The Piedmont region of Italy, specifically Bra, is considered the home of the slow food movement or as some others call it, farm to table. Then on top of that, you have Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Moscatti, etc. wine regions right in the middle of it. Basically, my heaven on earth is in this area. When we were planning on where to go on vacation between Dwight finishing work and us heading back to the states, I raised my hand and asked if we could throw in Piedmont and he was kind enough to oblige me. We didn’t have many days there so I scoured all food sites, magazines, chef recommendations, to try and narrow down what it was we could fit in.
I found a great little apartment on airBnB that had an amazing view of the Duomo and the snow capped Alps in the distance. When we eventually found it (navigation can be a bit off and it’s Italy), unpacked and got comfortable, we were visited by this little kitten that feigned hunger and homelessness. Smart little guy. He was actually the neighbors kitten and we were suckered into feeding him salamis and cheeses and letting him stay, hang out, sleep over. It was totally worth it do the fact I think it was a kitten masquerading as a puppy. Before I digress more, back on topic of food and wine.
The first night we ate dinner at La Piola. The second and affordable restaurant of Chef Enrico Crippa, from Restaurant Duomo. Not everyone can sit down every night on vacation and eat a thousand dollar dinner, so he opened La Piola as a way to offer his food to most people. The minute we walked in I could tell it was a step up due to the way we were immediately greeted with a smile and a gracious wait staff. There was a black board menu with straight forward Piedmont food and regional wines by the glass. We started with a glass of Dolcetto and a Barbara d’Asti that we had with their sample antipasta platter. This was not your marinated vegetables, cheese and charcuterie antipasta. It had Russian Salad, Salted Cod Dumplings, Vitallo Tonnato, Herb Roasted Pork with quick pickled vegetables, Veal Tartar with parmesan, Asparagus tossed in balsamic vinegar and thinly sliced Roasted Veal Tongue with a vegetable relish. It was all seriously amazing! Next up was our primi course and I ordered the tajarin with a veal sauce. Tajarin is the regional egg pasta. Dwight ordered the agnoletti stuffed with chicken and veal with a light consome as the sauce. Yup, it was all fabulous. Next up was the secondi course. I ordered the asparagus with a Dijon aoli, salsa verde and egg whites. The best asparagus dish I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Perfectly executed. Dwight got the veal steak that was cooked perfectly medium-rare, puree of potatoes and an exceptional béchamel sauce with castelmagno cheese. One of the better meals I’ve ever had without a doubt. We were starting this out right!
The next day we opted for wine tasting in Barolo and renting a vespa. Wine tasting and vespas just go together I believe. Italy is different from Napa or Sonoma in the sense you can’t just walk up to vineyards and have a tasting. They have enotecas and communal cantinas as a way to taste a bunch of different wines, from separate vineyards, from the same area. You can set up appointments for a lot of different vineyards but considering the time allowed and Dwight’s introduction to the wines, I opted for the enotecas and communal cantinas. So, off we went to Barolo in our trusty little red vespa that neither one of had ever driven before…. To taste lots of wine…. First stop was lunch where I had gnocchi with a castelmagno cheese sauce (I think the gnocchis were really just puffy clouds) and Dwight got risotto with Barolo. All very straight forward and better than anything you really get in the states. After lunch we head over to Marchessi Vineyard. One of the few vineyards that have their own tasting room. We tasted a Roero Arneis, a white that Dwight fell in love with. A 2012 Barbaresco (only winery allowed to bottle bararesco outside of Barbaresco) and a phenomenal 2011 Barolo. We walked out with all three.
Next stop was the Regional Barolo Enoteca where there were 12 Barolos on tap (actual wine enotec). We went through all 12 and talked about them. It truly is the best way to learn about wine. We walked out with quite a few from there too. Enough that I had to strap some on my back because we filled the vespa with wine. We decided to vespa over to La Morra to maybe go to their enoteca or just have a glass of wine since I read that it had one of the best views. It didn’t disappoint. We opted for a glass of wine outside and a caprese salad. All in all it was a good day. Not to mention we did survive riding a vespa through Italian wine country and not dying.
Not to be outdone by wine and food, the cycling is amazing there too. The next day we headed out on our bikes. I thought the first stop should be Cherasco as it is a beautiful medieval town and probably one of the best places in the world to eat Lumachi, aka, snails. This was a must-do for me, and Dwight had never had snails, so I told him it was a must-do for him too. We split a big plate of them during lunch, along with some Arneis and Favorita wine. We really do live on a line of lots of fun and lots of activity! Our ride back was kinda cut a bit short by a few miles. It’s a vacation, it’s not like we are in the middle of training for anything until we get back. However, the riding really was spectacular.
The roads were empty, cyclists were everywhere, if there was a car, they respected you. I actually felt safer out on my bike than driving around in the car. It was a perfect day until dinner. I won’t harp too much on it but it was one of the worst meals I had living in Europe and we were living in Germany…. I had read all types of great things and reviews about Osteria La Libera. Maybe back in the day it was good but when a chef tries to pass off dry chewy shoes as slow braised veal and Wonder Flour gravy as a Barolo sauce, you’ve lost all respect for the kitchen and integrity as a chef.
The next and final day meant I went shopping in Alba in the morning while Dwight went for a run. We swung back into La Piola for lunch before heading into Barbaresco quickly on our way to Verbania. Again, lunch was great, the only deviation was their baked chicken with balsamic braised shallots on top of a rustic potato mash. Again, simple, regional and well executed food.
Alba was great. Barolo was great. Barbaresco was great. Seriously, everything about the region was great. I’d love to go back one day, during the fall, when the wine is being harvested and the white truffles are being foraged. It would be amazing!! Even if I don’t, at least I got one great trip and love that Dwight enjoyed it there too.