In the same vein as The Last Supper having all its tickets sold out because my “advanced planning” wasn’t in advance enough, I tried to reserve a table at Massimo Bottura’s famed Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, a couple months back, but alas, I was too late. All the reservations that would have worked on days we could go were completely booked out, and so I opted for the wait list, which they supposedly said they would email or call me in the event that there was a cancellation. Last year, Osteria Francescana was rated the top restaurant in the world, and this year, it had fallen to number 2 on the list, with New York City’s Eleven Madison Park rising to first. I was disappointed, but I figured that if it was meant to be, then it was meant to be, and if not, it would be okay because we made another reservation in Modena at the “little cousin” restaurant of Francescana for dinner that night. To be sure I was on the wait list, I called the restaurant two weeks ago to confirm that I was on the wait list, and that we’d be open if anything were to be cancelled for lunch or dinner that day.
Lo and behold, during our walks around Milan yesterday, I received a phone call from a Modena number, and I immediately got excited and wondered if an opening had come up at Francescana. I called the number back on Chris’s phone, and they told us that if we were available, a 12:30pm reservation had opened up for us, and they’d need our credit card number to confirm the reservation. It ended up cutting deeply into our daylight time in Modena, but I think we can both say that the three-plus hours we spent at Osteria Francescana allowed us to have one of the most creative meals we’d probably had in our lives. Eleven Madison Park was beyond impressive the two times we’d gone together, but this really took creativity to another level. The first official course, a “salad of seafood,” was carefully layered pieces of lettuce, with pieces of seafood-infused “chips” of a similar texture of Chinese shrimp chips, calamari, shrimp, raw fish, and caviar. The chips are meant to add textural contrast and added crunch, and at the end after it’s served, it’s sprayed with a “seafood parfum.” Salad is hardly something Chris gets excited about; in fact, he hates on Sweetgreen constantly even though I think it offers the best and most consistent chopped salad in New York City, but this is a salad he truly enjoyed and was impressed by. Every course from then on was inventive, plated imaginatively, even with the patterns and actual textures of the plate playing into the overall theme of each dish. The restaurant lived up to its hype in Chef’s Table and its ranking, and for me, probably exceeded it.
I wasn’t quite prepared for how intimate the dining scene would be there; they make it very private, and the restaurant is more like a house with multiple small rooms, with each room containing no more than three to four tables where diners can be seated. The servers are attentive, refilling your wine and 10-euro bottle of water, and when you go to the restroom, they follow you to escort you, wait on you, and then immediately take you back to your seat, pulling out and pushing in your seat for you.
I also thought the three fake pigeons on a branch in the hallway when we entered was a bit eerie; they looked so real. And yes, we did have two dishes with pigeon in them. Pigeons are everywhere in Italy, and… even on your plates.