I wanted to go to Osteria Francescana for a while, mesmerized by the avant-garde cuisine of acclaimed Chef Massimo Bottura whose innovative mind comes out pretty well in the Netflix’s series Chef’s Table. Opened in 1995, Osteria Francescana rapidly gained popularity, climbing the ladder of the 50 World Best Restaurants (3rd in 2013 and 2014, 2nd in 2015 and then 1st in 2016 and 2018). Rapidly but not without struggling at first, the restaurant was rejected by Italian patrons who thought that the dishes served did not represent Italian classics and were even treasonous. It is only when a critic stopped by the restaurant due to a change of plan that things took a different turn in the right way. I admit that even thought I come from France, a country which is extremely proud of its cuisine, said to be the best in the world and setting the foundation for many cooking techniques, I am sometimes annoyed by the lack of the general openness of people when it comes to cooking: crafting new dishes with new flavor profiles does not mean that you neglect or reject the classics. Some of the dishes we know today were new at a certain point of time and nobody decided that after that, nothing new should be created. Keeping an open mind by still giving a nod to tradition is something I am always looking forward to and Chef Bottura certainly succeeded at Osteria Francescana.
So, how did we get there? When traveling, I kind of make a deal with Jodi: she plans the cultural activities like the museums and I plan the food. So, as we were going to France to see my family and were already in Europe, we decided to spend few days in Florence, with the goal to get to Modena, just an 1 hour30 minute train ride from there, to eat at Osteria Francescana. The thing is that we had to book our flight early to get a good deal, but the reservations for the restaurant were not yet open. On April 1st at 10am, you were able to finally make reservations online...Italy time! Meaning 4am NY! So as you can guess, i woke up at 4am that Monday, my will to go there being stronger than my pillow. But what a disappointment when I realized that thousands of people had the same idea and I was placed more than 9,000 in the queue to book a table with no way to put myself on a wait list. Even leaving my computer on for hours if not days did not do it. I gave up after few days, but, few weeks later, as we were in Chicago for an art exhibit, Jodi reminded me about the reservation and I successfully ended up on a waiting list, before receiving good news 4 days after:
So here we are, waiting outside for the restaurant to open at 12:30pm. Entering there is like a dance: some people go on the right, others like us on the left and upon entering we discovered the small dining rooms that would keep the experience intimate.
We had the choice of going with the a la carte menu or the 12-course tasting and decided to go for the latter as it was a unique occasion to try some of the Chef’s creations, the restaurant accommodating a vegetarian meal for Jodi (I told them when reserving). At 290 Euros per person, it is expensive, but worth it if you can afford it as this is a sublime experience that you might only live once…
We started off the meal with a glass of Italian champagne, a 2009 Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Annamaria Clementi, Italy, Lombardy.
At first, they brought us some homemade sourdough and multi-grain bread that was very good, and later, some very long breadsticks also delicious.
Then, it was a festival of flavors but, like many of these restaurants, you can get overwhelmed when they describe the dish, your attention being focussed on the dish itself, the colors and aroma being incredible. But I think I got most of them. If I were to pick 3 dishes, they would be (in order of appearance):
The spaghettini from the gulf of Naples to Hokkaido (sea urchin sauce and roasted clam on top). If you look below, you will see that the colors of the dish are those from the Italian flag, green, white and red. The sauce was amazing, quite comforting and I did not even think about any cheese on top. And the pasta was superb: perfectly made and cooked.
Then, the Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in different textures and temperatures. This is one of the iconic dishes from Chef Bottura that is composed in the bottom of a cream made with a cheese that is 24 months old, on the left side is a demi-souffle made with a 30 months old, on the right side a foam that is 36 months old, the galette, 40 months old and the white top, called a "breath of air" is 50 months old. After trying this dish, I will not look at parmigiano reggiano the same way: coming from a country with more than 400 varieties of cheese, parmigiano reggiano was always associated with pasta or pizza and I would have never thought about eating this delicacy on its own or even prepared the way Chef Bottura does it. I should mention the 5 temperatures of the components that add some dimension to a dish that is truly unique.
The third one is the baba that is a tribute to the Amalfi coast of Italy. I usually get the baba au rum that is a quite popular dessert in France, but this one had buffalo ricotta cheese, tomato and a strawberry sauce in the bottom. I was surprised to see the tomato as a dessert but then remembered that it is a fruit. This was a very interesting dessert, the sweetness of the strawberries pairing well with the cheese.
Here is what we had:
First course: grilled hamachi in abstract for me and grilled eggplant in abstract for Jodi.
Second course: Autumn in NY as a fresh water fish salad (eel) / equivalent vegetarian for Jodi.
Third course: spaghettini from the gulf of Naples to Hokkaido (sea urchin sauce and roasted clam on top). For Jodi, tomato gazpacho on top).
Four course: we are still deciding which fish to serve (turbot with a cream of scallop, accompanied with trout roe with squid ink sauce) for me and for Jodi a tartan made with leeks, white wine, beurre blanc foam, Truffle.
Fifth course: pasta al pesto in abstract, a node to a classic Italian dish that was very creative and surprising. It was made with fermented pasta (miso), pine nuts and you could definitely taste the basil and peas that gave this beautiful green color.
Sixth course: for Jodi, marinated avocado and for me, Wagyu no wagyu, a take of Chef Bottura on the Japanese meat where the beef is replaced by heart and pork belly, that sits on a ponzu sauce, made by his Tokyo-born sous chef Kondo Takahiko.
Seventh course: Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in different textures and temperatures. It was served with a sourdough and potato bread.
Eighth course: ravioli of roasted potatoes in roasted guinea hen sauce (vegetable sauce for Jodi - both dishes looked more or less the exact same).
Ninth course: this dish is a tribute to Edith Piaf that I guess Chef Bottura loves, especially when you know that he has prints from Francesco Vezzoli's La Vie en Rose series representing the French singer. Interestingly, as they brought us the dishes (with beet root for Jodi and deer for me). The sauce was made with cherry and you can see on the side an endive with the shape of a rose.
Tenth course: In defense of nature, with each layer (grapefruit representing knowledge, ice cream made of rosemary and bay leaves, representing fecondity and longevity, and the rose on top represents life) .
Eleventh course: Tribute to Amalfi, the baba I talked about earlier.
Twelfth course: chocolates and Madeleines. We finished our meal with espresso, tea, homemade chocolates and Earl grey madeleines.
I admit that at that point, after this 3h30 meal that did not feel long, I was full and glad we could walk around and go to the Ferrari Museum after that, our train to Florence being later. I should mention that, when we left, they gave us a small bottle of balsamic vinegar as Modena is known for it. Our experience at Osteria Francescana was unique and my only regret was not to be able to meet with Chef Bottura who was in South America at that time. Maybe another time!
Enjoy (I really did)!
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Osteria Francescana- Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena MO, Italy