On my recent excursion to Rome, I had the enviable pleasure to visit some of its best restaurants. Whether it was a hosteria on a back street or in a Michelin Star fine dining restaurant, I came away convinced that Italian cuisine is what really illuminates this amazing city. Roma is indeed where the stars shine, Michelin or not.
As much as I anticipated true Italian cuisine, what I did not expect, but perhaps should have, were the various interpretations on authentic la cucina Romana. I was delighted to see that lamb was a regular on menus and that locally grown produce was used in abundance: artichokes, porcini mushrooms (in season) and incredibly delicious tomatoes. I admittedly sampled a lot of local dishes and left feeling satiated and content.
There is a brilliance to a meal that delivers satisfaction – a gratification lingers for more than a few hours or even days. The best dishes find a special place in my memory and tend to remain for years. However, it is the total experience that informs my degree of satisfaction, from the décor, demeanor of staff, table-side service, sommelier, and that general sense I get when front and back of house are working in unison.
That was the unique experience I had at La Terrazza at the Hotel Eden. This one-Michelin Star gem of a restaurant had a gratifying luster that is worth sharing.
All About the Star
But…first, let’s give a once-over of what a Michelin Star actually is and the requirements needed to attain such an accolade.
The idea originated by the Michelin Tire Company as the “little red guide” to help those travelling in France. Over time the guide became a travelers’ assistant, providing lists of restaurants by categories. With the growing popularity of the guides, Michelin began sending “mystery diners” to restaurants to rate the food. This evolved over time into a guide focused more on fine dining, giving stars based upon the restaurant’s performance.
Today, “star” criteria is primarily based on quality and consistency of ingredients, menu, and flavors, which ultimately is a reflection of the chef’s personality and presentation of his cuisine. However, while the criteria is based on the final plate, the highest standards of cleanliness and orderliness, comprehension and cognition of both kitchen and front of house personnel is an absolute essential. Undeniably, the chef’s leadership, mentoring and communication skills in the kitchen shape the end result.
Michelin inspectors tend to visit restaurants periodically (typically within 18 months of a previous visit), to make sure that the restaurant offers consistency throughout the span. It may sound like an exciting job, but the demands are great and the skills required must be meticulously and consistently honed. An inspector requires impeccable taste buds, a sharp knowledge of food history and food trends, wine origins, and an understanding of new technologies applied in the cooking methods of the promoters of the avant-garde, to name just a few. Needless to say, a Michelin inspector must be certified with a mainstream education in culinary arts, nutrition, food science, hospitality and or hotel management.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the role is an expertise in evaluating taste and then articulating the flavors, textures, construction and nuances of a dish. It is how well the inspector translates his or her experience against the Michelin criteria, that can make or break a restaurant.
How the Stars Align
So what is the difference in 1, 2 or 3 stars? According to Michelin: “A Michelin Star is awarded for outstanding cooking. We take into account the quality of the ingredients, the harmony of flavours, the mastery of techniques, the personality of the chef as expressed in their cuisine and, just as importantly, consistency both over time and across the entire menu.
Two Michelin Stars are awarded when the personality and talent of the chef are really evident in their dishes; their food is refined and inspired. Three Michelin Stars is our highest award, given for the superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession; their cooking is elevated to an art form and some of their dishes are destined to become classics.”
While Michelin stars certainly sway potential diners, I prefer a more wholistic scale of measure, which incorporates the entire experience. And what a wonderful experience it was at La Terrazza.
La Terrazza at Hotel Eden (Dorchester Collection), Rome: a Michelin-starred fine dining experience in well-appointed, yet very comfortable space. Chef Fabio Ciervo utilizes Lazio’s bounty of fresh produce and herbs in his bold and native cuisine. A beautiful hotel, with an equally charming restaurant that offers stunning views of Rome.
Executive Chef Fabio Ciervo: whose “cooking philosophy is inspired by art and innovation, with the aim of creating perfect harmony between exceptional food and a healthy lifestyle. Buon Assaggio!”
Crispy Miniature Cannoli: stuffed with a smooth mixture of roasted sweet red peppers and tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella that melted on the palate instantly, quite appetizing!
Mini Tarts with Sweetbreads: Crispy, bite-size squared tartlets with sweetbreads paté. For such a delicate bite, it was incredibly complex…bring it on! I was ready for more.
Foie gras with grape jelly on bite size toasties: a truly unique delicacy, silky, sensuous, earthy and mild mouth feel due to the natural fat content, gently spiced harmonized with the sweetness of the grape jelly, scrumptious!
Artichoke & Shrimp: Puree of artichokes, ceviche of red shrimp, dressed in a mint vinaigrette sauce, served in a glass. Elegantly crafted, quite distinctive, brilliant combination of red shrimp which are generally sweeter than most and Mediterranean artichokes that are hearty and plump, sweet and meaty. An enchanting, locally-inspired dish!
Wheat Grass: Innovatively served in test tubes that were imbedded on an arrangement of wheat grass displays. A refreshing drink of sparkling water, wheat grass juice and citrus. An innovative palate cleanser.
Pink & White Salts, Black Pepper: freshly crushed table side.
Artisan Breads: cornmeal crusted bread loaf soft centered, warm and instantly gratifying, grissini sticks, interlude of anchovy butter, olive oil butter, lemon butter.
Wine: 2017 Falesco Cotarella Soente Viognier from Lazio. I love my viognier and was pleased to see an Italian version on the wine list. Fruit forward, slight oak notes, mango, honey and some tree fruit notes. Soft pairing with a hint of minerality complimenting the amuse bouche presentation.
Primo Assaggio (“First Taste”)
Buffalo Mozzarella, Scallops & Dried Tomatoes: A prolific composition! The deliberate production of a twill atop the bowl, composed of delicately thin wafer dusted with crimson colored tomato extract, revealed bright red and white swirls of whipped mozzarella with delicately diced fresh from the sea scallops and sweet tomatoes. The semi-sweet and tartness of the tomato essence against the lush, fluffiness of the cheese married well will fresh scallops, sensuous!
Gran Riserva Risotto with Bronte Pistachios and Liquorice: Chef’s suggestion, eat with a spoon by scooping from the bottom of the bowl for a full rounded effect. I ordered this for the sake of curiosity. ‘Capers and licorice torched like a brûlée? With risotto, like a rice pudding?’ Questions answered as soon as the bowlarrived. It worked, the al dente risotto, hint of pistachios, piquant herbal notes of capers to harmonize the full flavor of the licorice root, ambrosial!
Scallops, Passion Fruit & Mango: scallops rendered a taste of the sea, sweet and slightly salty, delicate and buttery married with the bright sweet flavor of mango and pleasantly tart juicy scented passion fruit reminded me of being by the ocean.
Squash Blossoms with Ricotta Cream & Basil Pesto: incredulous, ‘squash blossoms in November?’ The soft creaminess of the ricotta Romana with its intense characteristic aroma, soft yet firm, rich in Mediterranean essence, delicate, sweet, combined with the freshness of the basil pesto was an exhilarating experience of summer in the mouth!
Secondo Assaggio (“Second Taste”)
Pigeon Breast and Pomegranate Iberian Secret and Spices, Potato Poppers: Lovely presentation of this entrée. I almost clapped my hands when it appeared! Perfectly sliced breast revealing pink tender meat, clear of any juices, carefully piped foie gras, topped with pomegranate seed garnish, a stylish, systematic arrangement of colors, contrast, and flavors. The classic dark, velvety jus poured table side over the dish had the right complexity and viscosity, a perfect formula, deserving of the fowl. My first taste of the tender morsel, that could have been sliced with a butter knife. To my delight there was no gaminess, just a clean mouthful (the secret was demystified during our rendezvous in chef’s kitchen). The potato poppers were crispy round the edges with a soft center, a unique take on this side dish. Applause!
Veal Broth Raviolis & Horseradish my way: Chef suggests; eat the whole ravioli and experience the explosion of the veal broth in your mouth. Small tender raviolis filled with veal broth was both creative and by no means in comparison with any dumplings Sean had tasted.
Braised Beef with Caramelized Cauliflower & White Onion, Paired with Brunello di Montalcino, Mastrojanni Sangiovese: One could tell that the right techniques of searing and braising were uniformly applied to yield a very tender cut yet holding its beautiful shape and form for table presentation. The sauce glided over the juicy meat and made for a good balance in flavor with the accompaniments of the crispy yet tender greens, caramelized cauliflower and onion purée. Loved the cooking method here with the greens.
By: Ezio Redolfi Pastry Chef & Guest Chef, Angelo Musa, Executive Pastry Chef from Hotel Plaza Athénée
Tiramisu with a Twist: Luxurious deconstructed Tiramisu, light-as-air, luscious dark chocolate, crumbled sponge, aerated mascarpone, artfully crafted.
Lychee & Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta: Exquisitely hinted with the ingenious use of rose scented lychees and bright herbaceous lemon verbena, accentuating tropical & Asian flavors.
Selection of some of the Coffees:
Kopi Luwak – Indonesia, complex flavor with a chocolatey, caramel finish.
Blue Mountain- Jamaica, sweet, aromatic, tenacity.
Yauco- Puerto Rico, intense, nuances of spice, malt, peanut & dark chocolate.
Mount Everest Supreme- Nepal, superior blend of cocoa & candied orange, balanced with constant notes of ginger.
A sublime array of lollipop cookies, macaroons, jelly rolls, chocolate bites, artfully presented and most complimentary with the coffee selections.
The entire front of house was on point in every respect. We were attentively cared for by the service team. A delightful server, whose only wish was to ensure our stay was memorable. Our sommelier clearly knew her Italian wines. We even chatted about her trip to California wine country. We felt the hospitality from beginning to end of the meal, without any hint of pretension or rush.
For a dining experience like this, I like to save the best for last – time with the chef and his team. After the meal we were invited for a rendezvous with Chef Fabio in his domain; the large, pristine, state-of-the-art kitchen, lined with high tech innovative equipment around the parameters of the entire kitchen and then some. My first reaction upon entering the beautiful kitchen was to greet their team of what seemed to be 20+: “Hi everybody! Great job, tonight!”
Chef Fabio graciously walked us through his entire kitchen pointing out energy efficient and cutting-edge wall ovens, salamander, sous vide, meat and poultry impurities removing equipment, proofers, and more. My heart always races when I am in a commercial kitchen. This time I think I was completely swept away. I have not witnessed equipment and technology of this magnitude. But I kept my gaze on chef, as I wanted to capture every word he was saying. I was mesmerized.
The highly engaged and energetic teams were focused in their respective designated areas of mise en place, creating and plating. I appreciated seeing them in action, heads-down. A controlled sense of energy and enthusiasm.
But the highlight of this experience for me was spending time with Chef Fabio. He is a rare breed of chef who has retained his appetite for authentic cuisine. I could detect in our conversation his ability to hone in on the minutest details of the design, creation and execution of each dish. He is a passionate leader, dedicated to his responsibilities of management and mentorship of several kitchens in the hotel. His confidence was evident, but so was his humility. A true Seva Leader, one who is hospitable and extends selfless service from his heart.
We had an incredible exchange of conversation as we walked through the space, stopping now and then for a show and tell, until the entire kitchen had been viewed! I admire his tenacity for his continuous research around his guiding principles of innovation, well-being, taste and art which are reflective of his style of cooking.
I can’t wait to see him obtain another well-deserved star! Grazie Chef Fabio, I truly appreciate your hospitality on a very busy evening. Arrivederci!