Il Mulino's other side offers a fine-dining experience you'll find hard to forget
It all starts with thE Parmigiano Reggiano. Shortly after being seated in the ultra-posh formal dining room of Il Mulino restaurant at the Taj, a tuxedo-clad server arrives weighed down by an intimidating half moon of 18-month-old cheese.
The aged product, referred to as "the indisputed [sic] king of Italian cheeses" by celebrity chef Mario Batali, is then ceremoniously spooned in generous, fist-size portions.
Paired with complimentary bruschetta, four thin slices of peppery soppressata, crisp fried zucchini and a Roman phalanx of assorted breads, these serve as a sort of extended-play take on amuse bouche. Mind you folks, that's all prior to menu delivery.
In addition to a poetic recitation of an extensive list of more than a dozen evening's additions, another similarly attired server then displays a large metal box containing langoustine, an exotic, rare, spiny crustacean native to the island of Sardinia.
More about these oceanic beauties later -- much more.
Perusing the oversized bill of fare is a rewarding, thoughtful venture and customers here are accorded a great deal of time in making selections. No rush, after all, thanks to the plethora of satisfying delights described above.
For our app we settled on a classic, beef carpaccio presented atop a bed of arugula. The sheets of prime meat, sliced to a translucent sheen, were a feat of gastronomic engineering -- exacting and perfectly squared. Layered in an overlapping fashion, they create a sort of large checkerboard effect for presentation purposes.
The beef itself is surprisingly light on the palate, decidedly on the sweet side. Those tastes pair nicely with the peppery green bite of arugula. Finished with a drizzle of horseradish cream sauce in the center, the plentiful slices of beef literally melted in our mouths.
We loved combining them on the same forkful with a small mound of the crunchy arugula, dressed sparingly with lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Throw in some of the house-made whole-wheat bread and this could practically constitute a meal on its own.
At the vetting of another well-spoken staffer, my dining partner opted for the porcini ravioli as her starter. These tidy bundles of mushroom-filled pasta were rich with woodsy essences, completed with a lovely champagne truffle cream sauce. The ravioli further presented us an opportunity to see one of the attributes that make visiting Il Mulino a very special dining adventure.
Many items, including pastas, risottos and some desserts are finished tableside. This requires an extraordinarily level of culinary intelligence, aptitude and skill on the part of those working the front of the house. Watching our captain -- the lead man of a three-person team -- carefully toss the ravioli, a notoriously delicate creation, was performance art at a very advanced level.
And the sauce -- a clingy, wispy, herbal wonder -- had me reaching for more of the abundant bounty of fresh bread to consume every last morsel.
Again relying on our knowledgeable server, she selected a whole, salt-encrusted branzino as her main course. The Mediterranean sea bass is delivered for inspection and then similarly filleted tableside, a task requiring nearly surgical precision to remove the multitude of tiny "pin" bones. We were delivered a pair of steamy, whole fillets. The flesh itself retained an amazing level of moisture thanks to the salt-covered cooking method, reminding us that some of mankind's earliest culinary discoveries remain nothing short of genius.
My entrée, those aforementioned langoustines, are like the Holy Grail of the seafood world. Nearly a foot long pre-cooking, they resemble the largest shrimp but are actually members of the lobster family. Four of them had been split open, lightly doused with a scampi-style butter/garlic/herb mix, and grilled to just beyond mid-rare. This allowed their delicacy and juicy marine souls to stand out prominently. They were arranged around a warm mound of risotto.
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