November 27, 2019

Visiting the truffle king

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It's been a while since I last dined at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  A few years ago the restaurant was so popular with diners that it became difficult to book on short notice - or at least that was my impression.  So it gradually got phased out of my short list of go-to restaurants, and the interval between my visits became years instead of months.

So I was pretty surprised when word came via a friend that Chef Bombana would like to see The Great One and I, as neither of us have paid the restaurant a visit in some time.  We were, of course, only too happy to oblige... but I made it clear through my friend that we would be paying for our meal - that this would not be one of those freebies.

I arrived late and a little flustered, and quickly sat down at our corner table while apologizing to the ladies.  The smell of white truffle being shaved at neighboring tables filled the air.  Of course this was now the busy season for the restaurant, as Hong Kong was enjoying a short respite from the recent turmoil and diners returned for the white diamonds.

The menu was, of course, arranged by Chef Bombana.  I looked forward to what was in store for us - besides the truffle, that is.

Chanterelles with mushroom foam, and white truffle - nice, but way too small of a bowl.

Vilmart Grande Réserve, dégorgée le Janvier 2019 - very toasty.

Confit abalone carpaccio, zucchini, shallots and tomato, royal oscietra caviar - with a Champagne emulsion, orange and apricot sauce, Taggiasca olive from Liguria, pickled shallot, and zucchini trombetta.  The olive was beautiful.  The oscietra caviar had nice depth of flavors, and actually worked well with the abalone.

2017 Cantina Mesa Opale - very floral and fragrant, light-ish on the palate and balanced, nose turned sweet later, very tropical and fruity.  Actually really nice.

Lobster with Jerusalem artichoke - of course, this came with shavings of Alba white truffles. Peeling away some of the truffle revealed thin discs of Jerusalem artichoke along with the homard bleu from Brittany.

The lobster jus was kinda fruity.  Pretty nice.

Sea cucumber stuffed with abalone, matsutake mushroom - more white truffle.  Served with a stock made with veal, ham, and mushroom.  We've also got matsutake (松茸) on the side.

The sea cucumber was nice and tender, and the abalone stuffed inside was still crunchy and springy.  Very, very good.

2018 Costaripa Valtènesi Rosamara - flinty, pungent, lots of red fruits.  Later some honey.

Raviolo with spinach, ricotta, and mussels - what can I say about this simple and beautiful dish, which worked very well with all the beautiful truffle shaved on top?  Other than: "Thank you, sir.  May I have another?"

2017 Girolamo Russo Etna 'a Rina - very minty and fragrant, pretty sweet on the nose, potpourri, oaky.  Really nice once it opened up.

Tagliolini with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano - this was absolutely beautiful.  The sauce also had some Barolo, and we've got more generous shavings of white truffle that paired perfectly with the pasta.  I could eat this all day.

2014 Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia - nice and sweet, almost like bubblegum.  Also oaky notes, and later a little smoky.  Still kinda tannic but balanced with acidity.

Roe deer, gnocchi, natural jus - oh yes... more more truffle!

Very good in terms of execution.  Very delicious.

2014 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino - minty and metallic, nice and toasty, ripe fruit... almost orange marmalade.

White truffle sgroppino - this is normally made with limoncello, but since everything tonight came with white truffles, so did this.  This was very creamy, and of course the truffle made everything fragrant and wonderful.

Limoncello soufflé - plenty of limoncello here...

Pear tart - nice and crispy pastry, and not very sweet.
2016 Tasca d'Almerita Capofaro Malvasia di Salina - pear, mineral, botrytis, acetone notes.  Kinda sweet on the palate.

I saw this giant panettone in the cellar, and Chef Bombana told us that it weighed over 20 kg!  He seems completely enamored with the artisanal producer whose name escapes me, and we were lucky enough to have had a taste of this delicious product.

This was a really happy meal, but then again, how could it not have been?  The dishes were deceptively simple, yet every single one delivered all the flavors it was meant to.  Simplicity is not simple, and a lot of thought and work went behind each "simple" dish to achieve just the right balance.  A meal here is a combination of the tried-and-true classics and something new that Chef Bombana has decided to play with.

I liked that chef has ventured beyond the comfort zone of the classics and tried to experiment with ingredients beloved by local diners.  The abalone came a couple of years ago, and now we've got sea cucumber stuffed with abalone.  The chefs I admire most are the ones who keep pushing boundaries, and I'm happy to see Chef Bombana among them.

So we asked for the bill, only to be told that Chef had taken care of it.  I was a little flustered, since we had made our intentions very clear - we were coming on condition that we paid our fair share.  Knowing how chef treats his customers, we had kinda expected to get a generous topping of the white truffles in season.  But we wanted to come and show our support for the restaurant during this difficult period when many are struggling.  We didn't want to come mooch off the restaurant, especially not during white truffle season - when this place is pretty much guaranteed to have a full house just about every single night.  Getting a freebie now would be the EXACT OPPOSITE of what we intended to do.

But we lost the argument.  I didn't want to put my friend in a difficult spot, and it's tough to refuse the generosity of a chef.  As long as he felt our love and support, that was sufficient.  And there is no reason not to support such a kind and generous soul.

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