Osteria Francescana. in Modena, Italy, the restaurant of highly energetic and inventive Italian chef, Massimo Bottura is rated second in the world by the Diners Club–sponsored 50 Best Restaurants Academy. Chef Bottura the subject of the Chef’s Table TV program first episode, has been referred to as the best chef in the world.  At the present time, he is without doubt the most famous and readily recognized chef in Italy.  We expected great things from our meal and were not disappointed.

We booked a room at Salloto Della Arte, a small but beautifully appointed bed-and-breakfast just one block from the restaurant. After an adventure finding parking in this old town section of Modena, we settled in to our elegant room. We took a brief tour of the city before dinner. At 8:30, we went to the restaurant where we were warmly welcomed by what must have been a half-dozen restaurant staff. As is the case with most high-end restaurants, Osteria Francescana has more than 50 staff members at work on any given night.

The menu we were presented had several options: An à  la carte section; an experimental tasting menu, and a more traditional tasting menu with dishes described in poetic, if not particularly helpful terms. We were unsure of which tasting menu would provide the best experience.  Our waiter, when presented with our dilemma, suggested a merger of items from the two tasting menus to provide us with the restaurant’s current “favorites.” This third, off-the-menu option would include a special wine paring to accompany these select dishes. This seemed an ideal resolution.

Photograph of two rabbit macaroons on a warmed white platter.

Oseria Francescana amuse-bouche: Rabbit Macaroons, the second and Nicole’s favorite of three small bites.

We started out our meal with bread and local beer: a refreshing golden ale with a light floral, hoppy tang. An amuse-bouche arrived. It consisted of three small bites, first, “Tempura with Carpione,” then, a “Rabbit Macaroon,” third, “Baccalà on a Tomato Pillow.” The tempura, of aula (a small freshwater fish) and a batter charged with nitrous oxide, was topped with a savory ‘ice cream’ made primarily from onions, vinegar, raisins and pine nuts. The rabbit macaroon was prepared with a rabbit mousse between two light, airy crackers. We both enjoyed the first two bites. The baccalà, featured in the third bite, is made from salt cured cod; I enjoyed my helping, and Nicole’s as well. The beer complemented these delightful morsels nicely.

The first plate, poetically named “Treasures from the Sea: Sustainable and Salvaged,” was made with an assortment of seafood and vegetables in a pork broth aspic. It was served with 2013 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, a dry white wine with nice floral notes made exclusively from the trebbiano grape.  This is a common grape of Emilia-Romagna, also notable as one of the two grapes used for production of traditional balsamic vinegar.  I was again blessed with a double helping, as Nicole is not fond of unusual fish dishes and was happy to share her portion with me.

A crab, painted on the plate from dried, pulverized crab shell; the crab body is made of eggplant; crab meat, squid, fish roe, with capers and fresh herbs, cover the eggplant slice.

From Goro to Hokkaido

Next, “From Goro to Hokkaido” was placed before us.  This was another poetic name from the menu that turned out to be a beautiful dish. A crab was painted onto the plate from dried, pulverized crab shell. The base of the crab body was created from eggplant. The crab meat, some squid, fish roe, and other ocean delicacies were arranged on top of the eggplant slice with capers and various fresh herbs. The Trebbiano d’Abruzzo was continued with this dish. We both loved the creative presentation and wonderful flavors.

The “Delta of the Po Ravioli” was unique. The filling was made from cotechino, a Modenese delicacy that is the primary component of a local pork sausage of the same name. Our ravioli contained boiled pigskin (cotechino), pork and three types of lentils. The egg pasta ravioli were cooked in Lambrusco, a regional wine made from a grape of the same name, and this dish was accompanied with another crisp white wine.

Striped Red Mullet Livornese

Striped Red Mullet Livornese

We were served a French Vouvray with the “Striped Red Mullet Livornese.” The minerality of this wine, made from the Chenin blanc grape, complimented the intense tomato and fish flavors of this beautifully presented dish. An abstract of asparagus, prosciutto and peas tagliolini, dressed with threads of black truffle followed with the same delightful Vouvray wine.

Photograph of a spoon heaped with a leek preparation topped with chiffonade.

Ostera Francescana Palate Cleanser: A silky leek preparation topped with black truffle chiffonade.

As a palate cleanser, we were presented soup spoons heaped with a luscious, silky leek preparation, topped with a black truffle chiffonade. This was so delicious that we actually considered asking for a second helping.

The Damijan Podversic Ribolla Gialla, a crisp, acidic Pinot Grigio, was served with perhaps the most famous dish created by chef Buttora. “The Five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano” presents this Italian cheese in five different stages. First, a 24-month old cheese demi-soufflé, then a warm milky cream sauce made from 30-month old cheese, a chilled foam of 36-month cheese, and a Parmigiano cracker made from crusts of a 40-month cheese, finally the crust of a 50-month cheese is turned into light ethereal bubbles as a finishing touch. Bottura describes this dish as a white-on-white portrait of the Emilia-Romagna countryside.

“The Crunchy Part of Lasagne,” another signature dish for the restaurant and chef Bottura, was served with an intense, crisp rosé that was fragrant with aromas of strawberry and red fruits. It is difficult to describe this dish but it represents the “essence” of lasagne.  It looks like a crumpled Asian cracker infused with basil and tomato flavors. The cracker is dressed with a Parmigiano béchamel and is sitting atop a succulent sous-vide cooked ragu. It is justly famous and represents everybody’s favorite part of the fresh cooked lasagna: the crispy corner.