How far would you drive for lunch?
“Believe in your dreams. Impossible is nothing.”
Michelin 3 stars are defined as exceptional cuisine, Worth a Special Journey’ and given that Osteria Francescana is the World’s #1 Restaurant and who were dining with, if was most definitely worth a special journey. This meal of a lifetime didn’t disappoint. See for yourself how amazing it was and how inspiring and deserving of this accolade Chef Massimo Bottura is.
Last summer Didier and I drove for 7 hours from Provence, France to Modena, Italy for lunch at the World’s #1 Restaurant. Calling the meal we then shared ‘lunch’ is a gross understatement given that we dined at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. This restaurant has the coveted 3 Michelin stars, Michelin says it’s the Best restaurant in Europe and it really is the World’s No1 Restaurant on the 50 Best Restaurant’s list for 2016. I’d say that warrants a special journey.
“The cuisine at this restaurant is certainly top notch. The dishes are light and well balanced with a focus on adding innovative touches to traditional recipes without being overly nostalgic. The Osteria Francescana once again confirms its place among the best international restaurants, while chef Bottura remains a culinary talent acclaimed across the globe.” Michelin
To top it all we were meeting with our friends Michael (of Krikorian Writes fame) who scored the reservation and Chef Nancy (Silverton) who, like Massimo, needs no introduction. She happens to have an Osteria (Mozza) of her own, and be another of the world’s best chefs and winner of both the James Beard Award Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Pastry Chef (the only chef to get both). Our dining plans were hatched over dinner with Phil Rosenthal at the I’ll Have what Phil’s Having With Phil I organized and Nancy hosted at the Osteria Mozza back in June.
We drove to Modena the day before and arrived in time for dinner with Michael and Nancy. After a good night’s sleep and a morning trip to the Modena covered market we walked over to 22 Via Stella. We were a little early and enjoyed a glass of wine and some shopping at the sister wine bar just down the street.
With fellow diners we waited patiently and excitedly outside for the doors of this coveted restaurant n to open. Lara Gilmore (Massimo’s wife) happened to pass by with her son and a few friends on their way to find Pokemons. She claims she’s not allowed in the dining room as she’s too disruptive. Not sure I’m buying that given how key she is to the marketing and running of the restaurant. Most importantly, Massimo credits her for opening his eyes to the world of art and an appreciation of the world.
The Dining Room
We were first to be invited in to sit in the elegant dining room. The scene was set with layered white table cloths covering round tables, soft blue walls, defused light through floor to , a wooden ceiling and interesting artwork on every wall and pretty delicate flowers. My anticipation levels are hitting that wooden ceiling! This could be someones house, an art gallery that happens to be a number one restaurant or even the set for some Waiting for Godot/Restaurant production. It felt surreal to be sitting there having driven so far and to be seeing our friends in Italy away from the bustle of LA. I believe we were one of five tables and yes we did talk to the other diners. It felt intimate, we’d all come from different corners of the world to share something very special.
We chose to have Massimo make a menu for us, he came bounding out of the kitchen full of smiles and jokes and anecdotes flying. This is a man who is having fun and living out every creative flavor fantasy on the plate with his metaphors and stories. He absorbs and is inspired by everything and anything – art, music, popular culture, history and his own memories but at the center stays true to himself. Probably very much grounded by Lara. He is certainly one of a kind and definitely shows genius not just in his food but how he views the world.
Our Menu by Massimo Bottura
Lunch began with delicious homemade bread and olive oil for dipping and extra long crisp grissini like magic wands as wine is selected and poured. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a meal and I’m desperately feeling I’ve come in with too high expectations.
Not Your Average Corn on the Cob
Massimo’s first dish is a play on corn on the cob – it’s been made in a mold and the essence of char-grilled corn at the height of the summer, perhaps a 4th of July BBQ, comes through in every bite. The exterior is meringue like with a creamy ceviche filling.
Childhood Memories of Normandy
Next is something more familiar in presentation – an oyster sitting on a bed of salt topped with pale green sorbet. Massimo is using a childhood memory of Normandy, France, where he ate lamb and oysters washed down with cider. He reimagines it as a delicate tartare of lamb, smoked salt, kelp, caviar, oyster water and cold cider sorbet.
Lentils Are Better Than Caviar – allegedly
As a lover of anything with caviar I was excited for the next dish, Lentils Are Better Than Caviar. A small gold caviar tin is filled with lentils cooked in fish broth, masquerading as caviar on top of crème fraiche, beets and dill. This playful dish is almost asking us to disagree with it – obviously caviar is better that lentils – but when Massimo is cooking the lentils they become almost better than caviar – note I said almost.
Riz with a Spritz
A large white bowl with a rich creamy yellow risotto is put down on the table in front of me, Riso Levante. Then the waiter spritzes the top with a little spray bottle so that I inhale the sweet citrus scent of orange zest before tucking in to the rice.
Burnt Seawater Upstages Fish
I forget the fish of this interesting dish because all I remember are the intriguing silvery layers, thinner than paper, that were made from burnt salt water our waiter explains.
Billie Holiday Sings the Big Apple
Having visited France it’s now time to head across the Atlantic to the Big Apple for a dish named after a Billie Holiday song – Autumn in New York. Colorful vegetables are cut into tiny jewels and arranged in the shape of an apple and then a broth is poured in from a silver jug.
One of the Massimo’s classic dishes is the Five Ages of Parmesan, Nancy had said before that she hoped we would get it in our tasting menu. On the plate is a sauce, a foam, a demi-soufflé, an air and a crisp. The textures and the flavours of the aged parmesan – from 25 through to 50 months – are not just a work of art they are beautifully thought out and executed and you can see why the chef has perfected this over almost as many years as the parmesan was aged in months.
Not Your Nona’s Lasagna
The Crunchy Part of The Lasagne is another Massimo classic – rich ragù and béchamel under a crispy Italian flag of pasta. It’s all about the ragù. Made without tomato and torn apart by hand, this is a thousand Italian Grandmothers’ dreams reduced into a few bites. How else can you provide a playful twist on a cuisine entrenched in the traditions of Nona’s cooking? I lick the plate and long for more.
The Crowd Pleaser
Perhaps the crowd pleaser of the lunch is our next dish – This Little Piggie Went to Market, around the world with these 5 little pigs – each pig was a layer of vegetable/fruit (carrot, beet, cucumber, avocado, melon) over a piece of pork charcuterie. This is Massimo at his best – flavorful, playful and witty. Oink Oink – This little piggie went to market, this little piggy stayed at home, this little piggies had roast beef and this little piggy had none and this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home.
Oops! I forgot this dish
So memorable and entrancing was the piggies dish that I am shamed to admit I have not idea what this next dish was! Duck perhaps with a cherry sauce? Opps I forgot what we ate!
A silver stand topped with 4 miniature nut covered ice cream lollys complete with stick – inside the nuts is decadant foie gras and at the center 35 year old balsamic vinegar. It’s different in a good way as we move from savory towards sweet – unexpected and more of the playful humor Massimo so obviously enjoys.
The Caesar Salad in Bloom – This has to be the prettiest Caesar salad in the world and might even be the prettiest dish, period. Beautiful bright petals, a red dust of dried cherries, some crispy salad leaves and a honey vinegarette all add up to inspiration for future Lean Luxury salads to come.
Why not have salad look too good to eat? Pretty as a picture and definitely one of the most inspiring Lean Luxury moments of 2016.
That Famous Oops! Dish
Having watched Massimo’s story in Chef’s Table I am delighted that dessert is his world famous Oops! I Dropped The Lemon Tart!
The mistake that inspired this dish has been taken to a whole new level with a special white plate that has been made to look like it was dropped and stuck back together again. There really is the feeling of the show must go on.
The tart has been smashed and a big yellow splatter dominates the dish along with the broken crust and tiny dots of lemon rind and reductions.
Along side this is a dish of chocolate and cherries – the chocolate ganache is very shallow, very rich and very lick the plate clean worthy! Nancy says we must recreate this and so we should – I think a saucer would work well for the very slight indentation.
You can see from this picture that we all but licked the plates clean – even Nancy, who is not a big dessert eater, which is surprising given her Outstanding Pastry Chef credentials. She also doesn’t eat bread either having founded an empire with La Brea Bakery.
The time I said no to truffles
Just when we think we are all done and swear we couldn’t eat another thing out come the petit fours – and this is the one thing I wasn’t crazy about – the truffle macarons – perhaps I was full or just not needing truffles at this point in my delicious meal.
And then came the cherry bomb dot com!
Which we gobbled up and left a few crumbs for the gods.
We rolled out of the serene environment into the warm late afternoon sunshine of Modena to find Massimo. He was sitting on the sidewalk of the cobbled street with a bottle of Pellegrino (sponsor of the World’s Best Restaurants) giving an interview to an American journalist from L.A.. Nancy cozied up to Massimo to thank him for the most delicious and memorable meal. Within minutes we were all laughing and joking and jumping from one subject to another. I’m not sure if this was quite what the journalist was expecting but as with everything about Massimo it was unique, in the moment and playful. The world’s No 1 is unique, memorable and inspiring.
A gallery of what we ate at the World’s No1 Restaurant