Le Langhe/Moscato Report -- Brief
I had posted earlier looking for advice re 4 nights in the Alba/Asti area, noting that we were seeking traditional style cooking, albeit in places with warm (don't care whether it is casual or formal) service and a good wine list. Hence, we eliminated places like Piazza Duomo, Ciau del Tornevento, or the version of Guido at Relais San Maurizio.
Here is where we ended up, with brief notes (apologies for not taking dish by dish notes):
Lunch - Trattoria della Posta, Monforte
almost all non-Italian tourists, food was very good, but nothing was excellent; not surprisingly, the primi were better than the secondi (brasado was a touch dry and uninteresting in its flavor profile); service correct but not actually warm (certainly not chilly or brusque, but seemed a touch mechanical); great wine list at very fair prices.
Dinner -- del Belbo da Bardon, San Marzano Oliveto/Valle Asinari
Superb in all respects; bright and lively; had the feeling of an upscale neighborhood party all night long; extraordinarily warm and genuinely caring service -- all the more remarkable given that no member of the staff from the owner on down was ever in one place for more than 10 seconds; these folks are working and sweating and yet make even an obvious tourist with very broken Italian feel welcome and cared for. the pasta was top rate, among the best of the whole trip; roasted rabbit superb; wine list is a thing of beauty.
Day 2 --
Lunch -- Bovio, La Morra
beautiful room and location; the view down to the south is magnificent; food was all very good, but short of the standard set by Bardon; service formal and correct and yet animated and caring. secondi were a touch lack-luster. tajarin with porcini were excellent, but not transcendent. Wine list is very very good; better than trattoria della posta; more extensive than Bardon, but not as well priced.
Dinner -- Lalibera , Alba
Head over heals in love with this place; very sleek and modern interior; wonderful, smart, no nonsense but very professional all woman staff. food very traditional and exceptional. we'd go back in a heartbeat. The sort of place that would have a 3 week waiting list in NYC.
Lunch -- Boccondivino in Bra
In the heart of the Slow Flood lair, this was superb; couldn't have been more simple and yet more impressive; great pepper stuffed with tuna, tajarin to die for; secondi also very good. wine list is very well chosen; aimed at the more casual/younger end of the spectrum, but great selection and pricing, and enough slightly older, finer bottles to keep folks like me happy. Close to a perfectly realized restaurant; achieving exactly what they set out to do and being 100% honest about what that is.
Dinner Antine - Barbaresco
Perhaps the only disappointment (and moderately so) of the trip; food was very very good; no faults at all and a few dishes were indeed superb; problem is that it felt like one was eating at a morgue; not a touch of warmth in the room or service (and hideous, tinny Europop on the "stereo" -- would have been appropriate for the coffee bar attached to the local gas station, but not an actual sit down restaurant). Took away a great deal of the pleasure from what was indeed very well prepared food. wine list is distinctly weak for a restaurant of this level.
Lunch -- I Bologna in Rocchetta Tanaro.
Like Bardon, almost a perfect restaurant in the traditional, local mode; fancier than Bardon, but just delightful. Food was exceptional --no choices, just what they had on offer that day; each course was superb, including a magnificent brasado for secondo ; there is no wine list, just a very interesting and good cellar that your host helps you navigate, but when at Bologna, how can you not drink their own wines? I had the '95 Uccellone which was drinking beautifully (and extremely kindly priced).
Dinner -- San Marco, Castelli
A rare Michelin 1 star that is also genuinely traditional; This is a bit more expensive than the others (except Antine), however, worth every penny. The tajarin here (just butter and white truffles - but ignore the truffles) was I think the best (or perhaps tied with a maccheroni with duck at Giusti some years ago, and better than my most recent visit to Giusti (October '08)) pasta I have ever had anywhere. Secondi were exceptional and the service is warm and caring, and not too overly formal/French, as sometimes happens to Michelin starred places. Wine list is good, not exceptional, but prices are very fair.
re: jen kalb
Jen, 3 of these places are in the Slow Food guide, so they "have" to be less than E35 per person for 3 courses w/out wine. that means that places like Bardon and Boccondivino are true world class bargains; winners in the price/value ratio competition.
Bovio and T della Posta are about the same price, around E50 per person. San Marco just a little more (assuming you skip the fresh truffles). Antine was a little more yet, but given the high quality of the ingredients and that they are "fancier" ingredients, the prices still seemed fair; indeed had the stereo been off and the owner/waitress smiled once or twice, i might even recommend that others try the place for themselves.
As for wine, from what we saw, you could have really pleasant, smart and expressive wines for less than E30 per bottle (sometimes, e.g., Boccondivino, even less). i was looking for older rarer bottles, so they ranged from E90-250, but, for example, the '90 G. Conterno Cascina Francia at Bovio was perfectly stored (not too shocking) and was about E150, which is may not what most people want to spend on wine for lunch, but if one checks on Wine Search you'll see that the lowest prices are around $300 retail (and god knows where those bottles have been in the past 2 decades). ditto the '98 Giacosa Santo Stefano riserva at Bardon, which was (i think) about E110.
I should also mention that the fancy restaurant in Eataly in Torino (it goes by both Guido and Casa Vicina) is fantastic; beautiful minimalist design; awesomely pure simple flavors on the plate; it is priced for its 1 michelin star (and to keep traffic down from casual drop ins from the Eataly experience) -- i think the prix fixe 3 course lunch menu was E48 per person (although it may have been 60); wines are fairly priced, although the pleasure and impressiveness of having a list of 1000+ wines is diminished considerably when it becomes clear that they don't really know what they have: it took me 4 attempts to find a bottle that they in fact had. but given how good the food was, and how pleasant the staff was about the whole thing (and we were in jeans), i wasn't even fussed about the wine list problem.
Regarding the foreigners at Della Posta, when we were there the room we were seated in consisted mainly of Italians (at least one table obviously local), with one other table of Americans, while the other room was filled with Germans, seemingly a tour group and several others, so I think it has more to do with organized tours than these forums.