Ristorante Agrodolce, Imperia

December 11, 2012

Andrea Sarri, Agrodolce’s chef, is president of the Italy chapter of the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe.  In an interview after he was elected he said:

I’ve been a chef for many years and my culinary philosophy is continually evolving.  My cardinal points remain the same:
top-quality ingredients all from my region: Liguria.  My style is sober, as fundamental and refined as possible, no frills, and lots of substance.

His restaurant has a Michelin star. Linda and I went for dinner on October 23, 2012.

We walked down to this waterfront restaurant from the nearby Hotel Rossini al Teatro in the center of Oneglia, one of the two cities combined to form Imperia. In the afternoon we had walked from the hotel to the Olive Museum, which is surprisingly interesting.

Entering under the waterfront arcades, we went through the small dining room into the 
main dining room, which opens partially onto the kitchen.

We started with glasses of Cavalleri Franciacorta Brut Blanc de Blancs. This Northern Italian sparkling wine is more substantial and elegant than the usual prosecco.

We had a choice of à la carte, a mid-level tasting menu or, or choice, the Menu Lasciatemi fare, with dishes selected by the chef. This was fine, but it presents a blogging problem as the chef came out himself and presented each dish in Italian. I had hoped that I could find most of them on the à la carte menu later. Some were there, but not necessarily prepared with the same garnishes. So some of what you see below will be our remembered best guess and there will be no titles in Italian.  Although the chef has no disclosed French experience, we discovered that he speaks excellent French (and no apparent English.) Eventually we were able to converse with him in French, but he would still announce the dishes in Italian. We can read restaurant Italian, but could only get pieces of it spoken.

The amuse-gueules were a hot beignet of onions and basil and a tomato reduction with a mussel and mozzarella.

We were served a slice of foccacia and an olive bun.

Not knowing what was coming, except that it would be all fish and seafood, we asked the sommelier to choose us a good local white wine. The Terre Rossé was a level above most of the Vermentinos we have in Liguria. When this ran out, I had an extensive discussion with the sommelier which resulted in our ordering a wine he likes a lot. It was a very peculiar wine; I later found this report:

“…a fiano from Calitri, in the Irpinia highlands deep in inland Campania. Think the other side of Mount Vesuvius and you’re about right. Head south a little too, through the raw farmland, mountains and ancient Germanic castles on the road to Basilicata. It is an unusual take on one of this region’s most promising indigenous white varieties from the father-uncle-son team of Michele, Pierluigi and Guido Zampaglione. Made in a natural style — ie, organically farmed, with no additions of yeast, enzymes, or chemicals; limited use of sulfur — it’s also fermented on its skins, where it acquires a distinctive golden-orange hue. It is an unusual wine — not for everyone, but certainly interesting. and worth checking out. On top of apple/ stone fruit flavors and the gripping texture from the skin fermentation, we noticed a curious spice component, sort of like curry. Pretty groovy stuff.”

It was also slightly effervescent. I can’t say I thought it was great, but it did go well with the last two fish courses and it is always interesting to try new wines. Linda only drank one sip and ordered a glass of Pigato.
 
We also had a bottle of S. Bernardo water from the nearby Maritime Alps.

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The first course was six dabs of sliced raw tuna. They were garnished in three different ways with with figs, bottarga and Szechuan pepper. The tuna, which I think he said was from the Indian Ocean, not the overfished good Mediterranean type, was quite mild in its flavor.

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Squid stuffed with fresh vegetables on a chickpea round with a chickpea and olive oil sauce.

Very good.

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Icelandic cod (baccalà) roasted in raw milk butter with a “bagna cauda” sauce featuring garlic and anchovies; a burnt hazelnut garnish.

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Seared scallops with a potato purée and dabs of eggplant and tomato.

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Tortelloni in a rich, slightly spicy, shellfish broth and garnish.

This was very good.
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A piece of roasted hake on top of a chunk of foie gras with a smear of carrot purée and a fried scallion.

This picturesque dish made no culinary sense and wasted two main ingredients which could have been good.
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A pineapple dessert.

The meal was interesting, but not up to what we had expected. It worked best when it was not too studied or contrived, as in the stuffed squid or the tortelloni with shellfish. It was also best when it stuck to its local roots and skipped the French influences. The chef should remember his statement: “My style is sober, as fundamental and refined as possible, no frills, and lots of
substance.”

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The next morning was market day in Oneglia. It was an ordinary day inside the art deco market building, but stands and crowds occupied the streets all around it.

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We walked down to the waterfront. One enters Agrodolce from under these arcades or from the street behind.

http://www.ristoranteagrodolce.it/en/

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