No matter what time of day - breakfast, lunch or dinner - you’ll find the elevator to the top floor of Coin busy.
For visitors to Italy, Lake Como means a brief stay in busy Bellagio, a few delightfully cooling boat rides, perhaps a look around for George Clooney’s villa (it’s in Lario). Unless you’re interested in silk, Como itself has little appeal for the tourist. But for those who live and work in the zone, it’s crucial to have their own great eating places, out of sight of the summer mobs. The word has gotten around among local people that Momi is it. No matter what time of day - breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in between- the elevator to the top floor of Coin is busy. Yes, the top floor of a department store, the unlikeliest place in Italy to find a popular restaurant and coffee bar, but since it’s usually unbothered by tourists, it’s ideal. Spacious and attractive, Momi is striking first of all for the light that pours in through large windows that look out over the city. From the outdoor terraces, spectacular views of the green cupola of Como’s Duomo and the mountains around the lake add glamour. Momi himself greets every client with a smile that lights the room. “The welcome our guests sense is fundamental,” he says. “Whoever comes here has to feel good, feel at ease. That’s the lesson I learned the first time I walked into a restaurant.”
Momi, whose real name is Andrea Dotti, didn’t come by his vocation through the normal family channels: his parents worked with fabric and his grandfather was a chemical engineer. However, his mother’s brother is a food writer and, Momi says, “He transmitted a certain seriousness, he helped me find the right roads, and impressed on me that if I wanted to be a chef, I had to be sure I did it well.” Momi went to hotel school in nearby Stresa and then, at 17, to London for two years to study. “But the most important things I learned came from Pina Bellini, while working in her Milanese restaurant, La Scaletta. She had a true passion for the craft and paid attention to every detail. The first day I was there, I finished the lunch shift and left. When I came back later, I couldn’t find my white jacket. Signora Pina had put it on the radiator, to warm it up. I was the lowest-ranking person there, and she worried about me. I never forgot that lesson, above and beyond the fact that she was a great cook.” The next big step in Momi’s life came with two contemporaries, Giovanni Traversone and Marco Tronconi. The three young men took over Giovanni’s parents’ old place, the Trattoria del Nuovo Macello, and made a big success of it. After five years, Momi felt he needed to go out on his own. But why Como, we asked. It’s hardly an important place on a food map. “I liked the challenge of working in the provinces. I was convinced that if I found an approach, I could do well. I was right. Our fifth floor is always full. People like finding it constantly open, and knowing there’s always something satisfying to eat at every time of day.” Momi continued, “A great cross-section of Como comes here. At lunch there are professionals, workmen and salespersons. Kids come, order one hot chocolate for five of them and spend the afternoon at the table. We decided not to have a cover charge or service, and we like our 360° of hospitality.”
At lunch, there are at least six dishes of each type, at amazing prices for the quality – soups, pasta, interesting risotto, vegetable salads, marinated lake fish, and great favorites like the tenderest braised beef with polenta, cotechino (a type of large sausage served in slices) with mashed potatoes, or veal shin with vegetables gratiné. Momi also provides a tempting selection of rich desserts, wine by the glass and artisanal beer in bottles. He depends on a loyal, skilled team to manage the 100- 150 customers the restaurant can seat; he has a skilled, well-honed young brigade in the kitchen as well as three experienced colleagues in the dining room. In the evening, the atmosphere and the menu changes, becoming more sophisticated. Whipped creamy baccalà, paté with caramelized onions and brioche, stuffed fried fresh anchovies, a thick breaded veal cutlet (alla milanese), and liver with crisp onions are among the offerings. Desserts include apples gratiné, chocolate sweets and candied figs. Aside from being strictly seasonal, Momi’s cooking is impressive for its rigorous technique, clean flavors, and the universal appeal of his dishes to both food fanatics and an ordinary daily public. What does he think is the secret of his success? Momi has no doubts. That smile reappears. “The secret? That there are no tricks and no secrets.”
via Boldoni, 3
Coin, 5th floor
cost per person: 35€ (without wine)