The day: 14th January 2009, Dinner.
The place: Via Margone, Ravina, Trento, Italy (tel +39 0461 349401)
The venue: Locanda Margon
The food: Modern Italian with a regional slant
The drinks: On this occasion, exclusively bubbly.
ADDED FEBRUARY 2010: The Lunelli family has now sacked Walter Miori – apparently they were not making enough money…which destroys the best of marriagies.
The association between Chef Walter Miori and the producers of one of the elite Italian bubblies (Ferrari spumante metodo classico) always had the features of a marriage made in gastronomic Heaven. We already reported from that Heaven, but this time we want to tell you about its most distinctive offspring: a ‘bubbly’ menu (menu Bollicine), four courses with bubbly pairings. While the Lunelli family (the owners of Ferrari) simply need to make their product available, creating such a menu is always a challenge for a chef: let’s see how Miori copes with it.
The bread arrives in its usual glory:
The next time you think you’ve had a good bread offering, please cast your mind back to this… Eight varieties plus grissini, all home made, all supremely fragrant and good. In our experience this is unbeaten.
And an off-menu amuse-bouche appears
It’s a Cream of Jerusalem artichokes, dill flavoured salmon, croutons. Very, very balanced, smooth, the flavours and temperatures caressing your palate, the delicacy well clear of evanescence thanks to the concentration and quality of the Jerusalem artichokes and the body from the rightly judged fatness in the cream and the olive oil, the salmon and the croutons. This was accompanied by the opening bubbly that features in the starter proper of the menu:
– Sarde in saor con spuma di polenta bianca(Sardines ‘in saor’ with white polenta foam)
– Ferrari Maximum brut
These sardines in the traditional Venetian preparation offer a startlingly decisive, almost risky, start to the journey: the sardines are bodily and intense, their exuberance softened by the sweet polenta and the unadvertised but crucial stewed red onions with pine-nuts and raisins (typical, however, of some version of the ‘saor’). So this becomes a sweet-acidic feast that pleases your eyes first (look at the gracious minute decorations) and then delights and opens your appetite. The bubbly accompaniment is discreet and unobtrusive, though its voice struggles to make itself heard among such bold flavours.
The primo is a
– Lasagnetta alla vaccinara (oxtail) con patate schiacciate
– Ferrari Perle’ 2003
The nice thing with great chefs is that they can surprise you. We’d never have anticipated an oxtail lasagne to be presented in this way. It is somehow destructured, with potatoes at the base, on which the oxtail ‘ragout’ rests, alternated with a lasagna sheet and finally covered by two more lasagna layers sandwiching some white bechamel. On the side, a ‘cannolo’ made of Trentingrana (the local response to Parmigiano cheese) and filled with a creamy foam of the same. Just describing the ingredients gives away the richness and variety in this dish. Yet despite the potential for heaviness (hard cheese, oxtail, bechamel), what strikes you here is lightness, the oxtail having been treated very elegantly, with no trace of excess fat either in it or in the bechamel, and with the Trentingrana present in the right amount. The cannolo is really a stroke of genius, because it adds both a crispy and an airy texture to the dense creaminess of the lasagne, as well as a backbone of refreshing acidity. But there are other elements adding further dazzling layers of flavour and textures, the herby note of ‘crescione’, the sharp comfit cherry tomato, the crunchy powder of dried pea skins and potatoes…our heads spin! So it is that a simple and very rustic dish has been transformed into a refined, complex ensemble (the next time we’ll show you for contrast an example of heavy-handed cuisine…). One of the best primi ever, interesting, for those of us interested in Italian cuisine, also because of its fusion of local and non-local traditions (Trentingrana and oxtail? You won’t find it on many tables!). The accompanying bubbly is more structured, darker in colour, and is a very, very good match.
Ooh, something is coming which we hadn’t read on the menu…
Our first thought is that the slices at the base are courgettes. Instead they are revealed to be asparagi. Asparagi, delicately concentrated, also constitute the filling for the ravioli, and how do you think they match the ‘mazzancolla’ (langoustine)? You are right, just perfectly. And the mazzancolla itself is stunning in flavour, impressive in cooking (we learn it is cooked in cocoa butter). The garnish is a bisque of the mazzancolla with asparagus: as you can see, this dish is amazingly clean looking and clean flavoured. Despite the absence of a copious sauce it does not lack any moistness. This is modern cuisine of true class. Class, like in the Perle’ bubbly, of which we get a second [or is it a third? :)] helping and we really begin to like… Because yes, we should say that we thought the pairing would be a single glass, and perhaps in most other places this is what one would have, but not here, in the sense that each single glass appears to be bottomless!
We are ready for the main:
– Faraona (guinea fowl) arrosto con mosaico di verdure
– Perle’ Rose’ 2003
This faraona is a classic Miori style dish, the cooking of the meat as accurate as ever, yielding no hint of dryness, all tasty moistness; the vegetables expressing a deep, kaleidoscopic fantasy of flavours; the trademark crunchy wafer bread, in one version with poppy seeds, and in the other with dried flowers; the clean, elegant reduction. We just relish and rejoice in the dreamy goodness of this dish, but we suspect others might have wanted a punchier finale, in line with the punchy sardine opening. In terms of food/bubbly combination, the rose’ with the guinea fowl might be the best so far.
And, with some sadness that we are nearing the end, we are at the dessert:
– Souffle’ alla ricotta di capra (goat cheese ricotta) con pere al vino
– Ferrari Maximum demi-sec
The souffle’ is delicately hearty, with a distinct egg flavour, the goat ricotta suffusing it with a subtle aroma, which combines majestically with the pears on the other side of the dish. The vanilla in the ice-cream (also with a strong eggy whiff) simply bursts out with all its flavour.
Ah, not over yet, look at the petit four:
The cost of all this? An amazing €70 for each the four courses with bubbly pairings, plus €3 for the water… One does feel as if he has won the lottery.
The service is warm and cordial but not obtrusive, the waiters always ready to put their intimate knowledge of every dish at your disposal. You really do feel pampered here. Reflecting with a cool head on this meal (it is too easy to be carried away by bubbly inflated enthusiasm…), we can only confirm that Miori stands out on an entirely different level in the array of our Michelin starred experiences. There is no way that cuisine of such imagination, consistency, precision and complexity can fit within a single star. And the value for money is simply unbelievable. Going to Locanda Margon is more than going to sample a restaurant: you really feel you are being treated with the passion of somebody who invites you at his own place. One episode testifies best of all the character of the man. At the end of the meal, while conversing with Franca Miori (who manages the front room and the external relations with smiling efficiency and warm courtesy), we spotted Walter Miori in the kitchen, obviously tired at the end of service, yet armed with cleaning spray, and energetically helping to clean the stoves himself (incidentally, if all kitchens are clean at a certain level, this one is maniacally clean). It is this humility and total dedication to his kitchen that shows up in one dish after the other, one visit after the other. We fail to remember one single instance of a below par or sloppy offering. Stars or no stars, long it may continue!