The same day we had lunch in Ermes, we dined in 3-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana. Perhaps as different as two restaurants can be in terms of style and presentation, and yet still both reflecting certain aspects of traditional Italian, and specifically Modenese cuisine.
In a little side street just off one of the main roads in the centre of town, a simple sign and unadorned metal door are all you see from the outside. Once inside the usual flock of besuited staff waited with smiles and “Buonasera”s to take our coats and guide us to our table.
The setting is fairly sober, albeit with the occasional startling and incongrous piece of modern art. There’s nothing like three pigeons and a bin bag to put you in the mood for haute cuisine, right?
There were three tasting menus available, of differing lengths. We chose the one in the middle: “Classics”.
The first starter: freshwater fish (“aula“) tempura topped with fish (“carpione“) ice cream. The coldness and crunch combined perfectly to make a confident and surprising amuse-bouche.
Next, what looked like a simple, even uninspiring piece of white fish. Baccalà, in a tomato and caper broth, topped with thyme-infused breadcrumbs. Beautiful, delicate flavours and firm yet yielding flesh. Definitely more than meets the eye.
The next dish was presented as a journey along three different canals into Modena. Adriatic eel with some kind of strong teriyaki-style lacquer, polenta on the right and apple jelly on the left. The black dust in the foreground is burnt onion.
The next dish was listed on the menu as simply “Think Green”. What this meant on the plate was a selection of mushrooms, truffle, radish and chlorophyll, all raw, and presented in such a way as to suggest (according to the waiter) the hills around Modena. The subtly earthy flavours were a nice contrast after the previous dish.
Now this was perhaps an unusual moment for the cheese course to appear, but it wasn’t really your conventional array of slices and nuggets. It consisted entirely of Parmigiano Reggiano, all of different ages and strengths, and all prepared in a different way: liquid, soufflé, mousse, foam and cracker. A lovely, tasty idea, although it’s probably just as well it was a small portion.
Another strange presentation next: a glass containing (bottom up) veal, pancetta, parmigiana, beans and rosemary. It supposedly represents, via its ingredients, a journey through France, Spain and Italy.
For the main meat course we were back to something more recognisable, but no less tasty for that. Slow-cooked guinea fowl, truffle potatoes, chlorophyll, balsamic vinegar. And just before we tucked in the waiter gave it a shot from an aerosol spray made from the bird’s bones, which was intended to give it that “roasted” flavour. It worked.
What was even better was the little mouthful served as a side dish: a crunchy slice of the bird’s skin, with white chocolate with garlic, dark chocolate with liver, and toast flavoured ice cream. This may have been the most interesting and stimulating mouthful of the whole evening.
Pre-dessert, and another break with traditional menu formats: foie gras. On a stick. Covered in caramelised almonds and containing a large blob of balsamic vinegar in the centre. I wish I could persuade Magnum to market a large version of these.
After the foie gras the dessert proper was a very mild disappointment. “Broken” lemon tart, capers, zabaglione, chili pepper. Not the best end to meal but a better use of the smashed plate idea than we’d seen in ‘t Zilte last year.
Finally, a word about the wine, most of which was exceptional and some of which was quite strange. As usual we asked for a selection of wines to accompany the various stages of the tasting menu. Perhaps most notable was the Zibibbo Serragghia, a naturally cloudy, unfiltered white which to the nose gave the impression of being a sickly sweet dessert wine, yet in the mouth was dry and acidic.
At the end of the meal we asked for a list of the wines we’d tasted and the next day they emailed us this PDF with the full menu:
Let’s put it this way: I found Modena as a town to be of limited interest, but the five-hour round trip from Genoa to visit Osteria Francescana was worth it.