I have just gorged myself on all kinds of goodness, and washed down with amazing wine. Not necessarily that the wine was amazing itself, but that it is sooooo good, and is still nothing special, around here that is. Here even the “average” wine is stellar.
“Here” being Piemont. Out of curiosity I asked if the restaurant had any wine from anywhere other than Italy, to which my hosts Alessandra and Gianni looked at me like I was an infant and explained not only were the wines, cheeses, pastas, vegetables, breads, oils, grappas, etc., all from Italy, they were all from Piemont, and then got into a discussion about if they were all from this particular part of Piemont or, perhaps, from “foreign” parts of the province, all of a few kilometers away.
So: started with a Barbera d’Alba, a small plate of rolled duck with herbs, another course of onions stuffed with meat in a cheese sauce, change to Barbaresco (oh my, yummy), gnocchi in a creamy cheese sauce, risotto con fiori di zucca (Ale can correct my spelling in the morning), and…I bailed on the secondi, because… there was a table of cheese that was speaking very softly “Signore, Mark, you want me. Save room, because I am worth it”, so I squeezed in some…cheeses that I don’t remember the names. A ricotta that actually had flavour, another soft cheese, something aged and crumbly, another firm cheese, something else that had little taste, and two magnificent bleu cheeses, all drizzled with various jams, compotes, and/or honey.
Still had to have the typical local dessert, which I heard was a sort of chocolate pudding, but my taste buds had long ago given up any hope of tasting anything other than… my glass of grappa, a Sibona Barolo. Oh oh oh.
And the best part? The place just had a one-piece-of-paper menu, changing daily, with a few items on it. My hosts just said “bring a little of this, some of that, can our guest have 1/2 of X and 1/2 of Y?”, and they opened magnums of wine for us – drink what you want, pay for what you drink. Then plonked down a 1.5 liter (!!!) bottle of grappa and three glasses. I don’t know what tickled me more, the happy coincidence that this was my favorite brand of grappa (but a variety I hadn’t tried yet) or the fact that they nonchalantly sat a bottle in front of me that would have cost 200 euros or more in a store in Amsterdam.
It was awesome. So normal – this was not a fancy restaurant, there were whole families there with kids and all – and so relaxed and happy. The waiter (owner? maitre d’?) was all smiles and laughing and enjoying everything. The food was great, but everything was very unpretentious. In Amsterdam or Columbus or many other big cities this would have been haute cuisine: here it is… dinner. How cool is that? The only tragedy was that I felt if I had a meat dish that I would explode mid-gorgonzola, and since we were all looking tired I decided to skip the espresso. There’s always tomorrow!
[Note from 2020: I am revisiting these posts and fixing broken photo links, etc. This meal that I described still stands up as one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had.]