March 15, 2017

An Italian in the Valley

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It's been a while since I last saw the Specialist and the Alcoholics, and she pinged me a couple of weeks ago to try to schedule a dinner.  Apparently Chef Angelo Aglianó has come back to Hong Kong and recently opened up Locanda dell'Angelo, and as she had been a fan of Angelo's, she wanted to give it a try.  I had paid a few visits to Angelo during his years in Taipei - both at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon as well as his own Angelo Aglianó Restaurant.  I had been wondering as to his whereabouts after the latter restaurant closed when he wasn't getting enough traction in Taipei.  Now I know.

Da Jam had just visited the restaurant last week and published his review, so I had been warned about a particular dish to avoid.  I dutifully relayed his message to the Specialist, and picked out what I wanted to try before I stepped foot in the restaurant tonight.

The restaurant is in the same space as Dai Siu Yeh (大少爺), a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) I used to frequent during the years I lived in Happy Valley - since I lived on the very same block.  The layout is very different now... Instead of having the kitchen all the way in the back, it now takes up half of the narrow space at the front of the restaurant.  This means the dining space is one long and narrow strip, and can only accommodate tables of four that are tight on space near the entrance.  For a bigger party like ourselves, we ended up being put in Siberia - all the way at the back.  This kinda sucked for us, as it became a little tough to get the attention of the staff.  We were also right next to the air conditioning vents, so at times yeah, maybe it did feel like we were in Siberia...

I arrived a couple of minutes after the appointed time, and the rest of the gang were already chowing down on some starters... The carpaccio di manzo classico con rucola e Parmigiano, salsa leggera alla mostarda was fine.

Parma ham - I didn't see the menu when this was ordered.  When someone at the table wanted to find out how long this has been aged, we asked our senior-looking waiter.  We were told that this was Parma ham.  No shit, Sherlock...  We know this is fucking Parma ham since we ordered it.  He seemed genuinely confused by our question, but maybe the clientele of this place isn't as discerning/picky/snobbish as we are, and don't care about the aging of their cold cuts.

Carreˋ d'agnello cotto all'aglio e timo con spinacini saltati e polenta al Taleggio - I know that our senior waiter/manager had suggested that we split our dishes into two batches, but I still don't understand why he thought the lamb chop should be served in the first batch, before a bunch of primi piatti.  Well... at least it was tender and pretty decent, even though it had gotten a little cool by the time the Specialist got herself a glass of the red Burg... as she insisted before taking a bite of the lamb.

Linguine mantecate all'astice con la sua bisque profumata al dragoncello - the signature Boston lobster linguine (isn't Homarus americanus more commonly called Maine lobster?) is meant for two, and they split the dish into two serving bowls for us.  This wasn't bad, but I've been spoiled by our lobster supplier for the last year... and get the same type of lobster flown in on demand - wild and still alive.  These just don't compare...

Oh and this is where we get our WTF moment of the evening.  One of the bowls still had a lobster claw left untouched, and somehow our over-eager manager figured that we must not want it anymore.  We stared in stunned silence as he nonchalantly whisked it away.  It took a couple of minutes for us to get his attention again to tell him that we wanted it back.  Sigh...  If you're in service - even if you were working in a casual cafe - you NEVER, EVER take plates away from a customer without asking first.

Then came our second round of dishes, with three primi piatti:

Risotto mantecato con i ricci di Hokkaido, wasabi fresco e erba cipollina - this was very good, and the sea urchin was definitely creamy and sweet.  I guess I should have read the menu a little more carefully and tried to pick out the fresh wasabi (山葵)... because it didn't hit me at all.  Mrs. Birdie loved the dish - no surprise since there's sea urchin here - because the rice was more al dente.

Risotto "Acquerello" mantecato di gamberi rossi di Sicilia e carabineros con pomodorini pachino - there was never any chance of me passing up a dish with carabineros in it, and here Chef Angelo had diced up Sicilian gamberi rossi and cooked them in the rice, then served up a nicely grilled carabinero on top.  Very yum.  I could come and have two plates of this and nothing else.

Homemade tagliolini with morel mushrooms - morels are in season so we ordered this simple pasta.  Pretty nice when you've got delicious and fresh ingredients.

That wasn't nearly enough food for the 5 of us, so a third round of dishes was ordered...

Spaghetti "Mancini" all'aglio, olio, peperoni secchi e bottarga di branzino di lenza - I love me a simple "aglio olio" pasta, especially when you've got shaved bottarga from a line-caught seabass.  Yes, this was on the salty side, but that's what you get when you put bottarga in your dish... and I love it!

Tagliolini freschi all uovo con scampi, cipollotto e pomodoro confit - this was pretty good, too.  In addition to the soft and tender langoustine on the side, there was also some diced langoustine mixed into the pasta sauce.  Simple and delicious.

Cannoli di Ricotta, pistacchio e frutta candita - I saw a picture of this that Da Jam had posted, and decided that it's been too long since I last had a cannoli.  Pretty good, but I don't think the chocolate ice cream (or was it gelato?) on the side was necessary.  The candied citrus peel and cherries did a nice job of adding sweet and fragrant touches to this.

The petits fours came in the form of cookies - sweet ones with desiccated coconut on top on the left, and savory ones made with Parmesan and pistachio on the right.  In my (slightly) buzzed state, I declared that the Permesan cookie was the best thing I tasted all evening.  Yes, it was an exaggeration... but also shows that my palate could still be impressed by something seemingly so simple - yet so pure.

I did say in the first sentence up top that this was a dinner with the Alcoholics, right?  That means a casual evening - where the Specialist decided that we didn't need to consume 1 bottle per head, and telling me that "no need to be too serious" - turned into something slightly different... We ended up ordering 3 bottles from the restaurant's relatively reasonably-priced and well-thought-out wine list, plus opening two bottles that we brought along.

2010 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Perrières - nice acidity here.  Flinty with a little lemon on the nose.

1985 Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze - served without decanting.  Very clean, with sweet fruit and a little leather.  Nice and mature, very smooth.

I gave the Specialist a choice of 4 wines that I could bring from my limited stock in the office - knowing full well that she would scoff at 3 of them - and wasn't the least bit surprised when I was asked to bring the most expensive/best bottle...

2015 Guigal La Doriane - really ripe, flinty, with tropical banana and stone fruits.  Very rich and sweet on the palate - almost chewable.  14.9% alcohol, supposedly...

2000 Branaire-Ducru - smoky with leather notes.  Solid with no surprises.

1975 Massandra Rose Muscat - having tasted some of Massandra's dessert wines before, I knew that this was gonna be deathly sweet.  At 24.3% sugar, this has easily 50% more sugar than something like Yquem...  Pure honey and sugarcane, with a hint of savory notes like salty plum (話梅).

In glass.

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