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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lo Scrigno del Duomo

The day: 9th February 2007, Dinner.
The place: Piazza Duomo, 29, Trento, Italy (tel +39 0461 220030)
The venue: Ristorante Lo Scrigno del Duomo
The food: Fine Italian Dining, with strong regional influence
The drinks: Extensive and impressive list, several regional wines but also many other choices, all prices, great selection by the glass

Bang in the middle of Trento, Scrigno del Duomo is a two storey attraction for the Gourmand: on the ground floor is a wine bar which offers classy ‘quick’ dishes, nibbles and drinks, while downstairs at cellar level is the restaurant proper. The dining rooms (a main one plus a couple of more secluded ones) retain the cellar architecture and are calmly elegant.

In the kitchen is Chef Alfredo Chiocchetti, whose talent has been rewarded with a Michelin star.

We perused the menu while sipping a complimentary Brut millesimato Altemasi 1999, pleasant and refined. There are two tasting menus, one at €60 and one at €67, but as usual we maximise variety by going a la carte. Starters are in the €18-€20 range, primi in the €15-€20 range, and secondi all at €23. We were very tempted to go for a meat based dinner. Attractive starters included pork cheek “grostel” with celeriac and shitake mushrooms and orange and guinea fowl salad with baby spinach and sesame oil. Among the primi we had to let go of soft polenta with rabbit ragu’, Puzzone cheese fondue and white truffle, as well as sprouting broccoli and goat ricotta gnocchetti with spiced braised oxtail. Venison fillet with Dijon mustard on a bed of canederlo and red cabbage was one of the highlights of the secondi, and so was rosemary lamb with celery lasagne and artichoke mousse.

But we passed all that to go for a seafood experience…

First, the bread: Homemade grissini with sesame seeds, focaccia and white rolls. Not a stunning variety, but good.

As you can see in the corner of the photo, this was accompanied by herb butter, which of course we did not touch.

Back to starters, we began with a salt cod soufflĂ© with potatoes and Vezzena cheese (which is made from milk produced by a rare cow breed) on a bed of romanesco broccoli; and salmerino fish in bread crust with stewed Summer savory aubergines (both €18).

While waiting, though, a complimentary amuse bouche:

As far as amuse bouches go, these were rather substantial! Raw tuna on a bed of baby spinach, and salt cod ‘vicentina style’. The tuna was excellent, melting in the mouth, and the baby spinach were really baby, supremely tender. The salt cod (baccala’) came with a cube of polenta that beautifully soaked up the rich sauce of the baccala’. The fish itself was very tender, with none of the ‘woodiness’ due to it being ill prepared or ill sourced. This was a great start. Only a pity that since we were already having baccala’, this offering was not more ‘personalised’. After all there were less than ten covers throughout the evening.

Next, the antipasti arrive:

The salmerino (a very local variety of trout) had been thinly coated with a flour, eggless batter and pan fried (we think). This was done perfectly, and the coating was light and crisp. Woman thought it a nice contrast to the softness of the sweet aubergines. The raw materials, especially the fish, were top class. Interesting in this dish the interplay between the very local salmerino and the ‘exotic’ southern accompaniment of olives, capers, thyme and cherry tomatoes (and of course the aubergines). Woman wondered whether the salmerino was too delicate for all this, whereas Man was surprised by how well they worked together.

The soufflĂ© was equally very satisfying. The Vezzena cheese was a perfect match for the saltiness of baccala’ (though Woman would have liked to feel a stronger baccala’ flavour).

Our choice of mains fell on pan fried crayfish (mazzancolle) in orange honey, broccoli sauce and rocket sprouts; and baked amberjack (ricciola) with crispy asparagus and orange dressing (both €23).

The crayfish looked beautiful and plentiful, and were fresh and perfectly cooked, retaining springiness and moisture: you could really taste the sea. But the dish was a disaster! Why? Because of an elementary flaw, there was sand crunching unpleasantly under the teeth. But the dish was also marred by cooking mistakes: honey, we could not have told it was there had it not been for the menu, and the broccoli seemed to have lost their flavour on the way. What a disappointment! Even the more so as there was no reaction from the kitchen when we pointed out the 'sandy issue' to the waiter.

The amberjack itself was perfect and well assembled, though the single chunk it came as was thick but a touch on the stingy side. Also, we are not clear about the contribution of the foam to the dish. But we are not fond of foams in general - why dilute the flavour with loads of air? Man thought that in this case its use was particularly inappropriate, because it truly jarred with the chunkiness of the fish.

While waiting for dessert (€9.50 like all other desserts), a welcome complimentary pre-dessert arrived:

Lemon jelly with stewed bananas, raspberries and coconut… foam! Should we comment further? apart from the foam (which anyway here was not so out of place), it was very pleasant. Man was unhappy with the presentation: the glass was smudged. Surely a Michelin star chef can insert the material in a cleaner way. Yes, we are that nasty.

For desserts, orange and carrot soup with coconut; and cardamom; and ‘mandarin variations’.

The ‘soup’: visually impressive, Man was struck by its interesting, slightly ‘angular’ feel on the palate, and by the balance between acidity and sweetness: a modern dish, possibly with too many flavours, not to everybody’s taste and potentially unsettling. In fact Woman was less positive about it, finding in particular the cardamom flavoured slab a tasteless addition.

The mandarin variations, Man and Woman agreed, was superb. A crema catalana, a jelly, a sponge with custard, and an ice-cream – prefix all items with ‘mandarin’. Which one was best is hard to say, they were all excellent, individually and as an ensemble. Pity the waiter did not advice on the order in which they were meant to be had (those who don’t want to know, look away now….the correct order was from left to right in the photo).

For drinks, we asked the wine waiter to choose for us a white from Trentino. He brought us a Cuvee Maso Torresella 2004 (€23), a blend of 10 grapes, some local (e.g. Trebbiano), some international (e.g. Chardonnay). It was an excellent suggestion, intensely aromatic, buttery and dense, with a pleasant bitter finish. Water was a 0.75 litre bottle at a very reasonable €2.50. Overall, the bill came to €126.50.

Complimentary petit fours:

Very very good (and, Man thought, an intriguing assortment), notably a delicious almond torrone (the others were chocolate bonbon, chocolate and sugar coated strawberries and physalis).

The service was professional if a bit distant, depending on the waiter. This is clearly a refined cuisine with high standards and creativity, and in which the raw materials are also truly first rate. However, as you have seen from our review, there were some hits and misses, with a couple of episodes of carelessness, the sand and above all the lack of response being unforgivable. The impression is that perhaps the chef, for all his technical ability, does not pressure his staff up to sufficiently high standards for an establishment of this nature (a visit by Gordon Ramsey might not be amiss here ). To be fair, we had been here twice before in the past, both times with no complaints; so we may have hit a low night. All misdemeanours forgotten, anyway, as you come out and step into a postcard:

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2 comments:

paolo said...

I was looking for "Scrigno duomo" in google and found your review.
I was thinking about going there this evening ... and now I'm even more convinced ;-)

Man-Woman said...

Glad you found it useful: only, just steer clear from the mazzancolle... ;-)

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