What it is: We gave you a little taster last week of Eduardo Vargas' new Italian place. Here's a more in-depth look if you're thinking about making a special trip down. Azul Italiano was the event space at the second location of Colca -- the Sinar Mas Plaza location -- relaunched as an "Italian inspired"eatery. Now you've got the Peruvian on the one hand and something a little more ecclectic and tweaked: A version on pan-Italian that Vargas and Chef Willmer Colmenares have put their own spin on, as well as made approcahable for local tastes.
Area: Sinar Mas Plaza, that mall and mixed-use complex on the North Bund in Hongkou District. You'll find high-end options nearby like the W Hotel and Wolfgang's. There are lots of mid-range options as well, like Barbarian, the obligatory Baker & Spice branch, and a few local third-wave coffee shops.
Atmosphere: Event spaces are often blank slates intended to assume the theme of the event. So, this is a marked improvement. It's open and airy with lots of natural light. After sunset an eclectic flock of fixtures illuminate the space from above. Herringbone-patterned wood floors alternate with lattice-patterned tiles. The occasional Vespa motif gives it a slight Roman Holiday vibe.
Dishes to try: Far too much stock is placed in the term "authentic". Cuisine doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It adapts to its surroundings and the availability of ingredients. It changes to suit prevailing tastes. It always has and it always will. So, keeping that in mind, there is plenty that is worth trying here. The meatballs are delicious, for starters, as is their creamy polenta with a porcini ragout. They do a cioppino, which is an Italian-American seafood stew consisting of clams, mussels, prawns, scallops and halibut simmered in crushed tomatoes and fennel. That’s quite tasty as well. Some dishes are tweaks of familiar favorites, like ham and melon. Azul Italiano dresses it up with wedges of fresh figs, a drizzle of honey and pearls of aged balsamico. Others are more by the book, like a beef carpaccio topped with fresh arugula and Parmesan crisps. Their "Napoletana-Style" pizzas probably won't get an AVPN certification, but they certainly get the job done.
Desserts like their tiramisu are designed with your WeChat moments in mind. It's served in a chocolate flowerpot tipped over in a stylized mess on your plate. Others, like the white chocolate semifreddo are a more simple and elegant presentation. The cannoli’s, my favorite of the three, are presented standing up like little crispy, ricotta-stuffed soldiers.
Damage: Antipasti like the meatballs and the ham and melon range from 48 to 98 rmb. Salads (they serve two) are 58rmb and 88rmb. Pastas and risottos go for 58rmb to 128rmb. That cioppino is 248 rmb, other secondi range from 128 to 198. Pizzas go for 68rmb to 98rmb. Desserts, 48rmb to 88rmb.
Who's going: On our visit, it was privileged members of the F&B community who were invited for a pre-opening taste. Now that it's open, expect hungry shoppers lured in by the aroma of simmering garlic and tomatoes.