The Vinous Guide to Eating and Drinking in Piedmont

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.

Lastly, 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.

Osteria dell’ Arco

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 very little 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 at the Osteria, 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, every day food made with uncompromisingly high quality standards at fair, working-class prices.

Osteria dell’ Arco, Piazza Savona, 5, Alba (CN), Italy. Tel. +39 0173 363974

Centro Storico

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 menu is very simple, typically 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!

Above: Insalata Russa, a Piemonte classic

Centro Storico, Via Roma 6, 12050 Serralunga d’Alba (CN). Tel. +39 0173 613 203

La Ciau del Tornavento

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 For more on La Ciau, readers might enjoy this recent article. As for the wine list, it will leave you thinking about how fast you can come back, let’s leave it at that.

Above: La Ciau’s white truffle starter with a glass of Chave’s 1985 Hermitage Blanc

La Ciau del Tornavento, Piazza Baracco, 7, Treiso (CN), Italy. Tel. +39 0173 638 333

Ristorante Bovio

A few years ago, the Bovio family sold the restaurant Belvedere [not everybody knows that Belvedere is a restaurant] , 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 supposed to be all about. Two recent dinners were fabulous.

Above: There is carne cruda there, somewhere beneath the truffles

Ristorante Bovio, Via Alba, 17 bis, La Morra (CN) Italy. Tel. +39 0173 590303

La Rei Ristorante

La Rei is going through a bit of a transition right now. I wouldn’t have known that by the food, though, as several recent dinners were among the best I have ever had here. Chef Chen Shiqin has returned to his native Shanghai, and Marco Forneris, formerly of La Libera in Alba, is now behind the stove. Giancarlo Vivalda, owner of Da Renzo had consulted and set the direction of the menu when La Rei opened a few years ago, but he has now been replaced by super star chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo, who is now doing the consulting. Why does a restaurant with a great chef need a consultant? I am not sure. Too many chefs in the kitchen? We will see, but I hope not. The set menu of classics is superb, but so are many of the more creative dishes on the menu, such as the Agnolotti al Plin, ‘Genovese’ style, with braised onions, Parmesan foam and carne cruda, pictured below.

Above: La Rei’s Agnolotti al Plin, ‘Genovese’ style, with braised onions, Parmesan foam and carne cruda

Maitre d’Hôtel Davide Ostorero spent several years at Cracco in Milan. He brings an urban sensibility and a passion for detail that is pretty much nonexistent anywhere else in Piedmont. Of course as a New Yorker, I am a bit spoiled and my expectations may be a bit unrealistic (OK, they are), but no one does wine service better than La Rei, which is why I almost always do my wine dinners here. The list is extensive and very well priced for a high-end luxury restaurant. In the summer and early fall, I suggest sitting at one of the outdoor tables, which will give diners fabulous views of Bruno Giacosa’s Falletto estate.

La Rei Ristorante, Il Boscareto Resort, Via Roddino 21, 12050 Serralunga d'Alba (CN). Tel. +39.0173 613 036

Trattoria La Coccinella

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 won’t see a lot of tourists at this haunt mostly frequented by locals and those in the know.

Trattoria La Coccinella, Via Provinciale A3, 5, 12050 Serravalle Langhe (CN) Italy. Tel. +39 0173 748220

Antica Corona Reale (Da Renzo)

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, 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 icon.

Above: Da Renzo’s Uova in Cocotte

Antica Corona Reale (Da Renzo), Via Fossano, 13, 12040 Cervere (CN), Italy. Tel. +39 0172 474132

Trattoria Antica Torre

Antica Torre is the perfect place to stop by for a quick, simple, homemade meal in Barbaresco. 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 every day, 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.

Trattoria Antica Torre, Via Torino 64, Barbaresco (CN), Italy. Tel. +39 173 635 170

Fontanafredda – Ristoro della Fondazione

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 an incredible 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 or happen to be in the neighborhood.

Fontanafredda, Via Alba, 15
, 12050 Serralunga d'Alba (CN), Italy. Tel. +39 0173 626 111

Other News

- Sadly, Antiné in Barbaresco is now closed. Chef/Proprietor Andrea Martino is rumored to be on his way to California.

- Massimo Camia has left Borgo Antico to open a new restaurant in partnership with the Damilano family.

- Piedmont icon Cesare Giaccone is said to be cooking back at his original restaurant, but only for friends and with advance notice.

- I have not eaten at Andrea Alciati’s Da Guido in the Relais San Maurizio in a few years, but it is said to still be excellent. My last meal there was phenomenal.

- Brothers Ugo and Piero Alciati have moved their version of the family’s Guido franchise to Fontanafredda. I have yet to eat there.

- 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