A Review of Our Meal at Osteria Francescana
It was a rainy morning in Modena as we sipped on our cappucinos at Mon Cafe and mentally prepared for the meal that we traveled across the ocean for. We pulled apart our cornetto and decided to kill some time at the local market before our 12:30.
As we meandered around the stalls, we daydreamed about what was to come. The crunchy part of the lasagna, the five ages of Parmigiano, the eel swimming up the Po river. All of the names and visuals of dishes that we'd seen on Chef's Table: S1 E1. We went back to our B&B practically dancing around the room. My silk dress slid down my body as a slinky would. Brandon's wool jacket hugged his broad shoulders. The energy in our room was electric.
We walked down Via Stella; it was cold and quiet. As soon as the door to Francescana opened, it was as if the conductor had raised his baton and the orchestra had begun. All of the waiters were impeccably dressed in what we later learned were custom Gucci tuxedos (um hi, can I work here). Someone had taken my coat before I had a chance to blink. Moments later, we were off to our table, which was in one of the three rooms of the restaurant. It seemed that we were in a room with 3 other young couples? Were they choosing our seating based on age?
We ordered two glasses of champagne (superb) and looked around the tall, arched ceilings. The room was small, but the layout made it feel spacious. There was unique + modern art on the wall, with a metal sculpture of pigeons not far away. Apparently these pigeons are an example of how Massimo did things his own way, using modern art that did not properly represent the class of people who typically dined in a Michelin Star restaurant. He was emblazoned to follow his vision, regardless of what the establishment wanted.
The first course came not long after. It was a delicate oyster shell with lamb tartare, oyster cream, and green apple granita. It sat on a bed of salt, and tasted so strongly of both the sea (oyster) and the land (lamb). The apple granita on top was refreshing, but to be honest I struggled with this one. I am not a fan of strong oceanic flavors, so the cream was much too heavy for me. Brandon loved it.
Next came the most beautiful fish I've ever been served, with charred salty paper (not sure what it was) on top. The fish was perfectly poached and served with tomatoes and olive oil, but the way the charred topping melting on my tongue was the real specialty. It added such a wonderful dimension, and a smoke without a texture. Usually when you eat something grilled, the texture is also compromised. Here you taste the char but the fish is super soft. Look at that plate!! It was a sculptural masterpiece because it looked like a very thin shell, but was actually rather thick.
After the fish, Brandon ate eel and I had "Autumn in New York", which was a wonderful combination of apples, sour cream, and an eastern/soy-based sauce it all sat in. It really brought me home. Also, I am a sour cream addict so this was one where my taste buds really perked up.
Camouflage risotto was placed down next, but I was not a big fan. While the rice itself was perfectly cooked, the dish felt worn out to me, and like a flashback from a different decade. For the sake of not droning on with negatively, I will move on swiftly.
Leeks in a bath of black truffle were my idea of a good time. Served in a beautiful bowl that could be perfectly handheld, this dish was a harmonious marriage between soup, melted butter, soft leeks and black truffles, generously shaved on top. Ah, simple but so memorable.
Now tell me, how could anything Parmesan be bad? It can't. The five ages of Parmeggiano is famous for a reason. I can still taste the foam dissipating on my tongue, as the custard lingered and the crisp on top shattered. I found this dish to be incredibly nuanced, considering there are a handful of ingredients and yet each "age" carries it's own weight.
I adored the presentation of the crispy part of the lasagna, and I was surprised by how delicate it looked. The perfect bite that really demonstrated how restraint is one of the most challenging skills in the kitchen. Before me was only what I needed, and wanted, from lasagna. Lasagna is traditionally a giant portion, with a lot going on. Here we only had the chunky meaty sauce, mingling with thin, hand-rolled soft pasta, and absurdly thin crispy pasta on top. I ate desperately slow, in order to make the food last as long as possible.
Pork belly so beautiful I wanted to frame it. Three cubes, each marbled with fat and a top-hat that I could almost hear crackling. The splattered sauces on the plate were tasty, but I could have done with one as opposed to four. I found them all to have seriously assertive flavors that sometimes took away from the meat. I loved this dish for the texture and quality of the pork.
Caesar salad in bloom was actually insane. Look at how beautiful! And the server instructed us to eat it like a lettuce wrap, which was fun and unexpected, for such a fancy place. It exploded with flavor, soft texture, and cream/jam/dressing inside. Another work of art made for human consumption.
For our final course, we had popcorn ice cream. This one too felt a bit tired, and could be innovated. They brought over these little "cherries" to have with our coffee. It was chocolate covered and when you pulled the "stem", a core of sweet juice gushed into my mouth. That was exquisite.
Overall, I always struggle to adequately review restaurants of this caliber, simply because my happiest meals usually center around a big bowl of pasta, too much wine and endless laughter in some sort of family run establishment without an Instagram page. With that being said, every now and again, it's a real blessing to put on a silk dress and be treated to impeccable service and food as art. If you're thinking about making the trek to Modena, I say go for it. Aside from Francescana, the town is adorable and a great place for a weekend getaway to just slow down and enjoy all of life's little pleasures.
For more photos + details from our trip to Modena, click here.