Piemonte 2014, Part II
My wife and I just returned from 2.5 weeks in Piemonte and I thought I would share our dining experiences on this board. We stayed 2 weeks in the town of Barolo and then moved 2 miles to the vineyard of Cerequio just outside of La Morra at Palas Cerequio for our final 3 nights. First, our perspective: (i) we have been to Italy many times, but this was our first trip to Piemonte; and (ii) we prefer to dine in less formal and traditional settings with local cuisine than in more formal settings with white-table cloths serving international cuisine. So, for those with more experience in the area or different tastes, your mileage may vary. Finally, I want to recognize the generous advice of Allende and his wife—without their encouragement, we would have stayed close to Barolo and eaten serviceable meals, but missed out on some fantastic dining experiences.
For our first night in Barolo (Saturday), despite two trains to get to Milan Malpensa from Varenna, and then a rental car drive to Barolo, we ignored our weariness and set out on the SP3 toward the hitherto unknown town of Cherasco, about 9 miles away for dinner: destination La Torre. We had made reservations and arrived promptly at 8. The weather was ideal and we decided to eat outside in the garden, where soon all of the tables were occupied and then even more inside. It was going to be a busy night. Due to the winding roads and many warnings about traffic checkpoints, I decided to forego ordering a bottle of wine, and instead ordered a half liter of their house Barbera D'Alba (which was quite good, for what it is, and also quite cheap). We later had a glass each of the "house" Barolo which turned about to be a 2010 Brezza. Great vintage, unknown producer to me, but again quite good (and cheap). First lesson learned: order the wine you want; this is Italy, if you don’t finish your wine, you can take it with you.
The meal began with 3 stuzzichini: creme of carrot soup with ginger, fried veal cheek, and salsicce di Bra cruda. Wonderful! You will note that my poor Italian skills inhibit my descriptions. We tried our best to elicit descriptions from the waitstaff. Our young waitress identified the fried veal cheek as "testina" which my wife thought meant testicles; only with more effort did we sort it out!
It then came time to order: La Torre has a blackboard with the day’s specials, which I learned is really what Marco Falco, the co-owner/chef, wanted to cook that day. But this was my first day in Piemonte and I had preconceived notions of what I needed to try. Second lesson: follow the board. Marco is very, very talented.
For our antipasti, my wife had the seared foie gras with a cipollini marmalade, fig and what was either corn bread or a fried crouton (this was a special on the board). This was a very rich dish. I had to have the carne cruda, which was fantastic. It was served on a bed of arugula, with sliced boiled eggs, shaved parmesan and a sprinkling of black cipro salt. I have never tasted a boiled egg like that.
For our primi, my wife ordered a glowing orange agnolotti, and I had the tajarin with coniglio ragu. We both agreed that the tajarin was the highlight of the meal-a take a knee moment for me, and, in retrospect, one of my two favorite dishes on the trip.
For our dolci, my wife had a creme caramel (?) with berries and a sprinkling of cipro. For this southern boy, I could not turn down the peach pie with sorbet (sprig of thyme was a nice touch) and berries. The raspberries here are the best we have ever had.
As if that was not enough, we were then served 3 complimentary desserts. I couldn't begin to identify these, but I will try: hazelnut cookies, fruit jellies and these fantastic meringue wafers held together by fresh ricotta. Bravo! We ordered a lot of dolci on our trip, but nothing topped those meringue wafers.
Overall, the meal was fantastic, particularly the tajarin and the meringue wafer. The ingredients were first rate, but they do not try to force the meal, trying to do too much. Rather, they let the ingredients speak for themselves. Plating was solid, and the servings were ample. We will be back!
This way to La Torre!
Follow the board!
Primi-Tajarin with coniglio ragu
It gets even better, much better.
What Henjef and his lovely wife have done is to capture some Langhe restaurants in a way that no one else here has come anywhere close to doing; certainly not I, nor my friend Peter R (Peter, you've got your work cut out for you on your fall trip), nor any of the other really good posters here… no one. In fact, I don’t recall anyone, in any post on the Italian (or French) board, doing what they have done. The food photography is stunning and their descriptions are mouth watering. If this doesn’t get people who really enjoy food and wine to come to The Langhe, I don’t know what will.
The fact that the Henjefs have taken so much time to describe those two plus weeks, is going to give all of us a wonderful vicarious vacation. However, if you knew their background, it wouldn’t surprise you that they took the enormous amount of time to chronicle their trip. From our first email (and now 51 more) K and J were passionate. They had done their homework (again, not surprising), asked wonderful questions and were meticulous in their planning.
From the first, J promised to post upon their return. Many promise, few deliver. If everyone who asks this board for help would post only one one hundreth of what the Henjefs will have posted, we’d all be much better off.
My wife and I have thanked K and J over and over again for their simply excellent reports and beautiful photography, but we’d now like to do so publicly. Thanks so much for all the incredible work you’ve done to give all of us here a great deal of pleasure for a long time. Brava, bravo!
Allende, much appreciated, and yet much undeserved. Folks here should know how little I knew about Piemonte dining, and would still not know but for your kind advice. For each of those 51 emails, you responded promptly and graciously. A key for my postings: when you read "Lesson learned", that really means things Allende explained to me. For instance, at the end of our meal at La Torre, we were ignored by the waitstaff for 45 minutes. I actually had to get up and flag our waitress to get our check. I ranted in an email to Allende about this and he patiently explained to me that is the custom in Italy; the table is yours for the evening and the restaurant does not want to appear to be rushing you out the door. Once you are ready to leave, they expect you to get up and ask for your check. Another for instance: I had no idea that was ricotta between those meringue wafers. Thanks again to Allende and Mrs. Allende!
None of our friends in La Morra have ever mentioned it, though that is not a negative. If you go, hope you'll report back.
I had seen the Art of Eating article and found it interesting... but not the wine. We've had it once and didn't understand why the restaurateur wanted us to try it. Perhaps because it is indigenous to the area. Other than that, for us, it wasn't a wine that was anything more than a very basic table wine with little character. With barberas (at very reasonable prices) in The Langhe, and the other Big Two, no need to drink it.
I want to fast forward to the following Friday night and continue what I will now refer to as Allende’s Greatest Hits: Osteria Veglio in Annunziata. But first: a back story. Three days prior, my wife and I went to explore Serralunga d’Alba. We had heard through the wine critic, Antonio Galloni, of a particular good enoteca up there, Centro Storico, which is at the foot of the castle. The proprietor, Alessio Cighetti, is an engaging fellow with a love of Champagne but I prevailed upon him to recommend a Franciacorta instead. So, while enjoying a glass of Cavalleri, we noticed we were not alone, as a white haired Italian gentleman was at the next table with a very pleasant Italian woman. Then, it began to rain; so rather than scurry back to the bottom of the town where we parked our car, we decided to get comfortable and eat. Alessio’s wife and mother-in-law run the kitchen upstairs and do a credible job. Alessio opened a bottle of the '07 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Ovello for us while I had some carne cruda for an appetizer and then ravioli for my primi. My wife had the baccale (codfish) for her antipasti and gnocchi for her primi. All was quite good for an enoteca. The Italian couple also ordered and we began to get to know each other (the first floor in Centro Storico being quite small). And then it begins to hail. I rush upstairs to close the windows and my wife and the Italian woman joined Alessio outside to check on the size of the hail and basically play in the rain. A good time for all, once, of course, we determined the hail was unlikely to damage the vineyards. Fast forward to last night at Veglio. The woman my wife was playing with in the rain and hail was none other than Fiorenza, one of the ladies working at Veglio! A small world indeed in the Langhe. We would later return on Wednesday the following week to Centro Storico and meet Fiorenza there again. What a delightful lady she is!
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