EVERY NOW AND THEN it seems we just completely luck out. (Well, pretty consistently, this last month.) We had decided to spend our last night here in Italy near our airport. I looked at the Osterie d'Italia iPhone app for a good restaurant nearby, and was especially interested in one — the only one near Torino's airport in the listing, I believe.
We booked a nearby hotel, spent a couple of hours packing and decompressing, and then drove out in search of its small town — having forgotten a lesson learned many times over: telephone first. No listing service is perfect. What you need to confirm is whether the place is indeed open, whether you can get a table, and precisely where the place is.
I'd booked the table, of course, a couple of days ago. But I relied on Osteria's description of the address, and drove three or four miles out of our way. In fact I drove right past the place, eyes glued forward, missing its very clear sign. The taverna is in Malanghero, not San Maurizio Canavese.
Oh well. We entered what proved to be a really pleasant, old-fashioned, homey taverna — in the characteristically subtle Italian nomenclature, rather simpler than an osteria and certainly less restaurant-like than a trattoria. Three small dining rooms, of which ours seated a dozen, no more. Many paintings and photographs on the walls. One waitress, who knew her stuff. One cook, I'd be willing to bet, with maybe one helper.
The menu is quite restricted, perhaps three pastas and two secondi; but the wine list was very impressive indeed, though hardly venturing away from Piemonte. (Why would you?) We were very quickly given our amuses-bouches : a demitasse-spoon-sized sphere of firm soft white cheese, a soft tomme as I believe, with a dollop of herbal tapenade and a generous amount of delicious olive oil.
Next came a series of antipasti, beginning with five sausages served simply on a board with a sharp knife; slice off what you want. The first one we tried — the farthest away in the photo — was a magnificent thing: pork, potato, and beet, hardly cooked, lasting only a few days we were told, made on a farm up in the Val d'Aosta. Next came a piquant sausage, then one made with a very discreet addition of finely ground walnuts; then two more ordinary ones at different degrees of maturity. Altogether, a splendid tasting.
There followed a splendid carne cruda , nothing but very thinly sliced and then pounded beef under a coating of olive oil, very subtly salted and, I believe, treated to the faint aroma of anchovy. Regular visitors to this blog will know I've been sampling raw beef at every opportunity, whether in a tartare style, chopped or scraped, or as here in a manner closer to carpaccio. I have yet to be disappointed, but this was certainly near the top of the range.
Came next a couple of mountain tommes, discs a couple of inches in diameter, stagionata to perhaps a couple of months, flavored with thyme, and again in olive oil; and then a fine soft frittata of zucchini set off with a couple of squiggles of peperoni-infused mayonnaise.
We were given a choice from two pastas, and we all opted for the risotto — perhaps we've just been having too much spaghetti, tagliatelle, and ravioli lately; perhaps it was because we'd been driving through rice-growing country. Most likely it was because we were intrigued by its treatment: flavored with aglio orsino , described as the leaf of a plant that grows wild.
When I pressed the pleasant and patient young woman serving us further she simply returned with a leaf, the shape of a spear-blade, about as long as my hand, apple-green, soft and velvety to the touch. True enough it smelled very subtly of garlic, but it clearly was not common garlic. Whatever, it gave our risotto a beautiful apple-green cast, recalling the zucchini frittata, and a discreet but definite and, to me, quite new flavor, a bit like garlic, a bit like nettle, but neither.
We were far too well-fed to take a secondo. The ladies at the table took dessert; the men, seeing this was their last night in Piemonte for the foreseeable future, opted to share a glass of Barolo, not having yet had any. It's easy to be content with Dolcetto, Grignolino, and Barbera in Piemonte, especially in Monferrato where we've been the last week. But Hans was curious to taste a Barolo, which of course wants a heavy meat course alongside — or no food at all, sipped thoughtfully as a vino da meditazione. It was a fine moment.
• La Taverna dei tre gufi, Via Devietti Goggia, 71 Malanghero di San Maurizio Canavese (TO) 10077; 3312840743.