It’s already been 10 weeks in Europe. If I can take away one important lesson from this experience, it’s to chase after what I love rather than seek after perfection. Pursuing perfection will only leave me in a puddle of disappointment.
When I was studying in New York City, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List and Michelin Guide were my culinary scriptures. Number five is better than number ten. Three stars are better than two stars. I used to tell my friends about collecting stars and checking names off the list. But times change. I’ve decided that I can’t let intangible figures dictate where I should go.
For me, Osteria Francescana helped me reached this verdict. It was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had, but it wasn’t my favorite meals. Eleven tables in the heart of Modena tell a story of tradition in evolution. It’s truly a really great narrative that everyone should taste at least once in his or her lifetime. But in my collection of culinary memories, some tales will inevitably be consumed less than others.
The meal? The Classics Tasting Menu is a rapid three hours journey that travels through the Emilia-Romagna region. Chef Massimo Bottura speaks about cooking as if he was having an out-of-body experience every time he takes a bite of food (I’d be down for that). I’d also like to believe that I shared some of the same sensations that he underwent when I got to experience his cooking.
For example, the tempura with carpione ice cream is such a mind-boggling start to the meal. Any conventional ice cream is cold, creamy, and sweet. However, my brain had to rewire all the circuits once I realized that the ice cream was a savory blast of freshwater fish. Man, that was fantastic.
The fun didn’t stop any time soon. Tasting the filet of cod with layers of caper broth and tomato water is nostalgic. I’d imagine the memory would be like if I had a barely-touched piece of wonderful white fish with a hint of lemon for the first time on a boat in the deep blue sea.
Adriatic eel with polenta, apple jelly, and burnt onion particles would conjure up memories of a campfire. It’ would serve as the rustic piece of fish cooked on an open flame in the hills of Modena.
But Mother Nature doesn’t always play in our favor. The 4th Course on the Classics titled Think Green was an assemblage of raw mushrooms, black truffle, and chlorophyll. The terms “interesting” and “delicious” do not always correspond. Then the famous five ages of parmigiano reggiano arrives next. The 30 month aged foam was my favorite while the 36 month old creamy sauce happened to be a work of art that I’d be better off observing from a distance. The compression of pasta and beans featured a humble glass of chalkiness which makes me long for the wonderful fresh yellow pasta that is flowing throughout the city of Modena.
The main course was more of a delight. I was already so full from the homemade sourdough bread and endless batches of grissini (breadsticks) so I almost couldn’t finish my guinea hen prepared in two ways (but of course I did). The flesh was sprayed with the fowl’s bones enriching the dish with a hint of musky magnificence.
Guinea Fowl Not Roasted Part II featured chicken skin, white chocolate with garlic, dark chocolate with liver, and ice cream. This was my favorite part of the entire meal. I feel like pigs always get its fame and glory for head (or nose) to tail, but maybe it’s time for the chickens to shine.
Pre-dessert is always one of my favorite parts of the meal and Osteria Francescana definitely satisfied my cravings with the also-very-famous foie gras with crunchy caramelized almonds. The buttery foie is paired with a sweet balsamic from Modena. The aged vinegar cuts through the richness right away. Stellar combination.
Then, it was the lemon tart. It’s one of the few dishes that are meant to be served broken (Alinea’s Dark Chocolate is the most well known masterpiece). Sweet is often paired with savory. However, their sweet zabaglione and sour lemon was paired with capers and chili peppers. It was definitely the right way to stimulate the senses at the end of the lunch. The petit fours were also one of the best selections I’ve had all year. I still dream about the pralines and tiramisu.
Even though I was disappointed with some of the selections on the Classics tasting, I have the feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface level of Osteria Francescana’s true abilities. I do believe that I’ll be back the future.
However, it won’t be for the stars or for the rankings. Next time, the Traditions and the Sensations will be waiting for my return. Perhaps one of my future best meals here will turn into one of my favorite meals. I’m positive that my curiosity will lead me back into one of the eleven tables.