Thursday, October 21, 2010

A time for everything - Otto e Mezzo

There's an obvious reason why October is always my favorite month of the year, and a lot not-so-obvious ones. It's about the only time of the year that one can truly appreciate the pleasantness of scrolling on the street in Hong Kong, feeling the gentle breeze and admiring the clear sky, and often the time when we have the fullest moon of the year. As we bid farewell to the gruesome hot and humid days, this is also the time when we see buckets after buckets of in-season delicacies start showing up in the supermarkets and grocery stores - oysters, hairy crabs, just to name a few.

Oh of course, it's also hard to overlook the fact that October is the white truffle season - from the numerous emails, newspaper articles, tweets from restaurants around town announcing the arrival of this so-called "diamond of the kitchen" from Alba. (a friend of mine received 8 of those in one day) This is not surprising since just the mere mentioning of the word truffles in any menu item almost gave you the automatic right to charge 50% more than normal.

With that in mind, when the time comes to decide where to go to celebrate an October birthday, it seems like a no-brainer that Umberto Bombana's Otto e Mezzo is the ideal choice, especially what we are talking about is MY birthday and Chef Bombana is known as the best in the trade as long as cooking truffle dishes are concerned. Perhaps the reason why we have waited for so long to try this restaurant is that we subconsciously think October is THE best time for him to leave a first impression.

We have little doubt about Mr Bombana's ability to deliver perfectly-executed fine meals consistently - after all our previous experiences with him at Toscana of the former Ritz-Carlton and The Drawing Room never disappoint. And we were delighted to see the grand maestro mingling with guests and supervising his staff as we walked inside the comfortable yet stylish dining room just as darkness begins to fall - dim but appropriately lighted space with minimalist table decorations, no flashy or unnecessary stuff that does nothing but shouted "snobs".

We were seated at a table by the window which gave us a good view of the entire restaurant. The place's located on the second floor so don't expect a jaw-dropping view but it nonetheless gave us a sense of tranquility, overlooking the quiet Chater Street in Central as the day's drawing to a close.

As we are surveying across the tables surrounding us, it's no surprise that almost every table opted for the treasured white truffle dishes this evening - a fanatic couple next to us almost refused to eat anything unless there were truffle flakes scattered on top of the dish and even went to the extreme of keep sniffing at every dishes like a ***, or drug addicts, if you might. I guess they were so self-indulged that they didn't realize the funny scene they were making of themselves by doing that. Not wanting to bore ourselves and our taste buds, we instead decided to supplement the tasting menu with just a couple white truffle dishes to share - to eat, not sniff, of course.

The dinner's absolutely gorgeous - quite possibly our best of the year so far, except a couple meals we had in South Africa. The scrambled "taiyouran" eggs and risotto - both served with white truffles in abundance and prepared by Mr Bombana by the table - were of course unforgettably divine, as we both sort of took for granted from this restaurant and from this man. With the dining room soon getting full as the evening progresses, the entire place's quickly filled with this enticing aroma of the "white diamond".

My main course of beef duo - tenderloin and short ribs served in red wine sauce - was predictable (like the one we had at The Drawing Room) yet still delicious no matter how many times we have tried before. I also liked the contrast of two vastly different cuts being prepared differently but served as one dish. But it came as a surprise to us that the common verdict of our favorite course belongs to the angelhair with cherry tomatoes and lobster - it's not at all eye-opening or creative but simply fresh and harmonious in flavors. Classic Italian dish at its best. Nothing in particular to write home about for other dishes such as foie gras with caramelized pears or the dessert of almond cake and chestnut icecream, but we nonetheless enjoyed them much.

Wine list is concise with good variety. Our Nebbiolo d'Alba showed floral yet earthy nose which matched well with the unique aroma of that of the truffles', was medium-bodied with predominantly black fruit flavor and wrapped in mellow and smooth tannin, a sign of graceful maturity. It's very approachable both in terms of its taste and price - especially when compared with its more famous neighbors.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven... I wonder if God's enjoying a dish with white truffles as He gave us the verse. I was sure reminded of this when I had mine. Despite the hefty dinner tab, I have a feeling that it won't be too long for us to return to this Michelin-star contender - hopefully before the end of this truffle season.

when? October 16 2010
where? 8½ Otto e Mezzo, Alexandra House, Central
menu highlights? Everything with white truffles
drinks? Luca Abrate "Ceisa" Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC 1999