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In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.

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Thursday
Jan132011

Enoteca Pinchiorri

Enoteca Pinchiorri is, without a doubt, one of the highest-profile restaurants from my trip. It's the only Michelin 3-star in Florence. It's perennially listed in various guides as one of the best places for fine dining in all of Italy. Owner Giorgio Pinchiorri is well known for having quite possibly the largest and most expensive wine collection in the entire world. It is, by all accounts, a restaurant that the Medicis could go to for a family dinner. 

The restaurant itself certainly looks the part - it's a grand villa decorated with countless pieces of Expensive Old Art. It looks more like a home inside, with a few tables scattered through a variety of loosely connected dining rooms. An army of suited up waiters attends to a surprisingly small number of guests.

To be honest, despite Enoteca Pinchiorri's grand reputation, I wasn't quite as excited about this meal as one might think. It has fairly lukewarm reviews online despite its 3 stars, with many calling it a tourist trap that just rides on past glory. My dad went back in 2007, and said he had a good but not particularly memorable meal. Given that Pinchiorri is one of the most expensive restaurants in Italy, I braced myself to be a little underwhelmed.

Of course, I couldn't help but get excited after sitting down and looking at the menus. There are several dining options available. They have a full a la carte menu, divided into appetizers, pasta, and fish/meat main courses, with items generally ranging from €90-€110 each. They also offer a 6-course degustation menu plucked from a la carte dishes at €225, with the option to make it 8 courses for €275. Finally, they have a 6-course market menu for €250. We opted for the 8-course, as it had a very good selection of the a la carte dishes we were interested in. And it's hard to see the value of a la carte when you're easily going into €200 territory with just an appetizer and a main.

Many of you know I'm not much of a wine expert, but the wine program at Pinchiorri is definitely worth mentioning. Their wine list is, quite simply, epic. Like nothing I've ever seen before. Page after page of 4, 5, and even some 6-digit € wines. Click here to see the Lafite page (just a random sample). Now imagine a similar page for every French Premier Cru, every Italian Super Tuscan, and just about every big dog wine you can imagine. DRC, Yquem, Sassicaia, Screaming Eagle, Penfolds Grange - you name it from all over the world. We ended up getting a great bottle of 2000 Solaia at a discounted price, thanks to my dad's smooth negotiating tactics.

They also have a pretty unique by the glass program, where they offer some truly premier wines that would never be sold by the glass elsewhere. For example, one tasting was priced at €600 for 3 glasses, €800 for 4 glasses, or €1000 for 5 glasses, and offered a tasting of 2000 vintages of the world's best wines - ie. Petrus, Margaux, and other 4-5 digit bottles of wine. The price is outrageous, but at the same time these are wines that would normally only be sold by the bottle (and still at outrageous prices). Somehow, Pinchiorri is willing and able to open some of these and just sell a glass. I don't think there's another place in the world where one could sample varieties of elite wines like that. There were other theme options too, like a 1990 Super Tuscan tasting by the glass. That said, the by the glass stuff is still in "price is no object" territory. But it's an option.

Anyway - onto the food.

 

FRIED MOZZARELLA BITESThe first amuse was this little set of mozzarella lollipops. Very delicately fried, and a nice salty snack to start.

 

POLENTA CUBES AND MEATBALLSNext came bite-sized fried polenta cubes with mini veal meatballs. These were lighter than they look here, and the polenta had a nice smooth texture. A safe and solid combination.

 

LOBSTER SALADStill on amuses here - this was a nice, light lobster salad with what appeared to be baby escarole and a creamy dressing. The lobster was cooked through, but had a very gentle texture and no rubberiness.

 

ROLLS - HAM AND ONION, SUN-DRIED TOMATO, SPINACHI find that Italian bread generally pales in comparison to France, with most casual restaurants in Italy resorting to dry, lifeless loaves and packaged breadsticks. It's worth noting that Pinchiorri had a great selection of savory-flavored breads and rolls - no doubt a requirement for any kind of Michelin respect.

 

RAW AMBERJACK WITH CITRUS, AVOCADO PUREE, AND TOMATO COMPOTEThe first listed course of the menu was this raw amberjack... or, kanpachi tartare, as you'd call it in California. The combination was fairly standard, but ingredients and execution were of high quality.

 

BURRATA WITH STONE-PRESSED BREADThen came this off-menu freebie - a wedge of Italian burrata, some potent olive oil, and what they described as a special "stone-pressed" bread. The burrata was one of the best examples I've ever had, and the bread tasted excellent. It was a little crisp on the edges and chewy in the middle. Kind of like a flour version of an arepa, if that makes any sense.

 

GRILLED SOLE WITH STEWED RED ONIONS, ZUCCHINI, AND BOTTARGAThis long fillet of sole was simply grilled, and kicked up with a sprinkling of bottarga, a cured fish roe. Very nice, clean flavor. The side of veggies, hidden in this photo, was actually delicious and beautifully cut.

 

LOBSTER WITH PISTACHIO GRATIN, CECINA, AND YOGURTThings got more interesting with this pistachio-crusted lobster tail. Like the salad earlier, the lobster meat was delicate, almost like langoustine. The pistachio gave it a nice contrasting crunch. The cecina was explained as a traditional tart made with chickpea flour and rosemary, and had a smooth texture similar to "chickpea fries" preparations you can find sometimes here (think Frances). The yogurt and pistachio sauce moistened everything up. Delicious.

 

FUSILLI WITH PORCINI MUSHROOMS, NEPITELLA, AND PARMIGIANO REGGIANOOne thing I was pretty stoked about with Michelin restaurants in Italy was the inclusion of pasta in a grand tasting menu. As a pasta lover, this example hit the spot - toothsome, handmade fusilli with a rich porcini sauce. The sprinkling of nepitella, a minty herb, and a touch of strong parmigiano helped to smooth everything out. I love this fresh, rolled-up version of fusilli (as opposed to the regular dried kind with the deep ridgy rings), and I wish more restaurants here would make it.

 

TAGLIATELLE STUFFED WITH POTATO PUREE TOSSED WITH DUCK STEW, OREGANO, AND WHITE TRUFFLESA ragu on steroids. The long, narrow sheets of tagliatelle were stuffed with potato like a stretched out ravioli. It was an interesting texture mix and way of eating - you had to cut them into pieces like asparagus. The savory duck stew flavored the pasta and potato combo well. The white truffles were noticeable, but the sauce overpowered them a bit.

 

RACK OF LAMB STUFFED WITH BLACK OLIVES AND LARDO, MINTED BELL PEPPERS, SALAD WITH SESAMEJuicy, rich, and decadent. I think the picture speaks for itself on this dish - the lamb was beautifully tender, not too gamey, and perfectly blended with the black olive and lardo. The marinated pepper helped to cut the richness a bit. A wonderful meat course overall.

 

ROASTED SQUAB WITH HONEY AND SPICES, FRIED EGGPLANT STUFFED WITH MOZZARELLA AND THYMEOur last savory course was this roasted pigeon. Excellent caramelized skin and rare, tender meat, with a pleasant sweetness from the honey. Also, the fancy eggplant parm was delicious - delicately fried, with just a tiny layer of cheese, and no heavy greasiness at all.

 

MANGO SORBET, CHOCOLATEThe first sweet was this mango sorbet with little strips of chocolate, served in an ice cold EP goblet. Sort of a palate cleanser, I guess. I liked the mango-chocolate combo - the chocolate wasn't too sweet but also balanced the tartness of the sorbet.

 

KAKI CREAM WITH PISTACHIO TART AND PEAR SPIRIT ZABAGLIONEThis was the only listed dessert course on the menu. Kaki is a Japanese persimmon, a fruit I'm generally not too fond of. The cream was kind of like a thick soupy nectar with a very subtle persimmon flavor. The cakey chunks of pear tart and the creamy zabaglione went great together, although I think it would have been better with a non-persimmon fruit. I'll admit that's personal bias though...

 

HOT CHOCOLATEOf course, random little desserts kept coming out too. This was a hot chocolate served in a tall black ceramic martini glass. Very milky and relatively light, but a bit too sweet.

 

SWEET ARTICHOKE CREAM, MERINGUENext came this curious double shot glass with what was explained as an artichoke cream with a meringue cookie. Hard to describe the flavor - it was definitely artichokey, but also a little sweet. The meringue gave it a bit of crunch.

 

CHOCOLATESFinally, we each got a plate of fancy chocolates. I neglected to write down each flavor, but I remember a pecan one and a hazelnut one. The white one had a green tea filling and was pretty interesting.

And that was it for the food. By the end of the meal, we had developed a pretty good rapport with our main waiter and the sommelier. I must say that the service at Enoteca Pinchiorri was over-the-top good - superb and world class in every way. They rode the perfect balance between professionalism and friendliness. It's a subtle thing, but it makes for a truly memorable and pleasant experience.

The sommelier, after having detected an unusual amount of interest/knowledge from my dad regarding Italian wine over the course of the meal, enthusiastically asked us to come look at the wine cellar. Despite knowing how big the collection is, we weren't prepared for what we saw. The wine cellar at Pinchiorri is breathtaking. Not so much for its facilities - it's basically a dark, cavernous basement, with seemingly no end to its tunnels. It had none of the high-tech fancy storage cabinets or anything - just never-ending shelves and cases of wine. But boy were there wines. There were entire sections for every winemaker you could think of, sections for special large format wines, walls of winemaker flights dating back to pre-1900, and much more. Cases of 4-digit wines were piled up seemingly haphazardly on the floor. Click here to see a ton of photos. I can't really describe it other than saying that it's simply unbelievable, and I urge you to look at the pictures if you have any interest in wine whatsoever.

Despite my early doubts, dinner at Pinchiorri turned out to be one of the most remarkable of my trip. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. The food is not the most groundbreaking compared to its peers, but everything was delicious and well executed. Yes, it's expensive - our final bill was €1,100 for 3, with some really good (though admittedly modest given what else was available) wine. It's cheaper than Paris, but more than Spain (Spain, as I'll describe later on the blog, is absolutely the best value in the world in terms of ultra fine dining). It's always difficult to justify if a meal this expensive is "worth it" - that will always be up to you. But this place is the total package when it comes to a grandiose, fancy dinner - good (if non-threatening) food, superlative service, and just a wonderful experience. I'll remember this meal fondly for years to come.

As we were leaving, they called us a taxi. At Enoteca Pinchiorri, "taxi" really means a hired brand new 5-series BMW that takes you back to your hotel for free. I was semi-joking in the intro, but seriously, they make you feel like Cosimo de'Medici for a night.

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