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Milan: A tale of two restaurants

fress | Jan 28, 201505:41 AM

We recently spent two nights in Milan and ate at two very different restaurants: Nuovo Macello, a reasonably priced neighborhood trattoria, and Aimo e Nadia, an expensive Michelin 2*. Both served excellent food and were located in anonymous neighborhoods far from the Duomo (more than twenty minute cab rides), but the similarities ended there. We felt warmly welcomed at Nuovo Macello, but only grudgingly acknowledged at Aimo e Nadia. In the end, the starkly different levels of hospitality meant that we much preferred the more modest meal.

Only a few of the dozen or so tables at Nuovo Macello were occupied when we arrived at 8.15pm, but over the course of the meal the room filled almost to capacity with a jolly crowd of Italian families and friends. And no wonder they were happy! The food was delicious and the service friendly and efficient, without being at all formal. We began by sharing delicious risotto Milanese for two that was very generously threaded with saffron. My wife then had a starter portion of steak tartare served a la sushi, while I had the house specialty of cotoletta Milanese: a breaded veal chop that was sautéed in butter until it was decadently crispy on the outside but as tender and pink as tuna in the middle. The cotoletta was one of the best meat dishes I can remember having, right up there with Lugers' porterhouse. Including three glasses of red wine, delicious desserts of pistachio gelato with chocolate sauce and a cappucino semifreddo with nougat (plus a comped somewhat soapy lemon glacé), the meal came to €100 all-in. Superb value and one of those serendipitous dinners where you feel like you've happened upon a local favorite.

We had loved Aimo e Nadia when we dined there three years ago. Upon our return, the hushed, less than half-filled, stark white room decorated sparingly with abstract colorful canvases and the excellent food remained much the same, but the welcoming spirit had changed: the charismatic elderly Aimo and Nadia were nowhere to be seen this time, nor was my favorite sommelier who had so generously plied me with rarities on our last visit. Instead we had the same sour and stiff maitre 'd and a callow sommelier who made his meager topping up of my very expensive wines by the glass seem perfunctory, rather than friendly. My pigeon and duck liver paté served with semolina brioche was as superb as ever, the risotto with San Remo shrimp, tomato, basil and oregano that we shared was revelatory, and my roast pig was excellent, if a little monotonous, but something was missing. The maitre 'd seemed almost annoyed when we asked him questions about the dishes, and would sometimes respond over his shoulder as he strode to a neighboring table. My wife noticed a small disagreement flair up between a waitress and the sommelier - such domestic discord shouldn't be displayed in such an expensive venue - €360 for two, with one unpleasantly bitter chocolate hazelnut dessert (eucalyptus powder), one beer, and three small pours of wine (including an ethereal 1976 riesling auslese). Idle speculation: Is the staff going through the motions without the hands-on guidance of the eponymous owners?

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