Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dal Pescatore (Runate in Lombardy)

October 2010

Runate, 17, Canneto sull'Oglio, Mantova, 46013
Tel: +39 376 723 001

Dal Pescatore is a 3-Michelin star Italian restaurant located literally in the middle of nowhere. It's a minimum of an hour's drive from any big city (we drove from Verona and it took nearly 90 minutes) and is in a small hamlet which apparently has a total population of over 30 people. Our GPS got us to the hamlet fine, but then we could not initially find the restaurant, though as we drove past a row of houses we could see into a window which had a group of very seriously dressed chefs in a modern kitchen. Thinking that it must be the restaurant, we looked out for the entrance, and eventually managed to locate the closed gate at the side of the row of houses.

Apparently, they only open at 8pm (our reservation was at 8pm) and before then, the main gate would be closed. Fortunately, we stopped our car in front of the gate long enough for them to decide to let us in (it was 7.30pm and we were early as we had budgeted more time to get there in case we got lost). After we had parked the car, we were let into the house by a member of the staff, who led us into a sitting room and served us with some prosecco and very delicious parmesan crisps, while waiting for our table which was only open at 8pm.

Promptly at 8pm, we were ushered into the very tasteful and elegant dining room, which had a lit open fireplace. The tables here were big and widely-spaced, and we were seated next to the glass sliding doors  on the other side of which is the courtyard and outdoor dining area during warmer evenings. The restaurant has two resident dogs (a german shepherd and a golden retriever) who were allowed to run freely in the courtyard.

We were given the wine list which was a large tome with a very good selection, however, there were several notable wines which had significant mark-ups. For example, I spotted the 1996 Sassicaia which was 3 times the cost of what we paid for it the night before in another restaurant. Nevertheless, we were able to identify some good wines which were priced more reasonably (the markups on the barolos were significantly less than that on the supertuscans), and we chose the 2001 Luciano Sandrone Le Vigne Barolo in the end. This was a vintage which was drinking very well, and though we had an open bottle of the 2000 vintage of the same wine in the hotel (which I opened earlier that day), we felt that the 2001 was a better wine.

For dinner, we opted for different menus. My wife chose the Menu D'Autunno (Autumn Menu) and I went for the Menu dalla Campagna (Countryside menu - i.e. the classics). Amuse bouche was a simply done but quite delicious pumpkin soup with extra virgin olive oil.

For our first course, I had the artichokes and veal liver with butter and rosemary. I thought it was an excellent dish and really enjoyed the liver (I usually don't like liver done this way). The artichokes really balanced out the liver and toned down its otherwise gamey taste.

My wife had the Sardinia blue lobster in champagne jelly, royal baeri caviar and marinated eel. She thought that this was very good.

Next, I was supposed to get the tortelli of Lucca with macaroons, mustard and parmesan cheese, whereas my wife was to get the Muscovy duck ravioli with asparagus and cherry tomato confit. We had asked the waiter to see if they could split the portions between us so that we could have some variety, but they very kindly gave us each a full portion of each instead. The duck ravioli was sublime, as there was a sweetness to it from the tomato confit. The tortelli was also quite good but at that point, eating 6 large raviolis/tortellis was filling us up very quickly.

It was after this that the meal started going downhill. The next dish was the triangular pasta stuffed with burrata cheese from Puglia and parmesan cheese, which I thought was quite tasteless and ordinary, and my wife had the saffron risotto with balsamic vinegar, which was good but she found it too heavy. At this point we also started to get annoyed with the staff. The staff members who were serving in the room (there was a total of 4 tables taken that night, each with 2 guests each; hence it was not a busy night) were stiff and quite condescending, we felt. In particular, the sommelier, who was Japanese, was particularly annoying and wasn't helpful with the wine list. Worse, in hindsight (we were given a copy of the menu when we left and went through it to recollect what we had eaten), the waiters got our orders mixed up for this course. I was supposed to get the risotto and my wife the triangular pasta. Quite unacceptable for a restaurant of this standard.

For the fish dish, I had the turbot cooked in salt and extra virgin olive oil with anchovies, capers and parsley. I thought this was very unremarkable, and it was nowhere near as good as the turbot dishes we've had in Paris. In fact, it could have been any other white fish and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference as the dish did not manage to bring out the texture of the turbot.

My wife had the sea bass stewed with seasonal vegetables, chili pepper and extra virgin olive oil. The sea bass was not bad, but she did not like the polenta or the pickled seasonal vegetables. Given that 'dal pescatore' means 'the fisherman' in Italian, we expected more from the chef in respect of the fish dishes.

For the red meat dishes, I had the beef with red wine sauce and polenta, which was very good and tender, though I thought the sauce (which was very rich) was a little too overpowering.

My wife had the wild hare with chestnut mash, which was also very good, but again, the sauce was too much. These two dishes lacked subtlety.

We had an interlude of cheese before dessert, which was quite good as it was a diverse selection of different cheeses, followed by a petit four tray.

For dessert, I had the sorbet of 3 different fruits, which was very good and refreshing after the heavy meal, and my wife had a berry terrine which was quite good as well.

We came to this restaurant with very high hopes and have been looking forward to this meal for over a year. However, though the food was good and the dining room ambience quite special, there was nothing in the menu which was particularly memorable. The kind of service we got that night could have been understandable (if less than perfect service is understandable in a 3-star restaurant; the french would have cried bloody murder) if we were in a big city and this was a high-society place (granted, they did have a helipad next to the restaurant which gave a hint of the kind of guests they get sometimes), however, this was a barn house in the middle of nowhere and they should really have given a bit more credit to guests who bothered to drive all the way out to look for it. On their website and on several other reviews we read about this, much has been made about how this is a family restaurant etc. but that wasn't the experience we had during this visit.

Final Thoughts: The food was very refined yet some of the dishes lacked flair. We suspected that Chef Nadia Santini (who has such a stellar reputation) was not in the kitchen that night, as overall the food didn't meet our expectations (which were sky-high after reading countless reviews raving about this restaurant). Nonetheless, it was a very nice dining room, spacious and warm. Service that night was appalling, we felt. The waiters were condescending and stiff and made us feel watched all night, and not in a good way. At the end of the dinner, Antonio Santini came out to say hi to us but it felt orchestrated. For a restaurant which prided itself on being a family-run restaurant, we did not feel any genuineness in their hospitality that night.

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