Località Runate, 15
46013 Canneto sull’Oglio, Mantova
Telephone: +39 0376 723001
Overall rating: 7/10
Date of visit: September 2012
Dal Pescatore Santini is a family-run restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was very difficult to find. My GPS wouldn’t accept the address, and I ended up going to a very small bar/restaurants to ask where it was. They then said: “Just follow us in your car. We will drive there”. This was Italy after all.
The grandma is usually in charge of the risotto, and her son is in charge of the service. His wife is the head chef, and their two sons are cook and sommelier, respectively. The sommelier-son’s wife is a waitress here. I didn’t meet the grandma and the sommelier-son (as he was in the US), but the rest I met at some point (the chefs came out to say hello just before I left).
The interior of the restaurant was not really my thing: Pastel coloured walls and décor that seemed to be from the 80s or earlier. A bit old-fashioned if you ask me, but maybe that was really a good match for the food.
Initially, classical music and opera was played in the restaurant, but this later shifted, appropriately I should see, to “Best of Italy’s 80s music”.
The restaurant offers two menus (€170 each) as well as a la carte dishes. Pasta dishes a la carte were €30-€39, while fish were €47-€48 and meat €52-€56. I chose one of the menus.
I had a single glass of white wine which was €10. Water was €10 too.
While looking at the menu, I was served some parmesan crisps. I know from experience that parmesan crisps have to be made right before serving them, as they otherwise become chewy. Although nice, these were a bit chewy, but I understand it’s not possible for a restaurant to make something like this right before serving.
Before the menu began, I was served a simple appetizer of pumpkin soup with great depth of flavour, and what a great start. After living in Spain for a year and a half I haven’t had pumpkin anywhere near as good as this (8/10).
The first dish of the menu was a terrine of lobster with oscietra caviar on top, and mackerel and pickled ginger (like the one you have for sushi) on the side. Fish eggs is one of those things that has never really done anything for me, but here I could clearly tell that these were the best fish eggs I’ve ever had (and better than the caviar at Daniel in New York). Top-notch. That was the only thing I can truly complement about this dish. The main ingredient, lobster, didn’t have any flavour, and the mackerel and the ginger simply lacked excitement, as did the dish as a whole (6/10).
Midway through this dish, Antonio Santini came in and poured a bit of the restaurant’s own olive oil on, and that was a really nice oil.
The restaurant had offered to add an extra dish from the other menu to my menu free of charge, as that particular dish was a classic of the restaurant. I’m glad they did, as it was the best dish of the entire meal. It was simply Tortelli (similar to tortellini) stuffed with pumpkin and a bit of amaretto liquor if I’m not mistaken, and with grated cheese on top. So simple, yet so terribly good. This was definitely one of the best dishes in all five restaurants I went to in Italy (at least 9/10).
To accompany this dish, free of charge they served a sweet Italian wine called I Capitelli from the manufacturer Anselmi. This was simply a perfect match, and what a great wine!
Next up was risotto. It was simply a saffron risotto with a bit of balsamic vinegar poured on the plate. It was similar to the one at Le Calandre, but that one was superior. The rice here were cooked longer (to long if you ask me), and the liquorice at Le Calandre really added another dimension. The vinegar here was very nice too, but there was simply way too little of it (7/10).
The second best dish of the night was next: Wonderful gnocchi’s with great texture was served with sea bream two ways (cooked and marinated raw), olives, crispy fennel (probably dried and then fried) and slowly baked tomatoes. The fennel was definitely a lot better than the similar fennel I had at Morten’s Kro in Denmark (and it fit this dish better), and the tomatoes can only be described with one word: stunning! These tomatoes along with the ones at Al Sorriso are simply the best “fresh” tomatoes I’ve ever had (I say fresh, because the Bloody Mary at Quique Dacosta was better, but the tomatoes there had been tampered with). Unfortunately, there was only half a cherry tomato in total on the plate here (8.5/10).
Sea bass was served with paper thin sheets with a bit of chilli, beans without seasoning, and some very nice red onions. The fish was a bit raw, but they said this was how they preferred to serve it. They did offer me another one, but I was half-way through the dish then and declined. I honestly didn’t bother to eat another portion of this. The onions were the only really pleasant thing here. There was nothing wrong with the food in this dish (except for the lack of seasoning on the beans), but it was simply terribly uninspired and plain (5/10).
The next dish was just as plain: Turbot with parsley, chicory, fresh tomatoes, and polenta with oregano. As I also said in my review of Osteria Francescana, I think polenta is a phenomenon that only Italians appreciate. In my life I’ve only had interesting polenta once (where it was mixed with minced tomatoes). Here it was dry and plain. Turbot is one of my favourite fish, and it was well-cooked too, but in this combination it simply didn’t excite me one bit (at best 5/10).
The main course was belly and sirloin of pork, braised pineapple with thyme, potato purée, and a sauce with Szechuan pepper. If everything had been as wonderful as the pineapple, this would have been a marvellous dish. The pineapple was sweet, tender and very flavourful. The thyme added a great dimension, and the pineapple worked really well with pork. Unfortunately, both cuts of pork were very chewy. The sirloin was slightly pink, so it didn’t seem overcooked, nor did it have that dull colour that pork gets when it’s been resting for too long, so maybe the meat was simply not of proper quality. The potato purée and the sauce were fine as such, but simply nothing special at all. Not something you would expect in a three star restaurant (6/10 due to the pineapple).
Then I was offered a small extra dish, which was shoulder of beef slowly braised in red wine, with a small potato crisp. They also served me a bit of red wine as well, both free of charge. This dish was as nice as you would expect from something like this, but also a little bit limited in excitement, as you would expect (6.5-7/10).
Petit-fours, I dare call them, were served before the desserts. None of these were better than merely slightly pleasant, and the citrus wine gum was bitter. The pastry was mostly dry and dull, and not a lot of thought, nor technical care, seemed to have gone into these (at best 6/10).
My menu came with a cheese serving, and I had asked if I could swap this for a dessert, which wasn’t a problem at all.
The first dessert was one of the classics from the restaurant: Pistachio cream with meringue, toasted almonds and zabaglione sauce. The pistachio cream was not quite as flavourful as I could have wished for. The meringue was just meringue, but the zabaglione sauce was very nice, and a lot better than the one I had at Al Sorriso a few days later. Here you could really taste the wine and the egg yolks (7/10).
My second dessert was orange soufflé with passion fruit sauce. I had expected there to be more elements to this dish, but it was simply a soufflé, in which they poked a hole and poured the sauce into. The soufflé was a bit too soft in the centre, but nevertheless had a nice fluffy texture, and it didn’t collapse at all while I ate it. The passion fruit sauce was a bit too acidic. Although I enjoyed the previous dish a little bit more I’ll give it the same score, although admittedly it was difficult to enjoy this dish as I was so full at this stage (7/10).
Then there was the service. Like in the other four restaurants in Italy the pace of the meal was not as good as in the three star restaurants I’ve been to in other countries. There was simply too much waiting, but as such the pace was okay here. They didn’t hold my chair when I came back from the toilet, and I must admit that I have become used to that when I go to three star restaurants. I simply don’t think they’ve ever seen this done, and therefore don’t know that three star restaurants in other countries do this. Anyway, that’s not a big deal at all.
Luckily, I could pass the time at the table by looking at the two cookbooks that Antonio Santini showed me. The atmosphere was polite, but seemed just a tad stiff and formal to me, but that’s probably just a personal preference. Antonio, however, was quite talkative and asked about my trip, which is more than can be said about some of the other places in Italy (Da Vittorio and Al Sorriso).
The only real problem for me was the language barrier. In general, southern Europeans are not great at English, so I can’t fault them for that, but at times it was a bit difficult to talk, as Antonio sometimes talked to me in Italian or Spanish when he couldn’t express what he wanted to say in English. Most of the dishes were served by a young waiter. Although his English seemed okay, on several occasions he responded to what he thought I said. The daughter-in-law of Antonio probably had the best English.
Dal Pescatore was actually one of the restaurants in Europe I had wanted to go to the most, but for me this wasn’t a proper three star meal at all. I have been to several one star places with severely better execution and better ingredients (Herman in Copenhagen springs to mind), and I have been to several one star places with far more excitement in the food (Kokkeriet in Copenhagen and Ca’ Sento in Valencia springs to mind). There were some great dishes at Dal Pescatore, but the general level was simply too uneven.
This was my first time here so I’m just guessing now, but I think the real problem here was that the restaurant hasn’t evolved much over the years. The food seemed like something that could have been served 20-30 years ago. Food doesn’t have to be made in a laboratory for me to like it, but some of the dishes here (for instance the turbot or the sea bass) seemed like something I could easily have made myself. The restaurant is clearly a classic restaurant, as opposed to a modern one, which is not a problem for me at all. They did manage to pull off some great dishes that were quite simple (the pumpkin soup, the tortellis, and the gnocchis), but the problem here was that too many dishes didn’t seem classic, but simply old-fashioned. There’s a difference between simple food and plain food.
Other times, they stuck to old techniques rather than adapting newer, better ones. The very slowly cooked pork (26-48 hours) I had at Le Calandre and Osteria Francescana simply seemed to be from a completely different universe compared to the one I had at Dal Pescatore, which was cooked the old-fashioned way (45 minutes). These three slabs of pork clearly showed me that slowly cooked pork in a vacuum simply gives a better result. I would also think that the success rate for vacuum cooked meat is simply higher. Then why stick to an old, inferior method just because it worked 20 years ago?
Nevertheless, what I really liked about Dal Pescatore was that they really tried their best to impress me: Even though their English proficiency might not have been superb, they still came back and made conversation, and they gave me extra dishes plus a bit of wine with no extra charge. You could change things in the menu if you wanted, as they were very cooperative. They also gave me the full menu (including the a la carte section) to bring home as a souvenir.
Even though this on a technical and creative level might not have been a superb restaurant, at least they tried their very best with the capabilities they had – which is more than can be said about certain other restaurants. I can only give them my biggest compliments for that.