A New York Osteria in Hong Kong
|Our Correspondent||Jan 30, 2010|
If imitation is indeed the best form of flattery, somewhere in New York there are some very happy old-school Italians, and here in Hong Kong there are some very happy New Yorkers. Posto Pubblico, a new osteria on the restaurant-choked Elgin Street, showcases the Italian home-cooking, based on simple ingredients, that the owner's immigrant relatives brought to New York from southern Italy during the 1930s and 40s. Think homemade pastas, ragu, mozzarella, sausage, pizza, and hearty meat dishes.
The decor is straight out of the playbook of Keith McNally, who is called the man who invented New York's downtown, which makes sense considering a couple of the partners have strong New York roots and look up to the Manhattan restaurateur with the Midas touch. Think loud boisterous bistro with colored tile floors and high ceilings with iron-tinged chandeliers hanging from above. The brick-covered interior contrasts with a wooden, horseshoe shaped bar upfront that can accommodate diners and drinkers alike, as can the high and low tables. The dining room in back has tables and booths and is nestled next to a semi-open kitchen.
Covered in black and white photos with chalkboards featuring the antipasti and daily specials, this isn't the place to come for quiet conversation. Judging by the throngs begging for a table on a recent Saturday night it seems many people don't want quiet conversation. Many amongst the jet set crowd left disappointed when quoted over an hour wait for a table.
It was refreshing to see a menu that didn't read like an epic novel, but at the same time would make just about anyone happy. The antipasti clock in at HK$100, which seems steep but judging by the plates leaving the kitchen any of them would be enough for two. That was the case with the veal meatballs. The two orbs of veal were covered in a tangy and chunky tomato sauce and were fork tender. Maybe too fork tender as the texture was a bit mushy. Regardless they had a nice meaty flavor and one wasn't cheated with too much filler.
While plenty of other antipasti tempted the eye I couldn't stop gaping slack-jawed at the two gentleman sharing the pizza at the bar. It took all my might to not order a large pie and call it a night. But that would be shirking my duties. Luckily it is offered by the slice and what a slice it was. By far the best I've encountered in Hong Kong (trust me, I've unfortunately tried them all). The pizza was covered in molten cheese and studded with garlicky, fennel-laced sausage. The sausage is imported from the United States and I can see why. The crust was pliant, the perfect thickness with the upskirt shot of the crust revealing a nice char. At HK$35 for a slice it's a steal. Note they now offer pizza for takeout, including "Grandma Style," which is a discussion all its own. I believe the kids these days would say Google it.
As mentioned earlier the menu is concise, with about six pasta and six carne dishes. We opted for two pasta dishes, as some were represented that you don't normally see around town, although the choice of rabbit on the menu gave us pause. The Orecchiette, (an ear-shaped pasta) with rapini (broccoli rabe) and sausage was a revelation. Incorporating the same crumbled sausage featured on the pizza, the pasta was perfectly al dente and covered with a slick of olive oil and pecorino that played off the vibrant and crisp greens. It was simple but complex and the perfect portion size.
The straw and hay tagliolini with peas and pancetta fared just as well. The pasta in this case is homemade spinach and egg noodles, a bit thinner than spaghetti and once again not cooked to death, as is so often the case. Covered in, but not drowning in a cream sauce, the dish was spiked with chopped pancetta and peas that made you want to lose your winter coat and embrace warmer weather. Salty, rich and earthy, these few ingredients went a long way to us cleaning the bowl with the focaccia on the table. Priced at $120 they are delicate enough for you not to roll out of the joint like the other red sauce spots around town.
Wanting to duplicate my own childhood memories, we had the strawberry shortcake for dessert. Unfortunately back in the day mine didn't feature a basil sorbet so pungent it felt like you were eating the leaves straight from the plant like a giraffe. In a good way.
If the decor was Keith McNally the service was pure Danny Meyer – another New York restaurateur who believes hospitality is essentially as important as the food. Our waitress was knowledgeable and easily navigated any questions we had. Our water glasses, and wine glasses for that matter, were never empty. Speaking of the wine we had a perfectly nice and crisp bottle of pinot grigio for $400.
All in, a couple can have a fabulous time for HK$800 total, not an easy task in Hong Kong, especially with a kitchen procuring organic and hormone- free ingredients whenever possible
Elgin Street (and SoHo in general) is a revolving door of restaurants and concepts trying to give diners what they think they want. Posto Pubblico simply gives them what they want, and it won't be long before they are imitated themselves.
G/F, 28 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong
852 2577 7160