Review: Capo

When I think of Italian cuisine, I immediately think of pizzas and pastas.  But did you know that Italians are also known for making amazing steaks?  Capo is a newly opened Italian steak house by the same owners of Issimo and Matto.  As you know, Matto is one of my favorite pizza joints in Shanghai, so I was excited to hear they opened up a different style Italian restaurant that Shanghai hadn’t seen before.

This time my husband and I were celebrating our 2 year wedding anniversary and decided to check out Capo on a weeknight.  The evening started off a little awkward since the main entrance is hard to find. We ended up walking through the nightclub Muse and then through a fire door to get to Capo, and it seemed that other diners that evening did the same thing.  Maybe there should be better signage for people to locate the more proper entrance.  The bathroom for Capo is also shared with the clubbers at Muse.

With its industrial style look, low-hanging lights and rustic atmosphere, it’s no surprise that Capo was designed by the same people as fellow Bund establishments Table No. 1 and Mercato.  Capo’s main dining room is long, rectangular and smaller compared to its sister restaurants with a bar on one end and the brick oven on the other.  Stemming from opposite corners of the restaurant are some private dining rooms.  Capo is almost all constructed from brick except for the interesting ceramic tiles on the ceiling.  Is it nerdy that it felt like I was eating in a scene of that computer game Doom?

We started off with some cocktails.  Although they took a while to arrive, both drinks were made perfectly.  The bar at Matto also does an impressive job of mixing drinks so I’m glad they brought that important detail to Capo as well.

After we ordered, they brought out some delicious crusty warm bread with roasted garlic, coarse sea salt and olive oil on the side.  The presentation and attention to detail was great so far.  I was getting excited!   I always say a great restaurant doesn’t forget that bread is an important first impression.  I really enjoyed spreading the creamy roasted garlic on the bread, and the olive oil was of such high quality I could almost drink it!

We decided to skip the pizza and go straight for the pasta this time since we had tried their style of pizza at their other restaurants and knew what to expect.  I had been dreaming of uni pasta since I heard that Mercato had it on their menu.  If you’ve been following my blog you know of my love for uni, so you can imagine how I squealed like a little girl when I saw that Capo had it on their menu: linguine / aglio olio e pepperoncino which is linguine with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers — all tossed with sea urchin and bottarga (RMB 98 for half portion / 128 full portion).  We got the half order which is probably perfect for one person but I think it’s also a good portion size for sharing so you can leave room to try other things.  The linguine came al dente and with plenty of briny mouthfuls of uni.  It was creamy and also spicy from the pepperoncino, and I could see bits of bottarga (a type of roe) throughout.  It was actually really spicy, so for those that are sensitive to spicy foods I would stay clear from this dish.  The only thing that was noticeably missing from this was the seasoning.  This was my first time ever in a restaurant where I had to ask for salt.  The server seemed as confused as I was when I asked.  Other than that it was a hit and I would definitely order this dish again.

In Italy, steak is most often simply prepared with seasonings such as salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil and is usually served rare.  From “The Butcher’s Cuts” section of the menu, I was happy to see they offered something named Capo Fiorentina.  In Tuscany, the bistecca alla Fiorentina is a popular style t-bone or porterhouse steak weighing around 1 kg that serves 2-3 people and is always from a special breed of cattle called the Chianina.  Capo’s version is a Wagyu bone-in ribeye.  Although not the traditional Fiorentina, I think it’s great that they offer a similar style steak since this one of the most well known cuts of meat in Italy.  I also like that they have an excerpt on the menu that says where they get their meat from.  It’s a true sign of a steak house caring about their products.

Although the Fiorentina did seem like a promising choice I wanted to make sure I was able to have enough room in my stomach to try an assortment of things on my first visit.  We went with the Ribeye from Big Jack’s Creeks Farm Wagyu – 450 days grain fed – marble score 6+ RMB 168/200g instead.  When it arrived I was wowed by the beautiful plate of food in front of me.  It was so simple but elegant in the way it was put together with the juicy, rustic-style roasted tomatoes on the vine and sliced onions served on a dark cutting board.  They even provide you with elegant steak knives so that you can better enjoy your special cut of meat.  So appropriate!  This steak was perfectly cooked at medium rare but unfortunately also lacked some seasoning.

We also ordered the Capo marinated BBQ pork ribs which are slow-cooked for 12 hours before finished on wood-fire oven (RMB 168).  This is where things started to get a little rocky for the evening.  I was absolutely disappointed with this dish.  Although beautifully presented like the Ribeye, the ribs were so dry they were basically inedible.  Maybe the 12 hour slow cooking isn’t such a good idea… Dear Capo, could you stop cooking it after 6 hours?  My husband and I took 3 bites and just couldn’t eat any more.  It was dry, burnt and flavorless.  Also, was the person in charge of seasoning off that night?

To accompany our main dishes we also got a half order Sauteed spinach in Fiorentina style (RMB 38/58) and the house-made French fries (RMB 38/58).  The spinach came with a poached egg on top which is always a nice surprise, and was sauteed in olive oil.  Again, I really loved the taste of the olive oil they used.

The fries were shoestring style.  I’ve never met a French fry that I wouldn’t eat and these were no exception, but they were a little bit greasy and not as crispy as I would have liked.  For such a thin style fry it’s important that the potato flavor is still there and that each bit isn’t just a burst of oil.  I did however liked the hint of lemon with them.

Lastly, our attempt to end the evening with a bang fell a little short.  I was disappointed to hear they were out of both of the things I wanted to order off the dessert menu: the donuts filled with vanilla ice cream and the rice pudding.  We ended up getting the Cannoli con Marmellata: cannolis with homemade orange marmalade and pistachio ice cream (RMB 68).  I was mainly ordering this because of my love of pistachio ice cream since I’d never had a cannoli before.

To reiterate, I have nothing to compare this to since I’d never had a cannoli before this evening, so take this with a grain of salt if you’re a cannoli lover.  The plate came with three cannolis, though one would have been enough since they are so filling.  Each cannoli was filled with a rich ricotta or mascarpone that tasted a little gritty to me, capped on each end with maraschino cherries, and topped with candied oranges.  Overall it was neither sweet nor satisfying enough for me as a dessert.  So, I don’t know….I just didn’t like it.  It didn’t make me want to try a cannoli again but maybe some of you cannoli enthusiasts can tell me how they are supposed to taste.  Not surprisingly, the pistachio ice cream was the best part.

I really wanted to like this place.  When I arrived at Capo, I was mentally ready to rave about this place and write about how these people know what they are doing when it comes to running a restaurant. But my experience that evening didn’t really give me that lasting feeling.  The vibe that evening was also a little frantic with the staff and manager rushing around the dining room as if they had fallen woefully behind.  I also noticed the table next to ours was not happy with their order.  Maybe Capo just needs some more time to perfect things.  Maybe I’ll revisit in 6 months and see if anything has changed.  In the meantime, when it comes to delicious Italian food,  I’ll still stay loyal to Matto and Issimo.

The Details:
Capo | Yifeng Galleria, 5/F, 99 Beijing Dong Lu | http://www.caposhanghai.com | +86 021 5308 8332

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