Paolo Griffa in the kitchen of his new Caffè Nazionale di Aosta
When, a few months ago, we met Paolo Griffa and his cuisine, at Identità Golose Milano for one of our Italian Breakfasts (read the report here), we had the feeling that we had never perceived him to be so centred, so mature. After a long (for his 32 years) and prestigious journey of professional growth, the chef had finally found the context and the project where he could express himself at his best, showcasing his talents and, above all, his many ideas.
After our first visit to Caffè Nazionale di Aosta, which Griffa opened at the end of August 2022, that feeling became a solid certainty. After a truly satisfying dinner - as this writer has not had for quite a while - listening to the chef's tales as he explored the meanders of the lower floor of the café, where Griffa has his headquarters divided between kitchen, pastry shop, cellar and a special room for private events, it became clear he has developed a project with uncommon care and intelligence.
The exterior, from the square
Already in his previous experience, at the head of the catering offer at Grand Hotel Royal and Golf in Courmayeur from 2017 to 2022, Griffa demonstrated his ability to excel both in the organisation of a complex proposal such as that of a luxury hotel, which has to satisfy its guests 24 hours a day in different contexts, and in the creation of a gourmet restaurant, the Petit Royal, which was awarded its first star less than two years after opening.
The bar counter
One of the dining rooms
The dining room brigade: Federica Tomasini in the centre, to her left Alessandro Mantovani
Griffa in his cellar
Then there is the cuisine, of course. We reiterate the initial judgement: never so mature, so in tune between aesthetic research, which has always been a strong feature of Griffa's style, and the ability to propose simple, immediate flavours and combinations. Irony and playfulness, wow effect, rich flavours. And this is just the beginning: how much more can Paolo Griffa grow and surprise? We end, only to present the dishes from the menu that we tasted, with a new feeling: much more, much more.
The first welcome is Pumpkin water and parsley oil, to be mixed by first blowing into the straw, then sucking and drinking
Double amuse bouche, all very tasty: for the first part, left to right Vegetable charcoal taco with celeriac, pomelo and trout roe - Tartlet with broccoli cream and cauliflower pickle - Pasta brick, celeriac, chestnut cream, herb wafer
Second part, left to right: Mint mousse, bergamot sorbet, matcha tea powder (to be eaten at the end, cleansing the mouth very effectively) - Amaretto shortcrust pastry, pumpkin flan - Mini Venetian with thyme béchamel sauce - Fried sandwich with smoked eel
The actual tasting menu opens with Viola: potatoes, flowers and cabbage. Paolo Griffa's aesthetic research produces a small chromatic masterpiece, in which the purple potatoes retain the perfume of the violet liqueur with which they are seasoned, the purple cabbage and mustard sauce is as beautiful as it is good and perfect to accompany the dill-flavoured fromage blanc tips, and the iodised savouriness of the caviar and the small sweet/sour touches of the pickled Tropea onion complete the bite. Perfect start
Let's play: Ramen Valdostano starts from an inspiration of Japanese street food that is now also well known in Italy, which is served in a container that is exactly suited to the context of street food. In a fine dining restaurant? Indeed
Inside, only raw materials from Valle d'Aosta. There are no noodles, replaced by beef noodles, cut in the direction of the fillet's fibre, the shitake mushrooms are replaced by cardoncelli, then Arnad lard, oxidised quail eggs, curly salad instead of seaweed, and again turnips, daikon. And the katsuobushi is in fact a finely chopped polenta
Pasta alla Valpellinese
The soup from which this dish takes its inspiration is a local must, based mainly on Savoy cabbage and fontina cheese, with a thousand little variations as is always the case with traditional recipes. Paolo Griffa has turned it into a pasta dish, but has managed to condense its authentic flavour: the fontina is in the form of oxtail broth flavoured with the local cheese, underneath there’s a cream of Savoy cabbage, garnished with bay-flavoured oil, and then the pasta: spelt ditalini cooked under pressure and placed in the form of a cube, a tribute to Arnaldo Pomodoro
In its simplicity, this dish won us over with its refined delicacy: char and chard with fennel and citrus fruit salad.
Both elements stand out when tasting: the salad surprises with its spicy nuances, with fennel cooked in anise and juniper liqueur, blood oranges dressed with oil and salt, and then drops of gin gel. The char, on the other hand, is an explosion of flavour, breaded, fried, stuffed with chard
Barbecued venison and sauce royale
Venison is a passion of Paolo Griffa's: in this case he plays with it by seasoning it with Tchuli pepper from the Himalayas, and then proposing it on skewers, smoked with mountain herbs, orange peel and cinnamon. On the plate below, typical stew vegetables, dipped in a sauce royale made with chocolate from Venezuela and blood. In addition to the venison chunks themselves, they serve a brioche bun covered with fine black truffles. Aromas of forest, perfect meat, a bewitching sauce: the savoury journey ends with an admirable dish
Long live the cheese trolley: when it is selected, and presented, with such care and love, it warms the heart. Only small local producers, following the rhythm of the seasons
The sweet conclusion is Volare
The balloon is made of raspberry cream, the base is a panna cotta flavoured with an infusion of Jamaican Blue Mountain speciality coffee. Next to the gianduja cream, the clouds are made of shortbread with dark chocolate and raspberries. Not to be missed, for coffee lovers, is the specialty coffee menu with which to end a great dinner with refined grace.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
Reviews, recommendations and trends from Italy, signed by all the authors of Identità Golose
Journalist, based in Milan. At 8 years old, he received a Springsteen record as a gift, and nothing was the same since. Music and food are his passions. Author and broadcaster at Radio Popolare since 1997, since 2014 he became part of the staff of Identità Golose
Vegetable tajine, sauce of lassi with cumin and mint, lemon and cinnamon couscous: this is perhaps the dish that most stood out a few weeks ago at Petit Royal in Courmayeur. And it depicts the constant growth of Paolo Griffa. The recipe is dedicated to artist Yulia Brodskaya and is part of the menu dedicated to art, in this case, paper art. (Photos from Tanio Liotta)