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Aimo e Nadia


Steve Plotnicki
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I had one night in Milan last week. Based on how our schedule was laid out, it was a good night for a more formal meal. I had a number of reservations which included staying in town and eating at Aimo, or we could have taken a train an hour into the hinterlands. But one of the first things I did when I got to town was to buy a copy of the 2003 edition of the Gambero Rosso. Flipping straight to the list of top cucina, Aimo e Nadia was given a score of 52 which put them in the top dozen restaurants in the country. That did it. No schlepping an hour out of town for us.

The cab ride there was a long one, even longer then I remembered. It must have been a good 25 minutes. I had been to Aimo once before. My wife and I were there about a dozen years ago. That night they served us a dish I will never forget. Capone con Brodo di Tartufi, capon in a truffle scented broth. It was a stunner. So I was hoping that the restaurant kept up some of the same style and intensity I had recalled. Quite often restaurants lose something over time. Maybe the chefs gets bored cooking the same things night after night. Hopefully that wasn't the case here with that high GR score and all. But all it took was for me to enter the restaurant and to be seated to suspect that the night was not going to turn out as I had hoped for.

They sat us in the main room. It was just as I remembered it. A smallish, rectangular affair with about ten tables ringing the room. But the room looked like it needed a few coats of new and glossy paint to cheer it up. As it is, the restaurant is on a dreary street on the outskirts of Milan and there is no outward indication that a fine restaurant would be there. But it used to be stylish inside. Like you were transformed into a different place. That effect is gone now. Combine that with a display of some of the worst art I had ever seen (seems it's a friend of their daughters,) I didn't feel like things were looking up.

Our food was, well, okay but resolutely mediocre. We both had started with goose liver served in a cream of cardoons that was perfectly fine except it needed some salt. I followed it with a mix of various fish and shellfish in a cream of white beans and my friend had Aimo's famous pasta with onions (Aimo visited us and told us that the dish won the best pasta crown at some cooking exposition at Palio in NYC.) I finished with a dryish stinco (braised beef shank) and my friend had the duck. All okay, really boring, and as my wife would say, not worth the calories.

Fortunately the service was good. Especially the sommelier who recommended a nice barolo (can't remember the producer) that was drinking fairly well for the 1997 vintage. And both Aimo and Nadia visited us on at least three occassions and were very friendly and chatty. And the place was full. Everyone from couples on dates to families having dinner with their children. But it just didn't do it for us. Aimo and Nadia appear to be up around retirement age and from the way their cooking tastes they seem to have one foot out the door. In fact, their daughter has opened a second location near the Piazza di Republica which probably anticipates that happening.

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We both had started with goose liver served in a cream of cardoons that was perfectly fine except it needed some salt.

So sorry you were misled but that's French and NOT Italian food.

One of the problems is that once a restaurant (in Italy) ceases to be 'local' and becomes 'international' and is mentioned a lot on this site by the likes of you and me the food actually changes and adapts for the new, wealthier, clients. It's a very sad and very true fact.

Let's put it this way, I wouldn't go to Aimo e Nadia now.

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So sorry you were misled but that's French and NOT Italian food.

Exactly!!!

Steve I would suggest you are using the wrong guide. Try the Osterie guide from Slow Food if you want to eat great Italian food. When I eat at the top Italian restaurants in the Gambero Rosso guide I feel like I could be eating in the top rated Italian restaurants New York or Chicago, or anywhere else where they are desperately trying ruin true Italian cooking.

And then a question -

How long can a restaurant remain great?

When we return to a restaurant after many years how can we be sure that it not us that have changed - not the restaurant?

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Thanks for the existential answer. If you read my post, I said that we wanted a more formal meal. If all I wanted to do was to eat at a tratorria, indeed I would have referred to the guide you mentioned. But I didn't. I wanted a world class meal and once again Italy failed (in fact the entire country fails as a country as far as I'm concerned.) As for restaurants remaining great, some of them remain great for quite a long time. Arpege has been great for as long as Aimo et Nadia has been there, and there are other restaurants that have endured as well. But I'm forgetting the reason that we chose Aimo in the first place which was the lack of world class restaurants in Milan to begin with. A failing so profound for a place that prides itself as being a world class city that words escape me.

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If you read my post, I said that we wanted a more formal meal. If all I wanted to do was to eat at a tratorria

Always glad to be existential.

Many of the most interesting new chefs (and some older ones) are often opening under the name ‘Osteria’. As the beginning of the Slow Food guide puts so well, this name no longer means what it used to in Italy and often implies innovative kitchens and thoughtful wine lists. This includes formal presentations although the atmosphere is not stuffy. These are restaurants where innovative ITALIAN cuisine is served on beautiful china and the wine is poured into the exact type of Reidel for that wine. Yes there are casual trattoria style restaurants in the guide but if you don’t take some time to do some research you will never find the gems. The Gambero Rosso likes its restaurants and wine the same way – big and overblown.

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Sorry but I don't read Italian so numerical scores are a great asset. And flipping through the Slow Food Guide, many of their listings are also listed in GR. And among the ones that aren't, many are listed as tratorria or traditional osteria. So if what you claim exists actually does exist (and I have no reason not to believe you,) the Italians need to do a better job of telling everyone about it. Still, I'm a skeptic. As my Wednesday night dinner companion who lives in Rome told me, there is no cuisine there. You just buy some mozzarella and ...... And in spite of the fact that I know there are places that I would find delicious, I'm sure that what I like about eating in France will never be present in Italy for me and that is spite of how good things can taste, they will always fall short. As Ed Schoenfeld put it so perfectly, in France, they cook things together until it results in a completely new flavor. In Italy, the goal is to taste one ingredient at a time. I am starting to believe they do not have the gustatory skills to taste two flavors and that is why they haven't created a cuisine.

The best thing about my visit to Milan was the magnum of 1997 Sandrone La Vigne we bought at Peck which we brought to the Marche au Vin dinner in Lyon. Boy did we down that sucker in record time. Even the "traditionalistas" like Yaniger and Morehouse sucked it down without complaining of the modern, clean style Sandrone makes his wines in.

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the Italians need to do a better job of telling everyone about it

Sad but true.

I'm sure that what I like about eating in France will never be present in Italy for me

That's how I fell about Italy.

1997 Sandrone La Vigne

Great wine is great wine - sorry I missed it.

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One of the funny things about Milano was that when I was looking for a place for lunch on Friday (we didn't have much time as we had a 4:30 flight to Lyon) I poured through the GR guide. The numerical scores the restaurants were given for their cucina seemed rather low to me. Mostly in the low 40's. So just to calibrate them, I checked the score of the Tratorria de la Posta de Camuilin where I ate in October. I enjoyed that meal, but it was a rustic place. But it scored 46 for cucina, higher then almost every restaurant in Milan except for Aimo and a few others. I thought that was really pathetic for a city of Milan's breeding. What the hell are they eating there day in and day out?

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Our house in Italy is only a 45 minute drive from Milano - and we never go there to eat. The only time we eat there is when someone is visiting from the United States and we do the Duomo/Castello tour.

Perhaps Milano has become to much of a city of business. Watch the people rushing at lunch time to get back to the office in an hour and you feel like you are back in the United States. The fashion industry also does nothing for promoting great restaurants - they are more interested in being seen at a good table at Bice than the quality of the food. Then the suburbs are such a depressing place - grey and dirty.

It Italy I always seem to find the best new restaurants run by young chefs in the middle of nowhere - like Osteria dell'Arancia in Grottammare in the Marche.

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Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this."

Doctor: "Don't do that."

Steve, one wonders why someone with your highly developed skill for culinary analysis would continue to abuse himself with what he knows to be certain disappointment?

Edited by Robert Schonfeld (log)

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Maybe we can just take self-hating vacations?

You know its funny you said that. My wife and I were going to go to Positano for a few days this May to celebrate our 20th anniversary because we went there on our honeymoon. But after hearing about this recent trip to Milano, she has suggested that we go elsewhere because she recalls how frustrating we found Italy when we used to travel there. In fact other then a day here and there, we haven't really been since 1989. She suggested we go to Spain instead and I think we might just do that.

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One of the problems is that once a restaurant (in Italy) ceases to be 'local' and becomes 'international' and is mentioned a lot on this site by the likes of you and me the food actually changes and adapts for the new, wealthier, clients. It's a very sad and very true fact.

This statement stikes me as anything but factual. Let's assume that the appreciation is equally distributed across income groups. Then those with more time and ample means will have a chance to try more places, make comparisons, and learn from experience. This should be true, even is the baseline may differ across cultures and countries. I would expect most restaurants to rise to the challenge and deliver higher quality food if they can charge higher prices. But on the other hand, intuitively I agree with you. I have seen places, such as Guerard, which serve truffles and asperagus out of season. And when confronted, they justify the practice on the grounds that their "wealthy" clientele expects "luxury" ingredients all the time. I'm making these casual remarks because I think your statement, if not obvious, is very interesting, and it is worth further exploration.

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This is a really interesting topic since I've travelled and eaten extensively in Italy and just returned from Aimo e Nadia six weeks ago. As part of four days of starred restaurants it ranks as not just the most disappointing restaurant of that trip but one of the most disappointing (and overpriced) of my life. The dining room is the most brightly lit that I have ever sat in. Surgery could be performed in it. The chef owner is ever present constantly moving from one table to another. Normally this is a practice that I enjoy. But he never left the dining room! I actually felt that he was looking at me and listening to see if there might be a faint moan at my first bite of a particular dish. I specifically remember worrying that he might make a comment about my leaving a bite on my plate!

The night before my wife and I were in Umbria driving from Deruta (which is an interesting town in and of itself) back to Florence. There is a starred restaurant called Il Postale about 30 miles north of Perugia in Citta de Castello. About 40 seats in a converted garage. I doubt that they have ever seen a tourist. Gambero Rosso and others have written about this extensively. But unlike Aimo e Nadia which many have called one of Italy's 5 best restaurants Il Postale was the second best meal that I have ever had in Italy. Just superb. And relatively cheap. '97 Sassicaia was 130 Euros while the Milano restaurant wanted 225 for the same bottle. Prix fixe was around 45 Euros. I put a long post on Chowhound about five weeks ago about our experience there but it actually surpassed my expectations.

I do tend to agree with the statement that the best food/meals, etc. are found in non-starred, more traditional restaurants that a minimum of tourists frequent. I'll actually go out of my way to AVOID a restaurant where English has a presence in the dining room. But having said this there is a restaurant in Rubano that just received its third Michelin star. It is named Le Calandre and its chef is 28 years old which must be the youngest ever. I beleive this is currently the best restaurant in Italy and possibly a worthy challenger to El Bulli, which I have not yet been to, but may this year if they ever respond to my attempts to make a reservation (!).

Le Calandre is traditional in that risotto resembles risotto. Yet, as an example, the way the risotto is done is that you might have the individual kernals of arborio resting in their creamy bed but underneath is a layer of crunchy "something." A bite of arborio also raises a small portion of crunch from underneath which plays off against the creamy, kernally texture. The presentation of the risotto might also involve pieces of shellfish or meat in its own sauce being poured on top of the arborio at the table. He is also into contrasting textures as well as temperatures of food so that you might have a narrow tube with a warm liquid followed immediately by a cold liquid both coming out of the tube. I don't remember foams or the extremes that I have read about El Bulli. I just believe that Le Calandre is a good step removed from any other Italian restaurant that I have been in, imaginative with food that is absolutely delicious as well as spectacular and surprising.

I have been told that he'll do a gorgonzola risotto as well as gorgonzola pasta and gorgonzola gelato all on the same menu, all using many of the same ingredients but all having "crunch" yet coming from different sources.

A good friend of mine who lives in Vicenza told me that when he first started four or five years ago he made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of combinations that didn't work. The restaurant suffered because of this. But now he has learned from his mistakes and his food and style are truly extraordinary. Still, a visitor to Le Calandre from several years ago would probably be suprised to read these comments.

To bring this discussion full circle sometimes I believe that it is not about the restaurant's reputation or the awards/stars/diamonds that it has earned. It is because the chef is on top of his game. The long thread on El Bulli was fascinating for the discussion of inedible dishes in 2001 yet only the year before the food was ambrosial. Aimo e Nadia may have been like this as well as many others.

The neighborhood trattorias are more consistent because they tend to reproduce the same dishes night in and night out and if they are using really good basic ingredients and preparing them correctly then there is less room for error. A dish should taste the way it is expected to taste.

It is possible that Le Calandre in five years may be as difficult to get into as El Bulli. It is also possible that in six it will not have been worth the effort.

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We both had started with goose liver served in a cream of cardoons that was perfectly fine except it needed some salt.

So sorry you were misled but that's French and NOT Italian food.

One of the problems is that once a restaurant (in Italy) ceases to be 'local' and becomes 'international' and is mentioned a lot on this site by the likes of you and me the food actually changes and adapts for the new, wealthier, clients. It's a very sad and very true fact.

Let's put it this way, I wouldn't go to Aimo e Nadia now.

We've had this discussion before about haute cuisine in Italy and I am still amazed how a few disappointing dinners once or twice a year can convince people that the Italians can't do it.

I'll just point out that I've recently had an overall disappointing meal at Il Sorriso and if that was the only experience of high-end Italian restaurants I had, I might almost agree with you. But then, if you had been with me at Georges Blanc two years ago you'd probably believe the same for french haute cuisine.

I'll just point out that the fois gras Steve had at Aimo e Nadia wasn't really a fois gras made according to the usual method. It is made in Italy and it's called Ficatum because the geese are not force-fed with a corn-based feed but are fed (not force-fed) dried figs. This is an old recipe that goes back to Roman and even ancient Greek times.

Also, the town of Mortara where the producer, Giocchino Palestro, works, used to have a significant Jewish community that produced fois gras and goose-based charcuterie such as goose salame, goose prosciutto etc., Palestro simply revived that tradition.

Francesco

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But I didn't. I wanted a world class meal and once again Italy failed (in fact the entire country fails as a country as far as I'm concerned.)

This comment puts you in a totally different category (I'll leave you to guess the category) and it certainly goes along with your description of pasta as being ubiquitious!

Steve, your wife is soooooo correct, go to Spain and do not ever return to Italy, please.

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Francesca: very, very interesting comments.

Craig Camp: It's obvious you live in Italy as you really do understand the topic. Thanks for your comments. BTW where DO you live? I used to live in Sala Comacina directly opposite the Isola restaurant.

Joe H: a remarkable insight to Italian cuisine. Thanks, and I agree obviously.

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Francesca: very, very interesting comments.

Craig Camp: It's obvious you live in Italy as you really do understand the topic. Thanks for your comments.  BTW where DO you live? I used to live in Sala Comacina directly opposite the Isola restaurant.

Joe H: a remarkable insight to Italian cuisine. Thanks, and I agree obviously.

We live in a small town called Varano Borghi just outside Varese about 20 minutes from Malpensa airport. We spend about 7 months a year there and the balance based out of Chicago.

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Joe H. Thank you for your insightful and well written and obviously educated comments. I can tell from your tone that you have an open mind for excellent food – wherever you find it. This obvious open-mindedness gives your opinions great credibility as you will dismiss nothing untill you taste it. From your comments I feel as if I understand what these restaurants are doing.

Please keep your contributions coming.

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Fortunately the service was good. Especially the sommelier who recommended a nice barolo (can't remember the producer) that was drinking fairly well for the 1997 vintage.

Hey Steve - try to remember to write down the name of the wine for us wine geeks. You seem to have a good palate for nebbiolo and I like to see your comments.

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Francesca: very, very interesting comments.

Craig Camp: It's obvious you live in Italy as you really do understand the topic. Thanks for your comments.  BTW where DO you live? I used to live in Sala Comacina directly opposite the Isola restaurant.

Joe H: a remarkable insight to Italian cuisine. Thanks, and I agree obviously.

We live in a small town called Varano Borghi just outside Varese about 20 minutes from Malpensa airport. We spend about 7 months a year there and the balance based out of Chicago.

Craig, I have spent lots of time near where you live - specifically in and around Ispra, and Bodio Lomnago. Varese is my favorite Italian (small) city. Lucky you.

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Okay I want to say the producers name was Vastelle. But I will call the restaurant if you want me to. They have a very young sommelier who was a sweet kid and who really enjoyed his job. It was made in a lighter style, it sort of reminded me of the older Mascarello wines that were made in cement tanks. We drank a 1964 about 6 months ago and it was one of the lightest wines I have had in both weight and color, but still excellent intensity of fruit. This wine reminded me of that right out of the box. Just by looking at it and smelling it. Not a great wine, but a very good one to drink short term while your Conternos are getting bottle age.

Just as an aside, we drank a bottle of 1985 Sandrone Canubbi Boschis at Crispo here in NYC last night. As much as I'd like to criticize Sandrone for making clean wines in a modern style that are too alcolholic, the wine was just killer. Still somewhat tannic, it needs another 5 years IMO, the purity and the intensity of the cherry flavored fruit was like a lazer gun. And we drank a bottle of 1976 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia before it which was also excellent. But when we opened the Sandrone it just blew the Tondonia off the table.

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