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A Week in Piemonte: Returning to Past Favorite Restaurants

Peter Rodgers | Apr 29, 201504:14 PM

After a brief sojourn to Emilia-Romagna, we headed west to Piemonte for a six day stay, that included nine meaningful meals (and a couple of pizzas). As noted in allende’s separate post, we were delighted to join him and mrs. allende for a lunch at Da Bardon and a dinner at Il Centro. My wife and I share with them a great love of Italy, Piemonte, all manner of Italian food and Piemonte's remarkable red wines. And that’s just the beginning of the many things we have in common. So we owe a debt to this Board for having introduced us to what we trust will be a lasting friendship, built in no small part on the glories on the restaurants all four of us adore in the Langhe and Roero.

Our nine meals included reservations at some restaurants in the Langhe/Roero that we have visited for decades, a few that we have tried before but wanted to know better and several that were wholly new (to us). So as not to exhaust myself and the readers here, I will use this post to report on our return visits to long-term favorites and come back to the others in a later note.

As allende reported earlier, we shared a very good lunch at Da Bardon. The restaurant, which is set in the countryside outside of the village of San Marzano Oliveto, defines the art of the trattoria in Piemonte. We love all of the classic regional dishes served at Bardon: carne battuta, vitello tomato, agnolotti al plin, tagliarin al sugo, rabbit, local chesses, etc. And the wine list is a catalogue of great producers of barbera, dolcetto, barbaresco and barolo at very reasonable prices. This time we took advantage of the arrival of spring with a beautiful salad and a tagliarin with asparagus, in addition to the tagliarin al sugo and an order of bollito misto. Everything lived up to our expectations, save the bollito, which seemed rather tired. I added as cheese course, which, as usual, was excellent. We drank red wine: A very good barbaresco and a solid barbera, the details of which are in allende’s post.

Our second meal with the famiglia allende was a dinner at Il Centro. Il Centro, which we “discovered” some twenty years ago, remains our favorite restaurant in Piemonte. As has been noted, Enrico Cordero sets a standard of service, warmth and commitment to his clientele that is unparalleled just about anywhere. And Elide’s cooking keeps getting better and better, without ever losing its traditional focus. My only regret in this most recent visit is that the room was too busy to allow Enrico to guide us through our meal (and much to our surprise, he has added a written menu, explaining that it takes too much time to make all the rounds when the restaurant in crowded and that foreign customers want to know prices). We ordered well with the help of the staff, but I would have preferred to simply put myself in Enrico’s hands, especially with respect to the antipasti. On this visit, our meal consisted of a steamed artichoke salad with a light anchovy sauce, Il Centro’s cold vitello (with a mayonnaise rather than a tuna sauce), plin and a tagliarin, both of which were best of breed. Then came the cheeses that allende has described (the robbiolo was mind blowing). I even made it to the dolce, consuming a coffee ice and pastry combination. We polished off three bottles of wine among the four of us, including an arneis, a Ceretto barolo and Hilberg barbera. Remarkably, the bill for this great meal and most significant wines came in at something like 180 Euros per couple. I don’t know how they do it.

We returned to two other favorites: I Bologna in Rochetta Tanaro and Antica Corona Real da Renzo in Cervere. I Bologna was a great success. Da Renzo disappointed us.

Our meal at I Bologna was on a quiet Wednesday evening, when padrone Carlo Bologna, who is the face of the restaurant, was off visiting friends. We missed his larger than life persona. In his absence, the dining room was left to chef Beppe Bologna’s wife Christina, who nevertheless took very good care of us.

I Bologna still adheres to the traditional trattoria form: There is a set menu of two antipasti, a choice of primi and then a choice of secondi followed by cheese or dessert. There is no written menu. We had a flawless meal that included, as our antipasti, a warm egg and asparagus combination, the best carne battuta of the trip and a roast quail and bitter greens salad. Our pastas were a spinach tagliarin with a fresh tomato sauce and a superb agnolotti al plin. Then we moved to secondi consisting a brilliant roasted suckling pig with pork sausage and sautéed onion and peppers wrapped in pancetta and a classic braised rabbit liver. We even managed dolci: crème brulee and a panna cotta. Washed down by an excellent Pellisero 2010 Barbaresco, our meal at I Bologna was as good as we have had there over many years.

Sadly, our visit to Da Renzo did not live up to memory. We enjoyed the flawless service and the chance to eat in the restaurant’s lovely garden for the first time, but we came away with the sense that the place was trying too hard to live up to its two Michelin star rating and that in certain respects, it had lost its anchor. That said, there were some nice touches: Amuse bouche that included a very good zucchini quiche topped with pickled onions and peppers and a best ever insalada russa. But a spring salad with goat cheese seemed confused and another which combined Ligurian red prawns with asparagus, bottarga and a poached egg ended up being just a mess of salty food (although the prawns themselves were very good). We moved on to two pastas including a forgettable ravioli and order of the restaurant’s signature gobbi (tortelloni filled with goat cheese) that did not live up to memory. We finished with a cheese course – good but no match for Il Centro. I sum, although one meal, good or bad, is not always a good gage of a restaurant’s overall quality, I would put Da Renzo at the bottom of our list next time we visit the region.

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