November 27, 2004
Tonight we went to a Michelin 3-Star restaurant, Le Calandre, in Sarmeola di Rubano, a few minutes outside of Padova, near Venice. [For those of you non-European and/or non-foodies not familiar with the Michelin Guide, here's some information on what it is and what it means to have three stars.] I have never been to a Michelin 3-starer before (or 2-star or 1-star, for that matter) so I was quite anticipating the meal. Some people consider this the finest restaurant in all of Italy. The chef, Massimiliano Alajmo, whom we met at the end of the meal, is the youngest chef ever to have been awarded 3 stars by the Michelin guide. Of couse, I also heard from somewhere that the Michelin rating system is not as accurate in Italy as it is in France. But it's got 3-stars and I have read many fine reviews of this place, so I think it's safe to say that it's one of the very best in the country.
So how was it?
Oh, how I wish I could gloat and tell you that I just had the most amazing dinner of my life and that you suckers didn't have it. But it wasn't. It was very, very good, don't get me wrong, but just not the "out of body experience" I was hoping for. Perhaps I was simply expecting too much. I mean, come to think of it, I don't think I've had many meals that knocked my socks off. Maybe Tojo's in Vancouver. Maybe Nobu in New York (not every time though, I've been there when I thought it was only okay). Out of the other supposedly great, fancy restaurants (I won't name-drop, but trust me, I've spent way too much money on highly-regarded restaurants), I never thought any of them was that amazing. Good food, yes, but never OH MY GOD I JUST DIED AND WENT TO HEAVEN good, if you know what I'm saying.
Or maybe at the back of my mind I could never shake the thought that I could easily go to heaven with NT$90/~US$2.65 and a bowl of beef noodle soup in Taipei.
Anyway, the service at Le Calandre was impeccable. Super friendly staff. The chef was nice and we got a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar.
The food itself was very good overall. Too much I thought. Near the end of the 11-course meal, I was so full that it was starting to get uncomfortable.
There are two separate tasting menus. One is a "greatest hits" of sorts and the other is the current, newest creations. We opted for the current menu (€130/~US$170).
Here is the menu:
Sandwich croccante di polenta con paté di fegatini
Cappelli di rape rosse, salsa di gorgonzola e verde di Montegalda
Tagliolini al fumo con burro, acciughe e sfoglie di tuorlo
Funghi saltati con pan biscotto, cipolla di Tropea e sorbetto di pinoli
Piccione di Sante arrostito, germogli tostati, miele al finocchietto e salsa di sesamo
Il carrello dei formaggi
Dopo le 8
Involtino caldo di prugne con crema soffice di mascarpone e vaniglia
In addition to the menu listed above, we were also served two separate courses of amuse. The dishes were all on the heavy side. So even though taken individually, they were all mostly superb (with a couple of weak spots, like the cappelli and the pigeon), as an ensemble, it started to get very tiresome towards the second half.
But I will say that the pasta course (the tagliolini) was absolutely INCREDIBLE. It's like a fancy version of carbonara. If I walked in here and only had that I probably would have died and gone to heaven. It's that good. I guess I should be thankful that I just had the best carbonara anyone is likely to have anywhere in the world. It's just that taken as a whole, the overall experience was only very good, not superb as I had hoped.
Total bill, including a bottle of white wine and two glasses of red that the sommelier recommended to go with our tasting menu, was €323.50/US$420.55.