Trial by Pranzo: The Piemontese lunch
We literally got back from Piedmont, Italy, this afternoon and I appear to have finally succumbed to The Boy’s cold. Still there are some blog posts that you get so excited about that they cannot wait for any reason and must simply be written at the first opportunity. This is by far the truth of what I am describing as Trial by Pranzo. I cannot hold it in any longer and must share it with the world.
|The Torino skyline from our B&B balcony|
If you love travel to try the local food, like me, or you’re keen on sampling the wines that an area has to offer, like me, then you’ll love the idea of a lunch in Piedmont that gives you the opportunity to try some of the most traditional dishes, served in the traditional fashion. It sounds so innocuous doesn’t it? Sort of quaint and homely. So why am I calling it Trial by Pranzo (pranzo being Italian for lunch)? Well, I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourself. Strap yourselves in, this may take a little while.
We stopped at the Ristorante Il Faro in Rodello, Piedmont. It is a place that would be easy to miss but sports the most incredible view of the splendid rolling hills, leading the familiar embrace of the Alps in the distance. Dining there would be worth it for the view alone and we were dutifully led to a table by the window to admire the bright sunlight over the hills as we settled in.
|That couple have a very big dog asleep under their table|
The first thing you notice is that the restaurant is very clearly frequented generally by locals (always a good sign) just enjoying a regular lunch. The dining room is simple and also a little on the retro side but very, very spacious – apparently they accommodate a huge number of parties and celebrations throughout the year. It was explained to me that we were going to enjoy a very traditional Piemontese meal, with courses being served to you with very little in the way of explanation or choice in advance! However, given that I was assured that the courses would very much be the local cuisine I was more than happy to continue!
And so the waiter came over with two bottles of wine for the table. This was a little to my surprise I will admit as I wasn’t aware that we’d actually ordered anything yet, but the Roero Arneis Anterisio 2016 was so refreshing and citrusy that it seemed pointless to protest and better just to go along with it. And anyway, we were starving and so The Boy and I happily tucked in to the bread and grissini on the table whilst sipping our Arneis, admiring the view and waiting for the menu.
And lo and behold, within a short time our chirpy waiter floated along to the table bearing a large silver platter, presenting us with a selection of local meats dished out on to the waiting plates on the table – the melt-in-the-mouth lardo, as well as a variety of salami. And the realisation began to dawn that there would be no menu – just the simple presentation of food for us to enjoy direct to our plates at the table. Rustic and homely presentation for typical dishes of the region.
The cold meats were a winner, but before I was anywhere near working my way through that lot the waiter arrived again – this time bearing a light salad made of cheese and celery, with crunchy walnut jewels hidden inside and topped with generous shavings of truffle. The Insalatina Bergera is apparently a classic dish but one I’ll confess I had never seen before and I fell upon it eagerly as the rich smell of the truffle hit my nose. This was an incredible pairing with the Arneis wine and I ate eagerly, although a shared glance with The Boy notified me that we were both beginning to have small worries about the bill that would result from the meal, on account of having already been served more truffle than I normally see in a year…
Yet again, before my plate was empty, the waiter returned again, with an enunciated ‘prego’ for each ‘grazie’ given to him by the diners with me. This time we were apparently still on the antipasti with a delicate carpaccio of beef, dressed in olive oil and covered in a mantle of thick shavings of parmesan. It was intensely flavourful, and yet also light and graceful.
The Piemontese are big fans of raw meat. We ate a lot of it. They get away with it because of the incredible quality and the unusual properties of the Piemontese cattle whose unusual biology makes them less fatty and more muscly than other cows with the meat being absolutely tender beyond belief and not requiring any harsh treatment such as the application of heat.
By this point we were assuming that the antipasti would be over and we would amble our way into the Primi, but we were wrong. Our swooping (and extremely hardworking) waiter returned again with the Vitello Tonnato, another curious sounding but deeply delicious speciality of the region. We had tried this one before and were happy to see it, although we were puzzled as to when the starters might finish and we might move on with the meal. The lightly cooked, tender slices of veal are served with a creamy, mayonnaise like sauce that is heavily flavoured with tuna. I know – sounds wrong doesn’t it? It really, really isn’t. Definitely highly favoured by The Boy and I.
And of course, that wasn’t quite it. Are you starting to understand why this is Trial by Pranzo now? We were assured that the Piemontese are rather obsessed with antipasti, understandably as they do it so well, and so we tucked into a warm spinach flan with a gooey fonduta covering. This flan was lighter than an eggless sponge and again perfectly seasoned and full of flavour. I could probably eat this forever. And while I was full and happy, I was starting to think that the bread and grissini I had consumed with the cold meats was probably a rookie error.
We had sunk the bottle of Arneis and just at the right moment started on the Roberto Sarotto Barbera D’Alba, a light fruity wine which matched well with the Primo – the tajarin (a long, thick, noodle like pasta of the area) with a light, creamy ragu and another healthy dusting of truffle shavings. Yet more raised eyebrows between The Boy and myself. This was another highlight for me, beautiful bite to the pasta and a rich, satisfying and deeply flavourful sauce.
The Boy and I were pleased at this point – we had done the primo and now presumably only had the secondo course and dessert to go. Wrong! So obviously wrong. Next up, was the second of the Primi. This is where I hold up my hands about being a terrible, terrible food blogger. I’d clearly hit my stride and managed to demolish the next course without taking a photo. Happily, I’d already enjoyed a dish of teeny ravioli earlier in the week and so please accept this substitute photo instead. This was served in a meat sauce, not butter and sage as pictured above, but still, it gives you the right idea. Happily there were just the two pasta courses.
At which time the waiter insisted upon bringing another bottle of wine to the table. This time a much deeper and enticing Barbaresco. This was to go with the Secondo course, this time thick slices of meat in a meat and vegetable gravy which was both rich and creamy at the same time, served with rustic thick fried potatoes (dare I call them chips?) – again a great match of red meat and beautiful medium bodied wine. I was very much in the swing by this point, even though I had essentially eaten two or three weeks’ worth of food this week.
And why just have one second course when you can have two? This time slices of pork in a buttery, creamy sauce, served with roasted fresh glazed carrots. By this time I think I was probably starting to hallucinate slightly, so of course this was the cue for a new bottle of wine to be brought out for us to enjoy with the secondi – an absolutely divine Barbera D’Alba, again by Roberto Sarotto – the Elena La Luna which has benefitted unimaginably from a relatively short aging in oak barriques. Of course by this point the wine was not being finished in the same way as the Arneis, but I did my best to put a decent dent in it.
And happily it was time for dessert. So as not to be outdone by the other courses, the dessert actually compromised three different desserts all on one plate, but still the finish line was in sight and so I felt that I could hammer on home.
There was the classic Bonet – made with cocoa, rum and amaretti biscuits. This was a lighter, airier version that those we had encountered previously, but of course with all traditional recipes everyone tends to have their own little take on the classic. There was also a soft, slightly wobbly creme caramel and a cream covered sponge cake. I am pleased to report I ate them all. I was even more pleased to start lining up my wine bottles and wine glasses at this point – a food and wine bloggers dream. And we’d done it! The end! Surely it was time for coffee.
But no. Of course no. Why would that be the end of the meal? Three hours down and obviously it was time for the waiter, who by this point had walked about 13 miles just to serve our table, not to mention the 20+ other diners that were there for lunch as well, brought us a few bottles of spirits to sample. Well, after all of those courses you need a hefty digestif right?
The nocciala liqueur was crowned the champion by myself and The Boy, and you can’t move without someone feeding you something hazelnut based in Piedmont, so it seemed only right. Both grappas were also delicious and the Amaro del Faro liqueur is definitely something that I will be remembering for another day. I can also highly recommend adding a hefty swig of the hazelnut liqueur to a macchiato – a perfect end to the meal.
Time clearly for a short sojourn to the terrace for some R&R and the small matter of the bill. 30 Euro per head. 30 Euros! We essentially rented the table for less than 10EUR an hour each and they brought us food and drink until we nearly went pop. It was marvellous.
Sadly, this traditional style of restaurant seems to be on the decline, with modern tastes preferring food served plated and preened. However, I absolutely fell in love with it – you couldn’t hope for a better introduction to the specialities of the local food culture, all bound up with rustic service of homely dishes and a great wine map of the area to boot. Il Faro is not alone, but there are still others to be found as I have been told.
So thanks to our hosts for taking us to Il Faro and not ruining the surprise! Of course, now I’ve ruined it for all of you – damn you internet – but I’m sure you see why I was excited to write it up! I cannot think of a better way to while away a day than having a great lunch with excellent company and a truly majestic view. We’re already trying to calculate if we had lunch there every other day (no other meals required) vs how long we’re likely to live, when we can just retire to Rodello…
Oh, and a cheeky limoncello for the road? Well why not?