Posts Tagged With: Agriturismo il Cucchiaio di Legno

10 Best Things We Ate in Piedmont

Italy 2014 203When 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 LegnoLake 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!

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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

La Bottega del Vicoletto Poached Egg

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

Alba market chocolate

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.

La Torre Tajarin

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.

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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.

Ca del Re - Anchovies and Tuna

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

Courtesy of Cravero website

Courtesy of Cravero website

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

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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.

Ravera Baci di Cherasco

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.

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Categories: Italy, Piedmont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

24 Hours in Lake Orta

Italy 2014 035In this food filled itinerary, the lake I like to call Lago d’Orta was not part of it initially.  But guess what Mrs Z found out when she first Googled Piedmont and looked at the first images that came up.  Text conversation:

Mrs Z:  hey r we going to lake orta

Me:  Neh!

Mrz Z:  really?

Me:  Thanks for ruining the surprise.  Of course we r

As they say “Happy Wife, Happy Ziggy”

We enjoyed a full day after landing at MXP around 9 am with the lake only 45 minutes away.  Picking up the car from Hertz was a breeze, waiting for the GPS to find a signal was not.  How the Software Developer inner Ziggy did not think about restarting the unit is something only the Bill Gates gods can figure out.  Either way, Google maps to the rescue.  The car this time by the way was rather filthy.  And I dont mean in a cool slang sort of way.  We got a dirty car.  One of those Fiats that turns off at traffic lights and requires sweet talk to move up a hill.  But we made it in no time, and what we witnessed was something way better than what any of these images (and Google’s) capture

Italy 2014 001But there was another surprising aspect that contributed to this little one nighter even more than the lake itself.  Food!  As in the fairly new Agriturismo il Cucchiaio di Legno where we also spent the night.  The Agriturismo is not on the lake so no lake views, although the lake is a short 5 minute drive.  I imagined that once I pass by the lake side hotels of Orta San Giulio I would have hotel envy, but that did not materialize.  I was very happy with this choice and can not recommend it highly enough.  And if you are staying elsewhere and enjoy good food you should at the very least make it for dinner.  Sure you can have a nice meal at the 2 Michelim Villa Crespi or at Locanda di Orta which just got a star a few weeks ago, but for something more “homey” and casual it doesnt get much better than this Cucchiaio.

Italy 2014 144My type of menu here.  the absent kind.  You eat what they prepare that day, and boy did they prepare plenty.  We indulged in a fine plate of Salumi, delectable little salmon bites, and an only in Piedmont shocking Syrian soup.  Then came the “Welcome to Italy” green Risotto, and a homemade Fusilli with pork shoulder that served as another reminder that big flavors can come out from these unassuming simple dishes.  A juicier than juice hen with potatoes, and an even juicier veal cheek sealed the deal before we heard those magic words we’ve never heard in a restaurant before.  “Would you like some more”  A 10 course feast for a mere 25 Euros.  Considering how delicious everything was, it was like a bank robbery.  We reminisced about a meal in Coimbra, Portugal as perhaps the only one that beat this value.Italy 2014 149

They also provided a very nice picnic basket for us for lunch that we used on the picnic tables of the Sacred Mount of Orta overlooking the lake.  Just the two sandwiches in there worth the 10 € per person tag, but there was so much more.  The hotel room was very spacious and modern, with a loft in case we have guests (you never know) or Mrs Ziggy gets mad at me for packing only shoes with holes (like I’m supposed to inspect carefully before packing).  You also get a nice patio facing the back yard.  The whole place is so serene during the day you can hear a lung collapse.  I was surprised to see it run by 3 young girls, and the cook responsible for that wonderful feast, Luigi, is 28 years old.  There must be a law that all young chefs in the lakes region must be called Luigi (ie Luigi of Salice Blu in Bellagio) and when they reach puberty they need to change names.  Makes no sense if you ask me.

What else did we do besides eat and inspect shoes.  We Spent some time in the Sacred Mount.  Quite a stunning setting overlooking the lake, surrounded by it pretty much.  Its a series of chapels depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, from chasing goats as a child, to chasing goats as an adult.  I like goats as well but in a different way.  He apparently loved animals according to my friend.  The place was nearly empty, and extremely quiet.  If someone plays Doodle Jump down in Orta San Giulio you would hear the doodling.  The lake views from here is what you mostly see on Google images.  There are picnic tables by the parking lot, and I cant imagine a better setting for a picnic.

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The town itself Orta San Giulio was so much more pleasant than I thought, that we didn’t feel like taking a boat to the island and instead just wandered all over town.  We spent more time than Mrs Z liked in one particular deli with a chatty French owner where we sampled some salami and over 25 year old balsamic vinegar before we bought “Rafi”, the little truffle we carried with us the rest of the trip.  Rafi was a good sport, vacuumed wrapped in rice and all.  Update: Rafi is dead.  Unless the guy made a switcheroo on us at the last minute, the truffle just did not have it by the time I used it a week later.  The much anticipated dinner with our truffle at home turned out to be a simple Linguini with butter.

In short, Lake Orta is another gem that most Americans never heard of.  And on this day at least I was happy that that was the case

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Categories: Italy, Piedmont | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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