The culinary superstar Massimo Bottura has his feet on the ground but his head in the clouds. He is taking the Italian cuisine to the next level, describing his food as a reinvention of the flavours of his youth interpreted through the avant-garde. Yes, this is one of those restaurants where you have to let go of everything else and be open-minded about the experience to come. Not only will your stomach get fed as Chef Bottura will also feed your brain and your soul.
Bottura was called “crazy” when he left his beloved hometown Modena and moved to New York. He later trained with Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo and Ferran Adria in Spain, of which he learned his great technique but not at the expense of flavour. At least that is my guess.
Earlier this year Bottura received a third Michelin star and his restaurant was voted as the fifth best in the world. After my first visit to Osteria Francescana (September 2011) I had a difficult time making up my mind as I felt a lack of interest and attention given to our table, the flight of wines were not served properly with the courses and some of the dishes were not even described.
I thought this time would be different. And it was. Probably because Massimo Bottura was in the house this evening.
The meal began with a refreshing “granita” made of almond milk with capers, coffee cream and bergamot. Having an intense almond flavour, almost like marzipan, this was very precisely balanced by the coffee and the caramelized capers with a hint of smokiness and citrus from the bergamot.
Next dish was called “razor clams and their friends” and perhaps this is the type of reinvention you should expect in an avant-garde menu. The razor clam shell had been recreated using a very fine pastry flavoured with seaweed and inside was a mix of razor clams, scallops, squid, mussels and seaweed. This was a fun thing to eat even though I have had shellfish of higher quality in many other restaurants. On the side there was a delicious razor clam broth served.
Salt cod fillet with olive and tomato broth, dried tomato pesto and almonds was next. The “baccalá” was firm and slightly chewy and worked brilliantly towards the broth of olive and tomato. The almonds added a nice textural balance to the dish and this was just as good as I remembered from my first visit.
Some of the top numbers in this restaurant involves pasta and the following dish was nothing but spectacular. Guitar string pasta had been cooked in a broth of burned calamari and was finished off with oysters and extra virgin olive oil. The pasta had a lovely springy texture and wonderful complex flavours from the burned calamari and the oyster and was tied together with smoked caviar and a sweet and sour lemon curd. What a delightful thing to eat.
Sea bass had been cooked sous-vide and was served with rabbit sauce, prawn sauce, “sea sand” and seaweed salad. This was a tricky dish to eat and I didn’t enjoy the texture of the sea bass that much. It had a clean taste but the texture was somehow “mushy”, I like sea bass being firm yet tender. The crispy skin though was delicious, as was the rabbit sauce, but the flavours all together just didn’t work for my palate.
Next dish was an oyster, or at least the first bite tasted like an oyster. But then it tasted like lamb. This was actually a lamb tartar with oyster, mint and a granita of green apple. Serving a lamb tartar with ice cold granita is reckless but this worked out incredibly well and was a mind game at its best. The lamb was superb being rich yet fine and delicate and all flavours well controlled with the granita offsetting the richness of the dish.
“Think Green” was a pretty dish with mushrooms and parmesan cheese on a green sea of chlorophyll. The sauce had a slightly raw and a little bitter flavour with some good quality mushrooms on top. I believe some saltiness would have enhanced the flavours in this dish.
In the a la carte menu we found “tagliatelle with ragu” and quickly decided to give it a go. This turned out to be one of the best decisions during this trip. About 30% of the ragu was pork sausage, cooked in a pan without using any fat. The rest was cheek, belly, tail and tongue that had been cooked sous vide separately, then beaten with a knife and thickened with bone marrow in order to replace butter. The pasta was made using yolks from embryonic eggs and had a beautiful, almost hardened, texture and stunning colour. This dish was absolutely packed full of flavour and without a doubt one of the best dishes I have eaten this year.
Different parts of guinea fowl were cooked in different heat with different timing. The perfume of roasted guinea fowl, extracted through a distillation process, was sprayed over the plate to get your brains going. In the end this was all about a beautiful breast, a perfect leg and a delicious cream of potato with black truffle and 40 year old balsamic vinegar. Served as a one-bite on a white napkin was the crisp skin of guinea fowl with rich white and dark chocolate, liver and ice-cream made of toasted bread and butter. This was the best part of the dish.
From the a la carte we also made sure to order the very famous “foie gras crunch”, or a foie gras “lollipop” if you want. This was brilliant. In the centre some extra old balsamic vinegar had been injected and the foie gras was covered with toasted hazelnuts and almonds. It was crunchy, salty and sugary with the very rich foie gras and the beautiful balsamic vinegar. This was eaten with joy, just as a child.
The first dessert to arrive was called “Think Pink”, a cherry and mascarpone mousse with pink meringues on top. This was beautiful with different textures and big flavours.
“Oops! Broken fruit pie” is supposed to be a lemon tart after the plate has been dropped on the floor and yes, even the plate looks like it was cracked. A bit provoking as I guess the purpose was but this had a nice fragile crust with peaks of the sour and sweet tart. I had this last year as well but this time I enjoyed it more as we had a sweet dessert wine paired with the dessert.
The tart was followed by a selection of petit fours and coffee.
Overall we had a great evening at Osteria Francescana where some of the dishes have to be counted among the very best I have had this year.
Address: Via Stella 22, 41121 Modena, Italy
Telephone: +39 059 210118