Disclaimer: Ok, per my last post, I visited the Emilia Romagna region in Italy (among other cities), just to eat. So you’re going to hear a lot about it, until you can’t stand it anymore, and you’ll have to go for yourself. And it will totally be worth it, especially if you value food as much as I do.
During my time there, I was happy to find some unexpected, yet delicious desserts, particularly when it came to the presentation. Of course, the flavors of the desserts were familiar, but I was often surprised by the presentation. It’s the little things that get me going. Let’s talk about fun plated desserts in Italy, and whether it’s all in the perception (presentation) or reality (taste).
On our first evening, we ordered tiramisu, a very traditional dessert, at Savini in Milan. What wasn’t traditional however, was the the flower bouquet we received.
For starters, the contrast of a brown dessert on a matte black plate was not only atypical but also so exciting. I was expecting the generic hotel white plate. But the plating made the dessert feel exotic, before even tasting it. Next, the cream was applied via pipping, rather than layered, or should I say splattered, as I am accustomed to. The style really highlighted each ingredient so that I could visually appreciate each one, but once I stuck a spoon in it, all of the ingredients married well to the taste.
I particularly liked the thin chocolate topping, shaped like cheese with perfectly round holes punched in. But the cherry on top were the gold flakes at the center, for a true contrast on the dark dessert, and the even darker background. Very chic and appropriate for Milan.
The dessert in of itself would be a 6/10 believe it or not, nothing to write home about (though I am writing), but the visual effects gave it an 8. I think there was too much cocoa powder, which made me feel like I was choking, and I kept reaching for the water. Also, the cream was carefully applied, but it wasn’t so flavorful. Sorry.
But overall, it tasted good because it looked good. Perception is reality.
Speaking of flowers, how about gelato flowers? Not only in Milan, but also in Florence and Bologna, I was happy to get gelato, more so for how cute it looked than how good it was.
My most memorable scoop was also, just ok, but the fact that each flavor resembled a petal, made me want to save the ice cream, rather than eat it. Well, only for a quick second. Of course, this was Italy, so it was still delicious, but again, the presentation curved the taste grade from a 5 to a 7.
A good presentation can sometimes sway my judgement; however, an overly simple presentation can make me underestimate a good dish. One of my favorite desserts of the trip was in the heart of Emilia Romagna, Bologna to be exact. It was at Osteria Bottega, which was off the beaten path, but the place was packed!
We opted for a wine and cream flavored pear. Sounded totally weird, but that’s exactly what it was: a whole pear, cooked in a wine reduction, with spices, then plated over a generous bed of Italian pastry cream. Overly simple. The cream of the area is full of sugar and egg yolk, so it was of strong yellow tone, to bring out the red of the whole pear, chilling on top. The dish looked rather rustic, yet bold, but it smelled so good, that it was also inviting.
Very simple, but maybe one of the best things I ate on this trip. It was rich, sweet, and spicy, while also playing with a mix of temperatures, as the pear was warm. This time, the fun plating was maybe a 7, but the dessert was a whopping 9. Yet, it was the simplicity of the presentation which also blew me away. So unexpectedly good. I was pleasantly surprised.
I saved the best for last, with one of our desserts at Osteria Francescana in Modena. It was Bottura’s famous “Oops, I dropped the lemon tart”. That dish is famous because allegedly, the Chef had dropped a tart, and found a creative way to plate a broken dessert.
The plating in this case absolutely blew me away because the plate in of itself looked broken, yet it wasn’t. the bumps were visible and clear to the touch, yet were matte and safe of course. It was so much more than a gastronomic experience.
The lemon in the tart was more yellow in color than I was accustomed to, but it made it fun, especially as the sauce was splattered across the plate. The crust was broken and reassembled carefully, with crumbs sprinkled around the plate.
When I finally built the courage to taste it, I realized that the portion was way too small. It was the right balance of sweet, sour, and crunch. I was scrapping the plate, and had to quickly compose myself due the loud noise my spoon created, against the bumpy plate. But again, the plating was the star at a 10, and the dessert at an 8, for a average score of a 9.
So a fun plated dessert definitely sets the stage in a positive way, but appearances can be deceiving, like in the case of the tiramisu. Perception can also be deceiving when the plating isn’t so special, but don’t be fooled by the flavors hiding behind them. Bottom line, it can taste better because it looks better, but take it with a grain of salt.