Tuesday, March 06, 2007

February 2007 - Modena, Italy - Ferraris & Food

When it comes to cars and cuisine, Modena doesn't mess around. Considered one of Italy's most productive cities with the highest per capita income, Modena is the home of both Ferrari and Maserati, the creator of Lambrusco wine, and the producer of just about every bottle of balsamic vinegar in the world (I challenge you to find one made elsewhere). In addition to hosting some of the finest restaurants in Italy, Modena is a hot spot for European art connoisseurs and the birthplace of opera star Luciano Pavoratti. As it's just 20 minutes west of Bologna and the next major city on Via Emilia, the ancient Roman road that traverses the region of Emilia Romagna, we hopped on an early morning train hoping to test drive some fast cars (or at least snap some spy photos) and taste some fine food and wine.

Upon arriving at the Modena train station, we hopped on a bus to Maranello, a small town just outside Modena with more Ferrari flags, logos, and prancing horses (and the color red in general) per square inch than any place on Earth. Ferrari headquarters. A childhood dream realized only 30 years after getting my first Ferrari Matchbox Car in 1977. Here's Kenny in front of the Galleria Ferrari.
And here he is among some old and new Formula 1 Ferraris.

These two are the 2004 and 2005 F1 "red cars".
The Gallery also displayed a number of Ferrari's classic street cars.

and the more modern ones, including the million-dollar, invitation-only Enzo, named after the founder of the company. Only the most loyal Ferrari owners were invited to pay $1 million for this limited edition.

Here are two of my favorites from the 70s. The red one on the left is the Dino (named after Enzo's son who died very young), which Ferrari is bringing back in the next year or two as their new entry-level street car. The yellow one on the right is the predecessor to the Daytona, made famous (in black) in the original Miami Vice.

Here on the left is the legendary Testarossa, which replaced the Boxer as Ferrari's flagship in the 80s and 90s (Sonny Crocket drove a white one when they retired the black Daytona). The curvaceous one the right is a F-50, the intermediary model between Ferrari's original street supercar the F-40 and the Enzo.

And here's Ferrari's latest flagship, the Fiorana, named after the famous track on which Ferrari tests its cars. This model replaced the Maranello.

Gone are the days when Ferraris were upholstered with Schedoni leather. Now that the company has purchased the Italian furniture maker/leather shop Poltrona Frau, all new Ferrari's are upholstered with this exclusive leather.

Here's a shot of the Enzo and its ridiculous engine with several other models in the background.

Here's one last shot of the Gallery and some of its prized possessions, before we hopped on a bus and headed back to Modena to explore the town and experience its gastronomic offerings.

This is one of Modena's most famous buildings known for its stately architecture. It is the former Palazzo Ducale on the Piazza Roma now called the glorious Italian Military Academy - a school for boys and girls entering the military.

Next to the Military Academy is a tiny little church with a whole lot of color. The bright orange, yellow and pink colors used to decorate this church and the buildings around it are what gives Modena its architectural flair. With the exception of the Palazzo Ducale and the Duomo, Modena is a bustling industrial city lacking in grand architecture so common in most of Italy.

This is the central square of Modena and location of its Duomo. The Duomo is considered one of the glories of the Romanesque in northern Italy, Modena's cathedral was founded in 1099 and designed by an architect named Lanfranco. The cathedral, consecrated in 1184, was dedicated to St. Geminiano, the patron saint of Modena, a 4th-century Christian and defender of the faith. Towering from the rear is the Ghirlandina, a 12th- to 14th-century campanile, 87m (285 ft.) tall. Leaning slightly, the bell tower guards the replica of the Secchia Rapita (stolen bucket), garnered as booty from the defeated Bolognese.
The fa├žade of the Duomo features a 13th-century rose window by Anselmo da Campione. It also boasts Wiligelmo's main entry, with pillars supported by lions, as well as Wiligelmo bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Genesis. The south door, the "Princes' Door," was designed by Wiligelmo in the 12th century and is framed by bas-reliefs illustrating scenes in the saga of the patron saint. You'll find an outside pulpit from the 15th century, with emblems of the Evangelists.
Inside, there's a vaulted ceiling, and the overall effect is gravely impressive. The Modenese restored the cathedral during the first part of the 20th century, so its present look resembles the original design. The gallery above the crypt is an outstanding piece of sculpture, supported by four lions. Two hunchbacks hold up the pulpit. And the crypt, where the body of the patron saint was finally taken, is a forest of columns; the crypt houses Guido Mazzoni's Holy Family group in terra cotta, completed in 1480.

Finally, while we waited for 7:30 - for the commencement of our glorious 10 course dinner described below, we sat in this little church which was full of locals looking at an amateur art display. We were not that interested in the church or the art, but we were sooooo cold and in need of an escape from the freezing rain outside. So we faked it and even took some pics.

At 7:25 we ran to Osteria Francescana. Michelin has awarded it 2 stars and Frommer's says its worth a detour across Italy. We agree with both assessments. It's chef Massimo Batturo's creative hub. After working for a decade for Alain Ducasse at the 3-starred Louis XV in Monaco, Batturo has set up his own restaurant in Modena and we can attest that his food is far better than Plaza Athenne (a 3 Michellin-starred Alain Ducasse restaurant we tried on Thanksgiving) in Paris.
We did not take a picture of every course as that would have seemed obnoxious to the other patrons (yes, there were that many!!). We started out with a mortadella mouse with warm local bread, then caramellized leek, black truffle, olive oil paste with warm breadsticks (shown below),

then Casandra had the tortellini in a young parmesan cream sauce (Massimo still uses his grandmother's recipe but he adds quite a flair) and Kenny had a pork and lentil ravioli in a creamy red bean puree, this course was followed by the veal and foie gras cream with a layer of bacon and past fagioli cream and a foam of rosemary (it looked like a capuccino but tasted like heaven - see below)

Then Casandra has the pork short ribs cooked for 24 hrs in a vaccum at very low heat, with a soy, orange and balsamic vinegar glaze - so tender I could eat it with a spoon, that came with a black truffle mashed potatoes and a mushroom gelatin. Kenny had a filet also cooked in a vaccum at very low heat with a brunello di montelcino sauce with white corn polenta. Then we both had a pre-dessert roasted pumpkin risotto. The pumpkin had been basted in saba (sweet wine produced from the balsamic grapes) and pureed to make the risotto. It was sweet and creamy and bright orange (see below).
Then we had the parmesan creme brulee as our cheese course followed by a palate cleansing of frozen mandarin juice with chartrois liquor and a sugar foam. For dessert we had a "deconstructed" zuppa inglese, normally a biscotti with vanilla pudding, chocolate and Alkemers, but we had it with a warm chocolate creme brulee, french vanilla gelato, cake biscotti, and a paper thin layer of Alkemers liquor gelatin. Finally, we had a tray of post dessert home-made chocolates and biscotti, including the restaurant's specialty of dark chocolate bon bons filled with savour - reduced compte of apples, pears and cherries (see below).
We missed our train home and had to rush to the train station to make the last train back to Bologna. Who would have thought we could eat for 3 1/2 hours and lose track of time.
We went to Modena thinking it was all about Ferrari. We left knowing we had the finest meal of our lives there.

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