Of the many Western cuisines Shanghai is blessed with in abundance, Italian is near the top of the list. Although more selective diners will already know where the best can be found, many other options remain under the culinary radar. Cucina, Jinmao Grand Hyatt's Italian restaurant, is one such location.
Housed on the 56th floor of the hotel, Cucina has an upscale sheen yet remains very warm and welcoming. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, diners can expect to be dazzled by the northern view of Lujiazui, which is flanked by the Pearl Tower and the skyscrapers that compose China's financial hub. Near the rear of the dining room, a brick oven churns out warm bread, all with crunchy crusts and chewy middles, as well as made-to-order pizzas.
For those interested in trying the assorted appetizers on the modest menu, the antipasto sampler plate (200 RMB) is recommended. Though the selections change every few weeks, the classic favorites are always available, from beef carpaccio (150 RMB) and arugula salad (85 RMB), to bruschetta and buffalo mozzarella with juicy Roma tomatoes. Parma ham and melon is a delicious treat that many might not be familiar with, but the combination of paper-thin slices of salty meat and sweet ripe cantaloupe is an experience in itself. While the Venezian frittata - small pieces of omelet with herbs - and marinated octopus and pepper were not quite as impressive, there is enough selection on the antipasto list to prepare your appetite for the main courses.
Cucina's pizzas (120 RMB), fired up on the spot, are competent representations of Italian favorites, like Sicilian and Neapolitan. The classic Margherita was enjoyable, but the smoky crust was a little too tough and chewy and the basil was not fresh. Though the subtle tomato sauce and salty cheese was tasty, diners may benefit from trying another type with more toppings, like Parma ham.
The house specialty pasta entree, schiaffoni with bacon, ricotta and artichoke, was interesting. The pasta - schiaffoni - was a large, tubular noodle, like an oversized maccheroni (macaroni, for the Americans). To the kitchen's credit, it was cooked perfectly al dente, but somewhat starchy. The ricotta cheese was nice and creamy, balancing the overly-salted bacon slices. The pieces of artichoke used in the dish were, for some reason, the harder exterior pieces, which we were forced to pick out because they were too fibrous. Using the artichoke heart and less salt could make this dish perfect, as the combination of ingredients is potentially appetizing.
Other pasta dishes cover a wide range of options, like lasagna, spinach ravioli, lobster tagliatelle, seafood risotto, gnocchi, and seafood spaghetti. For those with aversions to carbohydrates, a number of meat and fish entrees are also available, such as imported Australian beef, rack of lamb marinated with Chianti, and beef sirloin with arugula, cherry tomato and parmesan.
After a filling meal in an Italian restaurant, it would be a sin to leave without trying the tiramisu, the great test of the eatery's skill. Cucina's tiramisu is quirky and unconventional in its presentation, served as a tiny tower of sweet, sweet layers. On first bite, the smooth and creamy mascarpone and nicely espresso-soaked cake fuses nicely. A lovely dessert, assuming there's room left for more.
While the prices may be steep, the amazing view of the surroundings and great service must be considered in the cost. For hotel guests and business people in the Lujiazui area, Cucina offers a quiet and comfortable dining experience. Although it may not be at the top of the Shanghai Italian dining ladder, Cucina tops the competition by sheer location alone.