Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Da Vittorio Roberto Cerea

Many of the top restaurants in Italy are located somewhat out of major cities. In addition, they are family restaurants and often became elite institutions when the 2nd generation took over the business. Da Vittorio, a lovely hotel-restaurant based on a beautiful country estate near Bergamo, is one of them. It was found by Vittorio Cerea, then reached the multiple-star status under the guidance of his sons - Enrico and Roberto Cerea. However, during my lunch, only the younger brother who's also known as "Bobo" was around. The restaurant specialized in cooking fish and seafood; the pasta was, as expected, also exquisite. The preparation was mostly traditional (innovative technique was present but minimal) with emphasize of using fresh and high quality ingredients reflecting the Lombardy tradition. The menu was relatively vast that made it quite difficult what to choose given that I was dining alone. Because of this, I decided to order menu 'omakase' - let the kitchen's creative flair surprise and delight my palate. In this menu, apparently only 1/4 of my dishes was taken from the a la carte items. My meal began with bread stick, brioche and a few other in-house bread. Then, the staff brought hors d'oeuvres: panzerotto with tomato, mozzarella and anchovies - a classic and comforting Italian food which was also tasty; quail egg with eel inside - salty and decent. The rest of my dishes were as follow,

Carte Blanche

Spring cherry - It was actually a combination of rich foie gras, bitter chocolate and sweet cherry; a fresh, unique and delectable opening

Bouillabaisse jelly served with taratufi, sea urchin and tangerine snow - Since it's still an early part of the meal, the kitchen put on another refreshing dish; it's also creamy with some texture contrast - alright

Tuna tartare served with soy caviar and ginger - The 'well-marinated' tuna, served underneath the soy caviar, was superb, tender and delicious; probably the best tuna I've ever had in Europe. The "black caviar" gave some pungent ginger smell, little spicy and soy umami flavor. These ingredients matched very well with each other - really good

Egg "a la egg" - Arguably the best and 'most complex' dish for my meal. It was served in a martini glass and there were many layers of indulgences: chives, pepper cream, potato, fish cream, scramble egg, poached quail egg, salmon roe and generously served Beluga caviar. Scoop it from top to bottom to savor several delicious and heavenly produce altogether. Briny, earthy, fragrance, and many other good qualities were inside this glass. An excellent dish!

Shabu shabu Oneglia prawns served with mint, pink pepper and peach cream - The Sicilian 'langoustine' was fabulous and fresh; only the outside was cooked and the inside was still a bit raw. The prawn was inherently sweet, nicely complemented by the peach sauce and contrasted to the slightly bitter mint and lime granite

Polenta and pica so aka smoked mackerel served with polenta, onion and olive oil - The humble dish was inspired from the world war 2 story taking place in Bergamo when people did not get much privilege to eat (more) lavish food. The fish was kinda sour in decent texture while the polenta was ok and not really soft. For such a modest dish ... the taste was not too bad

Risotto served with artichokes, shrimps and bitter campari orange - The risotto was beautifully cooked and delicate; it's combined with flavorsome of artichoke cream, sweet shrimp, slightly bitter mandarin and distinct smell from the squid ink powder. Though it might not be the best risotto I've ever had, it was a scrumptious dish especially the many extra 'toppings' to accompany the rice

Squid served with parsley mousse and black polenta - The fried baby squid was succulent, tasty albeit a bit salty. The mousse of parsley and potato was mildly bitter, earthy and 'brighten' the dish flavor whereas I found the black polenta seemed to be disconnected with the main ingredient

"Vittorio style" paccheri pasta - This was the signature pasta of the house using the special recipe of its founder, Vittorio Cerea. The paccheri pasta (large tube shapes) was served with 'special' tomato sauce mixed with salt, pepper, carrot, onion, garlic, olive oil, aged parmesan and most importantly fresh and high quality tomatoes. It was simple and delicious; the sauce was balanced with lovely flavor while the pasta was perfectly cooked (al dente)

Deconstructed scorpion fish, stewed and raw - I think it was my fist experience consuming this known poisonous fish. The raw one (tartar style) showed the fish's natural mild flavor and tender texture inside the tasty fish broth. The stewed one, mainly the cheek part, served with pak choy and lemon grass sauce (revealing Asian influence) was moist and more flavorful. A delightful experience ... a bigger portion should be better

Capon ravioli in its broth served with parmesan cloud - The "tortellini" was filled with a mixture of capon meat, beef and veal; tender and very well executed. The key part was the broth made of tasty capon, savory & nutty parmesan and moderate black truffle. Smells good and lovely in the palate - a common home-made dish elevated to the gastronomy level

Duck breast served with coffee and guanaja chocolate - The Challan duck was meaty, delectable but a bit dry; the skin was flavorful but not too crisp. The 'dry' issue was redeemed by its delicious "sauce" on the sides consisting of duck reduction, red radish, chocolate etc. There was also small crepe with duck's offal inside. I liked the fish/seafood better but it's still a high quality meat course

Citrus pulp with pistachio and chili ice cream - The sour citrus foam with a few peanuts and mandarin orange was 'covered' by the flavorful pistachio and chili ice cream (with a hint of 'heat / spiciness'), alright

Mojito sorbet with buttermilk cream - Essentially, it was a sweet and creamy buttermilk & vanilla panna cotta accompanied by refreshing sorbet with mint and lime taste. Better than the previous dessert nevertheless nothing spectacular

The desserts were possibly the least impressive dishes at Da Vittorio, at least from this lunch. However, thankfully that the petit fours were better especially: cannoli - fresh & wonderful with light yet crispy shell. The delicious and creamy vanilla custard was filled immediately so that the cannoli would not feel soggy; house-made panettone - a classic made in the honor of Vittorio's wife. This bread was soft and spongy with good aroma and flavor; cotton candy with some chocolates on top was ok. The wine list was extensive and I drank 3 glasses of wine (2 whites and 1 red). I forgot to write the details, more or less: Cortona chardonnay, Tuscany; Ca' del bosco chardonnay, Lombardy; and '06 Barolo nebbiolo d'alba, Piedmont.

Da Vittorio's surrounding and dining room was magnificent. When the weather was good, guests could dine outside with immaculate ground and charming facade. I was seated inside, facing the kitchen; the interior and the atmosphere were classic, elegant and quintessentially Italian yet not intimidating at all. Inside this cozy room, there were pretty floral arrangement. The superb food and lovely setting was accompanied by excellent service. Staffs were professional and friendly, delivering flawless service. Chef Roberto Cerea himself would come out of the kitchen a few times, greet guests and make sure the meal was great. Bobo Cerea and his team would do everything they can to ensure guests were happy. Indeed, it was a memorable lunch. The food was exquisite, easily among my top 3 best Italian restaurants and the hospitality was the finest I've ever experienced in Italy. Had the restaurant's location been easier to reach, I would love to visit here more often. The pictures of my long lunch: Da Vittorio May '17

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 96/100