Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Perfect addio al'Italia

Via Luca Della Robbia, Torino, July 25, 2016—

ANOTHER RESTAURANT on the list provided by the chef at La Baritiera the other night, this was engaging, sophisticated, and downright comfortable. The moment I sat down I looked Barack Obama in the eye — he had an Americano in his hand, and was smiling, and I thought he was the kind of guy and this the kind of place that would be a perfectly natural fit. A comforting thought these days.

I wasn't all that hungry, having spent Happy Hour down the street with a huge platter of goodies to go with my Negroni. So I settled for —
But first, the amuse-guele: a marvelous version of baccala, thick (in fact gooey) and dusted with chili powder. Brilliant.
Next came, of course, crudo di fassone three ways, on a piece of cold black slate. The pure form is on the left; on the right is a looser texture. I asked the waiter if the difference was simply a question of the quantity of fat, and he said No, c'e un tipo di salsiccia: but it was clearly veal, not pork, and I didn't see anything susagelike about it…
Then plin d'ortiche e seirass, the Piemontese pinched ravioli, tiny and delicious, filled with nettles and the local version of ricotta, and full of umame, since this version is garnished with seaweed and combined with that baccala.
I wasn't going to have dessert, but how to resist Bavarese di finocchio, sorbetto della mela verde, sedano e biscotti di Refrancore? The Bavarian recalled the texture, but certainly not the taste, of the baccala opener; it was topped with a light green-apple sorbetto and garnished, as you see, improbably, with slender stalks of celery (it tasted like Sardinian celery, but must have been local) and a dusting of powdered biscotti. Again, brilliant. 

Grillo Vignammare 
Barbera Brezza, Casale Monferrato, 2014
Biodynamic and "natural" wines, more successful in the Barbera, I think, than the Grillo.

Ristorante Consorzio, Via Monte di Pista 23, Torino

Gaudenzio, Via Gaudenzio Ferrari 2H, Torino; 011 8600242

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Natural" wines

Via Luca Della Robbia, Torino, July 24, 2016—

I ASKED THE CHEF at La Baritiera a couple of days ago where I should eat in Torino, and he gave me four recommendations. I ignored the list yesterday in favor of a return to a previous success, but determined to check his list today. Only one of the four was open on a Sunday night, so off I went to the Mole Antioniellana district, clear across town again. (The Metro makes this fairly easy.)

I ate light, from a menu that in fact offers few choices. But how interesting these choices are! After an amuse-bouche involving orzo, tiny bits of ham and peach, a light balsamic sauce and a few chives, I began with 
Ventresca tonno / ciliegie / zenzero

Tuna belly, lightly flavored wiith ginger, seared barely cooked, and served with cherry compote. This seems rather a Japanese dish: pure, restrained, but sophisticated, and carefully presented.

I asked for a white wine. Dry or sweet, the waitress asked. A young man brought a bottle, poured a little, and invited me to taste. What is it, I asked. Taste first; I'll explain later. I approved the wine, sound but a little musky, and he divulged the label: Bourgogne aligoté.

My secondo was
Petto d'anatra / pesca / rabarbaro

and turned out to be equally Japanesey, at least as I see things. Again, the duck was seared to perfection. It was in big chunks, and set off my bits of peach which had somehow been "turned," trimmed into little spheres, like melon balls. The rhubarb was stems, no more than a half-inch wide and perhaps three inches long; and it had been blanched so that it was tender but kept its slightly astringent flavor.

My red didn't satisfy me, and I asked if it were typical of its label. Why? Is there a problem? I handed my glass to the wine fellow, who sniffed it, went back inside (I was dining on the sidewalk terrace), and brought another bottle of the same wine. I've made enough wine to know what "brett" is, the dread dirty-socks aroma and flavor that can infect certain wines.

All the wines here are apparently these newfangled "natural" wines, made without sulfur, left on the lees, allowed to go through secondary fermentation in the bottle. I think this eventualiry is a mistake. Biodynamics should only be allowed to go so far.

We had quite a little convesation about all this, and then the fellow brought me a third glass, by far the most interesting of them all, an orange-colored wine, very fruity, tasting almost of rhubarb; a wine that would have been perfect with the duck.

And then when I declined dessert a fourth glass of wine appeared, the first from this part of Italy, a Barbera, "natural" of course with qualities that masked the varietal at first; but it came through after a while, bringing notes of licorice with it…

All in all a most interesting evening.

Bourgogne aligoté
Péssico, Nicolás Martas (Crianza), 2014
Ansonica, Societa Agricola Santa Maria in Montalcino, 2015
Barbera del Monferrato Superiore, Tenuta Migliavacca, 2013
Gaudenzio, Via Gaudenzio Ferrari 2H, Torino; 011 8600242

High in the hills

Chianocco, July 22, 2026— 

DINNER WITH MY Mompantero friends again, this time in a Slow Food-recommended spot up in the hills in a little town not far from tonight's hotel.

There was no menu, and I'm afraid I zoned out in all the Italian spoken between the waitress, the cook (an acquaintance of Andrea's of course, as everyone in the valley seems to be), my friends… consequently, and particularly since I'm writing this a couple of days later, I'll have to rely on the photos, which aren't as good as they might be. 

We ate on a porch outside, beginning a little after eight, enjoying the evening breezes, and began with a series of antipasti:
 And then went on to a beautiifully prepared risotto, flavored with erbette — little herbs of some kind cut from the garden. 

We had to have a pasta, of course: fortunately a small serving, as everything had been on this fixed menu:
Bigoli, I would say it was, in a fine tomato sauce with a disscreet hint of meat.
By now I was intetested in eatling lightly, so for a secondo I chose (as did Andrea) another simple course, zucchini blossoms, battered and deep-fried.

Like the antipasti, the dessert seemed a little fussy in its presentation — lavorato, overworked. No denying it was good, though:
little servings of puff-paste (on the left) and apricot mousse, with good pastry cream and the obligatory dusting, in this case cocoa.

The dinner was long, the courses small, yet we were quite satisfied and had a fine evening. We did have to send back the first wine we'd ordered, a Timorasso that was both maderized and corked. Otherwise it was a fine evening.

Arneis, Teerre di Vei (Langhe)
Rosso, IULI Umberta (Monferrato)

La Baritiera, via Baritiera, 10, Chianocco (TO); +39 0122 647614

Back to Dausin

Torino, July 23, 2016—

Two years ago we found by chance an osteria here that we liked very much, and I decided to return today — for two reasons: to see if it (or I) had changed; and to see what difference would be made by my eating their alone, instead of with the elegant, good-humored woman I've been missing so terribly this last month.

I entered the restaurant promptly at eight o'clock, when it opens for service. This is absurdly early for an Italian restaurant, and for quite a few minutes I was of course alone, facing a television screen I managed to ignore.

I opted for only three items: 
Acciughe al bagnetto con crostini di pane e riccioli di burro
Insalate di lattughe, mozzarella, speck, uovo sodo e paté d'olive
Carne cruda alla Piemontese con sedano, noci e scaglie di grana
I chose the anchovies to report on them to Giovanna who adores the Roman version. These were marvelous, the "pesto" thick and strong and substantial. You spread a good quantity of butter on a slice of bread, then heap on the salty anchovy smothered in its sauce, and the whole thing becomes a perfectly integrated thing. One of the Hundred Plates for sure. 
The salad was as described, tender yet meaty lettuce standing up well to all the other things, dressed with only salt and olive oil (I forwent the vinegar on offer) and, of course, the healthy serving of olive paste seen at center.
I thought the cruda could have been better: it was a little to cold, as if just brought out of the refrigerator. (Well, it was early in the evening.) I liked the balance, though, between the sweet Piemontese beef, the chopped celery (a fine idea), the finely minced walnuts (ditto) and the Parmesan. This was a big serving and took some time to get through.
Couldn't resist dessert, a simple, pure panna cotta drizzled with caramel.

Favorita; Nebbiolo d'Alba, both in caraffa, both from Azienda Agricola Figlli Manera (Alba), both very nice

Dausin Locanda a Km 0, via Gaita 9 (angolo via Galliari), Torino; +39 011 66 93 933

Friday, July 22, 2016

Perhaps the best

Bruzolo, Valsusa, Italy, July 21, 2016—

DINNER OUT ALONE tonight, for the first time in weeks, perhaps months. I love my wife, but a part of me enjoys eating alone in a restaurant. Perhaps it's because on those few occasions I'm in an interesting place, literally and figuratively.

I broke down and bought the Slow Food Osterie Italiane 2016 app to check what might be available, but got sidetracked when Google Maps turned up something that sounded familiar within walking distance of my cheap hotel.

A twenty-minute walk took me there, through countryside, then village. The place looked familiar too, though I didn't see the dining room, choosing instead to eat outside under an enormous lime-tree.

No menu: The waitress mentioned an antipasto possibility, and I agreed, with a nice glass of white wine in my hand, and dinner began. 
There were in fact five antipasti:: 
Sausage: rather loose, coarse-ground, pork of course, tasting a bit of andouillette, nicely balanced
Salad: orzo with strips of red and yellow pepper softened a la grecque and a few thin strips of sliced roast beef
Frittata cut into little squares
Cold sformato of celery root
Zucchini and sliced onion softened in an agrodolce

Pasta? My waitress then asked: Yes, please, agnelotti filled with meat ragu, cooked to exactly the right point, dressed (as I'd asked) simply with butter and sage.

Secondo? Yes, please: sliced roast beef with cipollini, subtly flavored and colored with carrot. This was delightful, sweet with onion and carrot, the thick reduction easing substantial slices of beef. 

I had no room for a dolce, I regret to say. This was very likely the best meal I've had in weeks.

Malvasia di Veneto in bicchiere
Dolcetto d'Alba in caraffa

Antica Trattoria La Stellina, Via Carlo Emanuele I, 17/B, Bruzolo (TO), Italy;  347 59 21 415 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Return to known quantities

Mompantero, Valsusa, Italy, July 20, 2016—

DINNER OUT TONIGHT with my Piemontese friends in a neighborhood restaurant outside of Susa.

Entering the restaurant I remembered having eaten there well three yesrs ago —and, as it turns out, almost identically: I opened with melon and prosciutto, then went on to braciola di maiale. As before, this was a thin pork chop, generous in size, simply cooked with  only salt and a quarter lemon to flavor it. 

I added a very discreet drizzle of very piquant chili pepper-infused olive oil, as the cook is Calabrian. 

Roero Arneis, Parvo, San Silvestre Cantine, 2013 (a little too old); Dolcetto, Manfredi (Langhe), 2014: delicious. 

 Ristorante Rocciamelone, Monpantero, Susa

DESSERT in town: gelati al limon, crema, and fior di latte, with fine panna montata. 

La Bottega del gelato, Piazza San Giusto, Susa


Mompantero, Valsusa, Italy, July 19, 2016—

DINNER TONIGHT WITH friends in their home in this rustic village above Susa. Maria Teresa is a Pugliese and learned cooking well from her mother: we had a delicious tomato sauce with diced potatoes in it, on pasta; a beautifully browned frittata; green beans with tomatoes. 

Dessert came from the grocery store: lemon gelato "popsicles" whose sticks are made of licorice, delicious —licorice is a Puglian digestivo. 

Grignolino, then Bonarda da Piemonte, Tenuta la Pergola, 2014; very nice.