Dining at Osteria Francescana: The #1 Restaurant in the World

Regular newsletter readers may recall that in June I featured a note about the newly-released list of the world’s top restaurants, with Modena’s Osteria Francescana taking the coveted #1 spot.

(Don’t get the newsletter? Well, that’s easy-peasy to fix. Just sign up in the right-hand column. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

At any rate, after that email went out, I received a note from a reader who said he had had the good fortune of eating at Osteria Francescana in May, before the new list came out, when the restaurant was still (gasp!) at #2. He graciously agreed to write about the meal he had there, and even sent some photographs.

Grazie mille to Kurt Strawhecker for sharing this delicious experience with Italy Explained!

Dining at the #1 Restaurant in the World

by Kurt Strawhecker

Kurt's son & daughter-in-law outside Osteria Francescana || photo courtesy of Kurt Strawhecker

Kurt’s son & daughter-in-law outside Osteria Francescana || photo courtesy of Kurt Strawhecker

Dining at a Michelin three-star restaurant had been a quest of my son’s and mine for more than a decade. My son, a chef/owner of an upscale Italian restaurant, has been a huge fan of Osteria Francescana for several years. The restaurant was recently crowned the world’s best restaurant by Restaurant magazine for 2016.

So, what does it take to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants? First, a lot of patience and – as in most things in life – great timing and even better contacts.

While planning our latest trip to Italy, we focused on the Emilia-Romagna region which is the center for many of the most renowned Italian cooking ingredients – Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto, and traditional aged balsamic vinegar. Located in the center of this region is Modena, home to chef Massimo Bottura’s Francescana.

We began our quest more than six months in advance. Reservations are only available months in advance, and (as we quickly learned) are sold out in minutes as a new date opens up. We tried repeated contact via emails and calling directly, only to be told all reservations were sold out.

As our trip loomed we were running out of options. Luckily, my son happened to meet a vintner from the region whose wine he sells at his restaurant. He agreed in his classic Italian manner to send a formal letter of introduction to Chef Massimo.

Incredibly, the staff at Osteria Francescana responded and negotiations began in earnest. We were lucky enough to find they could squeeze us in for lunch during our stay. We ended up planning our entire trip around that lunch. After a hefty advance reservation fee and receiving explicit instructions on how to confirm the reservation once we were in Italy, we were set.

Osteria Francescana is located in a non-descript back street near central Modena, with only a small sign to mark this celebrated restaurant. We arrived early and patiently waited outside with the growing group of fellow diners who were from all corners of the globe. The doors opened at noon with the entire staff lining the entrance to greet us. After a brief panic – when they didn’t see our name on the list at first – we were escorted to one of only 12 tables.

And then, our lunch turned into a five-hour gastronomic experience with six courses and eight wine parings.

We chose the traditional “Classics” menu, which pays homage to Massimo’s childhood memories of traditional Italian home cuisine. Each dish is his modernistic twist on Italian tradition, and every course was both an incredible sensory delight in taste as well as visually amazing.

Top: Wines at Osteria Francescana; Middle: Caesar salad & beef dish; Bottom: Foie gras 'lollipops' & lemon tart || photos courtesy of Kurt Strawhecker

Top: Wines at Osteria Francescana; Middle: Caesar salad & beef dish; Bottom: Foie gras ‘lollipops’ & lemon tart || photos courtesy of Kurt Strawhecker

The menu celebrates the Emilia-Romagna region, with creations such as, ‘Eel swimming up the Po River,’ ‘Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano’ (with five different textures and temperatures), ‘Caesar salad’ (with 22 types of salad dressings hidden in the heart), ‘The crispy part of the lasagna,’ and even a ‘Foie Gras lollipop,’ which is coated with hazelnuts and has a center filled with balsamic vinegar.

The final course was the now world-famous dessert called, ‘Oops! I broke the lemon tart’ – a carefully de-constructed dish, made to look like someone dropped the lemon tart (which was the inspiration for the dish), served on a specially-designed plate.

The service was incredible and very professional, even though sometimes they exuded the unspoken aura that they know they are working with a world-famous culinary phenomenon.

So was it worth it? One word – Absolutely.

To learn more about Massimo Bottura and Osteria Francescana, this video is interesting as well as gorgeous. Plus, you get to see a couple of the dishes Kurt and his family ate at the restaurant!

2 responses to “Dining at Osteria Francescana: The #1 Restaurant in the World”

  1. Jen Tonnelli says:

    I appreciate the review and differing opinions. My experience, however, was one of disappointment. Although the food was pretty on the plate and showcased with the well-lit tables, the flavors paled in comparison to other one-star Michelin restaurants in the region (Antica Moka, for instance). I wish I’d tried their more adventurous Discovery menu to try truly new dishes and to see Massimo’s vision. As for service, they were cold and condescending, even rude on occasion. The environment was grey and sterile, with the only relief coming from the art that Laura displays. I don’t plan to repeat, but will try the third of the top three Pelligrino Best Restaurants next year – El Cellar de Can Roca. When I return to Emilia-Romagna, I’ll repeat at Antica Moka and Amerigo Dal 1934 – 1/3 the price, more flavor, superb warm service, and only a 2-3 hour meal.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jen – what a bummer that your meal wasn’t as wonderful as you’d hoped! As an aside, I got to try some of the goodies made by the El Cellar de Can Roca brothers the year before they were named the world’s top restaurant, & the food was gorgeous & utterly spectacular. 🙂

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