The day: 11th March 2007, Lunchtime.
The place: Via Costalunga, 56, Moena (TN), Italy (tel +39 0462 573489)
The venue: Ristorante Malga Panna
The food: Fine Italian Dining
The drinks: Very extensive regional list, good separate list for others.
We went to this restaurant the day after our climb to Monte Stivo . It can hardly be beaten on the setting. Moena is a popular tourist spot in the Fassa Valley, sitting as it is surrounded by the grandiose Dolomites.
Malga Panna is higher than Moena along the slopes, offering a fantastic view on the town down below and the surrounding mountains.
We were welcome with efficiency and cordiality. The interior is a warm triumph of wood panelling, and comprises several different rooms of varying size. The tables are well spaced and spacious (especially compared to London standards!). Our own table was circular, like the wood bench that we found very comfortable, though we can see others might disagree.
A smiling waitress inquired, the empty glasses ready on the table, whether we were in for their bubbly (note, no choice offered), which we were… but ever-distrusting Woman sensed the questioning was a tad too explicit (Man is so naïve)… to cut it short, this turned out not to be the usual freebie, but came at €3 each. We are not THAT cheap bastards, but if this was not for free, then we would have welcome some other choices. And we don’t like being ‘subtly’ pressurized in this way (to be fair, Malga Panna are not alone in doing this, though they are the first we encounter in Trentino) . Anyway, it was Prosecco Valdobbiadene Le Colture: not a regional choice (it’s from the neighbouring region), but good.
While perusing our menus, the bread basket arrives: a gorgeous selection of grissini, two types of focaccia and rye rolls, as well as sesame and poppy seeds white rolls, accompanied by a butter, ricotta and chives spread. No bread plate, though!
There were two tasting menus, the three course ‘regional selection’ at 48€ and the six course ‘suggestions’ set menu at €65. Both include the cover charge, which otherwise comes at €3 per head; both also include amuse bouche at the beginning and petit fours at the end of the meal. Woman settled for the regional set menu, which proposed ceps tagliolini to begin with, while Man settled for smoked pumpkin tortelli with roasted rabbit, hazelnuts and crunchy Savoy cabbage.
In the meantime, the amuse bouche arrive:
A courgette soup with cheese sauce, accompanied by a salmon tartare on a ricotta bavaroise and sweet pepper sauce, and a sprinkle of caviar. A truly promising way to start: the pepper sauce had a delicious concentrated flavour very well matched to the salmon. And the courgette soup, just warm, delicately underlined by the velvety cheese sauce, was a delight too. Great, we are in right mood to start!
Here are the primi:
The tortelli were quite simply excellent: Woman, really looking for something to criticise, found the yolk in the pumpkin filling just a touch too bossy, but this is really just being difficult. The hazelnuts were crunchy and a nice counterpoint to the tender pieces of rabbit. A nice touch on both texture and flavour the crunchy Savoy cabbage leaves: that they managed to obtain such an effect simply by drying them really surprised us. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable dish.
The same praise must be poured on the simple and beautiful ceps tagliolini. A classic, executed with top quality ceps, intensely flavoursome, and very well made (fresh) pasta. Man found the fine olive oil condiment a bit too much, but this is a very subjective criticism and probably a minority one. Overall, this was a perfect example of how stirring a simple dish can be when it is so well executed.
For mains we had the ‘pork made in three ways’ from the set menu and and venison in a pinot noir reduction (€25).
The three ways of the pork were: steamed loin (‘carre’) on Savoy cabbage, fillet wrapped in speck, and belly on asparagi. A majestic trio. Chef Paolo Donei’s light touch was palpable in the cooking of all three versions of the fortunate animal. Perfect balance of flavours and fantastic textures.
For the venison, we had ascertained beforehand that it had not been shot nearby Malga Panna (where deers are sometimes sighted). We provokingly suggested New Zealand (which distributes in Trentino), but the waiter assured us it wasn’t from so far. Rigorously fresh, it came from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and the waiter – while remaining vague on the exact provenance, and we were in too good a mood to argue- vouched for its quality. Indeed, he was right: the beautifully presented meat came in two large chunks of superb consistency, itself obviously the result of superb cooking as well as of quality. The taste was intense but ‘tamed’. The crunchy polenta cubes added a variety to the textures. The only perplexing note were the figs with Italian mustard, where the latter was for us hard to detect.
The dessert choices were ‘warm and cold composition of chocolate’ (which we ordered with the set menu) and ‘traditional apple pie with vanilla ice cream’ (€10).
How nice, pre-desserts arrive:
Yoghurt mousse with strawberry ragout and a thin crunchy white chocolate sheet. Delicious, no more to be said.
And here are the desserts:
The chocolate composition was comprised of a dark chocolate cone with white chocolate mousse, a warm mousse of dark chocolate (in the glass), a chocolate cake, a white chocolate and coffee ice cream, and another mousse. A thrilling assortment of chocolate flavours, a paradise for the chocolate lover, thoroughly pleasing on the palate.
The apple pie was a chef take on the tradition. Beautifully presented, the dish was enriched and embellished by an assortment of nuts (hazelnuts, pine-nuts, walnuts, almonds) and a variety of apple cuts and purees’. Very good.
The ensuing selection of petit fours was as good as generous:
In total we paid €135. This included water (0.75) at €3.50, and a Blauburgunder (Pinot noir) Mazzon produced by Gottardi (who, we were told by the waiter, only concentrates on Pinot noir), at €25.50. Excellent, very perfumed, and like many we have tried in this region, superior to the unfortunate choice we made in Beaune.
We had a splendid time at Malga Panna, for the setting, the service and the food. In the face of those who think that Italian regional cuisine is just hearty and simple and rich, this restaurant is the perfect exemplification of how it can be elevated and reinterpreted light-handedly, whilst leaving the flavours and the ‘heart’ unaltered. Not as adventurous as the three Michelin starred establishments in Trento (Due Spade, Scrigno and our favourite, Fior di Roccia), but not only is the Michelin star thoroughly deserved in our opinion: since a detour is certainly worthwhile, a second star would not be amiss either. Talking about two stars…It is always harsh to make comparisons, but we will. The San Domenico cuisine, which we tried recently, is an example of how the heartiness and opulence have not been sublimated in the same way. Those who look for bold innovations will be disappointed here. Those who look for tradition, pure, clear flavours and textures, perfect execution in cooking, will go away very happy indeed.