Reaching Ristorante Cracco requires navigating past fashionistas window-shopping at Prada and tourists snapping selfies under the ornate four-story glass-and-iron roof of landmark Milan shopping area Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. But upon arrival, a hostess whisks you upstairs via a short elevator ride (only one reservation at a time, please), to enter a series of luxuriously appointed, intimate rooms, a calm oasis from the bustle below.
It’s quite a transition, one that sets the stage for a truly elevated dining experience, delivering a world-class wine list, outstanding cuisine and exceptional service, all in a graceful setting.
The 2,500-selection list is a candy store for wine lovers who dream of getting their hands on bottles from storied producers, vineyards and vintages. “We want the reference point wines, because these are the names and labels our customers are searching for,” explains wine director Alex Bartoli, who cut his teeth at Grand Award–winning Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence. “I want at least 15 to 20 vintages for each reference, and to continue to increase the verticals from there.”
The heart of the list, representing nearly a quarter of the total selections, is red and white Burgundy. Think of unicorn wines like Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Blanc, along with more than 100 different vintages of various bottlings from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, including La Tâche back to 1974 ($7,863).
Offerings from Piedmont, Tuscany, Bordeaux and Champagne dominate the remainder of the list. Highlights include 19 vintages of Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva to 1941 ($5,051), 47 vintages of Château Mouton-Rothschild to 1969 ($2,526) and the legendary Château Cheval-Blanc 1947 ($14,031) and Château Margaux 1947 ($8,419). In Tuscany, 36 vintages of Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia extend back to 1968, the first commercial release. That bottling and 19 others came directly from the cellar of famed enologist Giacomo Tachis, longtime consultant for the estate.
The restaurant, owned by chef Carlo Cracco, opened in its current iteration in February 2018, after closing the nearby original location in 2017. Design firm Studio Peregalli restored the new galleria space, which had been empty for almost 50 years. The firm preserved features such as the 19th-century ceiling while creating a versatile dining destination incorporating a wine cellar in the basement and a casual café at street level, with the main restaurant followed by an event space above.
“We started slowly,” says Bartoli, explaining that when the restaurant opened in the galleria, the wine list was 70 percent smaller than it is now. “But the response from our customers was very good. It’s a big investment, but luckily, Cracco is a big wine lover.”
“I really only like to drink wine if it’s going to be exceptional,” says Cracco, clarifying that it doesn’t seem worth it to drink a lesser bottling if it’s only to have a glass in hand.
Cracco applies a similar standard of excellence to his cuisine, with elaborate compositions that transform high quality ingredients into delicious studies on flavor and texture. A perfectly cooked sliver of venison served over artichoke carpaccio, beet chips and pomegranate impresses in its own right. But its accompaniments, a lightly smoky fried artichoke chip and vegetable broth served in a shot glass primed with whiskey, raise this dish to another level. It allows for some showmanship from the service staff as they prime the shot glass tableside, and it creates a thread of smoke and earthy vegetable flavor that is present in all components of the dish, a baseline helping the sweet gaminess of the venison and the tangy crunch of the pomegranate shine even brighter.
Although the menu, offered à la carte (entrées $47 to $67) and as a 10-course tasting menu ($213), includes pasta and risotto—for which Cracco is particularly well-known—don’t expect standard Italian fare. The dishes are creative and diverse, with abundant French influence as well as accents from farther afield.
Similarly, don’t look for new discoveries or values in the wine list. It is unabashedly classic Old World in focus, with very few bottles priced below $200 and a significant number of the overall selections costing $500 or more. However, Bartoli and his team will happily propose well-chosen by-the-glass selections for guests as alternatives to a whole bottle, and two pages at the front of the list highlight about 60 wines that are drinking well now, among them offerings for less than $225 each.
Go to Cracco for a benchmark experience in fine dining and wine. Relax in a beautiful setting, let the able staff attend to every detail, and prepare to be dazzled.
Read the entire 2019 Restaurant Awards package, including the cover story, “Sharing the Table," in the Aug. 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator.