“Our philosophy is good, clean, and fair food: Good because it is healthy and tasty; clean because it is produced with low environmental impact and with animal welfare in mind, and fair because it respects the work of those who produce, process, and distribute it. It is important to compensate farmworkers, fishermen, or artisanal producers in a fair way that provides them a comfortable standard of living.” – Carlo Petrini, Slow Food Movement
There are nineteen Michelin starred restaurants with celebrity chefs in the Alba area and many more family owned and operated osterias that serve artisanal, local cuisine that celebrates the season. Piemonte’s cuisine is not typical of most other Italian regions. Indeed, the cuisine and culture are closer to parts of France. Olives do not grow well in the climate, so local cooking relies more on butter and lard which give silky textures and hearty aromas. Rabbit is seen more often than chicken. Meats, game and root vegetables are usually braised in wine or stock at low temperatures to develop flavors, slowly producing a delicious rich character. Wines are plentiful and tasty bargains when compared to US prices.
Osteria dell’ Arco popped up quite often in my restaurant research radar for Alba so I made reservations for our first dinner there even before leaving home. Our host, Alberto (Casa Agnese) validated our choice and told us it was only a ten-minute walk from our room.
Osteria dell’ Arco is a designated Slow Food restaurant. The Slow Food Movement, started by Carlo Petrini in 1986, in nearby Bra, envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that tastes good and is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.
Tucked off the Piazza Michele Ferrero at the southern end of the city center, Osteria dell’ Arco is a relatively small restaurant with a nicely designed contemporary interior and a relaxed, easygoing ambiance. We were greeted warmly on arrival, entertained by the wait staff (funny guys) and treated to superb food. Their menu offered the best of traditional Albese cuisine and had an excellent wine list. It was exactly the restaurant that we wanted to find.
It was a given that we start our first food experience in the Langhe with Barolo. We picked a 2011 Azelia Bricco Fiasco by Luigi Scavino (€79) and were not disappointed.
Our dinner, from their tasting menu Menu della Tradizione, featured many of the foods that we were eager to sample.
The “antipasti” course featured a trio of traditional cold Piemontese antipasti: Carne Cruda All’ Albese Battuta al Coltello (raw filet of Piemonte veal coarsely chopped and lightly seasoned), Insalata Russa (a kind of potato salad with peas and carrots dressed in house-made mayonnaise), and Galletto e Giardiniera (rooster with pickled vegetables). Each taste was both intriguing and delicious.
The “primi piatti” was: Tajarin “40 Tuorli” al Burro. Tajarin, a thin, flat noodle, hand sliced to less than 1/8″ wide, is made only from 00 flour and egg yolks. Here, the chef used no less than 40 egg yolks per kilo of flour, giving the pasta a luxurious taste, a silky texture, and a stellar golden color. The pasta was tossed in butter and my first bite told me it was in a class of its own. It was transcendent and probably the best pasta dish that I have ever eaten.
The “secondi piatti” offered a choice of Brasato di Vitello al Barolo (Veal braised in wine) or Coniglio “Grigio di Carmagnola” Cotto all’Arneis (Rabbit cooked in wine). Our group ordered both. The veal dish featured thick slices of shoulder roast with distinct and complex flavors from being marinated and slow roasted in Barolo wine. The rabbit, a Carmagnola Grey, was farm raised in the Piemonte and was cooked in Arneis, a local white wine. It was tender, savory, very white, and quite tasty.
Our “dolci” was La Panna Cotta con Fragole. The creaminess of the Panna Cotta was enlivened with fresh and sweet strawberries which hit just the right touch of acid. It was a light and flavorful ending to a sinfully good meal.
Osteria dell’ Arco managed to provide what small family owned osterias do best. They serve perfectly prepared traditional Piemonte classics at better than reasonable prices. Our amazing four-course meal was only €38 per person, including taxes and service. Unbelievable!