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A Week in Piemonte: New and Renewed Acquaintances

PH Rodgers | May 1, 201504:03 PM

In the 18 months since our last visit to Piemonte, we had been reading here, courtesy of allende and other good reporters, of a number of promising restaurants that either were entirely new to us or seemed to be worthy of another try. We managed five meals in this category on our recent visit and enjoyed all of them.

We had a fine dinner on the night we arrived in Piemonte at San Marco in Canelli. At San Marco, as at Il Centro, the padrona, Mariucca, cooks; Piercarlo, her husband, runs the front of the house with help from some very polished staff members. He is a bit shy; she is very warm and speaks excellent English. San Marco was not new to us, but it may have been ten years since our last meal there. Coming back proved to be a very good decision. Our antipasti were superb. My wife had Mariucca’s vitello tonnato (our first of the trip and one of our best), which she serves with roasted peppers, also filled with tuna. I ordered steamed articokes with a fonduta; also very good. Primi were plin and a tagliarin with duck ragu, both solid. Then a classic veal cheek brasato (accompanied by some of the best sautéed spinach I’ve ever tasted) and a plate of fried artichokes (I have a weakness for artichokes, hence the double down). We still had (barely) enough room for dessert, which consisted of an assortment of sweets, a bunch of friandise and a gift of birthday cake from the large table of Italians celebrating next to us.

We stopped for a lunch at Il Veglio near La Morra. It was a brilliantly sunny day, which allowed all the customers to eat on the terrace (this is a real treat, as place sits just above glorious Barolo vineyards). We had not been overly impressed by Veglio on our first visit two years ago, but the place is now full of promise. The original owners recently sold to a team of four young people, who appear to be very excited about their new project. They have redecorated a bit and, despite only having been open for six weeks, seem to be in command of both the kitchen and the service. We started with plate of asparagus and fonduta topped with a poached egg and a carne battuta (which, as best I can tell, is the same as carne cruda!). Then, two orders of tagliarin al ragu (excellent, although the portion size was a bit small). We finished the meal with an terrific cheese plate.

We had a second lunch at La Torre in Cherasco, another restaurant that we had tried just once before. We had not been impressed the first time, but after this visit, we fully understand the enthusiasm of a number of this Board’s participants. As antipasti, we had cheese stuffed, deep fried zucchini blossoms (superb) and a vitello tonnato that was a good as any on the trip. Two pastas followed: a wonderful tagliarin with a Bra sausage ragu and an excellent green tortelli filled with creamy goat cheese in a light tomato sauce.

Following suggestions from henjet and allende, we stopped for lunch on a third day at Centro Storica, an osteria in old city of Serralunga d’Alba. We were charmed. The place is tiny; it has just a few table on the ground floor and a few more one level up. The menu is simple, the owners/staff friendly and the wine list quite impressive. We had another vitello tonnato (just okay) and two orders of tagliarin. We’ll go back for sure.

We spend our last evening in Piemonte at Guido Restorante, located at the Fontana Fredda winery near Serralunga. Although the restaurant is just a year or so old and was entirely new to us, it was a bit of a sentimental journey. Some here may recall that the origins of the restaurant are in Costigliole d’Asti, where Guido Alciati and his wife Lidia created the original Guido Ristorante shortly after the War. For something like 15 years, we made annual pilgrimages to Guido and in the process learned about the traditional food of the region (Lidia’s plin were world famous and her tuna stuffed peppers still sing to me) and the amazing Piemontese red wines that have kept us coming back ever since. Guido, despite its two Michelin stars, was completely traditional: nothing in writing other than the wine list, a classic six course tasting menu, fantastic cheeses and wonderful attention from the family and staff, especially Piero Alciati, who took over the dining room upon the early death of his father.

Guido at Costigliole closed in the late 90s, due we understand to a falling out among the family members. While Lidia and her children continued on at various restaurants, none lived up the original. That said, based admittedly on just one visit, Piero (and his brother Ugo who handles cooking duties), finally may have figured it out.

The “new” Guido at Serralunga is set in a magnificent hunting lodge that, according Piero, belonged to one of Italy’s kings. It is a very elegant setting, which when combined with very polished service, might rival some of the three star venues in Paris or elsewhere in France (e.g. L’Ambroisie). But as in the days of Costigliole, it is Piero who makes all the difference in the dining room, charming every customer, lingering to talk about wine, food and the region and making sure that the restaurant never misses a beat.

With help from Piero, we picked a 2008 Pira Barolo Vignarionda – certainly one of the best bottles of the week. The wine drank well with antipasti consisting of an onion stuffed with sausage (a throwback to the original Guido) and a good carne cruda. Secondi were two kinds of plin (one, the classic version served in a napkin, the other with veal jus) that were mind-bendingly good and a superb tagliarin with black truffles and porcini. We had one secondo, a veal loin made a la Milanese (it would have been better with veal scallopine) and an array of beautiful spring vegetables. We could not manage cheese, but we did try the ice cream (fiordilatte mantecato al momento), which is so good that it just about brings tears.

In sum, the new Guido seems to be hitting on all cylinders. We cannot wait to go back.

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