When you research food in Piedmont, its usually a matter of minutes until you see “Most Underrated” mentioned by some food writer. Its almost cliché. Many believe that the Langhe region, especially the 20 mile radius around Alba has some of the best concentration of great dining in the country. And now that I finally got a good taste of what this region has to offer, me and my chocolates are jumping on the bandwagon to Serralunga. Here are some of the best bites we had from a recent trip…
Fusilli with pork shoulder at Agriturismo il Cucchiaio di Legno. Lake Orta’s lone Slow Food hidden gem produced a feast to remember. While its nearly impossible to pick one dish from this 10 courser, the Fusilli is etched in my mind perhaps more than anything else. The title explains the dish almost in its entirely. Light on ingredients, but big on flavor. Young master Luigi learned from the best.. Mother!
White Truffles at La Bottega del Vicoletto – We came, we conquered. We came for White Truffles during Truffle season, and we took full advantage eating them for lunch and dinner every day and even bought one that we named Raffi. What we quickly realized was that not only every place served them differently, but quality varied. Some shave them in the kitchen, some do it table side, and some leave the truffles in the middle of the room. But my favorite way to enjoy truffles was in places like Vicoletto in Alba where they weigh them first, leave the truffles on the table, and weigh them after the meal to figure out how much you ate. Since truffles are mostly about that magical scent, you are enjoying them for the duration of your meal while they just sit there looking pretty.
The family behind La Bottega del Vicoletto used to own a Michelin Starred restaurant in the same location, until they closed it. Now they are back opening a deli with a small room in the back serving all the classics like Agnolotti del Plin (very good), Tajarin, Beef Cheeks, and some of the best white truffles we had on this trip
Chocolate at Alba Saturday Market – Saturday is market day in Nutella land (as in many cities in Italy). You will find stands scattered all over town selling everything from curtains, toys and truffles during truffle season. But the biggest action is in the huge parking area in the northern part of the town (Find on Google Maps: Locanda Dell’oca, Catiza, or Rainbow Board Shop, and go to that area). One particular stand was selling chocolates that will make you regret not buying more. Nice selection of outstanding hazelnut chocolates… so good, and so satisfying when craving strikes. In the picture below its mostly the stuff in the lower left
Tajarin with Sausage Ragu at La Torre in Cherasco – Let me start by saying we had this dish next to another Tajarin dish filled with 10 grams of white truffles that cost 3x more. That’s how good this Tajarin was. Bra Sausage which is a mixture of Veal (mostly) and Pork is at the helm of this Piedmont classic, and the result is rich and explosive. Like Mardi Gras in your mouth.
Carne Cruda at Il Centro in Priocca – Picking one dish from the meal of the year is like asking Evander Holyfield to pick his favorite illegitimate kid. Raw beef, expertly cut by hand, helped by a generous shaving of white truffles. A pure joy with every morsel. Just don’t you dare call it Steak Tartare.
Anchovies and Tuna at Ca del Re in Verduno – This all female crew is making all sorts of magic in the restaurant of Castello di Verduno winery. Anchovies covered by the best tuna salad you will ever have, consisting of tuna, hazelnuts and olive oil. Surprising big flavors from this little Slow Food hidden gem.
Grissini at Fratelli Cravero – When in Piedmont, you eat Grissini. Everywhere! You show up at any restaurant and there they are, waiting for you on the table like a bouquet of roses. But the best way to have them is in the center of Barolo, while watching the Cravellos make them in the only family owned bakery in the area. Meeting energetic Daniella is worth the price of admission alone (which is zero btw – its just an expression). And if you are a good boy, she will even let you smell her truffles
Onion at Trattoria La Coccinella – In a meal such as this, that featured a truffle delight one after another, one particular onion stood out. The onion is baked with salt then filled with chicken liver, baked some more, sprinkled by some more salt, and the result is heavenly. Even onion hater Mrs Z was all over this one
Baci di Cherasco in Cherasco – Cherasco is a town known for two things dear to my heart (perhaps because I dont get enough of them).. snails and kisses. Snails, you can get all over town in every way shape or form (I like the Parisian style), but its those little kisses (“Baci”), that made me weep during a recent foreign movie. I finally finished all the Baci I bought at Ravera. Ravera is one of two shops (that I know) selling these crazy delicious chocolates in the compact center. The other one is the famous Barbero a few steps away, who only been selling these kisses since 1881.
Braised Beef Cheeks Everywhere – Cheating or brilliant pick. I vote the latter. More often than not in Italy and NYC restaurants, Primis outshine the Secondis, and on occasion we skip secondis altogether. In North Italy however, we find a much better balance between courses partly due to the exceptional meats, game and seafood (e.g. Venice). In Piedmont you got the double threat; arguably the best cattle and the best wine in the country. Beef or Veal cheek (Guanciale) braised in Barolo, or even cheaper Nebbiolo can be found just about everywhere. And once you taste one you will want to order it again and again.