Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cracco. Milan.

To say that I was a little nervous going into Cracco would be a little of an understatement. I had mentally prepared myself to be robbed of all of my money and to waste a few hours of my life on a pathetic dining experience, all in the name of this “quest”/”saga”.

There were some online reviews that were completely scathing and described, in great detail, terrible (and expensive) experiences at the restaurant. Gosh, it just sounded so terrible, guys!

So with a fair helping of trepidation we were ushered into the lift at Cracco by the maitre'd and raced him to the floor the dining room was on. The restaurant looked quite nice but was this going to be a case of style over substance, like most of the Milanese women walking around the city?

The menu has a small a la carte selection, a traditional tasting menu and a creative tasting menu, which uses the techniques that have made chef Carlo Cracco one of the respected members of the molecular gastronomy crowd. Of course, we had to go the creative menu (at 160e).

One of the most scathing of reviews that I saw mentioned receiving “dehydrated vegetables in a box” for one of their courses. “The type that you'd see as army rations.” That was the thing that worried me the most.

A plastic box of sun-dried vegetables was placed on the table.

And it was actually a nice way to start the meal. Take THAT mysterious online reviewer (show your face!)! (Show it now!) There was also a selection of fried vegetables and they were also nice. It was pretty satisfying eating a zucchini flower that was like a prawn cracker.

But what if every course was like this? Maybe the mysterious review was right! I don't want to eat dried vegetables all night. I want some substance. Was this going to descend into farce?

Dear Mysterious Online Reviewer (is that an anagram?),

In reply to your review of Ristorante Cracco in Milan, that of the 2 Michelin star and 70-somethingth in the San Pellegrino world top 100 restaurants fame, I am writing to inform you that your application to share an opinion has been declined. Unfortunately, the standard of opinions for this restaurant was quite high and while you paraded yourself as informed, you were so far from the mark that me and the girls in HR (Linda and Linda K) actually had a big laugh at it.

Your pal,

PS. What followed those dried and fried vegetables was nothing short of extraordinary.

While the watermelon, almond and sea thing was good; the sea urchin and parsley salad with anchovy oil a delicious expression of the sea; and the scallop pasta with mache deliciously simple in terms of flavour, I think it was the vanilla crème brulee with sea slug where I fell in love. Something may have been lost in translation, but did he really say the crème brulee was made by influsion water with octopus skin? I don't really care, because that dish was nothing short of extraordinary. A few salt flakes added the perfect touch.

PPS. There were too many dishes to run through them all, but nothing failed. Everything was at least good. Many were great. By the end of it we were completely exhausted. So much great food, so much wine.

I think the thing I enjoyed the most at Cracco was the balance. Salty and sweet was used perfectly to make you feel refreshed or indulged. Texture came into play every now and then just to change the direction of the meal. On top of that was the excellent ingredients used that allowed dishes to stay simple yet taste elegant. And yes there was a lot of molecular technique on display, but it never overshadowed the dish itself.

To say I was a little content walking out of Cracco is a little bit of an understatement. While it probably isn't at the pinnacle of restaurants I've dined at, it's way, way up there. For just under 300 euro a head, it's not bad value either. Take THAT, online reviewers.

Online reviewer

Michelin star count: 3

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