thinking and writing about it now makes me all warm and gooey inside. Looks like I'll be visiting Aria soon to order this one again...
Risotto con Porcini, Mantecato al Mascarpone
Gnocchi al Tre Formaggi
To seal your feast at Aria, go the classic route and order Tiramisu (P280). This Italian dessert goes light and smooth on the palate with mascarpone cheese, cream and espresso, and with just a little garnishing of cacao and cinnamon.
After my last spoon of this dessert, I've come to conclude that yes, I will never tire of Italian cuisine like most of the people I know. And Boracay's finest Italian restaurant is a very welcome addition to the metro. Now I need not board a plane whenever I get that certain, specific Italian craving that I know only Aria Cucina Italiana can satiate.