To understand where something is today I often find you need to begin with the origins. Like a road map to the larder, the Tradition menu allows you to decode the provenance of this chef, via each dish you're probably meeting his family, his mother, grand mother, and what you come quickly to understand is his profound respect for his home region Emilia-Romagna.
His cooking proffers benchmark recipes, deeply perfected that follow the principal of it ain't broke there is nothing to fix.
This is where I strongly suggest you begin with the Traditions Menu.
I ate 9 courses and left the 12 "Sensations" from the experimental molecular kitchen to my next visit... oh and if you are wondering I have no choice but to return.
In restaurants the process of growth often repeats, a young Chef starts at the bottom peeling things, as they climb the brigade ladder they get to cook and sauce in better and better kitchens, learning from starry macaroon adorned chefs, climbing plate by plate till they get to open a new restaurant with their name on the door, blossoming like a butterfly's cocoon, initial menus tend to respect the past but then comes the requisite dabble in jiggery pokery which allow for the "metamorphosis" ! Next the lessons thus learned on the journey fly out the window and .. The results more often than not disappoint - truth is that innovation in the kitchen is usually just window dressed as a re-tweak or nothing really new at all.
The Modena region is the home of some of the coolest Italian companies such as Ferrari, Maserati and Pagani, it is no wonder to me that food fashionably has to follow suit. This region, Emilia-Romagna is after all at the origin of what most people around the world consider to be the touchstones of any Italian gastronomy. This is where Spaghetti Bolognese (known locally as Ragu) - Tortelloni, Parmesan Cheese, Prosciutto and the holy grail condiment - BALSAMIC vinegar call home.
As the University of Modena was founded in 1175 you can bet they respect and know a thing or two about the "old way" in these parts!
I had begun to question Michelin's three star protocols, having been let down by many of those they have chosen to promote into this gastronomic pantheon. With Osteria Francescana they could easily start a new 4 * category and no one would blink or argue that it belonged!
I chose the Tradition menu and cherry picked a few dishes from the Classics menu as well. but to fully appreciate this restaurant it seems you must have two meals. It is almost like there are two schools of cooking. A traditional one and a molecular one more in sync with the avant-garde modern art on the walls.
A bunker like metal door opens after you ring the bell and you are ushered into a sobre reception hall with hushed hospitality and men dressed in dark suits. I had requested a window when I booked and got table 6 which is a good table indeed!
No freebie starters at all beyond some bread (crisp crust sour dough) and grissini bread sticks:
Memory of a mortadella sandwich
Prosciutto from Parma by F.lli Galloni Langhirano
Forget everything you thought you knew about cured meats! I said everything, the Culatello was a biblical experience for me, sitting in front of the slices (see picture) a micro mustard oil apple chutney that is called Mostarda di Mele to act as italian "wasabi" for the slices of meat. The Prosciutto became moot, even insignificant once your brought the Culatello to your lips - a silky texture where it was impossible to discern fat from meat, a umami hit of immense satisfaction as the sweet taste slipped far too easily across your lips - a caress to your mouth akin to a sensual act from your fantasy lover that all too quickly escapes like vapour into the night. Yes that's right I'm talking about just one bite of "ham"!!!
Think Green (Classics Menu)
I was floored by the intense UMAMI hit on this plate. It was gorgeous and perhaps the most complete dish I ate here. Ages, Temps and textures all different. A strong farm funk aged Parmesan Tuile, cold parmesan turned into a cottage cheese, Parmesan Souffle, a creamy cheese custard and an airy foam. Each from a different age, all strangely familiar as if you are meeting the whole family as well as the uncle we don't talk about.
Tortellini in cream of Parmigiano Reggiano
I noted that not one spice or herb ever stood out in any of the dishes I sampled, in fact they all were here but the chefs light touch hid them from individual prominence so each contributed an essential oil but worked in unison to balance within the complex flavours.
Tagliatelle with Bolognese ragù
Mora romagnola ribs lacquered with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Baby back pork ribs in a balsamic BBQ glaze. The ribs are cooked for hours in a water bath but the are finished inside the BIG GREEN EGG grill and smoker (see pictures) served with a smear of truffled celeriac and also mashed potatoes.
As a huge BBQ fan - I was trumped by this sauce, the complexity of the vinegar, mixed with the braising juices was a heavenly revelation. The ribs so moist that the meat shirked off the bone with the barest nudge of my fork, after I had my wicked way with them, 5 bones laid naked on my plate, like fossils of what once was walking the earth waiting to be discovered my anthropologists. More than anything I tasted - I would travel just these ribs.
Foie gras crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena (Classics Menu)
I love meat on a stick! Here in honor of an ice cream bar a rectangular cube of foie gras (quite cold) covered in warm roasted almond shards and filled with a balsamic vinegar centre. This popped and oozed as you bit into it - super yummy.
Oops! A broken lemon tart (Classics Menu)
A slightly salted lemon sabayon dresses the shortest crust pastry I have ever tasted (no wonder it broke) centred with lemon curd ice cream make this mistake into a perfection as a dessert with humour - even the plate in "broken"!
Petit fours came with the Naples coffee which were so original Tiramisu truffles, homemade and better than nutella type chocolates, raspberry and passion fruit jellies, warm bergamot scented madeleines and chocolate biscotti!
The service is attentive and sincere, the sommelier is passionate. The kitchen is welcoming and forthcoming with information. Faultless!
If you consider yourself to be a serious foody then this restaurant is a stamp you need in your passport! It is worthy of your custom and will make you leave Modena very happy indeed!
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|As we left.. the Sun kissed the roof!|