Imola, Italy, tasted on March 23, 2004 — There is simply no
doubt that Italy is a superior country when it comes to food. And
the beauty is that the quality is expressed at every level of the
food "chain". But to be honest, our experience at the high end
wasn't superlative, until that is, we arrived in Imola to eat at
With two Michelin stars we weren't exactly
finding a hidden gem. But being well-known didn't detract from what
a great meal we had. And in fact, unlike our experience at
La Pergola in
San Domenico was relaxed even amid its high standards. Imagine
a home cooked really refined meal. That's what we had at San
Domenico, and it was fantastic.
We started off with a
series of amuse, a
tray-full in fact. The
salmon amuse was a bite of pure and solid
salmon flavor that was delicious. The
olive oil on top was a great complement. The
bite of eggplant with
tomato and cheese was an enjoyable collection of warm and honest
flavors. My favorite (surprisingly) was the small plate of
deep fried olives.
The flavor was meaty and delicious and
not overly olivey. Really quite good. The croquette on top was also
fried perfection. The series of amuse was rounded out with some salt
cod with little salt bursts dotting the cod landscape, and a
egg. The egg was surprisingly smooth and had a deep eggy flavor that
was not grainy. The balsamic on top, of course, was beautiful to
behold and taste. All in all a pretty solid start. We had to keep
reminding ourselves of it as we ate the
dry and flavorless bread.
One of the pieces tasted stale to me. What is it with bread in this
area. So weird.
Not to worry, soon after big bowls of
potato soup arrived. The first spoonful was the best. It was smooth,
beautiful, with a velvety savory flavor depth. The first spoonful
was so complete and wonderfully textured, that it was the best.
Nothing could beat the contrast of your mouth pre and post the
potato soup. The
foie gras that followed was excellent (and beautiful to look
at). On it's own the foie was superb, creamy with a delicate savory
goodness. The apple sauce and geleé were good, but ultimately I
preferred just eating the foie on its own. I was assured the raisins
Perhaps my favorite dish came next. It's
simply hard for me not to love combinations of pasta, egg, cheese, and
truffles. I admit that bias. That said, I am not unable to distinguish
your run-of-the-mill yummy pasta-egg-cheese-truffle combo from one
that's world class. And this one was world class. Imagine a
large raviolo filled with ricotta pesto. An orange colored egg yolk
surprises you on your third or fourth bite. The raviolo is showered with
tons of parmigiana reggiano and white and
black truffles. I'm close to running out of superlatives to describe
this dish. Suffice to say, it was warm, luxurious, and delicious. The
gorgeous yellow brown buttery surface looked incredible and tasted better.
If there was a complaint, believe it or not,
it's that there too much. I forgave them for the large portion.
When you eat at a sushi restaurant it's good
to try the tamago - the egg sushi. It's in some ways the simplest to
make, but also a kind of benchmark of the quality of the restaurant. The
thinking is that if they focus their attention on making something as
simple as tamago perfectly then you're in good hands. I think you can
consider risotto in that category when it comes to Italian restaurants.
It's a deceptively simple dish to make, but ultimately getting it
perfect is quite difficult. Most of us thought the
risotto passed the tamago test with flying colors - it was creamy
with a light sharpness, rich and straightforward. It had a subtle meaty
richness. There was some dissent.
DebDu didn't love it.
Peyman thought it was very
good, but again, too big.
Lauren of course asked for a veggie menu. Given the quality of
everything we ate, we were semi-surprised when her meal started off with
a lame salad with a mealy tomato. The fact that some restaurants fall
off a cliff when it comes to vegetarians is actually not that
surprising. The fact that we got a mealy tomato served in a restaurant
in Italy was very disappointing and unexpected. Luckily the salad/tomato
incident seemed to be an anomaly as what followed was quite good.
veggie gnocchi and parsley risotto were both excellent. The
ravioli with ricotta and cinammon were better than excellent. They
were unique, interesting, and according to Lauren, one of the best pasta
dishes she'd ever had.
Then our main course arrived.
Beef. Brilliant as it was so simple. Medium rare beef drenched
in a butter sauce. Three perfectly caramelized onions with balsamic
tanginess and gentle smoky bacon accents. Amazing! You just can't
help but feel lucky to eat a dish like this.
Cheese course followed. Pecorino di Pienza - nice but not special.
The mucca was cow cheese in herbs - its flavor was somewhat
bitter. Ahd finally Pecorino Cenare - shockingly strong for a
pecorino - sour, slightly antiseptic, not exactly enjoyable but super
interesting. While the cheese plate wasn't a home run, it was certainly
Dessert came to the rescue though to end
things on a very positive note. My personal favorite was the
It had an intense almond
flavor, very light, and not sticky. The candied almonds sat perched on a delicate thin cookie shell.
Super yummy, as were the
perfect raspberries on cookie with cream, the
super light cream puffs, and the
assorted chocolate items. The
melty chocolate cake on a banana disc with a thin candied top
was amazing as well. Our tour of the
kitchen and the
wine cellar that seemed 1000 years old - super cool, were very
neat as well.
Imola was yet another adorable little
Italian city. And on this lazy afternoon with the restaurant less
than half full, San Domenico came through for us and gave us a meal
that was unassuming and unpretentious, but refined to an incredible
degree. And ultimately everything just tasted great. I still think
about this meal. Often.