MILAN Report: L'Assassino, Manna, and Damm-atrà
Ciao tutti! My wife and I were in Milan for three nights at the end of May, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. To show our gratitude for the helpful recommendations that we received from this forum, here’s our report:
Ristorante L’Assassino; Thursday, 31 May 2012
I became nervous that we made a poor choice when we entered Ristorante L'Assassino at 9pm because there wasn’t a single diner to be seen. But when the hostess led us to the building's courtyard, I felt somewhat relieved. There, we discovered an elegant, arched portico ringing the courtyard and several occupied tables along one side. Although the few full tables didn't offset all the empty ones inside, I felt more confident in our decision. This decision to dine at L'Assassino was partially made due to our desire to experience Milan's fashion-forward culture, and the restaurant delivered this. The appearance of the other diners fit my preconceived notions of how well-dressed Milanese should be, especially the gentleman who wore Wayfarer sunglasses throughout the night. And the food, as we would come to discover, was diligently composed on its plate and refined (in a way appropriate for Milan) and not pretentiously deconstructed or re-imagined.
Our server welcomed us with complimentary glasses of rosé prosecco and miniature potato frittatas the size of a 2€ coin. The frittatas were moist and spongy and placed on plates with streaks of orange and green colored sauces. As we sipped our prosecco, we reviewed the lengthy menu and made our selections, albeit at a leisurely pace that seemed to surprise our server.
We started with beef carpaccio topped with shaved fennel and roasted cauliflower that was drizzled with olive oil and topped with pomegranate seeds and a pea flan garnished with fennel fronds that “floated” in a creamy tomato sauce. The flan was delicate, and its sauce was bright and rich. Although the flan didn't boldly assert a pea flavor, I still enjoyed it. The beef carpaccio was served as a thinly pounded fillet of beef, but my wife found it tough despite its tenderized appearance. Regardless, she found the unexpected combination of flavors a treat.
As secondi, we had slow-cooked pork knuckle with millefoglie di patate and veal ossobuco with risotto alla Milanese. The browned ossobuco was fork tender, flavorful, and covered in dark, rich braising liquid that was thickened. The risotto, which had a warm, yellow color thanks to the saffron, was creamy and homogenous, although the individual grains still had a pleasing, slight chewiness. The slow-cooked pork knuckle had a well-caramelized exterior and great flavor, but its interior was slightly overcooked and should have been juicier given the cut of meat.
At the end of the meal, our server brought us complimentary, bite-sized "brownies" with walnuts that were accompanied by two shot glasses filled with whipped cream and blueberries. Although the relationship between the whipped cream and the brownies wasn’t clear to us, the brownies were fudgy and were a satisfying finish to a very good meal. The bill, including a bottle of Castello di Grumello's 2005 Valcalepio, was 134€.
Manna Ristorante; Friday, 1 June 2012
One glance at Manna Ristorante's menu was enough to convince us that a trip outside Milan’s center would be worth the risk. To provide context, my wife and I enjoy walking everywhere when we’re in Europe, so choosing a restaurant that required us to take a taxi to reach it was unusual for us (the fare was about 12€ from La Scala); obviously, we entered Manna with high expectations. We were greeted at the door by the hospitable host, who turned out to be one of our servers, and also the head chef. The bright room in which we were seated felt somewhat spare, and the high ceiling accentuated the effect. But when another server brought us menus and complimentary glasses of prosecco, I turned my attention away from the room and towards our dinner. The menu was full of playfully named dishes like Però, hai fegato! and Riassunto di bovino (Hardcore Version), and it presented us many tempting options. We made our selections, ordered a bottle of Ciro Picariello's Irpinia Aglianico, and started our meal.
As an antipasto, my wife started with calf's liver topped with bacon and onions (Però, hai fegato!), which was served over salsa bianca. The liver was firm and silky, and it tasted sweet and rich, unlike other liver that I find too metallic in taste. The risotto mantecato (Il prosciutto lo porto io), which was my primo, was dressed with a spiral of port reduction and sprinkled with crisped bits of prosciutto. The salty prosciutto balanced the sweet port reduction well, and the risotto was a great blank canvas, but I found the textural contrast between the super crisp prosciutto and creamy risotto much too sharp. My wife ordered Nel paese delle meraviglie: passatelli (a pasta formed from bread crumbs, eggs, parmesan cheese, and nutmeg) with a ragù of marinated anchovies, dill, and fresh chili peppers. I thought the passatelli were mushy; inexplicably, my wife thought they were still firm and al dente. I can't explain our divergent opinions, but I can report that my wife loved the dish and its strong sea flavor.
As a secondo, I ordered pork cheeks braised in white wine that were served with slightly wilted watercress. The greens were more of a garnish than a side, but their bitterness cut through the fatty richness of the three cheeks that were sauced with white wine. The dish appeared simple, but was carefully executed, and completely delicious. The Riassunto di bovino was a composed plate of overlooked cow parts: heart, sweetbread, oxtail, and kidney that were arranged in a line on a square plate. Starting with the heart, it possessed a flavor so intense it was as if all the flavor in a steak was concentrated into a morsel of beef. The sweetbread was simply seared and deliciously creamy, and the oxtail was chopped and incorporated into a crispy, fried crochet. The kidney was cubed and pierced with a skewer and placed in a shot glass filled with an identified mousse. Each of the items was fantastic. For dessert, we ordered a half portion of pork cheeks, which was one of the items on Manna’s menu that could be ordered in such a manner. We appreciated this flexibility, and we imagine that people interested in trying several dishes would too.
Although a visit to Manna required extra effort, it was entirely worthwhile, and despite my criticisms of the primi, this was our best meal in Milan (possibly our best meal in Italy). Beyond the food, we were charmed by the chef, who checked on us throughout our meal and even chased after us to the street to simply say thanks for our visit. The bill, including wine, was 95€, which seemed inexpensive compared to the other restaurants at which we ate.
Ristorante Damm-atrà; Saturday, 2 June 2012
On our last night, we walked to Ristorante Damm-atrà, a boisterous, neighborhood restaurant that was located a few paces from one of Navigli’s canals. We sought unassuming, traditional Milanese cuisine, and we heard that Damm-atrà offered exactly this. The restaurant’s atmosphere was a subdued version of the atmosphere that swirled around the streets and bars that ran parallel to the canal—it wasn’t of a rambunctious quality, but of a more jovial one. We ordered a few glasses of wine and waited for our antipasto to arrive.
The antipasto that we shared was called Misto Milanese: a giant platter of fried meatballs, fried polenta, fried potato skins, chisolini (Italian fried dough), and a cup of nervetti. Aside from the nervetti and chisolini, the platter was one-dimensional and overwhelming composed of mediocre potato skins (as an aside, we found excellent fried potato skins at Fioraio Bianchi Caffe, a great spot for aperitivo). To be clear, there was nothing wrong with the platter, it just wasn't exciting. Next, we shared a primo of pumpkin tortelli (which was easily large enough to be divided between us) that was generously tossed in melted butter, fried sage, grana padano, and pancetta. It was good—what’s not to like about pasta with melted butter, cheese, and pancetta?—but it wasn't especially unique.
For our secondi, we ate ossobuco alla Milanese with saffron risotto and cotoletta ben battuta alla milanese di maiale. Damm-atrà offered several different takes on cotoletta: pork or veal and ben battuta or non battuta (well-flattened or not flattened). Our kind server said that the well-flattened cotoletta of pork was the most traditional, and I ordered that. I'd love to know how they were able to flatten my pork chop to the approximate thickness and size and of a shovel blade. And I'd also like to know how they were able to keep such a thin piece of pork from drying out. Maybe it was the butter in which it was fried? And maybe it was the butter that made it so good! The cotoletta was served with roasted potatoes and a small collection of mixed vegetables that resembled a salad, but I didn't touch them—I had eaten too much. My wife's ossobuco alla Milanese was a more humble and approachable version of the one that I enjoyed at L'Assassino. The sauce was much thinner, the meat wasn’t browned, and the risotto wasn't as rich, but it was still a solid dish on its own merits.
In the end, Damm-atrà delivered exactly that what we sought: uncomplicated, classic, Milanese fare. It wasn't as good as L'Assassino or Manna, and some of the dishes weren't homeruns, but Damm-atrà dishes were dependable and accessible. Our last dinner in Milan cost 84€.
Wow. Passatelli with anchovies! I've got to try this. I frequently pick up freshly made passatelli when I am in Bologna, but I've never eaten it except in the simplest of broths. It never would have occurred to me to pair it with anchovies. I have to admit I'm terribly skeptical, but I will give it a go!
Thanks for the vividly written report -- so vivid that the pictures are almost superfluous, but they are appreciated too.
re: Il Duomo
Were the marinated anchovies the very silvery white, vinegary kind, which often are sold in the states as "boquerones" (from Spain)? In your photo they almost look like salted anchovies, but you mentioned in your post they were marinated. (The "boquerones" in vinegar type would probably go better with dill.)
No, they definitely weren’t the silvery-white, vinegary kind. To me, they appeared to be the type that is simply packed in oil, possibly salt. It’s hard to say because they had been broken down so much. The menu identified them as alici marinate. Perhaps I shouldn’t have described them as marinated in my original post, as alici marinate may not translate directly to marinated anchovies.
re: Il Duomo
Sounds like "marinated" is a perfectly good translation. If they were packed in oil, the menu more likely would have said "sott'olio". I am guessing, but it sounds like the anchovies were fresh and marinated in lemon or a very mild vinegar, which is the most common way to prepare "alici marinate." It's the same principle as a ceviche. Some traditional preparations include in the marinade either onions, or chili flakes, other regional twists. Dill would actually be the hardest ingredient for me to get!
Again, thanks for the eye-opener. Soonest I can get my hands on passatelli (I've never tried making it) is October, but once I do, there are certainly plenty of anchovies around here for me to experiment with.