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Live the Dolce Vita at Il Mosaico
The chef's table at the five-star hotel Manzi in Ischia, Italy allows diners to feast on food that is art
by Francesca Di Meglio
Too often we eat simply to put fuel in our engine, to keep us going. We should also be eating, as the Italians do, for pleasure. Once in a while, I like to pretend that I have the time for a dolce vita, and I eat for the pure joy of it. When you decide to do this, you have to eat something extra special, something more than wheat toast and an apple. On these occasions, my husband Antonio is my eating tag-team partner. For our recent second wedding anniversary, Antonio brought me to Il Mosaico, the restaurant at Manzi, a five-star hotel in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples in Italy that is the home of my ancestors and my husband. The tasting menu we devoured at Il Mosaico was the most dolce of all the dinners we've ever had.
Headed by Chef Nino Di Costanzo, Il Mosaico has two Michelin stars, a distinction held by exceptional restaurants. And Il Mosaico lives up to its stars. At the chef's table, guests sit right in the kitchen and observe Di Costanzo and his team as they prepare meals for guests. The difference between a kitchen that serves nouvelle cuisine and a run-of-the-mill restaurant is the silence. Di Costanzo and his team barely speak as they work, and when they do it is in a calm whisper. The kitchen is a machine, and everyone instinctively knows his role in making the machine work.
If you've never ordered a tasting menu at a gourmet restaurant of this type and you don't drink alcohol (like me), then you'll be surprised by the water list. Think wine list but for water. Once you get in your water order, the meal gets underway. At the start of this meal, we sampled a spreadable mozzarella cheese and a sublime extra virgin olive oil. Served in what looked like a jewelry box, freshly baked bread in a variety of flavors warmed the palette. Although we were tempted to eat it all, the chef warned us that we would not be able to eat all the rest if we stuffed ourselves with the lovely little carbs.
Before we arrived, many people told us that nouvelle cuisine meant tiny dishes that would leave us wanting more and H-U-N-G-R-Y at the end of the night. They couldn't be more wrong. While most of the dishes were small, there were so many of them that we couldn't possibly have eaten another bite at the end of the tasting menu. Some of the highlights included a liquid eggplant parmigiana and caprese salad, basil and lemon risotto, and traditional pasta and potatoes served in a most untraditional way. Pasta e patate that looked like something out of MoMA was as exciting to look at as it was to taste. While the prices are more than your average dinner, they're not as astronomical as you might think. Sure, you'll pay 10 euro for water, but the entire meal cost under 270 euro without alcohol. For a special occasion or to quench your foodie desires, you might be willing to foot such a bill. After all, you do get to observe the chef at work while you devour the meal.
Each plate looked more like art than dinner. I almost felt guilty eating the art, but it was so delicious that I couldn't help myself. Our favorite dish was lobster with crisp bacon and paper-thin slices of eggplant served on a crystal dish shaped like a wave. The desserts were magnificent. First, there was a transitional dish that had a sliver of a sweet bread underneath a ball of transparent sugar with fruit at the center served atop a vase. Next, my husband sampled chocolate statues, including one shaped like a box and filled with melted white chocolate, while I ate the chef's rendition of traditional, Italian kids' snacks, such as Ringo cookies. Finally, we both treasured the thimble-sized pastries served in a miniature china closet. Imagine the tiniest baba' and sfogliatella melting in your mouth in one quick bite. It was the perfect end to my always short-lived dolce vita.
Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can read about her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.
Photo copyright © Manzi.
Article Published 10/7/10
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