European & Mediterranean, Restaurant Reviews
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Chef Vittorio and The Art of Time Travel @ Ottimo (ITC Gardenia, Residency Road)

Ottimo is known for its excellent Italian cuisine, plated ever so brilliantly by Master Chef Vittorio Grecco. The Pan-Italian restaurant has awed Bangalore residents with its renditions of quintessential Italian favorites with a focus on the freshest ingredients. So when the Chef decides to have a food festival called “The Art of Time Travel” – you pay attention! A spectacular four course menu with a twist – one portion prepared in the Classic way and one portion plated in a Contemporary way. The festival which is on till the 2nd of June has Chef Vittorio channel his creativity and playfulness in every dish that hits the table. The future of Italian cuisine might just be taking baby steps in Bangalore 😉

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When you are presented with such an alluring menu, it’s hard to be objective with your choices. It’s a blessing that there were four of us and we were not squeamish when it comes to sharing! The end result is we ended up eating just enough, but pretty much trying most of the festival menu. A photolog to take you through our very scrumptious dinner (and equally interesting coffee… more on that later!)

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A crisp Chardonnay paved the way for the first Antipasto of the day – the Carpaccio alla Piemontese which is a classic tenderloin Carpaccio Piedmont style. The piedmont style slices are not razor thin, so the beef needs to be marinated longer in lemon juice. But post that, it just needs a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to make it shine. Chef literally went three dimensional on this one, where he served the contemporary style in the form of a sphere with mushrooms and eggs encased. The Sfere di carpaccio alla piemontese con fungi e uovo is quite a rebel!

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One of my favorite salads, the Burrata con pomodori e cipolla – Burrata with tomatoes, basil and onions, is as simple and flavorful as a dish can get. The key here is fresh ingredients and you don’t even have to try to please. The revisted Italian salad with Burrata though breathtaking to look at and absolutely delicious to taste, still could not hold a candle to the classic. The salad puree probably threw if off a notch. But if we didn’t pitch it against the original, the contemporary version is definitely a keeper.

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The third Antipasto was a simple Chicken breast salad with salsa Tonnata. Mild and comforting this one is for Summer picnics. The contemporary take on it involved cooking the chicken breast sous vide and serving it with pickled vegetables. The tonnata sauce (tomato and onion) turned into a tonnata ‘powder’ that got sprinkled liberally over the chicken. If you want your Insalata di Pollo with a kick, the future version is your pick.

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If Eggplant Parmesana is on the menu – I will order it. So it was with certainty that I proclaimed that my love will stay true to the classic rendition. I was wrong and how! The Parmigiana di melenzane rivisitata con olio al carbone – Deconstructed eggplant parmigiana with charcoal oil was a revelation. First of all, the plating was like a harmonious abstract painting of gray and orange squares speckled with green and white cubes. The aubergine and tomato elements were turned into thin liquid sheets (no molecular gastronomy, just dedication and patience!), the parmesan was moulded into crispy wafers and the piece de la resistance was the smoky, slightly bitter, almost earthy charcoal oil. If there was ever a way to patent smokiness, this would be a front runner! Loved it. Every morsel (including the second order of it!)

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The Primopiatto for the vegetarians had us relish a perfect Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli. I felt the Chef was definitely cheating here because the plating for the revisited was just prettier – think pink flowers! However, he clarified that classic Italian pasta never has any garnishes save some grated Parmesan. Even with this explanation – the revisted version with it’s double pockets – one for ricotta and one for spinach definitely blew the classic version out the window. According to Chef, there are only three restaurants in the world that serve the double pocket ravioli that he knows of – Ottimo Bangalore, Ottimo Chennai and a friends restaurant in Rome!

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The Old fashioned Lamb Ravioli was comforting because it was rich and fatty. Did I love it – but of course! The contemporary version was a single long sheet of ravioli twisted into a spiral and served with broccoli coulis and garlic dust. Lighter, healthier and more good looking it might be, but my heart was still with the Classic fatty.

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If Garfield ever popped out of the Sunday newspapers and visited Ottimo, I’m not sure he would be impressed with the Chef messing around with his Classic multilayered cheese and meat delicacy. The Revisted Lasagna separates the elements so that we can enjoy the nuances of each. The consensus on the table was divided. But I’m on Garfield’s side. I owe it to my cats 😛

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The second course for Vegetarians went completely rustic with a simple Tuscan style Potato Salad (how Chef’s mamma used to make it). To compete with Mamma’s cooking you need to bring out the big guns – smoked butter, garlic crumbs and even shaved Black Truffles. The verdict – I’d eat the revisted, pimped-up-version in a restaurant once in a while, but Mamma’s version is for everyday joy!

The Pasta Puttanesca is a tangy, salty dish with spaghetti. Tomato, olive oil, capers and garlic make for a robust sauce that coats each strand with deliciousness. Popular in the South of Italy, the revisted version decided to sing an ode to the North. Pasta was replaced with *gasp* Risotto and the chunky sauce was reduced to a silky puree. If there ever was a way to start a war between North and South of Italy – this version will act as a catalyst!

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Seabass Livornese in its Classic form, has a nice chunk of firm white fish cooked in a chunky tomato sauce. Exceptionally delicious but hardly a scorer in the looks department. The revisted version literally offers the fish a makeover and has it lightly grilled before serving the same on a bed of glossy tomato coulis decorated with minced olives, capers and herbs, finished with a dots of olive oil. Proof that artists use any medium to express themselves, including food on a plate – a true beauty.

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The Chicken Cacciatore was probably the first Italian non-pasta main course I learned to cook. Bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and wine – simple ingredients that melded into an amazingly satisfying meal. The classic version in Ottimo is simply perfect. The reinvented version got all fancy and stuffed the chicken breast with the peppers, onion and tomato before browning the breasts. The table was divided on this one as well, with raucous debates on the merits of both, leaving an empty plate!

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The Chocolate Caprese has been on Ottimos menu since it launched and is a majorly photographed and videotaped dessert – for its brilliant theatrics. It was nice to see its classic version in the form of the Torta Caprese which in all its simplicity, is still a knockout of a torte. But the sphere will still be everyone’s choice to end the meal. Even adults can be reduced to squealing kids when they see the hot chocolate melt the sphere to reveal the treasures inside.

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Oh how cruel is the world when I have to choose between two versions of Tiramisu! Tiramisu Chef’s way hold little surprises – white chocolate and even crunchy roasted coffee beans. By this time in the night – you’ve already stopped comparing. And probably realized that the exercise was not to compare the dishes at all. In fact, what was intended … and late realization for me – is how the same ingredients can be fashioned into two beautiful faces of the same coin. And when it’s served with so much joy and enthusiasm – you are in for a very special experience.

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I hardly ever drikn Coffee at night for the fear that caffine will keep me awake and buzzed all night. But Chef insited I try the true Italian style coffee. Not the ones made in fancy coffee chains with machines that cost a lakh, but one that was made in a simple percolator. Of course this one is had black, with a generous amount of sugar but the similarities in taste with our South Indian Filter Kapi are striking. The best bit – Chef showed me how to drink it like an Italian. Pour coffee into said saucer and slurp! We ended the night on a coffee high, laughing about how we were not so different after all!

 

Ottimo

ITC Gardenia,

1 Residency Road, Bangalore 560025.

Call +91 80 22119898 for reservations. Open only for Dinner.

Parking: Valet Available    || Cost: Rs. 4500/++ for a meal for two with drinks

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