Erbusco, Italy

August 2007

It was a busy morning to say the least. The minute we landed at the Malpensa airport, we hit the ground running.  Picking up our car rental, we drove into Milan, parked in a garage, went in search of an ATM machine and then got in line to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. We saw, we were impressed and then we grabbed a quick pizza and a couple of beers.  That’s when we hit rush hour traffic in Milan and what should have taken an hour to get to the town of Erbusco took nearly three.  

Needless to say, we were exhausted by the time we got to our room.  We tried to nap but decided having an early dinner and then going to sleep would be a better option.   That said, dinner was served in a large loggia-type space overlooking the estate’s gardens with a distant view of Lake Iseo.  We had a choice of three menus all over 150 Euros per person.  We thought à la carte might be a cheaper option. 

Chef Gualtiero Marchesi is a master of Italian “nuova cuicina.”  The dishes he executes are minimally plated and definitely not fussy.  Even with this simple execution, he still manages to poke fun at his own creations which is why this restaurant has truly become a “temple” of Italian cooking. 

We started with an amuse bouche of scampi with melon juice, then moved on to fried perch with salad on the side.  The salad was just ok; I actually thought it needed more dressing to bring it all together.  Our first course was a stunning gnocchi dish in cream sauce with a modern twist – fried beet chips were scattered on top. Chef Marchesi’s signature dish, “Veal Chop Milanese 2000,” consisted of a deconstructed veal chop; the meat cut into perfect cubes and arranged on the plate.  Of course, we had to joke with the maitre d‘ that the dish cubed this way looked like a “McNugget.”  (Believe it or not, the maitre d‘ was not offended.)

We ended up splitting a cheese plate as our next menu item and were able to sample four nice choices (surprising all cow’s milk) with all but one (the gorgonzola) from the Franciacorta area.

Dessert was a wonderful mille feuille – lovely pastry disks layered with whipped cream and tiny wild strawberries.

After dinner we got a glimpse of Chef Marchesi as we walked back to our room.  He graciously nodded to us.  This is when I realized I really need to learn Italian – at least enough to communicate my thanks for such a lovely meal. .

Follow up visit:

February  2008

Traveling with our teenage daughter Rachel this time, we needed a room big enough to accommodate the three of us so we splurged for a two floor suite with two full bathrooms.  Since her room was essentially the living room, she had the honor of sleeping on the couch (although she said it was quite comfortable).  This time around we discovered the Library Bar, a room we had totally missed on our previous visit.  Apparently, we got a bit too comfy drinking because after our second round of vodka, the wait staff brought us menus and persuaded us to go into the dining room.

We picked ourselves up and started dinner with some sparkling Italian wine.  Our amuse bouche that night was lobster that was molded into a ball and colored black with squid ink, fried tortellini and some sort of savory biscotti. A second amuse bouche materialized — scampi with mashed chick peas.  It was amazingly tasteless.  We were underwhelmed.

We thought we had ordered pasta with foie gras as our first course but instead were served huge slabs of foie gras instead (at nearly twice the price).  Rachel had a wildflower pasta that was a bit gummy and seemed to lack the cheese fondue topping that was indicated on the menu.  I ordered the suckling pig – a small portion of tasty, roasted pork and Lynn and Rachel both had the “Veal Chop Milanese 2000” as on our previous visit.

For dessert, Rachel, ever the chocolate hound, went for the classic chocolate mousse. Lynn and I once again split the cheese plate washed down with a fabulous Cabernet/Merlot blend from the Alte Adigo area.

This time we did not see the chef.  As I looked into the kitchen that evening, both the wait and cooking staff seemed alarmingly young.  Perhaps an indication of why the meal was not as good as on our last visit?

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