Carlo Cracco and Mattia Pecis. The great chef from Vicenza with his pupil from Bergamo is the protagonist at Cracco Portofino, where he approaches meatless cuisine for the first time, exalting fish and the extraordinary vegetation of Liguria. Photo Tanio Liotta
The excellence of the master transpires not only from the strength and beauty of the project, but also from his ability to interpret the place and the time; from his sensitivity in absorbing the spirit of the territory, thus enlivening his own style with new energy. In other words, shaping something that is both within his personality but also different. Instead, the brilliance of the young pupil emerges in his ability to adhere to these principles not only with dedication and technical skill, but also by making his own additional contribution: by understanding and showing that he understands; by knowing and showing that he knows; by doing and showing that he can do, with remarkable results.
Cracco Portofino appeared to us to be a new must for haute cuisine in Italy today, precisely because it combines both of the actors we have outlined: the master, namely Carlo Cracco, and one of his very young pupils, executive Mattia Pecis.
We really enjoyed our recent lunch in Liguria's magnificent fishing village. It was hot and there were lots of people around Portofino: but we were perched in the restaurant with a wonderful view over the harbour and piazzetta ('Table inside or table outside?'. A brief indecision and then: 'No, inside, the air conditioning is better', and in any case the dining room is surrounded by the panoramic window). Meanwhile we enjoyed a different Cracco from what we knew. For the first time he focused entirely on the raw materials of the waves and on the infinite, highly refined vegetables of Liguria. The outcome was exciting: suave and straightforward, elegant and delicate dishes. Neat palate and pastel nuances, very few stretches and always showing the natural dance of products interpreted in their essence (below, moored on the quay, the blue fishing boat that brings in the fresh catch each day; in the warehouse, the crate with some twenty different types of tomatoes; in the other room, the ripening cell where an almost 18-kilo monkfish rests - it arrived alive last night, and we have just eaten its breaded liver, a delicacy. And what about the Chargrilled amberjack collar with herbs, chargrilled carrot, blueberry miso, porcini sauce and lemon thyme? Delicious).
Carlo Cracco and his Cracco Portofino, the former legendary Pitosforo
Pecis in front of the fish maturation cell, 'we don't push very hard with maturation, just a couple of days to soften the meat'.
From the Instagram page of Cracco Portofino: "This is Iva, who looks after our vegetable garden in Rapallo. She and her husband Alberto have dedicated their lives to nature for 40 years, cultivating with passion and devotion every single product that grows, in a totally sustainable way, on their land. Three times a week she arrives with her flaming red Ape, with a load of delicacies".
Pecis with Adriano, the supplier of the Santa Magherita red prawns, and his son
The very young brigade of Cracco Portofino: left to right David Rottigni, Fabio Bonanata, Ishak Moussa, executive Mattia Pecis, Mina Karimi, Matteo Nuncerin, Teseo Alloni, Francesco Bosi, Alessandro Polli. Photo Tanio Liotta
Cappon magro del Molo Umberto I: worth the trip alone. Photo Tanio Liotta
And now our meal, with photos from Tanio Liotta.
Mini-piadina with smoked paprika swordfish speck and kefir crème fraîche, delicious
Buckwheat tartlet with ricotta, grouper liver, flowers and herbs
Caramelized 'Portofino' Russian salad: Carlo Cracco's legendary caramelized Russian salad in a Ligurian version, with basil mayonnaise, potatoes and French beans
Corzetto with marinated egg yolk: Here again, one of Carlo Cracco's now anthological dishes, marinated egg yolk, merges with a Ligurian tradition, that of corzetti, a typical pasta (the so-called 'printed' pasta - corzétti stanpæ or corzetti del Levante - thus called because, as in this case, the decoration of these small, medallion-shaped circles of pasta is made with a wooden mould, which in this case bears Cracco's logo) and encloses a cream with marjoram, pine nuts and small inflorescences. It is the one occasion in the whole menu when in our opinion he pushes a little too hard, losing elegance
Seasalad: cuttlefish processed with ultrasound (to soften the fibres) and then cooked at low temperature. Served with chopped tomatoes, fig oil and roasted almond cream
Adriano's shrimp, a dish dedicated to the fisherman who supplies Cracco Portofino with shrimp: purple shrimp from Santa Margherita, raw, covered with watermelon carpaccio marinated in gin made by Cracco himself, you can buy it here. Then two carapace mayos: the pinker one with the heads of the prawn, the other one with the barbequed tails. Then cucumber and cucamelon sauce, something in between watermelon and cucumber. Delicious
The anchovy: anchovies marinated for 40 days in barrels under salt ('We learnt the method from a man from Monterosso'), accompanied by parsley oil and tomatoes confit. On the side, pan brioche to scoop the sauce
Il cappon magro del Molo Umberto I: an extraordinary, truly ingenious dish, which reinvents the cappon magro, a classic of Ligurian cuisine, and lightens it, balances it, and makes it very refined. Hake base, then green sauce, mussels, scampi, prawns, galletta del marinaio. Simple? Superb
Risotto with prebuggiun, red mullet lacquered in double-malt beer and prescinseua sauce, with grains of red mullet bones. "We didn't want to serve a predictable rice, so we went in search of ideas and met this woman, Lella Canepa (lellacanepa.com), who picks the 22 herbs necessary for a true prebuggiun, ranging from bitter, to sweet, to sour. When mixed well, they give a unique taste'. Here they are blended to obtain a cream in which the rice is mixed. On top, the sour prescinseua sauce, that is the cheese once used for the focaccia di Recco, 'nowadays it is not used as much because people don't like sour flavours. For us, Signora Iva prepares it at home, she also looks after our vegetable garden'. Many flavours, many aromas: an important, courageous, excellent dish
Good risotto? This pasta is exceptional: Spaghettone Monograno Felicetti with black cherry extract, raw Santa Margherita langoustine, bottarga, basil oil and smoked provola sauce. Incredible balance of flavours
Fish R-Amen: i.e. a classic ramen transformed into a seafood version, with tuna belly replacing pork belly, a very concentrated fish broth, then noodles, herb oils (wild garlic, wild onion, borage...) and 'soaked' seafood. Very good, but a step below the previous dishes
Chargrilled amberjack collar and herbs, chargrilled carrot, blueberry miso, porcini sauce and lemon thyme. "We serve this part of the fish to make it better known and also because it is extraordinarily good", it is left to mature for two days in the ripening room to soften its meat
Something arrives, baked in a clay crust
The dish is called L'orto di Iva (Iva's vegetable garden). It changes depending on what Mrs Iva brings from the garden 'where 90% of our vegetables come from'. In this case, under the clay crust there is leek, first sautéed on charcoal and then wrapped in fig leaves, before cooking, retaining all its moisture. The sauce is vegetal, reduced, made only with oven-roasted vegetables, and accompanied by fermented currants to give acidity and counteract the jus’s tendency towards sweetness
Breaded monkfish liver, burnt leek mayonnaise, salad maison (pictured below)
Fermented peach tatin, rosewater sorbet
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
An outdoor trip or a journey to the other side of the planet?
One thing is for sure: the destination is delicious, by Carlo Passera
journalist born in 1974, for many years he has covered politics, mostly, and food in his free time. Today he does exactly the opposite and this makes him very happy. As soon as he can, he dives into travels and good food. Identità Golose's editor in chief
Carlo Cracco and Luca Sacchi opened the second day in the Auditorium at Identità Milano 2023 with their lecture (photo by Brambilla / Serrani)
Carlo Cracco, Alberto Gipponi, Enrico Bartolini, Andrea Aprea, Massimo Bottura on Wednesday morning at the Hub of Identità Golose Milano at the preview of the Identità Milano congress, which will take place from 28th to 30th January 2023 at MiCo in Via Gattamelata (photo Brambilla/Serrani)
Carlo Cracco on the stage with Paolo Marchi
(All photos from Brambilla/Serrani)