Chef Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother Raffaele have created an empire of restaurants in the Veneto region of northern Italy.
Within their restaurant group, they have various restaurants in Venice, Padua, Sarmeola di Rubano, and even Paris. His acclaimed fine dining restaurant Le Calandre, in a small town of Sarmeola di Rubano in Veneto, is a three Michelin starred restaurant and currently holds the #29 spot on San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Quite impressive. The restaurant actually started as a family business and was handed down to Massimiliano and Raffaele in 1994 by their parents. The restaurant earned three Michelin stars in 2002 and made chef Massimiliano, 28 at that time, the youngest chef to earn that recognition. Tommaso and I journeyed to Padua, a larger city nearby for the night, to dine at this renowned establishment.
Le Calandre is in Sarmeola di Rubano, about four miles away from Padua and took us about 40 minutes to get there by local bus (of course a taxi is much quicker but also more expensive). Next to Le Calandre is Il Calandrino, a cute casual restaurant with also a small pastry shop. We stopped by before our reservation at Le Calandre.
Once arriving at Le Calandre, we were seated in a minimalistic yet artistic dining room that felt cozy and comfortable. There are three tasting menus to choose from: classico (classic dishes throughout the years), max (Massimiliano’s tastes), and raf (Raffaele’s tastes). We opted for the classico tasting menu to try some of their signature dishes even though all three menus sounded phenomenal and enticing.
We started off with a few amuse bouches.
All three amuse bouches were exquisite. Heavenly bites each exploding with flavor.
In addition to the bread, we also had several types of grissini (breadsticks).
I was hesitant to try this but it was delicious. The creamy chilled cauliflower with the fresh briny oyster and salty caviar underneath was a great combination.
What an unexpected delight. In the bottom of the cup was a rich consommé jelly topped with caviar, tuna bottarga flavored ice cream, and a slice of tuna bottarga. It might sound strange but this was amazing.
The literal translation of scarpetta is “little shoe” but the act is mopping up any type of sauce with bread. The whole presentation of the glass slipper with the piece of bread on the side was brilliant. The rich sea urchin cream had a raw piece of mantis shrimp on top with sweet tomato and capers, all swimming in olive oil.
I was excited to try this signature dish as chef Massimiliano Alajmo is one of our participants at In Situ and his cuttlefish cappuccino is quite popular amongst guests. The “primo gusto” or “first taste” mat signifies his first tastes of childhood since this dish is warm and comforting. The cuttlefish (a type of squid) is cooked risotto style, braised slowly by adding liquid in batches, topped with a silky potato purée, chives, and olive oil. Below you’ll see our rendition of his dish and it’s pretty spot on. Perhaps our potato purée is a tad thicker compared to theirs.
Another fun presentation was a mini cannellone stuffed with Ricotta and Mozzarella cheese used to dip into the tomato sauce. Simple but so yummy.
A refined version of one of my favorite pasta dishes, carbonara. These silky pasta strands were coated in that creamy egg based sauce with thin slices of speck which gave a smoky flavor and finished with cured egg yolk shavings. It hit all those comforting notes.
This is another signature dish and while the risotto was perfectly cooked, al dente yet still creamy, it didn’t excite me like the previous dish. Saffron and licorice are actually two of my least favorite flavors but overall I did enjoy eating this.
This was a messy bite as we were instructed to eat the beef tartare with our hands (towels were provided for afterwards) but it was damn tasty with the mayonnaise and black truffle on top.
I’m not a bone marrow fan as its too fatty for me. While nothing was wrong with this dish, it just wasn’t for me.
Who knew radicchio could taste so good? I loved this simple looking dish with the fresh crisp bitter lettuce and the earthy black garlic cream underneath.
Crispy crackling skin with succulent pork meat…yum. The dijon mustard spuma added a nice kick but I wasn’t crazy about the coffee powder on top.
When we received this dish, I was confused as there was nothing in the bowl! However when flipped upside down…
A little surprise awaited us…
A luscious vanilla flavored custard was hidden under the bowl!
Another signature appeared to be a ball of mozzarella but was actually dessert. Once cracking the crunchy almond flavored nougat exterior, there was a creamy filling made with almonds and black pepper marmalade. It’s garnished with basil, olive oil, and oregano which are all ingredients that pair well with fresh mozzarella but harmonized with this dessert interpretation.
The final dish was called “the whole fig” with raspberry sorbet, Ricotta ice cream, and an airy spongelike substance flavored with fig.
After dinner we took a tour of the kitchen.
Le Calandre has to be one of my top fine dining restaurants that I’ve tried in Italy. The menu was a balance between classic flavors and dishes with a touch of modernization. The food was not only utterly delicious but whimsical, engaging, and stunningly beautiful. From the delectable food, the warm service, and the stylish ambience, Le Calandre is worth the trek for any serious foodie even though it’s not in a major city. Therefore my rating is an 8.5-9/10.