Travel Through Plates

When a plate of food is put before me, I photograph it immediately. This blog, decodes my favorite dishes. It's a happy blog, as I predominantly show you pictures of the winners, the ones I love,

My Greatest Plates!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Osteria Francescana 3 Stars in the constellation of UMAMI

At Osteria Francescana There are three menus Traditions (Euro 110), Classics (Euro 150) and Sensations "Molecular" (Euro 180)  - There are also three Michelin stars! 

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:

My menu

Memory of a mortadella sandwich

This is a strange pink colour mousse whose texture and mouthfeel is not obvious but mimics this most original of boloney with a peppering of curried pistachios and a cube of bread. This is an optical illusion; tongue style. Very surprising and quite delicious!

Prosciutto from Parma by F.lli Galloni Langhirano
Massimo Spigaroli Culatello antica razza aged 42 months DOP Traditional Modenese

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)

An celebration of chlorophyll in its different states, some of this was iced, the sweetness of ground fresh peas, perhaps the popeye of spinach, and the verdant appreciation of just cut lawns, doused in warm parmesan curd. In fact this was the chefs tribute to the cows that produce the milk that makes his beloved Parmesan Reggiano cheese. Pretty neat when you think of it that way!

Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures (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. 

The Tortellini were almost translucent handmade purses of goodness, artfully crafted - as if they were created by Italian leather artisans from another era. The corse filling packed a flavour punch of meat and mortadella which must have been cooked in a chicken consommé because of the profound richness.  The sauce coated each piece with a robe of hot creamy parmesan which evoked mmm's and ah's at tables around the room.  As they were being served from a copper casserole some diners in the room made the sign of the cross, another one became emotional after his first bite, wiping a tear that had weeped  - perhaps for a memory - a longing for his lost mothers kitchen?

Tagliatelle with Bolognese ragù

More than any dish I wanted to see what Chef Bottura would do - he gave his Ragu respect and stripped it literally to the marrow bone, no ground meat at all this sauce was about pulling and shredding the slow braised beef which was cut and worked by hand. The flavours here are deep like unctuous veal demiglace but with the meat left in to dance with the silken hand made super-egged tagliatelli.  For me this is the best Ragu I have ever tried! This Bolognese is rich with the wine that once wet the sofrito,  a plate that honours all of its Modenese heritage. 

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.

Cold zuppa inglese 

Interesting as this was a mixed temperature dessert with classic flavors.

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!

The Hot Mix Pro
A secret weapon in the kitchen

As we left.. the Sun kissed the roof!