February 2, 2018
I went to the Central district to try to get a seat at the Italian fine-dining restaurant, 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo-Bombana. I didn't see an online reservation option on their website, and since I don't know how to make phone calls here, I figured I should just head over there and ask for a seat for today or tomorrow. Luckily, the maitre d' hooked me up with a table near the front of house right by the bar, where the rest of the ruffians sit. Just kidding.
I believe this restaurant is the only Italian joint outside of Italy with Three Michelin Stars. So, that was all the convincing I needed to give it a try.
8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo-Bombana
Armed with my glass of 2012 Brunello Mastro Janni, the amuse bouche was served and was out of this world. It was a cup of potato puree with a layer of nasturtium beneath it and potato cubes served within. To top it all off, literally, was a nice amount of white truffles from Alba. Nasturtium's an edible flower that's peppery like arugula. Mixing that with the mostly-neutral, creamy, potato puree and the earthiness of the truffles, the dish was sinfully good. Regardless of not enjoying truffles as much as most people, I knew I was in for a special meal at that point. Four human tongues, all the way.
My last savory course was line-caught sea bass from Brittany served with a fennel and clam jus and dressed with grape tomatoes from Sicily and green and black olives from Liguria. The filet sat on a bed of slightly-sauteed spinach and a dollop of lumpy mashed potato.
I don't know what kind of bass this was, but judging from the cut served to me, it looked like it came from a pretty large fish. Anyhow, the jus was incredible, the perfect sauce to the fish with its sweetness and taste of the sea. The potato and spinach, two ingredients of which I haven't tasted much of while on this FEAST, were delish, too. I just think the fish itself was a tad underseasoned. The meat was nice and firm; it would've gotten lost in the potato and spinach if it were super tender.
Sea bass w/fennel-clam jus:
The first course I ordered was burrata ravioli; the server said it's one of the few items still remaining from the restaurant's original menu, and I can easily see why. While I think most people like their pasta al dente, ravioli seem to be one of the few that's just as enjoyable when the noodle is very soft and tender. And wow, the touch of black and green olives, grape tomatoes and fresh basil just made this dish the poster child of pastas. The burrata, which is a mixture of mozzarella and cream, was silky smooth, but I'm sure by design, the absolute star of this dish was the pasta itself. I wish I knew how it can be made so delicately, and I definitely noticed that the dish didn't need a crispy component. Just incredible, really. Another four Licks here.
While waiting for my second pasta course, black rye bread was brought out, warm and soft on the inside and perfectly crispy on the outside. And I switched to a nice Terlano Winkl Sauvignon Blanc in anticipation of the cavatelli and sea bass after that.
Soon afterwards, out came the cavatelli with seafood ragout (shrimp, lobster, white fish) and sea urchin. In stark contrast to the almost fragile ravioli, here were al dente, scoop-shaped bits of pasta into which you could really dig your fork or spoon. The seafood, and there was plenty of it, was the delicate component here.
It was nice having something pretty hearty at a fine-dining establishment. So often, everything on the menu is so delicate that you lose a little perspective for those few hours.
Another four human tongues here.
Cavatelli w/seafood ragout & sea urchin:
I was gonna pass on dessert just to save time and enable me to wander around some more, but then I saw the chocolate option on the menu and stayed put. The five presentations were: fondant (molten cake), brulee, gelato with crumble and brittle. If I'm not going to have fresh fruit for dessert, which I still think is the best dessert option you could ever have, I might as well have gone with something so decadent as Italian chocolate.
I always love a fondant, the hot chocolate lava oozing out once you break the outer cake. The brulee was light and delicious, and the crumble-crisp-gelato trio was terrific because of its textural contrast to the first two.
Grand Cru Chocolate in 5 Styles:
The going away present was some petit fours: two chocolate, peanut tarts and a hazelnut toffee. Lucky me that I had just enough room to put these wonderful little bites away. Ahem....
So, this was easily one of the best Italian restaurants I've ever tried, and I highly recommend trying out one of Bombana locations when you're in Shanghai, Macau or Hong Kong. It's pretty cool that Chef Bombana was there this afternoon chatting with staff by the bar. I got a quick snapshot of him in one of the photos below.
I knew it was going to be very difficult following up a near-perfect lunch at dinner tonight. I gave this Vietnamese and Thai joint in the mall downstairs a try because when I passed by it yesterday, I saw at least a few things I wanted to try on the menu.
The place was pretty good.
Nahm: Vietnamese & Thai
I started out my meal with a mango juice. I've noticed that these juices don't so much quench thirst as they do satisfy a craving. Anyhow, my first dish was a serving of crispy spring rolls with prawn, radish, basil and lime. There was a good amount of ground shrimp in these, and the radish, basil and lime served to wake up things nicely, along with some chili oil. I just found these too greasy for my liking. I think that's often a sign of not using new oil or not having the oil hot enough for a quick fry.
Crispy prawn spring rolls:
This was definitely the highlight of my meal. The crab fried rice was dressed with spring onion and crispy garlic, and it tasted dynamite. Gosh, I don't know why crab fried rice is so rare over in the US. Anyhow, munching on this was a pleasure, it wasn't greasy at all, and the aroma of onion and garlic made my mouth water when the dish was placed in front of me.
Crab fried rice w/onion & ginger:
Unfortunately, I didn't finish my meal with a bang. These ribs that came out last were a little too sweet for my tastes. Also, they came out only warm, and the meat certainly didn't fall off the bone. I think the sweet sauce reminded me of escabeche, which is used in Spanish and Filipino cuisine, almost always for whole fish. Well, hey, at least it was an easy commute home after the meal
Baby back ribs in tamarind chili: