Thursday, November 17, 2005

Review: La Braceria

This is going to be a rather strange review of La Braceria, considering we brought most of the ingredients rather than having the restaurant provide them. Still, we judge a restaurant on the dining experience it provides, not on the food it is capable of procuring.

So the story behind this dinner is that my parents recently went to Tuscany on holiday, and being good foodie parents, brought back some nice epicurean delights. Among which were an assortment of olive oils and basalmic vinegars, a truffle/porcini tapenade that I am going to eat up very quickly, and best of all, some bistecca alla fiorentina.

The Fiorentina, or Florentine steak, is an enormous porterhouse steak. It includes generous portions of the toploin and tenderloin muscles, attached by the very distinctive T-bone. The steaks weighed in at about 2kg each, and apparently each cow only produces 8kg. The most famous purveyor of the Fiorentina is Dario Cecchini (who apparently spouts Dante as he slices up his meats) and he refused to let my parents have more than 4kg worth. Apparently the steak needs no seasoning, and only a few minutes on a grill. To be consumed no more than medium-rare, obviously.

So dinner was organised, and my father originally suggested Au Petit Salut as the venue, but it was decided that only an Italian restaurant would be able to do justice to a Florentine steak (something my father could not understand, but then again he's never been much of a food purist), so La Braceria was settled upon.

Steak 001

The restaurant boasts an authentic grill and pizza oven (alas, not wood-fired), so it is with good reason that their grilled sausages (home-made, of course) and pizzas enjoy such fame and acclaim among the diners who've sampled them.

Steak 002

Steak 003

We had two orders of pizza, to share among thirteen or so of us as appetisers before the real thing.

Pizzas at La Braceria are typically more expensive than similar offerings from other pizza parlours, averaging $20++ each. The price though, isn't the main issue; it's whether the food is worth what you're paying. In this case, I'm inclined to believe it is (4/5). The pizza ingredients and toppings are generous, decently-sized and well-prepared in that nice oven you see as you enter the restaurant.

Steak 005

Not a dish you'd usually find in the restaurant; the pasta was a simple tagliatelle tossed with olive oil and served with shaved white truffle which was yet another artefact of the Italian trip. Now, I'm going to go out on a real limb here, and say that frankly, truffles don't do much for me. I know they're considered to be the pinnacle of fine dining and the mere aroma of them is enough to send some people into quivering ecstasies, but personally I think it's slightly criminal to be paying so much for a fungus no larger than most polyps. While I fully appreciate their incredibly enveloping fragrance, I'd rather take the much more economical porcini. Does that make me plebeian? Perhaps, but then again, I never claimed to be anything more than slightly pretentious.

In any case, the pasta disappointed me, as it was rather severely under-salted, so it's probably a good thing that it's not on the regular menu.

Steak 004

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for. We so often get such puny slices of meat here that we've become conditioned to thinking that steaks only weigh two to three hundred grammes each. The monsters beauties you see here weigh in at a hefty two kilogrammes each, and are about the size of a large dinner-plate. There's very little marbling, as compared to something like Wagyu, so there were some concerns as to tenderness.

Now, there's a whole ritual involved in the preparation of a Bistecca alla Fiorentina, though I suspect this is more likely part of the showmanship that gives Dario his reknown. It's billed as "one of the most supreme physical pleasures in this earthly life", and only needs to be grilled five minutes per side, then fifteen minutes on its edge before being consumed without any other seasoning.

Steak 009

As you can see, the chef at La Braceria took some liberties with this dish that "cannot be improved upon". These included liberal sprinklings of salt, pepper, rosemary, and cooking over a grill that was much hotter than the one specified by Dario.

Steak 011

Still, it was looking and smelling mighty good on that grill, I can tell you.

Steak 012

The finished product assuaged all worries; the meat came out perfectly rare and utterly delectable. The absence of marbling turned out not to be a significant problem, since it was cooked rare, the meat was tender and juicy. The outside was seared quite a bit, and the contrast between the charred exterior and pink interior was quite sublime. Still, I did think that in terms of taste, it wasn't exactly an explosion of delightful oral pleasure. But never look a gift steak in the mouth, after all.

Food was generally pretty good, though they mucked up one of the dessert orders, which was meant to be a molten chocolate cake but came out looking more like a souffle.

The ambience was fine, as befitting a modest Italian eatery, with one big drawback: certain seats suffer from a chronic lack of ventilation. I was seated against the wall initially, but it was so stifling I became increasingly restless and had to change seats eventually.

As for service, the food took much longer than I thought it had any right to, and our water glasses were sitting around empty without being refilled on far too many occasions.

La Braceria (Italian)
70 Greenleaf Road
Ban Guan Park
Tel: 6465 5918
Ambience: 3/5
Location: 4/5
Service: 2/5
Food: 4/5
Overall: Come for the pizzas and grilled meats rather than the pastas

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