Osteria Francescana

Via Stella, 22

Modena, Italy

Tel. +1 39 059 201 118



2010 Borgo del Tiglio Studio di Bianco  94

2010 Serragghia Zibibbo  92

2006 San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo  99

Osteria Francescana and Proprietor/Chef Massimo Bottura continue to rack up an impressive series of recognitions and awards. I first tasted Bottura’s cuisine a few years ago at a gala event in New York City. A group of the finest Italian and American chefs teamed up to prepare a multi-course dinner for a large number of people. I don’t remember how many, but a lot. Bottura’s fish course (similar to the cod below) was simply extraordinary. His ability to execute that dish in a tiny kitchen was remarkable, especially since most chefs make far safer choices in those situations. I was hooked. 

Despite its informal sounding name, Osteria Francescana is anything but that. Widely recognized as one of the world’s top restaurants, Osteria Francescana is the backdrop for Bottura’s innovative, cutting-edge cuisine. The sleek, modern dining room comes as a bit of a shock at first, but its virtues become increasingly apparent over time. A minimalist aesthetic puts food front and center. With just twelve tables, Osteria Francescana offers a level of intimacy that is practically inconceivable in big city terms. Bottura himself makes the rounds a few times during service, explaining his creations and adding a personal touch that is rarely possible in a day and age when chefs are virtually required to manage global empires.

Massimo Bottura’s resume includes apprenticeships with Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià. Despite his international pedigree, Bottura is very much a man of Modena, something that is evident as he talks about some of his true passions, including the artisan side of Parmiggiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and other local specialties. Many of the dishes are driven by incredibly concentrated reductions of key flavors and essences. Playful, whimsical, challenging and remarkably pure at the same time, this is cooking that will challenge all of the senses. Osteria Francescana offers three tasting menus: Traditions and Classics, plus Sensations, which is the most adventurous and the choice that inspired us on this day.

General Manager and Wine Director Giuseppe Palmieri oversees an extensive wine and spirits program. The wine list is ambitious and fairly complete by Italian standards, but not quite at the level of similar restaurants around the world. To be fair, though, I am not sure what a realistic expectation should be for a 30-seat restaurant in a medium-sized Italian city. On the plus side, diners will find many reasonably priced wines, including treasures from some of Italy’s top producers. Personally, when the food is this adventurous I prefer to keep wine on the simple side. I see quite a few dishes at other tables being paired with spirits, though, and my curiosity is piqued more than once.

We start with the 2010 Studio di Bianco from Borgo del Tiglio, one of my favorite Friulian producers. A blend Friulano, Sauvignon and Riesling, the 2010 has a gorgeous combination of aromatics, fruit and acidity. It’s always a gamble to choose a wine without knowing exactly what you are going to eat. Thankfully, the 2010 Studio di Bianco works beautifully with our first few courses.

Palmieri suggests the 2010 Serragghia Zibibbo, a Sicilian wine I have never heard of. It turns out to be one the most exciting and unique wines of the year. Zibibbo, an indigenous Sicilian grape, is usually seen in dessert wines, but here it is fermented dry with some contact on the skins. An eccentric, layered white, the 2010 is the vinous equivalent of Bottura’s food. Sweet, salty, floral and intensely influenced by its Sicilian roots, the 2010 Zibibbo is like the almond granita at the beginning of the lunch; an experience of near sensory overload. What a gorgeous wine.

I have always adored San Giusto a Rentennano’s 2006 Percarlo, a wine I bought heavily as 2006 is my son’s birth year. Is the 2006 ready? Of course not, but after a gentle decant it is gorgeous with this menu. It is an especially good match for the pigeon and quadrotto. The bright Sangiovese acidity in particular seems to literally carry the flavors across the palate, giving them lift and an additional sense of energy.

Our tasting menu is full of highlights, but these are some of the true standouts:

A starter of almond granita, capers, coffee cream and bergamot is the perfect introduction to the Bottura style. Salty and sweet flavors play off the palate, all enhanced by an intriguing combination of textures. The Cod fillet with a super-concentrated Verdute olive juice, tomato broth, Noto almonds and scents of Pantelleria expresses many of the Bottura signatures, most notably the search for intensity of flavor.

I love the Spaghetti alla Chitarra cooked in scorched squid broth. A generous dollop of caviar adds a playful exuberance to a pasta dish that captures the essence of the sea. The crispy and tender branzino in a rabbit cacciatore sauce is another highlight. Here Bottura combines the delicate fish with a powerful, earthy rabbit cacciatore sauce. In case you’re wondering, the crisp piece of branzino skin is delicious.

A tribute to Normandy, which turns out to be lamb tartare topped with mint and served in oyster shell, is one of the more abstract creations on this menu. It is delicious and refreshing.

Fresh vegetables, black truffles and that morning’s Parmesan whey are transformed into Think Green.

Bottura’s signature Five Ages of Parmiggiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures is a culinary tour-de-force, and I do not use that term lightly. Here, in the heart of its production zone, Parmiggiano Reggiano is elevated to lofty heights. It’s hard to do this dish justice with words. We are eating not just food, but history and culture as expressed through a local cheese that carries with it far more complexities than most people realize. The centerpiece is a soufflé, but the accompanying crisp, foam and sauce are a revelation, to say the least. In the US, we walk into a store and buy “Parmiggiano Reggiano.” The most demanding consumer might inquire as to the age of the cheese. But that’s pretty much it. The reality is that in cheese, as in wine, there are a handful of artisans whose product is vastly different in quality from what comes out of the big facilities. Buying cheese without knowing who made it and specifically where it is from is like buying a wine, say ‘Chianti Classico’ or ‘Chambolle-Musigny’ without knowing the producer, unthinkable for wine.

A pigeon course follows. It is cooked perfectly, while the accompanying vegetables add brightness and lift. The quadrotto pen and feather is two rigatoni-shaped pasta tubes filled with a game ragu. A rich sweet/savory chocolate binds all the elements with supreme grace. This is another head spinning dish that challenges conventional assumptions left and right. Is it a pasta or main course? Or maybe dessert? I am not sure, but it is delicious.  Basil: from Liguria to the Gulf of Naples, an example of Bottura’s maniacal search for the very finest raw materials and highlights just how different those ingredients can be, even within just the Italian peninsula.

Oops! A fallen tart, another Bottura signature, is a nod to homemade comfort food and arguably the most conventional item on the menu. It is also a nice return back to Earth after

a series of celestial dishes that challenge the mind, palate and intellect.


– Almond granita, capers, coffee cream and bergamot (Not pictured)

– Razor clams and their friends

– Baccala Mare Nostrum: Cod fillet, Verdute olive juice, tomato broth, Noto almonds and scents of Pantelleria

– Spaghetti alla Chitarra cooked in scorched squid broth, whipped with a puree of Fine de Claires oysters and extra virgin olive oil

– Crispy and tender Branzino in a rabbit cacciatore sauce

– A tribute to Normandy

– Think Green

– Five ages of Parmigiano in different textures and temperatures

– Pigeon casserole, mineral and acid salad with balsamic vinegar

– Quadrotto pen and feather

– Basil: from Liguria to the Gulf of Naples  (Not pictured)

– Globe light as a flower

– Oops! A fallen tart

-- Antonio Galloni