il Ristorante Cracco, Milan
June 11, 2008
Carlo Cracco is said to be one of the world’s most imaginative and innovative chefs, although he does not yet have the fame of Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal et al. He is aware of what they are doing, but he makes his own discoveries and puts them into the idiom of Italian cuisine. Linda and I dined at his restaurant on June 4, 2008. We had been in this underground space with minimalist decor many years before when it was Peck, the restaurant arm of the fine food store just around the corner. In 2001 Peck hired Carlo Cracco as its chef, giving him free rein and renaming the restaurant Cracco-Peck. It soon earned two Michelin stars and a listing in the Fifty Best Restaurants in the World. Cracco bought out Peck last year and renamed the restaurant. He had worked for many of the big names in cuisine in France and Italy, but was now finally on his own.
That morning we had been shopping at Peck to look at the gorgeous displays and to stock up on good things. We were happy to walk back to the neighborhood in the evening. There are two rooms and we were seated with the other foreigners, but they were quiet and well behaved, if not well-dressed. The English-speaking sommelier in our room was particularly chatty and helpful. The restaurant was only half full that night, which made all my efforts to be sure we had a reservation seem a bit silly.
There were two menus at €130 and €160, (plus à la carte.) The first was more traditional; the second, our choice, was larger and more creative. After considerable discussion with the sommelier, we ordered a Cantina Terlan “Quarz” Sauvignon from the South Tirol and a 1996 Rocche dei Manzoni (Vigna d’la Roul) Barolo. They were both excellent and went well with the cuisine.
The amuse gueule was two litttle fishballs for each of us with chips that had retained the flavors of the vegetables: yellow and violet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, beets, celeriac. We were also given two little boxes of the chips to take home.
Linda asked for a substitution for the oyster starter and was given a Russian salad between two transparent wafers. It was held in the hand and eaten like a sandwich.
I had the starter of a fresh and delicious oyster. The frothy seaweed spun sugar was an unusual combination, but with the slightly bitter curly kale leaves it was interesting.
Marinara di pesce in foglie con verdure croccanti
Linda is being shown the gelatanous “leaves” made of essence of various fish. Strips of these were then tossed with a few thinly sliced vegetables and a green salad dressing. It made a flavorful seafood salad with a consistant texture. Very nice.
Insalata di aloe vera, ricci di mare, nocciola e nero di seppia
This salad combined dabs of sea urchin with pieces of squid, squid ink and aloe greens. It was enjoyable, but didn’t really bring out the sea urchin flavor.
The peas were served warm in some kind of gel which brought out their fresh flavor. The sea snail and vanilla mayonnaise garnish were subtle.
Punte di asparagi bianchi e tuorlo marinato
A reduction glaze of shellfish shells had been tossed with salad greens, fresh tarragon and dill. It was then frozen and served. I thought this was superb. The flavors really came through as they melted in your mouth. I don’t think I have ever had such a fine flavor from tarragon.
Light pumpkin mounds were served with pieces of baby squid and bunches of mustard seed. This was pretty, but it did not inspire me.
Petto di piccione al vapour con asparagi Verdi e bianchi
I know that the chef likes to be different, but steaming was disappointing for me with a pigeon breast. It did somewhat bring up the flavor of the meat, which is usually lost in the process of making the skin nice and crisp and that was interesting, but I still would have preferred some inventive way of serving it with a crackly skin.
Midollo con tapioca, fave e pomodoro
The big piece of bone marrow balanced on top of a tapioca mound with the help of a colorful thin slice of tomato was an unctuous pre-dessert.
Linda asked for a substitution for the chocolate dessert and was given this light, crunchy mound. We have forgotten what they said it was, but it might have been based on mascarpone.
Cioccolato, insalata di cocco e noci con sorbetto alla birra
My dessert was thin slices of fresh coconut with a square of chocolate cake and dark beer ice cream to provide a nice cool bitter contrast.
Lenti a contatto al caffè
These coffee “contact lenses” are a signature item for Cracco. After opening them one just dips out the coffee gel with a finger and pops it into the mouth. There is no residue on the finger.
There were little crunchy chocolate truffles, petit fours and dried fruit slices. They were all excellent, but we were not still hungry.
via Victor Hugo 4