Eight Days in Liguria, Part 2, La Brinca
In the culinary guides to Liguria, the trattorie of the Val Graveglia, and especially La Brinca and Antica Trattori dei Mosto in the Ne municipality, are highly acclaimed, both receiving a snail/chiocciola designation in Slowfood, and 3 gamberi (2 for dei Mosti) in GR. However these trattorie are inaccessible from the coast except by bus or car (about 15-20 min ride by taxi from Chiavari center) . Buses run to the Conscenti frazione, where Mosto is located 7 days a week, but there is no weekend service to Campo de Ne, and La Brinca only serves lunch on weekends. We made a decision to enjoy a Sunday lunch at La Brinca and shelled out for a taxi – arranged, along with the meal, a couple days before through our hotel and costing 65E, it was all well worth it. Driving up thought the narrow valley, into the mountains with houses and shops straggled along the road, at noon (a little early) we finally reached a large old house on the side of the mountain There were two dining rooms and a whole side walled in windows with an extensive view of the countryside. Our reservation secured for us a nice corner seat from which to observe the dining room and the other diners. Since we were leaving for Genoa the same day, we asked the driver to return at 3, figuring that would provide more than enough time for our meal. Other guests were already arriving at this early hour and we were immediately seated and offered menus and bits of fried bread.
La Brinca has a fairly extensive menu specializing in the land cuisine of the region (including foraged and home-grown greens and mushrooms). They offer two tasting menus of regional dishes, and we decided to have the more extensive and expensive (35E) of these multi-course offerings, the grand tasting, sadly foregoing the special mushroom dishes that were on offer that day. We chose the Bisson Musaico (15E) since we had liked their Bianchetta so much. It was a flavorful deeply colored blend a little bit petillant, not sure this was a flaw since many of the local wines seems to have this trait including the Bianchetta and the wines at Luchin, anyway, we enjoyed it., http://www.bissonvini.it/ . Note, there is an extensive winelist and we saw others nearby who were taking their wine choices very seriously.
The food started to come right away but the pace was very pleasant so that we had plenty of time to enjoy the whole scene – patrons ranged from couples, old and young, stylish and casual, to whole extended families (4 generations) with babies and young children and elderly all together – there was enough space to have privacy but we could still see the other people and what they were doing, eating and drinking. All Italian, as far as I could tell.
There followed in our grand tasting:
(1) A tray of assorted breads and foccacie and a dish of olives (we held back)
(2) A large plate of antipasti for us to share, consisting of a wheel of local specialties, including pieces of a nice thin chestnut crepe, various torte including torta di riso,baccioce (potato cake), an outstanding items filled with cheese and sweet herbs and a fried borage leaf, as to which I could sadly detect no flavor at all other than the batter. In the center, a mound of what amounted to a dold potato salad made with the local quarantina potatoes, with some bits of preboggion (mixed greens) topped with a couple of onion rings. I was a bit underwhelmed by this subtly flavored dish, since the flavor of the greens, which are reputedly locally foraged or grown, was not really noticeable amongst the potato flavor (note, this is a more austere cuisine than nonna nina, I am sure they would have applied more olive oil to the dish)
(3) As we were finishing the antipasti, we were each served a warm testaieu (testaroli) about the size of the palm of my hand, bathed in olive oil and their mortar-ground pesto. Very good, and quite a contrast to the processed pesto we had tasted earlier that morning) See below. Ravioli filled with cheese and preboggion
(4) ravioli filled with cheese and preboggion (greens) with meat sauce “cu tuccu”. Very delicate and good – a fairly straightforward beef based raggu – the ravioli were lovely and delicate, very superior, but we enjoyed the ragu down the hill at Luchin more.
(5) Chestnut pasta with pesto – after the testaieu, with pesto, this was rather repetitious, we did not finish.
(5) the meat course was slices of their Wood fire roasted veal shoulder with juniper and herbs – tender, smoky, with a pink smoke ring, even, like the most wonderful bbq – described in their brochure as their development of the asado brought back by returning Argentinian emigrees, the highlight of the meal
(6)Cheeses of the region – two cheeses, one funky one firm, served with a compote of sweet onions.
(7) At around 3 pm we were offered a plate of small squares of a simple white cake with chopped hazlenuts on top very good, then
(8) Large plate with three desserts – chocolate, apple tart and an exotic lavender semifreddo – made with a mystery fruit, “uva fragole” the waitress informed us (more on this later)
Our cab was announced (I wish we’d said 4 pm!) so drank our espresso and left without the digestive that were being offered around the room.
What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Total price for 2 – 92E, plus the cab ride. PS I would not have wanted to drive myself back down that road and night time would have been terrifying. I think we did it exactly the right way.
Just to add, on that Sunday morning (October 7) we walked along the Chiavari front, over to Lavagna, the adjoining town. As Barberinibee warned, it was quite dead in comparison to Chiavari, though not in a depressing way, since the townspeople were out and walking around, and especially visiting theintimate PESTO I DINTORNI festival, http://www.pestoedintorni.org/main.htm, now an annual event in Lavagna and featuring demonstrations, competitions and quite a number of vendors offering pesto and other local specialties to taste and purchase. We tasted 4 or 5 of the pestos on offer – frankly none of these package products stood out from the pack or tasted that different from the pesto I make at home in my food processor, but the whole event was fun and we wished we had not needed to rush our visit. The local olive oils, unfortunately were not yet being produced (the nets were just being deployed as we visited) so it was not a good time for oil buying. Because the sampled pestos were not impressive, it was very interesting to see and taste the mortar pesto at La Brinca, which contained much larger pieces of the leaves, in the oil base. The latter was superior in flavor(perhaps too a better oil was used) and had a more interesting texture. It encourages me to pull out my mortar next summer, and also to find some pecorino di sardo to add to my next-years mix. And yes, I did pat the lion. Its too bad my phone with the pictures of this phase of the trip was lost.
Really interesting report, jen. Worth the wait!
I'm not sure what you mean by "women's cuisine" in La Cucina di Nonna Nina, because all the food is cooked by the same man and has been ever since it opened. (Never been to La Brinca.) I do agree that Nonna Nina runs a VERY tight ship, but I wouldn't say that the restaurant kitchens are more "refined" than the cuisine at large. The fundamental cuisine of the region is incredibly delicate. Lots of native cooks can do it, but few restaurants master doing it day in and day out in my experience. But maybe it is also just a language problem. Locally, the food of Parma is considered "refined", when I would say "more manipulated" or "more elevated" or maybe even "self-conscious cooking." I find most Ligurian dishes quite unselfconscious and antique. Just some people do them better than others.
Commercial jarred pesto is usually so very vile I was quite surprised to find at least *some* edible versions from small batch producers at the pesto festival in Lavagna -- but, no, nothing competes will the real deal stuff made by hand. It is surprising how much variation you can encounter in hand-made pesto, and how delicious some non-normal--seeming versions can be.
When did you realize what uva fragole are?
Hope you don't mind a small spelling correction: It is Mosaico wine from Bisson (and elsewhere in northern Tuscany).
Looking foward to pt 3 of your trip. I hope you also petted the doleful looking lions in Genova!
I'll report on the uva fragole when I get to Genova. Let say for now that rather than eating the grapes we laughed and took them along to our (American) friends who live in London.
I think when I talk about women's cuisine Im talking about the type of cooking women traditionally did in the home, so what Im referring to is a really high quality execution of the of regional home cooking, perhaps from a bourgeois kitchen. The gossamer-thin hand made pastas (such as in the Parma area) the broths, ragus, braises, soups, fritti and other dishes that are very carefully adjusted with the addition of rich and high quality ingredients and tended to maximize the flavor and texture. Needless to say, men, chefs and others can execute these dishes, but in their delicacy, traditional nature and lack of overt WOW factor, they strike me as essentially feminine.
I called the Bisson wine Musaico rather than Mosaico because thats what they call it on the bottle label (see above) - with an "umlaut" - so I guess they are trying for a dialect version.
Will report on our few meals in Genova shortly.
One further comment - both La Brinca and Nonna Ninna, visited earlier, seems to me to represent a refined version of the regional home cuisine - refined in the sense that the ingredients are of the best quality and the techniques are perfected, so that for example the pasta is fine and delicate, the sauces are carefully reduced and adjusted, etc, the meats and seafood are cooked just so, characteristics that come from knowing the ingredients exquisitely well and repeating the techniques over and over again. There are no creative splashes in these essentially womens' cuisine restaurants La Brinca's cuisine was leaner and less rich, perhaps reflecting more the regional cucina povera tradition of the entroterra, Nonna Nina of course offering dishes of the coast. On the other hand the ambience and comfort in both restaurants was very pleasing and as noted the La Brinca wine list was ambitious. I would very much like to get back to this region again to revisit, and also try Antica Trattoria dei Mosto which also offers a refined home type cuisine, and which Allende and other sources recommend.