Ristorante Manuel

December 11, 2006

Corso Italia, 265, Camporosso, 0184 20 50 37

(December 8, 2006) One rainy Friday, Gary and Varian set out for Ventimiglia. First we had to buy some plants at Cactus Mania, at least that was the ostensible reason for the trip. In reality the purpose was to have lunch at a restaurant in Camporosso that had been recommended to us by the lady at our favorite enoteca in Dolceacqua. She had given us the following directions—“turn up the hill at the rose-colored church.” We went back and forth and couldn’t see the rose-colored church. Finally, we stopped in the town center of Camporosso and asked for directions from an older gentleman standing by a store. He seemed to know the restaurant and directed us further north out of Camporosso and almost into Dolceacqua, three kilometers he said.At that point there was a very small church, and one might have kindly called it “rose-colored,” but the turn up the hill appeared to be a driveway but there was no sign. Desperate, we took the turn and wound up at what first looked like a parking lot for some sort of industrial building. On the other side of it, however, there were some lights on a building and a vitrine by the door that might just have a menu in it. No sign, of course.

We parked and walked up to the door, and yes, the menu in the vitrine said “Manuel” so we took a chance at a fairly low level of expectations. What a surprise, and it kept getting better as we walked into a very proper restaurant with tablecloths, yellow roses on each table and various large plants scattered around. This was definitely not the simple, little place we had anticipated either before or after we parked. Before she brought the menu, a lovely young blonde, who turned out to be Romanian, poured us a glass of Tener Spumanti. Then she brought over the menu, which had two dégustiones, one at €40 and one at €50. In addition to them was the á la carte menu proudly offering special truffle preparations, with dishes ranging from €25 euros to €60. We opted for the €50 tasting menu because the dishes sounded more interesting than the other. And our choice was rewarded.

An amuse bouche of smoked tuna stuffed with veal and moistened with oil whet our appetites perfectly. Our first course, billed as three little tastings, turned out to be three separate courses. First, shrimp with parmesan, bananas, almonds and fruit sorbet. This was served not quite at room temperature, but certainly not hot. Whoever said that cheese doesn’t go with seafood has never tasted anything like this. It was delicious.

The second little tasting was the lightest stockfish we ever tasted and with a lot more fish than potatoes. The third and last little tasting was a roll of veal, stuffed with ground veal, steamed and then sauced with a parsley pesto.

This being Italy, there was, of course, a pasta course. Today it was homemade ravioli with the pasta so thin it was virtually sheer, and stuffed with a mélange of vegetables and meat.
Our Piedmont beef, cooked rare was sauced with nuts and curry, and garnished with beans from Pigna and a confit of curried onions and vegetables. Everything so far was absolutely first rate. Dessert was a crusty apple cake with ice cream on a plate decorated with chocolate swirls and cinnamon.

The wine list was appropriate for this type of restaurant, offered many reasonable local wines and then a broad variety of Italian wines at all price levels. We chose, with the help of our Romanian server, a 2004 Brico Arcagna, Rossesse di Dolceacqua, Terre Bianche (€30) and were very happy with it. Plus, it was served at a two-Michelin-star level. The server poured the taste in Gary’s glass. Once he approved, she removed that glass from the table and the similar one in front of Varian, and filled two big goblets at a nearby service table. And, how could we resist her offer of a little limoncello to finish what turned out to be one of our most enjoyable meals in this year!

How could a restaurant of this quality exist in an unmarked building on an unmarked driveway? On a table were some guide books, one of which was the Michelin. Sure enough, Manuel has two forks. How did Michelin ever find Manuel? And, one has to ask if one’s friends haven’t been hiding this gem from us. As the meal progressed we learned that the Romanian lady is the fiancée of Manuel Moriano, who is one of the chefs. The other is his father, Fernando, who used to have a gourmet store in Vallecrosia. Mama is out in the dining room, too; and makes all the pasta herself. Manuel served the meat course himself and chatted with us for a bit. After dessert, he and Fernando came by to chat. When we left all three rushed out to wish us farewell and Merry Christmas.

And, our gift for this Season is the gift of Manuel.

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