Back in 2002, just before he turned 30, Massimiliano Alajmo became the youngest chef ever to receive three Michelin stars. Although he trained with legendary chefs such as Marc Veyrat and Michel Guérard he credits his mother, Rita, as the big source of inspiration. Rita comes from four generations of restaurateurs and she won Le Calandre´s first Michelin star in 1992. Two years later she handed over the restaurant to her two sons; Massimiliano who cooks and Raffaele who is in charge of the dining room and wine list.
Le Calandre is located in the not-so-charming town of Rubano about four miles from Padua in northern Italy. This town consists of nothing except a busy roadway lined with shopping malls and car dealers, and one of the world’s best restaurants.
My meal at this restaurants was one of few meals I have ever had close to absolute perfection. After some of the dishes I was almost in the state of shock. Yes, it was that good. Massimilianos dishes mostly contains of just a few elements but each of them shine and complement each other. The dishes were all beautiful and elegant, not to mention the flavours that were incredible good and intense throughout the whole meal.
I have had many memorable meals in three Michelin starred restaurants over the years. Both visits to Le Louis XV of course, a fantastic dinner at Martin Berasategui in 2010 (the same restaurant was nothing but terrible in 2011 by the way), El Celler de Can Roca has been brilliant twice (2010/2011) and the meal at The Fat Duck last year was close to perfection. But in each and every one of them there has been something I didn’t like, something that were not up to my personal taste.
This was not the case at Le Calandre.
There are several tasting menus as well as an á la carte menu to choose from and I decided to go for the Grand Classics: Le Calendre´s historical dishes.
To start we had a cornetto of Parmesan cheese and a gougére which was feather light with a wonderful soft and delicate texture and had plenty of cheese flavour.
Next to arrive was a trio of snacks that started to indicate where we were going this evening. There was a black rice tartelette with lobster cream in the bottom and some raw roughly chopped langoustine on top. The langoustine had probably been killed moments before service as it had a wonderful deep and sweet flavour, which worked great with the mild and nutty flavour from the crispy tartelette. The salt cod brandade (rolled in crispy polenta) was smooth, silky and very flavourful. The “mini burger” was made of chickpeas and packed full of nutty chickpea flavour, balanced to perfection with some sharp mustard dressing.
Buffalo mozzarella with pan-fried tilapia was next. The mozzarella was shaped as tagliatelle and had a soft texture with a mild, slightly sweet/sour, but distinct milk flavour. The fish was moist and delicate and had a slightly sweet flavour and absorbed the black pepper, capers and basil in a beautiful way while it helped the mozzarella to release unexpected flavours.
Then we had tomatoes, eggplant, bread and olive oil in a reckless serving. This was perhaps one of the simplest dishes this year, only relying on the quality of the tomatoes. Still, each of the components on the plate shined and complemented each other; the tomatoes as sauce and tartar had a tomato flavour that is hard to describe, the quality can be equated with the tomatoes I had at Le Louis XV earlier this summer or even the tomatoes Grant Achatz had in house back in 2010. The eggplant was a great addition as its mild and sweet flavour enhanced the sweet flavour of the tomatoes even more while some slices of red onions added nice sharpness to the dish, as with the olive oil, being grassy, a little bitter and pungent in taste. The thin and crisp pane carasau (Sardinian flat bread) added texture.
Next dish, the cuttlefish cappuccino, was a masterpiece in a beautiful vertical black and white presentation. Small cubes of high quality cuttlefish had been cooked slowly with squid ink and vegetable broth until tender and on top were potato cream with excellent potato flavour, a small hint of soy sauce and a stunning velvety creaminess. It was garnished with a few drops of the cuttlesfish cooking juice, extra virgin olive oil and chives. Yet again a very simple dish that completely blow me away. What a delightful thing to eat, definitely as memorable as Mikael Jönsson cuttlefish dish.
Not to mention the crispy ricotta and buffalo mozzarella cannelloni with tomato sauce. Refined, precise and playful food at its best. Phyllo pastry had been stuffed with ricotta cream, cubes of mozzarella and basil pesto and then baked in the oven. The flavour of the creamy cheese filling was stunning with the light, crisp and melting cannelloni. And again the flavour of the tomatoes is hard to describe. To scoop up the tomato sauce with the cannelloni rolls was nothing but a dream come true.
The risotto with saffron and liquorice root powder is the best risotto I have ever had, with the risotto of Alain Ducasse in mind. This risotto was perfectly creamy, firm and packed full of flavour yet being balanced. The flavours were in exquisite harmony with the saffron entering the palate sweet to finish bitter in taste, the liquorice working the other way around. Beautiful, elegant and intelligent.
Hand chopped Fassone beef from Piedmont was served on a piece of bark and to be eaten with ones fingers with whole wheat bread and a truffle egg sauce. Nothing beats the excitement when you get a dish like this. The beef had only been mixed with extra virgin olive oil and white truffle paste and had a dazzling flavour with a velvety texture and was lovely to dip in the rich truffle mayonnaise.
Next was roast suckling pig with mustard sauce and coffee powder. The Piemontese pig was first lightly smoked and then slowly cooked for 48 hours before the skin was fried in a pan to crisp. Again this was nothing but brilliant with the tender, melting, flavourful and sweet meat contrasted by the bitter tasting chicory and coffee and the spicy mustard sauce. This was one of the best servings of pig I have ever had.
To cleanse the palate I had a sorbet of black currant and some small “nibbles” of apple with cinnamon and mango with mint.
The one and only dessert served was a mille-feuille where the puff pastry was prepared with olive oil instead of butter and served with apricot and vanilla puree and apricot jam made of five different varieties of apricot. This was crunchy and sweet yet light and tangy and had an incredible concentrated flavour of apricot. Here Massimilano Alajmo convinced me even more when it comes to desserts. Yes, I want them simple, clean and packed full of flavour. Like this one. No fuss needed.
Le Calandre is your must visit.
Address: Via Liguria, 1 35030 Sarmeola Sarmeola di Rubano, Padova, Italy
Telephone: +39 049 635200
Massimiliano Alajmo’s Restaurants
Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother Raffaeles three Michelin star flagship restaurant
The Alajmo familys one Michelin star restaurant serving traditional dishes
A small deli and Alajmo´s flavour labratory
A stylish restaurant where you can have simpler food, wines and pastries. We had lunch at Il Calandrino the day after our meal at Le Calandre. This is to recommend.