June 30, 2011

Unexciting pasta

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It's been a very long time since I last stepped foot in Nicholini's, and when I called up my friend and asked her to join me for lunch, she was equally excited as she was in exactly the same boat.  The sun was breaking out after a few days of rainstorms, and happily we were seated by the window and had plenty to natural light to cheer us up.

The bread basket didn't look very appealing, but I decided to try to saffron roll.  Very dry.  There was a hint of saffron, which subsequently got overpowered by the cumin seeds.

Burrata di Mozzarella di bufala con pomodoro cuore di bue e origano - the big white sac of cheese looked very inviting, sitting on top of slices of beefsteak tomatoes.

Unfortunately, as soon as I started cutting into it I realized the inside was too solid...  I could see the strands that had formed instead of the gooey mess that I was expecting.  Bummer...  Of course it still tasted fine, but I had expected better from a restaurant of this caliber.

I had a bite of my friend's melanzane alla Parmigiana alla nuova e vecchia maniera, which looked absolutely nothing like the traditional dish baked in a casserole.  This refined version tasted pretty good to me, and I like how there are two separate parts to it...

Spaghetti alla carbonara con guanciale, uovo bazzotto e tartufo nero estivo - I loooove carbonara so I jumped at the chance to try this out.  Frankly, this was slightly disappointing...  While the spaghetti itself was OK, the dish was just too "wet" - as in too much watery sauce at the bottom.  I love the soft-boiled egg - especially the orange yolk - but when you add the runny yolk to the watery sauce, it means your carbonara is starting to swim in a bowl of soup... I finally found a use for my dry saffron roll... by using it to scoop up the leftover yolk.  The use of thin slices of pork cheek in place of pancetta was a nice touch.  My current favorite carbonara is an off-menu item at Otto e Mezzo.

My friend shared some of her trenette setaro ai ricci di mare, bottarga e pomodorini.  This was another disappointing pasta, and more so than the carbonara.  The "linguine" was overcooked although short of being mushy.  There was virtually no sauce to speak of,  and the little bit of sea urchin on top - while themselves very flavorful - just wasn't enough to lend enough flavor for the amount of pasta in the bowl.  This meant on some mouthfuls the diner would be eating very bland and tasteless pasta.  For a big lover of bottarga like myself, the distinctive taste hardly registered (if at all) on my taste buds.  Then again, perhaps my taste buds failed me today...

Trio di cioccolato di singola origine: crema cotta di cioccolato bianco, cremino al latte 40.5% dal Ghana e flan al cioccolato amaro al 72% dal Venezuela - the white chocolate crema cotta was very sweet, very rich and very sticky.  Kinda surprising but I liked it.  The milk chocolate ganache was equally sweet, with broken biscuits to add a little texture.  The chocolate lava cake was well-executed, although I haven't eaten one in years as I think it's the most over-done dessert.

Vin Santo gelato - I had a scoop of this as I expected it to be interesting.  There were definitely bits of ground almond inside, but we couldn't figure out what the other crunchy bits were.  While we could definitely taste the alcohol, it wasn't distinctively Vin Santo...

The petits fours presentation.

2009 Stefano Massone Gavi San Cristoforo - classic nose of minerals, toast and lemon.  Recommended by the waiter.

After our lunch today, my friend and I both realized why neither of us have been back here for a long time.  There was a time - eons ago it seems - where Nicholini's was one of this city's top Italian restaurants.  With the passing of time, there have been quite a few new entrants in the market who have managed to deliver a higher quality of food.  The food overall is OK, but there was nothing today that excited me enough to draw me back.  This, perhaps, is the reason why they have remained off the foodie map and is more of a place for business lunches and people looking for hotel dining.

For a more concise version published on AsiaTatler Dining, please visit here.

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