Always reading about everything food, I had heard about Osteria Francescana a few years back when it was fifth on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. I didn't really pay much attention to it despite it being the only Italian restaurant on the list (my favorite cuisine). I mean it had to be absolutely terrific to be on this prestigious list, but nonetheless it flew under my radar. It wasn't until I watched Netflix's documentary series, Chef's Table, last year (in 2015) that I fell I really discovered this three Michelin star restaurant.
This documentary, which I highly recommend you watch, showcases Massimo's journey. And by having him—the chef and the person—rather than the restaurant itself be the focal point of the 54 minutes, one can feel the love and passion Massimo has for food, art, and all of the intersections of the two. He and his wife, Lara, have turned this passion into the masterpiece that is Osteria Francescana. This documentary helps one truly understand why this modern Italian restaurant is deserving of the title as the world's best.
At the time Osteria Francescana was only the second best restaurant in the world but I fell in love with Massimo, Lara, and the restaurant, and decided that I had to go.
Fast-forward one year to April 1, 2016. I woke up at 4 AM eastern time and cemented my idea by making a reservation for July 19. And today was that long-awaited day.
Unlike other restaurants, the door to Osteria Francscana is locked even when it's open, and one must ring a doorbell to enter. Upon entering, you are greeted by a hostess, a security guard, and several members of the wait staff, who lead you to your table once your reservation is confirmed. Through a narrow passage, I was led to one of the four rooms in the restaurant. Each one has only 3 tables, which means that everyday (except Mondays) only 24 tables are served. I felt very exclusive and equally grateful.
The carpets are light grey. The walls, with the exception of a couple of fine art pieces in each room, are light grey. Each table is only covered with a white tablecloth and a vase. There is a single light that shines down on each table. The menu is simple yet beautiful with its thin sans serif font and watercolor paintings. Everything in the restaurant is neat, precise, and simple, allowing the focus to be only be on the food itself.
One can order a la carte, but I came for the 12-course tasting menu. After I had ordered the 12 course meal, a waitress poured me a glass of San Pellegrino water. Throughout my meal, she made sure to fill my glass every time the water level dipped below a third. Like everything in this restaurant, it was precise, purposeful, consistent. After I was finished with every plate all the silverware (literally silver) was changed out and replaced with new silverware appropriate for the next dish. Every move any of the staff made was, again, precise, purposeful, and consistent.
While waiting for my meal to start, I was given a variety of breads and grissini to nibble on. Even the bread was impressive. It was soft and chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. In addition to the bread, I was given four small appetizers that were almost too beautiful to eat. This picture of their take on fish and chips showcases the beautiful plates in which the food is served. I noticed that each plate or bowl was specially suited for that particular dish.
Onto the 12-course meal
Tribute to Normandy
Marinated lamb, served inside an oyster shell over a sauce of oyster, green apple granita, mint, seaweeds, sea and aromatic herbs.
Lentils are Better than Caviar
Beluga lentils in eel broth, served with red beet and Tropea onion borscht and dill creme fraiche.
Rice cooked in fish broth, agrumi, olive oil, served on a base of slightly smoked lake fish carpaccio, orange peel and fennel seeds.
Mediterranean en Papillote
Sole fillet cooked sous-vide, covered with muniére sauce and lemon oil on a base of confit tomatoes sauce, black olives cream, capers and candied lemon cream. The fillet is then covered with a foil of dried sea water.
Autumn in New York
Dried mushrooms, rue, abrotanum and seasonal vegetables in a vinegar infusion broth. Imagine to walk among the Central Market of New York and feel the colors, the flavor and the scent of the products sold in the stands. Chef Bottura tried to recreate this outstanding experience with our best seasonal products. Despite of its structure, this plate maintains the same name as a tribute to Billie Holiday’s song, one of Chef’s favorite.
Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures
One of their most iconic course, served as a “section” of Modena's history and landscapes. In details, it is a 24-month cream, a 30-month demi-soufflee, a 36 month-foam, a 50-month air and a 40-month cracker.
The intoxicating smell of Parmigiano Reggiano is the first thing that you notice when this plate is put in front of you. And then as you slowly eat each part of this creation, you start to taste the distinctions in aging. The warm cream has a very definitive taste of Parmigiano Reggiano, but it is light and sweet. As you progress to the demi-souflee, foam, air, and cracker, the cheese's taste gets more concentrated and intense. It was truly wonderful. Finally, the texture adds further to this already complex dish. Each aspect makes you slow down and really, truly appreciate what that particular stage in the aging process has to offer.
The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna
Recalls the memory of Chef Bottura’s childhood, struggling with his siblings to achieve the most tasty part of a lasagna: its seared border, stuffed with cream - represented by Parmigiano Reggiano béchamel - and covered with ragout.
At the Dinner of Trimalchione: Fowl in the Ancient Roman Style
Guinea hen cooked sous vide and stuffed with partridge with dates, apricots and foie gras. The plate is served with indivia cooked with sugar and vinegar, and sweet sauces of capers and anchovies.
Croccantino of Foie Gras
Foie gras terrine shaped as an industrial ice cream bar with a heart of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena. One of the most elegant and “posh” dishes in the world dressed as an icon of pop culture.
Caesar Salad in Bloom
Aromatic herbs and season flowers served inside a lettuce leaf. An explosion of flavors in the core of a simple and green leaf. Ofter the best things are not in the surface, and to enjoy them at best we must go deeper.
Gazpacho as a Pre-desert
Blended fruits and vegetables gazpacho on a lambrusco wine ice cream, marinated pickled vegetables and seasonal aromatic herbs, served over an almond cream.
Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart
The representation of imperfection which becomes unexpected perfection. The story behind this plate is about Sous-Chef Takahiko Kondo - pastry chef that time - who accidentally dropped a classic lemon tart just before serving it to an important Food critic and Gourmet. Chef Bottura and him looked at that mess and decided to serve a new kind of dessert: this time voluntarily broken and smashed on the plate.
In addition to being incredibly delicious, each dish I had was very creative and even more intentional. There were multiple colors, tastes, textures, and smells on each plate. I had no idea one could incorporate so many different tastes and textures in a single dish. This was not a meal you could just inhale in order to get on with your day. Each bite had to be taken with as much purpose, if not more, than with which it was made in order to truly appreciate the ingredients and creativity. Each bite displayed Massimo's genius. Each bite highlighted Lara's focus. Each bite showed why Osteria Francescana is the number one restaurant in the world.
In addition to being overjoyed while eating I was immensely inspired. When I finish this four-month adventure and go back to my kitchen, I cannot wait to experiment and challenge myself. Art galleries and museums can invoke lots of inspiration and ideas. Osteria Francescana was my art gallery. Every plate was an art piece. This was truly the best dining experience of my life, right down to every single detail.
Obviously I understand this is not for everyone, whether that be lack of interest or lack of funds. But for anyone who is deeply passionate about food, such an experience is worth all your time and money.
Words could never do justice to this experience, but I hope you get the essence of it with this post.