Note, this review is from 2006 but we eat there every year and it still is great. Since then they have added an outdoor patio for summer dining with fantastic views over the Barolo valley.
Every winter we like to try some new (to us) restaurants, to evaluate, hopefully enjoy, and decide whether to add to our short list of restaurants for next season.
The Osterie del Vignaiolo is in the little village of Santa Maria, about halfway up the hill on the road from the Alba highway to La Morra. It’s not very grand outside and is right on the main road (can’t miss it) but as we have so often found in Piemonte, drab exteriors can conceal gastronomical surprises.
The restaurant was small but not claustrophobic and although it was full on Saturday lunch-time, we felt quite cosy and intimate. The service was very good with two attentive waiters, Giancarlo and Massimo (new note, actually the owner), who speaks good English. The first surprise was excellent homemade-bread (including focaccie with anchovies) and heated grissini, not necessary but a nice touch. We decided not to have the menu degustazione since we wanted to try as many dishes as we could, and we were not disappointed, maybe the best restaurant we have tried this year.
First antipasto was on the house and was a ceci (chickpea) crepe crimped into a pouch and stuffed with ricotta cheese, then baked until crisp at the top. Delicious and unusual.
Our second antipasti was Cacioffi stufati con crostone di polenta e scaglie di grani (baked artichokes served with crusty polenta and shaved Parmagiano), artichokes are in season now, these were very tender and drizzled with olive oil, a wonderful combination.
Next antipasti was Tortino di cardi con salsa al castlemagno (tart stuffed with cardoons and served with castlemagno cheese sauce), again delicious, you could really taste the cheese in the salsa, which mopped up the crust.
Rina's primo was Taglionini al ragu di salsiccia (fresh angel hair pasta with sausage sauce), I ordered this as a test as I thought it sounded very ordinary, but it was much more, the very fine minced sausage sauce blended into the thin pasta superbly.
Tim had Tortelli di Fonduta con purea di bietolini which was a flat pasta stuffed with cheese sauce and with a sauce of bietolini (a green aromatic herb) which was divine and then he elected to have a fresh truffle shaved over which made it super-divine combination of flavours.
Here we must make a note that the wine list was excellent with not only a huge selection of Barolo’s, Barbaresco’s, Barbera’s but many other local wines plus some French and German imports. Since we were on a budget we chose a 2001 Barberesco from the Produttoroi, which by now we had finished, so we ordered a half bottle of local Barolo, a Roche Castagno 2000 from the neighbouring frazione of Annunziata, a teeny bit oaky for my taste, but an excellent compliment for the secondi piatti.
For secondi piatti Rina had Stinco d’agnello arrosto (roasted shank of lamb), a bit dry, however the side dish of boiled shallots acted as a sauce and the carciofi fritters were excellent.
Tim had Coscia d’Anatra stufate di Arneis (duck thigh cooked in Arneis wine), which he polished off with gusto, Rina doesn't (or didn't in those days) like duck, but trying a taste it was not too gamy and not overly cooked and too rich a sauce which often is the case with this bird.
We were now quite stuffed but the dolce looked so intriguing that, in a departure from our usual habit to share, we each had one. Rina had Semifreddo marone con purea di cachi (frozen chestnut custard with persimmon sauce) – running out of divine words! And Tim went for the Gelato alla liquorizia (liquorice ice cream), which was also incredibly divine. Both were served with a homemade biscuit with glazed hazel-nuts, very nice and delicious touch.
We were left an impression that the food is very much to season and everyone eating left with big smiles. A sure sign of a great Osterie is when everyone starts chatting to the other tables, us too even though we were the only foreigners.
And the bill for 2, including 2 bottles of wine and a serving of tartufo, 135 euro.
L'Osteria del Vignaiolo
Frazione Santa Maria, La Morra, Piemonte 12064, IT