Friday, September 30, 2016

Lardo, oh my

Courmayeur, September 29—
IF YOU HAVEN'T traveled in Italy, and maybe even if you have, you may not understand the appeal of lardo. The word itself is somewhat off-putting, perhaps especially to those of us who remember cans of lard standing at the kitchen stove. 

But lardo colonnato, as I' probably wrong in thinkiing it's called, is an extraordinary thing. Pure pork fat is salted and aged in a stone basin under a weight, sometimes with a subtle flavoring — a bay leaf, say. And the lardo d'Arnad of the Valle d'Aosta is not to be neglected.

As you see, it came with lightly candied chestnuts and a couple of slices of brown bread with honey. It was truly memorable: silky, solid, delicate. The waiter suggested it's the water here makes it so good; this lardo is allowed to bathe, making its texture piu morbido, its flavor clean and pure.

Afterward, a cotoletta valdostana, because it used to be a favorite thing for me to make at home: a thin boneless scallopine, covered with prosciutto, then cheese. I used to use Fontina; this tasted more like Emmental. It was first-rate and huge and came with lots of vegetables.

White wine in carafe
Ristorante-Pizzeria du Tunnel, via Circumvallazione 80, Courmayeur; 0165/841705

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Catching up


En route, September 29, 2016— 

TWO DINNERS and a lunch to catch up on, owing to lack of time and Internet access (we've been driving around in the mountains). 

All, as it happens, were in repeat restaurants. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, we met the Contessa's cousin and his wife at a place I discovered two months ago, and there we had a typical Piemontese dinner. No menu: suggestions were recited by the waitress. 

We had a broad range of antipasti, including a fine vitello tonnato, and then some excellent pastas; and a side dish of marvelous sweet-sour onions; and, because I was greedy, an arrosto da vitello, as excellent as it was two months ago. 

Malvasia in carafe

Arneis in carafe

Nebbiolo,  Fassono Giuseppe, 2012

Osteria La Stellina, Bruzolo (TO)


Lunch had been at another familiar spot from two months ago, in Chiomonte: the range of antipasti for me, a plate involving sausages, vitello tonnato (again, excellent), and three different sauces: the typical Piemontese green sauce, a sort of mayonnaise, and a Sicilian-style pesto with tomato paste and, I think, ground almonds.

Arneis in carafe

Cantoun, Chiomonte (TO)

By last night we were just over the border in France. The restaurant I'd hoped for was closed for the season, so we drove to the next town and had a routine but competent hotel-restaurant dinner.

In my case this was a plate involving "house-made" (no guarantee of quality) terrine followed by tartiflette, the Savoyard version of potatoes gratinée. It was good, and my companion pointed out that the lettuce in our little salads was superb. 

For dessert, a bavarois flavored with coffee; afterward, a genepy…

Vin blanc de Savoie in carafe

Hotel Restaurant Relais Les 2 Cols, Lanslebourg;

Monday, September 26, 2016


The dining room at Consorzio
 Via della Luca Robbia, Torino, September 26, 2016—
AS YOU CAN see, we arrived precisely at 12:30, the first customers today at Consorzio. The place has been packed in the evenings, but lunch seemed slow today.

The menu is identical, and it is delicious. From it we chose:

La cruda (me)
Plin d'ortiche e seirass con alghe e baccalà (her)
Ripieno di peperoni, acciughe e bagnetto verde (her)
Agnolotto gobbo (me)

She was delighted, and why not? I had exactly that sequence last time I was here, two months ago.

I was delighted too.  I'd had the cruda before; it was quite the same this time: raw minced veal tartare, the one on the left more strongly flavored, that on the right sweeter, flanking a strip of raw steak dusted in gingery panko. Olive oil, good salt, and black pepper are all the additions  needed.  

Perfectly cooked pasta, marbelous shredded braised veal nicely spiced, served simply in butter and a very discreet dusting of grated cheese.

Panna cotta, innocent yet unctuous; on the side, small garnishes of Barbaresco chinato, chinotto, and torrone. They're small but powerful, exactly the right amount to flavor the custard.  This is truly a fine restaurant, one of the Hundred.

Filagnotti, Cascina degli Ulivi (Piemonte), 2014: golden, stemma, solid, a fine match for the cruda;
Freisa rosata Cascina Tavijn, "Rosetta" (Piemonte), 2015: garnet, rich, pleasant

Ristorante Consorzio, via Monte di Pietà 23, Torino; +39 011 2767661

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Antiche Sere

Via Luca della Robbia, Torino, September 25, 2016—

AS I THINK I mentioned yesterday, the restaurants in this town are full. But this afternoon we ran into an old friend who had providently booked a table for six tonight at one of Slow Food's favorite Torino osterie, and she had only three friends with her, so we tagged along.

Actually we led the way. We had an hour or so before dinner, and wondered how to fill the intervening time, and someone proposed a walk. Great, I said, brightly, we'll just walk to the restaurant.

Antiche Sere is not in the center of town, which is where we were at the time, at the Teatro Carignano, where we'd just seen a film. Antiche Sere is out in Cenisia, nearly as far from the center of town as our apartment. It took us an hour of fairly brisk walking to get there, over four kilometers according to Google Maps. A few of the others seemed dubious about my leadership, and even I was a bit uncertain when we finally turned down the unpromising, dimly lit via Ceneschia. Near the end of the block a white light hung on the facade of a building, and when I got there I was welcomed by the sign OSTERIA and the gilt letters you see above the curtain on the window.

We were greeted warmly, of course, with glasses of Prosecco thrust into our hands. We had a nice round table in the front dining room — there are three — where our friend, something of a celebrity, would be on display to all. And then we looked over the menu.

Now you may complain you cannot read this menu because of the quality of my photo, but I assure you it was not much easier at the table. Let me translate:
Antipasto Misto:
[illegible:] semolina cake flavored with lemon zest
Peperone with anchovies
Vitello tonnato


Vegetable and bean soup
Agnolotti with meat sugo
Gnoxxhi with Gorgonzola
Tajarin with porcini

And there we stopped; we could not eat any more. Well, a green salad; no way we would be allowed to skip that, not in this crew.

And desserts, of course: peaches stuffed with bonet, bonet itself, panna cotta, tirami su. And a grappa. And a sugar cube in a jar of basil-infused grappa to put in the grappa. 

And then, after three hours at table, our friends called a cab to go back downtown, and the Contesssa and I walked another mile through the gentle night to our apartment. 

Arneis in caraffa; Nebbioli in caraffa; Barolo: Prapo, Schiavenza, 2011, rich and mature

Osteria Antiche Sere, via Cenischia 9, Torino; +39 011 3854347

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Via della Luca Robbia, Torino, September 24, 2016—
YOU MAY THINK it strange that after a day cruising Slow Food's Salone del Gusto here we would shrug it all off and eat at home again. But that's what we did.

The principal reason was fatigue — we'd walked ten kilometers, many of them among tight crowds of people, shopping bags, kids in strollers, dogs on leashes, folks looking at their cell phones instead of where they're going. Or, more important to me, where I'm going.

The secondary reason: with this many foodies in town it's impossible to get a same-day reservation at any restaurant I can think of wanting to visit. We had a nice enough lunch at a Pugliese bar-cafe-delicatessen — a hamburger made of house-made Pugliese salsiccia, with a glass of house red. But that wasn't dinner.
So on the way home we stopped at a little mom-and-pop operation on via Giolitti and bought a little butter, some Parmesan cheese, a couple hundred grams of fresh agnolotti, and a busto of what we call mache at home, but is in fact lamb's lettuce in English and valeriana in Italian.

Cook made a good supper out of all this. We had the ends of yesterday's wines to finish. We'll turn in earlier tonight, and be ready for the fray again tomorrow. 

Oh: and Alice did a fine job in her panel discussion about urban gardening. 

Panificio Convertini, via Giolitti 11, Torino

Friday, September 23, 2016

Focaccia at home

Via Luca della Robbia, Torino, September 23, 2016—

AFTER ALL THOSE restaurant meals, even though we're in a capital of food, it was nice to unwind after a day of travel — well, a few hours of travel — with a simple supper at home. We'd noticed a neighborhood bakery on the short walk to our apartment from the metro stop: ah, grissini, a loaf of rye bread, a couple of focaccias — oh, look: focaccia da Susa!

Around the corner, an attractive wine store: Why not a bottle of Arneis for the cocktail hour, to have with the grissini?

Down the block, a greengrocer: let's get a bottle of water, a couple of pears, a few fresh Italian prunes…

Oh: forgot to get milk for breakfast. Oh well, here's a neighborhgood CRAI supermarket. Milk and, why not, a bottle of cheap Grignolino.

Back home we had our Arneis and grissini, then the two dinner focaccias, one with prosciutto, the other pura Margarita: tomato, mozarella, basil. A little overcooked — Cook's not secure with this oven yet — but good, especially with a nice red wine.

Arneis, Azienda Agricola RiDaRoca (Roero), 2015; 
Grignolino d'Asti, Enrico Morando, 2014
Delper SNC, via Vandalino 15
Il Grappolo, via Vandalino 15/e
Frutta e Verdura da Mimmo e Rosa, via de Sactis 37
Supermercato CRAI, 37/B via deella Robbia Lucca



Zoutkeetsgracht, Amsterdam, September 22, 2016—

WE ENJOYED THIS PLACE at the beginning of the year, when we stopped in for a drink on New Year's Day, and decided to stay for dinner. It was cozy and welcoming, and the menu was traditional and simple — perfect for a cold day after a night of celebrating.

Since then there have been a number of changes. The physical ones are fairly subtle: new chairs, a slightly different decor. The biggest changes have been to the menu, which has almost given up the traditional Dutch cuisine in favor of the complex surprise-ingredient small plate fashion. 

Our waiter said this was done to stay in competition with the wave of trendy restaurants opening in this city, but mostly to keep the cooks interested — otherwise they'd been losing interest after roasting a few hundred cockerels and French-frying tons of potatoes.

There were three of us at table, and one of us went for three of the small plates, to her liking as it turned out, though the third of them took an unconscionably long time appearing. My companion and I stayed with the traditional page, ordering that 

"cockerel" — in fact a game hen, I think. First, though, I began with a salad: veal and tuna tartare, served with lotus root beets, and arugula, with a dollop of good mustard to kick things up a notch.

A clever variation on vitello tonnato, this turned out to be pretty tasty. The tartare had enough shallot and capers to give it presence, and the texture was correct.

My chicken, though, was mostly inedible. I'd had the same dish last time, when its concept and execution were fine. The birds are roasted on a rack, many at a time, and served with piri piri, green beans, and French fries, with a little container of applesauce on the side, for this is after all a traditional Dutch restaurant.

My hen was way undercooked, though, and the fries were a little soggy. Companion had no complaints, which leads me to suspect the cook had simply snatched my bird from the wrong rack; it was par-cooked but certainly not finished. And the fries weren't much better.

The dessert was an imaginative take on the traditional hemelse modder, "heavenly mud": a chocolate marquise, dark and serious and bittersweet, with an almost gluey texture from, I suppose, egg yolks. This version was called, simply, dark chocolate mousse, but was the recipe I remembered from January, except that it came tonight with blood orange ice cream, and a sprinkling of sea salt. It tasted fine, and made a spectacular appearance in its dark bowl, paired with raspberry puree.


Vermentino di Gallura, S'eleme (Sardinia), 2015 (very nice);

Adenauer, Ahr (Germany), 2014 (best red German wine I've tasted)

De Gouden Reael, Zandhoek 14, Amsterdam