Alba and Piedmont Report
After 4 days in Bologna (see my report at this link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/654750),
my partner and I headed to Alba, where we stayed for the next 3 days.
Wednesday's lunch was in Cherasco at La Lumaca, another excellent trattoria in a beautiful cellar with vaulted ceilings. For 35 euros, you get 4 courses or you can order a la carte. The specialty is snails, with one dish in each course featuring them. Other good dishes we had were ravioli with meat sauce, a cold sliced guinea fowl appetizer, and roasted rabbit. Desserts were good but not memorable.
Wednesday night we dined at Piazza Duomo, which has a Michelin star and is known for innovative cooking. We ordered one of the tasting menus at 110 euros, and while not all of the approximately 12 dishes were a total success, with some flavor combinations that were a bit much, overall it was a very good meal that challenges the taste buds yet stops short of “molecular” cooking. We chose this restaurant based on a review I read some months back on Chowhound, and which gives a much more detailed report than I will here. See this link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/615668. If you are planning to have a tasting menu, be sure to arrive very hungry as it is a tremendous amount of food.
Thursday morning we drove to Asti and took a walk around this attractive city, then headed off to lunch in Rocchetta Tanaro, a short distance away, at I Bologna. This restaurant exceeded all expectations, and aside from dal Pescatore, it was the best meal of the trip so far, so good that I must list all the dishes we had. The price is 45 euros and this includes everything except wine. Choices are limited. Here is what we were served:
Melon with lardo
Crudo of veal with parmigiano cheese
“Tuna” of rabbit with julienned vegetables and olive oil
Pastas: tagliarani with mushrooms; veal agnolotti
Main: Rabbit liver with balsamic vinegar sauce; roasted chicken leg
Goat cheese with compote of fruits
Dessert: Chestnut semifreddo with berry sorbet (in a beautiful cone-shaped construction) topped with a chocolate confection and served on a caramel sauce with chopped chestnuts. I have never seen a dessert presentation like this in Italy, even at the most high-end restaurants. In addition to being delicious it was a work of art, more like what you would expect at a top restaurant in France. Unbelievable!
Sorbets of banana and blackberry(?
)Glass of Moscato d’Asti
Choice of 2 types of Grappa.
The wine we chose was a 2004 Barbera d’Asti, Tenuta il Sogno (limited production) for 20 euros, and it was absolutely superb. I Bologna does not have a Michelin star, but it definitely should. The quality and value were at least comparable to any other one-star we have been to.
Dinner in Alba was at La Libera. The food is updated Piemontese and everything we had was delicious. Not quite up to the standard of I Bologna but close. Dishes we had:
Veal Tongue with vegetables in sweet and sour sauce
Tagliarini with veal ragu
Fish (sea bass?) with zucchini and olives
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb
Pear in puff pastry with cardamom ice cream
Coffee granite with chocolate fudge and whipped cream
With a nice Barbera 2005 and water, the bill came to 110 euros.
On Friday we drove to Turin, where we spent some time at Eataly before touring the old city. It is quite an experience. The variety of foods and wines is mind-boggling. One gets very hungry just looking at it all. We had a light lunch which was tasty but unspectacular, and very reasonable.
Dinner was at Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d’Alba, about 20 km from Alba. The cooking here is traditional Piemontese and very good. As a sort of large amuse-bouche, we were given a soup of tomato and porcini mushroom puree with olive oil. Apps were capon salad and vitello tonnato. It was interesting to compare the vitello tonnato with the one at La Libera. This one was a perfect rendition of the traditional dish, with no fat, well done at the edges and pink inside, with a strong tuna sauce, while La Libera’s was very lightly cooked, sliced paper thin, with a ring of fat around the edge and served with a sauce that contained more mayonnaise than tuna. I loved both, though I give a slight edge to La Libera. Next we had gnocchi with tomato and basil, very simple, ethereal and delicious, and goat cheese ravioli with a rabbit ragu, also very light yet full of flavor. Mains were veal shank in Barolo sauce and goose leg stuffed with foie gras. We were quite full so skipped dessert (the dessert selection was limited and not so interesting anyway). If we had room I would have ordered cheese, as the cheese cart looked wonderful. We had a Barbaresco 2004 for 30 euros which was heavenly, far superior to the 48 euro Barolo we had at Piazza Duomo. With aperitifs, coffee, water, and petit fours, the total came to 128 euros.
All in all, we found the Piemonte region to be a gastronomic paradise.
As an alternative to the Michelin guide, I would suggest getting a copy of the Slow Food Guide to the Osterias of Italy. I believe it is now published in English. Even if you get a copy published in Italian, you should be able to figure out what the recommendations are, regardless of your knowledge of Italian.
It looks like it is now available in English:
I can't speak Italian very well, just enough to get by in a restaurant, but I can read it fairly well, so most of the short descriptions in Michelin are understandable to me and I can look up unfamiliar words. I mostly follow recommendations on CH, and if I can't find much here I check TripAdvisor, but take the reviews on there with a grain of salt. Michelin is pretty reliable, and I find it handy to carry around so we can find and check out restaurants as we stroll around a city. Looking at a menu is often the best way to get an impression of a restaurant, and they are not always posted on-line.
I used the red book for my first couple visits to italy more than 30 years ago, where there really weverent other resources - its info is well updated, and the small amount of italian it contains is pretty formulaic and easy to decipher and a good way of starting to learn relevant italian. However, viamichelin , their online resource is available in multiple languages , viamichelin.fr, .uk, .it, etc - you might want to look into that as a resource .- viamichelin.it with google translate works just fine. They seem to have added a few more down-market choices in recent years.Note, I am not saying that this is the best way to make your italian restaurant choices but it is a useful resource.
if you have a smartphone, there are also gambero rosso and slowfood apps. Its been a while since they have published a version of the slowfood osterie guide in English..
re: jen kalb
The Michelin is close to useless as far as food. GR and the Osteria d' Italia are the only way to go as far as guides. They are not difficult to read as most of the terms are food related... and a little time with dictionary gets over any hurdles.
Here is a Michelin description of a place we are going to try for the first time in the next few weeks.
"Oggi, un ambiente moderno dai toni caldi e dallo stile minimalista, con cucina a vista e dehors estivo. In menu: pesce in tante varianti, ma subordinato al mercato del giorno."
That says almost nothing about the food.
I would second Allende's Gambero Rosso recommendation. We have used the printed version extensively throughout Italy and found it reliable, especially for areas that are not familiar to us. The Italian is a bit challenging, but Google Translate will get you past the major hurdles.
its mostly helpful for trip planning, mapping hours prices - and giving a general feel - like any other 1 sentence summary vs a thick column of text and recommended dishes.. I agree with Allende in terms of utility of the food info and rely on GR publications and Osterie gulde more generally. but since there is a fair amount of overlap between the guides, viamicheliin can provide a geographic linking function. Id be interested in whether anyone has used the GR or Slowfood apps, tho being an android rather than IPHONe user there is nothing for me currently.
Great review and happy to know that I Bologna is still as good as ever, its been a few years since I ate there last.
And great that you took a break from the "usual" restaurants everyone goes to on this forum, honestly Piedmont has many more wonderful restaurants then La Libera, Trattorie della Posta, Boccondivino and Osterie del Arco and Vignaiolo. I strongly urge visitors to get out and around Piedmont, not just in Alba area. I Caffi in Acqui, Gener Neuv, Tacabanda, Angolo Beato, La Grotta and Pompa Magna in Asti, Al Enoteca in Canale, Crota in Calosso, Rosengana in Cocconato, Pergola in Vezza, Madama Vigna in Baldiechieri, Rabaja and Tre Stelle in Barbaresco are just a few that come to my fingers.
For Mdietrich, at the end of October you won't need reservations in any of these places except on Sunday lunch and perhaps Saturday dinner. I would swap La Libera for I Bologna and for a real treat, swap nelle Vigne for Al Enoteca in Canale.
We were up to Piemonte again for the second time in three weeks. No snow in the Barolo vineyards this time. Springtime.
Just a very quick report on three new places (for us) that we tried.
L’Osteria Vignailolo in Santa Maria, a few km. from La Morra. We had high expectations. It was fine but nothing special. Typical Piemontese trattoria/ osteria menu (pick out the dozen most popular Piemontese dishes… they were all there…and I don’t mean that as any criticism). Fairly well executed, but just a cut above any decent trattoria in that part of Piemonte. Decent well priced wine list. Service was efficient, but formulaic. Not much “ownership presence" even though it is, of course, family owned. We walked in after eight; 90 % filled. That’s strange? All Germans and Swiss already on their second course.
Lunch the next day. After a long walk from Barolo to La Morra and back (what a great walk!), wanted a light lunch because we knew where were eating that night (see below, big mistake). Saw an osteria that had an appealing menu and atmosphere, so decided to take a chance and asked if we could have just one dish, some wine and dessert. They said yes… and said it very pleasantly. A wonderful find for a classic osteria where the owner/chef very definitely knows what he is doing. Really knows!!! Wound up having ravioli del plin (great, great pasta) and stinco di maiale (really well prepared and plated and wonderful vegetables on the plate… has to be a first in Piemonte ☺). Delicious Bunet and torta di nicciole with zabaione. A bottle of Ravello’s wonderful 2005 Barbera (Ciabot du Re). I’m reluctant to recommend a place after only going there once. I’ll make an exception here. Classic Piemontese menu (6-8 antipasti, primi and secondi and desserts), well executed, very good reasonably priced wine list, young couple owning it (with smiles on their faces and wanting to talk with us after the meal), pleasant light spacious modern (but not austere) dining room.
Exactly what you want in or near Barolo. Osteria Rossobarolo, via Roma 16 (www.ristoranterossobarolo.com).
Dinner. Antine’ in Barbaresco. We’ve been going to Piemonte (a lot, perhaps on average three times a year for more than 30 years) and this is by far the biggest disappointment. Next door to Gaia. Saturday night and only three tables of two (including us). Perhaps that is because “La Signora” is so off-putting. Not one smile the entire evening (and as you can see from posts in other threads on Piemonte, it’s not the first time). Just unpleasant, as in “I never wanted to be in the restaurant business” unpleasant. Very good menu. We ordered three courses and La Signora was a bit taken aback, as if no one does that there anymore. The antipasti (lumache and coniglio “four ways”) were very good, but why those plates which look so unbalanced that you think they’re going to topple? The primi, really poor! The “homemade” maccheroncini could have come out of a box and the Tajarin were an embarrassment (A few miles down the road in Isola D’Asti is Il Cascinalenuovo, also highly rated in Gambero Rosso and also with a star in the Michelin. Cascinale puts Antine’ to shame as far as cooking goes and certainly in terms of ambiance). I won’t bother anyone with the main courses and dessert; mediocre and not worthy of a restaurant with this reputation. A bottle of 2004 Albino Rocca’s Barbaresco (Lareto) for 68 Euros was delicious, as well it should be. One other thing to give you an example of how this place is run. We have never, ever been in restaurant of this purported character where a radio (yes I mean a radio!) was playing through the loud speakers, with a program full of talk radio, and La Signora didn’t give a damn. Simply unbelievable. Perhaps the radio was on to cut the monastic atmosphere in the dining room. We would never go back and would tell friends to stay away. People should go to Il Cascinalenuovo OR
As we did three weeks ago Locanda nel Borgo Antico, about 2 km. outside of Barolo (moved from the town a few years ago), it is a large locanda, but surprisingly no rooms. Excellent menu, outstanding wine list, casual, superb service (but not stiff nor fawning), nice owners, very pleasant atmosphere. The chef could get intense flavors from a stone. Incredible intensity. No foams, no gimmicks, just traditional Piemontese dishes extraordinarily prepared. We had a 2004 Aldo Conterno Barolo, (Colonello). Among the best guanciale, we’ve ever had. Season's first asparagi (uovo bazzotto i.e. poached, with asparagus and fonduta... gotta do more hills). Just an outstanding meal. Highly recommended.
Thanks for the information, I will be in Alba Oct 27-29, hoping to indulge in the famous Tartufo d'Alba. Here is the list of restaurants that I have reservations at:
Tratorria nelle Vigne
Tratorria della Posta
Il Cascinale Nuovo
Any comments, suggestions? Should I swap out one of these for I Bologna in Rocchetta Tanaro? How far in advance do I need to reserve for lunch at I Bologna?