Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia – A Milanese Marvel

I wouldn’t have tried Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia if it weren’t for the strong recommendation of my friend, noted food writer, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who, calling the restaurant her favorite in Milan, urged me on facebook to go there when I was in Milan last winter for Identitá Golose 2011. Even with that, I only managed to squeeze it in for lunch on my return from Modena and dinner at Osteria Francescana and my return to Geneva for my flight home.

Because I only had a limited time between trains, I made a reservation on the early side for lunch and was in fact the first customer at the restaurant. I even had to wait a little bit once the taxi dropped me off. This allowed me a little time to check out the immediate environs. Il Luogo is not in Milan’s city center nor is it in a particularly interesting area from a touristic point of view, but it also wasn’t terribly far either, a 25 minute taxi ride from the train station. I was happy when the doors to the restaurant opened and I was shown to my table. The room itself was warm, but by modern design standards unremarkable other than for the artwork on the walls and the beautiful centerpieces on the tables.

Sitting by myself, I was awarded a lovely table in the corner overlooking the entire dining room. The centerpiece, a work of art, which like most of the other art in the room and even at the entrance to the restaurant was by the artist/scientist Paolo Ferrari, provided colorful splashes and a sense of exuberance. Of course, I went with a tasting menu at a cost of €120 and a wine pairing at €35. While not inexpensive, especially for lunch, I was not disappointed.

My first amuse was a combination of cardoons with a swordfish meatball. The cardoons were sweet  and the swordfish full of flavor with a nice soft texture. I didn’t catch what the broth was. It was an unusual combination for me and one I greatly enjoyed. Another amuse that was served alongside this one was a cannolo, but this cannolo was savory rather than sweet and lacked cream. Instead it contained anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and olives. Unfortunately, I did not get a good photo of the latter amuse, but that didn’t hinder me from enjoying its excellent savory balance.

Several kinds of bread were served along with Sicilian olive oil. It was all of top quality and delicious. Brown bread had a nice soft crumb and a crisp crust. The other breads were crisp with a slight, anise flavor. Texturally, they reminded me of crisp pretzels without the salt.

My first wine was a 2001 Sylvaner from Kuen Hof in Italy’s Südtirol region. Although a touch cold, it was crisp and refreshing with good acidity.

Warm scampi (Norway lobster ) cooked in herb infusion with white beans from controne and Cerasuola olive oil.

My first official course of the lunch was a dish of low temperature cooked langoustines served over white beets with a sauce made from the langoustines. Lemon verbena used as an infusion in which the langoustines were cooked, provided a sweet, citrus herbal note while the beet greens added a lightly bitter element. I could also detect whiffs of basil and mint on the finish. The barely cooked langoustines were sweet, tender and delightfully delicious. This was a beautiful start.

Chef/Owner Aimo Moroni

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia has become an institution in Milan, having opened in 1962 in the same location. Originally from Tuscany from the same town as his good friend Sirio Maccioni, Aimo Moroni and his wife Nadia opened a restaurant representative of their common Tuscan origins. The restaurant opened where it did for one simple reason – they didn’t have the money to open in a more visible downtown location. Over the years, the restaurant added a variety of influences, continually evolving and gaining a wider reputation by the 1980’s earning first one hen two Michelin stars. Despite its continuing evolution and growth in stature, Chef Aimo Moroni never forgot his roots and has always remained a distinctly Italian restaurant, innovating, but always respectful of raw materiels and original flavors.

Broth of white, fattened hen flavoredwith vervain, with tortelli stuffed with squacquerone cheese, smoked ham and balsamic vinegar.

With the possible exception of pizza, the first food most people think of when they think of Italy is pasta. In keeping with the inherently Italian nature of the restaurant and showing an influence of nearby Emilia-Romagna, my next course was ravioli in a clear chicken broth. There was a delicacy and subtlety to the ravioli that was a pleasant surprise. I might have expected the ham to have been too assertive, but though it made a definite contribution with a hint of smoke and sweetness, it was restrained enough to let the flavors of the chicken, cheese and herbs shine. The aged balsamic added depth and brightness. A small pearl of chicken meat supplied textural contrast and an explosion of chicken flavor. Served alongside this dish was a luxurious, small savory brioche with a mousse of pigeon and duck liver and white truffle paste.

Homemade fusilli of semolina from Gragnano with sauce of white truffle from Alba, salty anchovey and crispy breadcrumbs flavored with herbs.

Continuing the pasta parade, the next course defied convention. A belief that dairy and seafood don’t match was resoundingly disproven by this fantastic dish. The pasta was definitely the star of this show. The fusilli was perfectly al dente. The sauce, a great fusion of flavors and textures, was sweet and salty and downright perfect. It is because of dishes like this that Italian food has the wonderful reputation that it has.

Ligurian octopus cooked on a serpentine stone served on a cream of "cicerchie" legumes flavored with Ayacucho pink pepper and candied lemon

This was an extra course not listed on the tasting menu. The octopus was cooked on a special stone and not boiled. It had great texture, extremely tender, and was sweet with a little bitterness from the char. The sauce, a creamy chick pea puree, decorated with a few highly aromatic herbs, was delicious and a fine choice to accompany the octopus.

A traditionally styled Barolo, the 2004 Bricco Boschis from Cavallotto, this was deeply colored, tannic and with good acidity, conjuring sour cherry and anise notes.

Rump of Veal from Piedmont filled with plums and pine nuts in a light panure of herbs and citrus.

Nobody does veal like Italians and this one still makes my mouth water writing about it some time later. Coated with a bread crumb base accented with herbs, spices and citrus, it was stuffed with plums and pine nuts and gratineed. The croquet was made with cabbage  and was accompanied by a grilled late harvest radicchio. The young veal had been fed only milk, cereal and eggs, like many a young American child. It had not fed on grass or anything else. The meat was extremely tender with a nice level of sweetness from the fruit, but overall it was incredibly savory and packed with umami. Each component of the dish shined without overwhelming any other component. Had I ordered a la carte, I probably would not have ordered this dish, but this is why I love tasting menus – it was quite a nice surprise. This was the best veal I had had in a long time – pure unadulterated deliciousness.

Small selection of Italian cheeses

From left to right in the photo above, the cheese course consisted of a fontina from the Italian Alps, a pecorino staggionato from Pienza in Tuscany and a natural blue cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy called “Strachitunt.” In the rear was a house-made mostarda of white watermelon. I found the fontina to be a bit bitter on its own, but the bitterness was nicely tempered by the watermelon mostarda. The pecorino was quite nice – sharp, but not too sharp and crumbly, but not too crumbly. The strachitunt was a nice blue, but not as extraordinary as I might have hoped given its provenance. Overall the cheese plate was good, but it was also the weakest course of the meal, not standing out compared to other cheese courses in other top end restaurants.

Rhubarb ravioli filled with yogurt and ginger in pomegranate and litchi juices with sweet breadsticks flavored with cinnamon.

Rhubarb is a product that adds so much to many dishes, but I generally tend to avoid as it promotes the production of kidney stones in susceptible individuals, of whom, I, to my all too frequent consternation, happen to be one. While I don’t typically order it, I will eat it when given to me as part of a tasting menu, especially when I have enjoyed a meal as much as I enjoyed this one at Il Luogo. This was presented as a pre-dessert. The consommé was pomegranate juice with diced lychee. The combination tasted clean and fresh and it was worth the small risk to my health.

"The Sweet Garden"

The main dessert played with a variety of traditionally savory ingredients, combining them with chocolate to create a rich and otherworldly finish. The crisps were made from potato flour. Beets and jerusalem artichoke added supporting flavors and depth on the plate. The chocolate was combined with hazelnuts for a classic gianduja mousse, which was topped with white truffle ice cream and shavings of black truffle atop that. Once again, all the flavors coalesced in a beautiful symphony with each taking solos on my palate with different bites, no instrument overpowering any other, even as the truffles intoxicated with their sublime taste melody. It was, like the rest of the meal, an exercise in harmony of flavor, color and texture.

The meal finished with a well done serving of a variety of petit fours, each one pleasing. This was a totally enjoyable meal with outstanding food, delicious wine and superb service led by the Maitre, Nicola Dell’agnolo. I was made to feel warm and welcome from the moment I walked in the door

Francesco Pisani and Alessandro Negrini

While Aimo and Nadia Moroni and their daughter Stefania, who is the restaurant’s manager remain the heart and soul of this restaurant, the kitchen was in the extremely capable hands of a pair of superb young chefs. Francesco Pisano, from Puglia teamed with Alessandro Negrini from northern Italy to produce a cuisine that is not exactly traditional, but is clearly Italian – focused on product from all over Italy and highlighting those ingredients so that each is identifiable and allowed to shine. The food at Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia may not be fully avant-garde – clearly their cooking is based on Italian tradition even if it isn’t totally shackled to it, but it does extend the genre of Italian cooking without sacrificing traditional pleasures. Their flavors are bright and exquisite with consummate balance and the creations are creative enough to be interesting. This is a restaurant that both fans of traditional Italian cooking and a more, creative modern approach are likely to enjoy

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6 Responses to Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia – A Milanese Marvel

  1. Wonderful post, Doc! I could almost taste the delicious food (and the wines!) from your descriptions. This, for me, is one of the finest restaurants in Italy, precisely because it doesn’t stress avant garde cuisine yet manages to be fresh and modern nonetheless. Next time you’re in Milano give me a call and I’ll join you!

  2. ChuckEats says:

    Wow, this looks like a near-perfect meal – subtle, light, & clear flavors – i’m adding this one to the list

  3. TP says:

    Johnny… What a find!!! Looks to be a wonderful meal!! If this is lunch, one can only dream about dinner!! Your photography is picture perfect!!! And a thank you to Ms. Jenkins for the tip!!!

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