Ed. Note: My heart bleeds for the wonderful region of Emiglia-Romagna, which has now suffered two devastating earthquakes since the visit of my son and I. I have been in contact with people from Osteria Francescana, who have told me that they and Modena itself at the moment remain relatively unscathed.
Massimo Bottura has deservedly developed a reputation for imagination, creativity and great food at his premiere restaurant, Osteria Francescana. That restaurant has taken food to incredible levels of artistry and poetry. It is also a restaurant where the food has a very playful personality. Bottura has extended that playfulness to another, less exalted, but still wonderful direction. He has opened a second, more casual restaurant away from the center of Modena. This restaurant, La Franceschetta 58, is located in an old garage, in what appeared to be a residential area. It shares Osteria Francescana’s playfulness towards food. Bottura enlisted Chef Marta Pulini, a veteran of Italian cooking in Italy, New York and elsewhere as well as a co-author of a book on Italian Regional Cooking, to run the kitchen. Her experience was ideal, because, Bottura’s concept is for La Franceschetta to be a pan-Italian restaurant – an ode to Italian food from across the country in a country where cooking and dining tends to be very, very regional. My son and I dined here the evening following our Ferrari adventure.
The design was hip and modern. The walls of this long and narrow restaurant were lined with a variety of plates, each distinct, a conceit that carried through the meal as no two plates or glasses were alike.
Along the wall across from the entrance was a counter behind which the various salumi…
…and formaggi were prepared. The kitchen was located behind that.
Chef Pulini helped us select our meal. La Franceschetta employs an interesting and ultimately quite successful concept. Italy has a tendency to be very territorial regarding its cuisines, but this restaurant’s approach is to break down those barriers and provide dishes from throughout Italy.
It also offers every dish at 7 Euros a plate. For the money, the plates are quite generous, but they are small enough that one can try a few different things before filling up without breaking the bank.
The menu is organized along the lines of appetizers, meats, fish, vegetables, pastas and sweets.
Both my son and I would have been happy just noshing on these wonderful, crisp grissini and the excellent focaccia.
We quickly received an amuse of a frittata with potatoes and onions served with a stick for easy dining. I grew up eating this on a regular basis. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that i discovered the Spanish origins of this tasty egg dish. It became Italian too as a result of Spain’s domination over much of southern Italy over the centuries. This was a nice rendition that immediately brought back many taste memories for me – comfort food at its finest.
This tasty bread was sliced to resemble a cuttlefish.
We tried a platter of fine salumi which included culatello, mortadella, coppa di testa with lemon zest, pancetta, strugino, a salami from Zibello and cipolline sott’olio (onions and mushrooms in olive oil). Each was quite tasty, though our interest in them was tempered slightly by having eaten the incredible culatelli earlier in the day at Antica Corte Palavicino.
Marinated fresh Tyrhenean Sea anchovies with pomodorini di Vesuvio and bread were marvelous. The fish were pristine with just enough acid bite to sharpen their flavor. The tomatoes were sweet dreams of tomato heaven and the bread added flavor and texture.
Zucchini soup was light and refreshing, made with zucchini vegetables and flowers as well as a little fresh mint. This was the stuff that I could see eating in the home of a very good cook. It was tasty and satisfying
This was not my mother’s lasagne, but it was delicious nevertheless. This one was filled with zucchini, leeks and chard with a Parmigiano fonduta.
In Modena, the traditional ragú is made without tomato. La Franceschetta’s fettucine with a tomato-less Modenese ragu, started with a typical mirepois and added chopped veal and prosciutto di Parma, white wine, chicken broth and milk, cooking slowly for over four hours.
Cotolette of pork tenderloin were breaded and fried and served with peas and tomatoes. This was a hearty dish that was perfect for the season. The peas were cooked soft and mushy, the way I was used to them while growing up. The dish was another example of great comfort food for me.
Roast duck leg was first marinated in Lambrusco wine and paired with a sour cherry sauce using locally grown cherries, spinach and saffron spaetzle. This had great flavor and balance.
The restaurant combined a modern sensibility with traditionally oriented cooking at very reasonable prices.
We finished with some incredible Gorgonzola with mostarda made from campanelle (little bells) apples, a small and tasty local variety, that had been cooked with some coffee beans and another mostarda made from watermelon rinds. I particularly enjoyed the former.
The wines I tried were very good too. Marta had me try a Lambrusco Rosato from Cantina della Volia. Though their reputation is changing rapidly for the better, most Lambruscos are somewhat sweet, sparkling red wines, but this one was dry with fine bubbles and significantly more complex than most Lambruscos.
A second wine, a red from Enrico Cialdini called Cleto Chiarli was also delicious.
We shared two desserts. The first was a bowl of fresh creampuffs with a chocolate sauce made with ValRhona Guanaja and the second,
…a pistachio meringue tart with vanilla gelato on top. Both were satisfying and surprisingly restrained with their sweetness, which was pleasing to me.
La Franceschetta 58 is a wonderful, fun, comfortable restaurant with all the style that one would expect from Massimo Bottura at extremely reasonable prices. It is a very worthwhile destination for a tasty, relaxed and eminently affordable meal while in Modena. While our meal still hit mostly upon products and traditions of Emiglia-Romagna, the menu did cover other areas of Italy including Sicily, Piemonte, the coasts and more. Massimo Bottura’s vision of a pan-Italian restaurant in a country still centered on its Regional roots is surprisingly unusual in Italy and I am happy for that. Bottura’s approach and execution is exciting for its personality and quality. His approach is a celebration of Italy at a time when Italy and its economy need something to celebrate about.