I was a little bit surprised to not find any thread dedicated to this restaurant
Modena is not the kind of city in Italy that I ever plan to stay overnight, let alone for 2 nights. During our trip to Italy last month, my wife would like to visit Venice and Milan – I’ve been to both. When I worked out the plan, I saw what’s ‘available’ in between these 2 major cities? Initially (and logically), Florence will be the next option. I loved the museum there, the city was beautiful and I’ve never been to Enoteca Pinchiorri. But then, Enoteca was not attractive enough and I really want to visit a new city this time. When I looked the map of Italy, I observed with gastronomy restaurants in mind – that’s when I laid my eyes on Modena, the home of the avant-garde restaurant – Osteria Francescana. In addition, I felt I would need a ‘base’ to visit another top restaurant in the smaller city the next day. So, staying over in Modena was not a bad choice.
In recent years, there’s an Italian Chef that has become the central attention among food journalists and foodies alike – his name is Massimo Bottura. Besides Michelin 3-star, Massimo received numerous other awards for himself and his dearest restaurant, Osteria Francescana. Yes, this establishment was my main attraction to visit the city famous for its balsamic vinegar and Ferrari. I reserved the restaurant in September for Friday evening and it’s not a problem at all. Osteria is located in the old city of Modena. We arrived almost 30 min later from our initial booking and surprisingly we’re still the first guests reaching there. At 8:45 PM or so, our dining room with 6 tables were all filled up – Italians happened to eat very late too, furthermore we’re the only table that didn’t know how speak the local language. The setting was modern with widely spaced large tables and leather chair. The dining room is windowless with modern & minimalist decor and the wall painted in some kind of light blue color. As I perused the menu, the staff brought in amuse-bouche (mortadella sandwich – smooth & fragrant) to tease our palate and bread (white, wheat and croissant).
There were 2 tasting menus offered: Sensations and Tradition in evolution. My habit when visiting the restaurant for the 1st time will be to order its classic dishes, so menu Tradition was an obvious choice – we also added Modenese tortellini in Parmigiano cream to share. The first half of our degustation menu (excluding desserts) were inspired by ancient and recent stories/incidents happening around the region; the dishes were generally clever, provocative and attractive but not too profound.
-the saba lacquered eel was soft and sweet, similar to top quality unagi one can get in Japan. The twist was that the kitchen put sour and salty variations to balance the eel sweetness from the apple jelly, polenta cream and burnt onions
-cotechino (salty pork sausage, a kind of Italian charcuterie product) was covered with zabaglione (versatile and tasty yellow custard). At the very bottom, there was crisp & sweet biscuit – a nice contrast in taste and temperatures
-caesar salad in Emilia had 22 distinct ingredients inside the lettuce. I wasn’t really impressed with it; it was just alright
-5 Parmesan reggiano cheese tasting in different temperatures, textures, ages/maturities and flavors. I can taste cheese that was intensive, velvety and crisp – a sublime, creative and complex dish.
The second half of the meal was my favorite; the desserts were of high quality as well – pleasing to both eye and palate
-tagliatelle in right texture and temperature was well-mixed with tender and delicious no-butter ragu made of pork, veal and bone morrow – excellent
-an iconic pasta dish from the region & Bologna: traditional tortellini filled with various meat (veal and different parts of pork); the pasta was delicate and light but flavorful while the reggiano cream (coming from local cows) was fresh and intense yet balanced. Any great chef always possesses strong fundamental techniques when executing & elevating ‘regular’ traditional dishes to fine dining levels.
I enjoyed these 2 pasta dishes very much
-for the main course, we had Piedmontese beef coated with charcoal ash. Massimo spread the colorful sauce (beet root, potato and vinegar) on the plate like a master painter brush his stroke on a canvas – a beautiful presentation! If you’re a fan of juicy beef with lots of fat, then you would be disappointed. This lean and tender Italian beef was different. It was perfectly cooked with great texture and subtle flavor. The sauces were interesting but the taste was unusual for my palate. Don’t expect any grilled steak smell here
-the pre-dessert was the famous creamy & intense foie gras lollipop; it supposedly was balanced by strong balsamic vinegar inside. This was a bit too much for me in spite of the almonds & hazelnuts – simply too rich
For the desserts, the kitchen was generous to give us an extra dish to share
-according to the menu, we had vignola. Apparently, it was fresh dark cherries ice cream seated on good chocolate ‘soil’ and mild coffee jelly. The overall flavor was tasty and refreshing
-we would not leave without having this extra dish: the broken lemon tart, creating perfection from imperfection. A superb and creative dessert with great attention to details, it’s also really flavorful – an excellent display of sweet and sour taste as well as texture & temperature contrast. One of the best things I ate for this dinner.
We didn’t remember we’re given any petit fours.
There was a “bizarre” and unique experience during this dinner. In the middle of our meal, Massimo Bottura walked into the dining room and greeted diners, which was very normal these days where Chef-owner showed respect and entertained his/her clients. Then, Massimo came to our table ... I didn’t exactly remember what I told him, but it’s something like this: “I saw your cuisine to be modern and creative/experimental, yet you also were able to produce very good classic dishes. Do you plan to pursue and progress in both styles in the future?” I just skimmed through about Chef Bottura and his cooking prior to this visit. I expected this to be just a casual conversation between guests and the Chef, but suddenly from his face expression, Massimo seemed to be bothered. On the one hand, he looked ‘angry & troubled’, on the other hand, I sensed that he wanted to explain or said something but could not or did not know how. He replied us with some short phrases and ended with (in rather serious tone): “I want to see both of you after the meal”. Oh dear ... did we violate something? I saw my wife, and we were both perplexed. The staffs were smile. “What’s happened?” I asked them and they simply shrugged off
After having finished the vignola and lemon tart desserts, sure enough my maitre d’ said that the Chef would like to invite us to the kitchen. Oh oh, were we in trouble? As we entered the kitchen, almost everyone looked at us ... with friendly smiles thankfully. Then, Massimo passionately explained his cooking and some of his dishes – a fun ‘lecture’ from a talented chef. In short, every dish he made, there was a story and inspiration behind it; he didn’t like to simply mix some ‘random’ ingredients to find good taste, it’s meaningless. After that, Taka, the pastry/sous chef, brought a dish freshly prepared for us. It’s beautiful – seems like an artistic painting of forests/woods. Chef Bottura said it’s one of his latest inventions: the camouflage of “hare royale” – inspired from Stein and Picasso. I pondered: besides the foie gras and some herbs, the rest of the ingredients were more suitable for desserts – chestnut, chocolate, biscuit, coffee etc. Well, at the end I learned it’s in a fact a dessert. We were given a tea spoon and swiped horizontally to taste it; we did it 3x – top, middle and bottom part. And after every byte, we ate the sweets at the sides and sipped a plain black coffee to clean the palate. True enough, each byte generated slightly different flavor, but the duck liver and hare flavors were apparent and quite strong actually. During this process, Massimo never stopped talking (in a genial spirit) about his cuisine. It became obvious from this experience that Chef Bottura is an eloquent person and he had an excellent command of English. His other trusted lieutenant Yoji was also Japanese. At the end, we got better understanding of him and his cooking; Massimo looked happier, more relaxed and relieved after being able to bring forth what had been inside him since the middle of our meal. A sigh of relief for me and my wife; we laughed a lot during that time and ended by taking pictures together in the kitchen.
The service was polite and a bit formal throughout the meal; my maitre d’ in particular was professional, fluent in English and knew the dishes very well. I had 2 glasses of wine: a fresh and aromatic (young) wine from Sicilia and Barbera La locomotiva. It’s a very satisfying meal. While I could not say every dish was delicious, most of them were interesting, eye-opening, thought provoking and creative. The traditional Italian dishes and desserts were top notch; they’re worth for a detour. Given Massimo’s philosophy, I know that Osteria Francescana is still a work in progress albeit now is already performing at a very high level. It’s not the best Italian restaurant I’ve been ... yet, but I look forward to returning here for more interesting culinary adventure in the future should I have the opportunity. I hope Massimo would still be in the kitchen as often as he can and not fell into trap of quickly capitalizing on his fame by opening new restaurants everywhere. I bestowed 95/100 for this meal (equivalent to 2 ¾* by Michelin standard)
Here are the pictures from my dinner: https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...
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