Eating and Drinking in Torino: A Trip Report
We had been to Torino before, briefly, when we did a driving tour of the Langhe region in Piemonte. That was a memorable trip of its own but last week we decided to do a trip which started in Torino, went up to Annecy and the Savoie in France and then to Lyon. I won't cover the latter things here since this is the Italy board.
What had attracted us to Torino was the eating and drinking culture. We were astounded by the confectionery shops, by the afternoon stuzzichini ritual, by the enormous number of bars and cafes and markets and, of course, by the restaurants. It struck us as a city of civilized eating and we vowed to return.
This is a very traditional place. It is out a bit from the city center and, although it has a big neon sign out front, the windows are shuttered and you have to ring a doorbell to get in.
The decor is very old world with knick knacks and faded photographs. The owner looks about 80 years old but is springing around the dining room. We arrived early and there was one other guest then - an older Italian woman digging into an enormous Gorgonzola which we understood they kept just for her. Thats the first sign that we were about to have a great meal. The owner came up to us and recited the menu in Italian which luckily my wife speaks (She also speaks French and Portuguese - very handy, this wife) Other diners who arrived later in the evening and asked for a menu were, it seemed to us, given a colder treatment.
I ordered a very well-prepared vitello tonnato and my favorite pasta - agnolotti del plin al sugo di arrosto. This was the most delicious pasta I have had in years. The meat inside was tender, the pasta perfectly cooked and the juices they were simmering were sweet and delicious. Despite getting a healthy serving, I literally was counting down how many I had left on my plate. The accompanying wine was a Dolcetto D'Alba
My wife changed her order after her antipasto because another couple had arrived and were being served things which had not been on the menu. It's that kind of place. Keep your eyes and ears open. Seeing what they had, my wife asked if they had a mushroom platter. They said, of course!, and brought her a fungi misto - an assortment of mixed mushrooms dressed in a creamy sauce which she assures me were among the freshest she has ever had. Later, we discovered the restaurant has a sister restaurant in Alba where they get their mushrooms. This also explains the truffles.
Also, after our first course we noticed the owner running around doing that truffle-shaving maneuver. He was shaving a lot - i mean, entire small truffles onto peoples plates. Again, it was an ask-and-you-shall-recieve kind of thing. You can have as much fresh Alba truffle as you want. Later, the owner just estimates how much you had when it comes time to calculate the bill.
Adored this place. This is how I would like to eat all the time. And the bill made us feel that we had robbed the place.
We were here on our last night in Torino. This place is very much known and appears in all the guidebooks. Still, this is Torino. The entire town is under-touristed and so even this place was mainly Italians. You come here because you know the food will be impeccable - and it was.
I had Tajarin with truffles. The Tajarin were densely buttery and creamy. They were mouth-watering entirely on their own. Truffle was shaved on top and at Tre Galline the truffles were charged by the ounce - still, a bargain. The Tajarin would have been fine as its own meal but I also had a secondi of goose leg - tenderly cooked in a rich sauce. My wife had chestnut gnocchi which was, well, also creamy and delicious, with the taste of fresh chestnuts. Both the pastas were mouth-watering dishes which we slowly savoured. The meal at Tre Galline was her favorite of the trip while mine was at La Capannina's.
The wine was a Barbaresco.
This is the informal cousin of Tre Galline and it is just around the corner. We had their set lunch one day, which was a pasta, dessert, wine, water and bread. I think the price was 13 euros. The pasta - tagliatelle with squid - is generous and rich and I had the standout dessert of the trip here - Zabaglione with candied nuts. It was thick and served in a tall glass.
Osto del Borgh Vej
This was actually where we had lunch on the first day. It is a tiny trattoria in the center of town. We had the set meal here which was a vitello tonnato, agnolotti del plin and dessert. The wine was a Barolo. The agnolotti here was perfectly done and was, before our meal at La Capannina later in the week, the best I had ever had. The dessert is something I am trying to discover what it was. It is one of my new favorite desserts - a small, moist cake that was presented to me as Torino dessert. I know it had vermouth in it and Gandiutto. I later saw it on La Capannina's menu too, although Borgh Vej's version was much better. I think it may be "Budino al vermuth di Torino" but I am still working on tracking this down.
also, on the previous trip we loved:
Set in an old monastery. The restaurant is beautiful and the whole place feels very professional. The antipastos were incredible, consisting in many cases of samplings of different regional specialties and small dishes.
The menu is handwritten and the owner himself sits at your table and explains all the options. Great succulent meat dishes and simple but tasty pastas were what we recall.
Agnolotti & Friends
We stopped here because we were hungry. We didn't expect great food - it is next to a market, with outdoor tables in a picturesque square and the name sound too touristy - but we got it, nevertheless. Delicious, fresh, pastas. A great outdoor lunch spot if the weather permits.
This city has a highly developed cafe culture. The Piazza San Carlo is probably the epicenter but there are old and new cafes covering the entire city center, and in all the other Piazzas and especially down Via Po leading down to Piazza Vittorio Veneto.
The cafes are open all the time, even on Sundays, serving out vermouths and aperitifs and antipastos and snacks and even lunch buffets.We never tried any of the lunches but the upstairs lunch Cafe Platti on Corso Re Umberto looked really good.
One of the things we really love about Torino is the city-wide stuzzichini ritual. Sometime in the mid-afternoon, all the cafes and bars in the city start putting out these enormous platters of food to snack on. The bars for the younger set have things like chips and pizza and macaroni. The more traditional cafes have grissini and rotoloni or bread with tomatoes or ham or anchovy. And it is generally a free buffet to enjoy with your drink. Many of the younger-type places we liked are in Piazza Emanuele Filiberto or on Via Po. The traditional places are the ones around Piazza San Carlo (Caffe Torino, Nuev Caval D'Brons) or places like Porto Di Savona on Vittorio Veneto.
Other cafes worth a special mention:
Cafe Al Bicerin
Famous for their drink, the Bicerin, which is served in many of the other cafes and even by the Carluccio's chain in London. The original consists of a shot of espresso with a layer of melted chocolate on top and then a layer of cream. When you dip the glass to drink, all three layers arrive at your mouth at the same time. This seemed to be a must-stop tourist stop.
A tiny but historic and beautiful place in Piazza Castello. We had a Mulassano (their own liquer) there along with stuzzichini, of course. Here though, everything is very refined. They bring snacks to your table on silver trays.
Barrati & Milano
A larger, and also historic place also in Piazza Castello. They make their own confections and the bar is serving out snacks and drinks all day. We went there twice and both times it was impossibly busy - often with waits for tables.
----------Then, Confectionary shops
These are all over the city as well. Beautiful, well-stocked candy shops with lots of packaged sweets ideal for gift-giving. The main draw is chocolate and Gianduio - chocolate with hazelnut - which was developed here in Torino. I filled up on gianduiotti (little gianduio confections) at Confetteria Ajordiano in Piazza Carlo Felice. We also got tins of Pastiglie Leone (also manufactured here) which were branded as being for Ajordiano.
We also stopped at Guido Gubino which was smaller with more high-end chocolate treats. And we stopped to have an espresso and a hot chocolate at the counter at Pasticceria Gertosio. It is worth remarking that here and at many bars and cafes, you order and consume what you want then, when finished, you walk up to a cashier to settle your bill.
----------Last but not least: Gelato
Whenever we travel in Italy, the responsibility falls on me to sample as much gelato as I can. Torino, well, has the best gelato in Italy. I said it. They take a special pride here in their production. Everything is home-made. You won't find those brightly colored factory gelatos in this town. This is where the original Grom is, which has now expanded across Italy and even to NYC. But, Grom has heavy competition here in its hometown.
The big discovery of this trip for me was Latteria Testa on Corso Re Umberto. I ordered the cioccolato fondente here which was thick and rich and creamy. This would already be one of the best gelatos I have ever had but it gets even better. They add a dollop of their own homemade cream on top of your gelato. This cream is heavenly. There is a one page write-up on their store window from Slow Food praising them for the qualities of their cream.
As we walked back up Re Umberto, my wife pointed out that the street was full of little shops from people in the Langhe who were selling fruits and vegetables from their farm. And they each had paper signs encouraging you to inquire about the truffles they had from their local hills. I hardly paid attention. I was by then already lost in my own world of cioccolato and cream.