Four of us split a holiday week between the Alba area in Piemonte and the Amalfi Coast. This report focused on our food adventures in Piemonte.
1. Because of flight delays, we missed a planned lunch at Osteria Veglio near La Morra. While waiting for friends to arrive at Malpensa airport, we filled in with a lunch at Al Cammineto in Cameri, near Novarra (about 30 minutes from Malpensa). This family run restaurant had a nice wine list and a fairly sophisticated menu. We had starters consisting of a traditional cannelloni (just okay) and lovely zucchini and mushroom vegetable combination. Secondi were a melanzana parmigiana and a roullade of quail and foie gras -- both good but not memorable.
2. Dinner on our first night in the Langhe was at Il Castello di Sinio in the village of Sineo near Grinzane Cavour, where we stayed during our visit to the area. Denise, our Italo-American owner/host, is also the chef at the restored castle. She does fairly traditional Piemontese food, styled a bit to the tastes of her mostly American clientele. The wine list is limited, but we did manage to find an excellent 2009 Sandrone Barbera. We were now four persons, which allowed us to explore the menu in detail Denis served smoked swordfish and a delicate citrus salad as a teaser -- excellent As starters, we had vitello tonnato (kind of clumsy); stuffed zucchini flowers (good but heavy); a salad of grilled scallops that received high marks, another salad prepared with foie gras. Afterward, a very good pappardelle with porcini; a roasted lamb loin (well prepared but the meat was tough); a superb tagliarin with a ragu of salsicie di Bra; classic and well made agnolotti a la Guido; and a not very memorable roasted rabbit dish. Service was attentive and the small dining foom was very pleasant.
3. Lunch on our second day was at la Luna nel Pozzo in Neive. We enjoyed this restaurant in years past but on this Sunday, the food disappointed us somewhat. However, appetizers mostly lived up to memory: A flan made with pumpkin, a quail salad, a good but heavy polenta and sausage dish, a solid version of carne cruda. Then a tagliarin with a ragu of tomato and sausage that was very average and another main that did not make my notes. The wine list was considerably shorter than I had remembered, and we ended up with a Barbaresco that was too young -- we should have been warned, I thought.
4. We had dinner that night at Il Centro in Priocca We have eaten here many times over more than a decade, and although, we had not been to the area in the last three years, the owner, Enrico Cordero welcomed us as old friends, taking very good care of us despite a full house. Before we left, he gave us a tour of his newly refurbished wine cellar: 18k bottles -- a breathtaking collection of wines from the Langhe, Roero and elsewhere. We drank a lovely Schiopetto Tocai and an extraordinary '97 Barolo from the small Monforte producer Paruso. The food was fabulous -- our best of the trip. A teaser consisted of a little tangy red pepper filled with a classic mix of tuna, anchovy and olives -- we could have tripled down on it. Two antipasti: a delicate white fish with little fall vegetables and then a gorgeous fonduta with porcini and our first white truffles. Two primi: a best of breed tagliarin with tomato and sausage ragu (the four of us are fools for tagliarin in all forms) followed by an agnolotti made with porcini, also fabulous. We skipped secondi in favor of Cordero's impressive cheese cart. Then a super panna cotta.
5. On the third day of our visit we had lunch on the patio at Osteria Il Vignaiolo, a trattoria near La Morra. W e had first courses of vitello tonnato, traditional agnolotti del plin, tagliarin al sugo, a nice cheese filled ravioli and for some of us simple grilled lamb chops or braised lamb shanks. The wine list was long and well priced. We never did get to Osteria Veglio, but for straight forward traditional cooking, we certainly would recommend Il Vignaiolo.
6. Dinner on the third day was at la Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe. This charming restaurant, new for us, is carefully run by three brothers, one who cooks and two who manage the dining room. The food combines traditional Piemontese standards and creative alternatives, mostly fish. Everything we ordered was well executed. An excellent set of staters: pesce crudo ; one tagliarin with a customary ragu and another with porcini; and cheese filled ravioli. These were among the best of the trip's primi . Secondi were a swordfish dish; a take on traditional finanziera with fried veal and porcini; and a sort of porcini timbale built upon thin slices of crisp, fried potatoes. We were very happy with all of these dishes. Wines, from an extensive and well priced list, were a Ceretto Arneis and a superb 1999 single vineyard Barbaresco from i Produttori di Barbaresco. We certainly will return to il Coccinella.
7. Our last major meas was a lunch at Antica Corona Real in Cervere. From what one can tell, the restaurant, at which we had dined several times in earlier years, has not been spoiled by its recent elevation to two Michelin stars. The elegant dining rooms are the same. Chefs (father and son I think) and the padronna, a very serious lady, all were present. There is an excellent wine list from which the padronna chose for us a very nice 2010 Arneis and a 2008 Barbera d'Alba from a small producer. There was a little frittata with pickled onions as the gift from the kitchen. Then, the four of us shared an antipasto that consisted of layers of peppers, eggplant and a delicate cheese somewhat like fresh mozzarella. Afterward, a beautiful white truffle, egg and cardoon appetizer; two glorious tortellini dishes, one with cheese ( a signature dish), the other with a guinea hen filling (even better). Secondi included a traditional fried veal with baby vegetables and a braised rabbit liver (perhaps the best main dish of the trip). Desserts also were very good.
We spent the balance of of holiday in Sorrento, using it as a base for driving and eating along the Amalfi Coast. We had four significant meals, two of which were quite good: Quattro Passi in Nerano along the Coast south of Massa Lubrense and the restaurant in the San Pietro hotel near Positano. Quattro Passi is worth special mention as our best meal in the area -- beautiful pastas, including one memorable tagliarini with a pesto sauce and superb shellfish. We also tried Il Buco in Sorrento and la Tavera del Capitano in Marina del Cantone. Neither lived up to their star ratings, although we liked the seaside dining room at Taverna del Capitano. Notably the food throughout the region was very expensive, as if they expected only rich Americans. Even trattorias where we went for piazza and other simple meals were over priced. Local wines however were a good value and generally very pleasant.
via Vespucci, 13/n, Massa Lubrense, Campania 80061, IT
Taverna del Capitano
Piazza delle Sirene, 10-11, Massa Lubrense, Campania 80061, IT
Piazzetta San Francesco, 2, Cetara, Campania 84010, IT
II Rampa Marina Piccola (Piazza S. Antonino), 5,, Sorrento, Campania 80067, IT
Via Umberto I,8, Priocca, Piemonte 12040, IT
Frazione Annunziata,9, La Morra, Piemonte 12064, IT