Osteria Francescana, Reopened

Summer 2020 and restaurants across Italy have reopened. How has an experience at Osteria Francescana, the world's best restaurant, changed?

Osteria Francescana

Summer 2020 and restaurants across Italy have reopened. How has an experience at Osteria Francescana, the world’s best restaurant, changed?

What do you give someone who has everything they need? Or, what do you give someone who will soon move halfway around the world and does not wish to accumulate any material goods? A reservation at Osteria Francescana, the most famous restaurant in a country known for cuisine fit the bill on both these accounts and more. 

Although the three Michelin star, world’s best restaurant (in 2016 and 2018) may be right on your doorstep, the timeline of reaching Osteria Francescana was complicated.

September 2019: a wedding; a multicultural affair hosted in the hills of Palagano, where an international party took in the sights and sounds of Emilia cuisine on the edge of fall. My husband’s hometown is near Modena, and so a gift for a local who might otherwise never frequent the restaurant that made the region world-famous is a reminder of a most pleasant aspect of gifts: experiences that we don’t see fit to give ourselves. 

December 2019: a reservation; in order to book a table at Osteria Francescana, dates are opened at a precise time two months in advance. Even though we were already planning our move from Italy to the US, we thought we could manage to prioritize one long-awaited dinner.

March 2020: a cancellation; the restrictive measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 closed restaurants across the country. Osteria Francescana set their sights on reopening on June 2nd. The American member of our would-be dinner party wasn’t able to travel to Italy at this time. Italy is shuttered.

June 2020: a 12-course dinner, a 9-course wine pairing. As bars and restaurants throughout the country cautiously reopened, Osteria Francescana was no exception, unveiling a completely new menu developed during the lockdown. Dishes sprinkled with edible flowers, garden bouquets invigorating a drink, and framed prints of bold lines and color convinced diners that yes, the quarantine was over and yes, we all got through “with a little help from our friends,” as the menu was titled.

Ready or not, off we were — courses nostalgically styled after Beatles classics:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
LSD
Champagne

“A Day in the Life”
Pane sfogliato annodato con miele di Casa Maria Luigia e cristalli di sale
Fonte Canale Cristiana Tiberio 2017
Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

“Cellophane Flowers & Kaleidoscope Eyes”
Seppie, nero di seppia, capesante, cozze e bottarga
Vire Clessè Quintaine Guillemont 2017
Chardonnay, Maconnais

“Yellow Submarine”
Rombo, patate, ananas, daikon, fiori

“Strawberry Fields”
Riso con gazpacho di fragola, lambrusco, scampi
mozzarella affumicata e pepe di Sechuan
SP68 Bianco Arianna Occhipinti 2018
Albanello, Moscato di Alessandria

“If I’m Wrong I’m Right”
Merluzzo in salsa di curry verde
But it’s all right!
Rosa mantovana, Riesling tedesco,
erbe aromatiche, tonica

“We Are All Connected Under One Roof”
Ravioli, pancia di maiale affumicata, vongole di Goro
e New England clam chowder
Sauternes Castelnau de Suduiraut 2010
Muscadelle, Sèmillon, Sauvignon blanc

“Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow Green and Orange?”
Piccione glassato con mirtillo e sambuco, salsa di ciliegie,
crocchetta di piccione con albicocca e savor
Boca le Piane 2015 Piemonte
Nebbiolo, Vespolina, Piemonte

“In and Out of Style”
Crème caramel con latte, foie gras, caramello e miele di Manuka
Sir Paul
Vermouth Dibaldo, miele all’anice,
duroni, succo di amarene

“Summer Is Coming”
Crumble con spuma di yogurt, granita di piselli, fragole,
carote, azuki e shiso, origami di patate e basilico
Yuzu-Sake Heiwa Shuzo Wakayama

Osteria Francescana

“In the Sky Without Lucy
Pesche arrosto, salsa di mirtilli, sciroppo di betulle,
gelato al rosmarino, meringa di rose, zucchero filato e amaretti
Picolit Marco Sara 2018
Picolit, Friuli Venezia Giulia

Osteria Francescana

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)”
Vignola, Camouflage, Macaron di lampone, madeleine allo yuzu

Osteria Francescana

The waitstaff was impeccable — providing standout service in the best of times, and caring for their mostly now local patrons with good humor and hope in the worst of times. In the cozy, unassuming corner of Modena that the restaurant inhabits, social distancing is of small concern. Each dining room is like a semi-private experience — our room hosted two tables of two, and one table of three. Bathrooms are of similar non-issue, as each is outfitted individually. 

We were seated, and the experience began its task to steadily overwhelm us through small plates and generous pours. The journey through textures and tastes carefully traced an arc of whimsical emotion, flattering the diner with memories evoked through names and descriptions of dishes, all while tugging us along towards the hope of summer. 

Two dishes in particular gripped me: “Strawberry Fields” was a luscious game of tangy kernels of risotto tasting far creamier than the mind’s eye had imagined, having conjured up an image akin to pomegranate seeds from the peppered pink dish. 

“We Are All Connected Under One Roof” was the artistic rendering of the experience of some of the chefs during lockdown, having shared accommodations at Bottura’s other dining experience, Casa Maria Luigia. Isolated together, the drawing board was open for fresh fusions. In the signature style of unlikely or unprecedented combinations, the chefs sought to embrace unity in a world suddenly soaked in divisive sentiment and nationalistic finger-pointing; shaomai-styled dumplings meets Boston meets Emilian pork tradition.

When Massimo Bottura graciously made the rounds and greeted each table towards the end of the evening, we were convinced. We believed that foie gras could enhance a sweet dish, sake could chase a refreshing, origami crumble, and a dessert wine could indeed balance the sweetness of pork. Crisis pushes us towards innovation, and to look beyond our boundaries at the time when society might be most receptive to change. 

Rosa mantovana, Riesling tedesco, erbe aromatiche, tonica - Osteria Francescana

Somehow the innovative kitchen that is first to pick up on the hints of something greater than that which we’ve always done is exactly what we need to experience in moving forward. 

At the close of the night, a gentleman from the table for two seated opposite from us rose and approached our table wearing a bemused smile. On all days, of all months, after such long processes and unexpected events, the gentleman was my husband’s cousin, who was celebrating a similar happiness. 

Osteria Francescana

Something about the encounter deepened the impression of togetherness shared by Osteria Francescana, a neighborhood restaurant acknowledging the resources of a rich and diverse world.

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