Inconspicuously located at a gas station, the restaurant Va Bene Pasta Deli and its chef, Massimo Veronesi, offer diners an unpretentious authentic experience that has to be sought out. "We did not want to open just another fine dining Italian restaurant because too many were around," said the chef. "We wanted to offer our guests something unique where we could instill what we believe authentic Italian food should be."
Indeed finding the restaurant alone takes a slightly adventurous spirit, braving a major highway in the hope to spot it among the establishments that line the road. On the second floor of Petron, however, the small space usually hosts a line of guests who wait to be seated. Families, businessmen, and couples on a date make up the patronage following the reputation of the restaurant's excellent food.
A native of Verona, Italy, the chef drives his experience at Va Bene. "I believe that the key is to respect the produce, to use fresh and seasonal ingredients, and to never overpower the dish," he says, recalling his earliest culinary learning as the source of this philosophy. Taking an apprenticeship tour throughout numerous kitchens in the country, the chef used to work up to 14 hours a day on a modest salary under the tutelage of Michelin-star restaurants. He promptly describes this as "the best years of my life."
Using the skill of the chef's craft, Va Bene is known for handmade pasta. "Our fresh pastas are the stars of the show," he points out. "We could say that we are the first Italian restaurant [in Manila] to offer this kind of concept. No boxed pastas here for sure!" That's what people come back for, and a number of delicious signature dishes from the chef.
Massimo's black ink tagliolini fresh pasta with marinara sauce is one such memorable plate. Integrating the Filipinos' love for seafood, he created his own version of the dish with stark Italian flavours. The pan-roasted foie gras with Portobello ravioli and onion marmalade, too, just started as a weekly special. Guests demanded it time and again, prodding the chef to make it a regular a la carte offering. Infusing his passion for fresh ingredients, the chef also serves organic eggs tagliolini with Portobello mushrooms, white wine cream sauce, and truffle oil with only the best items from the market.
The young chef has brought to Manila over 20 years of experience at some of the best restaurants and hotels all over the world. His Filipina wife, Carolyn, and an exemplary stint at The Peninsula Manila as chef du cuisine of Mi Piace restaurant led to the opening of Va Bene Pasta Deli in 2010. Since then, the restaurant has won fame for its dining experience.
"We are grateful and humbled with these recognitions," says the chef. "It drives us to work harder to improve our business and satisfy more all of our guests with better service and newer dishes on our menu." In the coming month, Va Bene offers new wines to accompany its selection. Italian vintages such as the Dolcetto D'Alba 2011 stand alongside Australian wines like the Katherine Hills Chardonnay. For October, the restaurant prepares to launch a new menu altogether, even hinting at opening another location within the city next year.
Guests can also look forward to dining at Va Bene from August 16 - 24 because the restaurant has joined Philippine Tatler's Charity Week. For the event, Va Bene Pasta Deli will donate a portion of its sales to Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Inc. "We have been blessed the past years with the success of Va Bene Pasta Deli," says the chef, "and being part of Charity Week helps us to give back or share some of the blessings we have received to the community. We believe in helping those who are in need, and we hope that through our small contribution, we could make a difference in helping others have a better future." Indeed, the participation of Va Bene and its diners will help fund the beneficiary's Early Intervention Seminar, which educates new parents of babies with Down syndrome about the condition, connecting them to a support system that will help their children become productive members of society.
Va Bene is one such city restaurant where the Italian culture shares an affinity with the Filipino. The more there is on the table and the better it tastes, the heartier the conversation and time spent. For the passion of food, Va Bene is a place to build on relationships and satisfy the appetite for the things that matter in life.
Photos courtesy of Va Bene Pasta Deli | Cover photo by Jar Concengco