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Posts posted by Marco

  1. Thanks so much. 

    I was going to call the wine place on MacArthur Blvd today because I saw boxes from there in the wine room. 

    Retract yout offer.  Trust me, on trying to get this guy to move and his issues with his wine, you do not want it in your house.  He is a total princess.  At this point he just expects us to move settlement by four days on account of his wine.  While I have some respect for wine, the guy has a month and a half at this time to figure it out.  [sorry for the rant]

    Thanks again!

    The linked thread mentions "the Wine Rack" which is part of Bottom Line Wine. I think that was Dave Gray's place, but I thought it went out of business years ago. Is it still there? I bought a fair amount of wine from him in the old days.

    Both Wide World of Wines and the Wine Rack are still in the wine storage business. The latter used to be part of BLW, which did cease, but Dave still runs the Wine Rack as a business. [At least he had better .. haven't been there in a while, but I sure have some nice wine there last I checked.]

  2. The veal dish you describe sounds like vitello tonnato, a classic, but for the addition of the lemon.


    Well sort of I guess, but in addition to adding the lemon, the tonnato was subtracted. The oily "sauce" was sparse, thin, and mostly clear, with a meager amount of suspended anchovy particulate matter in it.

  3. It has taken me so long to finish these notes that I am giving up and jettisoning them, in case they still may be of use to someone. (Also, I suspect I've pretty much forgotten any details that I haven't already written down anyway.) I apologize in advance for any slaughtering of the Italian language.

    Below are the results of a joyful week of dining in Piemonte in October of 2003. The places are listed in ascending order of bliss. Given the season and the all-too-unfortunate infrequency of my visits to Piemonte, I had a particular interest in having truffles a large amount of the time, the high prices and scarcity resulting from the torrid summer both be damned. But my focus did restrict my exploration of dishes (often simpler ones) in some restaurants to those that go well with truffles.

    Tra Arte E Querce (Monchiero, near Barolo)

    I highly recommended this B & B in a thread on lodgings around Alba. The owners are Ezio and Clelia. Ezio is a truffle hunter with 2 dogs, and the truffles we ate were ones he had found, including a complimentary egg with white truffle shavings we had each morning as part of our colazione. (Now I know why Italians don't call their yolks "yellows" - these were closer to "oranges" or "reds"). In addition, Clelia will also prepare dinner on request with advance notice. We ate there twice because of the convenience of it being where we were staying. Both the food and the wines were very reasonably priced. But as much as both my wife and I enjoyed our experiences there, and will enthusiastically stay there again, I can't honestly say that dining there is worth a separate trip. However, I did get an enjoyable feeling that we were getting the food of a pretty good home cook, not a restaurant chef.

    Some of the dishes we had were:

    salumi (home-made by Ezio)

    carne cruda w/ parmesan shavings and white truffles

    insalata russa (spelling?)

    vitello and red pepper in a fonduta-type sauce with white truffles (the truffles didn't really work with the peppers)

    fonduta in a crepe with white truffles

    puff pastry filled with fontina fonduta with white truffles

    taglietelle verde with white truffles

    tajarin with white truffles (the gravy was a little more meaty than the better version at Lalibera discussed below, and again this wasn't a great foil for truffles)

    hazelnut cake with sabayon sauce

    traditional budino (pudding)

    The one dish that was particularly fascinating and also unusual to me was one that consisted of very thin slices of veal in a thin anchovy crema, sparsely covered with very thin slices of lemon (including the rind). This was truly a riot of strong and sharp tastes. I even wondered what the heck the veal was doing in there, as it seemed to be overwhelmed by the anchovy and lemon. But I realized it was similar to the small piece of fairly bland tuna in conjunction with the dab of wasabi in sushi - somehow there is a smoothing out and balancing of the overall taste accomplished by a fairly innocuous ingredient in the presence of the boisterous flavors. Even more fascinating, this dish was a tremendous match with Barolo, which when young can have its own boisterous and tart components. After a sip of nebbiolo, the whole dish quieted down and began engaging in a call and response with the wine. A lot of fun. Anyone know this dish? I haven't found it in my Italian cookbooks, none of which are Piemontese.

    At each dinner we got so full so quickly that we never got to the main courses. Who knows how many other courses they had waiting back there in the kitchen.

    Da Stefania (Alba)

    We ate here because it was one of the few places open in mid-afternoon, and was recommended by the hotel. I had tagliatelle with porcini, and my wife had vegetable lasagna. My simple dish of pasta with porcini was executed with precise technique, and the lasagna was a small serving of a hyper-modern interpretation that was quite lovely. Prices were not cheap, but not outrageous either. Trendy high-art décor.

    Lalibera (Alba)

    I want to thank Bill Klapp for his excellent recommendation on these boards. I ordered the tajarin, and it truly was great. My wife had a dish that was like elongated gnocchi in a Gorgonzola sauce (don't remember the Italian name). We enjoyed our lunch so much that on the way out we made reservations for the next day's lunch as well. The next day my wife again ordered the "gnocchi" and I ordered the cheese plate, having seen an order of this thing of beauty being assembled the day before.

    The cheese plate consisted of small cuts of 11 different cheeses arranged handsomely around a plate like the numbers on a watch face, with a dab of some kind of fruit paste in the middle. The day before I had gone to the Enotecalibraria (?? - I forget the real name of this place - see below) and bought the English language version of the Slow Food guide to Italian cheeses. I held the book out to the waitress with a smile, and even though she was busy, she took it from me and indicated those cheeses on the plate that were also in the book (which were most of them). So we had a nice informed and analytical cheese tasting as part of our lunch. This imposition seemed to bring an appreciative smile to our waitress's face for the rest of our meal - I guess we were in Italy, not France.

    (As an aside, I again thank Bill Klapp for the heads-up to the Enoteclibraria, whatever it's real name. I went in there early in our stay, and immediately could guess who Gigi was, and when I showed him a print-out of the forum thread in which Bill described him and his store, he was tickled by this little bit of notoriety. I went back there several times to buy bottles of truffle oil, a nifty looking bottle of Grappa (which I only buy for the esthetics of the bottle), the cheese book, and a T-shirt. One time his female assistant asked for the print-out so that she could translate it for him. I only hope that Bill's somewhat indirect sentence formulation did not get misconstrued in translation (something like "if Gigi's truffles are lame, then there are no good truffles to be had"). By the time I left the store for the last time, he gave me a nice hug.)

    Il Ristorante di Guido da Costigliole (part of the Relais San Maurizio - quite a trip to get there)

    This was a fixed-menu group meal, consisting of:

    vitello tonnato

    foglia di cavolo gratinata al forno (gratineed cabbage)

    gli agnolotti (ravioli) di Lida con tartufo (truffles)

    faraona (Guinea hen) al forno con cartufo

    tortino di cioccolata fondente (a chocolate cake/brownie-ish sort of thing)

    piccolo pasticceria e caffe

    As appears to be the consensus on these boards, this was a bit of a disappointment given the high expectations (and prices). The setting is spectacular, but the food doesn't fully live up to it - it was real up and down, with little memorable soaring on the up end. The vitello tonnato was excellent, but the poultry was overcooked. So was the chocolate dessert, although in all fairness, as a result of tasting several hazelnut cakes during our stay I have to say that in general the Piedmontese like their cakes a little drier that I do.

    Vecchio Tre Stelle (outside of Barbaresco)

    I ordered their tartufo menu, which consisted of:

    battuta di carne cruda all/albese (steak tartare w/ arugala)

    fonduta di rascher d'alpeggio in cialda di parmigiano (fonduta in a parmesan cheese wafer basket)

    tajarin dei trenta tossi al coltello con curro fuso giologico di montagna (noodles in butter sauce - the rest of the Italian seems like an idiomatic description - can someone help with this?)

    uova al tegame (2 pan fried eggs)

    The menu was 30 euros not including truffles, which were priced at 4.5 euros per gram. I used 20 grams in total for a good blanketing on each dish. These pretty basic dishes were excellently executed. I left the restaurant a very happy camper, although I didn't really get much of a chance to see what the place could do, aside from marshalling fine technique to the cause of complementing white truffles.

    This place has 1 Michelin star for what that is worth. Also, we seemed to be the only non-German-speaking diners in the room that night. As a result of this and some other occurrences and observations during our stay, I finally figured out how the balance of payments works in these parts. Almost every German visits the Piemonte as a tourist. In return, the Piemontese buy a bunch of Mercedes, plus a few assorted other German cars.

    Borgo Antico (Barolo)

    I don't have much of a clue as to what is really authentic Piedmontese food. And to some degree I don't care - if a chef/cook uses some local ingredients in a way that tastes like it fits with the local wines and the climate, and the finished product feels like it was constructed with precision (of both technique and sensibility of taste), then regardless of whether the recipes are traditional or adapted-from-tradition or innovative, most of the time that is all I really want. Not much, huh? (But judging by some other posts, this sounds like a debating topic for another time.) At any rate, I felt that Borgo Antico delivered very powerfully by these standards.

    We started with an amuse of a small stuffed zucchini boat with a similar-sized small line of pureed green bean - wonderfully flavorful, and the two items visually echoed each other. For a first course my wife had scaloppa di fegato grasso d'oca, patata passata, moscato passito e fichi canditi (goose foie gras with potato puree, sweet Muscat wine, candied fig), and I ordered risotto alla piemontese (with Fontina) and shaved white truffles. (There was a rather expensive flat charge of 25 euros to shave white truffles over any dish you chose.)

    It often seems to us that the first courses are more interesting than the main courses in many types of restaurants and in many cuisines. This was one place where this was not the case. My wife ordered what seemed fairly innocently listed as carre' di agnello cotto sulla pietra di Luserna con erber aromatiche (small lamb chops baked on a stone with aromatic herbs), and I ordered costata di cervo con mirtilli rossi in composta (venison chop with stewed red berries). First they brought my wife a small plastic bib (like the ones they give you in some restaurants in the U.S. when you order lobster). Then they brought out a small rack of lamb chops on a plate in the center of which was a sizzling hot round stone about twice the size of a hockey puck. This seemed at first to look like a gimmick, but it turned out to be the best chops my wife had ever eaten. First, they were excellently seasoned. Second, they were very much on the rare side, which mean that the hot stone served two very useful purposes. It allowed one to individually further cook each chop exactly to order if needed, and even with very little extra cooking, by adjusting the distance of the chops from the center of the stone it allowed the chops to remain hot throughout the meal. I know that one reason that I eventually loose interest in a large serving of grilled meat is that as it cools on the plate and the fat congeals, I find it less appetizing. With the stone in the center of the plate, this was not an issue. (And the bib was actually necessary to avoid a small amount of splattering.) My venison chop was also very good, but much less of a show. It was a very Autumnal dish.

    (Las Bottega del) Vicolletto (Alba)

    This meal was certainly the highlight of our Italy trip, both gastronomically and for the convivial atmosphere and the sparkle of both Bernard and Ylvia (I think I have remembered their names correctly). This was also a fixed-menu group meal.

    We started with puff pastry cups filled with fontina fonduta with white truffles shavings over top. Wonderful stuff, and as many as we cared to eat. This was actually a more rustic presentation than the similar one at Vecchio Tre Stelle above, but who cares. This was followed with a brash bagna cauda, with more vegetables than we could ever possibly eat.

    Next came ravioli "del plin" with a rashcera cheese fonduta filling with white truffles shaved on top. Now we were moving into more refined territory.

    Next, rather than choosing between two choices we had some of both: squab with black truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and filetto di vitello (veal fillet) al Barolo. The fillet was cooked and the sauce was created with such precise and sure technique - a wonderful match. The squab was also excellent, although less revelatory. I regret that I can't dredge up good taste descriptors at this late stage.

    The meal concluded with a wonderful cheese plate that consisted of 10 local cheeses accompanied by dabs of 5 different fruit or vegetable preserves. My favorite of the preserves was the tomato "marmalade". This was a sizable gustatory and analytical adventure all on its own.

    We stumbled back to the hotel feeling that it doesn't get any better than this (although leavened a little by a poignant tinge that we probably came close to eating ourselves to death that night).

    This was only my second trip to Piedmonte during truffle season, and unfortunately my wife was not as entranced as I, but even in a bad truffle year the truffles, food, wine, hazelnuts, and the people made me feel that I wanted to do this every Autumn. There are so many other places I have never been, but so what. Nevertheless, I am sad that I will probably not be there this year in October.

  4. Bill, what's the truffles in restaurants situation you have encountered in terms of cost and quality?

    In case you are interested in a response from someone other than Bill, last week I posted some info on this as of a week ago (under "When its truffle picking time in Piedmont").

  5. This thread seems to have gone dormant, so I hesitate to attach here rather than start a new one, but in the interest of parsimony, here goes.

    In looking last month for a place to stay for a few days in the Piemonte, I stumbled on a wonderful website for this area: http://www.holidaysol.it/. It’s maintained by the (in Italian) Associazione Piccole Strutture Ricettive Langhe Monferrato Roero. The web site is very well done, and has a good English version. (When we were just in Alba this month I saw they had a hard-copy booklet of their listings also.) It lists B&B and apartment-type lodgings over a wide range of prices and apparent luxury. The smallest have only one room, while the largest seems to be about 6 rooms. I get the strong feeling from our experience and this site that there are all sorts of small lodgings out there struggling with the simple difficulty of getting their word out.

    Our one use of this site to find a place was VERY successful. I chose and highly recommend the following:

    Tra Arte E Querce

    Loc. Monchiero Alto, 11

    12060 Monchiero CN (near Barolo)

    Tel.+39 0173 792156 - Fax +39 0173 792156

    Cell +39 338 9081666

    E-mail: ezioetclelia@tiscali.it (the owners are Ezio and Clelia)


    I chose it for several reasons: One was that at 6 rooms it was one of the largest on the site, so I figured it would be fairly professionally run. But the primary reason was that their own website spoke of “truffled eggs” for breakfast, and in my largely hapless attempt to decipher the Italian on their web site it seemed that they are a trifolau (truffle hunter) family.

    We paid 100 euros for a nice size room with a small balcony and a “hydro” (sort of vertical Jacuzzi) with Spartan but very nice furniture. The place is only 2 years old, and has modern electronic hook-ups, etc, and looks very nice. Between my dictionary and talking with Clelia as best we could, I gather that “Tra Arte E Querce” translates roughly as “between art and the oak tree”, and indeed the walls were filled with an interesting selection of art, and Clelia pointed to the querce just outside. And it is indeed true that Ezio is a truffle hunter with 2 dogs – he went out early every morning while we were there – 2 days he found some white truffles, one day only some blacks.

    The breakfast was a neat surprise. The first morning, we went down and saw only the usual Italian colazione. The cynical synapses in my brain began to twitch a little, so I composed a question using my dictionary about the truffled eggs, indicating clearly that we were willing to pay an appropriate amount extra for it. She responded: “You want truffled eggs? No problem. And the price is included.” Shortly thereafter my wife and I were each presented with one egg in a small casserole dish with a moderate amount of white truffle shaved on top. (No wonder they don’t call the yolks “yellows” here – they are more like red-orange.) So for three consecutive mornings we had our truffled eggs plus the usual colazione. What a wonderful way to start a day.

    Clelia will also prepare dinner on request – more on that when I report our eating experiences.

  6. Dear Quarkz,

    I just made the first of several intended posts related to this topic, part of which is the following:

    "The truffle crop in the Piemonte is very much down this year, largely due to the summer heat wave. ... However, there are truffles to be eaten. The ones that we consumed had good and wonderfully typical fragrance.

    Unfortunately, price reflects scarcity. The lowest prices I saw in stores, or heard reached at the end of bargaining in the weekend truffle market, were in the 3.3 to 3.5 Euro per gram range, and the highest price I encountered (at the Michelin 1-star Vecchio Tre Stelle) was 4.5 Euros per gram."

    One common way to have truffles at a restautant is for the place to tell you the price they are charging per gram or (more usually) per 100 grams. They let you inspect the truffle that they would slice onto your dish, then weigh the truffle in front of you, you let them slice until you say stop, then they weight the truffle again, and you pay for the difference in weight. I found that 4 to 5 grams would cover one dish quite nicely. And this approach takes much of the quesswork out of the process. Another place where we ate charged a flat 25 Euros to have truffles shaved over any dish you choose.

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