The day: 26th April 2009, Lunch.
The place: Griesbruck 4, 39043 Klausen/Chiusa (Bolzano), Italy (tel+39 0472 847448)
The venue: Jasmin restaurant vitale
The food: Modern regional/eclectic
Airport: Verona, Brescia (BA, Ryanair)
The drinks: Interesting, strong on regional, some Piedmont and Chianti, only few token other Italian and foreign offerings, reasonably priced
(added November 2009: now a 2* promise in the 2010 guide)
The first slightly frightening aspect of Jasmin is that when you phone to book they ask what you want to eat. I beg your pardon? yes, that’s right, there is no a la carte menu. You can only choose the type of menu (fish, meat, or mixed) and the number of courses. When we say you can ‘choose’ the number of courses it is a euphemism: the minimum is four. We are sure that the courteous manager (we guess, the mum of the Michelin starred chef Martin Obermazoner, though we didn’t ask) would accommodate deviations and strange requests such as having less than four courses, but we don’t try: we feel we’d be spoiling a precision machine.
So we direct our car along the Isarco valley, to the pretty town of Chiusa. We are in Sud Tirol and, although we are nominally in Italy, the environment and the language tell you that we are not. The restaurant is located in what must have been once a corner of Paradise, overlooked by a rock with the great abbey and immersed in a sea of green.
Now it is unfortunately overlooked by the monstrous motorway that slashes the forest above. We show you the pretty angle:
while here you can check for yourself how the motorway cuts through the beautiful scenery.
On arrival, you find on the table the menu, with your name on it, that the chef has concocted for you. (We actually visited Jasmin twice, once for the fish menu and the other time for the mixed menu: this is an account of our first visit, but the impressions we had in the second were punctually confirmed).
The small room is very prettily set, with the usual high-end south-tirolean mixture of Alpine rusticity and cutting edge elegance, but the four tables in such a tiny environment create an almost excessively intimate atmosphere, with the three couples reduced to whispering to each other in fear of breaking a religious-like quiet.
The bread arrives, accompanied by three types of butter (malga/alpine pasture butter, goat butter and irish butter):
We start with a first amuse bouche:
It’s a warm quince tea, topped with cold champagne foam and with a generous sprinkle of ginger ‘pearls’ (spherification) at the bottom. The manager informs us that the pearls are the product of a ‘new technique’: obviously we don’t immediately strike people as gourmets… Anyway, this is absolutely brilliant. The champagne is ‘boiling’ to great effect. Neatly contrasted flavours, temperatures and textures are a light delight on the palate and immediately predispose you to discover more.
The second amuse is…
We have a cream of purple and white cauliflower with coffee foam, a langoustine cappuccino with cocoa, and an oyster with warm passion fruit jelly and slivers of white chocolate. Ehm, if the chef wanted to strike us from the very beginning, he succeeded. All these ingredients could have been a horrible mess, and are instead an elegant, balanced and bold ensemble. If one minor imbalance has to be found, one might point at some excessively pungent cheesiness in the cauliflower. But this is quibbling, for the cream is a warm caress on your palate. The bitter cocoa and the langoustine riskily skirt the edge of a jarring combination, but instead they are simply stunning together, in a miraculous equilibrium. And the oyster soon deflects any worry that the passion fruit might have overshadowed it: the flavours are unbelievably clear, the white chocolate softening just enough the zing of the passion fruit. This is an extremely assertive amuse, with great cooking precision on display.
So far we have moved from liquid to creamy and semi-solid consistencies, and we are fully ready for something more substantial: here is our starter:
– Wild sea-bass with ratatouille
The sea bass is accompanied by a white tomato foam, ratatouille and ‘tomato cous cous’. Man and woman after the first bite of the bass look at each other in amazement: The cooking and the material are stratospheric, with everything you want, crispiness, moistness, flavour. The ratatouille confers almost excessively bitter notes, it is very meticulously made, but the vegetables are slightly unseasonal, never a suitable match for the fantastic bass.
Oh my God, another extra ‘amuse’!
Potato cream with sour milk, leek sprouts, and Asetra caviar. Despite the ennobling presence of the caviar, this dish manages to also satisfy your ‘gluttony’ instincts, the potatoes being quite cheesy, and yet the cream while bodily is delightfully light. The caviar elevates the whole immensely, and all the flavours, once again, feel simply sculpted so clear they are.
It feels like a long way, already, and yet we are only at our first course:
– Sesame ravioli with red Sicilian prawns on pumpin cream, green apple:
Sweetness and voluptuous richness in this dish (almost a vanilla flavour, maybe the ravioli have been cooked in cocoa butter, and certainly the oil is of black sesame), on the verge of being too fat. The pasta has a very interesting texture. The quality of the prawn is supreme for Man, while Woman finds it a notch down, but they agree on the excellent cooking. There is also much generosity in the quantity, adding to the overall impression of unabashed lusciousness.
Ready for our main:
– Amberjack with river watercress puree, Vesuvio tomatoes
In this dish it’s small but crucial details that count: the ‘lime caviar’, the sesame coating… and with the fish (almost raw) we are again in the stratosphere, and so, this time, also with the vegetables: the `crescione’ (watercress) is an excellent sweet match. But also, once again, a hint of excess unctuositiy.
Next, we are brought some sorbets as a predessert, and we are invited to guess the flavours ourselves:
We like the game, as well as the playful chromatism. Before we tell how you we went with the guesses, let us say that these sorbets were a true joy to eat, a great assortment. Now we are finished and it’s exam time… brrr. We and the couple remaining at another table (ther were six covers in all on that Sunday lunchtime) are very worried not to pass: it is clear that if the chef wants us to guess he is sure to find us out in some embarrassing blunder. And the situation turns out to be worse, for the other couple simply bottles up and you faithful reporters now have to shoulder the entire responsibility. For the green one we guess ‘some tangy fruit like orange and some herbs, like basil’, and the true answer is basil and lime. Not quite, but the manager looks impressed nonetheless – clearly she has seen much worse… For the white one we guess ‘ricotta and and coconut’, and the true answer is mozzarella and coconut. Damn! Close again, but the chef has managed to trick us (it was bloody good, by the way). The last one feels so simple that we see another trick coming: ‘small wild fruits’, we say, to be general and parry surprises, and it turns out that they are wild strawberries as we thought (yeah, yeah).
We feel we have passed the exam, so now we can proceed to the dessert.
– Medlar fruit with blanc manger, coconut souffle’, blanc manger ice cream
Ok, we notice a crème fraiche ice-cream, a hazelnut mousse with nespole (medlar), blanc manger with goat milk and almonds, a strawberry ‘ragout’ with chocolate ‘fritto’, a coconut souffle’, and a nespole juice. They are all very good, very well-made, original and nicely presented: a triumph of assorted flavours which leaves Man completely and utterly satisfied. Especially the acompanying nectar of nespole is an extremely nice touch.
However, Woman complains about the lack of more ‘robust’ consistencies, and Man has to agree that a truly balanced dessert would have featured some more crunchy and floury sections. Actually, it has been a theme throughout the meal: maybe the chef likes best soft, creamy consistencies.
The petit four conclude what for us was a very large meal:
With a (1 Litre!) bottle of water and a Chardonnay Alois Lageder (we think, but we are going from memory) at around €34, the total comes to €162. For such a large meal with such materials, this is a very reasonable price.
The service is conducted by ‘mum’ with courteousness and smiles but also with a touch of distance and a lack of genuine warmth. There is a feel of everything being a bit mechanical, from the way the dishes are recited to you to the way questions are answered (this may be compounded by a language problem). There is no sense that in the room staff really care for or understand what the chef in the kitchen is pursuing. On our second visit, there were also unacceptable delays and lack of a proper pace during the meal, also in view of the fact that there were again only very few (eight) people to serve. And the helping waitress was terribly awkward. On balance, we venture to say that this restaurant has a service problem, relative to its obviously high ambitions.
The cuisine itself, however, is spectacular. Martin Obermazoner is a chef of frightening precision and ability. His dishes give an impression of total control and almost maniacal attention to details. As we have had occasion to remark already, his flavours are marvellously clean, despite coming from combinations that reveal a taste for complexity, opulence, and also boldness. This chef stretches the palette of flavours using all modern techniques, but without overdoing it. And the hints of playfulness and the obvious generosity make it all more human. But is has to be said that depriving the customer of choice pushes control-freakery a bit too far for our taste, and it also gives the chef an ‘unfair’ advantage compared to other colleagues that have to take more risks for the sake of putting his customers more at ease. Commercially, too, it looks like a strange choice, for you can only go to Jasmin if you are prepared to have a gargantuan meal, never simply to relax. In conclusion, we felt that the only obstacle to an otherwise totally deserved second star –which may well arrive- lie in things that are around the dishes, certainly not in the dishes themselves. At least once, however, try it: it is definitely not an ordinary culinary experience.