DA VITTORIO and a note on OSTERIA DI VIA SOLATA
I have very fond memories of this restaurant which was the subject of a previous gastromondiale review (“Da Vittorio – Revisited”: http://www.gastromondiale.com/2008/10/da-vittorio----revisited.html#more ). Since then, unfortunately, the great Vittorio passed away, and now his children are at the helm. They also moved the restaurant away from downtown Bergamo to Brusaporto, which is about 20 minutes away by car. The restaurant is now located in a luxury country style hotel-spa, but since we preferred to stay in old town Bergamo, I cannot comment on the hotel.
If you are staying in Bergamo Citta Alta, I recommend the restaurant VIA SOLATA. It is a tastely decorated ground level place. The chef certainly knows cooking and has the help of three young assistants. I especially liked his “risotto with apples and 20 years old Pedro Ximenez,” and his excellent baby pigeon breast with mint and licorice. The wine list is impressive and fairly priced. The chef, himself, is very serious about wine and is generous. (He offered us an excellent 2009 Tramin Gewurztraminer “Roen” which was a perfect match with one of his foie gras dishes.) If I rank this meal, I would give 16/20.
We have visited Da Vittorio three times since the new generation took over, and the results are convincing. Those who know the old restaurant should remember that this place was not among the most generous restaurants in Italy. It was THE most generous. Typically your meal started with three flights of amuses, and in each flight you had five to six small dishes. In addition, the chef often came to the table with his cooking pan to shore up your pasta. Generosity and quality went hand in hand, and you always ended the meal truly satiated and satisfied.
Now the restaurant has adapted to modern times. They are not as generous as they used to be, but the quality remains the same. The cooking may have a slightly more modern twist, but overall it is still very classical in the best sense of the term. The cooking is very grounded in the traditions of Northern Italy. Raw materials are of excellent quality, and most dishes are unashamedly rich. The service is still very very good. (But I should say that in our last meal when the great maître d’ Nicola was not present, the team did not work in unison, and although our tall blond captain and the assistant sommelier were both excellent, one assistant maître d’ bordered on being rude.)
If you can visit the restaurant only once in a year, make it during the white truffle season. I let them cook for me different dishes with pico magnatum, and my head still spins when I think of the homemade brioche with fresh goat butter and generously shaved, very aromatic, best quality truffles. You are not likely to find this level pico magnatum in Alba, unless you have special connections. We ended the meal with excellent baby becasse-woodcock and risotto. The chef handled beccaccia extremely well, and overall the meal was one of the most memorable of 2011.
In March we had another excellent meal at Da Vittorio. One drawback of the restaurant is that there isn’t a proper bar room to relax before or after the meal. Yet we sat in the entrance of the hotel by the lobby on a sofa, and they brought us some small tables for our glasses of champagne. Some nice amuses were served: mini burgers, mini hot dogs, mini croquet monsieurs (very good), and some stuffed parmesan cones and chips.
But I have one word of advice. Ask for the menu in Italian, because some specials are only written in Italian. You can also order the seafood platter for two (which feeds four and is most memorable), a seafood only menu, a salumi-cheese menu, or a special degustation menu. These are all worth trying (we have tried almost everything over the years, except the salumi-cheese menu) and are only written in Italian.
We were toying with the idea of eating all fish, but we gave up after spotting “cerf en croute de pain parfume au pin, sauce a la biere brune” on the French menu. (I usually ask for menus in French because I understand the fish selections better. English translations for Mediterranean fish mostly don’t make sense to me.)
This restaurant serves some of the best pastas and risottos in the world. Our first course was “Paccheri a la Vittorio melangees avec Grano Padano.” This is a very old recipe of the house, and a true Grano Padano is as memorable as a three year aged reggiano from the red cow. It is cheese and tomato pasta, and it may strike one as too simple, even vulgar. But there is a good reason as to why this combination is the world’s most popular sauce for pasta, and Da Vittorio’s version is the ultimate expression of the classic, which can be used as the yardstick against which to compare similar pastas.
The risotto dish was equally satisfactory, but more luxurious: an excellent carnaroli risotto with marsala wine, crisp scampi-langoustines, and foie gras mousse. Foie gras sits in the middle of the dish, and you should let it melt and mix it in. Excellent.
We followed with a thick piece of “turbot avec pesto d’anchois au miel, meringue a la morue”. This is one of the new style dishes, and I was not as convinced, as the sea bass is cooked inside bread crust. They took the edge off the anchovy by adding a touch of honey, but the combination worked. However, I did not think that bacalao/morue meringue added anything to the dish. Both morue and anchovy repeat the same theme and add a little salty taste. The turbot itself was fine, but basically it tasted like a fine lumpy white fish, rather than the complex, gelatinous, excellent fish turbot is when presented whole or cut from the bone and served with the bone.
The cerf, on the other hand, was OUTSTANDING. It even beat the excellent chevreuil at the great restaurant LEDOYEN. (I ranked my last February meal there as 19.5 which was the highest of the year, but never got around to writing a review.) The slight malt taste imparted with the beer emphasized the gaminess of the excellent wild cerf. The chef paired the dish with crumbled cauliflowers, walnuts, blueberries and bacon. Crunchy and sweet and fruity and enchanting…., different components perfectly blended into a great whole to create a memorable gustatory experience.
Da Vittorio continues to excel in desserts. The chocolate and bonbon trays are a treat for the eye, sorbets are outstanding, and desserts are quite modern, but well conceived. We shared a “Zen garden: different variations sur la theme du sois bois, crème de fromage et crumble”. Well, the dessert did not remind me of the various temples’ gardens in Kyoto, but the combination of berries, white chocolate, meringue, smoked tea, and the very light mascarpone like cheese was well balanced and light.
We paired the turbot with a half bottle of white 2007 Mas Daumas Gassac. The nose was quite subdued, and I sensed less Viognier and more Chardonnay compared to the earlier millesimes of this wine. It is still a very good wine with crisp acidity, metallic minerality, and is quite elegant with white peach and pear notes. It has a good clean and long finish. It paired well with the anchovy-turbot dish. I ranked it 92/3.
We paired the cerf with a wine from Siena: 2004 Podere Forte from Petrucci. This is the second time I have had this wine with consistent notes. The emphasis is more on elegance than power, and it reminds me of the Soldera Case Basse style, which I like very much. The nose is already expressive and I value the creamy texture and blueberry liquor notes underlaid with good acidity and a complex finish, with earth (wild mushroom) notes. Tannins are well integrated, but persistent. I rank it 95.
My general evaluation of DA VITTORIO is the arithmetic average of the last two visits. I ranked it 19 last November and 17 in March for the meal I described above.