Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tosca's Wine Lunch

I have always wanted to check out the wine lunch series at Tosca at The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, where every month a new theme was introduced for their weekend menu with specific wine and food pairings, whether that be based on a specific region, or grape varietal or sometimes even production method (they did one with biodynamic wines before)

We finally managed to visit a couple weeks ago when the menu theme happened to be Piedmont, a famous wine region in Northern Italy which still sat fondly in our minds, as we visited the area at around the same time last year for some wonderful food and wines.

It's always a bonus coming to the restaurant on a sunny day with the drop-dead gorgeous skyline view from atop at Level 103 above the ground and better yet we were seated at a long table at the private section on one side of the dining area, with windows just right behind us, and unobstructed view of the open kitchen not far away.

The 4-course menu of the afternoon was based on some of the most classical dishes in Piedmontese cuisine, specially crafted by Chef Pino's kitchen team and available only as the set menu for a limited time. Generally speaking, Piedmontese cuisine was rustic in style, leaning towards meat and rich cooking using regional ingredients and the dishes today followed the same traits of down-to-earth cooking, given a fancy presentation.

We began our meal with Vitello Tonnato, a classic cold dish of veal with tuna sauce commonly served across all seasons as antipasti in Piedmont. At first this ingredient combination may sound a bit peculiar to some but as we had a few versions of those last year, we started to appreciate more. The veal was cooked to medium done-ness with a slight hint of pinkness in the center, then sliced extra thin like a carpaccio. The meat was delicious with good flavors and texture with only minimal seasonings. The sliced meat was served on top of thick tuna sauce with capers, then dotted with tomato and cream sauces. The tuna reminds me of something you would put in a tuna-melt sandwich but it's moist and smooth with rich flavors of capers and olive oil, adding some volume to the dish overall.

Our second course of "Angolotti del plin" is one of the most common pasta dishes in the region - similar to ravioli but smaller in size and traditionally made by hands with assorted meat filling. Here we were served a tasting portion and dressed simply with grated parmesan cheese, sage and a touch of melted butter. This being the only time I have tried the dish outside of Piedmont, I would say it's quite decent with all things considered. I personally could live with a bigger portion though.

Similar to Chianina, the cattle breed famous in the Tuscan region as being used in the signature Steak Florentine, Piedmont region boasts their own indigenous breed called Fassona, and the meat was used in numerous regional dishes. This afternoon, in addition to the Vitello Tonnato which used the Fassona veal as the main ingredient, our main course also featured the same breed, using the tenderloin cut from a more mature cattle. Most traditional method called for slow-braising with barolo wine for the tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture of the Fassona beef tenderloin, Chef Pino opted for a more contemporary method with beef marinated in barolo wine before then seared to give the piece of meat a tasty crust and with medium-rare center. The meat was lean and tender with rich juicy, gamey flavor, matching well with the decadent wine-jus reduction.

The dessert paid tribute to the classic regional ingredients too, with a gianduia (hazelnut-chocolate better known as the same ingredients used in making Nutella) cake topped with chestnut cream and a cute mini bosc pear poached in red wine. Every component was well-prepared - I especially loved the pear with wine well-infused yet retaining its form and texture.

All the wines paired with our dishes this afternoon were supplied by a single winery, the historical Marchesi di Barolo situated right in the village of Barolo, a town best known for its namesake red wine of course. In fact we made a stop at the property one morning during our trip and met with the owners so the wine selection this afternoon brought up good memories to us in particular. We began the meal with a Roero Arneis white wine, followed by a pair of reds of the same vintage - the 2010 Barbaresco and Barolo. Both wines came from a single vineyard in their respective region owned by the winery, made using grapes of the same varietal (Nebbiolo) and went through essentially similar production method once the grapes were harvested. But both showed somewhat different characters, which became evident as we tasted them side by side. At first I was more taken by the Barbaresco's lively floral aroma that jumped out of the glass with young, red-fruit character on the palate, but with time to breathe and settle, I started to appreciate the Barolo more and more, with full body and good structure. The wine still leaned towards red fruit, licorice or dark cherry but with more complexity of leather and tar, finished with rounded tannin. The wine was delicious and certainly worked well with the rich beef main course. 

Towards the end of the meal, Leo the restaurant sommelier brought over a few bottles of not-so-common wines, including the sweet Brachetto d'Acqui, the aromatic Grappa and Barolo Chinato, some of which have to be special-ordered from the winery direct and only available at the restaurant. They may not as famous as the 2Bs - the Barolo and Barbaresco - but this was a great opportunity to explore the other wonderful wines produced in the region and to learn more about them. I particularly found the Barolo Chinato - an aromatic wine based on Barolo with added herbs and spices during aging - soothing and comfortable to drink as an easy digestivo, and matched well with our chocolate dessert too. 

It was a great 4 hours spent with lovely food and wine on the table, wonderful view through the window and great conversation across the seats. While obviously it made no sense comparing with the time we wined and dined in situ with the picturesque Piedmont mountains in sight and local ingredients readily available, we figured this is as close as it can be without having to travel thousands of miles. Kudos to Pino's great cooking for the special menu and Leo's right-on-the-money wine selection.

More pictures on my Flickr album:

When? October 24 2015
Where? Tosca, The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, International Commerce Centre, West Kowloon, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Piedmont style beef loin with castelmagno polenta and baked cauliflower
2013 Marchesi di Barolo Roero Arneis
2010 Marchesi di Barolo Barbaresco DOCG "Serraqrilli"
2010 Marchesi di Barolo Barolo DOCG "Cannubi"
2013 Marchesi di Barolo Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG "Gatie"
Marchesi di Barolo Grappa di Barolo
Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Chinato


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