Wednesday, July 14, 2010

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo: Comfortable

You know those restaurants that are all hype, $$$, and nothing at the end of it but disappointment and a couple thousand less in the wallet? Let’s not name names… but you all know which ones I’m talking about.

And really, when 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo opened, I had the same fate paved-out for the glitzy, Alexander Building’d restaurant. It had all the makings: celebrity chef (check), beautiful environs (def. check), Central location (duhr), and apparently sky-high prices. I was skeptical… but skeptical in the way that I’d be willing to foot the bill just to prove that my skepticism was unfounded upon. Ugh, writer’s ego. Unfortunaately though, I was proven WRONG… which, come to think of it, is actually really fortunate...

(Lobster salad: with mango)

I booked well in advance to ensure a seat with my equally cynical friend. Good thing we did since the place was p-a-c-kayed on a Monday evening. Awesome business. Before perusing the menu though, I did notice the roughly 3:1 waiter to table ratio. Now, I knew that Otto spared no expense with their restaurant, I just didn’t expect them to surpass hotel-grade service. This A-grade service shown through when W and I came to order. We were tugged between choices from the tasting degustation menu and the à la carte. Seeing how distraught we were, the waiter very kindly suggested we mix and match from the two menus. After knowing that was allowed, we started with the fresh lobster salad with mango. A slightly disappointed start—the flavors were imbalanced, with the tangy mangoes outweighing the fresh briny flavors of the creamy lobster. A shame, really.


(Burrata cheese ravioli: mmmmm...)

Just when I was about to write 8 1/2 Otto as another banker’s dining hall, the golden haired waiter placed a shallow bowl of burrata cheese ravioli ($210) in front of me. Unassuming to say the least in terms of appearance—a few triangles of sealed ravioli, plumped with soft cheese. So what? So EVERYTHING when I took a bite. So simple… so comforting. We both paused, looked at each other, and dove in for the second forkful. Things like this are hard to explain—it’s comforting satisfaction in a bite. It’s silky smooth handmade pasta (one of chef Bombana’s specialties) brimmed full of mild cheese, blanketed in a paunch sauce of salty olives, eggplant and tomatoes. If my mother were Italian (she is not), she would’ve fed me this through my Italian (it was not) childhood.

(Beef cheek n' tongue)

And gawd did it pick up from burrata cheese ravioli! For the mains, I opted for the beef tongue and beef cheek braised in red wine with orange and spice compote ($330). Very reminiscent of a dish I had at The Drawing Room. I will duck the “Roland vs. Umberto” question and just go ahead and say it was yummmm. The tongue was definitely more interesting than the beef cheek. But I didn’t really have enough time to appreciate the cow—when W let me take a bite from her lobster cassoulet ($320), I knew that I was a fool to go with meat. Seafood is where chef Bombana shone—the lobster was bedded on eggplant parmigiana, parsley, green peppers, and yummily creamy uni. So fresh, briny… luuuuuuuuuurvely. Food envy? Hells YES.

(Strawberry melba)

(Coffee Trio)

But I didn’t want food envy to affect the rest of my meal. So I was DETERMINED to beat W in terms of dessert choice. She went with a frilly Wild Strawberry Melba of fine strawberry jelly, milk vanilla foam, strawberry pannacotta ($110)—a lifting springtime sweet, to say the least. But nothing compared with my Coffee Trio—tiramisu, warm coffee tart and crunchy coffee ice cream—($110). Read ‘em and weep… I totally won the dessert round.

When the bill came, it was about $900 per person. Seriously, given the extravagant feast we’d just had (plus a cuppa wine each!), it was a steal. Sure, Otto has all that glitz and glam going for it. But more importantly, it also stays true to awesome, comforting food. If a simple bowl of ravioli can slap a smile on your face, or if a lobster cassoulet can make you go “oh wow,”… in the immortal words of Teenage Fanclub, “Ain’t That Enough?”

FOOD: 4.75/5
SERVICE: 4.4/5

8 1/2 OTTO E MEZZO ($$$$$)
Shop 202, Alexandra House
18 Chater Road

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