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Piazza Duomo (Alba)


tupac17616
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I had a very fine meal at Piazza Duomo in Alba last month that I've just gotten around to writing about. The full report is below, while all the pictures (and a couple of videos) can be seen HERE, if you're curious. Enjoy!...

I see some similarities between food writing and sports commentary. One of the most famous and least insightful commentators when I was growing up was a portly fellow by the name of John Madden. He had a remarkable gift for pointing out the blatantly obvious (”When you’re talkin’ about 4th down situations, this is what you’re talkin’ about”) and spitting out catch phrases like “Boom!” when a simple comma, period, or question mark would have done the trick. Food writers undoubtedly fall into similar traps, and I’m not going to lie — I’ve done it myself time and again. How many soufflés have I had that were “light and airy”, how many foie gras dishes that were “rich” or “delicious”?

It’s not just about expanding one’s vocabulary or avoiding clichés. Our immediate reaction to food is visceral, and when you first set pen to pad or fingertips to keyboard, these unfiltered thoughts are often what come out. Food is a basic comfort mechanism, and comfort is good. But I wonder why it’s so easy to have too much of a good thing, why it’s so easy to find restaurants that feed you to the point of submission and smile while doing it. Precious few in the world of fine dining don’t coddle or cuddle. Fewer still have real finesse and achieve a sense of luxury without largesse.

Piazza Duomo in Alba was, I’m happy to say, one such place. Enrico Crippa’s dishes were graceful and balanced, never overwrought or overwhelming. And to think, the whole experience started in a pink dining room with a piece of toast.

The pink dining room I’ve chosen to wipe from my memory. Let us never speak of it again. The toast, on the other hand, had rabbit liver paté on top, and it was one of about 10 Canapés. The small mound of coarsely ground liver was plopped unglamorously on one side of the toast and dusted in a small flurry of salt. It tasted of iron and sweetness, and it made friends quickly with the Aubry 2002 Ivoire et ébène Brut Champagne we were drinking. A puffed-up little croquette was filled with a local cheese called Testun. It had the shape of a fluffed pillow but the texture of Indian papadum, thin and brittle. The nearly-liquid filling flooded my mouth once I cracked the shell. There was a disconcertingly hollow, crispy baguette wrapped in lardo and dabbed with honey; a fried wonton sheet crinkled like a candy wrapper around an herbaceous purée; and countless other fried, dried, creamy and crumbly bites.

Filling out the table were long grissini and three types of bread — white, multi-grain and olive — of which the first was dry but the last surprisingly good. It quickly earned my loyalty and I stuck with olive for the rest of the meal.

My friend asked for an ample tasting menu, and that’s exactly what we got. Ample as in seventeen courses, the first of which was Asparagi viola d’Albenga e tartufo “Nero Piemonte”. Knobs of purple asparagus from a little town in Liguria stood like Easter Island statues getting rained on by a black truffle sauce and julienne strips of Madernassa pear. The sweet pears vied with the earthy (but not particularly aromatic) sauce for the taste buds’ attention, while their slightly mealy crunch jostled with the fork-tenderness of the asparagus. Meanwhile the first bottle of champagne mysteriously disappeared, so we got another. This time, some Delamotte NV Brut Rosé.

The Uovo di quaglia e zucchine in carpione brought a runny poached quail egg that oozed down over boiled, dried, and then marinated slices of courgette. In carpione meant the squash had been marinated in a mixture of vinegar and wine, but it seemed to me to have gotten a bit too comfortable in there. I understand the dish’s intent — for the rich yolk to balance out the tangy vegetable beneath — but the end result left me less than enthusiastic.

I was quite enthusiastic, however, about the Insalata 21, 31, 41…. I’ve since considered erecting a small sculpture of it in my home, or perhaps naming my future children 21, 31, and 41, respectively. Between all the different herbs, flowers, seeds and leaves, sesame was the most pervasive flavor. But the wide range of taste stimuli treated the tongue like a pinball machine, lighting up different parts of the tongue and making new sound effects with every bite.

My only specific request (at first) was the Gambero di Sanremo al naturale… zucca… arachidi e spuma di gingerino Recoaro. I’ve not been to the Italian Riviera myself, but I’ve always tried to do my part to boost the local economy by eating as many of its shrimp as I can. These translucent little lovelies were served raw on a streak of pumpkin cream and doused in a light peanut cream and a foam of Gingerino, a slightly bitter non-alcoholic aperitivo. A few pumpkin seeds interrupted the creamy and smooth with a bit of crunch, while an intense lobster reduction gave the dish unexpected depth. It was a game of contrasting flavors and textures, all dancing around the exceptionally tender and naturally sweet shrimp.

Merluzzo… broccoli e mozzarella was a simply titled dish that turned out to be the most successful, and ultimately representative, dish of the meal. It’s the reason I want to go back this instant. Fresh cod was put under salt for half an hour, sliced like sashimi, and flanked by skinny branches of broccolini and little globs of a mozzarella so soft and milky we couldn’t believe it wasn’t burrata. Four rigatoni were scattered on the plate, making pasta merely an ingredient of this dish rather than its focus. Underneath all this ran colorful streams of broccolini cream, olive sauce and raisin sauce. Each element of this dish either challenged or enhanced each of the others. Everything was there for a reason. Crippa had created a precisely calibrated range of flavors, temperatures, and textures.

Come un “tonno” di coniglio… toni di colore was less exciting. A 12-hour sous vide bath at 60 °C yielded rabbit shoulder with a texture like tuna for this classic Piemontese dish. The beet sauce, pumpkin gelatin, and olive sauce were perhaps not such classic accompaniments. But I admired the chef’s ability to make a beet sauce with only a subtle earthiness. And like many of his dishes, this was vibrant and pleasing to the eye. My disappointment was in finding the meat relatively flavorless, perhaps simply lacking salt.

I don’t want to write about the Crema di patate d’Alta Langa… uovo di quaglia alla “coque”… affumicato al Lapsang Souchong. I just want to eat it again. And no, I won’t share. Hiding in a sea of potato purée was a quail egg, and on top was a line of smoked tea. It sounds simple, and it was. But the potatoes absolutely smashed Robuchon’s. Were they liquid? Were they solid? Were human hands even responsible for such heavenly work? Was the subtle smoke, rich creaminess, and spoon-coating sexiness of this dish really necessary? Definitely not.

For me, that was a tough act to follow. But the Gnocchi di patate… seirass del fen held their own. These plump pillows were bursting with nearly liquefied cheese, and topped with courgette slices and a few green leaves of chard. Adam commented that the gnocchi were too soft, which to me was a testament of how well-made they were.

The Tempura di rossetti, salsa di agrumi was a school of tiny deep-fried fish that seemed to swim across the plate. Holding the fish in place were little dots of a slightly gelled citrus sauce. Tiny cubes of bottarga and an orange and fennel powder provided sharp intermittent hits of salt and citrus. The flavors were clear and precise; the plating, minimalistic and beautiful.

They poured a glass of Bricco Asili 1999 Barbaresco Bernadot from the Ceretto family estate when the Piccione di Sante arrosto, spinaci novelli e mais arrived. The man responsible for providing Crippa and a few other lucky Italian chefs with some of the tastiest pigeon in the country is Sante Marcantoni, a farmer who believes in playing classical music to his birds to improve their texture. Mozart must have done his magic, too, because this was meaty. The spinach leaves, spinach purée and corn sauce were all nice, but the pigeon and its wonderful jus were the center of attention here, and rightfully so.

I’m essentially unable to leave any restaurant in the Piemonte serving veal tartare without trying it, so I asked for the Carne cruda… fragole e cagliata even though it was a bit out of the program. Then again, maybe it wasn’t so out of place, because it functioned beautifully as a transition between meats and sweets. Somehow the clean, subtle flavor of the raw veal wasn’t lost among the sweet strawberry coulis and tangy, creamy goat curd. I’ll be the first to point out that this sounded like a ghastly combination, but also the first to argue that it was a resounding success.

Our pre-dessert, or rather pre-cheese, course was the Croccante di semi di zucca… malghesino… lamponi disidratati. Two thin caramelized pumpkin seed tuiles sandwiched little pellets of a mild and creamy gorgonzola made near Lodi. Also hiding on the inside were dehydrated raspberries, which to me had an almost effervescent feel on the tongue like Pop Rocks. Maybe that tingling was just the natural sourness of raspberries, but whatever the case, the crunchy (perhaps freeze-dried?) bits of fruit were a great addition.

I got some stares when I asked to take a look at the cheese cart after so many courses. Oddly, the stares came from the people sitting at my table. I saw nothing wrong with a Selezione di formaggi piemontesi at this point. I just wanted a little bit of everything. The castelmagno, testun, and testun alle vinacce were all well-chosen but the last was particularly remarkable. Rubbed with grape pomace, it had a sweet-tart crunch that was addictive if perhaps mildly dangerous for the teeth. A complex Piemontese condiment called cugnà also kept these cheeses company.

My only complaint about the Minestrone di frutta e verdura… adesso is that our photos don’t do it an ounce of justice. This chunky soup of fruits and vegetables in a clear broth was so cool and refreshing and sweet and sour and earthy and I don’t even know what else, that I just did not want to stop eating it. Adesso means now, confirming that this was a dish not just of the season, but of the moment. And a very happy moment it was.

Two of us got the minestrone while the other two got the Sorbetto al cioccolato… salsa verde and the inferiority complex that came with it. The chocolate sorbet and the parsley sauce on the plate stood about as close as boys and girls at a middle school dance, and I can see why. That flavor combination didn’t make me want to do the Macarena either. (Granted, I don’t think anything could.) The little salad of herbs and edible flowers on top of the parsley sauce was pretty, at least.

I think I jumped slightly when I saw Una spugna al gusto di nocciola… gelato alla nocciola. Jumped for joy, that is. They can call it a hazelnut “sponge” all they want, but I know Sicilian briosce con gelato when I see it. That fateful meeting of buttery, eggy bread and creamy gelato always feels so right that it can’t possibly be wrong. I chose to forsake the fork, lifting the “sponge” with my hands to discover, happily, a mound of hazelnut gelato buried below. Everything on this plate, save the thick smear of coffee marmalade, had the unmistakable flavor of the tonda gentile hazelnut grown in this area, which is to say it was damn good.

Il muro alla violetta, the “violet wall”, recalled how the beautiful little flowers burst spontaneously through the stone walls in this region in the springtime. Brittle blocks of violet-flavored meringue made the bricks and a thick icing-like cream, the mortar. The violet ice cream playing Humpty-Dumpty was stupendous. The concept, the dish, and the taste were beautiful.

I won’t even get into the Piccola pasticceria, or petits fours, except to tell you that there were white chocolate-dipped pork rinds, and yes, they were quite tasty. We killed off the rest of the treats and downed a demitasse of Jamaica Blue Mountain espresso. We had apparently killed off the rest of the diners as well, because it was now 6:30pm. Time to go home. And you know what’s funny? During the car ride back home, our post-game wrap-up included the same word over and over again — equilibrium. Maybe if this whole food writing thing doesn’t work out, I’ve got a future in television.

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Sounds extraordinary. In fact, was it too much? And, are you still alive after all that food!

I saw your pictures -- these did not look like "small" plates.

Thanks for the writeup. Very nicely done. I'm in Asti in mid-June, and we now usually head to the more down-home places these days. But this sure sounds fantastic for a complete blowout (blow up?) meal. Maybe I will have to reconsider. Grazie.

Edited by pedalaforte (log)
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Sounds extraordinary. In fact, was it too much? And, are you still alive after all that food!

I saw your pictures -- these did not look like "small" plates.

Thanks for the writeup. Very nicely done. I'm in Asti in mid-June, and we now usually head to the more down-home places these days. But this sure sounds fantastic for a complete blowout (blow up?) meal. Maybe I will have to reconsider. Grazie.

Still alive. But I learned my lesson: ampio is a dangerous word in Italian. :wink:

Seriously, though, the only dish I remember noting as significantly larger than the others was the pigeon. That one seemed to almost regenerate itself on the plate while I was eating it.

But it was the cheese that broke the camel's back, er, um, belt for my friends.

At the end I felt fine, but definitely not hungry...

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tupac,

We often disagree on the Italian food we enjoy.

Most of these dishes sound less than enjoyable to me, but that's my problem.

What I'd to know is why this guy has things on the menu that are not seasonal?

Is that too much to ask?

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tupac,

We often disagree on the Italian food we enjoy.

Most of these dishes sound less than enjoyable to me, but that's my problem.

What I'd to know is why this guy has things on the menu that are not seasonal?

Is that too much to ask?

I'm asking, fortedei, not challenging definitely:

(caveat: first, I don't speak fluent Italian, but I'm pretty good on food items)

-- seems to me the menu is based in large part on early season greens and vegetables, in addition to all-season meats and sea stuff. No?

A few odd things in there (strawberries, at least here in cold Utah, USA), but most of it seems pretty April-ish, especially given the maritime environs nearby.

Again, I'm just wondering what you think. As I said earlier, I'm de-volved into liking places that are more down-home rustic, but this menu looked pretty drooly to me!

And, to plug my selfish gene, where do you recommend in the area? So many choices, so little time ...

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tupac,

We often disagree on the Italian food we enjoy.

Most of these dishes sound less than enjoyable to me, but that's my problem.

What I'd to know is why this guy has things on the menu that are not seasonal?

Is that too much to ask?

Indeed, we do. Certainly no harm in a disagreement every now and again.

Although I have to say, I've read many more comments about the Italian food you don't enjoy than I have about that which you do. If you praised or at least mentioned by name the places you like with the same sort of fervor you display when talking about the places you don't, then I think all the readers of this forum would benefit from it greatly.

Re: seasonality, you live a lot closer to the Piemonte than most readers of this forum, so you likely know the climate there better than we do. What items seem conspicuously out of season here to you? Intuition tells me strawberry, corn, maybe the pumpkin/squash (although here in California, we've got pumpkin-like squash growing [and tasting quite good] through the warmer months as well)...

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tupac,

We often disagree on the Italian food we enjoy.

Most of these dishes sound less than enjoyable to me, but that's my problem.

What I'd to know is why this guy has things on the menu that are not seasonal?

Is that too much to ask?

I'm asking, fortedei, not challenging definitely:

(caveat: first, I don't speak fluent Italian, but I'm pretty good on food items)

-- seems to me the menu is based in large part on early season greens and vegetables, in addition to all-season meats and sea stuff. No?

A few odd things in there (strawberries, at least here in cold Utah, USA), but most of it seems pretty April-ish, especially given the maritime environs nearby.

Again, I'm just wondering what you think. As I said earlier, I'm de-volved into liking places that are more down-home rustic, but this menu looked pretty drooly to me!

And, to plug my selfish gene, where do you recommend in the area? So many choices, so little time ...

Lamponi and zucca.

Certainly Da Renzo and an often overlooked place that has extraordinarily good food well served... totally seasonal, great wine list, wonderful owners (Roberto and Walter), a very comfortable place to stay (so you don't have to get in your car after dinner), Cascinale in Isola D'Asti.

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Tupac,

You said: "If you praised or at least mentioned by name the places you like with the same sort of fervor you display when talking about the places you don't, then I think all the readers of this forum would benefit from it greatly."

Gee, that's really a strange comment. Thought for sure I wrote many reviews of places I liked, to say nothing of the very extended colloquy a few years ago on this site about restaurants of the 80s and 90s (many of which are still around and serving great food). In fact I have written extensively on places I enjoy and below are just a few (the search function is poor and there are many more).

My criticisms have been about places which Ptipois described so well on the French board: "Self-centered chef cooking, narcissistic cooking, cooking aimed at the chef's self-expression rather than feeding the customers in a generous, sensuous, unselfish way, what is referred to in French as "faire à manger".

...cuisine narcissique" is an inward movement, a reality that is often blurred by the admirers of the chef who value "innovation" and "creativity" over taste, and maintain the illusion that they are really satisfied for sensorial reasons, when in fact it is more a matter of being part of a cultural elite." wow, did he hit it on the head. Just perfect.

There are many of these places in Italy. Most won't last in the way that they are cooking. They'll go out of business or change. As I said recently, one very big name is in a lot of financial trouble because very few Italians want to go to his restaurant more than once and not enough non Italians want to go their either.

Some of my positive reviews that have been posted:

June 12, 2007. A few years ago, the Gambero Rosso, in addition to listing its thoughts on the best restaurants in Italy, started to list its thoughts on the best trattorie in a section called Tre Gamberi. Over the last few years, we have tried two of them, La Brinca in Ne’ which is south of Chiavari in Liguria and Osteria della Villetta in Palazzolo Sull’Oglio, near Brescia. This past weekend we tried two more, Da Amerigo in Savigno, 30 km. southwest of Bologna and Locanda al Gambero Rosso, near Bagno di Romagna, in the very southern part of Emilia Romagna at the Tuscan border.

We have been to La Brinca many times and very much enjoy it, even if we don’t think it is the best trattoria in Ne’ (we think Antica Trattoria dei Mosto is the better of the two on food, and almost, but not quite, comparable on wine). Sergio Circella of La Brinca has a passion for wine and we’ve never seen a better wine list in any trattoria. Osteria della Villetta is a gem and Maurizio Rossi is the consummate owner. A wonderful trattoria with hard to find Bresciani dishes, skillfully prepared.

So… it was with much enthusiasm that we looked forward to two more Tre Gamberi. The two trattorie are very different. Da Amerigo is the real deal. It is a classic trattoria serving very skillfully prepared Bolognese dishes. We arrived in Savigno late in the afternoon. Peaking through the window of the trattoria, we see the classic tableau… three elderly woman sitting at a table in the dining room, oblivious to the outside world, intently focused on rolling pasta, filling pasta and shaping pasta, for that night’s dinner. The ingredients used in the dishes are first rate, the flavors are full, the plating is well done, the menu changes frequently and the wine list is well thought out. The owner, Alberto Bettini, his wife Susanna, and the rest of his family are warm and welcoming, the service is casual but professional, courteous and helpful, and most of all the whole meal was “natural” i.e. this is how we’ve done it for a long time, we enjoy doing it this way and we hope you like it. It is a very relaxed place and Susanna runs the dining room very well, helpful but not obtrusive and with a pace in the service that allows you to eat and then sit for a while before the next dishes are served. This is not a “rush rush” place; they want you to really enjoy the evening (on the other hand, there was no half hour wait for the next course). The physical setting is classic trattoria and reminded us of both Villetta and La Buca, very comfortable, but the decor is much the same as it was fifty years ago. As I said, the quality of the ingredients is exceptional, whether it was in the coniglio all’ aceto balsamico (the best example of this classic that I’ve ever had) or the guancia di vitella brasata al barbera. The lasagna al forno was so well prepared, my wife said that the pasta was only a notch (no pun intended) below Bruna Santini’s (our standard for excellence). Cherries from nearby Vignola on a simple baked dessert of light pound cake with a little vanilla custard was fantastic. Whether it was the warm tigelle or the quality of the mortadella, Bettini “gets it.” One other thing: their nocino is fantastic and is available to buy at their dispensa. What a pleasure to have a meal at Da Amerigo.

And again. October 1, 2007.Ah, Alberto Bettini still doesn’t get it. Either he hasn’t heard of Senigallia or he doesn’t care (or both). No molecular magic, no weird combinations of food, no green bread (as Cedroni does at Madonnina in Senigallia). Just great Bolognese food (and he hasn’t let the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Gamberi go to his head) at its best. So for Saturday night, antipasto - porcini freschi on a little passato of borlotti (and a plate of warm tigelle) Then the lasagna al forno which is not to be missed, and the tortellini in brodo, something we never have, but the forcemeat in the pasta was not to be believed in terms of taste. Hunting season just started so one of the day's specials – fagiano, the real thing, with the dark meat stewed in wine, and the breast meat browned in a pan and then roasted in the oven. Moist… and nice and gamey. Baccala 3 ways - bolognese (poached and served with olive oil on lemon slices); classico (stewed in a light tomato sauce); and mantecato. Fabulous. We finished with semifreddo di zucca with amaretti, and of course Alberto’s own nocino. A 2003 barbera from La Stoppa. Wonderful place with Alberto and Susanna providing a restaurant experience not to be missed in terms of great ingredients, skillfully prepared, plated well, served nicely by a staff that wants you to have an enjoyable time (and doesn’t point out each ingredient in the dish), a wonderful wine list and very moderate prices (our meal was 110 Euros). Definitely worth the detour.

January 6, 2006

Marina di Bibbona is a strange town. South of Livorno and Cecina, near Bolgheri, it is overrun in the summer and empty in the winter. Bolgheri is a wonderful little town (hamlet is more like it) which is wonderful in winter. All the wine stores are open and there is a vast selection at reasonable prices, not only of the “Super Tuscans” (which have high prices even here, a stone’s throw from their place of origin), but of all Tuscan wines. The area around Bolgheri is filled with gorgeous hills and vineyards planted with vines and olive trees. Cypresses line the lanes, particularly the long road which passes by Sassicaia and leads to the town.

But getting back to Marina di Bibbona. Closed up tight in early January which is when we were there in 05 and 06 and overrun (with campers, the kind you travel in, and campers, the kind that go to campgrounds) in early June of 04 when we went to the restaurant La Pineta for the first time. Don’t let that discourage you from going. The restaurant is a gem. It’s a bit difficult to find, but eventually if you head toward the spiaggia libera, you’ll see a sign. You go on a dirt road between a clearing in the pineta, and after about 600 yards you’re at a beach. You look around and the only structure you see is what looks like a large shack with a corrugated roof. Can this be it? Well, there are certainly a number of cars wedged into the spaces in front. You enter and you’re in an oasis. Simple Tuscan style, with a wood floor and windows which have an incredible view of the sea. If you walk on the beach after lunch (it is a narrow and rocky beach, with very little fine sand; why would anyone want to go to that beach is hard to understand) and look back at the restaurant you’ll see that it is right up against the dunes and the building is divided in half, with a bagno and snack bar on one side (and boarded up in January) and the restaurant on the other. Our take on that is two brothers owned the building, had a fight, and split it up (it sounds good).

Luciano Zazzeri is passionate about food and wine. For a number of years he has gotten very good write-ups in Gambero Rosso and L’Espresso and this year, 2006, got his first Michelin star. If any of you have ever been to the wonderful fish restaurant Muraglia Conchiglia D’Oro in Varigotti on the Ligurian coast, La Pineta will remind you of that. An open kitchen, twelve well set tables comfortably set apart (but not too far apart) and a few pieces of art on the walls.

The food is not fussy and with Sig. Zazzeri you have the feeling that although he’s seen what others have done in Italy and France (so he is not wearing blinders), he decided, some years ago, to emphasize sound combinations on the plate… combinations that are Tuscan and that will let the ingredients shine. You will not find the slightest whiff of fusion dishes, nor of any exotic spices.

What you will find are the types of dishes we had today and on our two previous meals.

The ameuse was marinated anchovies with slivers of red onion strewn on top and an extra dose of deep green olive oil over it. The bread is delicious as is what we here in Forte call secchine, a very thin Tuscan flat bread that is highy addictive.

For the antipasto my wife and I shared a dish of tonno alla griglia con sale grosso e rosmarino. Simple preparation using great tuna. Five slices, about a half inch thick, of tuna, quickly seared on both sides, but with 90 percent of the slice just barely cooked. Dribble on a bit more of the olive oil, mop it up with the crusty bread and you really don’t need much more to make you happy. There was more.

For the premi I had gnochetti al nero di seppie, con seppioline e carciofi fritti. The gnochetti melted in your mouth, the seppioline were tender and flavorful, there we a few pieces of fried artichoke strewn on top and the sauce was wonderful. My wife had ravioli di baccala con salsa di cipolle di Tropea e bottarga; intense flavors and soft pasta. For the secondi, cacciucco- what more be said about a perfect rendition (and gorgeously plated) of a dish that is all too often thrown together in a haphazard manner. I had pesce all’Isolana… roasted sarago (a little bit thicker than orata, and from the same bream family) with roasted carrots, potatoes, zucchini and onions. For dessert, which La Pineta does very well, a flan di ciocolato, with the inner chocolate just slightly oozing out, and a tortino di ciocolato bianco con salsa di arance, light and airy. A bottle of 2000 Cepparello from the extensive list of reds.

The total check was 172 Euros.

This is basically the same experience we’ve had the other two times we’ve gone. Whether it was the pappa al pomodoro con le cozze in June or the spaghetti al tonno fresco ed erbe last January, all the dishes were well thought out, well executed and delicious. All three times we’ve gone, the restaurant was full (all Italians except for us) even for weekday lunches in January. He must be doing something right.

One final note. Walking on the desserted beach, you look back at “the large shack” and you ask yourself… could that be the place I just had that wonderful meal? The answer is yes and La Pineta just keeps getting better and better.

And again April 28, 2006

For those of you who prefer Fulvio Pierangelini’s (the exalted, and two star Michelin chef, and according to the Gambero Rosso, both the best chef and owner of the best restaurant in all of Italy...Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo!) conception of food (fried eggs with lard; crusted eggs with lard ice-cream and stripes of candied lard; lard and ricotta ravioli with lard zabaglione and balsamic vinegar; rosemary and thyme cream with lard , gold, cocoa, cinnamon and Sichuan pepper chocolate roulades), go to his restaurant Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo, enjoy it, and read this post no further. You simply will not like this restaurant. You will not enjoy it, so don’t bother getting agitated by reading this note.

Today, at lunch, we went back to La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (see post for January 6th). Here is what we ate: for an amuse, a little marinated fresh anchovy topped with mildest of slivered onions and a little olive oil (mopped up with very good crusty bread). Then for an antipasto, pappa al pomodoro con le cozze - what an excellent idea on an old Tuscan staple, especially when you have great bread, great olive oil, wonderful tomatoes, good fish broth and spectacular (yes, spectacular) cozze. For the primi, spaghetti with bianchetti (little just-born versions of local fish - tiny white babies (uh oh, the bianchetti police will be after us), mild fresh garlic and sage - very delicate and outstanding; also gnocchetti al nero di seppie with seppioline and carciofi fritti - strong flavors, but the gnochetti as black, and as light as could be, and also outstanding. A fritto, very light and crisp and not oily; also spezzatino di tonno with cherry tomatoes, fagiolini and mild spring onions. The tuna was not quickly grilled, but was still rare on the inside (how does Luciano Zazzeri do it?). A brilliant dish. Rather than our usual sangiovese, we drank a Paleo 2001, from Bolgheri, which is 100% cabernet franc. Dessert was a flan di cioccolato. Outstanding meal but we really missed having that lard ice cream that we might have gotten 20 km. from Pineta at Gambero Rosso. The restaurant was almost full, and people were really enjoying themselves. The beach was still deserted, and the adjoining bagno closed; you sit there with the windows open and only the sand and sea in front of you. The place has a wonderful feeling - the diners are happy, and so is the staff. The area in the hills is gorgeous.

May 21, 2006

Just came back from our favorite seafood place in Liguria, Muraglia Conchiglia D’Oro. Have had perhaps a dozen meals there over the last seven years. Each one outstanding. Thank you MZ and JZ for telling us about it. A true maestro who doesn't bat an eye that the Gambero Rosso dropped him for whatever reason (hasn't stopped the other two guides from continuing to extol him).

Again, one recognizes everything on the plate... pasta that is pasta, seafood that is seafood... all exquisitely, exquisitely prepared and of the most pristine ingredients. True Ligurian flavors. No fusion anything. Spaghetti with anchovies (tossed with the pasta as a sauce and extra grilled anchovies around the plate); rigatoni with tonno e piselli. Incredible flavor in both cases. Then orata alla ligure (olives, capers, pinoli, marjoram and thyme) and San Pietro with Tropea onions. For dessert an apple baked with candied orange and lemon peel, a chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, and a pound cake with citrus. Right on the lungomare in a non descript town, in a restaurant setting that could be out of California. Beautiful simplicity. This is a guy who thinks Adria is a misspelling of a sea bordering on the Italian coast

Not a shred of "modern Italian haute cuisine."

I think this one goes only to athinaeos who seems to really appreciate restaurants of this type.

March 15, 2009

We went down to Montalcino yesterday to buy some wine. Usually we stay overnight in the town. This time we decided to try Il Silene (ilsilene.it) about about 15 miles south of Montalcino in Seggiano, near Monte Amiata.

This place is everything Carlo Cracco (see topic Cracco Milano) is not. Actually. this is not quite true. This place is very similar to what Carlo Cracco had when, several years ago, he was in his locanda between Alba and Bra.

A few comfortable rooms and very good food. A talented, extremely nice owner/chef (Roberto Rossi) and his wife. A good, very reasonably priced wine list with oodles and oodles of Brunellos (but you won’t find Cracco’s Gyokuro green tea on the list).

There wasn’t any foam in sight. No sous-vide, no molecular food, no food in Mason jars, no fusion. The usual sign vietato fumare could have been replaced by vietato Adria’. Carlo Cracco would have recognized all the food; he once cooked this way.

I started with the zuppetta di piccione and my wife had the zuppa di scottiglia. Then for primi piatti, raviolini ripieni al piccione; tagliatelle con asparagina selatica di macchia. Some other choices for primi: tagliatelline con ragu di coniglio and risotto al lampredotto (Rossi’s version of Cracco’s risotto con olio d’acciuga, limone e cacao). For main courses we had rognone di vitella and wonderful agnello alla brace. Also available last night was animelle di agnello, tagliata di petto d’anatra, composizione vegetale di verdure miste in varie cotture. and three or four other main dishes. The menu changes often (Roberto is a whiz with a Mac and so it doesn’t faze him to print out a different menu every day depending on what he wants to cook and what is in the market; would that all restaurants did this). Dessert was a delicious zuccoto (and two dessert wines). Da bere: 1995 Brunello Il Poggione (100 euros). Finished off the bottle and so had a glass of 1995 Brunello Fanti as well. The food cost was 103 euros.

Great meal? No. Very good. Yes. Wonderful flavors, excellent cooking skill, friendly service, very reasonable check, don’t have to drive anywhere after the meal (just walk upstairs). You’ll recognize everything on your plate (and the plating was good). It’s a very good place to go if you’re in Montalcino.

September 22, 2008

High above Riomaggiore (you’re in the upper vineyards and the sea is far below), is the hamlet of Groppo. High up in the hamlet is the restaurant Cappun Magru.

We were there for the first time five months ago and the meal was so good we decided to go back (it is about an hour plus from Forte dei Marmi). It didn’t disappoint.

The dining room is on a promontory, almost cliff like, overlooking vineyards and vegetable gardens. Spectacular view. It holds at most 20 people. Typical husband and wife team, Cristiane in the sala, Maurizio in the open( to the dining room) kitchen.

Very carefully prepared Lugurian food with vibrant flavors. No modern nonsense (read that to be, no foams, no experiments, no Fernand Adria school of cooking), you’ll recognize everything on your plate and it will taste delicious. A real cut above most anything in Luguria and certainly a far cry from the usual Cinque Terre menus and execution.

Yesterday we had Cappun Magru and filetto di Lanzardo al vopore as antipasti; tagliolini di faro con scampi, seppioline in a salsa di ricci… and Ciuppin (with a lattughe ripiene of fish) as primi; for secondi, polpette di manzo con crema di borlotti freschi and filetti di Nasello con purea di sedano rapa e zucchini in fiore. Dessert was a torta di fichi freschi, which was excellent as well.

A great bottle of a Walter Batte white and a glass of his Sciachetra' for dessert.

A very good wine list, with very moderate pricing. The list reflects the Bordoni’s taste and travels (and they have great taste in wine), in Italy and France.

Very friendly service, but not of the fawning kind. An absolutely delightful place with wonderful food and wine.

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Thought for sure I wrote many reviews of places I liked, to say nothing of the very extended colloquy a few years ago on this site about restaurants of the 80s and 90s (many of which are still around and serving great food). In fact I have written extensively on places I enjoy and below are just a few (the search function is poor and there are many more).

My criticisms have been about places which Ptipois described so well on the French board:  "Self-centered chef cooking, narcissistic cooking, cooking aimed at the chef's self-expression rather than feeding the customers in a generous, sensuous, unselfish way, what is referred to in French as "faire à manger".

...cuisine narcissique" is an inward movement, a reality that is often blurred by the admirers of the chef who value "innovation" and "creativity" over taste, and maintain the illusion that they are really satisfied for sensorial reasons, when in fact it is more a matter of being part of a cultural elite." wow, did he hit it on the head. Just perfect.

There are many of these places in Italy. Most won't last in the way that they are cooking. They'll go out of business or change. As I said recently, one very big name is in a lot of financial trouble because very few Italians want to go to his restaurant more than once and not enough non Italians want to go their either.

Probably my mistake for spending too much time in the France forum and in this one. The points you've made that resonate the most in my head over time are (1) that (Cracco / Pierangelini / Alajmo / Cedroni / Uliassi) is a disgrace and that (2) the food guides in Italy are crap, except for Gambero Rosso's Tre Gamberi.

Looking through the reviews you've transcribed here, I realize I've actually read most if not all of them. My problem for letting the negative ones outweigh the positive.

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Tupac, wow that sounds like quite a gastronomic treat and love your detailed descriptions. We have been curious about the Piazza Doumo since it has a 3 fork rating from Gambero Rosso's guide. which may or may not mean anything since we don't always agree with their ratings, but it does sound like fine dining at a high level and worthy of a treat when one wants a complete blowout . For my curiosity what was the price of the tasting menu per person?

Too many restaurants in Piedmont, too little time in life

Villa Sampaguita

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For my curiosity what was the price of the tasting menu per person?

For your curiosity, and for the sake of future readers of this thread, I'll list the various options from the printed menus I have...

Evasione e territorio... (100€)

21... 31... forse 41... forse più tra erbe, fiori, semi e foglie

Carne cruda... fragole e cagliata

Bon apetit, sgombro candito...

Merluzzo fresco di nostra salatura... accomodato al verde

Come un "tonno" di coniglio... toni di colore

Gnocchi di patate... seirass del fen

Carré d'agnello sambucano arrosto... latte di capra... camomilla

Minestrone di frutta e verdura... adesso

Una spugna al gusto di nocciola... gelato alla nocciola

Verdure, pasta, riso, pesce... dieta mediterranea (100€)

Uova e zucchine in carpione

Asparagi viola d'albenga... acqua e olio

Cipolla in crosta di tartufo "nero piemonte", sugo di testun

Fagiolini meraviglia ai 7 sapori

Riso... pomodoro e scampi

P... P... P...

San Pietro arrosto... rosa canina e carote, radici di Bardana e germogli si soja

Creme caramel al miso... sesamo e wasabi, omaggio al giappone

Wafer al tartufo "nero piemonte"

La Primavera 2009 (110€)

Melanzana... miso e calamari

Gambero di Sanremo al naturale... zucca... arachidi e spuma di gingerino Recoaro

Orata reale... lime e ginepro

Merluzzo... broccoli e mozzarella

Foie gras... tartufo "nero piemonte" e vegetali

Mailino di latte dorato... verdure argodolci

Riso... erbe e lumachine di mare

Piccione di Sante arrosto, spinaci novelli e mais

Sorbetto al cioccolato... salsa verde

Takos

Our carte blanche menu (160€)

Asparagi viola d'Albenga e tartufo "Nero Piemonte"

Uovo di quaglia e zucchine in carpione

Insalata 21, 31, 41...

Gambero di Sanremo al naturale... zucca... arachidi e spuma di gingerino Recoaro

Merluzzo... broccoli e mozzarella

Come un "tonno" di coniglio... toni di colore

Crema di patate d'Alta Langa... uovo di quaglia alla "coque"... affumicato al Lapsang Souchong

Gnocchi di patate... seirass del fen

Tempura di bianchetti, salsa di agrumi

Piccione di Sante arrosto, spinaci novelli e mais

Carne cruda... fragole e cagliata

Croccante di semi di zucca... malghesino... lamponi disidratati

Selezione di formaggi piemontesi

Minestrone di frutta e verdura... adesso

Sorbetto al cioccolato... salsa verde

Una spugna al gusto di nocciola... gelato alla nocciola

Il muro alla violetta

A la carte

antipasti 20-26€

primi 25€

piatti di mezzo 20-26€

pesci 38€

carni 35-45€

piccole dolcezze... salate 14€

dessert 16€

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Every menu sounds fantastic! Perhaps we'll have to give it a go this year. Thanks for the prices. It's more than I was figuring (I have to pay for five of us), but it might be fun for a -- what was it Sampaguita called it? -- for a "blowout." BlowUP?

Thanks. I love your writing (and thinking) style, even if we might disagree on food. Might, not do. Ciao.

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  • 1 month later...

On June 4, 2009 we had a reservation for 10 people at Piazza Duomo. I telephoned about a month ahead and asked the Maitre D Roberto to prepare a multi-course chef's menu of whatever was fresh (and mix it in with whatever the chef wished to prepare from their regular menu if he chose).

We were treated to an approximately 17 or 18 course menu (depending on what you count as courses). We had foodies and picky eaters and everyone was very happy. It was an extraordinary meal. We were served a "simple" green bean dish made with butter and mint and edible flowers that I will remember forever. We ate at many of the highly touted ristorantes in Piemonte and this was by far our best "fancy" meal of our visit.

I think anyone expecting a 3 Star Michelin experience at a restaurant in Piemonte will be disappointed. However, if you want delicious, beautiful food served in a pleasant environment by friendly staff, you could do worse than Piazza Duomo.

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