A report on our recent lunch at Le Calandre. The restaurant is located in a small town of Sarmeola di Rubano, just outside of Padua. It has been in the Alajmo family for generations and evolved into a Michelin 3 star under the brother team of Raffaele and Massimiliano. The main restaurant is behind their less formal trattoria, Le Calandrino. The dining room, with about ten tables, is simply decorated, modern and comfortable. Since this was our third time and have had some of the dishes on the various tasting menus, we decided to order a la carte. The follow is what we had:
Antipasti: Cappuccino di seppie al nero
Primi: split an order of Risotto con rognoncini di vitello
Secondi: Piccione di Sante
Desserts: Cioccolato nocciola et caffe in tazza
The only disappointment was the Cappuccino di seppie. The bottom of a large glass tumbler was filled with warm bits of cuttlefish cooked in it’s ink and fish stock. Then it was topped with a layer of potato foam. The dish tasted good at first but soon became one-dimensional. A smaller portion or an addition of a third element would have helped.
Al Aimo (dedicated to the famous chef, Aimo Meroni in Milan) was a great combination of various diced tomatoes, cooked fava and green beans and puree of fava on a creamy sauce of freshest ricotta. Served with a couple of small sheets of carta da musica, the dish was light, flavorful and a terrific play on texture.
I think no one cooks risotto better than Chef Alajmo. The risotto with thinly slices of the smallest veal kidney and finished with a dusting of curry powder was no exception. The rice was flavorful, firm yet creamy and the aroma of curry powder was intoxicating. This was a split course but we probably got more than a half portion each but found it was just the right amount.
The roasted squab was served over two sauces, a rich creamy liver and a lightly acidic red beet. A diced of red beets, sauteed chicory and a little shredded ginger finished the plate. The squab was flavorful without tasting too gamey. The sweet and acidic beets set it off perfectly.
The suckling pig was cooked sous-vide and the skin crisped. The meat was mild and meltingly tender with just enough fat to make it luxurious. The crispy skin was a perfect counterpoint. It was served with a slightly spicy all'amatriciana sauce. The accompanied potato puree was food-milled then pushed through a fine sieve so that it was very light and smooth. It was better than the famous Robuchon version, lighter, less buttery with a more potato flavor. Underneath was a small amount of fresh chopped tomatoes.
The two desserts, recommended by our server, were outrageously good. The Cioccolato nocciola was layering of various flavored chocolates served in a tall tazza. The layers have a different consistency and temperature, from the bottom hazelnut ganach to the light mocha/coffee foam on top.
The Cannolo, a play on the classic Sicilian canoli, was simpler but just as good. Thin layers of slightly sweetened freshest and creamiest ricotta was sandwiched between the thinnest pastry squares. It was served over a bitter chocolate sauce and finished with red berry sauce thickened with a little gelatin. Some bites of the pastry was light and crunchy while the part that has a little ricotta cream soaked in was slightly chewy, a wonderful play on texture.
With various amuse, some very good bread (especially the addictive Parmesan crackers and thin grissini) and post dessert goodies, there was plenty of food.
We were the only guests for lunch on that day though their less formal Le Calandrino was bustling. We did not feel uncomfortable at all since the staff was so welcoming and our server had remembered us from a previous visit. Between courses, we had some very enjoyable conversations ranging from where the restaurant sources some of its product, the history of Le Calandre and the Alajmo family, on our annual monthly stay in Venice, the city of Padua.
Three things summarized our experiences with Le Calandre: Chef Alajmo sources the best ingredients; his cooking is innovative, deceptively simple and just about perfect; besides being very accommodating, the service always strikes the right balance of correctness and informality. After three visits, it has become one of our two or three favorite high-end restaurants.
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