I had posted earlier looking for advice re 4 nights in the Alba/Asti area, noting that we were seeking traditional style cooking, albeit in places with warm (don't care whether it is casual or formal) service and a good wine list. Hence, we eliminated places like Piazza Duomo, Ciau del Tornevento, or the version of Guido at Relais San Maurizio.
Here is where we ended up, with brief notes (apologies for not taking dish by dish notes):
Lunch - Trattoria della Posta, Monforte
almost all non-Italian tourists, food was very good, but nothing was excellent; not surprisingly, the primi were better than the secondi (brasado was a touch dry and uninteresting in its flavor profile); service correct but not actually warm (certainly not chilly or brusque, but seemed a touch mechanical); great wine list at very fair prices.
Dinner -- del Belbo da Bardon, San Marzano Oliveto/Valle Asinari
Superb in all respects; bright and lively; had the feeling of an upscale neighborhood party all night long; extraordinarily warm and genuinely caring service -- all the more remarkable given that no member of the staff from the owner on down was ever in one place for more than 10 seconds; these folks are working and sweating and yet make even an obvious tourist with very broken Italian feel welcome and cared for. the pasta was top rate, among the best of the whole trip; roasted rabbit superb; wine list is a thing of beauty.
Day 2 --
Lunch -- Bovio, La Morra
beautiful room and location; the view down to the south is magnificent; food was all very good, but short of the standard set by Bardon; service formal and correct and yet animated and caring. secondi were a touch lack-luster. tajarin with porcini were excellent, but not transcendent. Wine list is very very good; better than trattoria della posta; more extensive than Bardon, but not as well priced.
Dinner -- Lalibera , Alba
Head over heals in love with this place; very sleek and modern interior; wonderful, smart, no nonsense but very professional all woman staff. food very traditional and exceptional. we'd go back in a heartbeat. The sort of place that would have a 3 week waiting list in NYC.
Lunch -- Boccondivino in Bra
In the heart of the Slow Flood lair, this was superb; couldn't have been more simple and yet more impressive; great pepper stuffed with tuna, tajarin to die for; secondi also very good. wine list is very well chosen; aimed at the more casual/younger end of the spectrum, but great selection and pricing, and enough slightly older, finer bottles to keep folks like me happy. Close to a perfectly realized restaurant; achieving exactly what they set out to do and being 100% honest about what that is.
Dinner Antine - Barbaresco
Perhaps the only disappointment (and moderately so) of the trip; food was very very good; no faults at all and a few dishes were indeed superb; problem is that it felt like one was eating at a morgue; not a touch of warmth in the room or service (and hideous, tinny Europop on the "stereo" -- would have been appropriate for the coffee bar attached to the local gas station, but not an actual sit down restaurant). Took away a great deal of the pleasure from what was indeed very well prepared food. wine list is distinctly weak for a restaurant of this level.
Lunch -- I Bologna in Rocchetta Tanaro.
Like Bardon, almost a perfect restaurant in the traditional, local mode; fancier than Bardon, but just delightful. Food was exceptional --no choices, just what they had on offer that day; each course was superb, including a magnificent brasado for secondo ; there is no wine list, just a very interesting and good cellar that your host helps you navigate, but when at Bologna, how can you not drink their own wines? I had the '95 Uccellone which was drinking beautifully (and extremely kindly priced).
Dinner -- San Marco, Castelli
A rare Michelin 1 star that is also genuinely traditional; This is a bit more expensive than the others (except Antine), however, worth every penny. The tajarin here (just butter and white truffles - but ignore the truffles) was I think the best (or perhaps tied with a maccheroni with duck at Giusti some years ago, and better than my most recent visit to Giusti (October '08)) pasta I have ever had anywhere. Secondi were exceptional and the service is warm and caring, and not too overly formal/French, as sometimes happens to Michelin starred places. Wine list is good, not exceptional, but prices are very fair.