Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura’s three-Michelin-starred tasting menu venue in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, has returned to the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The restaurant unseated 2017 champion Eleven Madison Park tonight during an awards ceremony in Bilbao, Spain. The changing of the guard is appropriate: It was New York’s Eleven Madison that removed Osteria Francescana from the top spot last year.
Translation: The World’s 50 Best list continues to function like a game of musical chairs, trading one venue for another at the top spot. But more practically, Osteria’s win means it will be even more impossible to get in than it already is. Here’s everything you need to know about the restaurant, located on a quiet cobblestone street in Modena, about 84 miles north of Florence.
Who is Massimo Bottura?
He’s a 55-year-old Modena-born chef who’s worked at legendary French chef Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV in Monaco and who spent a summer at El Bulli with Ferran Adria. His restaurant is famous for juxtaposing Italian tradition with French sensibilities and unhinged avant-gardism. According to Netflix’s Chef’s Table episode, locals jeered Bottura’s freewheeling take on sacred recipes in the restaurant’s early years. But over time, his novel approaches were embraced and celebrated.
Here’s the New Yorker’s Jane Kramer on his recipe for pasta e fagioli: “The bottom layer is a crème royale of foie gras, cooked with pork rind, in honor of Ducasse. The next three layers are for his grandmother, his mother, and Lidia; he calls them ‘compressed tradition.’ Lidia’s layer is radicchio and pancetta; Luisa’s is a cream of borlotti beans; and la nonna’s, ‘where the pasta should be,’ is Parmesan rind cooked with more beans and sliced to a chewy crunch. The top layer is for Adrià, an air of rosemary so delicate and light that it’s almost invisible; you know it’s there by the burst of flavor on your tongue. When I asked Bottura how he did that, he said, ‘Water is truth’— distilled and vaporized.”
How much does it cost?
The lunch and dinner menus run from 250 euros to 270 euros (roughly $290 to $315 USD). Optional wine pairings are an additional 140 euros to 180 euros. Translation: A fully loaded dinner for two can easily top out at over $1,000.
Didn’t I see this restaurant on that Aziz Ansari show?
That’s right. During the filming of Netflix’s Master of None (Season 2), Massimo Bottura found out the cast had shot a scene at a nearby restaurant, and invited in Ansari and Eric Wareheim for lunch in the private room the next day. The results can be seen in Episode 2.
So wait, the Master of None episode didn’t take place in the actual dining room?
Nope. But rest assured, the main room isn’t terribly big either. Osteria Francescana has just 12 tables and boasts a stunning collection of contemporary art. “Just inside the entrance hangs a dramatic work by the late Mario Schifano, his Technicolor World Map, with borderless continents bleeding into each other,” Jay Cheshes reported for the Wall Street Journal in 2014. Other works might include a bronze trash bag by British artist Gavin Turk, Ólafur Elíasson landscapes, and Francesco Vezzoli’s La Vie en Rose, a series of still of Edith Piaf.
Tell me about the restaurant’s famous eel dish!
I’ll defer to the New Yorker again: “His eel — cooked sous-vide, lacquered with a saba sauce, and served with creamy polenta and a raw wild-apple jelly — refers to the flight of the Estense dukes to Modena in 1598, after Clement VIII seized their capital at Ferrara and claimed its eel marshes and fisheries for the Church.” Now you know.
How do I get there?
If you’re coming from the States, your best bet is flying into Rome, then taking a three-hour train ride to Modena (the Italian trains are pretty fast).
One more question: What’s with the camouflage dish?
Here’s Jeff Gordinier, formerly of the New York Times, with the answer: It’s “a dessert whose original bud of development in Bottura’s febrile mind goes back to a conversation between Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein — something he once read about. It is arranged on a plate in the colors of military garb, and made out of powdery and custardy layers of chocolate, spices, foie gras, red wine, and the blood of a wild hare.”