A Whirlwind Work Trip: My First Michelin Star Experience

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We were very fortunate to be treated to a good dinner, my first Michelin star experience at the one-star Tano Passami L’Olio. The name literally meant “Tano, pass me the olive oil.” Chef Gaetano is very big on olive oils and treats it almost like wine in how he pairs each carefully, selecting carefully which oil he uses to finish each dish. We went for a tasting menu of sorts, starting with this amuse bouche.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Wow! moment, more of a “hmm this is rather good.” It was interesting how the mousse was finished of with olive oil but I don’t remember a great deal more than that.

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The next dish was quite interesting – raw prawns Milanese-style marinated in citrus and anise, accompanied by pink grapefruit and cheese mousse and graced with caramelised peas. I wasn’t sure about the peas as they were semi-dry, with texture reminding me a bit of wasabi peas, just not as crunchy. I liked the fresh, fresh! prawns that were singing with the zing of the sea (go figure that out, I’m taking things up a notch – it’s a Michelin-starred place yo) and the grapefruit and cheese mousse was nice, though it tasted a bit like it was meant for baby food, but what lovely fine dining baby food it was!

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Now it was the next dish that really brought things up a notch. The caramelised quail eggs on tuna mousse was a revelation. The first one after going in the mouth went crackle! pop! and there were surprised looks all round the table. Then understanding dawned and we gleefully went with the second one. First, the sensation of caramel on the tongue, as it was an egg-shaped creme brulee with crackly crust all round. Just a little pressure with the teeth and tongue and the delicately cooked quail egg burst, coating the tongue with runny yolk. The tuna mousse made for a savoury counterpoint to it all. And the raw tuna in minted olive oil? Gilding the lily with its freshness.

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Our expectations went a little higher with the pasta course and we were not disappointed. We were presented with lemon risotto cooked in vegetable and milk and finished off with chocolate. I was a bit wary of this as I wasn’t sure how dessert-like a lemon and chocolate rice dish would taste. But no, this was deeply savoury, rich and wonderfully al dente. At the same time, the lemon flavour sang through and the bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the flavours. It was another eye-opener. Next time I’m in Milan, I’m coming back just for this dish.

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We were surprised by how full we were getting at this stage, we really hadn’t eaten a great deal, but it shows how satisfying the food was. We were very glad that the main course came in small portions. Small though the portion was, it was somehow the perfect portion. The roe dear saddle glazed with basil and wild berries and again finished off with chocolate was excellent. It was done very rare, the way I like it, yet wasn’t bloody (which the rest of my table seemed to like more). I think the meat must have been well hung because it was the tenderest deer I’ve had. Again, Chef Gaetano had a way with traditionally sweet foods, turning them into savoury wonders. The chocolate he personally grated over each portion at the table made all the difference again in balancing out the sweetness of the sauce and tempered the deep game flavour of the venison. Wonderful.

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What really won the rest of the table over (I was head over heels by then, no need for further wooing) was Chef Gaetano’s impeccable and very sensible wine pairings. He recommended two reds, only one of which I managed to get a photo of. This Humar Rogoves from the Friuli region was very reasonably priced at about €30 and was just right for the deer. In the words of the chef, it was a “sweety wine, very nice.” And indeed it was! Nicely balanced, sweet yet not overly so, it went better than expected with our deer in berry sauce.

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Then came the usual sorbet palate cleanser.

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And finally dessert. The almond cannoli filled with almond mousse, candy lemon, citrus cream and almond marmalade was lovely. The pastry was crisp and light as air and the mousse filling also light and sweetly lemony. It was a lovely contrast to the dark chocolate blob (I never found out what it really was), but the mousse and chocolate sauce was a deep, delicious contrast. It was a sly way of crowd pleasing, not particularly inventive but just the right to end a good dinner.

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Tano passami l’olio
via Villoresi, 16 ang. via Pastorelli, Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8394139
Email: tano@tanopassamilolio.it

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Red Curry Fried Rice

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I see fried rice as a way to use up leftovers yet not feel like I’m eating old stale food. When I cook rice, I always make sure to cook more so that if I ever want to make fried rice, day old rice is ready for frying. Don’t even bother trying this with fresh rice. It’ll just be soggy and spoil the texture.

Normally I like to start with some kind of rempah base, usually from a packet. A lot of times it’s tomyam or green curry. The day I made this, I ran out of my favourite green curry paste so I had to plump for some remnants of a pack of red curry paste. Other stuff languishing in the fridge were leftover tinned sardines in oil, a chunk of wong bok, a few limp red chillis,  and some coriander. From the freezer came petit pois, chicken breast and kaffir lime leaves. Add to that some taupok and fresh lime and dinner is sorted.

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Ingredients:
3 tbsp oil
1 cup leftover rice
2 eggs

1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped shallots
½ tbsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp red curry paste
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn
4 chicken fillets, cubed
1 tinned sardine in oil, mashed
5 taupok, cubed
½ tbsp petit pois
5 red chillis, thickly sliced
fish sauce, to taste

coriander
lime wedges

Method:

  1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok and fluff the rice. Crack the eggs directly into the wok and toss in the rice. Wait a few seconds for the egg to set slightly then stir-fry the rice till it turns golden and the grains separate. Set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining oil in a wok and fry the garlic, shallot and ginger till fragrant. Add the red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves, keep frying till fragrant.
  3. Add in the chicken and keep stirring. Just before the chicken is cooked, toss in the sardines, tauok, petit pois and chillis, stir for a bit more.
  4. Finally, stir in the reserved eggy rice and season with fish sauce to taste.
  5. Serve garnished with coriander and lime wedges.

Serves 3.