Massimo Bottura opens Al Gatto Verde in Modena: “A wood-fired ‘not barbecued’ cuisine dialoguing with the art it’s immersed in”
Al Gatto Verde is the new fine-dining restaurant from Massimo Bottura, which finds its home in the courtyard of the newly developed wing at Casa Maria Luigia, the countryside resort of the chef and his wife Lara Gilmore. The name pays homage to the popular yet now-defunct restaurant in Maranello, a place once favoured by Enzo Ferrari.
It’s headed by Jessica Rosval, the rising star of the Francescana family, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the food world. From heading the culinary offer of the resort to opening the social enterprise restaurant Roots in downtown Modena, in support of migrant women, the Canadian chef has demonstrated exceptional cooking skills whilst always keeping the ethical stance at the forefront.
Upon entering Al Gatto Verde, guests are immediately drawn to the kitchen, which rises like a stage of a gastronomic theatre, open for all to see in the summer and enclosed by glass in the colder months, asserting a constant prominent display. From within, the defining elements of heat and smoke emanate, signaling the pivotal role that the wood-fired oven and grill play in the restaurant’s identity.
The tables are laid out both on an outdoor patio and in the dining room, the latter being a true jewel that echoes the Modenese country’s vivid palette. Its walls are graced by the works of American conceptual artist Mike Bidlo, who rose to prominence in the New York of the 80s by meticulously studying – and emulating – the works of greats such as Picasso, Pollock and Warhol. Central to the restaurant’s narrative is the magnetic Not Pollock, which is in dialogue with Al Gatto Verde’s culinary ethos of exploring the “not barbecued” territory, occasionally crossing that line. The playful provocation of displaying an actual Warhol alongside Bidlo’s Not Warhol captures the dance between the original and its interpretation.
Tonight is the inaugural service and we take a quick tour with Bottura of the grounds, including a little cellar where a special Negroni ages in a crazy custom-made cask, before settling down to try the tasting menu. Kicking off with an amuse-bouche featuring exquisite super-hydrated focaccia and a selection of Italian dips – picture a fresh Modenese pesto and a Sicilian-inspired hummus – we encounter the first showstopper: Not a Mussel. This ingenious dish is crafted from blue crab, a species currently plaguing the Emilia-Romagna coast and the Po river, combined with the day’s catch and accents of pork belly and green apple. A trompe-l’œil, it mimics the appearance of a mussel yet delivers a heavenly flavour, ranking high on the list of the most addictive foods we’ve sampled this year.
A bacalhau-style cod, paired with a salsa verde sabayon, displays all the finesse of Rosval, who generally enjoys pushing the boundaries of flavour but can also wear the white gloves and showcase perfection. Next, we’re served the Porcini Water Borlengo, a reinterpretation of a Modenese mountain classic. Essentially, it’s a large, super-thin and crunchy savoury crêpe. Instead of the traditional cunza — an oily mix of lard, garlic and rosemary brushed over the borlengo — this version is filled with porcini mushroom and black truffle. True to the original, it retains the umami punch from the Parmesan, aged for 36 months.
The menu continues with an irresistibly delicious barbecued cotechino, followed by a lamb course aptly dubbed From Montreal to San Damaso – paying homage to both Rosval’s hometown and the location of Al Gatto Verde. Yet, it is the Pasta Arsa that stands as the most captivating dish. Cooked like a risotto, this “burnt” pasta – a literal translation of its name – marries the profound savouriness of minute short-rib cuts with a hint of sweetness from maple syrup, all heightened by the gentle heat of a pistachio paste.
Al Gatto Verde marks Bottura’s first venture into the fine-dining realm in Modena since the opening of Osteria Francescana, and it’s only fitting that he moulded it around his brightest star, Rosval, whose dedication to crafting flavoursome, art-inspired and ethically conscious dishes is second to none. With her unwavering commitment to excellence in the kitchen and an inherent dedication to looking after everyone associated with the restaurant, Al Gatto Verde is poised to become a new favourite among gourmets, local and international.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Lido Vannucchi
Al Gatto Verde opens on 20th September 2023, to book a table visit their website here.