Interior (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
SINGAPORE — The day I had dinner at Lucali BYGB, water supply to the restaurant was disrupted. It was a most unfortunate turn of events for a Friday night where the space filled to the brim very briskly with diners who, like me, were eager to either see what the fuss is all about or here to relive their memories of Lucali's original outfit in Brooklyn, New York City. Still, here we are, with a house that's almost full, and a sink over which a very kind staff poured water on my hands after a quick visit to the loo. C'est la vie, sis. C'est la vie.
Many speak of the original Lucali 30-seat pizzeria in Carroll Gardens almost like a cult boutique that one could only be so lucky to patronise. Tales of its exclusivity, however, is not greatly exaggerated. Diners come hours before opening, dutifully queuing up—and that's just to get your name on the list. Once your name is registered, Lucali recommends you head off elsewhere for a drink. If the stars align and you get the golden call, it's time to hurry because these coveted seats are held for you but only for 10 minutes.
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Thankfully the Singapore iteration carries none of that frenzy—which is probably so synonymous with the experience, that I'm sure chef-owner, Mark Lacono, would scoff at the easy online reservation here, more aligned with Singapore's reputation of efficiency.
Equally efficient is Lucali BYGB's single page salmon-hued menu, customised for a bigger space, kitchen, and Singaporeans who might baulk at choosing between only a pizza (they call it pie here) or a calzone, like in Brooklyn. "How can? Where got enough?" they cry.
Tonight, we're in the good and capable hands of Zaki, who—although wearing an uncomfortable but necessary mask in these times of a pandemic—smiles widely with his eyes (smizing like Tyra Banks instructed), and is always ready to recommend a dish or two for us indecisive millennials. "Is the full Calzone big?" I ask, perusing the food sizes on the menu.
"The half portion is like a Roti Boyan. So if you are ordering other dishes, the half portion will be enough," Zaki shared. A Roti Boyan reference in an urban-chic place like this? Yes, Zaki. Shantay, you stay.
Let's start with the things I love. A bowl of Caesar salad (S$25+) toes the thin line between being boldly seasoned and over-seasoned to death. There's a lot of salty things in this very capricious bowl of greens—at times a savoury wonderland from the mix of parmesan and dressing, at other times, a jolt to the senses as you bite into thick chunks of anchovy.
Thank God for the sourdough croutons that are flown in for authenticity sake though, I know for a fact that Singapore is not short of equally praiseworthy condiments for a salad.
The Benton's Country Ham Plate (S$22+) proudly proclaims origins from Madisonville, TN and is one of the best-smoked ham I've ever tasted. It comes served with a biscuit-bread hybrid and tangy mustard which makes this oh-so-very New York. This being served immediately after the salad leaves me with trepidation about my salt intake today, but still, I soldier on.
There's a Meatloaf (S$38+) inspired by Gibran Baydoun's mother and tastes as homemade as it can get. Juicy beef and pork meat chunks make up the bulk of this nostalgia-laden dish, and while teetering on the side of being too salty, is actually frustratingly addictive. I start to wonder if I've been eating food too abstemiously bereft of seasoning.
A plate of Cacio e Pepe (S$35+) is probably the fantasy of every Italian purist brought to life. The simple combination of long fusilli, black pepper, and Pecorino cheese gives me so much pleasure, though the price gives me the shiver for its portion.
A friend had the Spicy Rigatoni (S$35) which is a pasta dish of tomatoes, vodka, and a generous touch of spice. This would, in fact, be the only thing I eat today with a hint of character in it—if you could even call spice that.
Starters and etceteras aside, it's time to savour the Pizza ‘pie’ (S$55+) people in Brooklyn queued hours for. It is rather impressive looking—a huge 18 inch (or 46 cm for us metric system dabblers) circle of dough is set on a pizza wire rack which I thought made the pizza base cool faster than it should. I was told the pizzas were 'light and crispy yet fluffy and chewy', but I found it to be, well, ordinary.
At an eye-popping fifty-five dollars, the pizza comes with a base of tomato sauce, a triple cheese combo of buffalo and low-moisture mozzarella, and shaved Grana Padano, and leaves of fresh basil. You can choose from a variety of toppings to add at S$5 each—pepperoni, onions, olives, mushrooms, and anchovies.
I had the onions and pepperoni, and while some call it rustic, I thought it was just average. I started to wonder if the repute and excitement of the Lucali brand preceded everyone's expectation of what makes pizza exceptional.
Every order of a pizza comes with a bowl of tomato sauce as a lagniappe, but more so for dipping the edge of crust with, which by now, has turned cold and tough to the bite. It could be the result of a new and finicky oven that needs gentle coaxing and seasoning, or it could be the pizza rack it is set on that catches a cold draft. It could also be the size of the pie, at a disadvantage since it would take that much longer to finish, thus leaving it at the mercy of the elements in the room.
I much prefer the Calzone (S$40/full, S$30/half) which is truly impressive. Sealed tightly inside a lovely crust is the same tomato sauce with a luscious and generous serving of ricotta cheese. Within this tight vacuum, the basil has had the time to envelop the entire package with a heady and herby fragrance that made everyone at the table swoon.
Dessert comes by way of a Soft Serve Ice Cream Cone (S$10+) that may bring about bouts of nostalgia for us more familiar with its close cousin—the humble McDonalds ice cream cone, which I felt was creamier than the one at Lucali and, more importantly, ten times lesser in price. The Soft Serve Ice Cream Sundae (S$20+) fares much better for its weight in gold and comes with a choice of topping and sauce with which to dress up your cup of sweet, sweet joy.
When it comes to new restaurants with a potentially bigger bark than its bite, upon leaving, I'll ask myself: "Does this restaurant spark joy?". But not in a minimalist, keep only what you love way—no. It's a question that centers around expectation and reward.
And in this instance, I can confidently say that Lucali BYGB sparks joy, but only briefly, almost like a quick and bright flicker. Come for the starters, pastas, and everything else, but perhaps hold off on the pizza till everything situates in place better. Like the wood burning in their oven, Lucali BYGB needs a little bit more time to be really ready. But don't take too long—you know how fickle Singaporeans can get.
Website | 66 Kampong Bugis - Level M Singapore 338987
Wednesday - Friday: 5pm - 10pm
Saturday - Sunday: 11am - 10pm
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