Via Troglia, Cardano, May 30, 2015—
UFF, MOST OF US were thinking, I've eaten so much these last few days, what could we possibly want for lunch. Alice, whose instincts are always right, said I just want a pizza and a big big salad. Gabriela brightened: There's a very good pizzeria at Moncalvo, she said. The one in Tonco is closer, but the one in Moncalvo is better.
Moncalvo it is, then, and we packed ourselves into three cars and set off, getting lost a couple of times on the way, not quite trusting the directions, but finally finding the place. (Once we'd decided to rely on the directions.)
A big table had been set out in the pizzeria which seemed to have opened only for us. The oven was almost up to temperature; we only had to be patient a few minutes more…
And then out the came, pizza after pizza, Margherita, speck, a wonderful one that featured mostly marvelous soft sweet onions… and then after that a big glass bowl of insalata mista for each of us. We had a fine time, and these were truly very good pizze.
Vino rosso da tavola, of course, with one holdout for beer•Ristorante Pizzeria San Giovanni, strada Casale 43, Moncalvo (AT); 0141 917134
AND WE SHOULD HAVE left it at that, but some of us developed a slight hunger in the evening, and the consensus was to go back to Zanco, to da Maria, which had served us well for lunch the other day.
Alas, we were not in the mood, and the service was inexplicably slow. There was no menu, and the waiter brought out — at a snails' pace — one appetizer after another, all of them the same as the previous lunch, but to my taste a little more tired, perhaps from an extra two days in the fridge.
I took a pasta course, and enjoyed my agnolotti, but after carne cruda and lardo was beginning to feel a bit liverish. Then, because it sounded interesting, I ordered as a secondo the carpione. Had I been alone, or there been only the two of us, I'd have asked further about this: but I didn't want to press the matter. It sounded interesting, and I didn't catch the reference to carp.
The dish originated as a way of preparing that loathsome freshwater fish, but has extended here in Monferrato to chicken, and that is what we got: a flattened chicken breast, breaded and fried; a couple of lengths of zucchini; a fat anchovy or two that looked more like sardines to me, cooked as the chicken had been.
All three of these items had first been pickled, though, for that is what carpione refers to: a marinade using water, vinegar, white wine, and chopped aromatics — carrot, onion, laurel, thyme or rosemary. This could be a delightful dish in hot weather with a glass of beer, if the pickling weren't overwhelmingly astringent. Tonight, though, it was. Furthermore, we were a little liverish (I think I can speak for some of the others at table).
Worse, we were drinking a magnum of Barbera, which itself turned out to be a real disappointment, a Parkerized superwine, 15 percent alcohol, overly oaked and tannic, but still no match for all this vinegar. I hardly touched my dish.
Arneis, Ergola (Langhe), 2014; Barbera d'Asti, "Il Beneficio", Castello di Razzano, 2011
•Ristorante Da Maria, via Roma 131, Zanco di Villadeati (AL); +39 0141902035
☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants