Well now, I finally made it here in Modena.
The fabled, legendary Osteria Francescana right in the heart of Modena. I’d been watching Chef’s Table on the rockstar chef, Massimo Bottura, for a quite a few times now (I reckon quite a few folks who visited here did), and although I had an inkling of what to expect, it didn’t quite prepare me for what I was about to experience.
There were three different menus available, the first being the Tradition in Evolution, which are the classic Osteria Francescana dishes. The second is the Sensations menu, which composes of their latest contemporary creations. And finally, the third menu is the combination of both menus. We opted for the third menu, which seemed like a sensible choice to try the best of both worlds.
We started out with an amuse of “Fish & Chips”. A local fish was encapsulated within a cage of crispy, presumably potato, and then topped off with an ice cream made from white wine vinegar. It certainly tasted of fish of chips with the lovely crunch from crisp, whilst it was perfectly rounded off with the acidity from the white wine vinegar ice cream. Definitely a very punchy and flavourful start.
We had some additional amuses, one which was a macaroni of braised rabbit, which was unctuous and very tasty.
For the first course, was “Misery and Nobility”. The nobility being represented by the extravagant oyster, whilst coupled with the humble and simple broth made with Prosciutto di Parma i.e. misery (but honestly, who would be miserable with Prosciutto di Parma. The oyster was coated with a some fine breadcrumbs and herbs, topped with a cream of oyster. This was the most luxurious oyster that I’d ever had, which just melted seamlessly in your mouth. This was followed by quaffing the intense broth of prosciutto, which provided the right amount of saltiness and allowing the flavours to linger for what seemed like eternity. An utterly delicious dish.
After that, we were then served some “caviar”. The name of the dish was a dead giveaway, which was “Lentils are better than caviar”. Digging into it, lentils were cooked to give it a flavour similar to caviar, while providing a nice crunch to it. In the bottom was crème fraîche, red beets, croutons, and white wine vinegar. A play on the classic blini with caviars, and was nicely balanced with the texture from the lentils and breadcrumbs, as well as the acidity from the crème fraîche and red beets.
Moving on, was a dish composed of Mackerel, suckling pig, and saffron. Slices of Mackerel and suckling pig were enveloped with a delicate gelée of Saffron and perhaps some lemon or citrus in it. The suckling pig was ridiculously tender, whilst the mackerel appeared to have been cured and gave very good flavour. This was balanced out with some dill, as well as the citrusy gelée.
Next, was a dish of Gnocchi served as a Tzatziki salad. The lovely, tiny globules of gnocchi had a good texture, together with the crunch from the cucumber, whilst the crème fraîche provided a nice acidity to the dish. I believe there was also some mint in it, which was a lovely addition. It really tasted like an upscale Tzatziki salad, and the heft of the gnocchi balanced out with the lightness from the Tzatziki components.
Subsequently, we were served a visually striking dish of “Mediterranean in Papilotte”, which was sole fillet served with the classic Mediterranean ingredients composed of black olives, tomatoes, lemon, and olive oil. The papillote paper was edible, but digging into the sole with the sauces was an intense flavour bomb. The sauce of black olive and tomatoes were so intense, it’s like the very essence of their flavours punching you in the face! This was then balanced out by the lemon flavour. But what truly impressive was, despite the flavour intensity, that the fish still shined through.
We moved on to a dish inspired by Billie Holiday’s song, Autumn in New York. It isn’t quite Autumn right now, but apparently the song wasn’t sung during Autumn either. Anyway, the dish itself was a delicate preparation with spinach sauce at the bottom, served with tiny globes of asparagus, zucchini, flowers, served with a broth of (I think was Porcini) mushrooms. Every single ingredient shined through and was a very lovely dish. Plus, I liked its homage to the Big Apple!
The next dish is the legendary Five ages of Parmesan dish at different textures and temperatures, which highlights the beauty of ageing the local Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese. There were five components made from various ages, starting with the cream at the bottom which was 24 months old, the Soufflé which was 30 months old, the sweet whipped cream at 36 months old, followed by a baked Galette at 40 years, and finally a very airy foam at 50 years. It was certainly an intense dish and was the complete embodiment of Parmesan cheese. That said, the sweetness from the 36 month old cold whipped cream and the crunch from the Galette truly brought the dish together in a very harmonious manner.
Another classic dish is the Crunchy part of the Lasagna, which is obviously the best part of the dish, similar to the bottom crust of a Spanish Paella. The crunch of the Lasagna crust “cracker”, the rich Ragu meat sauce, and the Béchamel, once combined truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
For the final savoury course, was the very aptly named “This little piggy went to the market”. This little Suckling pig of a piggy is quite the globe “trotter” (pun intended), and had a trip across various markets around the world, starting off in Africa. The first bite was an African inspired suckling pig with Moroccan flavours and pumpkin, which was surprisingly sweet and very delicious. The suckling pig was cooked to perfection, and just incredibly luscious. Moving on, was a North American suckling pig with Barbecue sauce and red beet, was also very nice. In the middle, was a little Asian piggy with cucumber and Yuzu, which oddly enough reminded me of the roast pork that comes with the chicken rice back home in Malaysia with the cucumber, but then was lifted up by the brightness of the Yuzu. Next, was the Mexican rendition with guacamole and cilantro, which was luscious and creamy. We capped off the journey by going back to Emilia Romagna with the Cotechino i.e. a local sausage. The flavours of the rich Cotechino was balanced out nicely with the balsamic and apple.
Now, we progress to another classic Osteria Francescana dish, Croccantino of Foie Gras. A chilled foie gras terrine enveloped with a 40 year old aged Balsamic vinegar, then coated with toasted almonds. This was recommended to be consumed in one bite, which induced a jarring effect and made me convulse from the intensity of flavours. The richness of the foie gras first hits you, then followed by the deep, acidic funk from the well aged Balsamic, which re-awakens you once again back to the present. It is a bizarre, pleasant and thought provoking dish which truly made me at a loss for words.
As a pre-dessert, we were a served a Gazpacho of strawberries, citruses, croutons, and crème fraîche. A very refreshing dish, and the berry sorbet was amazingly bright and delicious.
For the coup de grâce, is the Oops! I dropped the lemon tart. A dish that was serendipitously conceived when one of the chefs dropped the lemon tart, and inspired Massimo to re-create an artfully composed dish to represent the beauty and impact of imperfection. The dish had lemongrass sorbet, lemon sabayon, and lovingly crisp crust, bergamot, capers, mint and red peppers. It’s a beautiful composition, and tasted brilliantly as well.
Finally, we concluded the meal with some petit fours. The most striking one was the Macarons of foie gras and black truffle. I couldn’t help but notice the very large sliver of black truffle in between! The flavour was potent with the beautiful mix of sweet and savoury, punctuated by the deep earthy flavour of the truffle.
The food in Osteria Francescana is very provocative. It feels like your brain had been decimated then subsequently reconstructed in an oddly pleasant, and ultimately delicious manner. It seeks to make you ponder, and also to revisit it in the eyes of a child, being wide eyed and utterly playful.
And you know what? It feels good to giggle again.
Location: Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena MO, Italy. +39 059 223912. Website.