Browse using the new Vinous website now. Launch →
Printed by, and for the sole use of . All rights reserved © 2015 Vinous Media
The Vinous 2014 Guide to Eating and Drinking in Piedmont
This year’s round up of the best places to eat and drink in Piedmont includes several new entries. One of the trends in Piedmont seems to be an increase in the number of casual restaurants that offer simple, yet well made food, a good wine list and an informal ambience, all with an eye towards keeping prices reasonable, a pretty good combination in my book. One of Italy’s greatest strengths is ingredient-driven food. Few regions do it better than Piedmont. There are plenty of places to splurge, too, but sometimes simpler is better.
Mother Nature is especially generous with Piedmont. She graces the region with world-class wines and a host of raw ingredients that provide the inspiration for the Piedmontese table. Local chefs have access to a dizzying array of local meats, cheeses and vegetables that would make most of their colleagues green with envy. Liguria isn't too far away for the things that are missing, namely seafood and olive oil. But it is the mysterious, elusive and super-expensive white truffle that takes Piedmont into the stratosphere.
There is no better time to enjoy the bounty of Piedmont than the fall, a time when so many fabulous things come together; the last few leaves on the vines, the smell of autumn, the new vintage fermenting in the cellars, the fog-drenched landscapes and of course the heavenly scent of white truffles.
What follows are some of my favorite spots for food and wine in Piedmont. It is not a comprehensive list, but rather a collection of places I have personally been to many times over the years. If possible, I suggest visiting Piedmont in late November. By then, most of the tourists are gone and truffles are in peak season, which means at their most perfumed and abundant.
Don't be surprised if you see young children in any of these restaurants, even the most elegant. Of all the places I visit regularly, Italy is without question the most family oriented and kid friendly, which means parents don't have to sacrifice a great meal in order to be with the children and the kids have an opportunity to be educated at the table.
Lastly, as I have written before, wine storage continues to be an issue in Piedmont’s restaurants. I won't take up too much time or space addressing my biggest pet peeve here, but suffice it to say readers should feel no hesitation in sending back bottles that have been damaged by heat. That is the only way Piedmont’s restaurateurs will get the message. Taken as a whole, Piedmont lags the world’s other wine producing regions by a significant margin when it comes to wine service, and in particular storage. Eggs, butter, cheese and bottled water? They are refrigerated, of course. What about a 150 euro bottle of Barolo with a 50-100% markup of pure profit that diners have travelled from far and away to taste in its place of origin? Far too often these wines are treated with total disregard for the end consumer, the very person who supports these establishments. How are the best bottles treated in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Napa Valley and Champagne? Like priceless jewels that are the livelihood of those regions.
Let me be clear: Piedmont exists because of one thing and one thing only; Wine. Without the wine industry there would be fewer jobs, fewer restaurants, much less wealth and no tourism to speak of except for a few weeks during the fall truffle season. When will Piedmont’s restaurateurs learn to take care of their most valuable asset and most profitable asset? Suffice it to say I have been served cooked and/or damaged wine in virtually every restaurant in Piedmont, so it is very much caveat emptor.
Still, I don't think there is anywhere better to be in the fall than Piedmont. Barolo, Barbaresco and white truffles in a good year are as good as it gets. The cool, foggy weather and a good meal at one of Piedmont’s top spots will be more than enough to make visitors start planning a return trip. Things can get a bit hectic during the peak fall season, so reservations are essential.
Antica Corona Reale (Da Renzo)
Via Fossano, 13
12040 Cervere (CN), Italy
Tel. +39 0172 474132
Antica Corona Reale, known simply as Da Renzo, is a must during truffle season. Da Renzo is located in Cervere, which is a bit of a drive from the Barolo zone, but closest to La Morra. The food is terrific year round, but in the fall Renzo is the place to be. Proprietor Gian Piero Vivalda makes the single greatest truffle dish in Piedmont; the heart attack-inducing, poached egg in cocotte, essentially an egg poached in butter and cream, then topped with shaved truffles. If there is one dish visitors must experience at least once, this is it. Other great choices include the Tortelli al Seirass and the Châteaubriand for two. Wild leeks and snails, both local to Cervere, are not to be missed. I don’t go crazy for either frogs’ legs or tripe, but those who do swear by Da Renzo’s versions. Service is exceptional. The wine list is well chosen, but storage is inconsistent and the program overall remains the Achilles heel of this otherwise exceptional Piedmont benchmark.
Da Renzo’s signature Uova in Cocotte
Last Visit: November 2012
Via Torino 64
Barbaresco (CN), Italy
Tel. +39 173 635 170
Antica Torre is another of Piedmont’s reference points. Located just across the road from the Produttori del Barbaresco, Antica Torre is a hit with locals, winemakers and tourists alike. The food is simple, honest and presented with no makeup. Prices reflect the everyday, working class values of another era, which will thrill travelers on a budget. Antica Torre’s wine list is a bit Spartan and simple, but consistent with the setting. In the summer, the outdoor seating is a nice plus.
Last Visit: July 2014
3 Piazza Castello
Barolo (CN) Italy 12060
Tel. +39 0173 56 05 39
Barolofriends, a newly opened wine bar in the center of town, is one of the most exciting additions to the eating and drinking scene in Piedmont. The brainchild of proprietor Paolo Annoni, Barolofriends is the perfect place to stop by for an informal meal or glass of wine. Chef Imer Pegoraro’s menu is rich in tradition, often done with a few twists. Pegoraro spent several years with Massimo Camia at Locanda del Borgo Antico, and it shows in dishes like the vitello tonnato, which is unusually refined for a restaurant of this level. The room is warm and inviting, while the food is delicious and reasonably priced, all of which makes it easy to return. That is exactly what we did this past summer. Both meals we had at Barolofriends were terrific. Best of all, the kitchen is open all day, from 11am to 10pm, unusually flexible by Italian standards.
Tajarin with sausage ragù and pesto
Last Visit: July 2014
Via Roma 6
12050 Serralunga d’Alba (CN), Italy
Tel. +39 0173 613 203
No trip to Piedmont is complete without a meal (or two!) at Centro Storico. Proprietor Alessio Cighetti is larger than life, and so is a night out at this iconic winebar in Serralunga’s historic center. Centro Storico is distinguished by a wine list that will shock even the most seasoned of travelers for its depth, especially considering the otherwise no frills setting. Champagne is a strong suit, and my drink of choice here. Growers and grands marques are represented with equal breadth. The simple menu usually consists of three/four choices of appetizer, pasta, main and dessert, mostly leaning on the classics, and all impeccably prepared. Centro Storico is a favorite among locals, so don’t be surprised if you see one or more winemakers here on any given night. If the homemade gelato is available (not usually on the menu) don’t miss it!
Centro Storico’s Insalata Russa, a Piedmontese classic
Last Visit: August 2014
Piazza Baracco, 7
Treiso (CN), Italy
Tel. +39 0173 638 333
Chef/Proprietor Maurilio Garola is going through an especially brilliant period at La Ciau del Tornavento. This is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the Langhe, especially during the day or in the summer, when guests will be dazzled by the views. The cellar has always been jaw dropping, but the food now is better than ever. Three recent meals have all been superb. I prefer to stick with the classics, but La Ciau is one of the few restaurants in Piedmont where diners will find just as much pleasure in some of the more adventurous, creative choices that adorn the menu. Few people have done more to support local wineries than Garolo. The extensive cellar at La Ciau will leave visitors drooling. Let’s leave it at that. An extension to the cellar, which will include space to host visitors, should be completed this fall.
La Ciau’s white truffle starter with a glass of Chave’s 1985 Hermitage Blanc
Last Visit: July 2014
Relais San Maurizio
Località San Maurizio, 39
12058 Santo Stefano Belbo (CN) Italy
Tel. +39 0141 841900
Timeless, elegant and classic. That is what comes to mind when I think of Guido da Costigliole. Tucked away in the hills of Santo Stefano Belbo, in the picturesque Relais San Maurizio, Guido is one of the meccas of fine dining in Piedmont. Andrea Alciati and his partner Monica Magnini run Guido with palpable enthusiasm and passion. The Alciati family has been at the forefront of Piedmontese cuisine for several decades. Guido and Lidia Alciati, Andrea’s parents, opened the celebrated Da Guido in Costigliole in 1961, long before Piedmont and its wines were fashionable. Even back then Da Guido was one of the most famous restaurants in Piedmont. Guido Alciati was famous for taking huge positions in wines that would go on to become icons, like the Produttori del Barbaresco's 1970s Riservas and Luciano Sandrone’s first Barolos. Upon Guido Alciati’s passing his three sons went in different directions. Andrea settled in at the Relais, not too far from the original Da Guido, while brothers Ugo and Piero went on to open their version of Guido first at Pollenzo and now in the Fontanafredda complex in Serralunga.
Diners will find a menu built on lighter, modern-day interpretations of the classics, along with a few more inventive creations. The extensive wine lists offer myriad choices of both local and international wines. Readers can bring their own wines for a modest corkage fee, which is rare in Piedmont. Even better, Guido will build tasting menus for diners who would like to supply their own truffles.
‘The’ Vitello Tonnato
Piazza del Centro, 4
12060 Castiglione Falletto
Tel. +39 0173 462502
Locanda del Centro is one of my go-to spots when I am in and around Castiglione Falletto. The menu is written on chalkboard and leans heavily on the classics, with a few twists. In the summer, the fried zucchini flowers are a must. I also like the insalata russa quite a bit. The lasagna with bufala mozzarella and zucchini I had recently was a nice break from the mostly traditional fare. The Locanda’s wine list is small, but well chosen and solid at this level.
Lasagnette with bufala mozzarella and zucchini
Last Visit: July 2014
Via Roma, 3
12064 La Morra
Tel. +39 339 5819189
Angelo and Maria Cristina Rinaudi have recently moved to La Morra from Castiglione Falletto, where they ran the highly successful and popular Le Torri for many years. Mangè is typical of the new breed of restaurants that have begun to spring up in Piedmont. The kitchen is open from late morning straight through dinner. Readers can expect a small menu with an emphasis on the classics and very reasonable prices. On Thursdays, Angelo’s father brings fresh seafood back from the market in Torino, which makes for a nice break from the meat-heavy dishes that are so typical in the Langhe. The wine list is pretty extensive for a small, informal restaurant. Mangè is perfect for a simple, informal meal, especially if keeping to a budget is a priority.
Tagliolini with fresh porcini
Last Visit: July 2014
Piazza Savona, 5
Alba (CN), Italy
Tel. +39 0173 363974
I have been eating at the Osteria dell’ Arco for longer than I can remember. One of my favorites going back to the days when I had basically no money, Osteria dell’ Arco remains one of Alba’s stalwarts. Diners will find a menu heavy on the classics, and an excellent wine list in a simple, traditional setting. I always feel the service could be a little warmer, but that is a relatively small critique. Osteria dell’ Arco is a favorite among Alba’s working professionals, so reservations are absolutely essential, even for lunch. In my view, Osteria dell’ Arco captures the essence of what Italian restaurants do better than any other – offer affordable, everyday food made with uncompromisingly high quality standards at fair, working-class prices.
Last visit: July 2014
Piazza Risorgimento, 4
Tel. +39 0173 442800
The Ceretto family operates two restaurants in Alba, both in essentially the same space. Located on the ground level of a historic building in the old city center, La Piola specializes in mostly traditional dishes served in an informal setting. Piazza Duomo occupies the upstairs level and is the showcase for Enrico Crippa’s innovative, award winning cuisine.
The menu at La Piola is rich in the classics, but with some twists that are quite welcome for visitors who want a break from Piedmont’s typical fare. Ceretto wines are featured heavily, with the rest of the list coming from Ceretto’s retail online wine partner. While the strategy of this kind of vertical integration is appealing from a financial perspective, the reality is that the list at La Piola lacks imagination. Given the high quality of the food, La Piola would be far better off showcasing the best wines of the region, but that does not appear to be the aim. Regardless, diners can order from Piazza Duomo’s comprehensive wine list, which is what I suggest. Service on the day I visited was exceptional and welcoming, something that is not always the case in Piedmont.
Red pepper agnolotti; tuna, anchovy sauce
Last visit: July 2014
Strada Sant’ Uffizio, 1
14030 Cioccaro di Penango
Tel. +39 0141 916292
A former monastery dating back to the days of Inquisition in the 1600s, the Relais del Sant’Uffizio is a gorgeous hotel and restaurant nestled in the rolling hills of Monferrato, just outside Asti, in the heart of Barbera country. The restaurant was excellent on the two recent visits, although the reality is that the overall quality of dining in Piedmont has exploded over the last 20 years, such that the food at Sant’Uffizio today is excellent, but has much more competition than it did years ago. The menu offers a combination of classics along with a handful of more creative dishes, all done with a modern, light touch. Visitors will find a small but well-chosen list with plenty of good options. Service is professional and attentive.
Agnolotti al Plin
Last Visit July: 2014
Via Alba, 17 bis
La Morra (CN) Italy
Tel. +39 0173 590303
A few years ago, the Bovio family sold the restaurant Belvedere up until then a local icon, and moved to their current location, just outside the La Morra town center. Ristorante Bovio is smaller and more intimate than the Belvedere, and that is just fine. The food is pretty similar to what it has always been, which is to say rich in the classics. The wine list is extensive, but I wish the wines were kept and served a little cooler. Service is warm, friendly and incredibly accommodating. In other words, what hospitality is all about. Two recent dinners were fabulous.
The carne cruda is there, somewhere beneath the truffles
Last visit: November 2012
Via Umberto I, 5
Tel. +39 0173 616112
Il Centro, one of Piedmont’s timeless classics, is just as fabulous as it has always been. The classics are slightly revisited in cooking that is faithful to tradition but that also incorporates some twists. The crudo appetizer is perfect for a warm, muggy day. All of the pasta and meat dishes I tasted during my most recent visit were terrific. Il Centro has an extensive wine list, but my preference is still to stick with young wines. The Cordero family’s warmth and hospitality are those of another era. Readers who want to visit an old guard reference-point should check out Il Centro.
Last visited: July 2014
Via Provinciale A3, 5
12050 Serravalle Langhe (CN) Italy
Tel. +39 0173 748220
La Coccinella will delight fans of classic, old-school Piemonte cooking. Located in Serravalle Langhe, La Coccinella is convenient to Serralunga and Monforte, but will require a bit of a longer drive from other parts of the Barolo zone. The ambiance is homey, warm and inviting. This is Piedmont comfort food at its best. Gems are sprinkled throughout the wine list. You aren’t likely to see too many tourists at this haunt mostly frequented by locals and those in the know.
Last Visit: November 2013
Fontanafredda – Disguido Osteria del Vino Libero
Via Alba, 15
12050 Serralunga d'Alba (CN), Italy
Tel. +39 0173 626 111
Visitors who haven't been to Fontanafredda in a few years might be a little shocked by the recent transformation that has recently taken place. The vistors’ center looks more like something out of Napa Valley than Piedmont. A well-stocked gift shop sells a vast selection of wine related books plus wine and food items. The cafeteria-style restaurant serves simple fare in an informal setting that borrows heavily from proprietor Oscar Farinetti’s Eataly concept. Best of all, Fontanafredda is pretty much always open, making it the prefect place to stop by for a quick bite if you are on the run, happen to be in the neighborhood or haven’t made plans in advance.
Last Visit: November 2012
- I have removed the Boscareto resort’s La Rei from our list simply because I have not eaten there since management made significant changes that include a new chef, consultant chef and key front of the house staff. The menu now is designed by Antonio Cannavacciuolo, one of Italy’s most visible chefs and media stars.
- The Boroli family has expanded the wine program at their Locanda del Pilone through their partnership with LVMH, and now carry a large selection of wines from that portfolio. It has been a few years since I last dined at the Locanda, but the property and dining room are among the most idyllic in the Langhe.
- Antiné in Barbaresco has now reopened with a new chef, but I have not been there yet.
- Massimo Camia closed Locanda del Borgo Antico and has set up shop at his own place at Damilano. I have not been there yet.
- Piedmont icon Cesare Giaccone is said to be cooking back at his original restaurant, but only for friends and with advance notice.
- Brothers Ugo and Piero Alciati have moved their version of the family’s Guido franchise to Fontanafredda. I have not been there yet.
- The top rated restaurant in Piedmont by most guides remains Ceretto’s Duomo in Alba, but I have not been in several years, hence its exclusion here.
-- Antonio Galloni