Thursday, January 18, 2007

Our Italian Vacation!
It was with great anticipation that w and I drove through the slushy streets last night for a dinner rendezvous at Alba Osteria on SW Capitol Highway. I hadn't been in over a year, and had been telling myself for months to get after it and pay another visit to owner/chef/Piedmontese fetishist Kurt Spack's homey outpost of Italian comfort food. For some reason in my mind it always seems like a trek to get there. But it really isn't, and from my place on N. Mississippi we were walking in their warmly welcoming doors in ten minutes. And I would almost drive ten hours to eat food this good! Kurt makes regular trips to the Piedmont to check out what's going on, do some cooking, and get fresh inspiration. It shows and this is perhaps the most authentic regional Italian food in town.

We were seated at a table in the cozy dining room by the kitchen. A tasty basket of bread was dropped along with the menus and a couple of glasses of fizzy prosecco, and we commenced drooling. I love places where I want to order every single thing on the appetizer list. But more prudent heads prevailed, and we settled on sweet peppers wrapped around delicious tuna salad and Jerusalem artichoke in a bagna cauda sauce. Both were delicious, the sweet piquancy of the peppers playing beautifully off the rich tuna, and the garlicky bagna cauda sauce was eagerly sopped up with bread when the artichoke gratin ran out. We were swooning. Here it is....

Next up was a primi course which we split. In this case a light, dreamy dish of tajarin with butter and sage sauce. All pasta are made in house, and Kurt has the lightest touch, his pastas a perfect balance of meltingly tender but with just enough bite.
Then it was on to entrees, and although no one in town knows sweetbreads like Kurt, and I've loved them in the past, I had to go with the Barolo braised beef, especially since I'd brought along a bottle of 1997 Brezza "Sarmassa" Barolo. w ordered the roast duck breast and confit leg, and it was stupendous.
The confit was perfect..crispy outside, tender and very flavorful inside. The duck breast had crackly skin and that beautiful layer of fat surrounding the meat. My beef was fork tender, served over polenta, and dreding both through the Barolo sauce was an exercise in pure pleasure, especially washed down with sip after sip of the Brezza.

Just in case you have any of this nectar in your collection, the wine opened up beautifully....all earth notes, with dark cherry and tarry fruit with those wonderful rose petal overtones that great Barolo develops. We had the bottle open over the course of about 90 minutes, and it just kept getting better and better. So good, and so satisfying.
We were quite stuffed, as the portions of everything are very generous, kind of what your fantasy Italian grandmother might put in front of you. But we rallied and managed to happily tuck into a light hazelnut torte with house made chocolate gelato. After a quick chat with Kurt, who is one of the nicest people going in the local food biz, we drove home happy, full, and looking forward to a return trip. If you can't get to the Piedmont, this is the next best thing!
A side note: you know it's a compliment to the chef when other chefs show up to get their grub on, and seated close by was Greg Higgins, he of the eponymously named restaurant, who obviously was somewhat of a regular and was enjoying every bite of his dinner.

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