Dining in Italy: Aga

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Aga is a new restaurant of chef couple Oliver Piras and Alessandra Del Favero, located inside a hotel near Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomiti. We decided to give it a try because Oliver Piras has been awarded chef emergente (upcoming chef) by Gambero Rosso. Aga does not have a Michelin star yet. The tasting menu of 8 courses (73 euros, on the menu it says 7 courses but we had 8 not counting all the extras) can be accompanied by 5 or 8 glasses of wine (35 or 45 euros). There is also an à la carte selection.

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The chef has worked in famous kitchens all over Europe, including Noma and El Celler de Can Roca. We thought it was fun to see a book (in Dutch) from Librije. The influences of Noma and Librije were clear in the dishes that were to follow.

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Before the actual menu started, we got a nice glass of Franciacorta and a series of snacks begin. Starting with this cracker of caramelized carrot with a topping of marinated carrot. Very original and delicious flavor.

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The next cracker with granita and trout was nice.

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Deep fried ravioli with sweetbread and figs was based on a local specialty of deep fried ravioli with chocolate and figs. Although it was nice, it was difficult to taste either the figs or the sweetbread.

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Cucumber and water melon with lukewarm chicken stock, made with mace. Delicious and original flavor combination with a very nice texture.

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Also very good this tartare of beetroot with various leaves and a cracker of amaranth. Especially the combination with the oyster leaves was outstanding, also with the Franciacorta that really brought out the oyster. The dressing on the beetroot was just right and made it very fresh. A very nice set of amuses bouches, 9/10.

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The bread and butter were really good. The bread had great texture with a thin crunchy crust and pleasant crumb. The local butter was very creamy. Also the grissini were very nice.

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It was a nice touch that the chefs came out of the kitchen themselves to present their dishes. The first course of the degustation: rigatoni with cream of artichokes, stevia leaves, and trout caviar. A very original combination of flavors that worked very well, and kudos to the sommelier for matching this with a Riesling from Mosel. The dish has pronounced bitter notes from the artichokes, which are notoriously difficult to match with wine. But this worked and the Riesling did not only held its ground, but even brought out the flavors in the dish. 9/10

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Second course: cooked grain with greens and tartare of fish, served cold. Nice combination of flavors and textures, with the fish providing mostly texture and the greens being the star of the dish. Paired adequately with a Cataratto from Sicily. A slightly more unctuous wine would have worked better with the fish. 9/10

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Wow. The third course: tartare of beef with a corn mayo, caramelized shallot powder, and fried breadcrumbs. The combination of the tender meaty beef with the crunchy breadcrumbs and the ‘burnt’ flavor of the shallot powder, made this taste like a very very good steak from the grill. Simply amazing, 10/10, and worthy of a three-star restaurant. The wine pairing with the same Cataratto was ok, but a rounder wine (either a light red or an aged white) would have worked better.

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Fourth course: risotto with wild celery and goat butter, very nice with a nice sweet and sour flavor profile. 8/10 This was served with a ‘triple’ beer. I don’t like beer because of the bitter notes, but according to Kees this pairing was OK. We both agreed that a Riesling would have worked better with the flavor profile of this dish.

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Fifth course: eggplant ‘buttons’ (ravioli) in an eggplant ‘dashi’ with elderflowers. The dashi, made from caramelized eggplant, was delicious and had great depth of flavor. 9/10 The wine pairing with a Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli was OK as a nice contrast with the eggplant.

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Sixth course: sturgeon with beetroot (from Chioggia) and a tart butter sauce, served with a Nebbiolo from Produttori del Barbaresco. The earthiness of the beetroot and sturgeon was nicely contrasted with the sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly. 8/10 The Nebbiolo was served too warm and a bit strong for the dish, but it didn’t clash either.

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Seventh course: neck of pork, confit in butter, with mashed potatoes, sour cherries, and bay leaf extract. The pork was tender, although it seemed less so because the knife was very blunt. The combination of flavors worked well, and it was nice that the dishes throughout the menu stayed light. 8/10 The wine pairing with a Valtellina was adequate.

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As pre-dessert icecream with a touch a horseradish and melon brunoise, very nice.

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The dessert: fresh black pepper and pear ice cream. Original and delicious. 8/10 Paired adequately with a Verduzzo passito.

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Something very special as a final palate cleanser: pine ice cream, made with only the natural sugar from the sap of the pine tree and the ‘flours’ of the pine for garnish. A very nice way to end this wonderful meal.

The chef is (or should I say the chefs are) very talented. The dishes are creative, original, well presented, and most importantly, delicious. Michelin should be awarding the first star very soon. I am awarding 9/10 for the food, which wouldn’t be a bad score for a restaurant with 2 Michelin stars.

We were amazed when the chef explained to us at the end of the evening that the same small kitchen team also serviced the hotel restaurants with many tables!

The sommelier knows his wines and presents adequate wine pairings at a bargain price. There is some room for improvement here by tasting multiple wines with each dish and selecting the best one. But still there are no clashes, which is better than at a lot of restaurants. 7.5/10

The service is good, with a very nice touch the chefs explain the dishes themselves. 8.5/10

This is one of those restaurants that may become very famous. There are only 4 tables, so in a few years it may be nearly impossible to book a table like at Noma or Can Roca. With the check at 260 euros for the two of us this is great value for money. Go there now while it is still cheap and easy to get a table!

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13 thoughts on “Dining in Italy: Aga

  1. Oh Stefan: your post comments are teaching me more Italian than Dante Alighieri if and when I get there!! Terrific!! And terrific post . . . . such original food . . . pine ice cream,. stevia leaves used [yes, I do use the plant as a sweetener], fish with beetroot . . . where does one end . . . quite an experience and to do all of that for four tables a night . . . .do hope that the inevitable growth and fame will be able to keep imagination and results somewhat the same . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was intrigued with the whole meal, but was MOST interested in the stevia leaves! As I use stevia regularly in my cooking, I’m familiar with it, but I have never seen the leaves themselves. All told, another marvelous eating experience for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Stefan, thank you for your excellent review. We will be traveling from Santa Monica to go skiing in this area for XMAS 2015 and plan to eat at AGA as well. We cant wait! Was there any other restaurant(s) in the area that you tried as well and can recommend? Grazi Mille, Ken

    Like

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