It is quiet. It is white. It portrays the essence of tranquility. An unexpected but essential welcome to this magnificent restaurant located in Milan. It is a little tricky to get to its location given that its physical address does not drop you off at the right entrance with an Uber. You have to walk about two (2) blocks first and then around to a back area where there are other spaces. The entire area feels like an office compound with a large parking lot down the middle. All this gave me pause as I walked to the restaurant but then there is the warm, bright and delightfully white welcome of the space. The basis of my choice of this restaurant was because of the captivating way that chef told stories about his menus and ingredients on his website. “Taglienti racconta taglienti is my personal narrative but it is also a game, a memory game, a succession of tastes and emotions, memories, perfumes, our cultural hinterland, our inheritage that finally meets evolution”. It has been a long time that I have heard such passionate words used to describe food and more so words that moved me and increased my desire to taste said menu. The same passionate nature of his words on the site were exemplified throughout the meal with the presentation of cards, keywords and detailed spoken descriptions which shared the stories of creativity and innovation that led to the creation of each dish placed in front of me.
It was a different experience than others that I have had given the introduction of the dishes where they provided information beyond just the ingredients and preparation techniques. Instead, in addition to said shared standard introductions, stories about chef’s inspirations, travels and sources of creativity were proffered. In the end, I found that while I enjoyed the restaurant, it would be more enjoyable to a particular kind of person. A person that is looking for a more abstract experience with chef. That is to say someone looking to connect with chef’s stories about creativity more so than chef himself. I am someone who is looking for a fully immersive experience where I get to know the chef personally through their food. Somehow, I just did not get that experience from this lunch. While I enjoyed getting to know chef’s creativity through this meal, I was left uninspired to write at the end of the meal. With every dish I eat at a tasting, the stories that I will share mostly spill forth in my mind with no effort and it is sometimes too much to capture and remember. There were dishes that were hits and others that were misses for me but read on and I will explain further below.
Upon entry to the space, I noticed that it was pretty empty with only two other diners aside from myself. All of us were solo diners and that gave me pause as I would have expected lunch like dinner to be a full house for such a highly regarded dining establishment. It might be possible that the location of the restaurant had something to do with the low headcount but I cannot be sure. I headed straight to the bathroom to wash my hands and to my admitted surprise it was a much more beautiful space than I had anticipated and certainly more beautiful than I had seen in awhile. The space came with artistry of men and women on the walls painted in bold red and additionally having thin metallic hangings on each of the doors to identify which was the male versus the female bathroom. Returning to my table, the normal dance of snacks and starters began but I do have to comment that it all felt a little bit rushed. I found this to be quite a difference from the tranquility and calmness that I felt walking into the space. They did eventually slowdown from their breakneck pace but it is just something that I want to note about their approach.
The first of the snacks was a puff pastry which as was described to me came, “with the aroma of vegetables prepared Genovese style”. It was also made with tomato and pesto. It was a very thin crisp which was not what my eyes, mind and tastebuds were accustomed to when I hear puff pastry. I would normally picture rich buttery dough, warm to the touch and melt in your mouth buttery when I think of puff pastry. As this was prepared Genovese style, I figured that that was the reason it was a thin crisp instead. Now that I have exhausted words on the texture, let us talk about the taste. Unfortunately, it was greasy. I do not always reach for fried food but when I do, it is generally in a restaurant of this caliber with which I expect it to be done right. I did definitely initially taste the tomato and pesto which were decent but the final greasy aftertaste washed away whatever pleasure I derived from the first pairing of flavors. Needless to say, this is not something that I would order off the menu if it were to be offered separately.
The next set of snacks came as a single plate of three. They were the chips with rosemary, zucchini trombetta placed on a base of hazelnut and a parmesan crisp with tomato filling. I loved the clean uniformity of the green and cream coloring set against a bright white backdrop cylindrical plate. It made a nice first impression on the eyes. The chip with rosemary was unfortunately greasy as well with a citrus aftertaste. Japanese yuzu comes to mind as the citrus taste which I generally find milder than lemon. This is not to say yuzu was used and I very much doubt that they did, but that was the taste I had, just to give you an idea. Trombetta is a type of squash with a taste and texture similar to that of cucumbers. It was placed atop a hazelnut crumble which was comparable to graham cracker crumble that you would find with a cheesecake in texture and sweetness. I did not really taste that unique nutty flavor that is native to this nut though. The sauce within the hollow center of the zucchini was yogurt like in flavor though it did not the coloring or texture as such. Finally, there was the parmesan crisp with tomato filling. This was my favorite of the trio given the naturally delicious pairing of parmesan and tomatoes on taste and crunchy outer exterior. This piece too had a bit of a greasy after taste but it was not as severe as the other dishes.
I was given a set of six snacks next. It was a little overwhelming having them all placed in front of me at the same time with each placed on its own full size plate. The first was a chip made of rice flour with lemon and orange gelee dotted atop and scattered with flower petals. It also had a mayonnaise of saffron and passion fruit, which all together combined, I found to be quite an interesting combination of ingredients indeed. In taste, I found that the lemon citrus drowned out the orange citrus on the plate. It was certainly a beautiful presentation with the flowers but they really did not add much by way of taste and truthfully just got in the way of the other delicious flavors. Next was the mortadella stuffed with focaccia with pistachio in oil on top. This piece was a win as it was possibly the best mortadella that I have ever tasted in my life. Adding to this, the unique flavor of the pistachio nut and the saltiness that it created in combination with the oil and I was met with different but complimentary salt variations playing on my palate. Next up was the double tomato piece. This was a baby tomato that was dried, stuffed with tomato sauce and then breaded and fried. At this point, I was certain that I was going to get another greasy piece and there was no surprise there that it was as such… unfortunately. However, this piece did not have too bad of a greasy aftertaste as the richness of the tomato sauce overtook any other flavor. I was told to eat this in one bite as it would be creamy on the inside but I honestly could not taste any cream in this bite. That said, it too was a rather nice and enjoyable snack. I warn you now, I did not like the next piece. To be honest I hated it and if no one was looking, I would have spat it out. It was a fried ravioli stuffed with pumpkin cream. It had all the right elements that is fresh pasta, sweet pumpkin and full cream and I was very much looking forward to putting it in my mouth… but there was this very unwelcome and overpowering herb that was severely unappetizing. Between the greasy fried foods and this particularly awful piece, I began to seriously question if I had made the wrong decision coming here. These were just the snacks and I was already having a less than enjoyable experience. The next piece was what I think I remember him saying was, “a cylinder of white grape topped with an orange extraction”. I am quite certain that I am mistaken in that memory though as I found the piece to be bitter in flavor. If this was a dish that harbored two generally sweet fruit, then it would not make a lot of sense for it to be bitter. Finally, there was the last snack, a traditional fruit piece native to Calabria that mimicked the flavor of lemon but less acidic. It might have been the preparation though that transformed that taste. This too had an unfavorable taste on my palate, similar to the ravioli but in this case, I was able to get the taste out of my mouth by eating the puff pastry chip
As I mentioned earlier, with every dish, detailed spoken word, almost poetic, descriptions were provided but in addition, there was a card stating the name of the dish with an accompanying picture and a keyword that either inspired or was in some way pertinent the dish. This served as a reminder of where I was during every step of the meal and I found that to be very thoughtful and a nice touch. In many past dining experiences, I have had to ask for the menu again from my waiter so I could follow along but in this case, it was a part of the experience. The keyword for this next dish was pureness. The believe that the point here was that this was the first of the dishes in the tasting menu, made in order to prepare you for the remaining dishes. I did not capture a photo of this dish but trust me when I say that there was nothing missed in visual or in taste. This bowl contained water with olive oil, lemon and licorice. I found that there was nothing good about this plate though I searched very hard for a recovery element. I really do not want my writing on this site to be about critiquing food but more about sharing the experience. However, when I have a dish like this, critiquing is unavoidable. At a baseline, there was absolutely no salt so when you are talking about water soup, that is literally this plate. Within the water, there was frozen olive oil, barely visible or flavorful licorice and bland lemon. I am unsure how you can make lemon bland but he achieved that here. Maybe chef was hoping the components would be persistent enough to draw the mind away from the fact that there was no salt but this was just so poorly executed that it saddened me. I guess a good point that I could note about this dish was that the olive oil was frozen which gave an interesting texture when eating the dish. In trying to decipher chef’s thought process here, I think that he might really have been trying to prepare the palate with something so clean and simple as a starter. However, given that the final pieces of the snacks I received prior were supposed to serve the same purpose on the palate, that reasoning did not really make much sense. In any case, moving on…
The keyword for the next dish is gestures. It was explained to me that this dish was critical and dear to the kitchen as while it appeared simple, there was a lot of work and precision required to deliver said simplicity. This was a reduction of what I can only assume was tomato sauce paired together with panna cotta and sea urchin. Atop that was placed, two leaves of white and black squid drizzled with spicy olive oil and finally for presentation only, a piece of fried spaghetti pressed into the center. My waiter did not say that the spaghetti was for presentation only and as such I came to that conclusion on my own given the very hard nature of the spaghetti stick. I could not cut into it with my knife and it was not pleasurable either when I ate it with my hands. At least, this was not greasy so that was a win in that regard. The ricotta and panna cotta filling was really quite delicious with the combined sweetness and richness of cream and cheese. They also paired together sublimely on texture, leaning more towards to the panna cotta than ricotta texture. The texture of the squid was as to be expected soft but it did require a little effort to cut through. All together this was only what I can describe as a very demonstrably simple and smooth plate which exemplified the precision that the accompanying card had referenced.
They brought the bread out at this point without any butter of olive oil. The options were bread sticks, focaccia, white bread with black olives, a crisp bread and finally brown bread. I was looking to try a piece that was both interesting and would be flavorful enough without olive oil and salt, and thus my choice was made for me with the white bread and black olives. In my general experience, black olives have a bold and distinctively salty taste to them and I figured that would give life to generally basic white bread. Somehow though, the olive was rendered to the background as an afterthought that only tickled my throat when swallowed. The texture was decent but the bread was not warm which I think might have helped the cause. However, in my honest opinion, a little olive oil with salt is what would have saved the day with this piece of bread.
The keyword for the next dish was visions or visione as the card read. As was described to me, chef was trying to achieve a modern vision of a traditional Italian dish, Saltimbocca alla Romana. This dish is one made with veal, a sauce of butter and sage and prosciutto. In this modernized version, we start with the sauce which is made with butter, sage and white wine. On top, a few layers of veal from Piemonte in Northern Italy, a milk emulsion for the creamy element on the dish and a cold extraction of sage, topped with prosciutto from the back fatty part of the pork and finally sprinkled with aromatic herbs. Chef’s rendition was truly unique for a variety of reason. Let us start with the sauce, while he used the same general ingredients of butter, sage and white wine, the coloring of his sauce would lead me to believe that he actually used red wine in place of white. I did inquire about that fact but it was confirmed that indeed white wine was used. In my palate, I got a taste of a sauce that resembled thickened balsamic vinegar, so my guess is that that was also a part of the ingredients in the sauce that was just not announced when served to me. The next unique aspect of the dish was the milk emulsion. The process of emulsion is when a chef combines two liquids that do not mix generally with the assistance of an emulsifier. An example of this is mayonnaise, which is an emulsification of oil and vinegar using an emulsifier of egg yolk. Milk in of itself is an emulsification of butterfat and water. In this case, given the thickness and rich creaminess of the emulsion, I think that one liquid might have been milk itself but I am unsure of what the other liquid could have been or the emulsifier used either. The final unique touches of this rendition were the extraction of sage and the prosciutto. I guess that you could argue that the sage extraction was not entirely unique as it is just another preparation of a staple ingredient of this dish but it is not a preparation that I found in any of my research. Finally, the prosciutto, which is a part of every recipe that I found, is not cooked in this rendition. It is served cold as you would eat it from a platter while in the traditional recipe, it is fried alongside the veal after being dredged together in flour and egg. On taste, I had absolutely no complaints about this dish. It was beyond delicious with all the creaminess of the emulsion playing well with the butter in sauce which once again had the tangy finish of balsamic vinegar. The sauce also paired really nicely with the bread, actually emboldening the olive pieces in the bread to the level that I had hoped I would get by eating it plainly. On texture, the thinly sliced prosciutto melted in the mouth as I chewed the thicker veal which is the same effect you expect to get when eating the traditional recipe. In this transformation, you have that dynamic of raw against against cooked which is always playful and fun in my book. This was just a wonderful and a truly magnificent transformation.
The key phrase for the next dish was “Espressione di un territorio” which means “Expression of a territory”. I love the name of this dish in Italian because it is so romantic to my eyes and in my mind, “Fegato grasso d’oca di Mortara in sfoglia di verza al vapore crema tiepida di ostrica e salsa casseoula”. Now what is it in English? Mortara foie gras in steamed cabbage pastry, tepid cream of oyster and casseoula sauce. I really wish I could speak Italian if for nothing else than to pronounce the name of this dish. Anyway, expression of a territory… what does that have to do with any of this? Two things really. Mortara is generally known as having the best production of foie gras in Italy and two, Casseoula is a dish that is traditional to the Lombardy region. Two key elements of this being core expressions of the Lombardy region and specifically Mortara and Milan. I will start by explaining casseoula. Traditionally, this is a dish of the less invaluable parts of pork with onions and carrots in a casserole having cabbage finally added at the end of preparation. As you see in the name of the dish, it is not the entire casseoula that is presented as a part of the dish but merely the sauce of the dish. Traditionally, this dish is served with a strong red wine to embolden the flavors of the cabbage so it only makes sense that its sauce is used to do the same on this dish. The foie gras is steamed which I found to be very unique. I have never had foie gras in that preparation and it was an absolute win. I did not in anyway diminish the decadence of the foie and in combination with the neutral cabbage, the dish came together perfectly with the final punch and sharpness of the sauce. This dish is also traditionally eaten in the winter when it is my understanding that cabbage is at its sweetest however that same natural sweetness was achieved with the spring cabbage that I enjoyed. This was another dish that I had absolutely no less than positive comments about. I will confess that it did help that chef came out to say hello at the end of this dish and I am very fond of when chefs come out of the kitchen to say hello. Even more so when they invite me to the kitchen for a tour and further conversation. That did not happen in this case but I dare to dream.
The key phrase for the next dish is Nuova avanguardia which means new avant garde. Avant garde represents new, unusual and generally experimental ideas which is the key to the transformation of this next dish. This dish was the traditional lasagna alla bolognese presented with a new interpretation similar to the transformations that he completed with the saltimbocca dish. In this preparation, the lasagna is green from the added spinach and has a layered mille feuille texture as opposed to the traditional soft texture of lasagna sheets. Mille feuille is a layering of multiple sheets which are extremely thin and crunchy in texture but which when combined result in an irresistibly soft taste. There was also a ragu made of beef that was glazed in a sauce of tomato, béchamel rounded out with parmesan cheese. Finally, the lasagna was topped with more parmesan cheese which was mixed with lemon and lime to bring some additional freshness to the dish. I definitely loved the green color as it was refreshing to see and taste given the added lime. I will be honest and say that the smell from the plate was … interesting BUT the combination of ingredients sounded so perfect that I proceeded to taste. On taste, the combination of the unique almost crunchy texture with the refreshing lime and earthy spinach greens was heavenly. This taste alone without even delving into the ragu was a definite win for me on the plate. The ragu had a sweetness to it which I think was from the addition of some sort of dried fruit. I saw these little black pieces which made me guess that they were probably raisins. I have seen this trick adopted in a number of Italian restaurants, that is, the addition of dried fruit instead of sugar to sweeten a dish. The parmesan flavor on this plate was definitely very potent but given the multiple ways that it was incorporated into the dish, that was understandable.
Remember that terrible fruit or flavor that I wanted to spit out during the snacks? Unfortunately, it was used again in the next dish and this dish had the additional misfortune of being fried. I think you know where I am going with this. The keyword for this dish was patrimonio which means heritage. This dish was the fried morone fish with salmoriglio sauce. Neither of the core components of this dish are native to the region which would provide some insight to me about this keyword. The morone fish is native to North America as far as I know and the salmoriglio sauce is native to southern Italy. As heritage references the inherited, I guess that is what chef was going after, that is, taking what is not native to the region and transforming it with his unique preparations which would thereby have him “inheriting” them as such into his menu. The fish was fried in a tempura batter that had no seasoning though the fish inside was seasoned properly with an adequate amount of salt. This fried piece was also greasy as with the remaining fried items on the menu. In this case, I think the non-seasoned batter was intentional, having chef ensure that the only flavor really would be the sauce on the plate. Morone is a type of bass fish which while meaty generally requires some salt to really pull forth its flavors and once again this was properly prepared. Salmoriglio sauce as mentioned is native to Sicily and is traditionally made with lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped oregano, parsley, salt and pepper. The sauce in chef’s preparation was thickened and concentrated hence my belief that he really only wanted the true flavor of the plate to come from the sauce. That then begs the question about the other pieces beautifully plated with this dish. Some of it was black olive and the rest was that disastrous ingredient that I could not stand from the snacks. To be fair and honest, I found the piece less abhorrent when combined with the meaty fish, grease from the fried tempura batter and the sauce.
The key phrase for the next dish is “Memoria Gustativa” which when literally translated means taste memory. I can certainly relate to this phrase given how many joyous memories come to the forefront for me, both food and non-food related, when I eat any ingredient or meal that I have had prior. This dish was the Quintessence of “tocco alla Genovese” which is a tomato sauce cooked in beef broth and with a little sweetening which I can only assume came from the more compound tomato paste. For this dish, while I found it tasty, I was more intrigued by the story behind it i.e. the key phrase. As mentioned, that phrase is taste memory and it is inspired by when chef was a child eating Toco Genovese with his family. Toco Genovese is a specialty born in Liguria with a slice of beef which is cooked for a very long time in a sauce that is made of tomatoes, some mushroom powder and black olives. The tradition with his family was that they would all get together on Sundays for lunch to enjoy a piece of this meat from the Toco Genovese. However, the sauce that they had leftover from the dish was kept for one day where it was further used to make Ravioli di Magro. Ravioli di Magro is a ravioli that is filled with spinach and ricotta and the sauce was used as a mix-in to that filling. So when he named the dish, “the essence of toco Genovese” and used the phrase, “taste memory”, he was referencing the sauce from his childhood memories which was extracted from the toco Genovese dish that his family enjoyed every Sunday. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of this dish.
The next dish was a piece of ravioli filled with what I thought was spinach and topped with beef and parmesan. This was not on the menu and I could only correlate that this was to be a continuation of the prior dish given the story of second day sauce and ravioli. There are two things that I said I hated in this menu, one was the fruit at the end of the snacks and the other was the herb in the fried ravioli from the snacks as well. I assumed that the filling of the ravioli was spinach but unfortunately, it turned out to be that herb from the fried ravioli again. While it was again quite potent, in this case, it was balanced out by the tomato, meat and ravioli wrap.
The last dish was the end of the savory courses and honestly I was not sure if I was relieved or saddened. It had just been too much of a roller coaster of a meal for me. From unwelcoming tastes and greasy fried foods to the best mortadella I have ever tasted and throughly thoughtful dishes. In any case, out came the first of the desserts … and it was fried BUT it was not greasy this time! The keyword for this dish was, “evoluzione” which means evolution and the dish was sweet fried milk. There were two pieces to this dish, one was traditional sweet fried milk and the other was a puff pastry filled with vanilla cream and topped with black truffle. The inner filling of the sweet fried milk had a texture of a hard-boiled egg yolk with a taste of custard, all covered with a crunchy outer coating that resembled breadcrumbs. This was a divine and very welcome introduction to dessert for me particularly because it was more rich than sweet. The second dish too had a crunchy texture but this time like that of a wafer cone. It crumbled and splattered when I cut into it with a knife and I can only imagine the mess I would have made, had I tried to eat it with my hands. The filling had a texture of a vanilla gelato foam, light and airy and yet only slightly sweet to taste. Thankfully neither dish was too sweet for me to consume.
The final dish was a surprise to me as I did not feel that it was a dessert. My waiter shared my sentiments as well. This was the Cappuccino di funghi con budino di fegati chiari which is mushroom cappuccino with liver royale. The keyword for this dish was classicismo Italiano which means Italian classicism. Mushroom cappuccino is a traditional Italian dish generally served out of a mug so as to have the consumer experience the dish in a manner that fully match its name. As with the other traditional dishes on the menu, this too was transformed. This plate was insanely delicious with rich liver pate and the emulsion of black mushrooms all finally topped with a swirl of honey. There was a jammy filling in the middle that surprised me but which brought another and yet still not overwhelming sweetness to the dish. I also found the plate to be a game of dual battles between sweet and salty. What I mean by this is that there was the salt coming from the pate and mushrooms and then the sweet of the honey and jam none of which overwhelmed each other. Finally, I found that there was a high-low composition to the dish. The high here was the bold sweet honey and the equally bold salty pate and then the low sweet end of the jammy pairing heavenly with the low earthy and slightly salty mushroom. This dish was most certainly one of the best on the menu and even though it did not feel like dessert, I was glad that I got to eat it at all. It was unique in the pairing of ingredients which were all balanced and synchronous in harmony.
Finally, we come to the end of the meal with the petit fours. There were three petit fours but in truth, none were not particularly memorable to me save for the tartlet. This was a tartlet filled with hazelnut cream and topped with pear. I love hazelnut and that was the reason that I reached for it first and it certainly did not disappoint. With that, we come to the end of my story with Lume. As I mentioned at the start, this restaurant can be one that some would love to patronize. However, for me I believe it requires a different level of sensory appreciation for what chef is offering here… a desire that I unfortunately just do not have.