Sunday, July 17, 2016

Middle-of-the-pack Italian

We came to check out this new Italian restaurant called Involtini in Causeway Bay for our regular BYO gathering on a Friday evening. Naturally we decided to pop open a few Italian bottles to go with our meal.

The restaurant is located at the fringe of the buzzing Causeway Bay in a new commercial building. It’s a bit hard to find and a bit of a hassle to get to, thanks to the slow elevator. The restaurant was compact, with bar and open kitchen on one side, then scores of dining tables on the other. I thought it’s comfortable, but definitely not the place you want serious business conversations or an intimate date to pop the question or something.

I was late for the dinner, being tied up at last-minute work stuff, so when my friends told me that they have decided to go for the tasting menu, I didn’t even bother to flip their a la carte menu. The tasting menu offers a good variety of dishes, consisting of an antipasto platter, a pasta, main course then dessert. Only the main courses offer a choice of two different options – fair enough given the small kitchen, plus both choices sound equally enticing to me.

Knowing Chef Jack, one of the co-owners and head chef of the restaurant, worked previously under Bombana at his restaurants specializing in pasta-making, we decided to order an additional pasta dish, so for us it became a 5-course dinner. We started with a platter of four bite-sized antipasti dishes. A bit simple (my friend quipped it’s like those appetizers served at business class on the plane), but nonetheless there’s nothing  wrong with any of them. I especially liked the scallop with black garlic sauce, which was perfectly cooked.

The second course was our first pasta dish – the one on the original tasting menu – which was the sea urchin tagliolini with scallop sauce. The pasta was spot-on with deep yellow, eggy color and the right bouncy texture, taking on well with the sauce with intense flavor. I personally could live with more sea urchins on top, but I think I was just a bit greedy. Barring those restaurants on the top, it will be hard to find another trattoria in the neighborhood with a better pasta dish.

At the restaurant manager’s recommendation, we ordered two additional servings of the off-menu Australian black truffle pasta to share among the five of us. The dish arrived with much fanfare with the pieces of seasonal winter truffles showcased in a glass dome with special lighting, and Chef Jack coming by our table to shave the truffles on our pasta. They came in extra generous portion (considered we were sharing) and again, the pasta was perfectly prepared with a simple butter sauce mixed with bits of truffles.

With everyone bringing red wines tonight, I went for the beef as my main course, as did most at the table. It was done two-way, with short ribs slow-braised and served with a pan-fried porcini mushroom risotto, and Australian wagyu sirloin pan-seared to medium rare and served with stewed baby vegetables, and underneath, a splash of wine reduction sauce done “Massimo” style. Well, if done correctly, the splashing of the sauce on a white porcelain plate could make the dish look extra artistic and unique, but there’s also the risk of it looking a bit messy, as in this case. But anyway, nothing wrong with the taste itself, and I thought it’s decent, and a good choice of dish to serve in such a small restaurant for minimal preparation and maximum result.

The restaurant did offer us partial waiver on the corkage – for every bottle we ordered from their wine list we can open one of our own for free, but at the end we didn’t see anything interesting in the wine list and decided it’s just better we paid the corkage charge instead. We had a few different bottles to share and they were very accommodative, so the charge was fair. Not knowing what everyone’s bringing beforehand, we ended up having a pair of Valpolicella and a pair of Tuscan wines for a tasting comparison. My favorite of the night was the Quintarelli Valpolicella, full-bodied with good intensity, ripe black fruits and a good grip of smooth tannins. It opened up just perfectly 30 minutes after being poured into a decanter.

Dessert was a simple scoop of gelato (with 4 different flavors to choose) – it probably wasn’t made in-house but I wouldn’t hold that against them. I thought overall it’s of pretty good value for what we have paid. Despite the full house on a Friday evening, the service was very good. We all had a fabulous time for an easy meal at this middle-of-the-pack Italian restaurant. Not top of the town or something, but definitely of a pleasant surprise and somewhere I don’t mind going back from time to time.

When? July 8 2016
Where? Involtini, Level 11, The L Square, 459-461 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Tagliolini with Fresh Australian Black Truffles
2002 Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore
2005 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore
2010 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino
2012 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico

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