The Spicier Side of Italy at Ottimo, ITC Gardenia

On some days, the stars align and the universe does everything in its power to give you memories that you will share with everyone you know (and don’t know through social media) for weeks to come. One such evening was on my very first visit to Ottimo ristorante at ITC Gardenia for their ‘Fire of Italy’ festival. Having heard so much about Chef Vittorio Greco’s creations and personality from other fellow food bloggers, my expectations were quite high.

An evening of fine Italian dining demands excellent wine. While I’m no connoisseur of the same, I resort to the very rudimentary assessment of ‘do I like the taste or not’. We were offered a Gavi DOCG from Ricossa, whose delicate fruity flavour was something I instantly took a liking to. Never having eaten at Ottimo before, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the courses. We began the evening with a vegetarian appetizer, the Salt cooked Onion with Parmesan Chilli and Star Anise. Call it love at first bite, the dish offered me a completely new flavour that had me grunting with joy with every bite I took. The saltiness of the onion balanced out perfectly with the parmesan filling which was quite light. The star anise and the star anise powder were the spices that pushed the dish into the zone of absolute culinary joy. I’ve heard that Chef Greco believes that while a good piece of meat can hold its ground, the true power of innovation comes with vegetarian. This dish was a perfect example of how to do it… and do it well! The presence of a biscuit and the crispy friselle-like bread in the meal to offer a change of texture could have been avoided as it didn’t do anything to help the grand star that was the stuffed onion. Kudos to the chef on this creation.

Salt Cooked Onion with Parmesan Chilli and star anise

Salt Cooked Onion with Parmesan Chilli and star anise

This was followed by a Squid and Chorizo salad where the squid was cut into shapes that resembled pasta. Subtle flavours, nothing complicated yet nothing that blew my taste buds away when compared to the previous dish.  This was followed by the Agnolotti with Liquid Smoked Ricotta, Morels and Aglio-olio e pepperoncino. The dish was more traditional in its taste and offered the sort of bold flavours that one would expect from an Italian dish. That being said, the combination overall didn’t particularly leave me with the urge of wanting to go back for more. The blend of flavours went a little all over the place and made the dish a tad strenuous on the palette.

Squid and Chorizo Salad

Bringing the meal back on track was the next course, Lobster and Chili Double Stuffed Ravioli. Again, this dish had very bold flavours but everything worked well. The ravioli was perfect and the portions of lobster were adequate enough to leave the mild lingering taste of seafood that makes you go back for another bite to keep that flavour going. The sauces and spice were strong in flavour but subtle enough not to negate the taste of the seafood.

Lobster Double Stuffed Ravioli

The main course was something that made my taste buds dance around. Putting together some of my personal favourite flavours, the Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Pistachio and Black Pepper was an absolute treat. The pork belly was left a tad shy of being soft, a texture I am more used to. But that worked with the outer coating of pistachio. Having to crunch through a bit, the flavours of the meat and the nuts came together well in my mouth.  The pork belly was placed on a bed of spinach that brought about not only a change in texture to the dish, but a new flavour as well. And being a fan of spinach, I was more than delighted. Accompanied with a strong jus and veggies, each bite was a sheer delight. (Unintentional rhyming there).  This dish is a rich and heavy dish no doubt and comes with four fairly huge pieces on the plate. While I’d like to think it was all the previous food that I ate (obviously), I was able to conquer only two pieces on the plate. But those two pieces were sheer joy. Kudos to the chef on this dish again.

Slow cooked pork belly with pistachio and black pepper

The crowning glory of the evening, the magnum opus if you may call it, was the dessert. The Torta Caprese 2.0. This dessert was the sort of magic one has only seen on shows like Masterchef. And that evening, I saw the magic with my own eyes. Words will not be adequate to describe the theatre and the flavour behind this dish, so I’ll just let you all take a look at the video below.  (PS: I am not responsible for any unruly behaviour or unexplained emotions you may have after this)

Great appetizer, great wine, great main course and a dessert worthy of the Gods…. That pretty much sums up the evening. While the festival concluded very recently, I’m sure the folks at Ottimo would be glad to indulge you with some of the dishes from the festival. While I couldn’t meet Chef Greco who was travelling at the time, I was able to speak to him over the phone and thank him for envisioning this memorable meal and a dessert that I will tell everyone I meet about.  Look forward to more creativity from the hands of Chef Grecco at future festivals.