Three Days in Alba (White Truffles included)
We just returned from a week in northern Italy (all spend outside of the major cities) the higlights of which nearly all were in the chowhounding in and around Alba, in the Piemonte region. We had made evening reservations at two of our favorites, Da Guido in Costigliole d'Asti and La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso, as well as at Il Vicoletto in Alba proper. Guido, for those who do not know it, still sets the standard for the traditional cooking of the region (exquisite antipasti like vitello tonnato and send me pastas such as their homemade agnolotti, showered at this time of year in shaved white truffles), together with one of the truly great wine cellars in the region -- at miniscule prices. Il Vicolleto also was successful. Again the food was grounded in regional specialties and products and the service was excellent. We were disappointed with the food at La Ciau, as they forced us to choose from one of two set menus (apparently this was done in order to deal with the full dining room occasioned by truffle season), but would not dissuade others to try when the traffic is lighter (they may make the best risotto we have ever had).
The highlights of the trip, however, were our lunches in several smaller restaurants, chosen largely on the spur of the moment, after consulting with the Michelin Guide and the Italian Gambero Rosso guide.
Our first lunch was at San Marco in Canelli, west of Asti. This is a charming one star Michelin restaurant, with a combination of wonderful regional specialties and a sophisticated service. We had a torta made with fonduta, two beautiful plates of tagliatelli, sauced with sage and butter and blessed with white truffles and then main courses of roast baby goat and veal braised in Barolo wine.
The second day we tried Trattoria della Posta near Monforte d'Alba. This is another of the many family owned and operated restaurants in the area. Among the highlights of our meal were tagliatelli sauced in several different ways (rabbit raggu, a spicy tomato sauce and simply with butter and sage), a marvelous ravioli filed with squash, baby quail stuffed with mushrooms and fried fresh porchini. We were thrilled with a Dolcetto d'Alba from a vinyard just next door.
Day three took us to lunch at Il Centro in the town of Priocca, near Alba. This family owned trattoria qualified as best of all our meals. As is often the case in Piemonte and elsewhere outside of Italy' major cities, the husband runs dining room here and his wife cooks. In this case, the recipes apparently have been in the family for generations were made famous in the region by the owner's mother, who formerly occuppied the kitchen, and in her dotage runs the wine store across the street (also worth a visit).
We started with a series of three antipasti: a warm salad of wild rabbit marinated in a basalmic vinegar, a fritter filled with a blend of diced artichokes and plate of extraordinary grilled porcini with fonduta. Pastas included fabulous agnotti, ravioli stuffed with fonduta and again wonderful tagliatelli sauced with rabbit. Two of us made it to the main course -- grilled rabbit liver (better than one might think!)with a perfect salad. Again the wines were stupendous, especially a Barbera d'Alba from the immediate area.
Suffice to say, we have come to believe that some the very best food in Italy hails from this region. Hope that it remains relatively secret, except for Chowhounds.
P.S. Other notable meals were had at Il Griso in Malgrate on Lake Como and at Del Sole in Ranco on Lake Maggiore.
Wow, Peter! Sounds like a dream. We've been looking at an agriturismo vacation in Emilia Romagna, but we may have to widen our search. BTW, how was Del Sole in Ranco? I had a wonderful dinner in the arbor while staying there about eight years ago. Is the chef still that kid from Southern California?
We thoroughly enjoyed our stop at Ranco. Don't know about the kid from California, but the place has changed a bit since we had been there five years ago. The rooms have been rennovated and the dining room is more elegant. Food was awfully good, as was the dining room service (which was managed by a young Japanese captain).
You had an awesome week! In 1995, Wine Spectator magazine (US) ran an article on the cuisine of the Piemonte with the headline "Could this be the best food in Europe?" I think you would agree the answer is yes, especially when you consider how relatively inexpensive the meals are at most restaurants in the Langhe/Piemonte region. I have been to this part of Italy twice. A year ago we had dinner at Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d'Alba. First class. If you go again be sure to eat at da' Cesare in Albaretto della Torre and Osteria della Rosa Rossa in Cherasco. The other thing I found noteworthy at most restaurants there is the length and breadth of their wine lists. The wine list at Trattoria della Posta was 300-400 choices long and I got the distinct impression that all the wines on the list were in stock and available. Ciao!
We've been to da Cesare and love it, especially the baby goat that they roast in the fireplace in the dining room. We will certainly try the Osteria della Rosa Rossa next time. Speaking of next time, I checked airfares and at the moment, one can fly from the East Coast (on United) to Milano and back for $325 (through March). Although we just came back, I am already thinking about how to put together a long weekend. Last year we did it and managed to fit it six meals in three days. How's that for chowhounding!
re: Peter R.
I admire your initiative! We were tempted by the low airfares and still strong US$ to go over for the T-giving week but could not get our act together.
If you have not visited Turin, I would recommend doing so, at least for a day trip. A very interesting city.
Corby Kummer wrote an excellent article about the food scene in the Lange in the Atlantic magazine about 14 or 15 months ago. You might be able to find it on their website. Also, I can recommend a wonderful B&B in the town of Cherasco. E-mail me if you are interested.