The day: 21st April 2007, Dinner.
The place: Via J. Innerhofer 2, 30057, Appiano/Eppan (Bolzano), tel: +39 0471 662249
The venue: Ristorante Zur Rose
The food: Fine Italian dining
The drinks: Good list, strong on regional offerings
This is our first ‘post-blog’ venture in ‘foreign’ territory here in Italy. The province of Bolzano is in Alto Adige/Sud Tirol. This part of the world is formally Italian territory, but with a difference, and everyone is (or supposed to be) bilingual (German as well as Italian), with the cuisine hopefully getting the best influences from both cultures. Let’s see what chef Herbert Hintner, blessed with a Michelin star, can do for us…
The restaurant sits just off the Town Hall square of this pristine village along the winding WeinStrasse/Strada del Vino (Wine Road), which connects many wine producing villages in the Adige valley.
The interior is a coolly elegant version of several wood-panelled dining rooms that we have seen in the region (e.g. Orso Grigio, Malga Panna). The tables are very spacious, and well-spaced, with comfortable upholstered benches for those lucky enough (= women) to sit on the wall side.
The menu is on the shortish side, but still there is enough to choose from: in fact we had difficulty deciding among the very tempting offerings. Moreveover, this time, Man and Woman were with Friends, and did not want to bother them with a continuous shuffling of plates. So we decided to go for the ‘surprise’ four course set menu at €55. There were some worrying items for the English speaking customer, such as ‘Roasted local kid with asparagus from Terlano “Margarete” and ramsons pure’ at €25: local kids come cheap, we thought, maybe they are not tender Also, ‘sucking pig’ (with artichokes and tempura radicchio) at €24, was rather intriguing… In fact the kid goat turned out to be a perfectly tempting dish that He-Friend went for and liked, whereas She-Friend opted for the pork, which also looked very good.
Among the primi, we mention Friends’ choices: an asparagus risotto with prawns (€18) and ricotta stuffed squash flower with Mediterranean butter (€14). Still going backwards, their choice of starters was shrimps on marinated green asparagus and basil icecream (€17) and quails with marinated celeriac (advertised instead as ‘celery’) and goose ‘lever’ (!) at €16.
Herbert, have a quiet word with whoever translated your menu! Anyway, we are here to eat, not to check (we, not even native speakers!) translations. As usual, we are going to be picky and critical, with the understanding that in this place everything is of high quality and we are taking perfection as a reference point…
The bread is home-made and consists of an all right (no more – here we go with pickiness ) selection of rolls, sliced bread and grissini.
While we eagerly awaited our surprise, here are the amuse bouche:
Speck flavoured potato flan and raviolo filled with ‘amatriciana and parsley’. The amatriciana is a typical (central Italian) red sauce with pork cheek (which we noted also among the mains). It was good but the consensus around the table (which spanned the whole of Italy!) was that the raviolo was undercooked. Man was thoroughly enthused by the delicacy and intense flavour of the flan, Woman a little less so, as she found it too bland. Man frowns.
And here comes the first piece of surprise: Warm cod and octopus on a bed of salad leaves, warm potatoes and olives (on the a la carte as a starter at €18).
Great looking dish, and screamingly good too. We marvelled at the cooking of the octopus and the fish, rendering a succulent, sumptuous richness in the octopus and a delicate, moist texture in the cod. In such a delicate dish, the broad red ‘paintstroke’ of a chilly-based sauce provided a stunning punch. Superb.
Our primo turned out to be broccoli stuffed lasagnette with cheese sauce (on the menu at €13).
For the lasagnetta, imagine an ultra-thin and ultra-large ravioli. For Man, an interesting structure and a beautifully chromatic, painting-like presentation. Woman was less impressed by the presentation and concept. The mousse was made of Gorgonzola cheese and was very good, and provided also a nice contrast in temperature with the lasagnetta (this one cooked just right!). However, for us, the dish was too ‘ethereal’ to the bite, lacking the ‘chunk-effect’ of either ravioli or traditional lasagne, and it was also slightly cumbersome to pick up (maybe we are just revealing our rustic tastes here…). We would see it better as a starter.
With mains, comes an off-menu veal shank with runner beans and chick-pea mash.
Woman thought this was nearly as good as the octopus. The meat was very tender, the connective tissues satisfyingly gelatinised and the reduction intensely flavoursome and rightly dense. If one really had to find a defect, the chick peas were a tiny too ‘stiff’. Thoroughly good. Man was once again struck by the vivid presentation of the dish and agrees with Woman on its excellence, with the only reservation that he found the meat ever so slightly rubbery (but really ever so slightly). Woman frowns…
At this point we must record our disappointment that, in a menu completely chosen by the chef, no asparagus was ever seen, despite them being in season, a local delicacy, and heavily present in the a la carte menu.
A predessert arrives only for Man and Woman:
A coffee ‘soup’ with a chocolate mousse: excellent in all respects. Rather inelegant, though, not serving it to the other half of the table, too, who had ordered a dessert to share after all, within a ‘three-and-a-half’ course a la carte (hence more expensive) choice, and the more expensive one at that. Too harsh a punishment, we thought.
Finally, our surprise dessert, again off menu, ‘strawberry variations’.
It consisted of a strawberry tiramisu’ (perhaps part of the ‘tiramisu’ variations’, on the menu at €12), a strawberry sorbet (perhaps part of the ‘sorbet variations’, on the menu at €7), a cream mousse on a strawberry tartare, and a lime sorbet (this also part e.g. of the passion fruit soufflé that Friends shared, on the menu at €13).
Man enjoyed most the last three variations, appreciating the clear flavour of in particular the lime sorbet and the strawberries in the tartare and in the sorbet. Woman liked the first variation best, a tiramisu quite unlike your traditional version, so all in all we really liked it…. A pity that the crispy ‘cialda’ with the lime sorbet tended to break too easily, rendering it useless for its intended purpose. A similar ‘fragility’ was exhibited by the chocolate stuck in the sorbet.
Petit fours were also nicely offered.
Very very good!
We washed this down with four bottles of water (the usual 0.75 litre ones) at €3.10 each, and a bottle of Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder, as they call it in Sud Tirol) Hausmannoff 2003 at €39. Cover charge was €3 each (for the most cheap bastards among you, we note that many other places include the cover charge in the set menus – not here). The total bill, though, was ‘only’ 299.40, i.e. €150 per couple, just within our £100 rule! Hurray, another Michelin star within budget.
Despite our criticisms, Chef Hintner impressed us with a cuisine of great precision, neat flavours, attention in the cooking of fish and meats, delicacy and visual impact (to which, by now you know, Man is particularly sensitive). In this context, the occasional strong touch is a mark of the total assuredness and accomplishment of this chef. What to say of the restaurant as a whole? No doubt a superior establishment, with fine cuisine and professional service. But we were a little bothered by a certain pressure on the drinks, with an insistent peddling and the use of certain ‘low’ tricks of the trade to generate more demand – e.g. finishing off the bottle by serving all except one of the guests, the one obviously more keen (who, however, bravely held firm ). The prices are a little higher than those of other restaurants of comparable level we have sampled in Trentino, but they are still very reasonable on a national comparison for this quality, and Sud Tirol is in general more expensive than Trentino. We appreciated the chef coming out towards the end of the evening and greeting ALL tables, not just the ‘great and the good’ and the regulars. This is a nice attitude by an experienced veteran that many younger, more arrogant and less talented colleagues should learn from (obviosuly this is only possible when you have a few covers). This restaurant is superior to several other starred ones that we have tried. Overcoming a few imperfections, a second star would be well deserved. Actually, thinking back of that octopus, give him the extra star now!