Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
"The place of Aimo and Nadia" vaults to #2 all time. This experience was without flaw and one of the most delicious meals I have ever enjoyed.
Aimo opened this restaurant just after World War II, when Milan didn't even stretch out to this location. He was outside of town, with a rabid focus on the best ingredients. He drove his purveyors hard, consistently rejecting product he felt did not meet his standards. "I don't care about the right side of the invoice", he would say, referencing the cost. "People will pay it. I just want the best."
Our meal tells this story perfectly. There are three menus to choose from, each highlighting the product used and where it comes from far more than the dish's overall composition. Every plate is hyper-focused on a few ingredients only. Simple, uncomplicated dishes prepared at the highest level, the few outstanding ingredients each complimenting and elevating the other.
The menu centered around fish, with presentations that were so subtle and beautiful, it was art. And the flavors...my word! A common theme was the play of briny fish (think anchovy or cured salmon) offset with sweetness, which would come from different sources. The sweetness in the opening dish was the meringue underneath. For the anchovy fish cracker - it was the honey baked into the cracker. The poached egg/truffle/artichoke - from the deliciously sweet accompanying Riesling.
Allow me to sidestep and say that the wine pairing was far and away the best I have ever had. Each of the wines were varied but tremendous on their own. They paired so beautifully with each dish that I lamented those who ordered the meal without these pairings. The wines became part of the flavor profile of each dish. This does not happen by accident. The level of effort to source and pair wines like this shows an immense commitment towards the entire experience.
Allow me another sidestep. How does this restaurant have only two Michelin stars? It's a travesty. The meal can not be improved upon. The cooking was sublime. The ingredients top notch. The amount of "oohs" and "aahs" elicited was plentiful. I can't imagine what else they could do. This is a three star experience. No question.
Service was stellar. Formal, but warm and welcoming. Readily available but not overbearing. The place was immaculate. Even the kitchen was jaw-dropping. (See the photo below.) The restrooms at the end of the hall provided three different doors. As you took a step towards one of the bathrooms, the light came on, welcoming you well before entering. We were the last to leave the restaurant and the bathroom was still pristine and fully stocked.
They are paying attention. To everything.
It's difficult to highlight specific dishes because literally every course is worthy of a call out. The eel and pea dish was mind-blowing. The highlight of the meal - until we received the mullet dish, which topped it somehow. The risottos were out of this world. The oxtail could not have been more delicious (and the dish I kept thinking about the following chilly day in Milan). On and on, this meal was perfection.
The restaurant gained two Michelin stars in the early 90s, then lost one of them as Aimo suffered health problems. They brought in a maitre'd (who waited on us) and a duo of chefs to restore the restaurant's glory. They did, and the 2nd star quickly returned.
At the end of the evening, the hostess called us a cab, which was waiting for us just outside the door as we left. Compare this to the ending of Alinea. It's night and day. The care that went in to our entire experience was evident from the very beginning. And felt as if it came directly from Aimo and Nadia.
They are no longer a part of the daily operations. At 87, he has earned his rest. But the restaurant still bleeds this beautiful couple and their singular vision. Their standards remain championed and upheld.
They should be immensely proud. I know I am for having enjoyed the true pleasure of dining here.