Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Milan, Italy: Del Vuoto


Not sure if you’ve ever been, but August in Milan is like New York City on Labor Day weekend, except the exodus lasts for an entire month.  The majority of the city’s population heads off on month-long holidays.  So when I did some research into where to eat when I was there solo that first week of August, the first couple of places to pique my interest were already closed for the August holiday.  Luckily, one of the place I’d heard about was open until the 11th, and so on Saturday night I enjoyed my own company at Del Vuoto

Del Vuoto, meaning the vacuum, is so named because of the heavy reliance on the sous vide cooking method.  Nearly everything served is given the hot bath treatment.   The restaurant is nestled away in a distinctly non-touristy area of Milan, about a 20 minute walk west of the bustling Navigli area.  There were no English menus to be found and the owner and waiter didn’t appear to be used to addressing English speakers.  Music played softly in the background, complementing the buzz of Italian heard all around me. 

Dining alone can sometimes be an awkward endeavor, particularly in a higher-end establishment.  Not the case at Del Vuoto.  I was directed to my table, which had already been set for one because I had e-mailed to make a reservation the night before.  Enrico, the proprietor with whom I’d e-mailed, could not have been more gracious.  He offered me a glass of prosecco on the house before guiding me through the rather complicated menu.  While by no means an Italian speaker, through my extensive dining experiences, in New York and abroad, I've gained a pretty solid handle on what I'll call 'menu Italian.'  This was something far beyond the purview of what I was used to, as the menu was littered with lesser-known ingredients and nontraditional cooking methods.    

Salt cod amuse.
After Enrico poured me the prosecco, the waiter greeted me with an amuse bouche of cod mousse with olives.  It was fishy, smoky and overall just plain good. 

Once I was through with my prosecco, I went with a Sicilian white, the name of which I can’t recall.  Though the menu didn't list by-the-glass options, Enrico was more than happy to open a bottle to pour me a glass since it was obvious I wouldn’t be finishing a bottle on my own (he clearly doesn't know me).  The wine was lovely with my first course, octopus with smoked eggplant puree and toasted breadcrumbs. 

Let's pretend this isn't the worst picture ever taken, k?
This octopus is undeserving of such pathetic treatment.
Now, I’ve eaten a lot of octopus in my life, and this might just have been the best I’ve had.  Incredibly tender from the sous vide and sporting a nice crispy exterior from a post-bath sear.    The eggplant was puree lent only a whiff of smoke, just enough to make you notice it, but not so much as to overwhelm, as smoked things are wont to do.   The breadcrumbs were rather flavorless and could have used a hit of salt, but they served their intended function of lending texture to the dish.  A healthy glug of olive oil completed the dish and made for some good bread dippage at the end.  I could have used a bit of acid, like some tomatoes or olives, but the dish overall was truly great. 

A slightly better pic of the octopus plucked
from Trip Advisor

My empty plate was whisked away and I was left to observe those around me.  The couple to the left of me sat in pronounced silence for well over the majority of their meal.  So did I, of course, but I signed up for it and was quite enjoying myself.

Vacuum-cooked turbot

I moved on to the turbot, served with dilled potatoes and braised fennel.  Though I love the effects of sous vide, I will always be just a little bit weirded out by the shapes proteins often take on during the process.  My fish was tender and moist as hell, but the effects of the vacuum-sealed bag in which it’d been cooked were readily apparently, its shape distorted and pinched where the bag had come down around it.  The fish was seasoned merely with salt and showered with olive oil to let the fresh, clean flavors of the fish come through.   The accompanying potatoes had also taken a plastic-wrapped bath and they tasted of nothing but pure potato; as a girl who used to eat slices of raw potato (yea, I know), these were potatoes I could get behind. 

The incredibly warm service continued after my entree was whisked away.  I was brought a dessert menu, and decided to order the most obscure thing from it, chocolate with a sorbet of something that, even translated into English, I'd never heard of before, which I was drawn to because it was described as bitter.  But before that was brought out, Enrico stopped by to hand me a glass of lovely dessert wine on the house, and to gab a bit more.  

Chocolate with...something.  You're welcome.
Then, dessert, the chocolate taking the form of a more luxurious, super-rich pudding littered with chunks of chocolate meringue, offset entirely by the refreshing, bitter bite of the sorbet.  I had no idea what it was made from, but I couldn't really have given less of a shit.  It was delicious.  

Though certainly not the most traditionally Milanese of meals, I can't really speak highly enough about this restaurant.  While the food wasn't flawless, it was very well-executed, really quite good, and given the quality of the ingredients and the portion size, really quite affordable.  The effusive service and obvious zeal of the owner and the staff just made the meal that much better.  

+39 02 94555592 
For reservations e-mail 

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