We just got back from a trip to Italy and our first stop was in the Piedmont region, probably most famous for its Piemontese wines of Roero, Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco and Barolo. Turin is the capital of the region, which borders France and Switzerland and is famous for its car industry and of course…chocolate. The first chocolate license was acquired by the House of Savoy in 1678 and production of Gianduja cioccolatino, or chocolate mixed with hazelnuts, began in 1806 because of a cocoa shortage due to a Napoleonic blockade. During this shortage chocolate makers began adding ground nuts to the chocolate and thus, Gianduja was born.
We started our trip with a train ride from Milan to Turin and spent one day in Turin exploring the city. Our first stop was Grom for gelato. Even though we have one here in Malibu California, I needed to taste the quality of Grom here in Turin and of course it was exceptional. The skill of the gelato staff was much more impressive than at home. For starters, there was a real art to the technique of swirling scoops on the cone and sense of pride with what they were creating.
For dinner on our first night in Turin, we dined at Porto di Savona, one of the cities oldest restaurants. Porto di Savona, is located in the beautiful Piazza Vittorio which sits in a 19th-century tavern. The menu consists of Piemontese classics, such as Tagliatelle with creamy Castelmagno Cheese and Veal Agnolotti in a Beef Sauce. Vitello Tonnato or veal in tuna mayonnaise sauce is an appetizer served everywhere in the region and soon it became the subject of many jokes during our trip, not that we didn’t thoroughly enjoy it!
Warm Herb Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms, probably my favorite dish of the trip, and Brasato al Barolo, beef braised in red wine and top with gravy, were some more delicious traditional dishes.
For dessert, we had Gianduja on Puff Pastry Crust drizzled with Chocolate Sauce, sort of the Mille Feuille of Italy — decadent. We walked back from dinner through the streets of Turin admiring all the lovely piazzas and buildings.
We stayed at the Principi di Piemonte hotel which was recommended by Butterfield & Robinson, our biking tour group. Even though we are not avid bikers, we decided to bike with Butterfield & Robinson through the wine region in Piedmont because we love great food, wine and need to exercise during our vacations. At home, we run, ride beach cruisers, play tennis and take dance classes, but that is far from a daily biking regimen. Before we left for our trip, we took spinning classes for a few weeks to get our thighs in shape!
The biking group met in the hotel bar the night before to introduce ourselves to each other and have our first cocktail together. In the morning, we took a van ride seventy minutes out into the Piedmont wine region and had a Marocchino, espresso with a little milk and a dusting of cocoa powder, before we headed out for a day of biking in the gently (hmm?) rolling hills of Monferrato.
The first thing that came to mind as I was peddling up our first STEEP hill was, “What have I gotten myself into.” After the first hill, things seemed to smooth out a bit and I couldn’t believe my eyes at the lovely country side and vineyards. Our three guides, Jacopo, Lorenzo and Marya, were so friendly and energetic that it made our day run or bike smoothly. For lunch, we stopped at Ristorante Albergo Ca’ Vittoria in Tigliole d’ Asti. This lovely property was both a hotel and a restaurant above the hills in Asti.
Upon entering the property you could see a beautifully set table on the patio with dishes and glassware for twenty people. It certainly didn’t take the group long to relax and enjoy the conversation, food and wine.
We began our lunch with the traditional Vitello Tonnato or Veal in Tuna Sauce. This version was a little more upscale than the traditional version with a bite of roasted yellow pepper, skinned and stuffed with pureed tuna.
Our entree of Porcini Risotto, cooked al dente with aromatics of heavenly mushrooms was spectacular!
For dessert, Mint Semifreddo with a scoop of Whipped Chocolate was refreshingly nice. Then, back on our bikes to Villa Tiboldi in Canale, Italy for two nights.
The views along the way were amazing and in the background was the Swiss Alps. Our hotel, Villa Tiboldi was perched high on the hilltop for a spectacular setting.
We cleaned up for dinner and had a quick cooking lesson with the Chef at Villa Tiboldi. He demonstrated how to prepare Tajarin Pasta, which is a tagliatelle pasta made with a dozen egg yolks per batch. The bright yellow hue is due to the high concentration of yolks and is served with meat sauce or the more traditional butter and sage sauce.
The group had wine before dinner, while enjoying conversation and the lovely views.
At Villa Tiboldi, we were seated in the dining room of the restaurant for dinner on a large oval shaped table. We started with some more delicious wine from Malvira’ Winery, who owns Villa Tiboldi.
Favorita is actually called Vermentino in other areas of Europe and the United States. We started with Vitello Tonnato, however this sauce tasted as if it had a little mustard in it.
The Risotto with Eel and Roasted Peppers with a hint of Ginger was the most interesting dish of the night. The crunchy tempura on top of a bed of creamy rice had nice contrasting textures. We enjoyed another Malvira’ wine with dinner.
For dessert, an airy Chocolate Cake with poached Apricot and Custard Gelato with a glass of Grappa. The perfect ending of our first day. Delightful!
The next day, we rode through the beautiful vineyards and small towns to Bra to attend the International Cheese Festival. A few kilometers out of Bra is a town called Pollenzo, where the University of Gastronomic Sciences is located and home of the Slow Food Movement. We were lucky enough to be in Bra during this festival and had a personalized cheese and wine pairing.
After our tasting, we headed to lunch at Ristorante Battaglino in Bra. Yes, I know we are already full, but we are in Italy and we are not missing lunch! We sat outside in the courtyard under a canopy of foliage and talked and ate and ate. I love this pic of Marya!
Our first course was a warm savory Pumpkin Custard with Cheese Sauce. The texture of the custard was light and airy, the perfect fall comfort food.
Also, we had the traditional Veal Agnolotti in Butter & Sage and it was nicely cooked, al dente of course.
After lunch, we opted to go shopping in Bra and take the van back to Villa Tiboldi. After a quick shower, we headed with the group to Malvira for a winery tour and tasting.
Dinner was at a local Agriturismo in Canale. Breadsticks are at every table in Piedmont, not to mention local white bread and tonight fried bread too! The fried bread, when it was hot, reminded me of a beignet without the powdered sugar…this is not the place to eat low-carb.
Our dinner was very rustic with Zucchini Soup, sprinkled with chili flake, fried garlic and dried herbs and Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream. Both of these dishes were the highlight of the meal.
The sugar cube soaked in Absinthe was optional and I opted out, but not Dave!
The next day we headed out of Villa Tiboldi to Montforte via Alba and Barolo. In Alba, we met the first Beppe for a tour of the Duomo and a local bank to discuss the architecture and history of Alba. Afterwards, we had lunch on our own, so we chose Voglia di Vino, a small wine bar in Alba. Terry and Brian, in our group had the same idea, so the four of us sampled some terrific wines and dined on freshly sliced charcuterie.
The owners of the wine bar gave us a sample of the local Piemontese raw sausage along with our wines too.
After lunch, we continued our ride (climb) to Barolo. Upon arriving into Barolo, you couldn’t help but notice the lovely landscape and rolling vineyard hills. We stopped in the Museo dei Cavatappi or Corkscrew Museum for a quick self guided tour. Afterwards, Brian and I headed into a wine bar for a quick tasting. Thanks Brian, I still owe you one!
After Barolo, we headed into our hotel, Villa Beccaris in Monforte d’ Alba for a shower, before our history lecture of Piedmont. The villa was a former nobleman’s residence with upgraded amenities and a pool, a lovely place. The first Beppe’s lecture began with a conversation about truffles and then went into the history of the region. That evening we had dinner on our own, so we booked a table for four to dine with our new friends Dan and Carola at Trattoria della Posta in Monforte.
We decided to share plates, so we could taste a good sampling of the menu. To start, we were served the traditional Raw Sausage and Russian Salad, which is supposedly a salad that was made in Piedmont when Russian aristocracy came to visit. Basically, it is potato salad prepared with a mayonnaise made from local olive oil.
For appetizers, we started with the “Bloomin’ Onion,” as I called it, or Roasted Onion filled with local Melted Cheeses.
The Roasted Porcini Mushroom wrapped in Bacon and the Rabbit Salad with fresh olives, tomatoes and veggies were perfect dishes to begin our meal.
The Beef Tartar with Black Truffles and Quail Egg was freshly prepared and the meat had a nice sweet flavor, but the truffles needed to be on a warm dish to take advantage of the aroma.
The Pasta course was next and we ordered three dishes to share – Gnocchi with Shellfish, Spinach & Goat Cheese Ravioli with Sausage and Dan’s favorite – Tagliatelle Bolognese. As a group we enjoyed the ravioli and tagliatelle best.
After pasta were our entrees of Veal Tenderloin with Foie Gras. We ordered two plates to share and as you can see, the size of the lobes of Foie were as big as the steak — huge!
The cheese cart and dessert came next. The selection of cheeses was magical and the dessert was probably the best of the entire trip – Hazelnut Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and a Milk Chocolate Bombe with Poached Pears.
Oh, and don’t forget the wine! I think I forgot to take a pic of one bottle, but my favorite was the Prunotto.
Thanks again Dan and Carola for a lovely time! We really enjoyed spending the evening with you.
The next day started out a little rainy and windy, but we braved the steep climb out of Montforte to Barbaresco via Alta Langa. Our truffle hunt was cancelled due to weather, but we met with the second Beppe (truffle hunter/ex-bouncer) and his dog to ask truffle questions and to get a quick coffee.
After meeting with Beppe, we biked to Barbaresco to tour the tower and take in the sites of the area.
We only needed to bike a few kilometers from the town of Barbaresco to get to lunch and the views on the ride were spectacular. Lunch was at Casa Nicolini where we met Sergio for a taste of Produttori di Barbaresco wines and a buffet lunch. The buffet was filled with traditional dishes like; Vitello Tonnato, Prosciutto, Local Cheeses, Vegetable Quiches and Beef Tartar. The wines were nice too!
Don’t forget the breadsticks….delicious!
After lunch we boarded a bus, those who opted out of the century ride, to the hotel. All but, Dan, Carola and Jeremy snoozed our way to La Villa Hotel in Mombaruzzo. Upon arriving we were greeted with a glass of cold prosecco and our room keys. Our hotel was a renovated villa, that a British couple owned and operated. The views were amazing as far as your eyes could see and from our room window.
That evening the group boarded a small van to dinner in the Monferrato Hills. We were seated outside on a covered patio and the true highlight of the evening was Peter performing his magic. He was amazing.
The best of the meal was the company followed by the local Goat Cheese, Chili Jam and Grape Must.
The dessert was nice too – Creamy Semi-Freddo with Chocolate Sauce and Ground Nuts.
The morning of our last ride was bittersweet. Our thighs obviously needed a break, but it was hard to say goodbye to such a lovely group. The ride began out of the Villa to Cassine and Tacconotti. Day five was a long ride, but less climbing, which allowed us time to take photos and admire our beautiful surroundings.
Our lunch was one of the best of the trip at Trattoria dei Tacconotti in Frascaro. Carlo and Anna are the owners and she was the chef of the restaurant. We started with a traditional plate of Russian Salad, Spinach Quiche, Vegetable Omelette and Goat Cheese. The white sparkling wine was a nice fit with the first course.
Here’s where the meal goes crazy delicious — Our second course was Mandilli with Pesto made with basil from Pra, a town known for growing the best and parmesan from Liguria. The ribbon pasta was light and delicate with a sauce that was slightly sweet and earthy all at the same time. Fantastic!
Our entree of Pasta e Fagioli made with the same ribbons of pasta, cut up and folded into a broth of Borlotti beans. I loved this dish just as much as the pasta above.
Dessert was Mint Ice Cream with Chocolate Syrup, a Scoop of Whipped Caramel and a Hazelnut Paste Ball of something I have never had. All three were rustic and yummy.
On our ride back, we took our time riding through the scenic villages and roads and came across a rooster. So naturally there was a joke here: “Why did the rooster cross the road?” “Because the chicken wasn’t available??”
Jacopo, Dave and I stopped on our ride back, in the town of Mombaruzzo, home to the Amaretti Cookie. I purchased a few bags to take back along with some hazelnut and chocolate tortes for the holidays. Yum! Another stop along the route with the entire group, for our last glass of prosecco and a group picture.
When we reached the hotel, it was hard to say goodbye to the hybrid bikes that had carried us so many miles around Piedmont.
That evening we met in the bar of the hotel before dinner, for drinks, appetizers and lots of laughs.
More pics of the group!
Don’t forget the prosciutto, salami and raw sausage! And more great pics of the group!
Our dinner was upstairs in the hotel with a beautifully set table and live jazz band.
The dinner began with White Truffle Pasta – What a treat!!
And Roasted Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Cipolini Onions over Potato Puree for our entree.
Our dessert was a White Chocolate Soup, but I didn’t get to eat much of it or take a picture because I was enjoying the great company and the 2004 Reserve Barbaresco that our hosts so generously shared with us on our final evening.
The next morning some people left extra early to catch flights, while others rode a van to the train station. Dan, Carola, Dave and I spent the day in Turin. We decided to get on the oh-so-touristy Hop-On Hop-Off Bus and get a quick overview of Turin. As silly as it seems, the bus did give us a broad scope of historical information. Here is a picture of the Medieval Castle on the Po River.
We headed to Al Bicerin for coffee drinks afterwards. Caffe Al Bicerin opened in 1763 and has been a popular spot for locals and tourists ever since. This unique combination of chocolate, coffee and cream started back by Emmanuel Philibert in the 1500’s to celebration victory over the French. I found a recipe online for il Bicerin, from one of my favorite food bloggers who now lives in Paris, David Lebovitz.
After coffee, we went to lunch a few steps away from Piazza Castello at Da Cianci Piola Caffe’. The small restaurant was mostly seated outside with a few tables inside close to the bar. The menu was concise with just a few offerings during lunch. We started with a sampling of all the appetizers including: Mushroom Flan with Tomato Sauce, Goat Cheese with Pesto, Warm Cabbage Bagna Cauda, Anchovies with Salsa Verde, Beef Tartar and of course Vitello Tonnato.
For lunch, we dined on fresh pasta: Gnocchi with Beef & Peppers, Tagliolini with Zucchini and Cheese and Tagliolini Bolognese — Dan couldn’t of been happier!
After lunch we walked with Dan and Carola back to our hotel, so they could get their luggage and said our goodbyes. Dave and I headed to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema or Cinema Museum. We toured around some famous sets and photographic equipment cases of the past, but living in Los Angeles not far from Hollywood, it was hard to feel enlightened. Afterwards we walked several blocks to Guido Gobino who makes handcrafted chocolates, specializing in Gianduja.
Our day was complete with dining at the oldest restaurant in Turin, Del Cambio circa 1757. The dining room was quite elegant with crystal chandeliers and the waitstaff dressed in tuxedos.
As for the food, well … it definitely could use an update, but what did we except. The Aperitivo plate had Jellies, Olives Stuffed with Foie Gras, Mini Muffin with Avocado Sauce and Verde Cake with Pickled Onions.
The Amuse Bouche was probably the best “Old School” dish on the table, Warm Custard with Snails. I loved the silver dish.
The traditional Agnolotti with Beef Sauce was nicely done, but we had already eaten our share. My entree was Sole with thick Egg Custard Puree and Zucchini Blossoms. It was the brightest plate I had ever seen, but not the tastiest.
We skipped dessert and had the petit fours with coffee and headed out. My recommendation would be to have a drink there to see the restaurant and its ornately decorated rooms and skip the meal.
Our trip to Piedmont was outstanding and Butterfield and Robinson made it even more special. We hope to stay in touch with our friends we met on our journey through the wine country and please know you are welcome to visit and have a meal with us at our home anytime.