Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Uliassi: Sensational Michelin Star Seafood in Senigallia

Over the last decade Uliassi has earned a reputation for being one of the finest seafood restaurants in Italy. Located on the 'spiaggia di velluto', the white velvety beach of Senigallia, Uliassi first opened in 1990 as a small family-run beachside café, but after three renovations over twenty years, Uliassi has come a long way as a restaurant, taking the unassuming restaurant he opened almost 30 years ago and turning it into the bastion of cuisine it is today, a two Michelin-starred Mecca for seafood lovers. His ability to recreate the smells and scents of his life and turn them into incredible dishes has resulted in a sensory eating experience like no other. Despite Uliassi’s transformation from café to high-end dining, it remains very much a family affair, with Mauro’s sister Catia as the front of house manager and his son Filippo as the restaurant’s sommelier. Together they have created an ambitious dining experience, where the menu is completely reinvented every year during the restaurant's annual extended closure. Mauro’s cuisine is adventurous and sophisticated with inspired flavour combinations to be found throughout the menu, such as chilled Tagliatelle of Cuttlefish with nori pesto and fried quinoa. With direct access to the boats delivering fresh shellfish and fish each morning from the Adriatic, it's not surprising that the restaurant primarily has a seafood focus. Diners may order à la carte from the raw fish menu or choose from a variety of tasting menus, of which 'The Classic' is specifically designed to showcase the chef's signature dishes, and which we chose to explore the evening we dined at Uliassi.

Mauro Uliassi

Mauro’s parents owned a bar when he was growing up, and one of his first memories is one of the waiters saying hello and putting their hand on his face. It smelt strongly of Parmesan, and while Mauro didn’t like it at the time, he realised how significant smell was when it came to food. When Mauro left school he worked all over Italy at sophisticated restaurants, but didn’t enjoy the highly stressful working environment. He returned home and began teaching at the local culinary college and thought he had found his calling. This all changed in 1983 when he fell in love with his wife Chantal, who asked him to cook at a party for her friends: ‘I cooked with the greatest passion, like in the movie Babette’s Feast,’ he tells us. ‘For the first time I discovered how wonderful it was to see the pleasure and happiness of others from something I had created.’ From that moment on, Mauro was committed to becoming the best chef he could possibly be, and in 1990 opened a beach hut bar called Uliassi with his sister Catia, who ran front of house. His first menus were comprised of small, simple seafood dishes which were popular with tourists, but he constantly improved his cooking over the next ten years. As he and his dishes evolved, the critics started to take notice, and in 2000 he won his first Michelin star. In 2009, Mauro received his second and found himself at the helm of one of Italy’s top twenty restaurants.

Nowadays, Mauro’s cooking is incredibly sophisticated, but keeps his dishes looking clean and simple. His influences come from all over the world, which he then combines with the seafood and flavours of Italy’s east coast. But the memories and, in particular, smells of his childhood also pay an important part. ‘My starting point for a dish is often a smell,’ explains Mauro. ‘For example, the idea for my smoked pasta with clams came from walking past the pop-up seafood grills at the beach in Rimini.’ He even closes the restaurant for two months every spring, so his team can come up with a new menu. They do this by collecting perfumes and other strong scents over the year then smelling them, before trying to recreate their essence through cookery. On plates composed like works of art, the fruits of the sea are taken to a higher level, cooked to perfection, combined with fresh herbs and delightful textures. It's an incredible culinary journey but one that is still rooted in family relationships, for as we were leaving the restaurant, Mauro came running out to robustly shake our hand and promise to look us when next in Toronto. Throwing a volley of kisses, he bid farewell and flew back into the kitchen to spin his culinary magic. 

A deep red Anthurium is a jolt of colour in the otherwise stark white modern interior

The Uliassi tasting menu
Diners may order à la carte from the raw fish menu or choose from a variety of tasting menus, of which 'The Classic' is specifically designed to showcase the chef's signature dishes

Artfully served house made grissini: cheese and anchovy flavoured

Rice Puffed Nori

Crostino of anchovies and black truffle

Mauro's 'La Finta Olive Ascolana', a creative reinterpretation of Marche's famous Olive all'Ascolana, stuffed with meat and coated with toasted breadcrumbs and hazelnuts

Wafer with Foie Gras and Hazelnut

Kir Royale

The wine list with cover painting by Catia Uliassi

After the trio of sensational amuse bouche, we celebrated with a glass of Rizzini Franciacorta Prosecco from Lombardy

Soft and delicate, the Prosecco was a sparkling start to a special culinary evening

A delicious array of breads homemade at Uliassi

Chilled Anchovy Butter

Cuttelfish Tagliatella with nori seaweed pesto and fried quinoa

Crispy Red Mullet with Parsley Soup, Anchovy Syrup and Rhubarb

Vibrant with a delicate flavour, the "soup" is made with parsley, anchovy sauce, pine nuts and lemon zest all passed through a sieve for a creamy umami consistency

Stefano Antonucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, a specialty of the region 

Flawless with great intensity, the Verdicchio from Le Marche has now spoiled us for anything else 

Rimini Fest Skewer of grilled baby squid coated with crunchy breadcrumbs with citronnette, pineapple, cucumber, salad and liquid nitrogen frozen pearls of lemon and garlic oil

Mollusc and Seafood Soup

Looking like a puffy marshmallow, we attempted to bite into it when a server rushed over 
and told us they were hand towels!

Roasted cuttlefish, wild herbs and sea urchins water ice

Potato Purée with Roasted Prawns, Herbs and Black Truffle

Smoked Spaghetti, Clams and Grilled Plum Cherry Tomatoes

Monkfish with Pork Cheek, Murex and Wild Fennel Soup

Strawberry Granita with Lemon Cream and Cardamom Meringues

La Nocciola - the final dessert was symphony of hazelnut flavours: Creamy Gianduja, Hazelnut Powder, Gelato, Crumble, Sponge and Biscuit 

Selection of sweet and savoury Mignardises including one with blue cheese

Tagliatelle of cuttlefish with nori pesto and fried quinoa
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Mauro Uliassi

7 oz cuttlefish
1 1/2 tsp salt
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
1 3/4 oz of nori seaweed
3 1/2 oz of toasted sesame seeds
3 1/2 fl oz of extra virgin olive oil
7 oz quinoa
oil, for deep frying

Preheat a water bath to 125°F. To begin, season the cuttlefish with the salt and olive oil and place in a vacuum bag. Seal in a chamber sealer and place in the water bath for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Remove the cuttlefish from the vacuum bag and wrap in cling film. Place in the freezer for 1 hour. Meanwhile, spread the nori on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until dry. Blitz the nori with the sesame, then add the oil until it forms a similar consistency to pesto. Transfer to a squeeze bottle.

Take the cuttlefish out of the freezer and remove the cling film. Cut the cuttlefish into thin slices with an electric carving knife and drizzle with the olive oil, lemon and more salt if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 215°F. In a medium saucepan, submerge the quinoa in boiling water and cook for 21 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water and spread evenly on two baking trays. Dry in the oven for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160°F and dry for 2 more hours. Preheat a deep-fryer or a medium, deep saucepan of oil to 350°F and fry the quinoa in the hot oil until crisp and golden.

To serve, arrange the sliced cuttlefish on a plate and sprinkle over a handful of the fried quinoa. Finish with a generous drizzle of the nori pesto and serve immediately.

Spaghetti, clams and grilled plum cherry tomatoes
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Mauro Uliassi

8 1/2 oz spaghetti
2 1/4 lb clams, washed well
3 garlic cloves, chopped
12 plum cherry tomatoes
olive oil
1 cup fish stock
1 3/4 oz smoked eel
1 handful of chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper

Place a wide based saucepan over a high heat. Once hot, add the clams and 3/4 cups of water. Cover the saucepan and cook for 5 minutes, or until the shells have opened. Pass the contents of the pan through a fine sieve, retaining the clam-infused water, and remove the clams from their shells.

For the fish broth, boil the eel in the fish stock for 30 minutes and set aside.

To prepare the tomatoes, blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds, then cool in iced water. Peel and cut the tomatoes in half, then drizzle with a little oil and salt. Place on a grill pan and grill on a high heat until the tomatoes are slightly charred on one side. Dry at 125°F in a dehydrator for one hour.

In a large saucepan filled with salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente.
Meanwhile, sauté the chopped garlic in a medium saucepan for 2 minutes, then add a small ladle of the clam water and fish stock. Drain the pasta and finish it's cooking in the garlic and stock saucepan, adding more stock if necessary to keep the pasta moist.

To serve, place a portion of pasta on the plate and garnish with the plum tomatoes, clams, freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of coarsely chopped parsley.

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