Ristorante Balzi Rossi, Ventimiglia
March 27, 2012
The Beglia family has run Ristorante Balzi Rossi since 1982. When we last went, about twenty years ago, it had two Michelin stars. We found it somewhat pretentious and had not been back until Christiane and Jean invited us to meet them there for lunch on March 2, 2012. We discovered that, without any stars, it is a more welcoming place.
Restaurants in the western end of Liguria have been running a festival of new olive oils in February and March for the last eighteen years. The area is known for oils from the taggiasca olive. They are made to be used fresh, just after the winter pressing, in contrast to our oil, grown an hour to the west, which is made in October. We let our oil settle until it is clear and golden and bottle in the springtime.
Glasses of Laurent Perrier Champagne were poured and refilled when empty. Eventually we moved on to St Pauls Weissburgunder, a pinot blanc from the Alto Adige (or Südtirol.) It was crisp and nice, but I think a local Vermentino or Pigato would have been more fitting with the cuisine and local oils. A plate of olives and a bread basket were put on the table.
There was good white bread for tasting oils and an oil- and salt- rich focaccia. Each of the six courses was cooked in a new olive oil of the region. A bottle was also put on the table for tasting separately.
The first course of the menu,
A Tavola con l’Olio Nuovo, 18° edizione, febbraio ~ marzo 2012,
Entrata di benvenuto
“Olio del frantoioi Sant’agata – Imperia Oneglia”
This starter was a small tarte of a vegetable custard topped with chopped tomato.
The oil with the starter was made by a family which has been growing and pressing olives since 1827. Its website says:
“It is made from taggiasca olives picked solely from the “Martine Fascei” terraces belonging to the Mela family, situated at approximately 500 metres above sea level. The olives are particularly tasty as they come from trees growing in the “mountains”. Its production depends on the availability of the olives, which are picked slightly before they are completely ripe giving them a fragrant smell, a sweet, fruity taste and a special aroma.”
The fruitiness of the oil enhanced the subtle tart.
The second oil is made by a family which has been pressing oil for over a century in Trucco, a village in the foothills behind Ventimiglia. This oil is described on its website as “sweet and mellow,” which I guess made it appropriate to use on the smoked salmon of the second course.
Salmone leggermente affumicato con agrumi e frutti di bosco
“Olio del frantoio Gazziello – Ventimiglia”
This was an adventurous combination: house-smoked salmon with orange wedges, strawberries, greens and olives. Fortunately, we were still drinking our second glass of champagne, which went well.
Stoccafisso con capperi e acciughe
“Olio del frantoio Cià Già di Fabio Siccardi – Ventimiglia”
Dried cod was reconstituted into a mousse, similar to a French brandade. It was garnished with anchovies, capers, parsley and olive oil. The thin, toasted bread slice with a dip of olive purée added needed crunch. Very good.
The oil with the stockfish is from an organic producer near Ventimiglia. His website describes this oil as “fruity and spicy without acidity.” It had a nice, pronounced flavor and was a traditional, good match.
The oil with the shrimp ravioli was elegant. The only thing I could find about Ars Olea on the internet is that it comes from Pietrabruna, a town in the hills east of Ventimiglia. Its own website is inactive. This oil added a needed extra dimension to the dish.
The oil with the fish is produced in Isolabona, a town beyond Apricale, well back in the hills behind Bordighera. Its website modestly claims:
“S’ciappau” Gran Cru® is the finest example of Extra Virgin Oil made from Taggiasche Olives. It is the result of years of experience, passion, attention for detail and personally following the complete cycle, cultivation, pruning, harvesting and immediate transformation into oil in our modern mill. Our works boast the most advanced technology for extraction so that we can obtain excellent oils full of anti-oxidatives.”
I thought that it was very good. All of these oils are made by the centrifuge method rather than the traditional stone grinding method. There are few old-style mills left, and the age-old oil-making method does not conform to EU rules of hygiene so it can only be used for growers like us who do not commercialize our oil.
I could not locate the oil with the dessert on the internet. Anyway, it was hard to taste as the bread had been removed. I poured some on the ice cream and it seemed good.
To finish we had cookies, coffee and a grappa.
The meal was very enjoyable, not overly fancy, but solid regional seafood cuisine (except for the creative salmon dish.) The service was always friendly and efficient. The pace was good.
The dining room, which had been full, was almost empty when we finished our meal.
The chef, Giuseppina Beglia, came out of the kitchen to chat and pose for a photo with Christiane and Jean. (The rest of the family runs the dining room.)