February 14, 2018

Valentine's preview

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I received an invitation to join a "media lunch" scheduled for today, St. Valentine's Day.  Chef Umberto Bombana opened a so-called "private kitchen" last year, and Octavium was so private that they didn't even publish their phone number - all booking had to be made by email, if one was resourceful enough to dig for it.  I went for a little nibble a few months ago, and while the food was solid, I nevertheless came away feeling a little underwhelmed.

The restaurant is due to launch their lunch service starting on March 1st, so they wanted a little coverage ahead of this roll-out.  I could certainly do a lot worse than getting fed by Chef Umberto and his Executive Chef Silvio Armanni, so I happily accepted the kind invitation.

Pane carasau and grissini

Hokkaido cuttlefish, bean, potato and celeriac broth - the slices of cuttlefish were very, very tender, and the warm and delicate broth delivered a comforting sensation immediately.  The bed of white beans, diced potatoes, and celery added some substance while keeping the flavors on the light side.

Spaghetti chitarra, "cacio e pepe" and morel mushroom - this looked extremely simple at first glance, and fits with the philosophy that the dishes here are what Chef Umberto would cook for himself and his family.  I was surprised to find that not a lot of pepper was used here, and it also wasn't nearly as cheesy as I had expected.  Instead, the mushroom jus mingled with the light Pecorino sauce to deliver elegant flavors that were just so familiar and comforting.  The morels on top were full of deliciousness, too.  This dish reminded me of the cliché "Less is more"...

Roasted veal, salsify and kale - the slices of French veal were very tender and moist.  In fact, they may have been a little too moist... to the point of being a little watery.  The meat itself was a little under-seasoned and bland, but it worked fine with the jus and the mix of topinambour and mushroom underneath.  While I wasn't surprised to see salsify, the use of kale was interesting.

Sicilian cassata gelato, candied fruit and berries - this was pretty nice.  I loved all the different candied citrus fruits encased in the gelato, but personally I could have done without the chocolate center. 

Tiramisu - we thought there was just one dessert for lunch today, but Chef Umberto was generous enough to send out additional items for us to try... such as this beautiful tiramisù.  Thankfully we were sharing, and I only took a couple of spoonfuls.

Chocolate soufflé - as if two desserts weren't enough, servings of this arrived at our table.  It was certainly very good, but a little too rich by this point.

Wild strawberry tart and hazelnut chocolate

This being Valentine's Day and all, we were treated to some sparkling rosé...

Ca' del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Rosé - nice and fruity, with strawberry notes.

This was a pretty good lunch, with solid food as one would expect from one of the city's culinary stalwarts.  I think I now have a better understanding of the restaurant's positioning, and therefore appreciate the style of cuisine being served here.  Many people including myself have mistakenly been expecting this place to be just another extension of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, and therefore get somewhat disappointed when the dishes coming out from the kitchen aren't as "fancy" or "Michelin 3-star" - whatever that means. 

In reality, it's a place where the chef would serve the style of food that he likes to enjoy, and dishes he would serve to his family and friends.  The only issue being the restaurant's location in one of the most expensive districts in the world, so when rent and other costs are factored into consideration, the price point doesn't one feel like one is having a "casual" meal.

In any case, I'm sure Chef Umberto would have no trouble filling the seats with spillovers from 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, and the business crowd in Central now have another lunch venue.

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