WE START OUT the month at a really fine restaurant one of the two or three best of the last four weeks — a place we'd run into last fall when we were last here; one of the two reataurants on the upper plaza in Moncalvo.
Our smiling second waiter brought us a complimentary insalata russe, that Piemontese favorite we've met a number of times recently. This one was a marvel of well-integrated flavors and textures, the diced potatoes, carrots, and celery and the fresh-cooked peas — I'm sure of it — bound in a smooth mayonnaise lightly flavored with tuna. Superb.
My contessa won the ordering contest — when will I learn to follow her? — with a plate of tagliatelle smothered with sliced "tartufi neri". That was what had put me off: black truffles, here in Monferrato, the white truffle capital of the world? and in May, well out of season?
But there turns out to be a different kind of tartufo nero, as our waiter demonstrated, bringing a whole truffle about the size of a baseball, indeed black but lacking the pebbled texture of the French variety, and when cut in half revealing a smooth-grained, almost dry interior that was perfectly white. They are local; their season runs from March to October, they cost perhaps €150 the kilogram, and they taste very like white truffles. Who knew?
I suffered through another plate of cruda — I write this ironically: this was a fine version, perhaps the best yet, clean, sweet, and smooth but nubby, and served simply with a bottle of good olive oil, pink salt from the Himalayas, and a pepper grinder.
Then a plate of gnocchi in Castelmagno sauce. Castelmagno, when at (or even merely near) its best, is perhaps my favorite cheese: smooth, creamy or pasty depending on its maturity, pure white or streaked with blue, buttery, tasting of the grass and flowers the cows graze on high in the Piemontese Alpine foothills. And these gnocchi were light and smooth, clearly made of potato but quite diffident about it, happily wearing their sauce.
A big mixed salad next, because we've been ignoring our vegetables; and then the best bonet yet, more cake than pudding, bittersweet with cocoa and bitter almond, beautifully textured, and topped with the right amount of whipped cream. Ottimo.
Timorasso: Derthona, Vigneti Massa, 2012, luscious; Grignolino: Sanpietro, Poderi Girola, 2013; the best Grignolino I've ever tasted, hands down. Fabulous.
☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants