As I was considering the latest menus for Fiola Mare, our recently reopened restaurant, I began to notice something else:
There was nothing beyond the lines, the silhouettes, the accessories, the dishes, and the price tags. There was not a single embellishment — a butterfly breast or a poached lobster or a flaming cuttlefish shell.
Billed as a “modern Italian fine dining restaurant,” Fiola Mare has pulled off something unusual, albeit with a lower budget: Its menu has never featured any embellishments at all, and nor have the waiters. They have no sets, no sign boards to hang on the wall or hanging flowers to call attention to, no sparkling salt-and-pepper shakers.
You may have noticed something about the menu.
Unlike most of the places I’ve worked, Fiola Mare does not use a printed listing. It uses a custom iPad app, which is contained in the kitchen. It’s called “Fosi.”
It’s free. You download it. It asks for time and credit card information, along with what time you’d like a meal served.
For the final part of our meal on Wednesday night, we were still very much in the dark about what we’d be dining on. We’d got an email last week saying it was a “special limited-time” menu. Our server asked if we’d like it to come to the table already, and I’d just given an enthusiastic no. So when the pot of pasta arrived, I sat down at my grande table without hesitation. But we hadn’t known until the moment we saw the menu what it was.
Let me be clear: This does not mean the restaurant is quite like a Michelin-starred French haute cuisine establishment. There was no carousel of absinthe- and wine-spiked amuse bouches, nor espresso and water from a cool, narrow bar area.
There was, however, no listing on the white tablet, either. On the page of text at the bottom of the screen, I recognized the title of the menu as something from @destinationfri, a restaurant review website.
Then, with a cold, clammy roll of bread to cushion my dining partner, we looked up: this was indeed a reservation made by @FIVEchef — named for, I’m guessing, the restaurant’s five-star treatment from the Michelin Guide. And this is what was sitting on our table. (Lauding the check, I ate it immediately.)
After a couple of minutes — but with the three of us still waiting for our bill to arrive — @Fivechef showed up. One of the other two waiters did not know who they were. Soon thereafter, we were joined by our hostess, who welcomed us by telling us that the whole menu was with us and that we wouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket.
Bingo, we were on the tour. As we surveyed our main courses, which included two cod stews, a lobster ravioli, and a plain sea bass, we had no idea what we were looking at, or how much it would cost. Which, of course, was a problem. I’m the type of person who is never quite sure how much something costs until the waiter hands it to me on the table. But in case I was in a charitable mood, I figured I’d look up the list on the iPad.
Five stars. Eighty seven euros ($92). A kick-ass lunch.
Not the evening review that was, perhaps, what I was hoping for. But in his review this month, gastronome Adam Platt called Fiola Mare the best restaurant in the city. It’s one of several accolades I have received lately, and the diners were similarly tickled when I mentioned I had become a contributing writer to the Food Network. (An assignment I described as “dream job” in a tweet the other day. More on that shortly.) And the selection of food seemed easy to recommend. It may not be the most cinematic experience, but I can’t remember when I’ve eaten at a place that made me feel so at home.