Me Bitching and Moaning (and New PASM Pictures)

All sorts of aggravation in my life recently and I’m not going to go into all of it but I do feel the need to let off some steam this evening.

Last week?  Best forgotten.

Friday night was the Halloween party at PASM and it was the best Halloween I’ve had in years.  (Some pictures at the bottom of this post)

Saturday night we had the free night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile.  Since I wasn’t going to be driving, I could indulge in some wine with dinner.  And after dinner, we walked over to Ashley Road to meet some friends for some more drinks.   We went to Castro – I’ve stared at the sign many times but this was my first time there and it was an odd mix of people but okay I guess.  The sad thing is that it’s been so long since I’ve had any alcohol that a glass of wine at dinner and one more drink in the bar were enough to leave me zonked.  We were back at the hotel by midnight – much earlier than I’d intended – and I was asleep very soon after that.

One of the sources of aggravation in my life has been my fucking car.  A 2002 BMW 330 convertible.   I’ve owned, not sure exactly but around 10 or 12 cars in my life.  Most of those have been used cars but I’ve never really had trouble with any car until this one.  It’s been one problem after another, starting with a bank loan that I never should have signed, a slashed roof (it’s a convertible) 5 months after I got it and a seemingly never-ending series of repairs.  Plus now I’m locked into a long (for Hong Kong) daily commute and the car just slurps down gas almost faster than I can put it in, leading to a very expensive daily commute.  (The alternative to commuting by car in under an hour, is taxi then bus then two trains then another bus, close to 2 hours each way.)

Add to that the fact that it’s not a “Hong Kong car.”  I didn’t know this at the time – and didn’t know that it mattered, but the car came to Hong Kong from Japan in 2006.  (I bought it in 2007 and may be the first owner the car had here.)  Why was it imported?  There are no service records prior to my owning it.  That might indicate a major collision somewhere in its past?  Though all of the mechanics who have looked at the car have told me they see no signs of that.  Whoever had the car before me added 19 inch wheels (that I’ve since replaced), front rear & side body kits and had the seats reupholstered.  In any event, when I’ve gone to sell the car, dealers have noted its status and made lower offers as a result.

I’ve been trying to sell it off and on for about a year, the problem being that the market value is noticeably less than I owe the bank.  At the end of last week, I found a buyer, someone who gave me as good an offer as I’m likely to get.  Except that when he came to look at the car, the convertible top wasn’t working properly.  I told him I’d take care of it before the sale – I figured the motor just might need some lubrication or something.  Turns out no – the motor is dying and needs to be replaced and the part costs HK$9,000.   I suppose I could check Google and try to find a reconditioned one for sale somewhere in the world and maybe save a little money.  Oh, and the air bag sensor in the passenger seat broke last week and replacing that ain’t gonna be cheap either.

So at this point, the buyer has backed out of the sale, as one might expect.  And I’m stuck with a car that’s worth far less than I owe the bank and in need of some sizable repairs. And I know that even if I hold onto it, even if I get these repairs done, in a couple of months something else will break that will cost me another $10k or more.  So I’m gonna sell off, take the loss, buy something smaller, lighter, less fancy, cheaper, hopefully less prone to problems.

It’s just aggravating because on Friday I thought I had a sale and then I had this news from my mechanic on Saturday.  The car drives well.  The repairs aren’t urgently needed.  It’s just aggravating.

Anyway, the only real joy in my life these days comes from PASM Workshop, and here are a few shots from our party Friday night, more to be uploaded to Flickr later one.  We had a full house, great barbecue, Evelyn our make-up artist did horror make-up for everyone who attended and a really nice set that we all had some fun shooting & posing on.

Osteria Ristorante Italiano at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile

(Full disclosure – I received one night’s free stay at the hotel as well as free dinner and breakfast, presumably in return for posting reviews here.  Naturally this might incline me to be more positive than usual but I promise that everything here is my honest opinion; feel free to treat this with as many grains of salt as you’d like.)

I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in The Bronx and I’ve been eating Italian food all my life, but all of the Italian food I ate growing up was Americanized versions of southern Italian cuisine.   Italian food is extremely popular all over Asia and Hong Kong is blessed with some really special Italian restaurants representing all of the country’s various regions, allowing me to broaden my taste and experience.  Even after all these years here, I have yet to visit all of the notable Italian establishments here.  My favorite Italian meals in Hong Kong to date were at Toscana at the Ritz-Carlton.  Toscana is gone and that chef has a new restaurant in HK that I have yet to try.  At any rate, I feel that I do know a thing or two about Italian food.

When the Holiday Inn Golden Mile informed me that my free night’s stay would include a free dinner, I looked at the list of restaurants there and I was hoping it would be at their Italian restaurant and luckily it was.  Osteria Ristorante Italiano opened in 2009 and represents one of the steps that the Harilela Group is taking to upgrade this iconic hotel.

When we approached the restaurant, I was thrilled to note the open kitchen.  Not only could we look in but they could look out and that was a good thing because there was no one at the front desk to seat us.  The chef noticed us standing there and called over to the staff to get someone to help us out immediately.  This is the chef:

Michele Camolei is originally from La Spezia in northern Italy and is said to be a veteran of Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo.  From a bit of googling around, I discovered that he’s a vegetarian, which in this case means that he’s made certain vegetarians are well catered for on his menu, which concentrates on classic recipes and simple fare.

The restaurant doesn’t really look like the titular Osteria but the look is simple, clean, low key and somewhere between casual and formal.  The only drawback I could find was that the relatively low ceiling made for a noisy venue when the place was full – and it definitely was full when we arrived.

Manager Gianluca Ciola made us feel very welcome.  One might think it was because they had written “VIP” next to my name in the computer but he seemed to be putting on the same level of effort at every table.  Luca comes from Venice and told me he’d previously lived and worked in Shanghai.   We started off with two glasses of chianti.  There were some nice bread sticks on the table and someone came by with their basket of breads, another server filled small dishes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Exactly the way it should be.

My gf loves her ham so I suggested she should start with the classic combination of parma ham and melon.  The ham was excellent and the portion was about twice the size that I would have expected.  That was good because I was able to steal from her plate more than once.

For me, whenever there’s a carpaccio on the menu, I go with that.   Here it’s a little bit different – some salmon (smoked in house) served with green apple slices while the “first class beef” was topped with mushrooms and some ricotta cheese (to which Chef Michele later told me he added other ingredients to keep it light and fresh) and of course some parmesan, with a lightly dressed salad of arugala (or rocket as the Brits call it) and cherry tomatoes.  The salmon tasted very nice, fresh, just lightly smoked.  The beef was fantastic.  I can’t recall ever having a better carpaccio.

On to the main courses.  My gf went for the porchetta, two large sizes of perfectly cooked suckling pig.  The skin was amazing, the sauce was great (sorry, I neglected to write down all the menu details) with a nice green vegetable and some fingerling potatoes.  The portion was way too large for my gf to finish which meant once again that I had a generous tasting of this.  Nice.

I was originally thinking about the osso bucco but then I decided to go for lighter fare.  Spinach fettucini with lobster, prawn, scallop and asparagus lightly dressed with olive oil and garlic.  They make their pasta in house and again, what sets apart this basically simple dish is that it was expertly prepared.  The pasta was al dente, of course, and the shellfish was excellent as well.  Again, a huge portion, I couldn’t finish the whole thing!

At this point we were really full.  Unfortunately we couldn’t even contemplate any dessert, so I can’t tell you about that.  As we finished off our wine and let our stomachs settle, I looked around the room at other plates of food coming out of the kitchen.  Even the look of the pizza impressed me.  I could be very happy to return here with my gf and we could order a pizza and some wine and enjoy.

Signing the bill I saw that if we had paid, the meal – two starters, two mains, two glasses of wine – would have cost us under HK$1,100 and I think that’s very reasonable given the quality of the food that we ate.  I’ve got “no reservations” about recommending this restaurant and definitely plan to return.