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Dal Pescatore - Runate (Mantova)


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#1 vigna

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 03:17 PM

I just returned to the U.S. after a month of driving through parts of Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. I had the opportunity to dine at wonderful restaurants at a variety of levels of service and panache in each of these countries. At the very top of my dining experiences, which included six Michelin three star restaurants, were meals at Dal Pescatore (in Canneto sul Oglio, 20 km west of Mantova) and Martín Berasategui (in Lasarte near San Sebastian in Spain). The other four of these top-rated restaurants were L'Arnsbourg and Michel Bras in France, Schwarzwald Stube in Germany, and Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. All of these restaurants were fantastic and interestingly, in my opinion, they were all superior to the other restaurants I visited on my trip (which included some exceptional places). I will be commenting on these restaurants in other postings in the next weeks.

It was interesting for me to compare the qualities of the six restaurants mentioned above to see if they tend to conform to some Michelin standard of French-inspired food. I know that this is a topic that has generated lots of discussion on eGullet; from my experiences, at least, I think the answer is no for Spain and Italy. Both Arzak and Martîn Bersategui had lots of locally inspired dishes and the food at Dal Pescatore (as is true for Le Calandre) is based in the glories of Italian cuisine. The Schwarzwald Stube (in Baiersbronn in the Black Forest), on the other hand, is more of a French restaurant, as is certainly Gordon Ramsey in London. What characterizes all of these restaurants is exceptional food, inventiveness of the chef, a level of service that is very welcoming and friendly (even to guests that are obvioiusly not very important, such as me), and standards of presentation (cutlery, dishes, service, etc.). I think I probably have been fortunate in my choices of three star restaurants over the past year, avoiding those reputed to be in decline. But, on the basis of visits to the above-mentioned eight restaurants (as well as to Al Soriso), I have to give Michelin credit for correctly denoting particularly outstanding restaurants with three stars.

Now to Dal Pescatore. This was my third visit to this fairly isolated and rather small restaurant, located in the countryside about halfway between Mantova and Cremona. They serve lunch and dinner, but as the restaurant is at a remote location, I would recommend lunch -- driving any distance on small roads after a dinner with lots of food and wine would be foolish (there are a number of small hotels in the area, though). Moreover, part of the charm of this restaurant is the very green garden that almost seems to enter the dining room through the picture windows, an effect enhanced by the plants and flowers set thoughout the dining area. I think this can be best appreciated in daylight.

Two set menus were offered, each at 125 Euros, a Menu d'Estate and a Menu della Campagna. I chose the Menu d'Estate because I wanted to try the Branzino and the duck, but the server wisely suggested that I take half portions of the Tortelli di Zucca from the Campagna menu and the Tortelli with ricotta and parmigiano reggiano from the Estate menu. Along with an aperitivo of excellent Franciacorta Ca' del Bosco sparkling wine (12 Euros) came the following: excellent rolls and breadsticks, shavings of cooked parmigiana reggiano (sort of like the scrapings from a cheese fondue after it has boiled down, but better) and a little terrine of tomato and eggplant with olive oil.

The first real course was a terrine of aragosta and astice (sort of lobster and crab) with eel. The seafood pieces were very delicate and the combination was great. The slice was covered with a delicate aspic and and a dollop of Malossol caviar. On the side were little bits of carrots and asparagus, salmon roe, and shaved ginger. The sauce was flavored with orange and it was absolutely delicious.

Then came two pieces of the Tortelli di Zucca (pumpkin), which is a signature dish here, a specialty of the Mantova region. My notes say "great!" This was probably the best example of this dish I've ever had. Next was served a Risotto with porcini mushrooms, peas, asparagus, and fiori di zucca with a green sauce that was made from puree of the peas -- also exceptional. And then came the half portion of the Tortelli with the ricotta and parmigiano. This was less interesting than the other dishes, but very very good.

The fish dish, a piece of Branzino in butter sauce with asparagus, carrots, peas, and fried thin slices of carrots and perhaps sweet potato, was delicioius and fortunately was a fairly small portion!

Up to this point, I was drinking a half bottle of a very good Soave, San Vicenzo (18 Euros). The sommelier then suggested glasses of red wine and poured a glass of Gaja's Ca'Mercanda Promis 2002 from Bolgheri in Tuscany (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese, as was explained to me). This accompanied a peice of duck breast in a balsamic vinegar sauce served with mostarda of fruits. This was a very good dish, especially with the wine, and it is perhaps a credit to the exceptional food that I had up to this point that I found this dish the least special of the meal.

I was then offered a small portion of shoulder of beef from the Campagna menu, a sort of braised beef in Barbera sauce, served with polenta and a bit of whipped potato. I loved this dish, which was very unpretentious, a dish of the countryside that succeeded because of the quality of the beef and the wonderful sauce. The sommelier poured a glass of an excellent Valpolicella (which he called a "home made" wine, I didn't get the details) with nice cherry quality and complexity. The second half of the glass was a good accompaniment to the cheese course, which consisted of four Italian cheeses (not served from a cart) -- an aged parmigiano, a gorgonzola, a cheese from Pienza, and a fourth whose name I didn't catch.

For dessert, a soufflé was offered, but I just wanted something light after all of this food and a millefoglie of berries was suggested. It was delicious, served with whipped cream, as was the vanilla gelato and berry sorbet that accompanied it. A small glass of spumante was also served at this point.

Along with coffee came a plate of excellent cookies along with a little cake with a bit of coffee gelato and apricot jam. Signor Santini, the proprietor, had stopped by during the meal to say hello and he returned to pour some grappa (of which I had only a tiny bit). When I was about to leave, the sommelier asked if I would like to see their wine cellars, which was a really nice touch.

My bill was 162 Euros (not inlcuding the optional tip): 125 Euros for the Menu, 18 Euros for the half bottle of wine, 12 Euros for the glass of Ca' del Bosco, and small charges for mineral water and coffee. I was not charged for the glasses of red wine, the spumante, or the grappa. This is a very good value at this level of food and service. Also very pleasant for me was that I noticed that no one smoked in the restaurant. It seems that smokers are asked to go out to an adjacent lounge if they need to smoke. (I've noticed much less smoking in high end restaurants in Europe this past year, thankfully).

This was truly an exceptional meal, very different from the other Italian three star that I would rate equally highly, Le Calandre. Le Calandre is more inventive and exciting perhaps, but Dal Pescatore offers a real taste of the countryside. It is set in farmland and many of the dishes are inspired by the area. The staff is one of the friendliest and helpful of all the restaurants I've experienced in Italy over the past 20 years. In comparison with other top Italian restaurants, I'd rate some other favorites -- Al Soriso, Da Caino, Arnolfo, and La Tenda Rossa -- somewhat below. And as I mentioned above, the only restaurant I enjoyed as much on this trip was Martín Berasategui, although I had great meals at Arzak, L'Arnsbourg, Schwarzwald Stube, and Michel Bras (as well as really good meals at Casa Geraldo, El Corral del Indiano in Spain, Ulrichshöhe and Adler, Langenargen in Germany, da Cera and La Bita nel Pergola in Italy). I hope to post my impressions of these restaurants on eGullet in the next weeks.

Edited by vigna, 16 July 2004 - 10:00 AM.


#2 russ parsons

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 03:29 PM

the santinis are wonderful people. i've spent a couple of days in their kitchen and it really is a home-style place ... albeit at a three-star level. mama bruna still makes all the pastas and risottos, though i'd have to say that daughter-in-law nadia is the real soul of the food at this point ... a completely self-trained, very instinctual cook with a great sense for getting the most from simple flavors. antonio is responsible for the overall quality of the place. son giovanni is coming up ... the last time i was there he was still in cooking school.

Edited by russ parsons, 16 July 2004 - 11:30 AM.


#3 aprilmei

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 11:32 PM

I ate lunch there four years ago and it was, as you say, exceptional. We were there for five hours and everything from the food to the service was perfect. The pumpkin ravioli were amazing. I also had gorgeous little frogs legs and then some calves liver with fried artichokes. For the cheese course they served this goat's cheese that was ethereal - like eating a cloud. I wish I knew the name.
Over coffee and petits fours in the garden, we had a great conversation with Nadia and her son, Giovanni, who was (I believe) still attending university. He worked at the restaurant (making pastries) during school breaks - he was lovely to talk to.

#4 albiston

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 04:27 AM

My first visit to dal Pescatore was the second stop in my short trip through Northern Italy earlier this month and I can only confirm the words of those who have written previously in this thread. I mgiht add that coming from an half Mantuan family (my father's side) I was curious to see what treatment would be reserved to dishes like tortelli di zucca, dal Pescatore's signature dish, brasato alla Barbera (Barbera is female in Italian) and anolini. All of them were perfectly prepared. The famous tortelli's filling contrasting flavours - mellow and sweet pumpkin, savory Parmigiano, nutty Amaretti and piquant fruit in mustard syrup - couldn't have been better balanced. Yet the dish that really blew my socks away were the tortelli di burrata, ricotta di pianura e parmigiano di collina, tortelli filled with an incredibly creamy and seducing mixture of the three cheeses mentioned, served with a saffron sauce that gave just enough contrast to make every new bite of the tortelli like the first one.

My only regrets were being unable to get a lunch reservation, and therefore not seeing the garden, and being there in that special time of the year where winter is almost gone yet spring is not there yet, something that was evident reading between the lines of the menu.

What makes this place really to my eyes is how the history of this restaurant, a former trattoria, serving fried fish and lambrusco, evolved into a three-starred establishment, shines through its cuisine and atmosphere still today. With all the crystals, linens, fantastic service (the best I ever experienced in Italy) this remains a trattoria in the best acceptation of this word: a restaurant serving food of the land in a family environment, and without any doubt an establishment replying to anyone who thinks that Italian fine food is "French".

P.S. the goat cheese aprilmei might be referring to could be the Caprino Fresco fro capreia occitana, Italy's most famous goat cheese producer.
Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

#5 CyN

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 11:42 AM

Alberto!! You made some stops in Nortern Italy and didnt report on them??
Come on, lets here about where you ate!
Your appreciation of Dal Pescatore coincides with mine. To prove how much I loved it, we are dining there twice in May on consecutive nights (after Nadia interceded- we were first told that only one night was available, but when she discovered that ,she intervened. Its good to be a VIP!!)

#6 albiston

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 03:12 PM

Alberto!! You made some stops in Nortern Italy and didnt report on them??
Come on, lets here  about where you ate!
  Your appreciation of Dal Pescatore coincides with mine. To prove  how much I loved it, we are dining there twice in May on consecutive nights (after Nadia interceded- we were first told that only one night was available, but when she discovered that ,she intervened. Its good to be a VIP!!)

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Cy,

Reports are coming up, but I didn't eat out as much as you might think. I was in Italy for ten days, six spent doing a stage in a restaurant kitchen... so no eating out those days, though I did try the restaurant I was in before leaving (coming up soon). Apart dal Pescatore, my other meals included two very nice places: Al Vedel, where Ore works (you can read my report here) and Osteria del Minestraio near Bologna, reviewed on the forum before. Not exactly starred places but both very pleasant dinners.

Wow, dal Pescatore two nights in a row! Are you going to go for the two menus, one per evening, or a la carte?
Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

#7 CyN

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 08:25 PM

Both menus, of course. Never occurred to me to do anything else.Saves the agony of making decisionns :smile:

#8 robert brown

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Posted 31 March 2005 - 07:51 PM

Based on my one lunch at dal Pescatore, I and my wife are detractors. We found the ambiance and the vibrations cold (in a way it showed the problem of tables being spread too far apart) and the food fussy, studied and souless. I admit this is based on one meal, and such will it remain unless I return by myself, which will never happen. Is there anyone else out there who shares my opinion?

#9 marcus

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Posted 31 March 2005 - 09:31 PM

I agree in part, also based on a single meal. The day that we had lunch there, a weekday in early June, the restaurant was largely empty, only 2 or 3 other tables. Everything was well prepared, but the food just didn't grab me in any way, and we had the specialties, the pumpkin filled pasta and their famous duck. On the other hand the service was extremely polished, even choreographed. I believe that it was technically the best service that I've ever seen at any restaurant, ever.

#10 albiston

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Posted 01 April 2005 - 03:40 AM

I agree in part, also based on a single meal.  The day that we had lunch there, a weekday in early June, the restaurant was largely empty, only 2 or 3 other tables.  Everything was well prepared, but the food just didn't grab me in any way, and we had the specialties, the pumpkin filled pasta and their famous duck.  On the other hand the service was extremely polished, even choreographed.  I believe that it was technically the best service that I've ever seen at any restaurant, ever.

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I'm not going to discuss the liking or not of the dishes Nadia Santini prepares, our tastes are probably different and there's nothing wrong in that. On the other hand I only in part agree with Robert's comment of the dish being "fussy, studied and souless". Robert could you elaborate a bit more? In particular is the fussy referred to the food or the plating? If it is the former I must admit I could not think of a top Italian restaurant that is serves less fussy food than dal Pescatore. The dishes are really traditional food true to its roots. The studied I can partially agree on, but saying that ,of the dishes served with our menu, only the fish course came through as somewhat brainy and cold.

Marcus, your comment on service is quite interesting, on our evening there the place was full or almost. The service was great but choreographed is definitely not how I would describe it, maybe they overdo things when there are less costumers to take care of.
Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

#11 robert brown

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Posted 01 April 2005 - 04:29 PM

Alberto, it was 'round about three years ago that we dined there. My wife recalls something in aspic (not a dandy) and I have a recollection of an appetizer of room-temperature or slightly cold small fish marinated in vinegar. The dishes struck us as overly-composed, too rafinee, perhaps. It invited comparison to great restaurants in other countries, which is a trait I find off-putting in a family-run restaurant in the Italian provinces or countryside I realize, however, that this could well be my hang-up. Now why this should turn me off when Miramonte l'Altro with its chef from Nantes and cuisine that is akin a great deal to that of French two-star cuisine does not is something I can't account for. So much of how we relate and react to a meal or a restaurant sometimes can't be convincingly verbalized in a way that makes sense to anyone else.

#12 russ parsons

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Posted 01 April 2005 - 05:07 PM

i do know that nadia and antonio do think of themselves as a three-star restaurant, rather than a restaurant in the italian countryside. i was somewhat surprised the first time i visited them too. i had met them in this country and they were very warm and relaxed. the first time i ate at the restaurant, the formality surprised me a little--certainly no abrazzi at the door (though flutes of bellavista and some hot frico is not a bad subsittute). but that is the context they want their food presented in. once i got used to that, it no longer bothered me. and they always come out and sit and talk after service over many grappas.

#13 albiston

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Posted 02 April 2005 - 01:24 PM

i do know that nadia and antonio do think of themselves as a three-star restaurant, rather than a restaurant in the italian countryside.

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This is definitely something one notices there. And yet I think that if one strips dal Pescatore of all the glitter and polish you essentially have a trattoria in its stricter sense: a family establishment serving essentially traditional food. I don't really see a contradiction in these two concepts living in balance with each other. The idea that a trattoria has to be simple and possibly inexpensive is to my eyes only a possibility, not a rule. (BTW robert, that marinated fish was probably anguilla in carpione, eel, a typical dish along the lower Po river.)
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#14 Joe H

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Posted 02 April 2005 - 06:11 PM

Really interesting thread. I liked Dal Pescatore, even after spending fifteen or twenty minutes cleaning the chicken feathers off the seats of the rental car that I drove to get there. Seems that I left a window cracked several inches on a hot summer day! For me this is a superb restaurant with several dishes that were just extraordinary. I was attracted to it because of John Mariani's article in Esquire that called it, immodestly, "The World's Greatest Restaurant." Note that I have this framed on a wall in my house and I thank him for the article. My neighbors are jealous of my having been there.

What they don't know is that Le Calandre, another Michelin three star, is far superior. Yes, FAR superior. Cy, I type this knowing that you will be there in just a few weeks.

I also know that you will be visiting Alle Testiere in Venice which, while very "simple," it's food is easily on par with the "country luxury" of Pescatore's cuisine.

The original post in this thread noted Schwarzwaldstube in Baierbronn. I thought Schwarzwaldstube was MUCH better than Dal Pescatore. I have not eaten my way through San Sebastian YET but expect to be able to within the next year or so for a further note of comparison.

Still, Cy, it will be really interesting to hear your thoughts about Le Calandre knowing your experience with Girardet, Robuchon, Ducasse and others. I don't think, despite my extensive hyperbole, that you will be disappointed.

Then, without crossing an ocean, there is a restaurant in the Washington, D. C. suburbs called Maestro whose chef was nominated for a James Beard Rising Star award two years in a row. He is the exact same age as Massimiliano from Calandre.

His cuisine is every bit as good. (He and Massimiliano know each other by the way!)

I believe that Le Calandre is the best restaurant in Italy. I also believe that Maestro is its equal. Note that Fabio at Maestro sources many of his ingredients from the same sources as Massimiliano. Today Maestro has a 6-8 week wait for a reservation. At some point over the next several years this restaurant will receive the same recognition that Keller has for his French Laundry. For me it is certainly on the same level.

Cy, when you return from Italy we need to have dinner together at a shopping mall in the D. C. suburbs.

Edited by Joe H, 02 April 2005 - 06:20 PM.


#15 Ore

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Posted 03 April 2005 - 08:21 AM

My time at DP was great. As Alberto mentioned, we ate there together on a Sunday night. I thought the food, in general was all prepared very well. For me, the only disapointment was with the main course, the secondo that they called capello di prete but which was very different from what I had imagined. It was a braised piece of beef, that could have been more interesting.

The wines we drank were very good, thanks Alberto. FOH service wise, I thought for a three star, it could have been tighter, yet more tranquil. Eating the weekend before at Enotecca Pinchiori, both these two 3 star restaurants can't really be compared to eachother.

I hope to eat at Le Calandre April 16th, so I will give my opnion about that experience soon...I can't wait!

Ore

#16 Renka

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Posted 02 August 2007 - 08:10 AM

Any notes or advice on how to get to Dal Pescatore from Venice? I'm traveling by train, but am finding it a tad difficult to plan the route/times. I was told by Antonio to get to the Canneto Sull'Oglio station, but for some reason I'm not having much success with RailEurope (and only one option with Trenitalia which I can't seem to duplicate on RailEurope).
I'd appreciate any words of wisdom that can be shed here (it's my first time in Italy and I don't want to get lost nor, even worse, miss my reservation!).

#17 russ parsons

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Posted 02 August 2007 - 08:53 AM

hmmm, i did take the train there once. it's a little station, short walk to the hotel margot, which seems to be the only place in the area. then you have to hire a cab to get to the restaurant. this can easily run $40 each way ... negotiate in advance. actually, they don't have cabs, but people who will drive you out there.

#18 vigna

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Posted 02 August 2007 - 11:03 PM

Renka, use the Deutsche Bahn site (http://bahn.hafas.de/) to look up the schedule. Choose English from the list of langages in the little box at the upper right, if needed. If you need to get to Canneto sul'Oglio for lunch, the schedule is not that convenient unless you use the nearby Piadena station, which is the next station south on the Brescia route, only four minutes away by train. Since you have to take a taxi anyhow, this might be a solution. There is a train leaving Brescia at 10:20 that gets to Piadena at 11:04. This train actually goes through Canneto without stopping there. If you want to go to the Canneto station, you then have to take the local going in the reverse direction at 11:50, which gets to Canneto at 11:54. The next train from Brescia does stop at Canneto without a change. It leaves at 13:26 but does not get to Canneto until 14:19, really too late for lunch. An alternative is the east-west route Mantova-Cremona train, which stops at Piadena. To make the 11:50 connection to Canneto, you would have to leave Cremona at 9:26 or Mantova at 10:22. These trains appear to run daily, but you should check. However, if you can get a taxi from Piadena, then you can leave Mantova at 11:43, arriving in Piadena at 12:12, or leave Cremona at 12:05, arriving at Piadena at 12:33. (These trains do not connect with trains to Canneto.) You can figure out the return posibilities on the website. You might try calling the restaurant to arrange a ride. Who knows, they may even offer to pick you up.

As the originator of this thread, I am very happy if I can help get anyone to this great restaurant. I have not been back since my post, but I've since eaten at quite a few outstanding restaurants in Italy, France and Germany over the past three years and Dal Pescatore remains one of my favorites. (I just returned from Germany, eating at Schwarzwaldstube [second visit], Bareiss, Vendome, Schloss Berg, and La Vie [a recent two star in Osnabrück]. All were terrific, but comparing them to Dal Pescatore is really apples and oranges, as the cooking styles are so different. Within the past two years in Italy, I ate at a number of highly rated retaurants (in descending order of satisfaction): Osteria Francescana [Modena], outstanding; Il Postale [Citta del Castello], wonderful -- and a great value; Il Convivio [Rome], excellent; Rossellinis [Ravello], excellent -- and with a stupendous view; San Domenico [Imola], unexpectedly rather boring; Quatro Passi [Massa Lubrense], very disappointing; Vissani [Baschi, east of Orvieto], astoundingly mediocre. For what it's worth, Dal Pescatore and Le Calandre remain my two favorites in Italy, followed by Arnolfo, Cracco-Peck, Don Alfonso, and now Osteria Francescana.

#19 Renka

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 03:56 PM

Thanks russ and vigna for the tips!

<snip>
As the originator of this thread, I am very happy if I can help get anyone to this great restaurant. I have not been back since my post, but I've since eaten at quite a few outstanding restaurants in Italy, France and Germany over the past three years and Dal Pescatore remains one of my favorites. (I just returned from Germany, eating at Schwarzwaldstube [second visit], Bareiss, Vendome, Schloss Berg, and La Vie [a recent two star in Osnabrück].  All were terrific, but comparing them to Dal Pescatore is really apples and oranges, as the cooking styles are so different.  Within the past two years in Italy, I ate at a number of highly rated retaurants (in descending order of satisfaction): Osteria Francescana [Modena], outstanding;  Il Postale  [Citta del Castello], wonderful -- and a great value; Il Convivio [Rome], excellent; Rossellinis [Ravello], excellent -- and with a stupendous view; San Domenico [Imola], unexpectedly rather boring; Quatro Passi [Massa Lubrense], very disappointing; Vissani [Baschi,                                                      east of Orvieto], astoundingly mediocre.  For what it's worth, Dal Pescatore and Le Calandre remain my two favorites in Italy, followed by Arnolfo, Cracco-Peck, Don Alfonso, and now Osteria Francescana.

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Noting your faves, vigna, I'm pleased to have reservations for both Le Calandre and Dal Pescatore during my short visit. Looking forward to the meals and experiencing all the positive notes that have been posted on this threads.

#20 Le Peche

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 05:02 PM

I'm quite interested in getting to know this restaurant. Any recent visits? I know they came out with a book recently, anyone check it out?

#21 Alessia

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 08:20 AM

I haven't been to Pescatore in quite a while, now, but I still expect it to be as good as I remember it.
The book was released a few months ago (maybe a year?). It has some of their signature recipes (like tortelli di zucca). I've only tried a couple or so recipes myself, and they turned out fine.

#22 aromes

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:54 PM

Posted ImageRistorante Dal Pescatore
Type of Cuisine: Updated Haute Italian (Classics of Mantuan cuisine, Lombardy)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Thursday June 14th, 2012 12:00
Addr: Località Runate - 46013 Canneto sull'Oglio , Mantova
Phone:+39.0376.723001
Email: santini@dalpescatore.com
URL: http://www.dalpescatore.com
Service: 10/10 Mostly young, well behaved Gentlemen with great tact. I am French, so they spoke French to me, and listening to Italians talking in French, with an Italian accent, is always pure joy to me. It has its charm, a charm that lingers on my mind.
Overall food rating: 9/10 The Santinis have an amazing sense of taste as largely proven by the fabulous ravioli di faraona, the stunning tomato compote, great risotto, outstanding reduction to the braised beef shoulder, benchmark torta di amaretti. And at a time when everyone thinks that we've seen it all with a polenta, they manage to deliver one by which all other polentas will be compared to, from now on.
Overall dining experience: 10/10 I have rarely felt so happy in a restaurant, Michelin starred or not. It goes without saying that at this level of dining, every little detail counts and each one found all along this meal simply scored high on my appreciation scale: the plating, the beautiful and elegant country home decor, the countryside, the charming and down to earth wait staff met all along this meal , and the qualities I expect from a top dining destination just kept piling up while I was there.
Around two years ago when I decided to review restaurants (NOT really something that I like to do, reasons are explained here, and I do NOT systematically think about reviews wherever I go, or on whatever I eat, Lol!), I knew exactly what I wanted in my reviews: avoiding style at all costs and focusing on what I believe to matter most: assessing the (relative) value of the restaurant food that I am eating. Ironically, by ‘assessing the value of my restaurant meal”, I went one step further and removed …the price factor…. out of the equation. That is because on top of the already explained reasons that led me to review restaurants, I had one major quibble (with most opinions about restaurant reviews) that jumped to my attention: what if the $$$ was not taken into consideration?? Apparently, from most answers I have gathered throughout the years, most would have found their meals to be excellent had the price been lower! Interesting…So, oftently it is worthy of raves because it was affordable. Let’s take $$$ out of the picture then and focus on what I have in my plate. Make no mistake: I understand the notion of value for my bucks, but I am interested by one thing ONLY: the deliciousness of the food that I am eating way before its value gets lost in ‘value for money’ interpretation.
Restaurant reviewing is, of course, not limited to one or two aspects of a dining experience. And it does not have to be something special neither. I personally refuse the idea of restaurant reviewing on a professional level for a very simple reason: I don’t see why something as personal as this (talking about the food you eat) would be remunerative , unless you go way beyond the basic restaurant scripts and books of recipes as it is the case for few exceptional food journalists like Quebec’s Marie-Claude Lortie, Perico Légasse in France, John Mariani in the US . I know, it (reviewing restaurant as a job) is a pointer, a way to be better informed. But you have this in tons of opinions over the web, and those people are not renumerated. I know some will argue that a professional food critic will provide you with stylish write-ups and professionalism. BUT that is not what I want in a restaurant review: like it or not, I do not eat ‘style’ nor ‘a sense of professionalism’ nor ‘megalomania expressed through writings”. I eat food and I just want to know what is offered, how it is made, to what relative level of cooking is the kitchen reaching out to.
There is also the widely preached bogus belief that anonymous reviews may hide personal agendas. Even a saint can hide an agenda. We all know that. More importantly, a normal diner at a restaurant is anonymous, shall I remind this? And when you dine at a restaurant, guess what…you have opinions on what you have just paid for, with, as it should normally happen… your own hard earned money. Those opinions can be expressed in many ways: verbally, in writings, etc. So, I do not see any problem with comments from anonymous or well known sources. They both can either hide agendas or be honest. No one will ever have any control over this, anyways. Desperate harmful and insulting views with no constructive and no honest purpose ---- which is the only thing that would make sense to fear from an anonymous review-- should obviously NOT be encouraged and this applies to celeb faces hiding agendas of restaurant propaganda . Either way, there should be no excuse to intimidate freedom of speech. The debate over anonymous opinions is a debate full of nonsense, a creation of some of the industry’s watchdogs, a debate pertaining to ancient times when big Daddy, scared of the judgements of others, would command you to show your face before you can think and judge accordingly. But humanity has evolved and people paying for what they consume, with their own hard earned money, should never accept that the restaurant industry and some of their watchdogs take control over what we should have as opinions.
Who you are, as a restaurant reporter, makes absolutely no difference: this type of opinions (about restaurants) are subjective anyways, no matter how credible you might think you are, and consequently, knowing what you like or not, what you are hiding or not, is of utter irrelevance. We should do this (sharing our opinion) for the simple sake of sharing knowledge but certainly not as an exercise of potential serious influence on the choices of others. As far as I am concerned, my agenda is clear: it’s written here and as explained, I wanted to experience for myself the journey of an independent voice completely detached from the restaurant industry. I wanted to be able to rave –or not --- about what I felt authentically deserving of its raves –or not --, to be able to freely convey what I really had in mind as opposed to be influenced by outside elements. Naturally, I can afford behaving this way (fully enjoying the role of a normal diner, being independent from the industry, mocking at style or etiquette) and abide by my own principles no matter who says what --- only because I have no commercial interest in the restaurant business . I took time to write this because there is nowadays a universal debate around the subject (of anonymous restaurant reviews), a non-debate in my pertinacious view, thus my two little cents on this matter. This is my opinion, and I’ll proudly and obdurately drink to that, Rfaol!
Before I write about the current reviewed restaurant - Every gourmand’s dream is to find the best value restaurant at the very top level of world’s fine dining. Once every 5 years or so, I stumble upon one and lately, it is in Chicaco, Illinois. It is L2o, a restaurant that I have discovered back in the days of Chef Laurent Gras. It was back then already deserving its 3 stars. Then Chef Francis Brennan took control of the kitchen, and the solid 3 star Michelin performance kept rising to the top. Now, that Chef Brennan left, it was downgraded to a 1 star Michelin restaurant and I recently had a meal there, under its present 1 star Michelin assignment, and everyone at my table (they are regulars of world’s haute dining extravaganza) agreed: it is, between you and me, the current best value at the very top Michelin star dining level, and Chef Matthew Kirkley is, for now, the most underrated Chef in the world. You get a top 3 star Michelin dining at an official 1 star Michelin. Other great discovery, lately: La Table d’Aki(after more than 2 decades alongside Bernard Pacaud of 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie, Chef Akihiro Horikoshi has opened his own little bistrot and is unleashing some of the secrets that made of Chef Pacaud one of the most respected icons of La France gourmande. A great way to sample the sense of classic culinaric savourishness of Chef Pacaud, brought to us by Aki, at very sweet $$$. Check that out: Table D’Aki, 49, rue Vaneau, 7th Arr, Paris. Phone: 01 45 44 43 48).
And now, our featuring restaurant review (Lunch on Thurs June 14th, 2012 at noon):
Posted ImageDal Pescatore, its cuisine, its Chefs - Dal Pescatore is a restaurant of haute Italian cuisine balanced between innovation and tradition. The latter (balanced between innovation and tradition) being a description that is dear to them; on their web site they do insist on this, and it is also, based on my meal there, a realistic portray of their cooking style. Innovation here means that it brings an updated approach to a style of Italian Haute dining that remains classic (with a focus on its surrounding regional fares: for ie risottos, nearby Mantuan pasta dishes, other Italian classics especially from their local Lombardy region ), but it is by no means into futuristic culinary styles. They do also insist on the food being wholesome. It is among restaurant Magazine top 50 best tables of the world, a member of the prestigious ‘Les Grandes Tables du Monde” as well as earning three Michelin stars since 1996 (only seven Italian restaurants boast three stars). It is considered by Paul Bocuse, the pope of French gastronomy and many top culinary journalists such as Gilles Pudlowski and John Mariani as well as frequent patrons of the haute dining scene as the very best restaurant in the world. High profile chefs such as Anne-Sophie Pic had their lifetime’s best meal here. The soul of Dal Pescatore, Chef Nadia Santini (one of her sons, Giovanni, is nowadays an active Chef at this restaurant as well as their legendary Mama Bruna / I recommend that you read their story on their web site, it is an interesting read – it’s surely fun to observe how they evolved from a 1920s countryside tavern to the top of world’s Alta cucina, for ie, or how Nadia Santini went from studies in Political Sciences to the position of one of world’s most respected 3 star Michelin Chefs / It is also amazing to note that Chef Nadia Santini rejects the idea of a brigade in a kitchen; she is one of the very rare top Chefs around the globe who thinks that hierarchy is unnecessary in a kitchen and that everyone should work as equal members of one team) is frequently mentioned as one of the top 3 best female Chefs in the world alongside Pic (Maison Pic, France) and Elena Arzak (Arzak, Spain). Many grand Chefs have also trained and honed their culinary philosophy here: LA’s Sotto Chef Steve Samson , Celebrity Chef Todd English, Malibu's Granita Restaurant Chef Jennifer Naylor, Chicago’s Spiaggia Chefs Sarah Grueneberg, Tony Mantuano and many more. Other high profile Chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Giorgio Locatelli and top British Chef Angela Hartnett have expressed great admiration for DP. It is always admirable to learn that such a Grand Chef like Nadia Santini (who, after numerous years of excelling at such top level, would be in the excusable position of saying ‘I have nothing to prove anymore’) is always in her kitchen in a world where ‘embryo’ cooks with a lot left to be proven are busy parading afar from where they are supposed to be found!
Posted ImageDecor - A mix of classic and contemporary elegance with emphasis on ‘ la gioia di vivere ' , the joy of life, as easily expressed by the possibility of indulging in one of Italians favourite custom ‘Mangia fuori’ on their veranda in summer, evidences of cozyness (fireplaces, the joyful color scheme of the 3 dining rooms, the wooden floor that gives the room a warm and intimate feel), the artworks on the wall. Pastel colored walls (in pure Northern Italian decorating style , the colors pay respect to various elements of the surrounding countryside: lakes, earth, etc), beautifully laid tables positioned for privacy. Think of the restaurant as a sophisticated country house with a peaceful view on a well kept garden.
Location - Dal Pescatore is located in the village of Runate, municipality of Canneto sull'Oglio, in the province of Mantova (region of Lombardia), North of Parma, East of Milan. Around 65 km from Verona Intl Airport, 115 kms from Milan Linate Airport, 150 kms from Milan Malpensa Airport. I’d suggest you include a dinner here within a tour of Lombardy’s main attractions (historical cities of Mantova, Modena, Cremona, Parma / the urban life of Milan / scenic places like lakes Maggiore, Como, Garda). Hire a car.
Produce- I have always admired Chefs who are really close to the land, to the point of growing most of their own food. I have always favored Chefs who are really close to their local produce and artisans. That is perhaps why I always had a soft spot for the work of Chef Alain Passard at L’Arpège, Chef Patrice Gelbart who used to work at ‘Aux Berges du Cérou’ or Chef Craig Shelton who was at the helm of the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey. I remember my excitement when, during a dinner at the Ryland Inn (Chef Shelton does not work there since years, now), Chef Shelton kept rushing between his garden and his kitchen making sure that optimal freshness was present on our plates. He had that strict ‘xxx minutes maximum delay’ ..5 or 7 mins if I remember properly (Chef Shelton was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement on the East Coast in the US) …in between picking the ingredient, getting it cooked and served. Of course, Chef Shelton is an exceptionally skilled Chef and I would have never mentioned this had his food not been of stellar mention. Years later, here I am in Canneto sull'Oglio and the Santinis have that exact same philosophy at heart: they raise most of their vegetables on the premises.
The food report -
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I started with a tomato compote of stunning marinda (from Sardinia, Italy) tomato flavor 10/10. It's a great example of why Italian food is so well respected: startling simplicity and beautiful produce. Italians know how to make you rediscover the real flavor of an ingredient. I am not rating this with a 10 just for the produce alone: a touch of beautifully aged balsamic and inspired hands brought this tomato to palatable triumph.
Followed by Porcini, Fegato di Vitello (Veal liver), romarino (rosemary) - Flawless cooking technique as shown all along this meal. The mushroom packed with deep earthy flavors that complemented so well with the veal liver. No quibble here: cooking achieved beautifully and flavors as good as you can get from a nicely prepared veal liver. 8/10
Then, Tortelli di Zucca (Zucca, Amaretti, Mostarda, e Parmigiano Reggiano) – tortelli with pumpkin, amaretti biscuits, mostarda (a type of candied fruit and mustard chutney condiment and a speciality of Lombardia) and Parmesan – Star Chef Todd English has always praised Dal Pescatore for for being the place where he learned everything about pasta and the work of the dough. Pasta making is indeed pushed to high level of conception, here. It is artisanal pasta, hand made on the premises. Pasta can’t be fresher than this: they make it only when you order. One Pasta signature dish of Dal Pescatore is Tortelli di Zucca, and a Mantuan classic: made of pumpkin (Zucca), nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon, cloves, mostarda (A ‘glacé fruit’ preserved in a spicy syrup), Italian almond-flavored cookies (Amaretti) and the iconic cheese of this region: their Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are using, in Mantua, an ingredient that adds so much to pasta: pumpkin, as expected, does indeed add amazing texture and superb flavor. Its sweet, and yet savory nature teasing the palate. As a quick reference, if you had sampled Chef Todd Stein’s iconic “Caramelli dish” (pasta filled with butternut squash, sage, amaretti crumbs) when he was at the helm of Restaurant Cibo Matto in Chicago – that dish made it to America’s best pasta dishes of several top food magazines --- then think of Tortelli di Zucca as its elder (not served the same way, and not fully identical, but the basic idea and also ingredients behind both dishes are similar) . Dal Pescatore’s version was flawless: the mostarda enhancing the pumpkin with lots of panache, the pasta itself is impeccably executed, its texture utterly refined, the taste is of course a bit less rich and rustic compared to the tortelli di zucca I tried at the other places in the region but this is understandable since this is fine dining and not rustic dining. Also, the Santinis focus a lot on good healthy food, therefore food that’s not overwhelmingly rich nor too rustic. What justifies, in my opinion, a 3 star Michelin meal is its depth of precision in balancing, better than many others, the flavors, textures and other cooking aspects (timing of the cooking, judicious choice of the ingredient combination, effective usage of heat, etc) that are involved on a dish, all things achieved brilliantly on this dish. PS: Try this recipe at home . Excellent. 9/10
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Ravioli di Faraona - Guinea fowl ravioli was of benchmark 3 star Michelin material. The preparation of the pasta, its impeccable texture, the outstanding balance of flavors, the superb mouthfeel are just a fraction of the superlaives I could use to discribe the amazement of this dish. 10/10
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Then Branzino con olio extravergine umbro, Prezzemolo, Acciughe e Capperi di Salina - Excellent seabass that retained its well known enjoyable mild flavor, its flesh was firm and immaculately white as any top quality fresh seabass has to, the cooking achieved to ideal moisture retention. 8.5/10
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Followed by Risotto con pistilli di zafferano e aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena (sometimes it is ‘Risotto (Vialone Nano) con pistilli di Zafferano e Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale ) – Saffron risotto with traditional Balsamic vinegar from Modena - They grow their own saffron on the premises and this is thoughtful: it has nothing to do with the average saffron I am accustomed to, and that you find in most saffron risotti of the region. This saffron has a superior subtle aromatic freshness that, on its own, transforms their risotto into a unique one. But the kitchen goes beyond the full satisfaction of their spice, and as stands true to a good Il Bagatto, it brings another secret weapon to the center stage of the show: the ethereal aged authentic Modena balsamic vinegar with its mesmerizing long finish flavor. Vialone Nano, well known for absorbing liquid better than many other rices, is indeed the appropriate rice that needed to be used for this risotto dish. Of this dish, I’ll remember the great technique, the superb taste that can only come from a top quality stock, the proper heat regulation and excellent texture. 9/10
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Cappello da Prete di Manzo al Barbera e Polenta Gialla di Storo – braised shoulder of beef slowly cooked in Barbera wine with polenta - Cappello del prete is a cut of beef ideal for braising. The meat was cooked to tender consistency for long hours in a rich Barbera wine based sauce. This dish, due to its comforting nature could have been predictably less memorable but it was not: the sauce was reduced as it should, the delicious juice-infused beefy meat kept an ideal tender consistency to it, the exemplary polenta (if you see a cook looking down on polenta…it is not a Chef, it is just a lesser cook who badly needs to get a taste of a polenta like this one so that he will forever understand how he was never made aware of the full potential that lies ahead of such a supposedly simple fare). The reduced sauce was remarkable, even for this level of dining. 9/10
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Amaretti Torta – For years, I have made Amaretti torta many times (this as well as torta sabbiosa, zabaione and chiacchere are among my favourite Italian desserts/cakes), and I just like tasting it whenever it is baked by others, just to see how far they push it, therefore an appealing pick for me. This one had a good ratio of the basic ingredients necessary to make this cake (choco chips, amaretti cookies, etc). The amaretti base was impeccably made, the cake itself cooled down to room temp, had proper moist consistency and was packed with a depth of enticing chocolate, coffee and almond aromas. Easily, a benchmark amaretti torta 10/10
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I was warned by some of my Italian foodie friends that on Italy's best tables, I should not expect petits fours of the standard found on France's best 3 star Michelin tables. They were wrong: the array of fabulous petits fours (various chocolate creations, mini fruit tart, etc) on display could have been served at a top 3 star Michelin table in France and I would see no difference. They were that great, and I had a huge smile when I sampled the solo cherry featuring among those petits fours: I urge anyone to find me a better cherry! 10/10
My short conclusion on this meal at Dal Pescatore - The strength of this meal I just had at DP lies in (1) how this cuisine is entirely symbiotic with its environment and (2) how most of the dishes are perfected: the pastas I had would set the bar for their artistry in colors, their flawless textures, their delectable stuffings. The risotto I have just tasted is also of that level of culinary mastery. I was quite surprised (in a good way) by this performance, even by the standards expected at this level of dining. Almost everything was copacetic all along this meal. The minimum at such standards of dining is food that’s refined and well done, for sure, but it was still remarkable to find items as eventful as some that I have just tasted. Many among world’s most talented Chefs have a spectacular culinaric sense, but few have an exceptional palate. Whoever has cooked the ravioli faraona, the tomato compote, the petits fours and the amaretti torta can be counted amongst the latter. I don’t know Dal Pescatore enoughly well so I can’t really tell which dish was cooked by Chef Nadia Santini, her son, or by Mama Bruna, etc --- something I generally like to know since each person has a signature cooking touch and that aspect matters to me -- but I could observe a common denominator in their cooking as a team: they favor harmonious flavours. I wanted a repast exempt from what I perceive as the UNECESSARY (the pipettes, the foams, the paintings on the plate, and tons of other gimmicks), a meal focusing on the pleasure of eating real food, enjoying the best local produce. You can eat very well at low cost in Italy (If you stumble upon a bad cook in Italy, my guess is that it is not a cook…it is an impersonator who just wants to make a quick buck…because here, it is not the ‘buzz’ that dictates who you are ---some cooks in some cities will recognize themselves in the latest statement --- it is oftently real talent! Hard working Real Chefs cooking for real….), but on this occasion, I wanted this simple and delicious cuisine expressed in its most refined version. That is exactly why I went to DP and that is also what I got.
From an aphorism of France's 20th century best known writer, Curnonsky: "Good cooking is when things taste of what they are.". Curnonsky would have been very happy with most dishes of this meal: wherever things looked simple, they were elevated with brio, but never through gimmicks and only with inspired emphasis on their very own nature. Simplicity, I’ll always reiterate, is nice only when it is in the hands of a gifted Chef.
In fine, for the food on this meal, I’ll underline the careful balance of flavors on all of the dishes, the importance of never roaming away from the comfort zone of a nice hearty classic dish (their meat, their pasta dishes) while adding the touch of superior inspiration and culinaric effort expected at this echelon .
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PS: Wine - One of my favourite all time red wines accompanied this meal. It's a 2008 Pergole Torte Sangiovese (memorable licorice aromas, perfectly balanced tannins). Talking about their wine list, it not only suits to all budgets and covers a big part of the globe (of course Italy and France, but also Australia, Lebanon, New Zeland, etc), but how thoughtful was that to classify it by type of wines (for ie, Franciorta - Trento classico e altri spumanti, Bianchi Italiani, Rossi Italiani, etc), then by vintage years. Here's a sommelier who perfectly understands the importance of a logically well conceived wine list. Another great moment: a glass of giulio ferrari 2001, a must when it comes to bubbles.
PROS (of this meal at Dal Pescatore): Once upon a time, there was that grand restaurant that I had the priviledge to sit at. I hope I'll have the opportunity to pass this beautiful story, one day, to upcoming generations. I used the expression 'once upon a time" in my title of this review because it reflects the feeling I had while enjoying my time on this lunch. A grand restaurant, indeed, which charm will remain present for a long time in my mind. A grand restaurant, which story will remain a legend long, very long, after I will pass away. I had a great time, here and this (great food, great wine, top service, nothing overworked but to the contrary brought up in a natural appealing way may it be in the behaviour of the staff, the presentation of the food, etc) is exactly what I do expect from a 3 star Michelin dining venture.
CONS (of this meal at Dal Pescatore): When a heart is happy, there's nothing to pique at.
Salute!