Alchemilla, an Un-Italian Dinner (and some teething troubles)

picture via alchemilla website

Update: T. read this post and says it is too critical and negative. I definitely do not want this to be the message that comes across – I did love the food and the overall experience we had here! I just think that the little mistakes/shortcomings we observed are rather easily avoidable and would increase the positive feeling by so much more. That is why I was pointing them out, not because they were such a big, negative part of the experience.

Take a young chef with great ideas. Add charming family & friends. Spice up with a lack of money and cluelessness in customer relations, modern electronic communications and wine.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

The young chef Francesco Magiar Lucidi, named one of the baby-chefs of Rome, is 26 years old, has great ideas but maybe not just enough experience in important kitchens. His sister, an actress, is part of the service, the other waitress has piercings in her face. On the day of the reservation they change the advertised 9 courses to 7 without explanation and when asked send one that is worse than the offense – “…in order to not overwhelm the senses & speed up the dinner…”. They send out emails, which is rare enough in Italy, but these are mass emails with many addresses on “to”, no “bcc”. There is an insufficient and not carefully selected wine list, the recommendation is a red whereas white is the much better pairing with the menu on hand. Not one glass matches another in the whole dining room. The AC alternates between burning hot and freezing cold. The menu is also in English – or rather, pigeon English.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

During the dinner I had all contradicting feelings. I sat there eating great food, prepared with very good products; great ideas, some working out, some not; a service that is dear and charming but making unnecessary mistakes. I felt like giving them all a big hug, holding their hands and saying “It is gonna be alright. I understand. I see where you are coming from and where you want to go. I want to help you. Listen to me. Take some advice. You can be so much better.”

Lacking that, I will keep on going to Alchemilla. I will keep on supporting them as they (hopefully) learn. I will keep on eating great food. (I just wish I could organize their cellar; choose better wines, put together a wine-by-the-glass pairing.)

What we ate: (expect 7 to 9 courses for €36, “journey” (not menu!) of the week can be seen online)

* Extra-old parmiggiano cream with a forest-honey veil (a gelatinous sheet!), dried fruit, green apple, 25 year old balsamic vinegar – very subtle and nice play of aromas, very good!

* soft polenta with beurre noisette (brown butter), pecorino di fossa (pit-matured sheep’s cheese) and fleur di sel – delicate and comforting, great idea with the brown butter!

* Calamarata shaped pasta with puntarelle cooked in vanilla, red beets, anchovies and smoked provolone – weakest dish of the stretch, though the idea is actually great: taking the very Roman dish of puntarelle with anchovies sauce and warming it up, temperature and spice-wise, and combining with pasta. I think the pasta format and plating was wrong and the smoked cheese was out-of-place, too; the elements of the dish just didn’t come together – but definitely a great idea to play around with in my kitchen

* Meatballs made with Cinta Senese pork (from Sienna), wild greens and black rice (in sheet form!) – very good, the meatballs had a great seasoning.

* Pickled herring with yogurt, very young spinach and smoked salt – a very good idea gone wrong because the herring was way too salty and together with the extra sold became unedible

* Pork flank in sweet&sour sauce with marinated red cabbage – melt in your mouth meat with a lively and decisive taste – perfect.

* Dessert wine, honey (these two in the form of an ice-cream), orange (jelly) and chocolate (powder) – nice combination of tastes, though the honey taste was too strong for me – but that’s really just me.

Paris: the Highlight

Le Restaurant Lavinia

le restaurant Lavinia

We ate the best chocolates and macarons of our lives in Paris, but the highlight of the trip got to be our lunch experience in Lavinia. It is actually a 3-story wine shop, where they classify their wines in price categories as “under €50, 50-100, 100-250, 250-500 and over 500″…. The most expensive normal size bottle we saw revered was a Petrus 1995 for €1.600 and there was even a 5 liter bottle (of something I unfortunately can’t remember) that cost around €8.000. You get the picture.

But then again, you don’t. They also have perfect bottles under €10, wines we know from Italy and adore for their price-performance ratio and they have “le restaurant Lavinia” on the upper floor where you can eat perfectly well and drink any wine you like for the store price! (This is of course only if you are drinking a bottle. They also have some wines by the glass, which have a little mark-up.)

We arrived at the restaurant around 12 and only a few seats at the bar were taken. Were asked if we had a reservation, which surprised us a lot, as we didn’t know it was a “proper” restaurant. We had thought there would be some charcuterie or a tartine, ignorant us. The menu is small but full of seasonal items, changes often and every item comes with a wine-recommendation that you can have by the glass. On that day for some reason we didn’t want to eat a proper meal (maybe because we were so pre-conditioned that there wouldn’t be any) so missed out on all the gorgeous food we admired on neighboring tables, which were, after half an hour, all taken. But still, our choices made us totally happy.

Foie gras at Lavinia

foie gras

I definitely wanted to try the fresh foie gras with rosemary and fleur de sel. It came with some rocket. This foie gras was one of the best we ever had, it lacked the heaviness we have experienced in many cases and was full of flavor although so simple. We loved this.

Cheese platter

cheese

This cheese platter was good but the star was the blue-veined cheese you can see on top left: This is “La Fourme d’Ambert“. This was so mild with all the tastes subtle but there; the creamy cows milk, the blue mold, the cellar, the age… We like blue molded cheeses a lot but you can not always eat the very hefty ones, in these cases with gorgonzola we go for the “dolce” version and leave roquefort or cabrales out. The fourmet d’ambert is like a mild roquefort, a beginners version, if you like. We could have eaten more of this.

Saint-Romain, Combe Bazin

Combe Bazin

To accompany this two dishes we wanted to drink a bottle of wine instead of two different glasses. I was thinking about a Sauternes but our great waiter suggested something else: Domaine de Chassorney Combe Bazin from the Saint-Romain appellation in the Burgundy region, an organic and unfiltered white wine from chardonnay grapes, barrel-fermented. This wine reminded us of our secret hero, Josko Gravner, and his very polarising Breg, which he “lets become” in clay amphorae. Not as dry as Breg but definitely something in the same direction and at a more affordable price.

So why was Lavinia our highlight? Because they have great wines. Because they have good food. Because you can combine them without going bankrupt. Because you get perfect assistance. Because French bosses seem to allow their employees 3 hour lunchbreaks and do not mind a bottle of wine consumed, either. Lavinia staff know their wine and have a great concept and it makes us want to weep why there is no such place in Germany. If you love food and wine and go to Paris, visit Lavinia. You will love it, too.

This is part three in a four-part series.
read part one – Paris: the Pilgrimage
read part two – Paris: the Food
read part four –
Paris: the Tourist’s Dilemma

Paris: the Food

Plaisirs sucrés - Pierre Hermé

plaisirs sucrés

Because of the abundance of pictures, this post will do with “hidden” text. If you click on the pictures you can see them enlarged and read the corresponding text.

savory

Fallafel Bounty from G.Detou

Bling H2O Côte de boeuf at Chez Denise

More savory food to follow in the next two posts, the highlight and the philosophical discussion…

sweet

Berthillon Ice Cream Chocolate fountain at Michel Cluizel Truffels at Micel Cluizel

Macarons at Ladurée Inside Jean-Paul Hévin Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien

sweet – Pierre Hermé special

I told you I became obsessed with macarons. But these tastes (and the textures) are unmatched.

Individual Macarons at Pierre Hermé Entremets Quatre Heures

Macarons at Pierre Hermé Macarons at Pierre Hermé 2 Macarons at Pierre Hermé 3

Macarons at Pierre Hermé 4 Macarons at Pierre Hermé 6 Macarons at Pierre Hermé 5

Macarons at Pierre Hermé 7

This is part two in a four-part series.
read part one – Paris: the Pilgrimage
read part three – Paris: the Highlight
read part four – Paris: the Tourist’s Dilemma