Friday, April 27, 2007

Piedmont, pt. 1: Food coma ahead!

All you have to know about the Piedmont, and this is after just one day mind you, is that if you haven't been here, you MUST get here! Everything you thought Italy could be seems to be here Frothy cappuccinos, people gathering on a Sunday afternoon at the local café, incredibly picturesque scenery, the architecture, etc., etc. And after last nights "what the hell just happened there?" meal, most definitely the food!

We arrive in Milan in the normal bedraggled state, and immediately are hit with an ominous note. Turns out the airline has lost a package I was bringing over with four bottles of Oregon pinot for gifts for two of our hosts. Spent an hour on that, rather aggravating, especially at the end of a long trip where you just want to get as far away as possible, as fast as possible, from anything airline/airport related. Grabbed our rental car, which turned out to be a very cute Smart "For Four", a four door version of the regular Smart car. We sped out of Milan's Malpensa Airport, heading west through the endless rice paddies that cover the landscape before you climb into the hills of Piedmont. This area of northeast Piedmont is Italy's largest rice producing area, turning out all those lovely kernels that make our risottos so satisfying.
w getting her vacation groove going in Casale Monforte

We stopped at a the cute village of Casale Monforte (lots of Monfortes here) for a couple of glasses of fizzy, refreshing prosecco and a nosh, basking in the warmth (by the way...75-80...sunny...warm...beautiful!), taking in the people watching which is always better in Europe than practically anywhere else. Back in car, making our way finally to the town of Alba, were we are staying at the estate of Giovanni Paitin, who's family owns Elia Pasquero Paitin, one of this areas great Barbaresco producers. Giovanni and his wife Sandra couldn't be nicer, putting us up in a downstairs apartment at their Agritourismo, which is basically a few rooms on the estate they rent to travelers.
Paitin's Agritourismo...our room is on the lower left

They don't actually make the wine here anymore, that being done a few miles away, but the location and the view from the place is perfect, with Nebbiolo vineyards stretching in every direction.

So we relax, shower, gather our energy, pop into town for a bit, then drive up the hill to the small village of Diano d'Alba, which is truly one of the most picturesque Euro villages I've been in. You enter through a stone archway, which way back when was used to keep out whatever hordes of marauders happened to be passing by at the time. We wandered, took in the scene of the vineyards stretching before us through the hazy light, almost every view eliciting a "wow" and that "can you believe we're here" comment.

But you can only take so much scenery, and then the appetite starts making its presence felt. We checked out a place in the center of Diano d'Alba, which turned out to be closed, drove into Alba, looked around, scouted out a place we'd heard about. It too was closed on Sunday so we'll go tomorrow. Beginning to get a bit concerned that we might have to settle, but when every meal counts, you take advantage of every resource. We zipped back out to the Paitin estate and asked Giovanni for his advice. After telling us most places are closed on Sunday...gee, no kidding...he asked Sandra what she thought. A concerned look, a few ideas flashing across her face, a quick phone call, and we were on our way back to Diano d'Alba (thankfully just 8km away) to a little gem called Trattoria Nelle Vigne, which is set among the vineyards and of course has the requisite stunning view. Even at 7:00 on Sunday we were the first ones there, and feeling so very American, even after a warm welcome, we were led to a table in their glassed in veranda. The wine list was presented, we ordered a bottle of crisply fresh Ceretto Arneis off their ridiculously well priced list....the Arneis was $15, the Dolcettos, Barberas, Barbarescos, and Barolos were equally absurdly affordable, and other than the bottle of Paitin Barbera we ordered later in honor of Giovanni, that was abut the only decision we had to make.

They serve two menus at Nelle vigne, one costing 19.50 euros, the other costing 23. The difference being the 23 euro menu includes a meat entree. We didn't have to decide which, that was settled later. We just sat while the food started appearing. Oh my freaking god, the food! How much detail do you want? The first course consisted of five generously portioned anitipasti, which came one after the other. The first thing she set on the table was an astonishingly good plate of anchovies covered in a hazelnut pesto. One of the most surprisingly remarkable things I've ever eaten.
Anchovies w/ hazelnut pesto

The anchovies weren't too salty, the hazelnut pesto had a nice zip of lemon zest. One of the best, most unexpectedly good things I’ve ever put in my mouth. It was fabulous. Next up was an equally amazing plate of lardo laid on top of fried bread. Just silly good, the lardo melting slowing on top of the hot bread, the fat glistening in all its cured pork goodness. I am looking at w and already my eyes are wide in wonderment and a silly grin is starting to spread across my face. These first two were followed by a fresh salad of cabbage, chicken, and mozzarella, which all coleslaws should aspire to be. Then came two carne cruda, which is chopped raw beef with a bit of lemon and was awesome. Last up...and this is still just the antipasti mind you...was a plate of asparagus swimming in a decadent gorgonzola dolce sauce. I am pretty much freaking out by now, knowing there's three more courses to come. w is already getting that I'm really full look, plus we've been up for almost 24 hours straight. Holy shit!

So then two primi came, which were full sized portions of ravioletti in a light ollve oil sauce and a version of bolognese on a tajarin, the regional pasta specialty of the Piedmont. These were fantastic, the ravioletti stuffed with ground pork and herbs, the tajarin savory and so satisfying, especially washed down with the Paitin Barbera. Our server then made us make the last decision of the night, which was to stop then and move straight to dessert or have the carne course first. We were both tired, feeling the wine, and stuffed, but dammit, I can't back down from a fight, especially a food fight, so bring it on. Thank god! The two meat plates consisted of a braised rabbit, which was fall off the bone tender, and a crazy plate of sliced roast beef smothered in a sauce of wild mushrooms and ground hazelnuts. This was unbelievable, and we would have appreciated it even more if we hadn't already been bludgeoned by the earlier, equally crazy courses. At a certain point, your ability to appreciate becomes clouded. This was great, that was great, everything is fucking great. I'm tired, I'm getting drunk, what the hell keep it coming! We had our last course, which of course was equally over the top, with two plates of four different desserts, the ice cream square and chocolate-hazelnut biscotti stealing the show. At this point, we are almost falling out of our chairs, eyes rolling back in our heads, and we stagger out to the car for the drive down the hill and into a blissful sleep.

This whole dinner cost just $85, including wine. If you are ever in the Alba area, you HAVE to check this place out. Probably one of the greatest food nights I've ever experienced, and every single dish was exceptional. How often can you say that? Unbelievable! Here's some more photos of the carnage......
Lardo on fried incredible is this?!

Ravioletti...pillows of goodness!

The just keeps coming!

Are we done yet? Our just desserts!

1 comment:

kab said...

I just e-mailed Dave and we're getting on the next plane to Piedmont! I'll call Laura and Rick and apologize for canceling dinner tomorrow...

Also checked for the anchovy-hazelnut pesto recipe, but none showed up, and The Silver Spoon has nada. Guess we'll have to figure it out on our own!

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