Up to Piemonte for the weekend. Three very good meals, two dinners and a lunch. Then down to Liguria, for another lunch in Varigotti (see next post).
Diner at La Torre (under the arches) in Cherasco. Wonderful trattoria seating about 30. Good eclectic (recited) menu changing often. Many traditional Piemontese dishes as well as ones that are traditional but you just don't see anymore. Very careful and thoughtful preparations. Not the usual Piemontese trattoria. Great wine list, very reasonably priced. Wonderful dining room personality. Dining room full, all Italians except for us (no foreigners go to Cherasco in February, particularly at night). Here's what we had: gnocchi al castelmagno; tajarin col sumo classico - vitello e fegatini di pollo; pancetta di maiale glassato in forno con verdura; piatto di formaggi; semifreddo al zabaglione; bunet. A particular comment on the pancetta di maiale. An old, old Piemontese dish that we've never seen before in a restaurant . Rich, rich rich, with all the fat that your cardiologist never wanted you to have. Absolutely incredible dish. Had a 2005 Barolo Elio Altare to drink.
Lunch the next day at Osteria Veglio in Annunziata. I know some on this board much prefer Il Vignaiolo in Santa Maria, about three km. up the hill toward La Morra. We don't. For us there is no comparison. The ownership presence in the dining room is much better here as the two sisters are animated, engaging and in general don't appear to lose a step even with a full dining room (that is not the case at Vignaiolo). The dining room itself is more open, the tables spaced better and the decoration is more comfortable; the felling is one of warmth.
The most important difference is in the quality and preparation of the food. Even the bread (how do they make those addictive rolls? a triple rise?) In our opinion, the preparation is clearly superior here, as are the ingredients used. It does cost more (probably by a third), but well worth it. Had: carciofi croccanti, puree di ceci sopra un letto di spinaci, fonduta leggera; tajarin con sugo di carne; ravioli del plin cotto in brodo e serviti al tovagliolo; Coniglio con olive, the coniglio being a good example of the difference in the quality between here and Vignaiolo. A 2006 Mauro Veglio barbera. Very good wine list, reasonably priced (and with some 1996 and 2000 Baroli still on the list). A very good (written) menu. I don't mean to disparage Vignaiolo. It is a fine trattoria. We think this is better.
Dinner: A great meal at Il Centro in Priocca. Our first time there, but we hope to be back in a few weeks. For us, on par with Cascinalenuovo in Isola D'Asti and Locanda nel Borgo Antinco outside of Barolo as far as cooking skill, although all three are different from each other in many ways. The skill level is the same.
Enrico Cordero is the perfect patron. Warm, gregarious, solicitous when called for, just right for the role he inherited. He is unfazed and even with a full room of about 50, recited the menu over and over to his clients... with patience that was admirable. His wife, Elide, runs a superb kitchen. The room was full, all Italians except for us. Beautifully done room, with some original art deco touches. The menu (recited by Enrico) changes often, and is again (at least this past Saturday), a mix of traditional dishes and ones you rarely see i.e. the finanziera of capretto; finanziera of veal one sees once in a while, but capretto rarely. Here's what we had, which gives a good indication of the type of food to expect. Three antipasti - vitello cotto al sale, thinly sliced and served with a capered maionese (Salsa Cavour); fresh cod lightly cooked, served with olives, anchovies and tomato; cabbage stuffed with meat/ sausage served on a puree of Jerusalem artichokes. For primi ,tajarin with a sauce of coniglio; agnolotti stuffed with red potatoes (un-peeled) and fish. For the secondo, finanziera di capretto; very, very rich and absolutely wonderful. As far as offal goes, this was the best I've had in Italy (have had some better/different ones in France, because the French really know how to do finanziera). For dessert, semifreddo di torrone; crema di limone. A 2006 Pomorosso Barbera to drink. Wonderful meal and service and a feeling that they were happy to be there and were happy you were there as well.
via Garibaldi,13, Cherasco CN, Piedmont 12062, IT