I have been irrevocably spoiled for life.
Two nights ago, I dined at the three star Michelin rated restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiori. This was not just a restaurant. This was a food temple.
Not only was the food absolutely incredibly unbelievable (much more on that in a minute), the service was as good as it could possibly get. It seemed at times like every single employee was your personal server. All the employees with either in tuxes, or impeccable suits. Since I didn’t bring a jacket (which was “recommended,” but really meant you had to sit on the patio, which was really hot) they provided me with one, which was a bit short, but hey, I ain’t complainin.
Let me set up the scene for you:
There is not really a sign. You see these two huge green columns, with the maitre ‘d hotel standing in the entrance. He gives you his card, and directs you to the free parking lot that has lots of incredibly beautiful (and fast) cars in it.
As you enter, everyone greets you. You are escorted to a sitting room, where you await the person who will take you to your table. I had to wait an extra minute while they tried to find a coat that I could at least get into.
Once seated in a small dining room (of which there were many, so I didn’t really get a chance to see how many people could actually eat there at once), you start to notice just how different things are here.
For women, there is a small side table behind your table for your purse. The lighting is soft, but bright enough to see clearly, and appreciate the beautiful food that is about to come.
First you are offered an apperitivo. I chose some Champagne. A double magnum of Krug champagne was brought, and poured into our waiting glasses. There was no silverware or plates on the table yet. They would come….oh God would they come.
While you enjoyed your aperitivo, you were presented with the menu. You can choose either a la carte, or tasting menu. I had already decided that no matter what, we were going to do the tasting menu. We informed one of our servers of this decision, and embarked on the best meal of both me and my fathers life. (At this point, it was around 7:40. This will make sense later.)
Almost immediately after ordering, we were given a “gift from the chef,” which was actually one of many gifts from the chef. Evidently the chef is a really nice guy.
Now, I have a confession to make. I didn’t take a picture of the menu, and it isn’t online. Now, I have emailed them and asked for it, but I am incredibly sorry to report that it’s possible that I won’t be able to tell you what everything was. Please, however, feel free to enjoy the pictures and pretend you know what everything is.
Next, we got another gift from the chef. A sardine, perfectly preserved in vinegar, split in half, deboned, and rolled up on top of a geleed cube of strawberry and tomato. At this point, we both knew that this was a bit different than anything we had ever eaten.
We then got the first course from the menu. I honestly can’t remember what kind of fish it was, but the fish really isn’t what made the dish amazing. Underneath the fish was sautéed sea cucumber. It was so good, that when I couldn’t get the last little piece on my fork, I made sure no one was looking, and picked it up with my fingers. In a 3 star restaurant. It was THAT good.
During this next dish, something happened that has never happened before to me. I took a bite, and instead of just thinking “wow, that’s amazing,” I actually felt tears welling up. It was so good that I nearly cried. Right after that emotion, though, I started to laugh. It was really just absurd. This was food like I had never had before. It was so pure, so intense. It was a terrine of foie gras, with a gelee of somethingorother, but the foie gras was so incredibly perfect. It was all at once creamier, more flavorful, and more intense and amazing then any other foie gras I have ever had. When I dragged the bits through the salt and pepper, and they crunched in my mouth with the foie gras, it even elevated the salt and pepper to higher standards. I really, honestly, couldn’t believe it. It was served with bread with prunes in it, but I had eaten most of my liver before I got to it, and I thought it was good.
Oh, I have neglected to mention that up until that course, we had gotten a different type of bread with every course. Around the 4th course or so, the rotation started again.
Here’s an ok view of our dining room. I was playing with the camera trying to adjust light settings, and I snagged this picture without really disturbing anyone else.
I really am feeling bad now, because I don’t have the item descriptions. This next course was very, very good, but did not illicit the same emotional response. It was a fried piece of fish, with a pureed vegetable which tasted like the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. I really need the menu. Argh.
Next up – lobster two ways. On the left is fried lobster with a avocado puree and on the right is sautéed lobster with fresh mango. The reason I remember this course is because 1) it was very clean and amazingly good, and 2) because there weren’t many ingredients. Sometimes in fancy restaurants, they do too much to lobster, and really muddle the flavor, but here it was perfect. The avocado went very well with the crispiness of the meat, and the mango really brought out the freshness in the lobster.
This course looks simple to the untrained eye. To put it simply, it is spaghetti with olives, tomatoes, and some tuna. If you were to put it in your mouth, however, you would not be able to speak for at least a few minutes. This course, I honestly have no idea how the accomplished. I thought I had eaten the best pasta to be found. I was absolutely wrong. This pasta was so far and away better than any pasta I have ever had before. It was absolutely tender, unbelievably flavorful, and just unreal. For the second time, I was nearly moved to tears. For someone who has never cried during a movie, play, opera, or listening to music, it was a new experience. At this level, it really is an art. For the most part, making food is a craft, a trade, something you can learn. I don’t know how anyone learned how to do the food that I was eating. It seemed like something sent down from heaven. Honestly, it felt like a religious experience. If I had to find a place to be Mecca for my to date food experiences, Enoteca Pinchiori would no doubt be it.
Once I had recovered from the spaghetti, we moved on to a pasta stuffed with meat and topped with shavings of reggiano (I believe). It was great, but did not move me in the same way.
Just when I was starting to believe that I was not going to have another experience like the spaghetti had given me, the lamb came. Now, it’s hard to tell since I took the picture so close, but these two pieces of lamb were less than the size of a quarter each, and about a mm thick. Even so, they were bar none the best pieces of lamb I had ever had. To say they were cooked perfectly would be an understatement. I now believe that there is no other way to correctly cook lamb. What really made this dish as good as the spaghetti, though, was the red blob that the lamb was leaning against. This “blob” (which some might call a quenelle) was tomato. Not just tomato, but the best tomato flavor I had ever even conceived of. You know the tomato that I wrote about? The perfect Umbrian tomato? Take the flavor of the best tomato you’ve ever had, and multiply it by about 50,000. Then make a sauce out of that flavor exactly. Just like the sea cucumbers with the fish in the second dish, the tomato really made the dish unforgettable.
I really was thinking that at this point it couldn’t get any better. I had drank enough amazing wine (which actually warrants a separate post, which will come later), that I was just in a food induced haze. I remembered that the next course was supposed to be pigeon, and was expecting the same type of pigeon that I had eaten before. I was wondering how they were going to take this gamey, tough, dark bird, and turn it into something worthy of the name Pinchiorri. I’ll tell you now, I have utterly not a clue how they did what they did with this dish. I thought I had gotten a piece of beef. This was not bird. It was tender, meaty, rich, and ungodly good. Again, the sides really enhanced the whole experience. The gravy was, oddly, made with a mix of crack and codeine, since it was utterly impossible to resist the temptation to lick every inch of the bowl clean. The toast was covered with a sweet molasses-type coating, and seemed to vanish all too quickly. I’m sure it was quite a sight to see me gnawing on the bone like an animal, to make sure that every single atom of flavor was sucked from the pores in the bone.
This concluded our savory portion of the meal, and I was getting full. A cheese cart, the size of which I have never seen outside of a specialty cheese store was rolled over, and we were instructed to choose whatever we wanted. I absolutely love goat cheese, and chose 5 different types. (There were about 10 goat cheeses in all, in fact, they took up the whole non-pictured tray that stuck off the close side of the cart.) All of these cheeses were at the same time different and similar. They were all clearly goat cheeses, but the method of production was so incredibly varied that I thought I was eating cheese from completely different planets.
We were then presented with about 15 different desserts. There was a main plate with one side that was all chocolate and the opposite all vanilla, there were cones of sorbetto, a watermelon shot, a citrus sorbet, and various other little nibbles. I was about to die, I was so full.
To give you an idea, and a preview of the wine post to come, these were all of the wines we had tasted. Note: these bottles were not just ours, we probably had 3-4 glasses from each.
Click to enlarge to see lables better.
After this, we drank grappa that was made just for the restaurant. Grappa = kerosene + amazing flavor.
I pondered slashing my wrists with the grappa glass and dying happy. Then I drank more grappa.
Now is a good time to note that there was a table next to us with a couple that was simply phenomenal. John was from DC, and Grace was from California. We had actually talked for a moment in the sitting room, when they went to get me a coat. When I started taking pictures, we struck up some more conversation. It turns out that Grace had gone to BU (for a year, I think), and was seemingly impressed with my food taste. I really enjoyed talking with them, and would like to see them again. Hopefully they’ll find this site since I gave them the address, but they, like us, had drank many bottles of wine. If you’re reading this, Grace and John, email me!
Ah, that break was refreshing. We head on!
I asked for a tour of the kitchen, and was promptly given one. At this point, it was about 11:45, and they were cleaning up. The kitchen was spotless, and the guy I talked to seemed like a nice guy, even if he did want me to get out of his kitchen.
I posed for a group photo of our sommelier on the left and one of the servers on the right. Notice the coat length.
Coming up next, why I shouldn’t have had that meal, the wines, and the next night’s meal!