Ah those were the days. My childhood was definitely highlighted by geeky insertions, but of all the offices that my dad held, one comes to mind — the one in Makati near AIM, for the sole reason that he’d walk me to Don Bosco to meet the friars, not to go to confession, but to indulge in perhaps the best ice cream (later on I found out it was called gelato) I’ve ever had in their little restaurant, Amici.
Amici because a staple meeting place for my dad’s barkada. It served as a waypoint to such an extent that if he was “lost,” he was most probably found in Amici. And there was good reason for this — my dad knew the friars including Fr. Colombo himself, and the staff of cooks and waiters who have been there for ages. They’d always send in extra heaps of pasta for my dad’s friends, and would overflow my little paper cup with gelato — so much ice cream that tested the physics of mass and density if I had only asked. His group composed mostly of high school friends and members of the Defensores Fidei foundation that teaches Catholic apologetics, of maybe some of you are familiar. Nonetheless, Amici was forever forged in my childhood as the most affordable best-kept-secret since the 80’s.
It was only recently — in industry terms that Amici grew in popularity. You see, since it was run by the friars, it was what you could barely call a business. I assume they were at least breaking even, but the store hours were odd as they only opened for lunch, closed for “siesta” and then opened again for about another hour in the afternoon before closing right before dinner.
When I started working, Amici had grown into a full restaurant, serving both Filipino and Italian dishes and thank heavens, had more decent store hours like any regular restaurant. I saw Fr. Colombo less, but one time after accidentally parking the car in a wrong spot, my post-dinner walk back was affronted by a huge pice of paper stuck on my wiper saying “Next time look at the sign or else I’ll punch out your tires!!” Let’s just say that if anyone of you met Fr. Colombo, well … there. You’d know.
I rarely go up north, past Makati. So one time, when I had to meet the fine people behind Virtuoso to discuss the blog awards and to pick up the Sony Marine Pack for review, they took me to a relatively new restaurant called Cara Mia. I didn’t know it was part of the Amici group up until I saw the menu offering and the familiar gelateria bar which served, the classic items they had (i.e. Ferrero gelato!) plus cakes, which previously were not available.
I had heard of the Amici franchise being bought and scaled up into a real chain of restaurants. I guess that’s how things really are these days, and the “oldies” like me were of course a bit skeptical on the quality of the “authentic” Italian feel. No longer could Fr. Colombo sprinkle an excess amount of bacon and Italian ham on top of your pizza if he liked you. No more extra scoops. But business is business and what they’ve done to Amici, I must honestly say, is not bad, not bad at all.
Sure the food tastes slightly different. And yes the prices are a bit higher, but there are a few classic elements that were retained (i.e. how soft drinks were sold by the liter to share, big tables since they assume you’re never dining alone, no WiFi to “inspire conversation”). In essence it is still the same restaurant.
“Cara Mia” is apparently the gelateria line, but they serve the same food despite the different name, so I really don’t know what the difference is. Maybe it’s for tax purposes. Heh.
Parting with the old Amici is bittersweet. I mean, the name is still there. The food may taste a little different (it’s still good, by the way), but you can no longer look back into the kitchen window to see a familiar fat friar mixing a big vat of pasta sauce, adding that extra fistful of Italian ham when he knows you’ve arrived.