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Friday, June 8, 2007

Osteria Fior di Roccia

The day: 15th May, Dinner.
The place:
Via Nazionale 2, Lon di Vezzano (TN), Italy (tel +39 0461 864029)
The venue: Osteria Fior di Roccia
Closest airports: Brescia (Ryanair), Verona (British Airways)
The food: Traditional regional cuisine with a modern take
The drinks: only local and short, but with evident care (all wines are described)

Have you ever been back to a place where you have lived now occupied by somebody else? Scaled down, this is the feeling we got when coming to this now “Osteria” Fior di Roccia, living in the same premises as former Michelin starred “Restaurant” Fior di Roccia (Chef Walter Miori). Same room, much of the same d├ęcor, even the same glasses, but different tablecloths, different disposition of the tables, different decorations on them…weird feeling, but still a very pleasant room.

The place is now run by the Menestrina family, with a young and enthusiastic brother and sister duo running the show: chef Michele king of the kitchen and his sister Cristina staffing the dining room.

The list is very appetising, and very reasonably priced. Starters, which include carne salada and cheese rolls, are between €5 and €7, primi between €6 and €7, mains in the €8.50-11 range and desserts not more than €4, not to mention the four course set menu, a steal at €23.50. Ah, and you can wash it all down with house wine by the jug, which we did, with half a litre of very decent Merlot from reputable local producer Castel Toblino at €3 (we could also have gone for Nosiola, also from Castel Toblino, for the same price). In fact, the wine list offers a limited but careful selection of local wines, distinguished by micro-geographical origin (Valle dei Laghi, Lake Garda, etc.).

The bread arrives:

Our nice hostess was keen to point out that this was made on the premises: on the night it looked like variations on a similar focaccia style-dough, pleasant though perhaps a bit too evenly oily. We should add, though, that on subsequent visits there was a larger variety of doughs and shapes, all equally good.

In an ‘Osteria’, we were surprised by the complimentary greeting from the kitchen made up of a slice of “polenta smalzata” (polenta grilled with cheese) and a crostino with trout mousse, with a couple of leaves of lamb’s lettuce and tomatoes on the side.

The mousse was very light and airy but still very tasty. The polenta was pleasantly smoky, a delicious way to start.

Our primi (which we managed to order.after a rather long wait) were Polenta dumplings with guinea fowl ragu’ (at €7); and Nettle canederli in Trentigrana crust with Casolet cheese sauce (at €6.50):

The dumplings were very flavoursome, perhaps slightly too salty, but extremely satisfying. The ragu’ itself was abundant (as Man likes it) and excellent, with a “resolute” taste which went well with the rustic polenta dumpling.

But the winner was the other dumpling preparation, the nettle canederli. The “nest” of Trentingrana (hard cheese similar to Parmesan), nicely crispy in contrast to the softness of the rest, interspersed with poppy seeds, gave way to the moisture coming from the velvety melted casolet on which it was sitting. The canederli themselves were gorgeous, with plenty of nettle, which managed to assert itself over the cheeses. This is comfort food, not for the fainthearted - we began to think a lunchtime visit might have been more appropriate Anyway a really stirring dish.

Next, our mains: Stuffed rabbit rolls (at €11) and Trout in “Storo gold” .

The rabbit had been cooked very well, tender and moist. Like for the previous dishes, a rather glutton-teasing combination, a thick cut with the veal sausage flavoured with thyme an assertive stuffing. A nice touch was the tower of finely chopped veggies.

The trout was more delicate: finely coated in polenta di Storo and fried, it was sitting on a “polite” mash of celeriac and potatoes. The trout itself was moist, tender and delicately scrumptious. Presentation clearly matters, though the herbs flavoured droplets of oil were not too intense in flavour, rather more in scent. An elegant little dish.

Of course we managed to find room for puddings: a Soft shortbread tart with ricotta cheese and cherries on light yogurth sauce (€4), and a true classic, a Warm Apple strudel with cinnamon pears and vanilla sauce (€3.50).

The ricotta and cherries tart was good, delicate, though Woman would have preferred more cherries in the stuffing. This could have been a hearty dish, instead it turned out light and balanced.

The strudel was to scream for. A simple, classic dish with the cinnamon pear variation, playfully well assembled, varied and balanced in taste and consistency, with the more uniform apple “mash” of the strudel contrasted by the pine-nuts, as well as the more chunky pears outside. Again, presentation gives away that the chef wants to be noticed, and the dried slice of apple was good, too.

With a 1 litre bottle of water at €2, the final bill came at €47: no, that is not a typo, we do not mean €74, we really mean forty-seven euros, that is just above £30 to you and me for a three course a la carte meal for two. Ok, we did not get a bottled wine, but throw another €10-12 euros difference for that, and you still end up with a quality/price ratio that approaches infinity. And if you did not get that from the pictures, the portions are really substantial.

One thing you should be warned of is that waiting times are really long, which is not surprising if you think that there is often only Cristina staffing the room. It may be that this is enough given the constraints in the kitchen, who knows, but if you were to come and visit this place, as we hope you’ll do, be sure to come in a relaxed frame of mind and ready to have your conversation skills tested. Count on spending at least two hours (possibly a bit more) for a three-course meal. Should the conversation falter, you can always roam around and pick one of the several traditional cuisine books lying here and there...

But we certainly do not want to leave you with a sting in the tail: this place is a great new addition to the restaurant scene in the proximity of Lake Garda. The dishes are all imaginative and well-presented takes on traditional recipes, blending rusticity and sophistication in an intriguing way, and revealing a young chef who is talented and creative (as well as nicely humble and down to earth, his cuisine a reflection of his personality). Remember, too, that this is the very beginning of this enterprise: in our subsequent visits (yes, we are that keen!) we already noticed evolution and small changes in the cuisine. We feel we will hear more about Michele Menestrini. We wish Osteria Fior di Roccia all the luck it deserves!


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