“The owner-chef at this restaurant follows his own path, playing with Piemontese traditions to create a mixture of classic favorites and dishes with a more creative twist. Beautifully presented cuisine which is full of flavour.” – MICHELIN guide inspectors
As you have probably guessed by now, I research restaurants fairly extensively before we take any trip. My feeling is that we are going to have to eat somewhere, so why take a chance on a dud. Many (but not always) instances when I have not researched, we are not happy campers. My aunt and uncle once took a road trip to San Diego (from Alabama) and confided to me that they ate at a Denny’s every night on their trip because they always knew what to expect – WHAT??? That’s not the way I do things.
The happy problem with a place like Alba is that there are so many good places to dine and so little time. For our last trip, we wanted to re-visit some of the spots that we had enjoyed two years before but also, of course, wanted some new experiences. We settled on Il Flauto Magico and LaLibera for re-runs with Ristorante Larossa and Trattoria Della Posta for new adventures.
OK, on the Sunday afternoon following our time in the Truffle Fair, we also managed to sneak in a scrumptious lunch at the bar of the Enoclub Ristorante.
Our inimitable Alba host, Alberto Agnese (Casa Agnese), informed us that Ristorante Larossa had received its first Michelin star just before we arrived. We were definitely in for a treat.
Andrea Larossa, 37, was born in Verbania near Lake Maggiore and learned the art of Lazio cooking from his mother and that of Lucania from his father. He discovered a culinary passion amidst the stoves of mess hall kitchens during his stint in the military. After his service, he worked in different restaurants and eateries between the provinces of Novara and Verbania and then had the good fortune to land a spot with Carlo Cracco in Milan, where he developed his vocation for haute cuisine. From there, he moved to Locanda del Pilone, in the hills of Madonna di Como near Alba. This second internship allowed him to refine his knowledge and techniques of the Langhe tradition and introduced him to the Japanese culture of Chef Kondo.
In 2014, feeling ready to become a Chef and restaurateur, he opened Ristorante Larossa in the center of Alba (using his name Larossa was in the tradition of artisans of old) and began to express personal culinary concepts through his dishes. His cuisine still continuously evolves and improves as the menu changes with the seasons. It is based on an interesting combination of dishes from different parts of Italy, with different textures and flavors, but always tied to the traditions of Piedmont and the Langhe.
Upon opening the bright red door, we were met by Chef Larossa’s wife and partner Patrizia who graciously coordinated the service and was sommelier to the 250 label wine list. She led us down a stone staircase into one of several refined and elegant – but cozy – dining rooms, characterized by barrel vaulted ceilings and walls with exposed bricks. Great attention was paid to every detail from furnishings to mise en place to staff uniforms – definitely Michelin quality. We were served by a brilliant wait staff that took care to ensure we had a wonderful experience.
Ristorante Larossa was gastronomic dining at its best – amazing food served with very artistic plating and very original titles. The meal began with a succession of little “gifts from the chef” – housemade grissini (breadsticks) and rice chips (natural white, yellow curry, and red paprika). The Amuse Bouche provided us three tastes that were a harbinger of excellence to come.
- “Revisiting Anchovy” – a soft parsley sponge with anchovy powder and a drop of garlic mayonnaise from Resia (Friulian Garlic Slow Food Presidium) (This was not everyone’s favorite bite.)
- A Salt Tartlet with Cream of Burrata and a Tonda Gentile Hazelnut (considered to be the best variety of hazelnut) from Alta Langa
- A Mini “Burger” with Peppers Crusco della Lucania, Ventricina Abruzzese (salami from Abruzzo) and Parmesan Cream
With five people in our party, it was possible to share tastes and enjoy some of the innovative examples of Chef Larossa’s art. One of the cleverest dishes was called “Il Mio Plin in Aria di Alba.”
This one requires a little explanation. An iconic pasta dish of Piemonte, Agnolotti del Plin gets its name from the regional dialect plin (for “pinch”) which is how you make the pasta. In this case, handmade fresh stuffed egg pasta is literally served on a pillow of warm “air of Alba” – it channeled the aromas that you can smell walking around Alba, from truffle to hazelnuts to mushrooms.
Chef Larossa’s interpretation of the traditional Piemontese antipasto Vitello Tonnato was called “L’ Arrosto di Notte”. “The Roast at Night” loses something in the translation. Essentially veal was cooked at low temperature on a rotisserie for a whole night, finished with a modern tuna sauce and served with a caper rice chip. The dish was both delicious and beautiful in its simplicity.
My favorite pasta (tajarin, of course) was “Tajarin 87°”. 50-egg-yolk tajarin was simply served with (NALP) Piemonte Alpine butter and white truffles. This pasta uses 50 egg yolks per kilo of flour – think about that for a few minutes.
“S.P.Q.R.” was a relatively straightforward but sublime Spaghetti Carbonara. SPQR refers to the Latin phrase “the Senate and People of Rome.” The recipe pays homage to its reputed origin in Rome.
The wine list is well-edited, with a good range of wines from the region. We began the dinner by sharing a bottle of 2016 Runotto Roero Arneis D.O.C.G. The Arneis had a straw yellow color with light green reflections. It had an intense floral and fruity scent. It exhibited good structure in balance with acidity and was perfect for our first courses.
I can’t pick one “secondi piatti” (main course) over the other. They were all pretty amazing – both in concept and execution. Well, actually I did have one favorite but I will wait until the end to let you know.
“No Name” – Fresh egg “Casoncello” pasta stuffed with Carmagnola Gray rabbit, clams, wood sorrel extract, and finished with Gorgonzola di Cameri foam.
“Un Milanese nelle Langhe” – Fassone veal fillet in the Milanese style with a confit of shallots, cloves, cardoons and veal stock in béarnaise sauce.
“Radici 87°” – Veal cheek, celeriac, and a very generous serving of white truffles.
With our mains, we selected a 2013 Paolo Scavino Barolo D.O.C.G. from the commune of Castigilione Falletto in the very heart of the Barolo area. The nose was perfumed with plums, cherries, and hints of flowers. It had a full body with silky tannins. Loved it!
After all of this, it would be decadent to add dessert but … I never said I wasn’t decadent! Two favorites were:
“Tarte Tatin” – yes, I know this is supposed to be a French dessert but we had to try it anyway. Renetta apples (typically grown in Piemonte) were stacked on a classic Breton shortbread cookie (called sable’), and then topped with caramel and vanilla gelato.
My friend, Larry, ordered this and it took all of my incredible willpower to resist eating more than the one teeny, tiny bite that he allowed me.
“Tiramisu” – This was a traditional expression of the iconic Italian dessert. I probably should have ordered something more challenging in a restaurant like this but I am a sucker for a good tiramisu and this one was up there with the best I have tasted.
The chef is an artist – an artist of gastronomy. The cuisine was of the Langhe, in the ingredients and inspirations, but it was enlivened with a sense of humor and irony. He played games with texture, color, and styles. There was something exciting, playful and slightly extravagant in every dish that arrived. Nevertheless, the tastes were always clear and decisive. A Michelin star well deserved!
And by the way, in case anyone wondered, the veal cheek is almost always one of my favorite dishes!