It is an incredible privilege to eat at Osteria Francescana - often referred to as the best restaurant in the world. There are 5 tables only, with a single seating each night. We saw only 14 diners in the room, which is elegant but sparse. Having toured Modena that day, it helped us understand why.
Modena grew up as a working class town, sitting on the main east/west Roman artery across the country. There was a public bathhouse to allow travelers to shower and even get a haircut. The main church ("Duomo") is made of bricks, not marble. Canals used to run through it, which made farming a primary profession of the area. The lower class had strong voices and places in the city.
While the city is now the hometown of Ferrari and Maserati, its humble beginnings can't be missed as you stroll through this tiny outlet. It's just an entirely different world from the typical Roman glamour.
This context is important as you sit inside the elegant 3 star Michelin restaurant. The sparse decor pays a wonderful homage to the surrounding town. It fits perfectly, not wanting to stretch too far "beyond" its people.
Bottura's relatively new menu is completely dedicated to Italian chefs that came before him. Taking their signature dishes and completely transforming each, but remaining a proper homage. I have included the menu as the first photo so you can understand the meal. While each dish was introduced by first describing the honored chef and their dish which served as inspiration, I found myself feeling a bit behind the 8 ball.
Research into these original dishes and chefs would have been supremely helpful to fully understand each dish set before you. The short context provided by the waiters seemed insufficient to achieve a full understanding of this meal. This is not a criticism - simply a wish. A fuller write-up of each dish, a description of why it was selected, a photo of the original - all would have brought these plates even more to life for the diner.
That said, the food here is simply impeccable. Nothing is out of place. I have always found great dichotomy between the oversized personality of Chef Bottura and the incredibly clean and refined food he creates. He proudly explained that the menu took 60 chefs, 13000 hours and over 5 months to develop. They spent 4 days doing nothing but reading old recipes. Then, they "forget everything" and started from scratch.
The team developed 110 recipes through this process. From there, they kept narrowing them down, resulting in these 10. The depth of understanding is breathtaking, and elevates the meal to a plane few other restaurants achieve.
As one example, they honored a dish of scallops stuffed with mortadella by creating mortadella pasta and stuffing it with smoked scallops. Two other dishes replaced the pasta with "pastas" made from beet root and another made from pumpkin (butternut squash). Completely honoring - yet completely transformed.
Service was impeccable. Literally perfect. Wines were good, but felt like safe picks. Paired well, but never really challenged or elevated the dishes.
The meal was also very sweet. Cherries are a local fruit that Modena is very proud of - and they were featured throughout. I don't love super sweet food, so some of this was a challenge for my palette. Finishing the meal with the eel dish (with sweet cherries) into the risotto (with creme caramel) and on into extremely sweet desserts seemed to overwhelm a bit.
And I must admit great disappointment at not experiencing his reknown "5 Ages of Parmesan" - something I was really looking forward to.
But you can't complain when treated to such an exclusive and incredibly thoughtful experience. It's an amazing restaurant that few are able to attend. The cooking was sublime, and the experience elevating from the minute the door opens to welcome you until the minute you step back out into the humble streets.
This restaurant feels like a destination. You sense that you are a very special place indeed.
And that is because...you are.
Replying to Steven Smith