First of all, let’s not get confused by the headline ['The Pomod’Oro Technique', as printed in Options Mar 28 issue]. No, we are not referring to the famous time management system developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, whose raison d’être was to encourage people to see time as an ally instead of an enemy. Cirillo’s way to achieve this was by breaking down the workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks, all of which are a method of time-boxing and a way to increase productivity and focus. The name Pomodoro Technique, in fact, comes from the ubiquitous tomato-shaped kitchen timer, a mainstay in many continental homes. But we digress here.
The Pomod’Oro we are referring to is a new trattoria in upscale Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur, sandwiched between Stammtisch, a German restaurant and bar, and Umameat, an even more newly opened steak house. The setting is plain: all square tables and robin’s egg blue chairs, devoid of much decorative touches, save for a small winged lion — the symbol of the city of Venice — near the bar counter and a 12m-long modern reproduction of Piero della Francesca’s greatest work, The Legend of the True Cross, the original of which may still be seen in Tuscany’s Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo today. A small al fresco dining area, just by the restaurant’s entrance, is ideal for those who feel safer not being in enclosed spaces while the interiors seat about 32 comfortably.
The menu is extensive, so order a drink first to peruse comfortably thereafter. All the lovely Italian regions and their iconic varietals are represented, ensuring there is something for every palate, be it a lean, dry Garganega from Veneto, a fragrant Arneis from Piedmont, a dark and inky Primitivo from Puglia or even a fresh and citrusy Catarratto from Sicily. Those who like things a little more ebullient can opt for Prosecco by the glass. Priced at RM35, it makes for an affordable and most civilised start to the meal.
Pomod’Oro, whose clever use of punctuation denotes a “golden tomato” versus an ordinary red one, is helmed by chef Tomas Gocze, a native of San Marino, a tiny landlocked republic sandwiched between Italy’s Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche regions. The menu’s offerings are as regionally diverse as the wine list. Classic crowd-pleasers are all well represented, from bruschetta (RM25) and arancini rice balls with Iberico ragu (RM25) to risotto with porcini mushrooms and Parmigiano cheese (RM49) and Angus carpaccio with rocket and truffle oil (RM35).
There are, however, several interesting standouts. It is unusual to find chitarra pasta listed on most menus in town but, here, it makes a welcome appearance. Chitarra (not to be confused with the slinky, bo staff-wielding cartoon character from the hit 1980s Thundercats franchise) is Italian for “guitar”, so named for the rectangular wooden frame over which fine, long pasta is hand cut. Done well, the process yields a lovely, uniformly porous noodle that makes a wonderful vehicle for sauce to adhere to. Gocze’s version is gently bathed in a light but still luscious cream sauce, flavoured and studded with porcini mushrooms and home-made sausage.
The rice dishes are also expertly executed, and the brilliantly hued saffron risotto with veal and marrowbone (RM95) is a must-try. Beef cooked with sage also always wins a few extra brownie points at our table, evoking memories of Ascé alla Nino, a dish of minced beef cooked with butter and sage from Rome’s celebrated Ristorante Nino along Via Borgognona that still makes us wistful to this day. Pomod’Oro’s version veers more towards the classic Roman dish of saltimbocca: thin slices of veal cooked with Parma ham in a sage and white wine sauce and accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes, and not the usual Roman-style green peas (RM69).
Pomod’Oro’s open-kitchen concept also ensures diners can always see the busy-as-bees kitchen crew turning out near-perfect pizzas (the 13 types range from simple Fornarina, with just rosemary, garlic and olive oil, to classic Margherita or Pizza Milano, which stars Italian salami) from its own brick oven or carefully slicing up ham from a whole, bone-in leg of Prosciutto di Parma. If you fall under the “some like it hot” category, you will be pleased to know that a thumping bottle of chili oil accompanies each pizza order, enabling you to generously anoint your pie like a wannabe high priest. It is said that the people of Italy, particularly in Abruzzo and the southern region, love their pepperoncino so much that the chili pepper-infused olive oil is referred to as olio santo, or “holy oil”.
To its great credit, Pomod’Oro also offers two separate menus, catering to those needing gluten-free and vegan options. There is a caveat, though. We found no fault with the Italian dishes offered but, sadly, could not say the same of the more “international” selections. When we visited, the Gallagher oysters were a special listed on the blackboard. And, in our bid to be slightly Vitellius-like, we decided to order some. At RM25 each, the clearly malnourished specimens served were a disappointment. Our dismay was extended to the porcini mushroom soup (RM30), which was weak and thin, and an overly cloying tiramisu (RM25), usually a benchmark of what makes a good Italian restaurant. But don’t let these little niggles deter you from making a reservation. The overall experience definitely warrants a visit.
We wished we had a little more stomach space to try the panna cotta with mango sauce (RM20) as well as the Nutella strawberry pizza (RM25) but, considering an Italian dinner is all about the conspicuous consumption of carbohydrates, the best way to round up the evening would be with a controlled scoop — two, if you must — of the lovely imported Italian gelato (RM12 per scoop). The range of flavours is designed to please the Asian palate, with green tea, lemongrass, lime, mango and passion fruit to choose from. But if you had to pick just one, go with the 100% pure pistachio.
End, as the Italians do, with Vin Santo or perhaps grappa. If you are among the privileged few who can ingest caffeine and still sleep like a babe, then have the corretto, a divine coming-together of espresso with sambuca, that wonderful anise-flavoured liqueur. Should you be feeling playful or celebratory, ask for a shot of it accompanied by three coffee beans — which is referred to as con la mosca or “with the fly”, with each bean representing health, wealth and happiness. What with the threat of WWIII and the pandemic still looming over our heads, heaven knows we could all do with more good wishes in our lives.
Pomod’Oro (non-halal), 20-G Jalan Medan Setia 2, Damansara Heights, KL. Daily, 11.30am to 11pm; closed on Tuesdays. For reservations, call 03 2011 8460.
This article first appeared on Mar 28, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.