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Trattoria della Posta, Monforte d' Alba:


Bill Klapp
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I have eaten a lot at Trattoria della Posta over the years, and I have NEVER been disappointed. Not even by my own injudicious selection of an antipasto or secondo. Upon reflection, I believe it to be the one of the most consistent kitchens in the Piemonte (if not the most consistent). And here is the funny thing about it: Trattoria della Posta serves, by and large, only the classic Piemontese dishes, and its new space, as wonderful as it is, is simply not the type of dining room, like some in the Piemonte (Da Cesare comes to mind, or the back room with the fireplace at Camulin in Cossano Belbo, or the antique beauty of La Contea in Neive), that promotes a nostalgia that brings you back time after time, even when there is some inconsistency in the kitchen. (By contrast, nearly everyone waxes nostalgic for della Posta's original location, a converted abandoned post office just off of the central piazza in Monforte. You had to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room, so if you walked slowly and observed and smelled as much as you could, it was also a cafeteria! The dining room was tiny, and I recall there being lace all over the place.) To be sure, the new facility is pretty. It is set on a small hillside a few kilometers outside of town, with a view of the side of an adjacent hill that is vaguely Tuscan in its beauty. Many of the large windows in the dining room create framed views of the hill that look almost like paintings. The new dining room is far more spacious than old, and decorated in warm and muted earth tones that are most welcoming. In warm weather, there is a portico-like structure that allows al fresco dining with views of the hillside and a lush interior lawn, with a nice cross-breeze. The bathrooms, done up with artisanal ceramics, are a pleasure to visit! The new space is much more formal than the old (but still casual), and the upgrading of the dining room proved a harbinger of the great things that followed from the kitchen. The service at della Posta, including the wine service, has always been unpretentious and first-rate. The hostess, Claudia, is warm, personable and always helpful.

And against that background, I am here to say that, in my judgment, the food has improved, in a subtle but profound way, over each of the past two years, without significant changes in the menu. Why? It is all in the execution.

The key to understanding Trattoria della Posta's growing appeal lies not just in its own history, but in the changing landscape of traditional Piemontese cooking. For years, the gold standards for most dishes were the versions created by Lidia Alciati at the now-defunct Da Guido in Costigliole d' Asti. Vitello tonnato, agnolotti dal plin, peppers stuffed with tuna, capunet (Savoy cabbage with a savory meat and vegetable filling), the list goes on forever. At the same time, however, Da Guido served the traditional "full (Pie)monte" menu of three antipasti, pasta, meat secondo, cheese and dessert. While it was possible to elect to eat less, if one ate the full slate, you needed help getting up the stairs after dinner. Lidia's food was never heavy on a plate-by-plate basis, but it was substantial, and the cumulative effect powerful. Her classics continue to be available at both of the new Guido ristoranti (one in Santo Stefano Belbo, where she still cooks most often while the youngest Alciati son, Andrea, tries to master her technique, and the latest in Pollenzo, where middle son Ugo, her heir apparent in the kitchen, is in residence), but they are being rendered with some inconsistency at present (one hopes that it is a temporary phenomenon). A few years ago, it would not have occurred to me to compare my dining experiences at Da Guido and Trattoria della Posta. The latter had often been a lunch destination for me: a single antipasto, a pasta or secondo, and maybe cheese or dolci with a decent bottle of wine. But even before the old Guido closed, I found that we dined at della Posta three or four times for every time we visited Da Guido, increasingly at night and for the main meal of the day on Sunday.

The reason is now clear to me: the food at della Posta is just as rich and savory as that served at Da Guido, and it makes use of the same "prima materia" (prime ingredients), but almost dish by dish, it has become lighter, more subtle and more refined over the past few years, and therein lies its attraction.

Trattoria della Posta proposed two fixed menus this fall, along with extensive a la carte offerings. There was a 100 Euro white truffle menu, which, as pointed out by a poster in another recent thread, included four courses such as egg in fonduta (a Fontina cheese-based sauce) and tajarin with butter, the classic excuses for eating white truffles, but no real secondo. A truffle menu would never be my first choice at della Posta. Instead, I might (and did, actually) go a la carte and spring for the extra 25 Euro to cover my pasta in tartufi bianchi. On the other hand, the 35 Euro traditional Piemontese menu has to be one of the greatest values in the entire country. That menu varies a little from time to time, but invariably leads with strength: hand-chopped carne cruda (raw veal), dressed in the finest EVOO from Lake Garda and artfully presented, which literally melts in your mouth; a perfect vitello tonnato, lighter than air; their famous stuffed onion, filled with crushed amaretti and other delights, all calculated to enhance, not mask, the sweetness of the onion itself; an excellent pasta, perhaps the classic agnolotti dal plin (miniature ravioli stuffed with a savory mixed meat and vegetable filling) or the gossamer-thin tajarin (or sometimes spinach ravioli stuffed with goat cheese) with a ragu of local sausage and leeks; a roast meat, fowl or game entree, chicken cacciatora on my last trip, but often quail, rabbit or kid; and an incomparable panna cotta (cooked, sweetened cream actually, but with Piemontese cream, more delicious than words can adequately convey). The a la carte menu can drive you crazy: an elaborately garnished foie gras antipasto; sweet red and yellow peppers stuffed with tuna, capers, anchovies and homemade mayonnaise; a frittata filled with fresh morels and asparagus; agnolotti stuffed with a fonduta made from my favorite Piemontese cheese, the rare toma d' Elva; torrone semifreddo--the list goes on and on.

But again, it is all in the execution. No plate contains too much food, nor too little. One can eat the full 35 Euro menu at noon and leave comfortably full, but yet able to contemplate the possibility of dinner. The service is prompt, pleasant and efficient. The wine list harbors bottles for every taste and price range, all fairly priced. And yet, the angel is in the details. One never finds a piece of overlooked connective tissue in one's carne cruda. The roasted meats, whether quail, rabbit or chicken, are moist and perfectly cooked inside, but all sport a skin (or crust) that makes the best Peking duck you ever ate seem absolutely soggy by comparison. Every pasta dish that I have had there is on my short list of the Piemonte's best. There is no such thing as a bad, or even average, dessert at Trattoria della Posta. And there is rarely a winner in the inevitable "yours was good, but I like mine best of all" competition! I would be remiss if I did not note that, recently, more and more new dishes, especially antipasti, are appearing on a seasonal basis, and many, while featuring the finest, freshest local ingredients, are NOT Piemontese classics (yet), but rather, generally perfect expressions of the chef's gift for lightening and updating the traditional recipes and ingredients. I am convinced that Trattoria della Posta gives us a glimpse of the bright future of Piemontese cooking. As the beer commercial says, "Tastes great. Less filling." But unlike in the commercial, at Trattoria della Posta, those two concepts are not at odds with one another, but rather, co-exist peacefully. And unlike the case of the beer in question, both assertions are true! It is all in the execution...

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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  • 6 months later...

Just back from a couple of weeks in heaven, where I ate twice at della Posta. I was a little disappointed that we were not quite into the summer menu yet (mid-70s during the day, so outdoor dining was not available everywhere, including della Posta), but they haven't lost a step. I am at a loss to explain why Michelin hasn't laid a star on this quality. The 35 Euro degustazione remains the best food value on earth. Carne cruda, vitello tonnato, a divine baked onion stuffed with sausage and a creamy cheese sauce, agnolotti dal plin, veal osso buco and panna cotta! That notwithstanding, do not miss the torcione of goose foie gras with tiny cubes of Moscato d' Asti "Jello" and homemade fig preserves. The foie gras is from Friuli (surprisingly, not Mortara, the goose (and thus, foie gras) capital of Italia), and the best that I have ever tasted. Like many products that Italy and France have in common (goat cheese, blue cheese, foie gras and snails all come to mind), the Italian counterpart always seems to be missing the hard-edged aftertaste that marks the French product (Gorgonzola vs. Roquefort, for example), and the foie gras is no exception. You get all of the richness and complexity that you covet, but no pure liver aftertaste or slight bitterness. I loved it. More reports to follow soon, including my consumption of the "full monte" menu creativo at Combal.zero in Rivoli and two trips to the Slowfish event in Genova, just as soon as I get caught up at work! Ciao, ragazzi!

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Bill

We could not agree more. Everything at Dalla Posta was as close to perfect as possible. The service is amazing... three staff roaming the room only as needed, each with an impecable knowledge of how the food was prepared, and the details of the wine list. I cannot imagine how they do it.

Even after ordering the tasting menu, they served the mild goat cheese with balsamico before the first course, and a creme brulee before the panna cotta!

I canàt wait to try more, but I am using up time at the free internet site here in Barbaresco. (Had to throw that in).

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