Reale's autumn symphony

Niko Romito's new menu has just debuted. A wise mix of unmistakable classics and new, very inspired ideas

30-10-2021
Niko and Cristiana Romito, since 2000 at the helm

Niko and Cristiana Romito, since 2000 at the helm of restaurant Reale, first in Rivisondoli and then in Castel di Sangro (L'Aquila). Photo Casadonna/Andrea Straccini

Since a few days ago, the menu at Cristiana's and Niko Romito's restaurant Reale presents the autumn, with its flavours and colours.

Every menu at Casadonna is special. And this is no exception. A series of ideas that mixes iconic and historic dishes from the chef with other new plates, studied before the restaurant reopened in June. Many new ideas, research, and surprising flavours. With an important study on liquids, cold temperature, bitterness. For many, one of the most successful menus from the chef from Abruzzo.

Romito's cuisine is an expression of himself, of what he has in mind, in his heart, in his eyes. One of the few restaurants in which storytelling is not necessary because the food is self-explanatory. Some said that human beings choose to look; in his case human beings also choose to show in the dish.

There's more courage to be found in his menu, a capacity of being straightforward but in a delicate way. Romito knows what he wants us to experience through his dishes but he's always careful about clients so they're always at ease with the chosen flavours. Pleasure comes first, but health too. The flavour of the dishes arrives straight to the palate without being overpowering. Simplicity can be so clear it doesn't need lots of pointless talking. Flavours are both strong and elegant.

Despite all the study and hard work of these months, Romito prefers to keep the same prices as last year – a 15-course menu for 150 euros -; but he adds the possibility of choosing à la carte, with classics like Lentils, hazelnut and garlic; Roasted calamari, pink grapefruit and black olives or Ravioli with sheep's milk ricotta and water.

This time the menu starts with Celery, carrot and onion. A work on liquid that is quite remarkable: he takes three ingredients used for the sauté and extracts all their flavour. An enveloping dish, because it's more than a “broth” to start the menu. The pairing from sommelier Gianni Sinesi: Mosnel Franciacorta 2007 Impressioni, which he conceived himself.

Then come the new dishes, all designed in 2021. In Squid and tarragon the focus is on a concentrated, true and deep flavour. A great job on products and cold temperature. The squid has two textures: liquid and “solid”. The tarragon freshens the “fat” part of the squid and highlights its slightly crispy texture. Pairing: Terre Aquilane IGP Pecorino, Casadonna vineyard 2019 (to this day it's the highest vineyard in Abruzzo).

Another new dish – like squid and tarragon it was already included in the summer menu – is Celeriac, hazelnut and cardamom. An extremely elegant dish. The vegetable in this case is thin, light, airy; cardamom and hazelnut give a delicate spicy note and – in this case too - bitterness. An exquisite job, the result of delicate textures and characterful details. Pairing: Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Bianco 2020.

Oyster and chicory continues with the style of the 2021 dishes. The oyster, salty by definition, in this case is matched with the greens that give a bitter note – a leit motiv in Romito's latest menu.

Pairing: Sherry fino La Panesa.

And of course there's Pane, bread being an almost sacred element in Reale's menus. It's served first with Lamb rib with cold potato mayo, another great classic from Romito, born in 2007 and constantly perfected. The rib is first steamed and then chargrilled. To be eaten with your hands. Pairing with this and the following dish: Brunello di Montalcino Pietroso 2013.

Celery, carrot and onion

Celery, carrot and onion

Celeriac, hazelnut and cardamom

Celeriac, hazelnut and cardamom

Oyster and chicory

Oyster and chicory

Lamb rib and cold potato mayo

Lamb rib and cold potato mayo

Bread

Bread


Cardoncello mushroom and parsley leads us to the main courses. The mushroom is first steamed, aromatised with parsley and garlic. Then after being kept for 7 days in a vacuum pack, it is roasted and served with a sauce made with water and parsley. The mushroom surprises thanks to it dry texture and the explosion of forest flavours, perfectly balanced by the parsley.

Trout and bay leaves [here is the recipe] is, perhaps, one of the fortes of Romito's latest menu. A bittersweet idea with the bitterness leaving the palate pleasantly clean and light. Light because all the sauces in the plate are based on water. A sophisticated flavour, delicate but also deep and convincing. A dish that speaks of Abruzzo. The trout from river Sangro is tender and a little sweet in contrast with the bay leaves. A memorable dish. Pairing with this and the following dish: Guiberteau Saumur rouge 2017.

Pancetta and wild fennel is instead a very varied dish in terms of flavours. Sometimes intense, sometimes fresh, sometimes sweet or sour. Tagliatelle and parmigiano, is a focus on the ingredients' true flavours.

Cold duck and smoked water. Strong, gamey flavours. Different temperatures and textures. The duck meat is served cold and has a grilled nuance. The smoked water is hot. Behind the meat there's a work based on different cooking procedures, while the water is brought to the boil, with the proteins and the juices of the meat that pass into the water and make it strong and tasty. Pairing with the last two dishes: Colle Florido Rosato 2020 for tagliatelle e parmigiano.

Continuing with the intense flavours, Romito chooses to serve Cauliflower au gratin. No use of animals here but a surprising intensity. Various degrees of taste in only one ingredient, the vegetable, which are obtained thanks to a range of cooking techniques – steaming, ageing, fermentation, extraction, reduction, layering, distilling, smoking, tasting. Pairing: Terre Aquilane IGP Pecorino, Casadonna vineyard 2019.

Cardoncello mushroom and parsley

Cardoncello mushroom and parsley

Trout, almond and bay leaves

Trout, almond and bay leaves

Cold duck and smoked water

Cold duck and smoked water

Cauliflower au gratin

Cauliflower au gratin

Veal gel, dried porcini tea, almond and black truffle

Veal gel, dried porcini tea, almond and black truffle

Pressed fruits, lemon tea, coffee wafer and pepper

Pressed fruits, lemon tea, coffee wafer and pepper

The main courses end with Veal gel, dried porcini tea, almond and black truffle, an iconic emblem of Romito's autumn. The aroma of truffle and porcini takes us to the autumn woods; the veal gel gives us the saturation we expected with the arrival of the cold season. Pairing: Moulin Touchais 1981.

Caramel, salted lemon and apple is the first dessert: created in 2019, it's refreshing and gives the lightness of the salted lemon and the apple matched with the richness of the caramel. As per tradition, the menu ends with Pressed fruits, lemon tea, coffee wafer and pepper. New and characterful petit fours are served with a glass of sweet Tiefenbrunner Gewürztraminer. When dining at Reale, you realise that here they are making history. The history of the new Italian cuisine? Perhaps not. But for sure a history that will change what we call Italian cuisine.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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