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Steve Plotnicki

Piemonte Restaurants: Reviews & Recommendations

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Thx for the excellent report. Reading this post and Robert Brown's on French Laundry have provided an appetizing an interesting break to a boring brief that I am writing.

Travelling with a wine wholesaler sounds like a good move. When we were in Italy recently, our poorly planned efforts at wine tasting in Tuscany were a bit of a flop.

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Steve & Robert -- Do you brush your white truffle a tiny bit before shaving it? What implement would be good for that (e.g., new toothbrush, which I have used in the past)?

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Only before weighing. Maybe if there were some dirt on it, but generally speaking I have never done, seen or heard of it.

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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.

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In our on-going, multi-year project to visit every worthwhile restaurant in Piemonte, we still have many stones unturned. We plan to make our next hit-and-run sortie in July and would appreciate any opinions by anyone who has visited any of the restaurants below. If a restaurant you know isn’t on the list, we likely know it or is closed in July.. Thanks in advance:

Gardenia (Caluso)

Angiulli (Condelo/Biella)

Carmagnole (Carmagnola)

Cacciatori (Cartosio)

Caffi (Cossinosco)

Antica Corona Reale da Renzo. (Cervere)

Locanda dell’ Arco (Cissone)

Forlino (Montacuto)

Braja (Montemagno)

Luna nel Pozzo (Barbaresco)

Le Clivie (Piobesi d’Alba)

Vittoria (Tigliole)

Caffe Grappi (Trecate)

Noce (Volpiano)

Locanda del Pilone (Piobesi d’Alba)

Osteria dell’ Arco (Alba)

Cascina dei Fiori (Borgo Vercelli)

Boccondivino (Bra)

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My highest recommendation to Boccondivino, includes best gnocchi, with clear and transparent essence of potato flavor. Located on the second floor of a modest hotel on a sidestreet, the dining room is informal and comfortable, with hundreds of wines arranged on shelves. This restaurant has the finest collection of Piemontese wines from small producers, including Barolos and Barbarescos, all very well priced, the chef owner is an expert. This restaurant has soul and is a real joy.

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I am very fond of La Luna nel Pozzo. As usual in the area, family run, anchored in regional products and tradition, but has a bit of a lighter, creative twist to the cooking. We have lunched there perhaps half a dozen times and never have seen the kitchen stumble. The service in this small, unpretentious room is provided by the padrone, a very distinguished gentleman, who I believe is a retired teacher or professor. A great wine list to boot. Well worth the trip to Neive (and worlds better than la Contea).

Almost made it to da Renzo this last trip in March, which judging from reports here is rather good, but we ran out of appetite after seven significant meals in four days.

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First day lunch at La Luna nel Pozzo and then dinner at L'Ennoteca in Canale, the latter a bit disappointing. Day two, lunch at I Bologna (as usual excellent and much fun); dinner at Antine (first time for us and quite promising, I think). Day three, lunch at Il Centro (as I noted in an earlier post, I think some very good things are happening here, and we love the family); dinner at Guido in Pollenzo (again, as mentioned, not running on all cylinders, hope that improvement is in the offing). Last day, skipped lunch and had dinner at Trattoria della Posta (I think I like the restaurant better at lunch, but the food was excellent, especially their version of tagliarin al sugo di carne and the heavenly panna cotta). Be sure to give us a complete report after your visit.

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The following is a review I wrote for the slowtrav.com

webite for our visit Last October

Alba: Osteria Dell Arco

Piazza Savona, 5, Phone: 0173.363974

Closing day: Sunday and Monday

I chose this restaurant based on a good review in the New York Times as well as several opinions from Slow Travelers. It was our 10th anniversary. Excellent.

A very nice atmosphere with just enough lighting and a casual and cozy but refined ambience. Excellent wine list; I didn't make it past the "A's" as I choose a '90 :rolleyes: Aldo Conterno Vigna Cicala-Bricco Bussia which is perhaps the best wine I have ever tasted! Carmel nose with earthy, gamey power, brillant combination of flavors on the palate(about 60 euro - I would have taken a few bottles home but they wouldn't sell)!

My wife started with a zucchini torte with Parmesan; I had Porcini mushrooms with goat cheese which complemented the wine nicely. We shared a risotto fondutta which was very nice. I also had rabbit which also was great with the wine. Dessert - gelato on the way home; food was about 50 euro. Worth a second visit!


Edited by RRainey (log)

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Robert,

I have been to Osteria Dell Arco and my memories tell me that wines were much better than food but it is worth going to if you are in Alba.


When my glass is full, I empty it; when it is empty, I fill it.

Gastroville - the blog

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Marco, through an Italian friend, I quite literally bought truffles at the kitchen door of Tra Arte e Querce a couple of years ago, from Clelia. First-rate! The veal dish you describe sounds like vitello tonnato, a classic, but for the addition of the lemon. I caught living hell at home for daring to suggest that the new Guido was less than perfect, but with Peter Rodgers weighing in, too, I think that some improvement is in order there. I have not yet tried Borgo Antico, but it sounds as though I should move it up the to-do list in June. Great post!


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I also found Borgo Antico to be excellent and they also offer some very old Barolo's, from next door Borgogno, at a reasonable price. What I would point out in addition is that they have excellent deserts, which is truly unusual. In my experience, and this held true in a week of Piedmont dining as well, deserts in Italian restaurants are the weakest course by a wide margin.

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Ciao, Roberto! To my mind, Arco (Alba) is slipping, maybe a victim of being hyped by Slow Food. The evidence is that Boccondivino, which is essentially Slow Food's corporate lunch room in Bra, has declined in the estimation of many for the same reason, which I find too ironic for words. Lalibera is a much more reliable choice for food and wine at the osteria level in Alba. Please do a search on this board for Vittoria and Carmagnole, as I believe that I may have written on both. Carmagnole is unique, in that all foods and wines are chosen for you, to excellent effect. (A friend of mine wrote me a humorous e-mail recounting his most recent trip there, which I can forward to you if you like.) Vittoria is also wonderful, especially for a long Sunday lunch. Per Peter and others, Luna nel Pozzo's star is definitely on the rise. The chef is very ambitious, and while in the past, some of her experiments were less than totally successful, I can't wait to try it again when I return in June. Le Clivie was awarded a Michelin star in 1998, lost it and got dropped from the Michelin guide altogether in 2000 (I walked out of the place without eating in 2000, after waiting over 30 minutes and not receiving any service at all, and observed the diner next to me waiting all of that time for a check) and was awarded a new star in 2003. Have not tried it, but the dining room is (was?) beautiful. Finally, Noce is closed, as the chef shares the kitchen with Ugo Alciati at the new Guido in Pollenzo. Peter Rodgers and I have both reviewed the new Guido elsewhere on this board, and found it wanting. Buon appetito!


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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My experiences:

Antica Corona Reale da Renzo. (Cervere)

- was excellent several years ago. Polished versions of trad dishes.

Locanda dell'Arco, Cissone

Roots Piedmontese cooking in a beautiful room in the Alta Langa, a few minutes from Dogliani. Terrific cellar including some older bottles, and the proprietor really knows his wines. Agriturismo also, including some newer rooms.

Osteria dell’ Arco (Alba)

- Slow Food outpost. Ate there in April, thought it was excellent. Good list.

Boccondivino (Bra)

- Slow Food company canteen, essentially; was excellent several years ago.

And if you haven't tried it, La Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe is outstanding. It's in the Alta Langa, not far from Dogliani. Three brothers run both kitchen and the dining room; terrific food (very flavorful but not heavy), with a wine list that gets better every time I go. Two simple rooms upstairs for agriturismo.

For the definitive Bollito Misto, Ristorante Moderno in Carru, which bills itself as 'La Patria di Bollito Misto.'

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Though in peril of slow death from your withering condescension, I must know who or what Slow Food means. thankyew.

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Though in peril of slow death from your withering condescension, I must know who or what Slow Food means. thankyew.

Slow Food is an organization dedicated to protecting and promoting fine food production and eating. The name is a meant to be the opposite of "fast food"

Here is their website:

http://www.slowfood.com/

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Hi:

I'd like to get my two cents in before this thread goes elsewhere. My favorite restaurant in Cuneo is Torrismondi, at Via Coppino 33, right across from the big hospital. Phone them at 0171 630861. They also have rooms.

This place is always packed with locals at both lunch and dinner, but is a bit far from the main square for visitors.

For those who are uncomfortable with Italian, the chef speaks excellent English.


Brian Yarvin

My Webpage

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

Bill,

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.

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One particular favorite of wine guru Robert Parker is Da Cesare in the little town of Alberetto della Torre --- I heartily endorse his recmmendation.

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Marco et Al,

Thank you for the post, I enjoyed it very much. In speaking on Tra Arte E Querce (Monchiero, near Barolo) a thread on "lodgings around Alba" was mentioned. I have tried to find this, or any information to that effect, but I have not been able to locate anything. I would greatly appreciate any direction on this. Thanks.

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Search the word "Meridiana" and it may turn up the B&B Villa La Meridiana/Cascina Reine in Alba, which is in the Michelin Red Guide also (and, in the interest of full disclosure, run by close friends of mine).


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I have posted several B and Bs on my website, along with my Piedmont eating tips. I have stayed at both BandBs and recommend them both highly; the one in Serralunga is of course a little more convenient for visiting Barolo producers.

www.omwines.com

oliver@omwines.com if you have any questions

Buon Viaggio!

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I have posted several B and Bs on my website, along with my Piedmont eating tips. I have stayed at both BandBs and recommend them both highly; the one in Serralunga is of course a little more convenient for visiting Barolo producers.

www.omwines.com

oliver@omwines.com if you have any questions

Buon Viaggio!

For those of you who don't know Oliver is an importer of fine Italian wines that I would highly recommend to anyone. Check out his site to see his selections as they are worth taking some extra effort to seek out.

...I am sure his restaurant and hotel recommendations are as reliable as his wine selections.

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