(one visit, September 2005)
There are those special personal triumphs that call for a special (eating, of course) occasion. My latest came while happening through the small “Grand Duchy” of Luxembourg. To fête, I booked my very own table at the Michelin 2 starred restaurant, Mosconi. Situated in an old bourgeois home on the River Alzette, this charming gem of an Italian restaurant turned out, much to my surprise, to be the perfect setting for my celebration.
I arrived promptly at noon – the first in this town of late eaters. Actually, I had arrived a bit early, but found a pleasant distraction in the lovely private river-side garden attached to the house. The server recognized me (I had made the reservation the evening before with the same person) and promptly took me in. I was in somewhat of a time-crunch as I had an appointment in the centre ville at two o’clock.The reception has a light and airy “cocktail” area – plush couches, coffee tables and a fireplace reminiscent of an upscale “living room.” Catty-corner to the reception desk (across from the elevator) is a marble stand, overflowing, abundantly, with flowers, restaurant cards, menus and a short stack (each a tome) of latest edition of the Relais Chateaux directory.
I was shown to a fancy iron-wrought and gold embellished elevator. The host opened the door, pushed a button and sent me all the way to… the second floor. I watched the host run up the marble staircase that spiraled around my elevator as I ascended, only to have him “welcome” me on the landing above. (A foretaste of the pretentious service – more on that later…).
The upstairs dining room is cozy, without being too claustrophobic. Simple lines and barely rustic, the decidedly upscale décor offers a bright sun-lit space. Modernistic chalk drawings, evidently Italian/Spanish, stand out. If you’re lucky enough to get a window seat (as I was), you’ll get a great view of the quaint Grund streets, or even better – overlooking the River Alzette and fantastic view of the fortress city in the cliffs above.
A basket of bread was presented – offering a cornucopia of grissini, foccacia, rolls and baguettes. Fine olive oil was poured from a bottle, which, esteemed as much as wine, was first presented to me before service. Together with the sea salt already on the table, I nearly managed to make a meal out of the bread and oil alone.A quick glance at the menu reveals a tempting array of highly priced items. The starters range from the low 20 € to the mid 30’s. The main courses sit comfortably in the mid to upper 30’s. The desserts (or cheese) are in the mid and upper teens. I opted for the four-course “dejeuner” – otherwise known as the “business lunch.” I don’t know anyone in the U.S. who has four courses for a “business lunch” – the point of which, generally, is to be quick. But, I like the European perspective of things better.
The amuse bouche was one of the heartiest I’ve encountered – ever. Three sizeable veal meatballs nestled in a warm pool of pork gelatin. Garnished with crispy potato strips, the tender and juicy meatballs were just this side of perfect-pink and immensely fine in texture. The warm pork gel had the consistency of hair gel (it even had the bubbles). Despite its rather lackluster brownish tint, it tasted of wonderfully roasted pork.
The intensely colourful first course made up for the achromatic amuse. Bright orange and spring-green ricotta-stuffed courgette blossoms, tied with chive reclined on a small bed of frisee and radiccio. Accompanying the two fat flowers were drizzlings of olive oil and balsamic vinegar reduction. The flavor was surprisingly muted compared with the brilliant colors. Instead, the freshness of the lusciously rich ricotta and flower blossoms was what this dish was really about. However, the flavour was emboldened with the help of the deep tang of the balsamic.
The dining room had quickly filled up and was popping with business chatter. Many of the diners, I could tell, were regulars. All starched professionals – in banking, or some other sort of high-level (ie. high paying) business – perhaps with the exception of the obnoxious couple who sat behind me. Both spoke English (of course), although accented. The woman wore a tight bright pink t-shirt with some sort of glittery word scrawled across her (rather ample) bosom. The man was in a shirt and tie. She doted on the fact that she had ordered the most expensive items on the menu… hmmmmmm… The content of their conversation, as well as of the others’ (in Luxembourgeoise – a French-German mix) was enough to let me know that I would feel uneasy among the regular “scene” here.
Pasta is not my thing – usually. But, I would have to say, that Mosconi’s pasta is something to sing about. Apparently, it’s the house specialty – and I can see why! (n.b. there is pasta degustation (48€)). For my second course, wide satiny strips of paparadelle pasta commingled in a butter saffron ragu with diced chicken and split English peas. This dish was to die for. Seemingly simple and sparse in elements, this dish was very complex and rich with flavor. Unlike a lot of pasta sauces, this one was not too heavy, it was buttery without being oily, ‘cheesy’ without being thick, and creamy without the cloy. The pasta was fine and eggy and perfectly al dente. It was really, really hard to restrain myself from finishing the whole carb-fest, as I knew there would be more delights to come…
Next was grilled imported Tuscan filet mignon. Simply sliced and splayed, thin strips of tender rare beef came garnished with a dusting of crunchy sea salt. It came accompanied by a mélange of colourful grilled summer vegetables – courgette, carrot, green and white asparagus, baby corn and savory scallion. The beef was perfectly (under)done and juicy. Not heavy on flavour, and sans sauce, the meat’s freshness stood out. I really appreciated the vegetables, which added to the fresh summery taste. The grilled scallion married especially well.
Dessert was a large shot glass of powdery-pink strawberry mousse, topped with a layer of whipped, but rich, ricotta. Sandwiched between these two was a thin layer of balsamic reduction. The delightfully light presentation was topped with fresh strawberry and mint. I have to admit, I had hoped for a more substantial treat. However, I did find this to be the perfectly (modest) end to an otherwise rich feast.
Mindful of time, I asked my server for the bill. With a worried look, he quickly ran away. My dessert was quickly cleared… but no bill. Instead, a few (very quick) minutes later, my server hurried back to me – carrying a tray with my dessert… the real one! I had mistaken my pre-dessert for my dessert. This was more like it!!
This dessert was the show-stopper. A generous bowlful of fraise du bois, or wild forest strawberries, niçoise olives, and fresh strawberries mixed with chiffonade of fresh basil. The bowl of scarlet wonders was topped with a generous scoop of basil ice cream and garnished with a basil leaf. Strawberries and olives is not a combination I ever imagined possible… but that’s why I’m not running a two-star Michelin establishment. The olives had been marinated in something sweet but retained their herby savory richness. I don’t know which flavour played off of the other better – the sweetness of the strawberries against the briny olives, or vice versa… but it worked wonderfully. The basil ice cream tied it altogether in a fantastically creamy way! I swear that time slowed down as I enjoyed this ode to summer glory… but I still think it went by way too quickly!
Petit fours came sailing out on a white china “barge” – a line-up of marshmallow, chocolate brownie, biscotti, fruit custard, tuile, a citrus lollipop, chocolate mousse tart, and a madeleine. I was naughty and popped nearly all in my mouth as I settled my accounts…
A note on service: while not overtly snotty, it was aloof. To be sure, my every need was anticipated and met. However, I was hardly spoken to by the sullen-faced staff. My plates were presented and cleared with least verbiage possible. A lot of emphasis is placed on pretense and “custom” (see elevator incident above). I suppose it’s nice for those who like the “extra-mile” – but I prefer a more laid back, congenial approach. I was particularly happy, toward the end of my meal, to have been served by a rosy-cheeked man who smiled and looked happy. I will have fond memories of him also because he presented me with the final dessert.
This meal set me back 34 € – an easily justifiable price for such a fantastic experience. I only wish the service was as gracious and pleasant as the hostess, Simonetta Mosconi, whom I met her briefly on my scurry out. She was enchanté to meet me… and I was likewise – with her (and her husband, Illario) and her restaurant.
Fortified, I stepped out into the balmy and breezy Luxembourg afternoon for a brisk walk to the lift that took me up the cliff to my meeting in the centre ville. What a perfectly intimate celebration I had at Mosconi!
13, rue Munster
L- 2160 Luxembourg
352 54 69 94
– Miserable: What else do you want to know?
* Okay: Go there if you want edible food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: Average food. Nothing to write home about.
*** Good: Memorable. Quality food and service. Would measure up to most standards…
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
***** Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. must be very finicky to find something wrong…
****** Speechless: ‘nough said.