If cuisine were a matter of pure mathematics, the number of Gault Millau points and stars in the new edition of S.Pellegrino Sapori Ticino would reach dizzying heights. For the first of this year’s scheduled dinners featuring six of the most talented chefs from the Swiss canton of Ticino, the featured restaurant is the La Perla restauraunt, on the third floor of the Lugano Casino.
Diners are delighted both by the breathtaking lake view from the terrace as well as the bubbles pouring from a magnum of Bellavista wine, as we await the amuse bouche: though challenging, tonight’s guests should try to resist the temptation of the antipasto buffet in order to leave room for the five set courses of the evening.
The Tastes of the Land is the first to arrive: sumptuous duck liver accompanied with rhubarb marmalade and raspberry. The Gran Cuvèe 2005 from Bellavista pairs perfectly with the antipasto and is a perfect alternative to the more predictable companion to foie gras, sweet wine. Anyone who’s ever prepared a terrine, knows that the most difficult part is the cooking – which in this case, is executed perfectly. And the rhubarb accent is intriguing, even though a hint of spiciness would have perhaps been a perfect contrast to the sweet overtones of the other ingredients. But there’s no time to wonder – because the meal’s most anticipated course, Taste of the Sea is about to arrive.
In a kind of Renaissance play on food, there’s a discord between what the food appears to be and what it really is. The faux ravioli are made not from fresh egg dough but discs of oyster water condensed with agar-agar. The filling is made from a delicate mixture of shrimp and sea scallop tartar. It’s an ingenious dish with regards to its technical execution as well as its sense of whimsy – fundamental elements for any memorable dish.
The waiter changes our glasses and a whiff of elderberry and juniper lingers over the table: only a purebred sauvignon like Winkl 2011 could have such intense aromas. The third course, called Tastes of Land and Sea requires some concentration. The plate features sole, clams, grapefruit, Roman chicory – and all together, the ingredients impart a little shock to the palate, especially the sourness of the grapefruit, which contrasts with the sweetness of the fish met. And yet, the dish’s complexity then becomes unleashed and an equilibrium is reached. It’s not easy to choose a wine for a dish containing citrus, but the Winkl works beautifully. And now the moment has arrived for true carnivores and lovers of more full-bodied reds: beef, veal and merlot from Ligornetto di Vinattieri. The stuffed tail with its robust flavours is perfect with the long, spicy notes of the wine.
Dessert begins with a tribute to the simple richness of apples – one of the Ticino canton’s signature fruits – and is served with an unusual pairing: sorbet made from arugula, whose pungent traces have been tempered and transformed. Its companion drink, of course, could only be cider. And to close the meal, “sweet frivolities” like saffron panna cotta and exquisite tiny chocolates. The night is now almost upon us, the lake below is black, with rain polishing streets and balconies. There’s enough time for a good cigar, dipping the tip in a drop cognac first, perhaps – both of which carry the Davidoff label.