Emilia Romagna

Dining Out, Travel

Osteria Francescana

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Osteria Francescana has been of interest to me not simply because it is the #2 restaurant in the world, or because it boasts 3 Michelin stars, but largely due to the reputation of its chef owner, Massimo Bottura.


In 2012, when a devastating earthquake hit the Emilia Romagna region, one of my favorite foods faced an uncertain future. Well over 300,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese were shaken to the floor from their aging boards and damaged. When a restaurant chef turns the misfortune of his hometown into a personal mission to bring aid, people take notice. When he successfully ensures that the industry comes out without losing jobs or its future sustainability, people begin to pay CLOSE attention.

The 4 Madonne Caseificio has been rebuilt and is back to producing Parmigiano Reggiano, but imagine hundreds of thousands of these 80-pound wheels crashing to the ground. 

The 4 Madonne Caseificio has been rebuilt and is back to producing Parmigiano Reggiano, but imagine hundreds of thousands of these 80-pound wheels crashing to the ground. 


Chef Massimo Bottura’s worldwide “social gesture” as he called it, took a classic Roman dish and finessed it into an homage to the farmers and artisans of Emilia Romagna. It was a resounding success. Rissoto cacio e pepe was a global hug of sorts, to the citizens of Modena from the worldwide community who appreciate what they offer year after year. Chefs and home cooks alike prepared the meal, serving enough risotto to use up all of the cheese in jeopardy of being lost.  

In 2015, chef Bottura and his wife Lara founded the Food for Soul Foundation. They created a soup kitchen like no other. Refettorio Ambrosiano aimed to eliminate food waste from the 2015 Milan Food Expo, by bringing in some of the top chefs from multiple continents to create beautiful food from ingredients that would otherwise be thrown out. It was a fine dining experience with added purpose, and no check at the end of the meal.  Ambrosiano still exists today, long after the Expo has ended.

In 2016, the same motivation to bring some joy and a nutritious meal to those who don’t often have the opportunity prompted Bottura to take his passion for feeding his fellow man a little farther down the road. Refettorio Gastromotiva opened in Rio de Janeiro, and with the help of nearly 80 chefs from many countries, the surplus food from the Olympic Village provided those living in a situation of “social vulnerability” the opportunity to experience, as the organization calls it, “nourishment, culture, and dignity.” Through partnerships with other sources of surplus, Refettorio Gastromotiva also continues its efforts today, long after the Olympians and fans have gone. 2017 saw the opening of a similar project, Refettorio Felix in London. 

Having the opportunity to visit a 3-Michelin-starred restaurant that is currently ranked #2 in the world, and that has held all top 3 spots in the past 3 years is an amazing opportunity. When the man behind it is an enigmatic combination of chef, artist and unstoppable humanitarian, it is even more special. 

With all of the projects chef Bottura has going on outside of Modena, we certainly didn't expect to see him walking around the corner in front of the restaurant as we were waiting for it to open. So kind and friendly, he told us he'd just flown in that same morning from an event in Bangkok, having also recently been in London and New York. He graciously smiled for a photo, before assuring us that the restaurant would be opening in just a few minutes, and then heading back around the corner to carry in another armload of supplies. 

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As promised, the doors were unlocked at precisely 12:30, and guests were escorted inside. Coats were taken and we were shown into one of 2 small dining rooms. 

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The menu offers a la carte options, as well as two chef's tasting menu options, with wine pairings available for each. We selected the twelve course "Tutto" (everything) menu. While I didn't record the names of all of the pairings, they were expertly matched. 

As each plate was presented, the dish was explained and sometimes finished at the table. Course after course, something new and curious arrived. While we had our own "favorites," each one was unique in its own story and inspiration. 

As our aperitif arrived, we were presented with a selection of amuse bouche. 

"Fish & Chips", A tiny fish sandwich topped with ice cream. Crunchy sardine.  Baccalà in pastry.  Rabbit macaron. 

"Fish & Chips", A tiny fish sandwich topped with ice cream. Crunchy sardine.  Baccalà in pastry.  Rabbit macaron. 

 

Insalata di mare

The first course was interesting in part because the ingredients are stacked in and on top of one another, with a trio of crisps tucked in, further obscuring the fish and roe inside. The plate was finished at the table with a spritz of colorful "flavors of the sea."

Insalata di Mare, with crunchy crackers infused with flavors of the sea, and bites of fish tucked into the leaves.

Insalata di Mare, with crunchy crackers infused with flavors of the sea, and bites of fish tucked into the leaves.

Mediterranean Sole

The second course is a play on three classic preparations of sole. The salted and slow cooked fish is served "en papillote," under a cloud of shimmery, charred, edible salt water paper. 

Mediterranean Sole, playing on 3 classic preparations. There is a meunière sauce under the fish, which is hiding under the charred salt water "paper" 

Mediterranean Sole, playing on 3 classic preparations. There is a meunière sauce under the fish, which is hiding under the charred salt water "paper" 

 

Rice: green over brown over black

The first of three camouflage-themed dishes in this meal. I saw more a week later, apparently this is a popular motif in Italy. Flavors representing the rolling hills, the flat land, and the sea.

Rice: green over brown over black. Chlorophyll, mushrooms, and squid & oyster lend color and flavor to this artistic trio, meant to be enjoyed together. Each bite is a bit different, depending on the spoonful.

Rice: green over brown over black. Chlorophyll, mushrooms, and squid & oyster lend color and flavor to this artistic trio, meant to be enjoyed together. Each bite is a bit different, depending on the spoonful.

Autumn in New York

Savory, sweet, umami, just a bit of tart & creamy. This course was beautiful and delicious. The plate arrived with the ingredients in the shape of the apple, and was finished with the apple dashi at the table. 

"Autumn in New York" is an homage to the fall produce found in the Union Square Market, finished at the table with apple dashi. 

"Autumn in New York" is an homage to the fall produce found in the Union Square Market, finished at the table with apple dashi. 

Civet, game, snails, herbs, and ravioli

This is the point during a meal like this where I try to keep in mind how much food is yet to come. I try to pace myself, and share what I can't eat with my date. The savory, earthy herbaciousness of this dish made that simply impossible. 

Civet, game, snails, herbs and ravioli

Civet, game, snails, herbs and ravioli

Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures

The next dish is a Bottura signature dish. What is arguably the most famous ingredient to hail from Emilia-Romagna is celebrated in a most spectacular display. 5 ages of cheese, manipulated into 5 components, and presented in a way that much like the tri-colored risotto, can change with each bite depending on what is arranged in the spoon. 

For those who don't mind putting in a little effort to acquire 5 ages of cheese and a couple of specialty tools and ingredients, this recipe is featured in Bottura's book "Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef."

 "Five ages of Parmigianno Reggiano in different textures and temperatures."  Demi-soufflé of 24-month, sauce of 30-month, foam of 36-month, wafer of 40-month, and "air" of 50-month Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

 "Five ages of Parmigianno Reggiano in different textures and temperatures."Demi-soufflé of 24-month, sauce of 30-month, foam of 36-month, wafer of 40-month, and "air" of 50-month Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

The crunchy part of the lasagna

Another highly anticipated dish for anyone who has heard chef Bottura talk about the emotional connections to the foods of his childhood. Hand chopped meat in a rich ragu paired with airy béchamel foam, scooped up on crisp pasta. Crunchy, and satisfying, yet lighter than the original. 

The crunchy part of the lasagne"    Ragu of chopped meats, béchamel foam, and a tri-color pasta crisp. 

The crunchy part of the lasagne"  Ragu of chopped meats, béchamel foam, and a tri-color pasta crisp. 

 

Camouflage pigeon

A second dish playing on the theme of camouflage, both artistically with the sauces, as well as a "leg: that is actually a meatball prepared with leg meat and foie gras. 

"Camouflage pigeon"    Sous vide breast, and a meatball "leg" in a colorful array of flavors. Root vegetable, horseradish, and citrus.

"Camouflage pigeon"  Sous vide breast, and a meatball "leg" in a colorful array of flavors. Root vegetable, horseradish, and citrus.

Ciliegie, amarene, duroni, marasche, e pane secco

At this point in the meal, we begin to transition towards dessert. Emilia Romagna is known for its cherries, in many varieties. This dish showcases their varying flavors along with cake and creamy ricotta.

"Ciliege, amarene, duroni, marasche e pane secco" is a   celebration of the cherries of the region, with varieties ranging from sweet to tart. 

"Ciliege, amarene, duroni, marasche e pane secco" is a celebration of the cherries of the region, with varieties ranging from sweet to tart. 

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Millefoglie di millefoglie

Though it appears small and delicate, there is so much of the flavor of autumn packed into these few bites. Though not as colorful as some of the other dishes, visually this was one of my favorites.

Millefoglie di millefoglie"    Layers of pastry topped with black & white truffle, pumpkin, and leaves of chocolate.

Millefoglie di millefoglie"  Layers of pastry topped with black & white truffle, pumpkin, and leaves of chocolate.

Oops! I dropped the lemon tart

Another Iconic (and delicious) signature of Osteria Francescana, this plate celebrates life's mistakes, and the beautiful things that can come from them. The array of flavors lined up next to the deconstructed tart provide one more opportunity for each guest to enjoy a myriad of flavor experiences, all on one dish.

"Oops! I dropped the lemon tart"    Zabaglione, lemongrass gelato, and a cracked tart crust are accentuated by mint sauce, candied lemon, candied bergamot, capers, red chili, oregano, candied ginger, and lemon powder.

"Oops! I dropped the lemon tart"  Zabaglione, lemongrass gelato, and a cracked tart crust are accentuated by mint sauce, candied lemon, candied bergamot, capers, red chili, oregano, candied ginger, and lemon powder.

As we finished our dessert, chef Bottura emerged from the kitchen to greet each table. He of course asked about the meal, and if we would like to take a photo in the dining room as well. No one would ever have guessed that this man had flown in from Asia just a few hours before arriving to serve lunch and chat with his guests. I have heard that he seems to have an unlimited supply of energy and congeniality, and I now know it to be true. 

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Final Bites to end the meal:

Vignola

Croccantino of foie gras

Camouflage: a hare in the woods

Macarons

Just as we feared that we could not possibly eat another bite, these artful little nibbles arrived. From a "cherry" that bursts in your mouth, to a (third) camouflaged bite that makes you wonder why you haven't been eating rabbit's blood with chocolate all of your life; these were the perfect way to end a beautiful meal. 

A tribute to nearby Vignola, the "cherry capital of Italy.  Foie gras on a stick with a heart of aged balsamic vinegar, and coated with Sicilian almonds and hazelnuts from Piedmont.  A beautiful and surprising bite that combines savory and sweet, as hare with powdered vegetables and herbs meets chocolate and foie gras.  Macarons of foie gras and truffles.    

A tribute to nearby Vignola, the "cherry capital of Italy.

Foie gras on a stick with a heart of aged balsamic vinegar, and coated with Sicilian almonds and hazelnuts from Piedmont.

A beautiful and surprising bite that combines savory and sweet, as hare with powdered vegetables and herbs meets chocolate and foie gras.

Macarons of foie gras and truffles. 

 

Interested in a visit to Osteria Francescana? There are a few things that you should know. The restaurant is currently booked out 3-4 months in advance. Reservations go online at 10am (Modena time) on the first day of the month, so the next reservations to become available will be on February 1st for the month of May, March 1st for the month of June and so on. It is still advisable to double check the calendar on the website in advance, as it will indicate the day and time you may submit a request. Reservations go in SECONDS, so you'll want to figure out your particular time difference and set an alarm. If you don't get a reservation, stay on the wait list. Some people will have requested double dates in an effort to get in, and sometimes plans change. Please note that when your reservation is accepted you will need to provide a credit card to hold your spot. They'll re-confirm you the week before in case you need to cancel, but no-shows are charged 250 Euros per person.

Whether you make it to Francescana or not, I still recommend checking out their sister restaurant in Modena, Franceschetta 58. It's much easier to get a reservation (e-mail them at the beginning of the month before your visit) and is much easier on the wallet. Stay tuned for more from me on this one, it is definitely worth a visit.

 

Osteria Francescana

Serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Closed Sunday and Monday

Via Stella, 22
41121 Modena MO
Italy

+39 059 223912