Monday, April 17, 2017

On My Day Off: Pasta Bar Lunch

I heard great things about Pici, the new pasta bar at Wanchai's St. Francis' Yard, but I also heard it's next to impossible to get a table at this no-reservation restaurant opened by the same team behind Pirata (and TokyoLima, which I went recently also). So with my day off I decided to try my luck by going there early before they opened for lunch service at noon.

I wasn’t the first to arrive but the line was shorter than I expected, probably because it’s a random weekday afternoon. The restaurant took up the corner space at this quiet cul-de-sac in the "Star Street Precinct" lined with other interesting shops and small restaurants. Everyone had to wait in line outside as the staff was making preparation but right on the dot, they let us in. The restaurant took up two levels – I was seated on the ground floor right in front of the bar counter, which doubles as the kitchen area for pasta-making and for some of the cold dishes. And the place was filled soon enough as the office lunch crowd flocked over – so I was glad I arrived shortly before they did.

For lunch they only served a 3-course menu with a choice of appetizer, pasta and dessert. (at night you have the option to order a la carte but both covered more or less the same dishes anyway) The menu was traditional Italian without any specific regional focus and their selling point is obviously being all pasta was made fresh in-house. I started my meal with Vitello Tonnato, the traditional Piedmontese starter course with the creamy tuna sauce seasoned with a touch of anchovies covering the whole plate with thin slices of veal cold cut underneath, along with a few pieces of Sicilian capers on top. It tasted just like what it should be, and I love the smooth and creamy texture going well together. (though it may not be the most photogenic dish ever created)

Five choices of pasta dishes were available – each based on a different type of noodles, all freshly made by hand (strangely pici, their namesake pasta, was missing from the options though). I am fairly confident that the pasta would be great (and it is), but I was curious how they did with the other cooking, so I picked the classic duck ragu with pappardelle – one that might be easy to make but difficult to master. And they turned out in flying colors. The ragu was more creamy than one loaded with tomatoes, with the minced duck meat well-infused with the aromatic vegetable flavor and cooked to a smooth texture. And the thick pappardelle was in golden yellow color - from the egg yolks and semolina flour added to the dough base - and cooked with a good bouncy bite, taking up the sauce as I rolled everything up by fork. This is one top-notch pasta dish, quite possibly one of the best in town.

Even though the savory dishes were served in individual portion, many dishes were designed for sharing family-style, so I thought this place is perfect for small group meals so people can order more to share. Just two desserts were available on the menu, both of which were made in advance and kept refrigerated so they could be served fast. The tiramisu was in a glass tumbler. The base was the smooth mascarpone zabaglione with bits of ladyfinger soaked with espresso layered in and cocoa powder on top - just a straight forward version in the most traditional form except it's super-rich just the way I like it.

Guess one of the perks for lunching during my day off is I could freely drink even in the middle of the day. Here wine menu was short and casual and were available either by glass or by carafe. When the manager was opening a new wine bottle for one of the customers sitting next to me, I asked him to pour a glass to me also without even knowing what it was (but at least I knew how long the bottle has been open for). Turned out it's a Primitivo from Puglia. Rustic, full-bodied, austere and almost jammy red fruit in the backbone - not bad as an easy table wine.

A cup of properly-brewed espresso would have been lovely to end the meal with properly, but I couldn't justify myself paying that much for one coming from an Nespresso machine. But overall, I love everything here from the food to the decor and ambiance to the service, and can totally understand why it has become so popular since its opening a few weeks ago. I don't believe the waiting line is going to die down any time soon, so just have to be there a little early again next time.

When? March 23 2017
Where? Pici, 16 St. Francis' Yard, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Pappardelle with Duck Ragu
Drink? 2014 Masseria Pietrosa Primitivo di Manduria DOP

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