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Piemonte 2014 and some links to previous years

We were up in Piemonte for nine days. Stayed in La Morra in a wonderful apartment, with a good kitchen and with a terrace which overlooked the beautiful Barolo vineyards below and the snow covered Alps in the distance. Ideal apartment. We ate out, but not twice a day as we usually do when we stay at our favorite B&B in La Morra. Took great advantage of the wonderful markets, particularly in Dolgliani and Bra (Friday). The Dolgliani market of the contadini is fantastic. This is a side market to the regular food market. Really special. Twice a week, Tuesday and Saturday.

The Langhe was spectacular… totally in bloom at the end of April. It is an area that is so overlooked by English speaking foreigners. With its great food (in the Gambero Rosso and The Osterie d’Italia, there are more listings for Piemonte than in any other region of Italy) and wine and cheese (IMO more great cheeses, by far, than anywhere else in the North, with Bra the epicenter; so many small great producers!) and beautiful scenery, am not sure why that continues to be so. We’ve been to Piemonte more than sixty times over close to forty years and there is always something new to discover. We’ve been there in all four seasons and it’s a lot of fun, in different ways, in each. As good as it gets in the fall because of the white truffles in October and November, it is delightful in the Spring.

Below are two links to past posts. Hopefully these links and this posting will be of help in planning a trip. We hope to be in La Morra again for two weeks in about a month. We have some new places to try and some old favorites to revisit.

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7688...

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8969...

1. GUIDO RISTORANTE at the Fontanafredda winery, near Serralunga d’Alba, equidistant from La Morra and Barolo, 10-15 minutes.

I’ll start this review of Guido in Serralunga d'Alba by saying that over 40 years (and more than 1500 meals eaten out), the lunch we had this past Sunday was one of the best. Everything about it was perfect as far as we’re concerned.

Here’s the story. At one point in the 70s and 80s, Guido in Costigliole d'Asti was generally thought of as “the best” restaurant in Piemonte. The cooking of Lidia Alciati was really good and the wine list was second to none. We went there a number of times and thought it was great. Then the family business split. Two of Lidia’s sons opened a separate restaurant in Polenza and another opened in Santo Stefano Belbo.

Ugo and Piero Alciati now have Guido Ristorante near Serralunga d’Alba on the old Fontanafredda winery estate. The winery is owned by Oscar Farinetti who founded Eataly. Don’t let that influence your judgment. We didn’t know what to expect before we went. We very much admire Farinetti for his business acumen and for spreading the gospel of Italian food products far beyond Italy. We don’t like his stores and so normally we’d be turned off about going to a restaurant at a place he owned. We didn’t have to worry about “Eataly” at Fontanafredda. The restaurant, Guido, is totally separate from the trattoria and the other parts of Farinetti’s project which, in all honesty, are done in very good taste. The grounds themselves are pristine and beautiful. Dazzling. Long winding trails, flora…essentially you are walking through an old well maintained estate. Farinetti has spent a great deal of money to bring the Fontanafredda estate back to its glory. And it is glorious.

When we saw the building which houses Guido we were also apprehensive. The old hunting lodge is formidable. It once belonged to Vittorio Emanuele ll. It has been restored to pristine condition. The frescos are on the high vaulted ceilings and the chandeliers are weighty and the rooms are huge, but somehow it all works very well. Of course, what also helps is that the chairs are the most comfortable we’ve ever sat on in a restaurant. The place had a warmth, and you actually felt at home with the grandeur. The dining room is headed by Piero Alciati and the feeling that he has created is delightful. The service is flawless, but informal. It is very comfortable, not one bit of hauteur, and you feel welcomed in the restaurant. The staff (who by the way are dressed very nicely, but casually), is headed by Josh Eisenhauer. They are amiable, very knowledgeable and well trained by Piero.

The kitchen is headed by Ugo Alciati. The dishes were perfect. His food is all about substance over hype. There was not one, repeat, not one dish, or part of any dish, that was not excellent. All we can say is bravo! A classic menu with a few twists. Beautiful plating, but not done to make the dishes a work of art; nothing fussy as in so many other restaurants of its type. Portion size was again excellent, not too much, not too little.There were seven tortelli on the plate, not three nor fifteen. His ingredients are first rate; incredible flavor. Ugo's skill is on par with great French chefs, those of yesterday (e.g. Alain Chapel, George Blanc) and those of today. In Italy, it is rare to find the level of his culinary skill combined with an “Italian soul.” Often, it is one or the other. He’s got both.

What did we have that makes his cooking so exciting. I started with the antipasto of Gallina Bianca e Uovo Vapore; you haven’t seen a yolk like this, nor a gallina that tasted like this. And here is where someone like Piero shines. My wife didn’t order an antipasto. Piero didn’t want her to sit there with an empty plate. He brought her an incredibly delicious portion of vitello tonnato. The taste of the veal was etherial. A small gesture, but that’s the way to run a dining room.

For a primi, I had agnolotti di Lidia al Sugo D’Arrosto and my wife had Plin di Patate con Asparagi. Our standard for stuffed pasta is our friend Bruna Santini. Ugo’s was every bit as good as Bruna's and even better than his mother Lidia's many years ago. And here again is Piero the consummate maestro… he wanted us to try another pasta and so out came a dish of Plin al Tovagiolo. We then had two more fabulous dishes: La Finanziera Piemontese e Alici Fresche; "Caldo e Freddo” di Faraona e Fegatini, salsa di Marsala. What more can I say. Well dessert… have Ugo’s Fiordilatte Mantecato Al Momento and it’ll be hard to ever eat ice-cream again. The rest of the menu was equally as appealing as what we had and we’re looking forward to trying all the other dishes.

The wine list is excellent. Nothing, of course, like the old Guido (nothing but Bardon can compare to the old Guido), but you’ll have a field day with the Barolos and Barbarescos at extremely good prices. We drank a 2006 Barbaresco, La Spinetta, Starderi (105 euros). We needed a partial second bottle (we took the balance home) and so had a 2007 Barbaresco Cigliuti (55 Euros). The cost for the food was 160 Euros.

It was our first time at the “new” Guido. We’re always suspect of first impressions and that might be the case here. However, Piero and Ugo have been at this for a long time, under the great tutelage of their mother and father. As long as they keep doing what they did on Sunday, this restaurant eventually will be recognized as one of the great restaurants in Italy, similar in stature to the restaurant that their parents had many years ago.

2. OSTERIA LA TORRE in Cherasco: 15 minutes from La Morra.

One of our three favorite osterie/trattorie in Piemonte (the others are Bardon and Veglio). La Torre has never failed to be anything but an excellent meal from the standpoint of dishes, quality of ingredients used, wine list and service (with one of the two brothers who own La Torre, Gabriele Falco, in charge of the dining room).

A modern space (but not minimalist) in a very, very old building, it is extremely comfortable: Tables well spaced, but not too far from one another, excellent lighting; noise level very moderate even when full (on a Wednesday night in mid April it was half full). It is a casual place with professional and very friendly service. And there has been a major change since we there last June. There is now a written menu for Marco Falco’s wonderful food. He really gets it right; an excellent cook. Seven each of antipasti, primi and secondi.

The menu changes seasonally, but a few old standards always remain. Additionally, there are piatti del giorno written on a chalkboard. Here are some of the dishes on the menu the evening we were there: trippa di vitello in umido; uova con cardi saltati e fonduta di Raschera; cipolla ripiena di se’, amaretti e fonduta; baccala con carciofi; tajarin con ragu di coniglio; gnocchi al Castelmagno; risotto al barolo; lumache ai porri di “Cervere”; and an incredible cheese trolley.

From the stuzzichini through the Barolo Chinato (Cocchi) it was an excellent meal. Trattorie don’t get much better than this. Here is what we had: stuzzichini: zucchini soup; a thin wafer with the “the sauce” from vitello tonnato thickened a bit. For antipasti: insalata russe with vegetables slightly pickled; bietola dumplings with fondue; a tortino of sardines and anchovies with lightly sauteed onions. I had roasted totani (a daily special) stuffed with a (forcemeat, sic) of fish, in a light ceci sauce, more like a soup with ceci and the totani. Then we both had perfectly roasted faraona with roasted potatoes and zucchini (al dente) and tomatoes. Such a simple dish. First you get the very flavorful faraona… For desserts a torta di ciocolato with zabaione (a killer) and a hazelnut semifreddo, served with a bit of chocolate and strawberries. Excellent desserts. We had a 2010 Barbera Roberto Voerzio Vigneti Cerreto, from just down the hill here in La Morra (28 euros). Total check, 92 euros including wine.

Not much more to say. Wonderful dinner.

3. LA COCCINELLA in Serravalle Langhe

When I make a mistake about a restaurant, it is usually a big one. A few years ago, I wrote on this board that La Coccinella in Serravale Langhe was nothing special (but not bad in any sense) and I would not go back. My wife disagreed and we went back. As is usually the case (perhaps 99% of the time) she was right. What a great lunch. We’re aleady planning to be back in June.

Serravalle Langhe sits high on a hill, and there is a 360 degree view of the Langhe. From the dining room, which seats about forty, there is a clear view of the Alps in the distance. The dining room is basic Piemontese, but very comfortable. Tables are well spaced and the noise level is moderate, as it was last Saturday at lunch when we were there. Service was excellent, with two of the three (brother) owners in the dining room. The service was well paced even though the restuarant was full, about 40 people.

The menu is pure Piemontese, but with slight twists e.g. Plin di Coniglio con Olive Nere e Sugo di Arrosto; Quenelles di Seiras con Quaglia e Pancetta. It was difficult to decide what to have. That’s one of the reasons we’ll be back in June. Outstanding were the Tonno di Coniglio con Fondente ai Peperoni; Rolata di Agnello con Patate Ripiene di Cipollotti e Lardo; Galletto Nostrano Ripieno di Verdure Primaverli con Uovo di Quaglia; Plin di Coniglio. Excellent ingredients and a chef (the third brother) who knows what he is doing. Not surprisingly, there was a very good cheese course. Wonderful desserts e.g. zabaione freddo served with the Italian equivalent of a "Lorna Doone”, two thin shortbread wafers with marmalade.

We drank a 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva (70 euros). Total bill 140 including 70 for wine.

Definitely a place to go to in The Langhe.

4. OSTERIA VEGLIO. Just below La Morra in Annunziata.

Had another wonderful meal as we always do; it is probably the place up here that we eat at the most. The osteria was full, but Fiorenza and her staff of one didn’t miss a beat in the dining room. Professional but informal service. It was a touch too cold to sit on the terrace overlooking some of the great Barolo vineyards, but she told us everyone at lunch sat there.

I’ve written a lot about the food at Veglio (which you can see in the links), so won’t go into detail. Just to say once again, that for those of you who are vegetarians, this is the trattoria to go to in the Alba area. In addition to lingua di vitello and tajaran al ragu etc, there was an insalata vegetariana, a frittata di verdure primaverli, pasta gran euro con coma di rape and an all vegetarian minestrone.

We drank a 2010 Barbera, Renato Corino, Pozzo (34 euros). Total check, 100 euros including the wine and two glasses of Barolo Chinato.

5. LA SPERANZA in Farigliano, about 20 minutes from La Morra. Two gamberi in the Gambero Rosso.

Maurizio Quaranta was the chef at a Michelin starred restaurant near Alba. He left in 2008 and he and his wife opened La Speranza.

A bright modern airy trattoria with dishes from the Piemontese tradition that do not simply repeat the standard fare available in many of the restaurants in the region. A welcome change from the required Piemontese restaurant menu. For example, the plin are stuffed with lamb and mint (rather than the classic roast meat filling). Tagliatelle are available with ragu, but also with triglie and carciofi (in season now). The secondi were served with an attractive and tasty selection of vegetables. Other dishes that seem interesting were: gnochetti di farina integral e uova al Gorgonzola e radicchio; terrine di frettaglia e pistacchi. All of the products are strictly local. The cheeses were a wonderful selection from small producers known to the owners. Really excellent desserts. We had a sorbetto di mele mantecato al calvados con caramello e noci; and a semifreddo al torrone, salsa di cioccolato.

A good wine list priced very reasonably. We had a 2010 Barbera, Vajra Superiore (32 Euros).

Food was 71 and wine was 32.

If you are in the area, highly recommended.

6. DEL MERCATO DA MAURIZIO in Cravanza, a few km from Serravalle Langhe.

We thought there were a lot of hazelnut trees around here in La Morra. There, there were kilometers of trees. Really. The trattoria had a great writeup in the Osteria d’Italia (with a snail), and a great writeup in Gambero Rosso (with two gamberi). Nice space. Classic menu, carried out no better than okay. Mediocre wine list (although we had no trouble with a 2010 Barbera Pellisero for 28 Euros). Very nice owner. There are fifty of these places around here. Nothing was bad, but would not go back and would not recommend it to anyone because there was nothnig outstanding. Hey, but you have to try them… sometimes you find a gem of a trattoria e.g. Bardon, La Torre in Cherasco, Veglio.

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    1. As a tourist who will only have a couple of days in the region next month, I greatly appreciate your detailed report. It's invaluable to have current specifics about dishes, wines and prices, particularly from some one interested and knowledgeable. It's a great service performed with excellence!

      1. re: ejbjr

        Sorry to have missed your post earlier. Many thanks. Have a good fun trip.

    2. How grateful I am for this report! Can't wait to try out a number of these places when in Piemonte at the end of the summer. You have made me very hungry.

      1 Reply
      1. re: johannabanana

        Thanks Johannabanana. Glad to be of some help.

      2. allende,

        Thanks so much for this report. I always enjoy reading about your experiences.

        I'm just curious why you never mention Cuneo. On our last trip to Piemonte in 2011, we really enjoyed our visit there, and the restaurant Osteria della Chiocciola, where we had a wonderful lunch.

        The town seems to be completely off the tourist radar, so it's quite unspoiled, and not terribly far from Alba, so it makes a very nice day trip from Alba or La Morra. Have you been there, and do you have any comments about the town and the food options there?

        1 Reply
        1. re: rrems

          We have been to Cuneo (and the surrounding area) a number of times, but not for a long time, so have no current thoughts on food options..

          Absolutely agree with you that it is a wonderful place and totally off the beaten track. The cuisine is a bit different from The Langhe and the area just north; unsurprisingly, more French influences and more fish than normally found in other parts of Piemonte..

          We'll probably go on our next trip in June, not to the city, but in the countryside where my wife has two osterie that she'd like to try.

          So many places, so little time :)

        2. You should get a Chow award Allende.

          We are in the very initial stages of a 10 day Piemonte/ER trip in the fall for the truffle festival. I was considering staying somewhere between Alba and Asti but now that I'm marking down some restaurants perhaps south of Alba is the way to go. Most likely it will be a 3 night visit on the 3rd week of October or so, before moving on to Parma

          Any further tips on location, and on what to do and eat from anyone would be greatly appreciated.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ziggy41

            If you are going to stay in The Langhe, there are good places to eat south of Alba e.g. Da Renzo, Osteria Veglio, La Torre in Cherasco, Guido (at Fontanafredda) as well those north toward Asti e.g. Il Centro, Da Bardon. There are many others as well. These happen to be some of our favorites.

            If you want to stay at a great B&B in La Morra overlooking the Barolo vineyards, you might consider this one owned by a good friend of mine (full disclosure).

            http://www.rocchecostamagna.it/Rocche...

          2. Not even sure where to begin.

            I'm radio talk show host in San Fran. Wife works at Millennium restaurant in city. Staying in Cerequio right now, and just found your review.

            You should be paid.

            Soooo... She's vegetarian, so I have the one recommend. That said, this area is overwhelming.

            Obviously we love wine. Be nice to try some Barolo without breaking the bank entirely.

            If you want to throw out some musts I'd appreciate it surely.

            Kgodavid@gmail.com

            Unbelievable reviews.

            2 Replies
            1. re: weinish

              Staying at the Palas Cerequio? Seen the LeWitt chapel?

              I think the best way to try great barolo without breaking the bank is by the glass. Many of the restaurants will have them and certainly the wine bars in La Morra and Barolo itself.

              Also the Enoteca Regionale in Barolo has perhaps a dozen available by the glass and because of the turnover the wines are always fresh. The same thing, to a lesser extent, with the Cantina Comunale in La Morra, just off the Belvedere Plaza going toward the two churches.

              A must? There are so many good ones. In Cerequio, one of the most beautiful parts of the area, you're in Ceretto country and it is one of our favorites. We like Elio Altare the best, but we seem to be in a minority.

              Glad you enjoyed the reviews. If you have any other questions, just post here.

              It would be great for this board to get some feedback re the places you go to. It always helps people to have different views of places.

              1. re: allende

                @ weinish

                Meant to add that because you love wine, you should really think about going to Da Bardon.

                The list is simply fantastic.