Thursday, February 20, 2014

A good take - CIAK in the Kitchen

Last Monday evening after attending our friend's new store opening in Central, we walked down the steep Wyndham Street thinking where we should go for a quick bite nearby. I then suddenly remembered this new restaurant in Landmark that we have yet tried, and I was surprised they actually got a table available even at last minute...

The restaurant, called CIAK, is the latest brainchild of Chef Umberto Bombana of the Michelin 3-starred Otto e Mezzo just nearby. Chef Bombana has been flexing his muscle lately with the opening of three new restaurants in quick succession (the other ones being the Otto e Mezzo in Shanghai and Opera Bombana in Beijing) and I am interested to see how that pan out in the long run with the attention, resources and effort now being split across different outlets miles apart.

If you think Otto e Mezzo is somewhere you are saving for special occasions (after all, Michelin Guide defined their three stars rating as somewhere "worth a special journey"), CIAK, on the other hand, is anything but. The decor is reminiscent of a typical family-style trattoria - even like a Spaghetti House (or Olive Garden for you Americans) as some might say - with various stations in open setup preparing pasta, grilled items, pizzas and pastries, then in the open, amply-lit dining area were wooden tables and chairs, then cabinets on the side stuffed with dried food and wines on the shelves, creating a lively, energetic atmosphere overall.

The restaurant settings might be casual and easy-going, but they do mean serious business when it came to menu choices and food quality. They offered a wide variety of items - most of which were what you would expect from an Italian restaurant - hot and cold antipasti, soup and salad, pizza, pasta, grilled items, and of course, dessert. Wine list obviously geared towards various regions in Italy with a good price range to choose from, and mark-up was reasonable. There were also a decent choices available by glass which suited us just well.

It's a late casual dinner for us so we didn't do the "whole nine yard" trying to do everything on one night. We started with a platter of Italian cold cuts to be shared. Came with good portion which could easily feed 4 as a light appetizer, with five different kinds of cured meat served with baked flatbread on the side. I ordered a young and lively Rosso di Montalcino by glass from one of my favorite wineries in the area to go with it and thoroughly enjoyed the combination.

There's no pasta dish simpler (and more classic) than a spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino but this is one of the best I have ever tried. The spaghetti was perfectly cooked with a few anchovies and flakes of fried garlic tossed on top. The right amount of sauce gave it a balanced and rich flavor overall. The dish was made with dried, ready made pasta - I would be interested to try out some of their house-made ones next time.

Our table has an unobstructed view of the grilling station so I was curious and ordered a grilled beef tenderloin as my main course. While this is not at the same level of the fabulous steak at Otto e Mezzo, it's tender, cooked to the right done-ness and with decent meaty taste. But those who ordered this and expected a big piece of steak might be slightly dissappointed - it's probably a little too petite for some.

Most people think of Chef Bombana when they think of truffles, and here they do serve a number of dishes garnished by the sought-after "black diamond". I wasn't going to indulge myself on an easy Monday evening but I couldn't resist to ask for a serving of mashed potatoes with black truffles as my side dish. Came with more than decent portion of freshly sliced truffles with enticing fragrance and while the mash was not as creamy as the one at Robuchon's, I could actually taste potato from this one.

It's a pity that we ran out of room (and time) for dessert but no doubt we will come back and make that up in the not too distant future, hopefully.

Many restaurateurs and celebrity chefs have attempted to go mainstream and capture a wider audience by opening up more casual outlets with mixed success, but CIAK did give me good first impression and reason to be optimistic. It's a bold attempt (for opening a price-friendly restaurant in such prime location) but I hope he could pull this project off. CIAK is just the type of trattoria that can satisfy my frequent craving for casual, no-nonsense Italian food, something this town's been lacking for a long time.

When? February 17 2014
Where? CIAK in the Kitchen, 3rd Floor, Landmark Atrium, Central
Menu Highlights? Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino
Drink? Casanova di Neri Rosso di Montalcino 2011

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