It was a stubborn journey, but finally he made it. In 2002, seven years after opening Osteria Francescana in his hometown Modena, Massimo Bottura won his first Michelin star. The second one followed in 2006 and in 2012, one year after winning his colleagues top chefs' appreciation and won the Chef's Choice title of Restaurant magazine, got his admired third. Since then the route was set and climbing each year among the top three places at last Bottura and Osteria Francescana got to the first place in 2016, being the first Italian restaurant and chef to win this title.
Bottura, as himself
Like many other chefs, after long time "serving" at the elite kitchens they run and maybe in order to calm down a little and go back to the basics of cooking they open smaller, simpler, homier places. And so, together with Chef Marta Pulini, Bottura inaugurated in 2011 Franceschetta 58, set in a residential area outside of the already not humming center of Modena, promising to serve local and traditional dishes with his own commentary, and not like in Osteria Francescana - in very affordable prices.
Not yet... (2017 Update: Yes!!!)
Going from here to there, and on this specific case from Bologna to Cinque Terre, assuming that it's impossible to get a table at Osteria Francescana and mainly because I've been saving this experience for something special, I tried to book a table for one at the little sister. Luckily and surprisingly I didn't encounter any problems and so I arrived for a Monday's lunch, knowing that it's the closest I can get – so far – to the highest peak of contemporary culinary world.
I entered the large room / small hall – not more than 12 tables yet very spacious between one to the other – and unfortunately had to pick one of the menus that were laid in front of me. It was quite difficult to choose between 'Tradition in Evolution' ('Tradizione in Evoluzione'), which continues Bottura's mission to present four traditional dishes from Emilia-Romagna region in modern clothing (48 Euros), or 'To fall in love with Modena' with six dishes (65 Euros). Luckily my eyes were set on the 'Smart lunch' option of first course, a second and a dessert for only 19 Euros! It is super smart from Franceschetta's side to offer this menu since it's impossible to avoid the offer and any of the dishes, and don't you forget the nice ego-rub it gives to the client for being so smart, so everybody wins.
But hey! Why not being double smart?! So I asked for two of those.
It was probably one of the smartest moves I had done in my conciously eating phase because each one of the five dishes I ate (sorry, but only one dessert) – and all of them together – should set an example to the concept of 'Smart lunch'.
A small basket of fresh buns and breads were placed on the table and gave the sign to start being smart. First there was "The bun", which is actually a bao filled with pork ragù, pickled peppers that kept their full colors and bok choy with miso salsa. That was a very surprising dish which looked to me at first like a medium-sized mozzarella ball, or at least as a bao that wouldn't be able to hold the ragù and vegetables' liquids. But the little guy was brave enough to do that and left me with nothing but to lick my fingertips with pleasure. A great start!
This is NOT a mozzarella
The waitress helped me to pick a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso which was well structured but not too hammering. And above all was a very friendly companion for the next dishes. And here came one that bears the name of Bottura: Emilia burger. Well, actually to the table was brought a small box bearing the name of the restaurant that couldn't hold the bursting smell of what was inside – a small yet convincing example of what Bottura can do: a five-bites sized burger, dotted with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and covered with strong flavored salsa verde. Such a joy! The mini-burger was accurately cooked – not an easy task for such a small measured, and the green paste was truly magnificent. There were five bites because I wanted to keep it as long as possible, but if there was an option I would have taken a full-sized portion.
I'll have eight of those, thank you
It's Italy, right? So what's a meal without a pasta? And there came a plate of trofie – a type of pasta which looks like fusilli that got tangled too much in itself and comes originally from the coastal region of Liguria. The tangled trofie held very firmly the "tre pomodori" sauce that was pretty dominant, a nice chunk of squacquerone cheese, soft, creamy and typical to Emilia-Romagna region laid on them and on top were sprinkled some shreds of basil. A straight-forward dish, no games or tricks, just the best products combined in the most accurate way possible.
Three colors harmony
You might have noticed from the photos that Franceschetta 58 put an emphasis on its plates. Colorful plates, no one is similar to the other so you might not eat on the same one the next time and not all the clients will eat the same dish from the same plate so it promises different eating experience at almost every bite. On the walls are scattered some more plates, some of them are delicately painted, some of them are very colorful, so you can lay back with your glass of wine and imagine what's the story behind each and one of them (or invent one of your own…).
Each plate has a story to tell
It wasn't a surprise that the main course arrived on a beautiful and fun red and white triangle-checkered plate: a veal cheek braised in balsamic vinegar, potato cream that was softened by olive oil and a nice batch of sautéed chicory, leaves and stems. The smell was extraordinary, but nothing prepared me for the tastes and textures. Once again the knife was put there only for politeness since there was no need of it – the veal was as soft as it could be while saving its juices inside, the potato cream was silky and the chicory gave a somewhat bitter pinch for it all.
I'm not used to go over the roof with compliments but I can say for sure that this was one of the best dishes that I've ever eaten in my life. True that. And not like the burger – I didn't feel that I want another one right away. The day after – for sure. every day for the next month – why not? But on that moment it was enough with this portion and exactly what was needed be left on the plate and be wiped with the rest of the bread.
Time to relax. Not an easy task after the joy of senses that caused with pleasure the veal cheek. It's a good thing that the dessert was a fine traditional – and traditional means carrying its origins from the 7thcentury – sbrisolona, translated from the Mantuan dialect as "crumble". Not like other crumble cakes, the sbrisolona is tough so the proper way to eat it is to dip it in liquid, and is there a more suitable liquid than coffee? Together with raspberries, caster sugar, a pinch of salt and more basil this small cup was a reasonable and necessary step back to reality.
Approach for landing
While sitting at my table I couldn't help but overhearing from one of the tables some phrases concerning Bottura's name – "Massimo", as they called it, with some of the guys going behind the bar and feeling very comfortable in the place. Another look at the table and I spotted Lara Gilmore, Massimo Bottura's wife, who gave me a very important tip for my next time: on Mondays Bottura cook at Franceschetta! But unfortunately that wasn't the case for that Monday, since he was cooking in a grand charity event in Rieti which suffered two major earthquakes on the passing year, one of them almost made half of Amatricia vanish.
Not like in Osteria Francescana, where Bottura interpretates Emilia-Romagna traditional menu in a new perspective, in Franceschetta 58 he takes dishes from all around and gives them am Emilia-Romagna's treatment: pork ragù here, Parmigiano there, maybe some squacquerone to be put on the pasta, not to mention the perfect (I can repeat that word some more regarding this dish) veal cheek. If you weren't wise enough to book a table four months ahead in the best restaurant in the world, be smart and go to Modena for a great experience at the little sister. Preferably on Monday.
Via Vignolese 58, Modena