The Best Restaurant in the World?

Will someone please save me from salsify? It is an inoffensive vegetable, which I’ve now had served to me three times in the last few months, described as a “forgotten” vegetable. There is a reason for that. It has no flavor.

Today, Pat, Fanny, who is a friend of hers in from London, and I had lunch at Mirazur in Menton. It was named the best restaurant in the world in 2019 and has three Michelin stars. https://www.theworlds50best.com/the-list/1-10/Mirazur.html

Since Menton is just up the coast and Pat’s birthday is this week, we decided it was an experience not to be missed. And indeed it was special although not my personal number one.

The setting is breathtaking, on a hill overlooking the sea with Menton across the bay.

Pat, Fanny and the view

The food was strikingly presented, the service professional and pleasant. It is not overly stiff and the food was interesting.

Guinea fowl with roasted pears. Beside it, the fowl’s liver in a bed of greens and an aspic of its jus with truffles.

Now for what I didn’t like: it was 6 courses plus an optional cheese course, which is far too many. And this was the smaller menu. You could not choose your dishes. You could tell the server what you didn’t want and then it’s up to the chef. I understand that the chef wants you to get an overview of his work but I would rather make my own decision based on what I enjoy. The salsify showed up twice—in a breadstick with honey and in an emulsion of forgotten vegetables. That is too much salsify.

At the beginning of the meal, the server presented each of us with a little book about ingredients and their seasons. Ok. I get it—no tomatoes in the dead of winter. But radishes, rutabaga and hay are not really my favorite things to eat. Also, it was all a bit precious. With the bread—made from the chef’s grandmother’s recipe—they presented a poem by Pablo Neruda.

The wine list was not overpriced but there were only 3 rosės. In the south of France. Surely if you want to feature local ingredients, you should have local wines?

Anyway, rant over. As performance art, it was unforgettable as you can see from our happy faces.

On our way back to the train station, we stopped at the citrus festival. The theme was “around the world” and here are some of the creations crafted from thousands of oranges, lemons and grapefruit.

Pat at London Bridge

Bologna

Who knew that the leaning towers of Bologna are taller than the famous one in Pisa?

Sometimes mistakes can become happy accidents. I booked the place in Ravenna only through last night, so we decided to spend today in Bologna. We would have had to change trains here anyway, so we got an extra city on our trip and cut an hour or more off our travel back to Nice tomorrow.

I had been in Bologna back in 1985 but it has become more touristy and is now wall-to-wall chain stores. But the streets and squares and covered arcades are still charming and Bologna is still known as “the fat” for the richness of its food. Pat and I had lunch in a restaurant near the towers that has been around since 1919. After a lovely amuse-bouche of capon and veal meatballs with a glass of local sparkling wine, we went whole hog. Literally. I had a variant on lasagna (a Bolognese specialty) with bits of pork and mushrooms cooked in a Parmesan sauce. Pat had tortelloni stuffed with pumpkin.

For my main course I had a hunk of baby pig (no photo, sorry). Pat had guinea fowl. Then I had hazelnut semifreddo for dessert. All washed down with a local white.

After a walk through the city, Pat, Ellie and I are resting up from our pig out back at the hotel.

Ravenna, day 2

Today we met our guide, Cinzia, for a very interesting 3-hour examination of 3 of the 8 UNESCO sites in Ravenna.

Up first was the 6th Century basilica of St. Vitale, an early martyr. It combines both Roman and Byzantine styles in a magnificent setting. My photos do not do it justice.

The panel depicts angels announcing Sarah’s pregnancy and Abraham sacrificing Isaac.
Empress Theodosia of Constantinople
Moses tying his shoelace on his way to get the Commandments. I’m not sure why he is surrounded by flames

We then stepped back to the 5th century mausoleum of Galla Placidia, who was the mother, sister and daughter of Roman emperors. In the Roman style, this dream-like space is devoted to propagandizing for eternal life, a major theme of early Christian iconography. Apparently, the early Church sought to convert pagans on the basis of the peaceful afterlife, rather than the suffering of Christ. There are no depictions in these works of the Crucifixion, the Madonna and other symbols that became common in later art.

Some of the apostles with doves
Christ the shepherd though I think the sheep look more like dogs

From the Christian (Catholic) sites we crossed the town to the basilica of St.Apollinaire Nuovo, which was originally the private chapel of Emperor Theodoric, an Ostrogoth who practiced the Arian heresy. It had something to do with whether Christ was one or three and was a big no-no at the time. Apparently, when the Byzantines came in, they wiped out all traces of the original iconography. Instead they substituted a bit of a 6th century fashion show.

The magi, dressed in Versace. At the right you can glimpse a bit of the original imagery that was mosaiced over. Note the contrast between the simpler Roman style and the more baroque Byzantines.

At which point I could walk no further. Cinzia made a lunch reservation for us in a fabulous restaurant near the apartment we have been staying in. We took a taxi back, picked up Ellie who had not joined us on the tour and had lunch featuring truffles in various guises, including with the special Ravenna pasta of capellati (large pasta pockets filled with cheese). These were accompanied by a local rosė, and followed by a semifreddo and a cherry liqueur. Ellie didn’t drink but she did enjoy the meal,

On the way back, we passed a marijuana vending machine. What will they think of next?

Ravenna

My London friend Patricia and I arrived in Ravenna last night after 10 hours of travel by train from Nice to Milan to Bologna to Ravenna with an hour layover in each rail station—time enough for Ellie to do her business and for the humans to have a bite or a glass of wine. After a fabulous dinner at a nearby pizzeria last night we collapsed.

Today we wandered through Ravenna, which is a charming small city. It was once the capital of the Roman Empire (shortly before its final fall) and was later controlled by Byzantium. It has the most extraordinary collection of mosaics in the world, in 8 UNESCO sites. We will see some of them tomorrow.

Today was devoted to learning about Roman and Byzantine mosaics, the former made from marble and other stone; the latter from smalti, which are a type of brightly colored Venetian glass blocks. we had booked an afternoon in a mosaic workshop to try our hand.

It was totally different from the mosaic classes I’ve done in NY and Nice. First, you have to use a hammer and chisel to break up the pieces.

Then you put a solution of cement and glue into your base. You put the stones directly into the base—no glueing required.

Then you put your image, in reverse, into the base to provide a sketch of your drawing. Then you put your stones in, one by one.

After 2 hours of very exacting placement, I was tired. Our teachers, Anita and Melissa, finished up for me. Pat managed to finish on her own, but her stones were bigger so required less time. There is no grout in this technique. Here is the final result.