First published in the February 27, 2014 issue of Rogue
Aguirre St in BF Homes, Parañaque is most definitely one of our most prolific food destinations right now in Metro Manila. You can find anything your ravenous little tummy desires – ranging from sushi to third wave coffee to bulgogi to cupcakes and everything in between.
Gerlando Giulana, Owner of Gusto Trattoria
Situated in a relatively quiet end of the street, is Gusto Trattoria Siciliana. The owner, Gerlando Giulana is a card-carrying, Vespa riding Sicilian, so much so that it’s almost surreal to see him getting on his scooter below their neighbor Bonchon’s signage. While making the rounds with jobs upon landing here in our fair islands, he figured he would do what any blue blooded Italian guy would eventually go into anyway in this part of the world: food. Well, it was either that or furniture.
A chance meeting with another gentleman, who funnily enough was from the same town of Sicily as he was, was all the push and spark that he needed.
The ace up Gerlando’s sleeve came in the form of the consultant and Renaissance man Nino Quartana. Nino is a man of many talents – an artist, a painter and a cook. A chat with him has him talking wistfully about life in Palermo – slow, deliberate, and full of art and beauty and lots of eating.
In a way that a lot of Italian children get sucked down the rabbit hole of food – Nino learned of the ways of good eats from his beloved mama. She would cook all the time, everyday, and more often than not, little Nino was there running around, smelling the incredible aromas of the kitchen and soaking it all in. He swears by his mama’s cooking – it’s what inspired him to take to the kitchen.
Nino Quartana. Artist and Chef at Gusto Trattoria
Cooking is in his blood.
Though if you ask him, his passion is really art. That’s what he’s about. He paints, he makes things – he is very good with his hands. It is most obvious in the surroundings of Gusto: Quartana’s art is everywhere, including up above, where a lamp, bursting with colors, hangs from the center ceiling – giving a cool, bohemian feel to what is otherwise the Italian equivalent of of a carinderia. In essence that is what a trattoria is – a place in the neighborhood where you can come in often for some hot food, a glass of vino, or maybe an espresso – and shoot the breeze with your neighbors. And if you are to believe the Italian gents, it is also the best places to find good Italian food that won’t break the bank. We all win here.
So what’s the deal with food from this region? Well, just like many cuisines, the food they cook and eat depends on where they are situated. In this case, Sicily is surrounded by water, making it ultimately accessible. It is near North Africa, for example, as well as Greece. It’s the Greeks, with their advanced civilization and influence, that brought the wonders of olive oil, cheese and wine to Sicily. To them we have much to be thankful for!
The Mediterranean influence at Gusto immediately comes into play when you order their appetizer called panelle. Chickpea flour is cooked and flattened. Then they cut them into triangles, and fry them up. A bit of lemon, and you’re good to go. In Sicily, they’re known to put this concoction between bread as a nice little sandwich. Satisfying, economical, and delicious – it is the holy grail of food.
On the menu you’ll find all sorts of simple dishes made with great ingredients – like a light carpaccio made with 3 kinds of the freshest fish available in the market, topped with bits of pomelo: easily the most refreshing way to start your meal here. A pasta carretierra (the cart driver’s spaghetti!) – spaghetti with anchovy, garlic, and bread crumbs – is so simple yet it is the kind of pasta that you keep shoving into your mouth with noticing how much you’ve eaten. Quite dangerous for those watching their girlish figure. Large ravioli, stuffed with duck and sweet potato, will satisfy those looking for something substantial, as will pork loin in a thick gravy sauce. Wash them down with some great wines, some of which are from Sicily as well – a great touch!
This is not the kind of place to feel ultra posh – no sipping expensive vintages with your pinky up – but rather it is the kind of place to plant yourself and just be in the moment, enjoying the food of Nino, the hospitality of Gerlando, and to forget for a moment the stressful stuff that life throws your way, and at prices that won’t make you wince.
La dolce vita in the middle of BF Homes, Paranaque. Who would’ve thunk?