Sunday, November 2, 2014

Monferrato, 5: Cardona

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Via Troglia 1, Cardona di Alfano Natta; November 2, 2014—
ONE OF THE BENEFITS, to me, of maintaing this blog, is that it leads me to re-think impressions I've had of my dining. Just after finishing dinner last night, for example, I was satisfied but unimpressed. Today, on reflection, I am more favorable.

We dined in a place new to us, a kilometer up a country road from the B&B we always stay in when we visit Monferrato. The chef is from Monferrato; her husband, who works the house, is Genovese. They are young — in their late 30s, I'd say — and earnest. The table d'hôte menu is strictly Piemontese, or was last night; but there's clearly an intent to bring traditional cuisine into a contemporary restaurant aesthetic. In a less generous mood I might borrow a phrase I learne the other day to describe the place as "country chic," but that would be, well, ungenerous.

We started with this duo of familiar Piemontese staples: carne cruda, the delicious Piemontese beef minced (battute) with a sharp knife, here drizzled with oil and garnished with a very fresh leaf of lettuce, and insalata russa, here in a dense surround of mashed potato slightly softened with mayonnaise.

IMG 6665On, then, to this very interesting flan di erbette, a sformato of green herbs bound with cream, I'd say. And what were those erbette, little herbs? Marjoram, surely — it turned up prominently later — but surely nettles, as well, and maybe something else? And might some of the greens be "wild," not gardened, simply found where they appear spontaneously? Whatever, it was a remarkable dish, and led me to think about the medieval roots of much of this Piemontese cuisine, perhaps especially here in the relatively isolated Monferrato.

Next, vichysoisse: potato and leek soup, smoothly puréed into a vellutata and brightened with a streak of delicious Ligurian olive oil, green as a bottle.

Next came the pasta course: plin, those little filled gnocchi-like raviolini you find in this region, filled with chopped marjoram and, I think, a little sage, and served in a simple broth.

The menu went on to the one choice of the evening: either a rollata di coniglio con spinaci or a trippa in umido. Not fancying tripe I would have opted for the former, but the other three at my table were at their limit and it was late, so we skipped the course entirely. I finished, then, with yet another look at bonet, this one in a nice caramel sauce and topped with a shiny, svelte, utterly delicious icing of — naturally — chocolate and hazelnut. If amaretti were present, they eluded me.

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Grignolino di Monferrato, Crealto, 2012 (not very sound, not too pleasant); Barbera d'Asti "La Svolta", Crealto, 2011 (quite nice, true to grape and locality)
•Crealto Agriturismo e cantina, Strada Crealto, 6; Località Cardona di Alfiano Natta; +39 345 5686278

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