February 22nd
La Scaletta – Milano

I’m not Milanese, but I’ve lived here for twenty years. I mention this because sometimes, by chance, I happen on some fragment of its history, and every time I revel in the way this city reveals its secrets and the fact that I live here… despite the absence of the sea.

I had been to the restaurant La Scaletta before, some years back, and had certainly eaten well, struck by the setting too, with its little garden and unusual interior… but I didn’t know about its historical connection with Pina Bellini, a famous figure in Italian cuisine in the 20th century.

 
I returned one evening this winter, in a new appointment with the #Dinersforfood project, and I found a pleasant welcome, an elegant atmosphere and a cuisine focused stably on traditional Italian cooking without being intimidated by it.  The enthusiasm of the chef can be detected in every dish, thanks to creative touches which leave the essence of each recipe intact.

With me was Kevin, a youthful Milanese appetite but wide awake and demanding, thanks to his genuine passion for cooking.

 

A tasty welcome arriving with the wine is always a good sign, awakening the senses and the conversation at table. The seasonal ingredient, pumpkin, confirms the care and wisdom put into choosing ingredients.

 

For starters, given my uncontrollable appetite for artichokes, I plump for “Spigola, terrina di foie gras con carciofi al limone”. Crisp and tasty, with the surprising blend of bass, foie and pumpkin turning out to be a succulent success.

 

Kevin, meanwhile, chose “Tavolozza di gamberi viola con radicchio tardivo al profumo di anice stellato”, a delightfully spicy mix of prawns, late season radishes and aniseed. I love spices, especially when they are used singly, to enhance a dish on its own. In Europe we’re not too good at recognising and using them, but eating them one by one, unblended, is a good way to focus and remember them, and learn how to use them.

 

My first course is herring and potato ravioli, stir-fried with dates and pine nuts on broccoli cream, a fine balance of north and south in harmony with the fresh taste of pasta. I’ve a soft spot for bold tastes, and would maybe have let the herring have more say.

 

Obviously, I tried Kevin’s choice as well: “Sedanini di grano saraceno, trafilati al bronzo con sarde, crema di finocchi e anice stellato”… buckwheat pasta with sardines, fennel cream and star anise: again a contrast between flavours evoking south and summer and then buckwheat, which takes me to the mountains of South Tyrol. A fine proposal, so I forgive the cherry tomatoes in winter.

I continue with fish dishes, namely the “Filetto di rombo alla mediterranea”, the turbot perfumed and delicate, helped by the dehydrated vegetables.

 

Kevin changes tack, heading for the “Guancetta di vitello, brasata al vino rosso, con polenta morbida e cime di rapa”, veal cheek, braised in red wine, with soft polenta and broccoli: tenderest meat with the penetrating tang of broccoli.

 

The superb dinner comes towards its sweet finale – along with the enjoyable conversation with Kevin, as he explains his ambitions and passions with the reckless ambition of youth – featuring the classic Cassata Siciliana, here revisited with the same ingredients but a very different and suitable lightness.

 

I leave “La Scaletta” musing on the youthful generation now appearing in the panorama of Milan’s restaurant scene: we should welcome the courageous initiatives and the urgent determination to make space for themselves, the readiness to put themselves on the line, not least to keep the old traditions alive or to create new ones.