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L˜ARIA Restaurant at The Mandarin Oriental :: Lake Como, Italy


A few years ago I did a review of L˜ARIA Restaurant but there is now a new chef and I thought it deserved another look-see.

First of all, Lake Como is an amazing destination, actually one of my all-time favorites. The calm serenity of the lake, combined with the quaint villages and towns, and surrounded by majestic mountains. It just doesn’t get old for me. It is not always easy to find a superior restaurant in this area.

There is a new chef in town, Max Blasone (or Massimiliano), and
he has a wealth of international experience. He has worked as chef de cuisine for the famed Heinz Beck, and earned his first Michelin star in his first four months. He’s cooked at Valentino in Santa Monica, and was the sous chef at the three-star La Pergola in Rome and for the Lanesborough in London, and assisted in opening Zuma’s first outpost in Italy in Milan.

The chef has made some internal changes in L˜ARIA kitchen and brought a lot of staff with him to this new project. I loved all the new changes, and the food was far superior to me. He takes on a fresh new approach by offering Italian dishes with a Japanese influence. He focuses on high-quality ingredients and expert cooking techniques and a well-curated menu.

At seating, we are handed two menus to peruse, one being a daily special menu with 6-7 additions. On one of the nights we dined there, it offered fiori di zucca, which are zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and citrus fruits. We also tried a spaghetti with crab, as well as a suckling pig with lemon and black truffles that was excellent. The regular menu is divided into appetizers, crudi, tempura, pasta, in and out, salad, robata fish and meats and sides. We tried a lot of different dishes. From the appetizer section, the crispy squid, from the crudi the local sea bass with truffles, from the tempura, lobster and wasabi, and the amazing sage leaves. For pasta, the spaghetti with lobster, thyme, tomatoes and almond pesto. The L’Aria salad, the grilled sea bass, green asparagus, apple and vinegar dish, and the mushrooms in soy butter. I am sure I am missing something from this epic pig-out extravaganza, but it was all splendid, with a medley of flavours, and each dish had so many wonderful components.

There are tasting menus or you can order a la carte, bravo! The wine list is also extensive and we left it up to our dear Italian friend to choose for us. He selected an excellent Italian Pinot noir that was a fine accompaniment to our meal. Even when you order a la carte there are amuse-bouche, palette cleansers, and extra sweets after dessert. Speaking of desserts, there were seven choices. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of most Italian desserts, so I usually stick with gelato, but the custard tart with wild strawberries and yogurt ice cream was delightful, as was every other dessert sent our way. The homemade ice cream and sorbets were also seductively good.

The restaurant is a two-star Michelin and I think between the food, setting, and service they are deserving of this accolade. It is far and above better than the nearby two-star restaurant Berton al Lago at the Il Sereno hotel.

The restaurant is now less stuffy. Still situated in a glassed-in pavilion, they have made a more contemporary and relaxed remodel. Let’s face it, when you are on vacation you don’t want to get dressed up in a jacket and tie every night.

The restaurant still has the beautiful terrazzo floors and floor-to-ceiling windows. No white table cloths here, but rather marble tabletops, tan leather chairs, and green velvet ones too. The kitchen is open so you can peer in and see the magic happen. It has a sophisticated ambiance, quality service, and a delightful menu. Chef Max Blasone is an innovator of excellent cuisine and had upped the ante when it comes to dining in Como.

Highly recommend.

Happy dining,
Shanea

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