European & Mediterranean, Restaurant Reviews
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Terrariums and other Surprises @ Ottimo (ITC Gardenia, Bangalore)

It looks like every five star hotel worth its salt, needs to have an Italian restaurant to cater to our new found love of Italian cuisine. You can’t blame them after all, the Indians have taken with gusto to pasta as if it were dal chawal! Ottimo (which means excellent in Italian) has steered away from the carb-heavy renditions of Italian cuisine and bravely presented a lighter fare with emphasis on nutrition and fresh ingredients. Chef Vittorio Grecco has also indulged his love for molecular gastronomy here and his experience in Michelin starred restaurants across Italy has helped him nudge us towards trying something which looks unfamiliar, but in the end is an excellent tribute to the flavors of Italy.
Ottimostands in place of the erstwhile West View Grill and has an air of relaxed luxury. The restaurant itself wraps around the main kitchen which displays a row of terrariums (Micro gardens within their own eco-system, sitting pretty within glass containers). While I am not personally a fan of velvet sofas (this one has a coat of arms of essential herbs!), I loved the beautiful pictures of plants and herbs shot by Magda Indigo that hung above it. The red tinted glasses offer a beautiful shot of color in the otherwise subdued theme. However, after sampling the dishes on offer, I was tempted to suggest that the restaurant needed to present a more light and airy atmosphere to go with Chef Greco’s beautifully plated dishes.

 We settled down comfortably with a glass of Fratelli wine and nibbled on olive focaccia to wait for the magic to unfold. Chef Greco handed over a platter of Ferrero Rocher to us. For a moment there, I was stumped – why were we starting with store bought chocolates?? His cheeky smile revealed his little ploy. This was one of the Aperitivo – Foie Gras Rocher. Inspired by the original, this had a hazelnut kernel ensconced by foie gras which then was wrapped in a sheet of chocolate rolled in more hazelnut. It was a perfect copy! I thought it was an interesting combination of flavors – both rich and decadent. However, in the tussle for lingering on the palate, the chocolate wins and it defeats the purpose of making the foie gras shine.

The second apertivo was so pretty, that I really didn’t want to eat it. The colors were absolutely ethereal and the beautiful pink flower echoed the blush on one side of the mini sphere. The Parmigiana di Melanzane was a deconstructed aubergine parmigiana – think aubergines, tomato sauce and parmesan. This is generally a hearty, robust dish perfect for large gatherings but Chef Greco has taken the elements of this northern Italian dish and distilled it into this perfect orb. I suggest sliding the entire orb into your mouth at once. The first surprise is that it is chilled and then when you bite into it you taste the parmesan shell and then the tomato sauce and finally the aubergine! What a lovely way to start the evening!

The third apertivo (not on the menu) was something that the chef was still experimenting with – a recipe from his mom. What arrived was a grey lollypop with white powder and little caviar-like eggs. Now let’s get fancy shall we? The gray lollypop was a rendition of a lamb dish. The white powder was olive oil – that was dehydrated so that it turned into a fine white powder that still retained the fruity taste of the oil. The caviar like eggs were actually balsamic vinegar that was transformed into a lovely jelly like consistency using basic molecular gastronomy! On the whole, the dish needed a little bit of work to ensure the lamb gelled well with the other elements, but if these are the kinds of experiments that the chef intends to bestow on his guests…I encourage him with aplomb!

For Antipasto we started off with a seafood dish. If I had tried just this the entire evening, it would have been sufficient to put him in the league of extra ordinary chefs! Capesante gratinate e sfilacci di seppie con crema di porri e zucca – Gratinated scallops and shredded cuttlefish with pumpkin and leek coulis. The joy in tasting perfectly cooked scallops can launch me into the stratosphere but the cuttlefish is what elevated this dish. The texture was like handmade tagliatellla! The sweetness of the pumpkin complemented the seafood perfectly and the slight pungent hit from the leek coulis rounded off the best dish of the evening for me! A sublime experience I will treasure for many days to come.

‘Art on a plate’ might be something everyone strives to perfect, but seldom nails. Morbidoni di patate e gorgonzola con pepperroni dolci e pomodori – This dish was an eye-catcher from the moment it arrived. A black platter literally painted with bell pepper and tomato coulis. On it resting gingerly, were five glistening potato and gorgonzola dumplings. Not only was it a pleasure to look at, it was an exercise in elevating the humble gnocci to more stimulating pastures. One of the best gnocci I have ever tasted, more so for the impeccable coulis that accompanied it.

The first course or the Primopiatto had us raving about Risotto con fungi selvaggi, scampi e cipollina croccante – a wild mushroom and shrimp risotto with crispy shallots. Again, I had no reason to complain because the texture and mouth-feel of the risotto was bang on, the wild mushrooms added a punchy earthy flavor to the dish and the sweet, crunchy shallots gave it just the right amount of pizazz. Oh, and the shrimp that accompanied it was pale pink and tender. I was beginning to like this man very much 🙂

What’s the difference between an “I” and an “O”? The next dish of Tortelloni di melanzane con salsa al pomodoro fresco e ricotta salata – taught me well. A tortell’I’ni is a ring shaped pasta stuffed with meat/ vegetables or cheese. A Tortell’o’ni is a much bigger version of the same. So ‘O’ definitely gives you more! Roasted aubergines cocooned in pasta, dusted with smoked ricotta and tossed in fresh tomatoes, this dish is for those craving their carbs but still having it sit lightly in their tummies.

The Second course began with Sfera di mozzarella di bufala e spaghetti in salsa la pomodoro – a large sphere of mozzarella sitting contentedly on a bed of tomato coulis. A fried swirl of parmesan spaghetti rested on it. We cut it open to find it stuffed with fresh tomatoes, basil and more parmesan spaghetti! I wouldn’t call this healthy being deep fried and all, but assuring you the kids will love it. Here’s a fun treatment to a classic dish that you won’t regret.

The final dish before we moved on to desserts, was Filetto di branzino in crosta al pistachio con caponatina di verdure – a pistachio encrusted sea bass served with a Sicilian style fresh vegetable caponata. Probably the only let down of the day. The pistachio crust was much too thick and coarse for the sea bass fillet and as a result overpowered the fish. The caponata was great but did not compliment the fish and I was sad to leave this unfinished. Well if the chef had got everything right it would have been very surreal anyway 😛

Dolce. Desserts. Two of them. What an absolute blast! We started with a mini dessert terrarium keeping with the theme of Ottimo. The Biancomangiare al caramello con perle al miele had a bed of set cream with a hint of wild mountain honey and caramel swirled in. On this were fashioned a garden of flowers, sand, rocks and even a toadstool. I loved the ingenuity of it all. It’s a joy to see a chef having fun with his work!

The next dessert was all drama and Chef Greco was there to supervise it’s unfolding. The menu actually said “drown in the seduction of decadent chocolate cake with a burst of tantalizing vanilla’ – Torta caprese con sopresa alla vaniglia. What arrived was again a large Chocolate ball sitting on a bed of chocolate sand. Innocent enough I thought, like an Easter egg. But then the magic started. A steady stream of hot chocolate was poured onto it, which caused the ball to collapse into itself. (Master chef déjà vu here!)  The insides revealed a mix of dark chocolate cake, white chocolate bits and vanilla ice cream. One bite and I was sold! It is a chocolate orgy no chocolate lover should miss.

Ottimo has pushed the envelope when it comes to fine dining Italian restaurants in Bangalore. It has found a niche place by offering traditional flavors with a quirky twist that still appeal to the majority. The ability to wow the diner with something new, yet not so alien that you wouldn’t order it, is definitely where Chef Greco’s 25 year experience in the field shows. You will definitely be paying a lot more than standard restaurants here, but that’s the premium a unique experience warrants. Gift yourself a meal here and wait to be pleasantly surprised.
ITC Gardenia,
#1, Residency Road,
Bangalore – 560025.
Ph: 080 2211 9898
Parking: Valet available
Cost: Rs.5500/- ++ for a meal for two without alcohol
Timings: Open ONLY for Dinner.

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