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Known as the ‘Clint Eastwood of the Kitchen’ for his rugged good looks and measured demeanor, Carlo Cracco is among the best-known faces on the Italian culinary scene. So when the multi-Michelin starred chef and TV personality announced he was opening a five-floor café, pasticceria, wine cellar and gourmet restaurant in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele— the iconic glass-domed 19th-century shopping arcade—it created more than the usual understated Milanese fruscio (rustlings).
Designed by architects Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori Rimini—whose meticulous evocations of storied atmospheres has led to commissions from Pierre Bergé and Hamish Bowles—the interiors of Ristorante Cracco were under wraps for two years. It finally opened in February 2018, immediately becoming the talk of the town.
On a recent Friday morning, Milanese signore in chic black outfits and gentlemen in Milan’s trademark green Loden overcoats knocked back espressos and house-made veneziane—sugar-topped doughnuts filled with vanilla, chocolate or hazelnut cream—at the polished wood counter; while a woman in a black fedora lingered over coffee and a pink-iced pasticcino, her suitcase parked below a marble table-top.
But clients at Cracco get far more than just great cake and coffee. Interiors combine original features with space-specific elements that evoke rather than recreate the Golden Age of Coffee Shops. The globe wall-lamps on curved brass stems and intricate marble floor echo those of the Galleria, designed by nineteenth-century architect Giuseppe Mengoni, who fell fatally from the scaffolding just before the arcade’s opening. Walls, meanwhile, are hand-painted with artfully faded damask motifs that recall a Fortuny fabric whose patina has only improved with age. “All the walls are hand-painted by our craftsmen under our supervision,” the architects say. “It’s haute couture for interiors.”
An iron elevator, encased in glass-and-bronze, transports guests to the 50-seat haute cuisine restaurant on the first floor, where they enter an anteroom whose ceiling features original floral frescoes in vintage pink and powder blue. The colors reappear in a hand-painted wallpaper, spread with outsized blossoms resembling a field of multi-colored daisies, or open parasols, inspired by a 1920’s photo.
Arched vintage mirrors, strikingly hung with round ceramic artworks by twentieth-century artist Lucio Fontana (famous for his slashed canvases), dominate the two dining rooms. Specially-designed plates, by Richard Ginori, feature crisscross patterns by Gio Ponti that mimic the iron structure of the Galleria’s glass dome. There are also a couple of private spaces, overlooking the Galleria, and a fumoir, serving oysters, caviar, cigars, and spirits, with wall fabric in a mossy green metallic thread. Diners from all sections of the restaurant can select their own wine from the pine shelves in the red-lacquered basement cellars, stocking 2,000 French, Italian and Californian labels. The space is completed by a mirrored, frescoed hall, which can be hired for special events on the second floor.
But it is, of course, Cracco’s innovative Lombard food, with contrasting textures and startling flavors, that is the main draw. Most evenings, Italy’s most famous chef cooks up the dishes himself, aided by his kitchen staff. Celebrated platters include crunchy golden saffron risotto—a variation on a local favorite, chunky handmade spaghetti with guinea fowl and roasted yellow tomatoes, and cocoa-crusted turbot served with parsnips in smoked tea.
In April 2018, Cracco continues to democratize his new empire with artworks commissioned from Italian artists to fit the semi-circular, lunette windows of the mezzanine. Each will be visible to the 100,000 visitors who walk through the Galleria each year. “It’s a return to the Galleria’s origins as the salotto— or cultural meeting point—of Milan,” says Cracco’s long-time maitre and right-hand man, Alessandro Troccoli. ‘‘Carlo wanted the Milanese, as well as visitors, to feel part of this space.”
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II; 39-02/876-774; ristorantecracco.it.