In June of 2015, my husband and I had the privilege of dining at Osteria Francescana in Modena. We were visiting our grower and bottler of Gourmet Living’s barrel-aged balsamic vinegar in Modena and couldn’t resist visiting this acclaimed restaurant. My husband posted this informative “tasting” last year on our family blog. Enjoy and don’t get too hungry.
After watching the charming Massimo Bottura on Chef’s Table (Netflix), we immediately booked a table at Osteria Francescana in Modena. Yes, it is worth the hype for this 3-star Michelin restaurant. Massimo is clearly a talented chef, but his American wife is probably responsible for his inspired presentation.
Osteria Francescana is located in a rather non-descript street in Modena and only has 12 tables dispersed in three modern, but attractive rooms. Pictures and sculptures of birds are featured throughout the restaurant, and for those who watched Massimo explain his culinary revelation at the Biennale you will understand why!
Found below is a brief description of Massimo’s 9 course tribute to classical cuisine in Reggio Emiliana.
Tasting Menu at Osteria Francescana
Tradition in Evolution
Description: Three deconstructued examples of cuisine from the region. Mortadella, pesto de Modena and rabbit pate.
Commentary: There was a small mousse of Mortadella served next to a piece of toast. The scent was overpowering. Superb. The pesto of Modena is simply duck lard, garlic and rosemary and generally served with a bread called tegelle (pressed like a waffle iron) and sprinkled with Parmesan. Quite good, but the tastes were clearly more subtle and sublime than traditional Modena fare. The rabbit pate was served in a macarron and, in my opinion, the least impressive of the three tastings.
An eel swimming up the Po river
Description: An modest piece of eel glazed with a balsamic vinegar and miso sauce, flanked by lines of polenta and green apple.
Commentary: Sheila thought the eel a bit too sweet, but I thought it was delicious. The tart green apple offset some of the sweetness. Modena used to have canals to the Po, but these have been paved over to make room for the ubiquitous automobile.
From Modena to Mirandola
Description: Zabaglione covered a slice of cotechino sausage served on something similar to tegelle bread.
Commentary: Interesting play on one of the main pork dishes of the region.
Caesar Salad in Emilia
Description: A superb presentation of a deconstructed Caesar salad. In a small but beautiful fan of fresh lettuce, chef Bottura introduced 20 ingredients among the leaves of the lettuce.
Commentary: A plate of simple beauty and both Sheila and I had great fun exploring the leaves to identify the ingredients. Certainly, a plate of genius.
5 Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano
Description: A stunning example of Massimo Bottura’s virtuosity where he depicts the 5 ages of Parmesan cheese (50 months – the foam; 40 months – the crisp; 30 months, 24 months and 12 months.
Commentary: Simply superb. Each of the ages of Parmigiano Reggiano represented in five distinctive variations that were differentiated in both texture and taste.
Tagliatelle with hand-chopped ragù
Description: A small portion of fresh egg tagliatelle with hand-chopped beef and bone marrow sauce.
Commentary: A far more subtle tasting tagliatelle given the preparation of the meats. Small portion, but intense taste.
Beautiful, psychedelic, spin painted veal, not flame grilled
Description: This dish was inspired by a painting of Damien Hirsch which hangs at the entrance of the restaurant. Great swatches of colored vegetable purees (spinach, potato, beet and fresh horseradish) emanate from a circular piece of veal loin with the sides covered in a dry rub of black herbs and cooked sous vide.
Commentary: Although pretty to look at, the veal lacked taste. Could have used some salt. Neither Sheila nor I is a big fan of cooking sous vide. Sounds cool and you get exactly the right meat temperature, but lacks taste.
Croccantino of foie gras with caramalized onions and hazelnuts
Description: Shaped like a popsicle on a stick, the foie gras was infused with 40-year old balsamic vinegar in the center and coated with carmelized almonds and hazelnuts.
Commentary: Very rich, but an elegant way to finish dinner. Superb concentrated taste.
Oops, I dropped the lemon tart!
Description: One of the classic deserts featured on Chef’s Table. Aside from the presentation, it was served on a lovely dish that appeared to have glued together.
Commentary: Brilliant concept and beautifully presented, but perhaps a bit lite on the lemon taste.
This was a superb meal and well worth a detour. Massimo brilliantly captured the essence of regional cooking.
I realize that Modena is off the beaten path, but Osteria Fancescana is well worth a detour. Modena has one of the best markets in Europe and nearby Bologna is famous the world over for its wonderful cuisine. You can’t go wrong spending a week in this delightful area. I only wish the calories didn’t count, but do walk it off.