BY FIEL ESTRELLA
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JL JAVIER
We all have memories from our travels of the best dish we’ve ever had in a foreign city: that first bite, the feeling of wanting to take it with you always and suddenly missing it in the strangest of moments, the pleasant surprise of a humble, but humbling, experience on a plate.
La Spezia, a quaint little restaurant tucked away on one of the relatively less busy streets along Tomas Morato Avenue, builds upon this culinary promise and delivers. Named for a port city in Northern Italy (spezia being Italian for “spice”), La Spezia was founded by college friends Sean Yuquimpo and Aaron Shiu. The partners had met at Enderun Colleges—Yuquimpo was a hospitality management student and Shiu was taking culinary arts—and both happened to relocate to Europe after graduation, to take master’s classes (Yuquimpo) and to intern in France (Shiu). Once they were back in Manila, following a brief whisky venture, they began discussing plans to open a restaurant.
From top: The exterior of La Spezia, an unassuming but remarkable Italian eatery in Quezon City; co-proprietors Aaron Shiu (left) and Sean Yuquimpo
According to Shiu, they thought back to the best dishes they had while they were in Europe. “We both agreed that out of all the countries we went, sa Italy talaga ‘yung the best food we had,” he says. It was quite an easy conclusion to come to, he adds. “It’s very simple; maybe four, five ingredients in a dish, then if executed perfectly, it’s going to be a very, very good dish.”
La Spezia’s approach to its menu, then, is minimalist: simple flavors lead to good food, which isn’t always the case when you complicate things. Surrounded by unassuming gated residences instead of the trendy establishments the Tomas Morato area is best known for, the restaurant tends to hold shifts with a small but capable staff of five. “What we’re trying to do is, we want our place to be very chill, very homey, good for families,” says Shiu.
Clockwise from top: The restaurant’s take on pasta al tartufo; the pollo impanato; and burrata served alongside grilled corn, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
They decided on a limited menu of 15 items that would be changed every six months, to evoke a palate that’s fresh and seasonal. Fresh ingredients, Shiu reveals, are the simple secret to achieving authentic and unforgettable Italian food. Take the burrata (whole buffalo mozzarella served with grilled corn, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar), or the pollo impanato (pieces of sous vide chicken breast on a bed of couscous tossed with summer vegetables, basil, and olive oil)—the flavor profiles are light, but filling and unmistakable.
The zeppole, miniature doughnut balls with strawberry coulis, mascarpone, and mint
The pasta al tartufo, with its truffle cream sauce that has the added richness of bechamel, almonds, and olive oil, is a bold take on a classic that’s sure to please a crowd. And for dessert, try some zeppole—lemon-scented little doughnut balls with warm strawberry coulis, mascarpone, and a hint of mint. Light and airy, as well, with a burst of flavor that’ll have you going for seconds, and possibly thirds.
In the beginning, when La Spezia was still a far-off idea, Yuquimpo hadn’t been so enthusiastic. Restaurants are, after all, complicated, and you need to take it day by day. Asked when his inhibitions were replaced with certainty, he reveals he’s still not all that sure, even now. But every day at La Spezia is proving to be worth it—for the duo, and for both loyal old-timers and unsuspecting newcomers who have no idea that their new favorite meal has been right around the corner all along.
La Spezia is located on 90 Scout Dr. Lazcano Street, Diliman, Quezon City; for more information or for reservations, call 960-6903.