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Monday, April 2, 2007

Ristorante Orso Grigio

The day: 18th March 2007, Lunch.
The place: Via Regole 10, 38010, Ronzone, Trento (tel: +39 0463 880625)
The venue: Ristorante Orso Grigio
The food: Fine Italian dining, regionally based
The drinks: Good list of regional wines, more limited on national ones, a few internationals. Some choices by the glass.

Ronzone is in Trento province though geographically closer to Bolzano. A very pleasant drive from Trento through the Val di Non about which you know already. We looked forward to sampling the cuisine of young chef Cristian Bertol, who was recently awarded a Michelin star, in this family run restaurant (the brother Renzo is in charge of the front room).

The exterior is rustic and welcoming:

The interior is also welcoming and warm, with some hint of relaxed elegance. Large mirrors enhance the space and brighten up the dark wood panelling décor.

The tables and seats are really really comfortable. We were given the choice between a standard table with chairs and a corner one with upholstered bench. We hate to make these tough choices on festive days...Here is Woman feeling comfy:

(You can also spot our 'tools of the trade'...)

The menu offers the usual great value in this region, a tasting menu at €58 for five courses. Among the interesting items we noted raw artichokes from Albenga with marinated swordfish; and asparagus tortelli with sausage ragout and ‘fossa’ cheese wafer. As usual, we go a la carte. For primi we chose cocoa tortelli filled with ‘fossa’ cheese with a Jerusalem artichoke cream and mandarin reduction; and whole wheat pappardelle with a ‘feathers and hair’ ragout. Both were at €10.

No complimentary drinks, but no pressure either (see Malga Panna). We like it this way. We observe the mise en place, which will give rise to some family controversy later…

In the meanwhile, both the bread and a complimentary amuse bouche arrive.

The bread, while nice-looking, was slightly disappointing, feeling more like a Hovis white than properly home-made. The ‘squeeze test’ failed miserably: the crumb yielded to the pinch without any hint of springing back, which is what would happen with a good strong (high gluten) flower. Jeffrey Hamelman would not have approved

More satisfying was the amuse bouche, a Jerusalem artichoke veloute’. Good, velvety, delicate. It was a little too plain, we would have liked some more structure, the only contrast being given by the dried slice of Jerusalem artichoke rolled on itself. Man thought the flavour could have been more concentrated (balance cream/artichoke). Woman for once was less fussy, though she admitted it tasted more ‘watered down artichokes’ than ‘top notch Jerusalem artichoke’.

The primi continued the crescendo:

The tortelli had a great visual impact on Man. The taste was a match. The mandarin reduction, which as you can see came in elegant little dabs, provided a successful contrast for both the cocoa and the Fossa cheese. The cheese itself was good, with nice acidity. The edges were rounded off by the delicate Jerusalem artichoke sauce. A very balanced dish (Fossa cheese takes its name from the ditch –fossa- where it is left to mature)

More earthiness was in store in the pappardelle. They were very well-made (Woman was a little worried by the whole wheat pasta, being quite traditionalist on this front, but she was pleasantly surprised). The ragout was a combination of two ragouts: woodcock, and venison and roe deer. A generous portion, very satisfying to the palate, with the quality of the raw materials shining through. Man would have been happier with more ragout, but he understands…

After we finish and the dishes are whiskered away, the under-plates are left, which will stir controversy:

For secondi, we went for rabbit saddle ‘porchetta style’ with fennel puree (and unadvertised polenta), at €18; and Rumanian beef cooked in juniper with artichoke hearts and Polenta di Storo.

The rabbit was succulent and savoury, with pepper and herbs. We particularly appreciated the fennel component, with the puree garnished by fine slivers of raw fennel, which added freshness to this excellent dish.

The beef was top quality. A very straight dish but well made, although somehow it failed to stir Man as other simple dishes do. The reduction wasn't perhaps so exciting, and the artichokes were presented a bit artlessly.

Cutting the beef and rabbit was an inconvenient struggle, with the plates swivelling around on the under-plate, whose shape was ill-fitted for the purpose. We raised this issue with (we presume) ‘mamma’, and she sympathised: this was what she thought too, she said, but the two ‘youngsters’ running the show (chef and front manager) are apparently very keen on keeping it! So we told the front manager. He tried some humour, replying that it was to check the customers’ ability with fork and knife. Funny, but we side with mamma.

Let’s move to desserts. We went for Zabaione parfait with hazelnut sauce (€10) and the (surprise) ‘Gran dessert’ (€15), which Woman ordered only after being assured that there would be some chocolate component.

Zabaione was very good and satisfying, though we (Woman in particular) would have preferred a thinner, more elegant hazelnut sauce, rather than the more rustic ‘crème patissiere’ type of sauce that featured here. The same item also appeared in the Gran dessert, together with an orange mousse on a chocolate shell and a strawberry ice-cream, and a chocolate souffle’ on custard. We thought the orange ‘mousse’ definitely had egg whites in it (Woman is not too fond of the ‘popping’ effect in the mouth caused by the air trapped in the coagulated albumine): upon further enquiry, we turned out to be right. The chef reported through the manager that the ‘mousse’ contained, besides cream, whites whipped with glucose at 100 degrees (centigrade!) – this is known as ‘meringa all’ Italiana’. A 'practical' defect was the excessive thickness of the chocolate shell: very good, but very difficult to crash without blasting chocolate shrapnel on the neighbouring table.

Actually, they had been staring at us a little too much, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea after all! .

The chocolate souffle’ was simply excellent (not even Woman found anything to complain about).

Man overheard another guest ordering a Passito Niedermeyer (€5), and could not allow the bottle to be opened just for her: so he had one too.

Good with the complimentary petit fours:

Beside this, for drinks we had the usual 0.75 bottle of water at €2.60 and a bottle of Pinot Noir Carlotto Mazzon 2004, at €25 – Mazzon is the best area for the production of Pinot noir in the region, and indeed this was very good. This took the total to €120.60. Once again a Michelin starred strike comfortably within our £100 rule! Trentino is a great region for gourmets…

Orso Grigio is a very comfortable restaurant, with high culinary standards and offering great value for the money you pay, in line with the best in the region. In terms of absolute quality, it is no doubt one of the most plesant overall we have sampled around here so far, although on cuisine grounds alone we still prefer Malga Panna and our favourite, Fior di Roccia. The service is courteous and efficient (though Man complained that mamma did not smile to him, what a spoiled brat), perhaps just a little stiff, still undecided between formality and friendliness, for the type of homely feel it conveys otherwise. By 'homely' we mean things like these:The cuisine uses excellent ingredients with a good balance between tradition and modernity. We were very happy to have concluded thus our visit to Val di Non.


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