My wife and I just spent six rainy (but still delightful) days in Piemonte, lodging in Costigliole d’Asti and paying visits to six restaurants plus a pizzeria. It was a most successful trip in terms of chowhounding, after which my waistline will need a good deal of repair. And it goes without saying that we drank more wine than we probably should have, much of it superb.
For the benefit of the many participants here who have commented on the food of the region, I will provide more details than some may be interested in about our successes and a few comments about others that did not measure up as well. By way of summary, we had two very good meals at da Bardon (thanks to the good steer from allende), great meals at both da Renzo and Il Centro, excellent lunches at I Bologna and Il Veglio, a passable dinner at Cascinale Nuovo and a disappointing one at La Torre.
First, let me cover the trattorias. Da Bardon in San Marzano Oliveto measured up to everything positive that has been said about it here. While a bit of a challenge to find (we drove there our first night after 24 hours with virtually no sleep and needed to stop someone to ask for directions, despite a GPS), it is a statement of everything there is to like about a simple Piemontese family place. The welcome is warm, the food is solid and hearty, the portions are huge and, perhaps unusually for a trattoria, the wine list is magnificent. After our initial dinner, we went back for lunch. Highlights among the many dishes we tried were the tagliarin al sugo di carne, the agnolotti al plin, the cheese selection, an antipasto consisting of cardoons and fonduta, the carne battuta and lovely pears stewed in Moscato. We drank a Barbera from Aldo Conterno the first night and a very nice Dolcetto from Giacosa with our lunch (for all of 16 euros).
In many respects, our lunch I Bologna in Rochetta Tanaro, measured up to the meals at da Bardon. We have known I Bologna for many years – and it has had some ups and downs – but we really could not find anything to fault in our Sunday lunch (served amid tables filled with happy locals, including lots of children). We marched through the whole recited menu, highlights of which were an excellent vitello tonnato, a beautiful, orange-colored poached egg blended with rich cream, tagliarin (one al sugo, the other with white truffles), a roast loin of suckling pig that arguably was the best “secondo” of the trip; a perfect roast leg of baby goat and a superb panna cotta. After a little Spumante, we had a bottle of 2010 Bruno Rocca Barbaresco (good but not up to its 100 euro price tag).
Finally, among the trattorias, we had a modest but solid meal at Il Veglio near La Morra. My wife ordered a well prepared minestrone then a tagliarin al sugo (we both have a weakness for tagliarin). I started with pepperoncini stuffed with bread and anchovies (also good) and then a not quite so successful stew consisting of porcini, chicken livers and potatoes. All of this went quite well with a 2010 Barbera from Sandrone.
While the food at Il Centro in Priocca is rooted in the tradition of Piemontese trattorias, over our last several visits, the restaurant has moved to another level (and it now even has a Michelin star, not that it matters). We started our Wednesday night dinner at 8:30 pm and basically closed the place at nearly midnight, sent off by the whole family Cardero (save for Enrico Cordero’s daughter who is a journalist in New York). It was a complete experience and our best meal of the trip. We adore Enrico, and his wife Elide, who is also lovely, is cooking magnificently. The many things I will remember (until our next visit to Priocca) included a classic pepperoncino stuffed with tuna and drizzed with a light anchovy dressing, a very good stuffed cabbage served as an antipasto, a parmigiana basket filled with porcini and a mild goat cheese; a best of breed tagliarin with white truffles, great cheeses (I think they have the best selection of regional cheeses in Piemonte) and a tasty dessert combination consisting of a coffee flavored mouse and a panna cotta. After a half bottle of Gavi, we had our best wine of the trip, an Aldo Conterno 2007 Barolo Bussia from the excellent Colonello vineyard. And then there was the grappa!
We also had an very good meal at da Renzo in Cervere. The restaurant, perhaps because it chose to work its way up to two star Michelin status and seems to have no family in the dining room, lacks the warmth that can be found at places like Il Centro. However, the food here is as good as anything we encountered during the trip. We had tagliarin with white truffles (yes, our weakness again) and the restaurant’s signature tortelli filled with a combination of creamy goat and cow cheeses (tagliarin aside, I think this could be my favorite pasta anywhere). Secondi were a great breaded veal loin (in the spring, they do a similar preparation with baby lamb chops that is even better) and vitello brasato, which was right up there with the baby pig at I Bologna. We had cheese and stopped short of dessert, although the migniardise (I do not know the Italian word for this more often French collection of complimentary cookies and candies) were more than enough. We had some very good wines as well including a 2007 Prunotto Barolo Bussia and a very interesting Spumonte that reminded me of a Burgundy Cremant – a little sweet but great as an aperitif.
Our Saturday night visit to Cascinale Nuovo did not not stand up to the competition. We had a creative duck salad that worked well and tried their serviceable version of tagliarin al sugo, but our shared main course of roasted suckling pig came up very short. Our 2007 Barbaresco Rabaya from the Produttori cooperative was just okay.
Finally, we made a first visit to La Torre in Cherasco. It did not sing to us. The menu was quite limited and the food was both heavy and dull. Perhaps we hit an off night or simply had used up our appetites elsewhere.
So thanks to allende for his sage advise. And again, please accept my apologies for the length of this report.