Zass*: Michelin makes a mistake?

Zass*: Michelin makes a mistake?

Let it be said that my friends have impeccable taste in travel.  Thus, when the opportunity to attach on to an extended birthday trip to Italy for a friend of my sister that I’d only met a handful of times came up, what do you think I did?  Of course I said yes!

And when I had to do practically no planning, and we ended up at a Michelin starred restaurant?  Yay me.

Having a bit of a hectic schedule before my departure to Rome, I didn’t research everywhere we were planning to visit as much as I usually do (i.e. check out other reviews, the menu and social media of venues I’ve booked).  Thus, I went in with fresh (non-researched) eyes to Zass.  Now, I think I’ve established I dine out quite regularly and am fortunate to enjoy some the best restaurants in the countries and cities I visit.  I’m not saying the Michelin guide got this one wrong, but given other visits in Europe to venues without stars, I’m not sure what I was missing at this restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong, the location is stunning (set amidst the stunning cliffs of the Amalfi Coast inside the Il San Pietro di Positano hotel) and the service is okay (I’m not sure if something was lost in translation, but the over the top formality stopped me from actually enjoying the meal — give me Zach at Gaggan any day of the week), but I really didn’t understand what the Michelin judges see in this restaurant.

For example:

  • I love an amuse bouche.  I love a playful start to a meal — a place that tells your palate, ‘Cool, look where we’re going to go.’  A piece of pizza is not that thing.  I love pizza.  I eat it regularly.  However, unless it’s some sort of funky deconstructed version (which, yes, was ordered at the table for a later course), I don’t think a slice of Margherita pizza is a sophisticated enough choice to present as the first thing at Michelin star venue.  Yup, my food snobbery is showing.
  • Lack of a tasting menu.  This oversight was perhaps the biggest surprise to me.  In the category of stars, I thought something designed to let the guest experience the best of the kitchen would be available.  It was not.  After reviewing the menu, I assumed that a page was missing, as there was no set menu available.  However, the choices were indeed ala carte only.
  • Lack of coherence in the menu.  At most of the better restaurants I’ve been to, there is some narrative or design principle that exists throughout the dishes.  Zass seemed to be a bit all over the place.  Large cuts of meat (we called it a Dino chop), pizza that wasn’t exactly pizza.  Yes, it was all under the category of ‘Italian,’ but I hold anyone with a star to a bit higher level.
  • Good food (but not great food).  In my two courses, I had two decent dishes.  Nothing entirely memorable, and certainly not the best pasta I had while during my stay in Italy.  In fact, my crab cannelloni and guacamole (EUR36) had a bit too much shell (and crunch) for me — I wouldn’t order it again (not to mention it’s overpriced, yes, even for the location).
  • Weird coasters.  I know this is a MINOR detail, but the plastic coasters which were placed under the glasses of those drinking sparkling water kept adhering to the glass and then dropping loudly on the table.  I respect this is a subtle way to alert the wait staff to who is drinking what, but it made for some embarrassing moments at the table (of course, we turned it into a bit of a game, but it was distracting).
  • Lack of attention to detail.  While the majority of the group was drinking wine, one of our party chose another beverage, but was almost served our wine when she should’ve clearly been given a separate glass (there is a big difference in what red wine is served in vs. what prosecco is served in).  Call me out on this, but this was a very easy oversight, and a professional front of house wouldn’t make this sort of error.
  • Dated design.  Yes, it goes with the location, but I would love to see a whitewashed version with modern seating in this space instead of the ‘homey Italian countryside’ vibe.

But it wasn’t all bad:

  • The view is world class.  We were fortunate enough to dine on the terrace while a nearly full moon rose behind us.  If you want romance, you’ve come to the right location.
  • Great cocktails.  We arrived a bit early, and were invited on the outdoor terrace to have a round of cocktails, which were the best we had on the Amalfi Coast.
  • A fantastic petit four tray, full of brilliantly prepared small bites (bravo to the pastry chef).
When you order fried pizza, and receive this dish.

Would I go back?  Sorry, gang.  I’d give this one a pass or recommend sundowners at best.  However, our dinner at un Piano nel Cielo (located at our hotel) was a wonderful meal that I can’t wait to share with you.

Do you have any recommendations for the Amalfi Coast?


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