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Castello di Casole: my sensational, never-ending meal

PHOTO: Black cod on spinach puree with fish foam (c) Sery Kim

When I am traveling, the types of meals I tend to have are spectacularly note-worthy. Nine, ten, eleven courses in the most upscale of places and/or the most far-flung, the pacing of which means I am eating for more than four hours. Add on to this pairings of wine and it's no wonder everyone is always shocked I don't weigh 300 pounds (daily, rigorous exercise). Still, just because my meals are typically note-worthy, it doesn't mean I am left impressed by the culinary talent. Sometimes the meals are so fancy -- tiny portions, too much seasoning -- for me to even enjoy. At other times the meals have one or two standout dishes but as a whole dining experience, while the dishes are decorous, they are not delicious.

Mercifully, I did not find this problem with the menu at Castello di Casole dining restaurant Ristorante Tosca where the five course tasting menu left me both stuffed and deeply satisfied.

PHOTO: Milk-marinated sauteed foie gras with peach, foie gras parfait and terrine with toasted brioche (c) Sery Kim

Helmed by the quiet, humble yet exceedingly talented Executive Chef Daniele Sera, Ristorante Tosca presents itself as both accessible yet wildly inventive. The food is infused with characteristics of the Old World. Pastas, risottos and other Tuscan favorites act as a base to Chef Sera's brilliant twists. For instance, as an amuse bouche, Chef bought out a Savory Cannolo with Crescenza Cheese Pine Nuts and Taggiasche Black Olives. I typically skip the amuse bouche since I consider it wasted calories in a nine course dinner but as soon as I heard "Cannolo," my tastebuds were in. The cannolo was so gently flaky yet dense with powerful flavors I imagined how much I would have enjoyed eating a dozen of them. Additionally, the pine nuts provided an added layer of texture to the flakiness which was a nice contrast, and the Taggiasche black olives was a third (cheese, pine nuts) element to the traditionally more sweet dish.

PHOTO: Scallop risotto with citrus and vanilla-candied fennel (c) Sery Kim

Actually Chef Sera's particular talent is the sublime contrast with sweet and savory in each dish. The first official course was the Black cod on spinach puree with fish foam." While this dish was not sweet in toto, it was a beautiful feast for both the eyes and stomach. The cod was perfectly cooked (no surprise there) but the contrasting with the spinach puree (slightly sweet) with the fish foam (a little more sweet) mean there was plenty of leveaning.

Perhaps the best example of this was the foie gras course, which also happens to be the best foie gras presentation I have had.

Now I understand what a bold statement this is, considering I am both quite the foie gras junkie as well as a true Francophile. It's been about two years since I have been able to find something to match (or surpass) the foie gras presentation I had at the Westin Grand Caymans (I don't know why I haven't had a mind-blowing foie gras in France yet considering I go at least once every three months), but Chef Sera managed to exceed my expectations with his Milk-marinated sauteed foie gras with peach, foie gras parfait and terrine with toasted brioche. Each of the three separate foie gras had a unique twist of sweet to match the creamy and savory texture of the foie gras. I loved combing the peach element, in particular, something the Westin Grand Cayman did with a raspberry jelly as well. There is something about a fruit matching the foie gras which balances things nicely; however, it can't just be a sliver of fruit. There has to be some unique permutation such turning the peach fruit into a jelly as Chef Sera did.

I wasn't expecting much after the deeply satisfying foie gras course but the next course of Scallop risotto with citrus and vanilla-candied fennel managed to exceed my expectations as well ... and I don't even like scallops! In the excessiveness of using the word "perfect," I would have to say Chef Sera's risotto was, in fact, as perfect a risotto dish as you could find. I actually joked I would like to bath in a huge tub of the risotto, it was literally that creamy and rich. Also, again, with the masterful combination of savory and sweet, the citrus and vanilla-candied fennel provided just enough contract to make the dish interesting.

I scrapped it clean. No shame!

PHOTO: Herb and spice flavored crispy suckling pig with Chianti vinegar beetroot soft puree and mange tout and baked apple (c) Sery Kim

By the time the meat course came out, I had eaten not one but two amuse bouches, the cod, the foie gras, the risotto, and a palate cleanser. So when Castello di Casole said I would be having a "five course" dinner, they really meant ten ( six courses -- I definitely consider the mezzes to be a "course" -- and I was told there was still a few more to come). "OMG! Please have mercy on me," I pleaded half-jokingly but in truth I was mostly serious. Still when the Herb and spice flavored crispy suckling pig with Chianti vinegar beetroot soft puree and manage tout and baked apple came out, I took a bite out of curiosity and my eyes rolled up in my head in utter bliss.

Do you know how challenging it is for me not to be a real fat girl and not eat every single bite of every single thing which comes out?!?

The temptation with this meat dish was deeply compelling me to do so yet I resisted because I knew there would be dessert. Still, if I ever get married, I am going to serve this dish -- along with the foie gras and risotto from Castello di Casole -- to everyone who shows up. I think if ever there was a symbol of the happiness of love, this trio of platings will stir up just the right emotions.

PHOTO: an amuse bouche of dessert (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Variety of fruit sorbets with raspberry coulis, vanilla caramel, yogurt biscuit with olive oil and Florentine croquant (c) Sery Kim

Dessert was also superbly well done. I particularly enjoyed the fruit sorbets, and I literally ran out right after this dish so they wouldn't bring me petit fours or the chocolate dessert -- sorry not sorry -- but as I lay in bed I thought to myself what a beautiful meal I had. For me, it truly is rare to write simply about a meal while I am on the road. I honestly can't remember the last time I did it, but I have to say Chef Daniele Sera's menu at Ristorante Tosca truly inspired me. Actually, all the food and beverages at Castello di Casole are phenomenally well-done, even in a country as overrun with culinary talent as Italy has, and I look forward to returning to eat more.

PHOTO: Ristorante Tosca set up for breakfast the next day (c) Sery Kim

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