“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” – George Miller, Director
Our trip to Alba was a visit to a true old friend – its origins have been traced to pre-Roman times. We first visited the city two years ago and fell in love with everything about it. If I were twenty years younger, I would seriously consider a move.
Although the charm of the city with its towers, palaces and meandering cobblestone-lined streets (straight out of a Disney movie) is always breath-taking, we were there for the people, the food, and the wine – in that order.
Karel and I stayed at Casa Agnese, of course, under the watchful eye of our friend Alberto. We brought him a couple of jars of our homemade jam that he really seemed to appreciate. He arranged all of our restaurant reservations and winery tours and generally made himself indispensable. What a guy!
During the harvest months, the infamous nebbia (fog in Italian) tends to visit Alba’s softly rolling hills, blanketing them in a hazy layer of morning and late-night mist. (Nebbiolo, the main native grape of Piedmont is reputed to get its name from this phenomenon.) When we were there, however, it (luckily) did not grace us with its presence. The weather was bright and sunny – a super day for a stroll through their pretty fine Farmer’s Market.
The evenings were a little cold – Karel said it was absolutely freezing, so it gave her an excuse to buy a new pashmina in a little designer shop on Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
Whether you regard it as good or bad, Alba has acquired global fame – especially during truffle season (as I described here). Alberto told us that at the opening of the truffle fair, there were tens of thousands of visitors. This was still evident in the eclectic mix of tourists strolling around town – from sandal-shod tourists to beautiful actresses negotiating the cobblestones in their Jimmy Choo heels. Although their sartorial choices may not always agree, they were all united in the quest for fine food and wine.
Alba, and the Langhe, in general, are home to one of Italy’s highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants. On top of stellar food, some of the globe’s best wine regions, including Barolo and Barbaresco, are a quick drive away
Alba’s primo restaurants would be as equally at home in Manhattan or Milan as they were in rural Piemonte.
And although the décor might be the work of premier designers in Italy, the menus tend to hover amongst traditional dishes, such as the Brasato Vitello al Barolo (veal slow braised in Barolo), insalata russa (classic potato salad), bagna cauda (an anchovy, garlic and oil sauce in which winter vegetables can be dipped), and of course, my favorite, tajarin, Alba’s ubiquitous egg pasta tossed in butter and topped with truffles. (To watch a cute, short video on the production of tajarin, click here).
In line with visiting friends, our trip to Alba absolutely had to include lunch at Il Flauto Magico in nearby Serralunga d’Alba. I wrote about our first meal there a couple of years ago and how we were enchanted by our visit. What more can I say about Il Flauto Magico? It is difficult to adequately describe. It is a tiny space with a superlative, Barolo-heavy wine list that puts larger restaurants to shame – so it could be an enoteca. But it is not just limited to the wine because the incredible food knocks my socks off too! So it’s a bistro – well maybe… It is impossible to label it so I won’t try but I will just say that if Il Flauto Magico were here in Sebastopol, I would be their number one patron!
Elena greeted us with a bottle of Garesio Method Classico Pas Dosé. – a sparkling wine produced right around the corner in Serralunga d’Alba. I didn’t even know that anyone made a sparkling wine in Piemonte other than in the Asti region. The Garesio family farms approximately 12 hectares of land in Monferrato and Serralunga d’Alba. The wine was made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes which have been aged on the lees for thirty months. It displayed a straw yellow color with green highlights and had a fruity nose evocative of peaches or plums with a pleasant, fresh taste and fine bubbles. Like many European wines, the alcohol level was fairly low at 12.5% – an excellent aperitif before our lunch.
Our lunch included many of the dishes that I described in Mozart in the Langhe. One of my favorites this time was a bowl of Gianpaolo’s sausages braised in Nebbiolo wine. The flavors were sublime.
A wonderful day in the Langhe.