Sometime last year my new hero Oscar Farinetti approached Michelin-star chef Viviana Varese and her sommelier partner Sandra Ciciriello and proposed them to move their Michelin-starred restaurant Alice from it's anonymous location in southern Milan to the top floor of his new branch, Eataly Smeraldo. They said yes, so last week, some days after the official opening of Eataly Smeraldo, Alice opened again and since we were celebrating a special occasion, we decided to try it.
Let's start by saying I'm not a fan of super famous chefs, especially lately that they seem to spend more time in tv shows or book presentations than in the kitchen their exhorbitantly-priced restaurants serving super tiny portions in huge plates.
How was I supposed to know Alice would make me eat both my prejudices and its delicious food?
Tasty decor mainly made of special wooden tables (and introducing the concept of the "social table", where you sit with friends or stangers as you enjoy an 8-course special dinner) and decorative accessories that remind us of the sea: fish sculptures as tabletops, dishes shaped as shells and sea rocks. Lights are perfect, not too soft, not blinding, and the atmosphere is relaxed and quiet, amazing considering the restaurant is fully booked for weeks.Staff is nice, you never feel rushed or snobbed, you can see that some of them are still learning but they're always supported by more expert elements.
Viviana was in the open kitchen all the time (they were filming something for a tv show on the night we were there), preparing and supervising everything, and Sandra was in the dining room, going from table to table, making sure everything was fine, giving advise and helping with the orders.
Let's talk about the food. As my prejudice stated, portions in these kind of restaurants are not hearty, but they aren't as tiny as you think. While we ordered, we were served a complimentary glass of sparkling wine and some finger food (crispy hummus, salmon tartine, pistacchio and salad roll and other nice things I can't remember) in those cool plates resembling sea rocks. We also got loads of different kinds of hand made bread (grissini, buns, etc.).
We decided not to go with their fixed menus and order a la carte. As starters I got the warm seafood salad with with blue cabbage water, spring onions in vinegar and grapefruit sorbet and G had the mixed fish carpaccio with fruits and vegetables. The carpaccio dish looked like a painter's palette, and judging on the seconds it took G to clean it completely I can only guess it was good.
The seafood salad is the prettiest dish I have ever been served, it was very good, but the contrast of the warm seafood and the grapefruit sorbet was strange. Our waitress explained that when the onions toched the blue cabbage water, there would be a reaction: the water turned pink!
As main course I ordered the octopus (cooked in its water) with potato sorbet, potato chips and potato cream. G had the umbrine (baked inside a special type of black bread and covered with leaves) with a fresh citrus salad and baked potato garnished with black salt.
The umbrine (like the rest of the seafood) is very fresh and cleaned perfectly so you can also eat the skin. I tasted it and it was a very delicate flavour - the citrus salad was too strong for it, in my opinion, but it was also very good.
The octopus was the highlight of the meal. It had the most amazing taste, probably from the cooking in its own water, the mix with the potatoes was strong but excellent. I would go back everyday just to have it (but then I should also have lots of €€€ to afford it).
I almost forgot to mention we paired the dishes with a bottle of South Tyrol's Sanct Valentin Sauvignon Blanc, as fragrant and fresh as expected.
Although the portions didn't seem too big, we were actually full after the main courses so we decided not to order desert. When we asked for coffee, we got a nice small dish of meringues, chocolate cake, orange cake and chocolate cake pops with golden fizzy powder, nice touch.
Since in these kinds of restaurants girls don't get a menu with prices (a bit discriminating if you ask me) I didn't know what to expect, also because it seems prices in these places are top secret (would it really hurt to write them down in the website so people know what to expect?). Still, it was another pleasant surprise since I was expecting it to be higher that it actually was: the service charge per person (the so-hated "coperto") was 4 euros per person, considering all the bread you get it was justified, the starters were around 20 euros, the main courses over 30, as the wine. It is expensive, but considering the excellent quality of the ingredients, the service, atmosphere and the fact that the famous chef is actually preparing your food, then I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience.
Eataly Milano Smeraldo
Piazza 25 Aprile, 10 - 20121 Milan
open:12.00 > 14.30 and 19.00 > 23.00
Tel +39 02 4949 7340
Booking compulsory, also online