Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly graces a regal high-backed leather chair worth half a million pesos. That same stunning countenance is emblazoned on a handbag gracing the walls of a display shelf, along with other gorgeously playful totes, including one with Marilyn Monroe’s ecstatic visage from The Seven Year Itch. Artfully decorated tables and chairs adorned with the likenesses of James Dean and Humphrey Bogart share space with scenic views of Monte Carlo and European nightlife, while a metal pole sports bottles of Italian reds and whites in a spiral-like a DNA helix, all illuminated by Murano chandeliers in pink and yellow.
A treasure trove of Italian wines
At the back, hidden from view, is a glass wine cellar, complete with a traditional Italian wine press and corking apparatus on display. In this carefully controlled environment at 84% humidity and 18 degrees Celsius, retired Italian diplomat Adriano Stefanutti, co-owner of iTrulli Fashion, Food & Wine, shows me his treasure trove.
“This is the largest selection of Italian wines in Manila,” he notes with pride. “What you see here are our premium and super premium wines. We offer forty exclusive labels, as well as an additional forty.”
Stefanutti shows me some of his collector’s items—a Barolo from 1941, a Brunello from 1966, and a Chianti from 1978. “Not too many people realize that although France is known for their wines, they’re able to do this out of 25 varieties of grapes. In Italy, we have 800 grown and cultivated varieties, of which over 400 are registered.”
He then enters a discourse about the importance of environment in winemaking. “I often use this analogy to explain to my students about how it is with winemaking. The Filipino mango is famous, especially the one that comes from Guimaras. Why is it considered the best among all other mangoes? It’s the terroir and the microclimate of Guimaras that take everything in consideration—the humidity, the sun exposure, the rainfall. Everything is involved in making that mango special. The same is true for wine.”
A lifestyle store cum restaurant
Outside, Stefanutti’s business partner, Atty. Mary Gale Atienza, explains how this elegant hodgepodge of jaw-dropping, bleeding-edge cool décor came to be.
“We established our company for the wholesale importation and distribution of Italian products: wine, coffee, a deli, and handmade furniture,” she begins. “We started by distributing wines to hotels and restaurants. Eventually, we acquired the spot where we are now, which is a design plaza. All around us are furniture places.
“At first, we were going to use the area for showcasing our furniture but the owner of the plaza told us that the space was meant for a restaurant. We told him we were okay with that and we would come up with a concept.
“iTrulli Fashion, Food & Wine became the showroom for all our products. It’s essentially a lifestyle store that is partly a restaurant.”
Never wanting to do anything half-baked, Atienza and Stefanutti turned that ‘partly a restaurant’ aspect of their business into a little slice of Mediterranean heaven. Not to mention the luxury items up for sale in iTrulli.
“People ask us how we can have so few tables and chairs inside the restaurant,” says Stefanutti. Atienza is quick to explain: “But all we need to do is sell one chair and the rent would be paid for the whole month. With one bag, that’s how many plates of spaghetti that we’ll sell?”
The restaurant and their variety of lifestyle products offered work rather symbiotically. “We host couples about to get married for wine tastings so they can pick what they want for their wedding,” Atienza continues in detail. “They have a venue where they can experience the tasting in comfort, and they get to buy a few other things in the process.”
As authentic as they come
“The food is Mediterranean with Italian highlights,” describes Stefanutti. “All the ingredients are as authentic as they come. We’re very particular about the cheese we use for the platters and the flatbreads.”
His partner elaborates on this. “We want the whole dining experience to be as authentic as possible. We also do wine pairings. We ask what you’d like to order and we’ll suggest the right wines that go well with what you’re eating. Pairing the food and wine is important—it really makes the experience so much more exciting.”
No idle boast
That is no idle boast where the food and wine at iTrulli are concerned. We start off with Flatbread with Speck (Italian regional smoked ham), mozzarella, anchovies, tomato and basil. The soft, fluffy crust makes tearing into the rest of the cheese and meat on top sheer happiness.
The Mixed Platter of Cold Cuts and Cheeses follows, a magnificent mélange of prosciutto San Daniele, Montasio cheese, Pecorino cheese, Latteria cheese, and Blue Ramandolo cheese served with nuts, dried apricots, and pomegranate. Each cheese is pleasurably flavorful, especially the Ramandolo, which is particularly exquisite and intriguing as it’s dipped in red wine and acquires a grape-flavored coating that interacts delightfully with the mold and brings a lot of character to the cheese.
All that guanciale
Two pasta dishes come shortly afterwards, both using the same kind of unique pasta. The Bucatini alla Carbonara has thick bucatini pasta served with parmigiano cheese, guanciale (pig’s cheeks), egg and black pepper. For contrast, we also get to try Bucatini alla Amatriciana—pomodoro (Italian tomato), guanciale, pomodoro sauce, and chili flakes. Both have a generous helping of guanciale, which is so juicy and tasty that you can’t believe all that scrumptiousness comes from cubes of meat barely the size of a pinky fingernail.
Not quite Max’s
For carnivores, the Short Ribs with Polenta is quite lovely—a huge grass-fed beef short rib slow-cooked in red wine and served with velvety polenta. But then, the standout bares a passing resemblance to a local mainstay. The Confit de Volailles, however, is an amazing surprise. The dish often gets compared to Max’s Fried Chicken, at least in the beginning. iTrulli’s chef’s version of marinated chicken leg quarter, slow cooked in its own fat with mashed potato, onion, cauliflower, carrot, green beans, and alfalfa sprouts drizzled in balsamic vinegar, shines with such delight that you’ll kick yourself for having made the comparison, in the first place.
Lest you think the feast is over, the Homemade Apple Tarts baked in angel’s-breath-fine puff pastry and served with silky-smooth vanilla gelato prove you wrong, even as you struggle for room to take just one more bite. Yet, belly room magically appears when I sample the Chocolate Duet. The rich white chocolate panna cotta over dark chocolate mousse with orange whipped cream is so good you’d swear it was on a government watchlist.
Frutto dela Vite – iTrulli Fashion, Food & Wine goes to great lengths to offer never-before-seen-or-tasted Italian labels in the Philippines and these wines are truly a joy to behold for practically a song.
Foss Marai Strada di Guia 109 Brut, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG – This crisp, dry sparkling white is a great starter and its citrusy finish goes well with any cheese.
Merlot Sangiovese Rubicone Egot IGT Cevico – A good starting red, this easy-to-enjoy blend also works well with cheese, pasta, and meat such as prosciutto and the toothsome guanciale.
Canicatti CUA Nero D’ Avola Aquilae Sicilia – An effortless favorite, this delightful red has hints of strawberry licorice candy in its finish.
Quota 29 Primitivo IGP Salento 2012 – Slightly more tannic than the others, this red works well with beef and chicken—the fattier, the better.
CalaMuri Primitivo IGP Salento 2013 – Truly saving the best for last, this wickedly wanton wine starts and ends devilishly good, also with a Japanese strawberry aroma and taste, but with a headier kick than the rest. Creamy desserts (and apparently Filipino barbecue, says Atienza) go well with this lovely bottle of sunshine.