Massimo Bottura, the new dishes

We’ve tasted the most recent creations by the chef from Modena. He says: «This is my best menu ever»

01-02-2018

My mobile phone rings, on the train to Modena. Another passenger stares at me, and looks a little annoyed. On the iPhone, the name “Massimo Bottura” appears: the chef has found out I’m going to dine at Osteria Francescana. He’s full of adrenalin, as usual, but there’s some extra enthusiasm, and pride: «You’re going to taste my new menu. Almost all of the dishes are new. It will be great. I’m really happy, I think it’s my best tasting menu ever. You must tell me what you think about it afterwards». In theory, this is a bad move: you should never raise expectations. But clearly Bottura is sure of himself.

As for my opinion, I wrote it in the review I noted down right after the meal, for Guida Identità Golose 2018: “At the end of the meal, we were struck. We walked around Modena, wandering with the help of Google Maps because our mind was far away: Seafood salad; Soup of clams from North America; Autumn in New York (a superb dish); Civet, game, snails, herbs and ravioli; Tarte tatin with duck in the style of Mantua; Tirami-Su... Once you arrive in Via Stella, there’s no turning back”. And then: “Osteria Francescana is a democratic place, because like in the kitchens of many other fine dining restaurants – not all: many – it speaks on different levels. There’s the immediate one, the flavours of the dish and its composition, both perfect. And this could already be enough. And then there’s the concept, the episode that usually refers to multiple events, overlapping influences from around the world, with cosmopolitan escapes and local retreats: you never lose sight of fat Emilia and tasty Italy. And there’s a further dimension, almost every time, which refers to the arts, to culture: the storytelling is fascinating, a confrontation that makes the food nobler, it becomes an extremely refined instrument of expression, and Bottura has the gift of weaving everything with magic, with the help of a unique brigade, from Taka to Davide, and a neat service, «Massimo is hard to keep up with» says Beppe Palmieri, but with pride, because even though it’s very hard, he manages, with tenaciousness”.

You need to be tenacious also to reserve a table at Francescana, «the waiting list is almost infinite, 2000 people are waiting». But every effort is largely compensated, if Bottura then offers you such a meal. So here are the photos and captions.

Everything is ready

Everything is ready

They serve us grissini with extra virgin olive oil, a bread ciabatta made with durum wheat flour, a zoccoletto made with wheat. And the appetizers, paired with a glass of Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Pierre Legras.

Aula: fried albarelle with carp ice cream. Lovely

Aula: fried albarelle with carp ice cream. Lovely

Macaron of rabbit cacciatora and Borlengo with Parmigiano

Macaron of rabbit cacciatora and Borlengo with Parmigiano

This is not a sardine: bread wafer with cream of eel. A reference to Magritte

This is not a sardine: bread wafer with cream of eel. A reference to Magritte

To the left, Homage to Ciro Oliva, we already mentioned this here: Massimo Bottura’s stuzzico dedicated to Ciro Oliva. To the right, Salted codfish and tomato

To the left, Homage to Ciro Oliva, we already mentioned this here: Massimo Bottura’s stuzzico dedicated to Ciro Oliva. To the right, Salted codfish and tomato

Corn on the cob: a meringue forms a corn on the cob filled with seabass ceviche and guacamole sauce

Corn on the cob: a meringue forms a corn on the cob filled with seabass ceviche and guacamole sauce

There’s an abundance of play with the palate, with changes in shape and texture: the Homage to Ciro Oliva tastes like pizza, including the pleasant burnt aroma; the Macaron is with rabbit cacciatora, Corn on the cob has the aromatic acidity of ceviche, Borlengo the umami of Parmigiano, and so on. Then there’s the first real dish.

Seafood salad

Seafood salad

Seafood salad is a sumptuous recipe, the evolution of Caesar Salad in bloom: crispy heart of lettuce, chips of clams, of squids, of calamari, of mussel impepata... The seafood salad, the way we know it, is not here, but then it is. And it’s very intense. Palmieri sprays an essence of sea aroma, as if there was a storm, and it’s paired with sakè with yuzu, «almost a limoncello». The texture is incredible, the flavour is very complex, in a constant play with memories and surprises for the taste buds. 

Burnt

Burnt

Senza titolo (“I am an invisible man”), Glenn Ligon, 1991

Senza titolo (“I am an invisible man”)Glenn Ligon, 1991

Burnt, is almost an evolution of Homage to Monk, and celebrates another American artist, conceptual artist Glenn Ligon: black and white, mostly black, with Burnt written in white. Bottura takes us to the timeless and spaceless Riviera Romagnola, in front of the grill where they’re roasting sardines, with a few burnt notes. Hence sapidity, smokiness, the spiciness of Mexican jalapeño, iodine.

Mediterranean sole

Mediterranean sole

Some of Alberto Burri’s plastic combustions, from an exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York

Some of Alberto Burri’s plastic combustions, from an exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York

Mediterranean sole, the idea is to blend different preparations, a sole fried in flour, one made en papillote, and one baked covered in salt. Then tomatoes, olives, capers, lemon sauce and most of all dehydrated and burnt sea water, and the decisive and “live” moment given by the heat that flits on its thin flakes. It recalls Alberto Burri and his plastic on which he used a torch. 

Bottura’s cuisine is evocative, it winks at you, seduces you. It takes history on its shoulders and then throws it on the plate. A thousand constant madeleines of tastes. And this is why it’s extremely fascinating. It speaks Italian, but with references to the arts, to aesthetics. Thus it touches everyone.

Soup of clams from North America

Soup of clams from North America

Soup of clams from North America, a sort of pie dedicated to magpies, «they steal whatever they can find to build their nest, we take seasons and their products and make our delicious nest» says Palmieri. Hence truffle, onion, cauliflower in vinegar, snails... And U.S. clam chowder, with a cream of Jerusalem artichoke. It’s a truly delicious dish, «Renaissance, but modern». The "lid" is a blast: it’s a very crispy wafer made with chicken, pigeon and pork skins. It’s paired with a blend of Pinot Gris and Riesling, Alsatian Rotenberg Premier Cru 2005 by Marcel Deiss

Rice: green on brown on black

Rice: green on brown on black

Camouflage, Andy Warhol, 1986

Camouflage, Andy Warhol, 1986

A cocktail arrives: Chartreuse, Tassoni cedrata, soda, gentian, then lavender, geranium... «You’ll see how fresh the scents are». Then the dish, Rice: green on brown on black, the cereal is neither creamed nor toasted, but cooked in three juices: spinach (green), porcini (brown), squid ink and oyster reduction (black). The aesthetics recall Andy Warhol.

Autum in New York

Autum in New York

Autumn in New York is the best dish in our opinion, the one that drew our palate to ecstasy. It’s not new, but like the other ones previously available, it has experienced a constant evolution. It has now reached its perfection, who knows if Bottura will manage to improve it further. It’s the story of an apple declined in every shape available in the world, just like New York – the Big Apple – embraces every culture. It should deserve a report by itself. Beetroot, apples, potatoes, sour cream and dashi broth; it recalls US Jewish apple pie, Italian campanina apples, Spanish grilled apples and so on. It’s inspired by a song by Billie Holiday and by the Union Square Greenmarket in New York... A masterpiece of elegance, «it all begins with a broth of potatoes and pork that meets sour cream».

Civet, game, snails, herbs and ravioli

Civet, game, snails, herbs and ravioli

The following dish is also extraordinary, Civet, game, snails, herbs and ravioli. Is it a salad? A starter? A first course? A main dish? (Maybe) not a dessert.

Pigeon camouflage

Pigeon camouflage

Tutto, detail, Alighiero Boetti, 1988

Tutto, detail, Alighiero Boetti, 1988

They serve a glass of Boca 2009 by Le Piane, 85% Nebbiolo, 15% Vespolina. It’s paired with Pigeon camouflage, that is to say a fusion version of the bird, «a colourful assemblage in the style of Alighiero Boetti» with beetroot, citrus fruits, vegetables and horseradish, also in the shape of sauce and powdered, dehydrated, on the so called leg, which is recreated after the meat is chopped with a knife and fried. The breast is in a foie gras confit. Then come the memories: peach extract with cherry flowers, from Japan; rose extract, from Turkey...

Tarte Tatin with duck in the style of Mantua

Tarte Tatin with duck in the style of Mantua

Tarte Tatin with duck in the style of Mantua is another pillar, from an idea of Davide Di Fabio. Exceptional. They caramelise the pumpkin, apples and celery and then add Calvados and truffle broth. The '"dough" is made with game, livers, puff pastry, mustard, cream of pumpkin in the style of Mantua, amaretti cookies. On top, pickled vegetables, and a jus of game and truffle broth. 

Game cake

Game cake

Wine: Sauternes Castelnau de Suduiraut 2009. Dish: Game cake, that is to say a cake of game livers, smoked chestnut, rye bread, game jus. This dish creates a bridge between sweet and savoury.

Cherries, amarene, duroni, marasche and dry bread

Cherries, amarene, duroni, marasche and dry bread

Time for dessert: Cherries, amarene, duroni, marasche and dry bread, with a mousse of ricotta and almonds. Fresh and aromatic.

Tirami-Su

Tirami-Su

Final cuddles

Final cuddles

At last, the final cuddles before leaving: Macaron with hazelnuts,  Pralina Camouflage which recreates Camouflage: a hare in the wood, an iconic dish by the chef from Modena, with chocolate, foie gras, white truffle and powdered Jerusalem artichoke; then Vignola, where he recreates a cherry with chocolate and juice of marasca cherries; the famous Croccantino al foie gras in miniature size...

Is a conclusion necessary? Let’s say that Bottura, more than anyone else, continues a swift intellectual as well as gastronomic work. In his crossover between food and art, he makes food noble by raising it to a representation and language of culture; he thus continues Gualtiero Marchesi’s work. The latter didn’t love him that much: perhaps because he was and is the only one who can match up with him.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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