Master Chef Vittorio Greco of ITC Gardenia’s Ottimo is the kind of person who elevates every meal into that something special, not just because of his food and styling, but as a facet of who he is. Ever witty, entertaining and with that swoon worthy Italian charm, we generally never miss the opportunity to sample one of Chef Vittorio’s meals, and the pleasure of his company. Here is a man who thinks up different things to do and different ways to present his food, just to keep things entertaining and varied, as much for himself as for his guests. This is also the man who is currently shuttling between Bangalore and Chennai, helming two Ottimos, and about to add Delhi to that list – boundless energy sure seems like an apt description. We stopped in a couple nights ago for the Art of Time Travel food festival, which is available for dinner through June 2nd, and is not to be missed.
A four course meal awaits, with choices for the dishes in each set course, and plenty for both veg and non-veg alike. Chef didn’t give us the choice however, presenting us with every item on the menu – a single portion for each dish contains two versions of the same dish on the plate: the classic/traditional dish, and alongside it, Chef’s modern interpretation. And he came along to explain his take on favorite Italian classics, some of which I had actually not eaten in the four years since I left the US.
The Antipasto procession began with Carpaccio alla Piemontese and Sfere di carpaccio alla piemontese con fungi e uovo – the first being the classic tenderloin carpaccio and the latter being Chef’s twist on it, which came as an egg and mushroom encased ball of tenderloin. Delicious and the modern take had a little extra flavor going. Next up was Parmigiana di melanzane classica and Parmigiana di melenzane rivisitata con olio al carbone – classic eggplant parmesan and the then Chef’s ‘undone’ version, which had the tomato and eggplant pureed and piped into rectangles on the plate, and the parmesan was fried into delightful crisps, the whole topped off with charcoal oil – now this was a dish with flavors that went on and on. The second vegetarian appetizer was Insalata classica italiana con burrata and Burrata con pomodori e cipolla – here the classic burrata cheese and tomato salad won over the pureed and colorful interpretation. The second non veg appetizer was a simple and delicious Insalata di pollo – chicken breast with tonnata sauce, where the two versions were quite similar in flavor.
Up next was Primo Piatti – the pastas. Spinach Ravioli classic and modern, where the modern take had double pockets for spinach and ricotta and thus emerged victorious! And Chef told us that Ottimo Bangalore is one of just three restaurants the world over that serves this version, as he got the recipe off a friend in Rome. Ravioli di agnello, aka lamb ravioli – the presentation was different for the two, but flavor wise, it was hard to distinguish between them, and we happily munched on both. Next was Lasagna alla Bolognese – not a lasagne fan in general, I contented myself with a couple bites of the classic and modern versions. Our Secondo Piatti started with Insalata di patate – Tuscany potato salad, where the modern take included black truffle and fried garlic pieces as well as smoked butter – hello heavenly goodness! I had been looking forward to the next dish – Puttanesca – a piquant caper and olive pasta that I enjoyed in homestyle Italian restaurants in the US. Chef’s modern twist went to the North of Italy for inspiration and replaced the traditional Roman style pasta with risotto, with the tangy tomato sauce topping it. Both versions were damn good and I for one will not choose a victor in this round! Seabass Livornese had a simple looking classic version and the modern version won here in the plating department, what with a lightly grilled fillet that was served on tomato coulis and with shreds of olives and capers making for a very pretty picture. The last main dish, Pollo cacciatora took me back to my college days, where chicken cacciatori would make an appearance in the dining hall and was one of the dishes us international students favored, given its tangy taste and departure from the bland meals that abounded! We liked both the slow cooked, bell pepper, onion and tomatoes stuffed breast of chicken modern interpretation as well as the on the bone traditional version.
Desserts were the usual Ottimo offerings – Tiramisu done two ways and my favorite, the Chocolate Caprese sphere (which is Chef’s twist on a classic Torta Caprese cake). Strong coffee was offered and declined, and we marveled at the fact that we’d actually made our way across and through, the entire festival menu! By the way, a glass of wine or pint of beer is part of the INR 2250 price tag, making this a rather good deal. The short duration is thanks to Chef needing to head to Chennai again, but really, without his presence it would not be the same, so go and catch it before it ends, and if we’re lucky, maybe Chef will revisit this time travel menu again!