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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · italy · Modena · Top European Restaurants by Martins Ritins

Osteria Francescana

Author: Mārtiņš Rītiņš0 COMMENTS

A restaurant worthy of the highest praise: being there is like watching a premiere that thousands of people are dying to see. This is crème de la crème of the culinary world: gourmets and celebrity chefs from all over the world come here to sample the masterpieces of the head chef Massimo Bottura - president of the Slow Food movement, the chef guru Carlo Petrini among them. This is a place for those in the know. It is concealed from the eyes of mass tourists by a door, seemingly identical to dozens of other doors in a street by the cathedral square; not a single shop in sight, just a modest little sign that says: Osteria Francescana.
The interior, unlike all expectations, does not strike as particularly grand: white walls, covered in photos of local celebrities, round tables with elegant white tablecloths and a minimalist ornamentation - a couple of tulips and a black stone - on each. The greatest aesthetic pleasure is derived from the silver spoons and the antique underplate, at least a hundred and fifty years old. The homemade bread of four varieties is laid out in silver baskets.
It is impossible to find a vacant table among the 36 there are, and yet the restaurant never feels crowded. Don't be taken aback by the sight of a solitary Japanese gentleman dining alone at a huge round table - or by a company of guests who have arrived for the meal in a private jet from Sicily. Each of the diners at Osteria Francescana is an individual guest, and that's why Bottura makes a point of coming to say hello to each newcomer, finding his way between the tables and frying pans.
The curious chef has invested his experimenter's spirit in the flavour and presentation of each dish. There is, of course, a menu and a wine list you can browse, and yet you would do wiser to trust the young chefs and the sommelier to suggest the right dish and the most suitable wine. In case you insist on making your own decisions, be advised that the wine list is more like a book with its hundred pages and some 1300 items listed. You will be surprised by the striking way the wine compliments the sophisticated food. By the way, the greatest part of the menu will be found most appealing by vegetarians.

Modena is well-known for being Nature's darling: all the best and freshest produce (excellent olive oils and unique balsamic vinegar among it) from the nearby Bologna and Parma, including the vineyard owned by the culinary master himself, ends up right here, on the plates served at Osteria Francescana. The complimentary treats are incredible - think a glass of soup: shredded veal on the bottom, mashed beans and foam on top. While you're working your way through the array of untraditional dishes, it's easy to get mixed up as to which one has or hasn't arrived with chef's compliments.
Cesar salad is one of the most excellent Bottura's signature dishes. Forget the traditional Roman lettuce, anchovies, bacon, croutons, sauce and parmesan. Instead of taking mustard and egg yolk, the usual ingredients of the somewhat heavy sauce, Maestro takes an egg and keeps it suspended in the air until it starts to smell like anchovies. Then it's grated on top of the salad like a truffle. Your taste buds will register each tiny nuance of the Cesar salad and the unique taste of each ingredient.
Ravioli are also quite unlike their usual selves: pasta dough has been substituted for seaweed, and fish of several species are swimming in the clearest and yellowiest broth ever seen, even among the ones prepared by the top chefs. However, it doesn't end with admiring the soup. The food comes complete with instructions. The chef will explain how to eat the fish properly, moving up from the most delicate flavour to the most powerful bouquet of tastes and textures.
A special surprise is a slow-poached egg with black caviar. You will be staggered to find out that the chef has managed to incorporate a langouste into the seemingly fragile yolk - God only knows how. But when you are eating foie gras with almonds, at some point it releases a dose of fabulously great balsamic vinegar into your mouth. (Bottura uses some that has only been aged in cherry-tree casks.) Finally, for the ultimate happiness you will be offered a choice of five parmesans of different age - from very young to three or four years old. All of them differ in texture and flavour.
Whatever you order, each course will be served in a special dish, best suited for the specific ingredients. Wine is available by the glass only, the average price for a meal is EUR 150 per person and the dress code is smart casual.

Open for lunch 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
Dinner: 6:45 pm - 9:30 pm
Closed for dinner on Saturdays and all day on Sunday

22 Via Stella, Modena 41100
Phone: + 30 059 210118
Fax: +39 059 220286
E-mail: mb-francescana@libero.it

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