When you tour a region like Emilia Romagna for two full weeks, eating yourselves silly, you are bound to eat tons of great food. During our trip we ate truffles and artisan gelato, toured vineyards, and dined in the company of Michelin star chefs. So, when we heard that there was a fancy restaurant, with three Michelin stars, in the town of Modena, Italy, we got excited.
Until we saw the price tag. A little too rich for our blood.
Then, we found out that the same chef, Massimo Bottura, opened another restaurant, using fresh, local ingredients, offering smaller plates at reasonable prices. Now, that excited me. We had a great experience at Bodega 1900 in Barcelona, so we were hoping for a repeat.
High Expectations From Franceschetta 58
That is how we found ourselves at the little neighborhood brasserie, Franceschetta 58.
We arrived a little early, close to 7:00, as we continued to learn that the appropriate time to eat in Italy is closer to 8:30. We returned when they opened at 7:30, and were asked if we had reservations. When we said no, the server titled her head to the side, paused, and offered us a small table in the corner. I figured that even if they had a later reservation, we tend to eat quicker than a table full of friends catching up. After all, with 13 years of marriage behind us, what else can we talk about over a meal?
The menu at Franceschetta 58 was more inventive than traditional, so it was exciting to try something new, dishes that we could eat surrounded by locals in the know. We read on the internet that pricing was set at 7 Euros for all dishes, making Michelin star chef created cuisine accessible to the masses. Considering this restaurant was also set in a local neighborhood, away from the bustling and historic center of Modena, we assumed we had stumbled on something amazing.
The first thing I noticed about the menu – no prices. We had to assume what we read about the 7 Euro prices prevailed, and we would just order what looked good. In the end, if we splurged on a really great meal, so be it.
We started with a regional speciality, culatello, a famed cured meat. We had yet to try culatello, so I was excited. We tried two different kinds, one sliced more like a prosciutto, and the other almost like a sausage. It was good, but it was not as good as some of the other meats we had eaten so far that week.
As we noticed the atmosphere at Franceschetta 58, we noticed there were only about 12 or so tables, which were all full by a little after 8:30. There seemed to be only one other non-Italian in the place. There were 2 servers on staff that night. There was also a manager, who ultimately sat down with the other non-Italian, leaving the two servers to manage all of the tables. It seemed that all the other tables were sat about the same time.
We dug into our next course, a frise salad with bacon and poached quail eggs along with zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese. I tend to gravitate toward zucchini blossoms when I have the chance. I love how delicate they are. This dish was good, but the ricotta was missing a little something that left the dish somewhat flat. I gave them points for presentation, although zucchini blossoms often arrive looking amazing.
Emilia Romagna seems to be one of the epicenters of the slow food movement, but even for Italy, the food at Franceschetta 58 was painfully slow to arrive. We sat down at 7:45 and by 9:05 our pasta course had yet to arrive. The menu included smaller sized portions, but that also meant it did not take very long to finish each plate. The first two courses came out a little rapid fire, but once other tables sat down, we were in trouble.
About 9:15, our pasta courses arrived. Eric dipped into a fettuccine with chanterel mushrooms, bacon, and caramelized onions. He finished it in about 4 bites. I ordered a cavatelli pasta with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and salted ricotta. The dish was lovely looking, with layers of shredded ricotta on the top. It was good. It was not great. We waited for our dishes to be removed in anticipation of our final course.
The servers were friendly, and chatty, but it made me wonder whether my food was sitting in the window. Having been a server in a prior life, I understood that servers try to manage the pace of a meal. Generally, you wait until an appetizer is served, or finished, before “firing” the next course. With how busy these two servers were, I wondered whether they just couldn’t keep up with this process. I almost felt like I needed to scarf down my pasta, so that they would fire up the duck.
Now, I know we often struggle to find conversation to fill the time during a long meal. Although, it still surprises me how much we do find to talk about in this situations, comfortable silence ensues. Sometimes we feel alone in our comfortable silence in a restaurant filled with busy tables.
This was not one of those situations. There was an older couple across from us who looked just as bored as we were. They were just another married couple looking to fill the 45 minutes between courses.
I felt very American being this impatient waiting for courses. I was happy to see others, especially Italians, doing the same. But this service just seemed painfully slow. Like time stood still. It was also quite warm inside making us go a little stir crazy.
While waiting for our meat course, the ultimate dish of the night, Eric said to me “you had to order the duck,” even though he actually ordered it. I watched the older couple, patiently waiting in silence for their single dish of dessert.
I felt very American when Eric asked the server how much longer for the duck, but we were hot and tired and were considering asking for the check and leaving, particularly because the food was not as we anticipated.
Just as the duck arrived, it started to rain. We knew we had to walk clear across town, with no umbrella, in a city where we had yet to see a taxi. It just added to our frustration and dissatisfaction with Franceschetta 58.
Walking in the door, even with the 7 Euro price tag (in the end, dishes were 9 Euros each, but some were more), we knew that this would be a $100 meal at Franceschetta 58. It was a price I was willing to pay. The food, however, was only fine. There was not a single dish that we exclaimed “oh my” or “this is something special.” I never felt the food had the opportunity to shine because we were left annoyed before each course was even delivered.
Had the meal been timely, and there been more servers on staff to keep up, I might have enjoyed the cuisine more. Instead, I was left slightly poorer, but happy the rain let up for our walk home. Eric apologized, as he was the one who tracked down Franceschetta 58 in the first place. I reminded him “we all make mistakes.”
Looking for Top Things To Do in Modena for Foodies?
Check out our recommended Italian food tours in and around Modena.[table id=13 /] [box]
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Where to Stay in Modena: Get hotel recommendations here.
Learn more: Get the only guide you ever need for Modena, the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, from Amazon. Or, get a copy of Pellegrino Artusi’s The Art of Eating Well to learn to cook traditional Italian cuisine at home. [/box]
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.