Sunday, 14 August 2016

Carbone - A taste of American Italian in Honkers

I have to say, I'm not a fan of the huge portion sizes renowned by US style restaurants.  I remember tooling around New York hoping that we wouldn't get massive sized meals that we'd feel guilty about not eating.  Thankfully, restaurants in Manhattan seem to be immune from the oversized meals, with the exception of one restaurant (that we visited).  

That restaurant was Carbone and we simply could not eat all the food that was placed in front of us.

It's possibly one of the reasons why we'd not been to Carbone in Hong Kong, even though it had a reputation for first rate American Italian cookery.  

But, as these things go, we had a real hankering for some Italian and after trying to book at a couple of other HK hotspots, managed to secure a last minute booking.  

The Honkers outlet of Carbone is a collaboration of New York's Michael Carbone and the ubiquitous food group, Black Sheep.  I'd heard and read that the experience at Carbone was over the top and very 'New York' and it only took a few minutes at our table to realise that the stories were true.

Our waiter was of Pakastani heritage, although born in Hong Kong, but you'd have sworn he was a native New Yorker; his maroon tuxedo and Bronx like accent screamed NYC to us.  Handing over massively oversized menu, he ran through the options and made a few suggestions of the popular signature dishes.  There'd been quite a few options that had taken our fancy when reading online, but the suggestion was to run with an Antipasti, a Macaroni, the Carni and a dessert.  We'd initially been keen to order a bit more, but then the memory of our US visit kicked into gear and we went with the 'less-is-more' approach.....  Thankfully.

Orders taken and our tuxedo clad waiter brought over some garlic toast, a bowl full of cheese, a plate of salami and some breadsticks.  Yeah, that was a fair chunk of pre dinner snacks and sent out a warning sign that we might have still ordered too much food (we went share plates for everything!)

While we were waiting for our starter to arrive, there seemed to be a bit of a team catch up happening on the floor, with the chef having an in depth chat with the wait staff.  I've no idea what was discussed, but we secretly wanted the chef to head back into the kitchen to take care of business!

A simply huge plate was delivered and only just fit on our table, and which was filled edge-to-edge with the beef carpaccio Piedmontese.  Now I was a bit confused to be honest, Piedmontese is a type of beef cattle, as is Wagyu; but the menu had both cattle types mentioned, so I wasn't sure if it was a blend of beef or a hybrid of the two.  Turns out the dish was named after the region in Italy from which the beef was sourced - Peidmont.  Anyway, the carpaccio was incredibly thin, so thin in fact we had to scrape it off the shared plate to serve.  Covered with olive oil and tiny walnut chunks for texture and seasoned very well, it was a magnificent example of the traditional Italian dish.  There was supposed to be black truffle on the menu, but we didn't see or taste truffle (although there were thin slices of mushroom on the dish).

We'd been considering either the lobster ravioli or the spaghetti carbonara as our pasta dish, with the girl's preference for the carbonara.  We managed to compromise and run with the ravioli (I say compromise, but in reality it was a concession from the girl!), which for me ended up being a great move, the homemade ravioli was stuffed with lobster and the creamy sauce made with vermouth had big chunks of lobster flesh.  It was a really sweet sauce, and combined with the sweet ravioli and lobster ran the risk of being overly sweet, but the vermouth added a dryness to the sauce that somehow balanced out the flavours.  It was yummo and not overly massive in size (surprisingly)

Our big mistake of the evening was to order a side of the meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.  Not because the sweet pork meatballs were terrible (quite the opposite), it's just that they were massive - I mean really massive.  With melted cheese on top, the very rich and slightly acidic tomato sauce and the sweet and succulent pork, they were just too nice to waste; so we ate them and left ourselves too full for our main course.

And what a main course!  We chose the veal parmesan, which was a bone-in veal chop topped with tomato sauce and lashings of melted buffalo mozzarella.  Our waiter was kind enough to bring the monster chop over for me to photograph before he cut it up with a pizza wheel.  It was actually fitting that he sliced the parmesan so, it was actually as big as a pizza and completely dominated the huge plate.  I have to say, I've never had such a tender and delicious piece of veal.  It was just an amazing piece of cooking that left me gagging at the end.  There was so much of the unbelievably tender veal that if I'd eaten any more I would have been sick (definitely a Mr Creosote moment).  But, every time I thought I'd had my fill, I'd cut off a little more and stuff into my gob! Eventually though, I admitted defeat and the last of our veal chop was taken away.

It was at that point that I was rueing ordering the meatballs; they just filled up valuable stomach space that would have been better served eating that wonderful veal parmesan.

Oh well, I've learnt my lesson for next time.

The dessert trolly was wheeled across for us to contemplate, but truth be told, I couldn't have eaten any more at that point; not another morsel.  So it was with a supremely disappointed look that our waiter wheeled the trolly cart away.  We were a little disappointed as well, there was traditional New York cheesecake on offer that looked amazing...

Again, another lesson for next time!

There was something quite magical about our visit to Carbone; it was like being transported to another place and another time.  The music playing through the hidden speakers mixed from Miami kitsch to down and dirty New York swing from the 40's and 50's.  The wait staff were indeed brash and talkative and very interactive and truth be told, quite amusing.  The restaurant was also set up much like you'd expect from a 1940's style restaurant in NYC - the only thing really missing was the mobsters in trilby hats and zoot suits.

Dinner was over surprisingly quickly, we were in the dining room for just over an hour, so for me there was a bit of an issue with pacing.  Given the huge quantities of food, slowing down the meal a little would have enabled us a little 'settling' time and I might have been able to eat more of that ridiculously good veal parmesan.  

Mmmm, to be honest, I wish I'd taken up the offer of getting the rest of that chop to go....  I could do with a bit more right now!

Also, the pricing for the meal was a little extravagant; more along the pricing model of a Michelin starred restaurant; true you got a lot of food, but it was probably about 20% higher than I'd have thought.  

Anyway, pricing aside, I did love the tasty take on Italian American cuisine and it doesn't take a genius to figure that I will be back..

The cheese was crumbly and nice and worked well with the salami
Just a massive plate of carpaccio - I really liked it
It's hard to get a sense of scale, but the veal parmesan was as big as a pizza!  It was oh-so-tenter
The dessert trolly - sadly we passed on this occasion
Through the door to another time

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