Home-cooked goodness at Daniele’s Casa
Razel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - To every rule is an exception. Popular wisdom dictates that location, location, and location are three of the most important things in putting up a business. This, however, is not the case with Daniele’s Casa Mia, an Italian restaurant standing in the midst of headstone engravers and old buildings along Sucat Road.

Needless to say, it is very easy to miss. Even its owner, Daniele Bellini, is surprised by the restaurant’s success: “I don’t know how it happened,” he says.

Perhaps the magic is in the bloodline. Way back after the Second World War, Daniele’s grandparents started getting into the restaurant business by opening one in Pisa, Italy. His father then tried his hand at management, and later on ventured into photography and became a paparazzo. During the EDSA revolution, as part of his job, his father came to the Philippines where he met his second wife, a Filipina. In 1999 they opened Bellini’s Italian Restaurant in Quezon City, which over the years has grown to be “the” Italian restaurant that keeps diners happy in Cubao Expo.

Daniele wanted to extend the Bellini family food tradition to the South and build his own food haven. On Oct. 10, he, together with his fiancée, opened Daniele’s Casa Mia (simply known as Casa Mia to its loyal customers) in Parañaque City. While he wished to debut in the more commercial areas of the city, doing so would cost him a lot. To get the word out about the sumptuous food he had to offer, Daniele created flyers and drove around with a tarpaulin on the roof of his car.

Whatever limitations Daniele and the staff of Casa Mia face due to the restaurant’s location, they make up for with passion — for Italian cuisine and delighting customers.

The food is made the way it’s done in Italy. “But if the customers want something different, it’s not a problem,” says Daniele. In fact, he encourages guests to “ask for what’s not on the menu.”

You may begin the dining experience with focaccia, with a choice of either mushroom or gorgonzola (blue cheese) filling. The bread is satisfying in itself, so be sure to leave a lot of room for the main courses, like the bestsellers spaghetti al cartoccio (mixed seafood), pollo alla diavola (spicy chicken served with tomatoes, vegetables, and potatoes), and tagliatelle tartufo funghi porcini con prosciutto (pasta with truffles, mushrooms, and prosciutto ham).

There is, of course, the pizza, cooked in a wood-fired oven. The Four-Cheese is a hit among regulars, but Casa Mia can make over 75 kinds of pizza. “Some of the recipes are from Italy, some from my grandfather, some from me, and some we just invented,” Daniele says. Be adventurous and don’t be shy about asking for what you want; so long as they have the ingredients, it will be their pleasure to whip it up for you.

For dessert, a standout is the tiramisu gelato. To those who love the cake and are also fans of the soft, rich ice cream, this is a must-try. To those who are not fond of either, now’s the time to try and fall in love with it.

Consumers used to paying at least P500 for a nice meal are in for a pleasant surprise. The pizza and main courses cost around P200 to P280 and are generously portioned. They also have a sophisticated wine selection.

Daniele believes that service should be held to the same standards as the food. “Of course they come for the food. But even if the food is masarap (delicious), if the waiter merely drops the plate on the table, then you’ll lose customers,” he explains. “The staff’s salary does not come from the owner of the restaurant, but from the customers,” he continues, showing why he puts a premium on customer service.

To describe Casa Mia as homey is a mistake. It simply is home. Just like his father, Daniele is also a paparazzo and hanging on the walls are some of the most exciting and intriguing photos of famous people that he took in his career. In addition are murals and paintings depicting the Italian way of life, and notes from grateful visitors. But the most eye-catching (and most photographed piece in the place) is the miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa — a remembrance of Daniele’s hometown.

Daniele is there every day acting as cook, waiter, dishwasher, and gracious host, making sure everyone feels at home.

Discovering a hole-in-the-wall often triggers selfishness and a desire to keep the secret to yourself. But how can you not be compelled to let the world know that such a wonderful place exists?

* * *

Daniele’s Casa Mia is at 8351 Dr. A. Santos Ave. (Sucat Road), Barangay San Antonio, Parañaque City. Guests are welcome every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

For information, call 826-5163.

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