Asparagus both raw and cooked with grapefruit, vanilla and saffron is a provocative, multidimensional entrée, and a sign from chef Mauro Colagreco that you are in for an extraordinary meal. The Argentina-born Italian a Michelin star holder and voted 2009's newcomer of the year by the Gault Millau guide eschews the molecular-style cooking that is becoming rather ubiquitous in fine dining and instead prefers earthy textures and light, simple ingredients, unexpectedly layered.
Colagreco, who has worked with all the French heavyweights (Bernard Loiseau, Alain Ducasse, Guy Martin, and especially Alain Passard), is based in the town of Menton on the French Riviera, just moments from the Italian border. His restaurant Mirazur has a stunning hillside setting, housed in a vast Modernist, three-story white rotunda with 360-degree views of the Mediterranean. The produce of its steeply terraced herb-and-wildflower garden and a citrus grove make a huge impact in the kitchen. "I believe vivid improvisation is key," says Colagreco, who adds new dishes daily according to whatever's ripe for picking. He'll serve a langoustine flanked by barely cooked tiny yellow carrots and a minute fronded radish. Morels arrive with an ethereal foam of potato puree and the sweetest miniature broad beans, scattered with chive flowers and effervescent with just-picked flavor. Rare San Remo red prawns, barely yet precisely grilled to retain their lucidity and sweetness, are a signature dish, served with wild strawberries and a showering of subtly flavorful petals including borage, fennel, hyssop and yarrow. The surprises of taste and texture might continue with something like savory-sweet fresh-pea soup and nasturtium ice cream.
Without wishing to hyperbolize, this is undeniably a vanguard style, demanding fresh definition. Degustation menus from about $120. See www.mirazur.fr for more.