March 25, 2021

No zebra for me

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I first got to know Antimo Maria Merone's cuisine at L'Altro, the Italian restaurant near my old office.  They had themselves a macaron for 2 years, and I used to go there occasionally for lunch.  I did visit him once in Macau during his long stint at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, but in general I haven't run into him much over the last few years.  I know he's been in Hong Kong ever since the pandemic started, and has been hanging out at Octavium, CIAK - In the Kitchen, and 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana on the Hong Kong side, but I didn't get a glimpse of him until this dinner late last year.  By then he was already slated to start his own place with JIA Group.

When word got out that he's doing a months-long pop-up at HAUS, featuring experimental dishes he's unlikely to offer in the future, I didn't hesitate to book us a table.  It's too bad that Little Rabbit isn't around, but we managed to grab a couple of ladies who were only too happy to join us.

The physical place reminded me of an Italian trattoria, in that the tables were small, packed close to each other, and as a result it was all too easy to eavesdrop on the conversations nearby.  To be honest, I couldn't care less that John Major "recognizes" the auntie sitting at the next table, but whatever floats her boat...

The meal started with three "bites":

Cheese and egg toast: black truffle - this was OK.

Shiitake tart: "colatura" fish sauce, onions - creamy with fermented flavors.

Spring roll: gambero rosso, burrata - tasted a little too oily, maybe from sitting around a little.

The bites weren't very exciting, but this was more than made up by the dishes which came later.

Langoustine: soy sabayon, bok choi - the Norwegian langoustine was seared and came with a sabayon made with organic soy sauce as well as a sauce made from the langoustine head, and bok choy with anchovy sauce.  I definitely tasted the fermented flavors of the soy sauce, and the langoustine itself was certainly nice.

Squid: red prawn, ink, Chinese chives - the squid from local waters was cut into rings, pan-fried and stuffed with a mousse made with blended tiger prawns and diced gamberi rossi.  We also had deep-fried squid tentacles along with a garnish of Chinese chives.  The inspiration came from the ubiquitous Chinese squid balls (墨魚丸) and deep-fried squid with salt and pepper (椒鹽魷魚). The three accompanying sauces were: gambero rosso heads with Italian tomatoes, Italian kale and Chinese chives, squid guts and ink.

This was kinda interesting, although I thought the mousse was a little too 'liquid' and I would preferred something that was a little more solid or set.

Fettucine: duck ragout, saffron, Sichuan pepper - I had jokingly threatened to show up to dinner in a Juventus shirt, and in response Antimo had threatened to serve me zebra in lieu of duck ragout.  I was disappointed, therefore, that what came was not the zebra I was promised.  But that may have something to do with the fact that I was wearing a dress shirt...

This was the crowd favorite.  It would have seemed like a "regular" Italian pasta were it not for the kick provided by the Sichuan pepper (花椒) oil.  That numbing, tingling sensation on the tongue was rather enjoyable.

Chicken: cabbage, truffle, cooking jus - this ain't no ordinary chicken... The piece of chicken on the plate was stuffed with a mousse made with chicken leg and black truffle, making it very tender and fragrant.  Sankala really liked this dish, and usually she don't like no chicken.  The Savoy cabbage and black truffle millefeuille was interesting, and the roasted cabbage purée and jus rounded out the flavors nicely.

Fish maw: puttanesca, brown rice - the crustacean broth that the rice was cooked in was certainly tasty.  Good combination.

Citrus: ginger, sour leaves - on top of the orange biscuit we had wedges of Italian blood orange as well as 'local' orange, garnished with pickled ginger and sorrel on top.  There was a white chocolate and lemon ganache on the side, sitting in a pool of ginger and vanilla sauce.

Very refreshing, and nicely contrasted between the sweet chocolate and the acidity from citrus.

Mochi: praline, hazelnut soup - I've never had hazelnut tangyuan (湯圓), and these were definitely very tasty.

I brought a couple of casual bottles to dinner:

2005 Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang - very ripe on the palate, pretty soft, still got toasty notes on the nose but probably over the hill.  Acidity was still here but not so much, with a slightly bitter finish.  Later showed pear and acetone notes.

2010 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Rousseau-Deslandes, mis en bouteille par Lucien Le Moine pour MNSC - HUGE nose of toast, with sweet fruit underneath.  Plenty of sweet vanilla, too.  Drinking better than my last bottle 6 years ago.

Pretty happy to have caught up with friends, and also to have tasted Antimo's unique dishes. Let's see what the next rotation brings, and maybe I'll finally make good on my threat...

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