Naples via NYC!
This is not your typical Roman trattoria, nor is it a take on a Milanese upmarket ristorante. This is a blend of it all and an in-your-face homage to the Italian immigrants who relocated to New York at the beginning of the last century.
Carbone is the brainchild of three New York restaurateurs — Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick — who tied up with the Black Sheep Group here in Hong Kong.
The setting reminds me of a “gentlemen’s club” — rich wood and crisp white linen tablecloths and napkins, subdued lighting and surprisingly non-intrusive seating, given that the tables are closely set side by side.
The first room as one enters has a small centrally placed cocktail bar that often sees a small gathering of aficionados happily enjoying skillfully crafted drinks. And so they should as behind the bar there are some of Hong Kong’s award-winning mixologists on duty, so there’s always something new and exciting to sample. But apart from that conviviality, it’s the food as well as the impeccably friendly service that most folks come here for.
The menu is broken down into antipasti (starters), zuppa (soup), insalate (salad), macaron (pasta), pesci (fish), carni (meats), and contorni (vegetables). Helpings are quite large and if you have a normal-sized appetite they are great for sharing.
The tomato sauces on the dishes I’ve tried with pasta and/or meats are pretty robust! They seem to be more Neapolitan-influenced as far as their hearty flavors go — great if you like tomatoes otherwise go for rosemary and oil-roasted garlic.
Pasta highlights include a spicy Vodka Rigatoni!
Fish can be a safe choice in Italy. The country is surrounded by seas after all. So many of the prized dishes served at Carbone are fish based. These include branzino (sea bass) and garoupa, as well as king prawns and scallops. But for me, the most satisfying dish is the zuppa de pesce at HK$378, with a base of mixed fish and octopus as well as scampi served on a thick soup of garlicky tomatoes. It’s a meal to satisfy a most hungry diner!
Meat dishes include a variety of steaks and Mario’s meatballs, or there’s chicken massimo at HK$288 and double lamb chops with mint and salsa verde at HK$588.
The side dishes list a mushroom specialty that’s well worth trying — funghi trifolati, gently sautéed sliced mushrooms with garlic and fresh herbs, usually Italian parsley, that’s a flatter version compared to the curly variety sold everywhere here. The mushrooms could be anything from the much prized porcini to basic “white” mushrooms, depending on what’s available in the market.
If you still have room for a dessert, there’s a carrot cake and lemon cheesecake extravaganza that’s well worth waiting for. And you can always have another glass of a good Italian vino while you wait.
For some time over the past few months, I’ve been gradually working my way through the menu at Carbone as well as that of some other eateries that are Italian influenced. Carbone is quite different from the others. I guess that’s down to the strong New York influence. Whatever it is, it works just fine!
NB: Every year as soon as the weather heralds in winter it’s time to look for osso bucco on menus. It’s the hearty stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish that satisfies without fail — just marrow-bone beef shanks simmered over a long time in a rich sauce that’s been enhanced by red wine to add a lovely fullness to the whole. I’ll be trying it around town and perhaps at Carbone as well and I’ll let you know what I find.
Salute e Buon Appetito!
The fish soup stew served at Carbone will satisfy the hungriest of eaters.