Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day 5: Alba white truffle festival and a meal at Osteria La Torre

Day 5: Alba white truffle festival and a meal at Osteria La Torre




Restaurants visited:

Osteria La Torre (5 star, Excellent food and great services)


Truffle Festival: So much truffle and just 1/3 of the prices in the US

The day has finally arrived. The main reason for this trip to Alba, the truffle festival!

As I stepped outside of the apartment, I was greeted by a lot of people on the street. Turns out, the entire street is turned a street market every Saturday!

As I moved towards the main city plaza, I realized that I was going to need some help finding the truffle market. I was really lucky because as I turned my head, I saw the tourism office right there by the plaza. I walked in and was greeted by a friendly Italian girl who speaks great English! She gave me instructions to the market, the general directions in this regions and lots of helpful ideas and free maps. She also set me up with free wifi access. Only 2 hours per day though. (I don’t really understand this restriction, but I was not going to turn down free wifi!)

People can also purchase tours and other activities here. I was asking about cooking classes and they wrote down my available day/time and asked me to come back later to check for class availability.

I left the office and move on to the truffle market. As I walked pass what felt like a million people coming in the opposite direction, I suddenly sniffed a faint familiar fragrance… Oh my God! White truffle!!! I looked up and saw this sign with the only Italian word that I know: “Tartufo”!!!!!!!!

Following the sign, I arrived at the entrance of the market. I paid 2 Euro for the ticket and stepped into this gastronomic heaven. The air was completely filled with white truffle aroma at every corner. The most amazing sensory experience I’ve ever had in a market. There were at least 30 truffle traders/hunters selling white truffles right here. The average price is around 200-300 Euro per 100 grams. In the US, the same amount of white truffle would go for 1000 dollars or more!

    
 

There were sample tasting of truffle paste, pasta, chocolate, hazelnuts cakes, etc. I don’t know what else to describe this place except “paradise”!

Towards the end of the space, there was an area where many wine producers in this area showcase their wines and a wine bar area that people buy wine by the glass, and also can purchase light eats such as pasta, panini, ect. Add 25 euro for truffle shaving, of course. I ordered a glass of nebbiolo and a bowl of Tajarin with white truffle shaving on top.

 

The pasta was just okay though. I should’ve known better not to have high expectation for festival cafeteria food, but I couldn’t resist the truffle aroma that filled the air.

As I munched on the pasta and drank the wine, a cute couple from Genova at the same table and I started a great conversation about the olive oil that they produce in their olive tree orchard and the B&B they are building. The girl is from Canada and the husband is from Italy. Was it the classic story of a girl coming to Italy and fell in love with the food, the land, the people, and eventually a man of her own? I didn’t ask. They looked really happy. We were all happily submerged in the truffle aroma, the wine, and the beautiful Italian spoken words in the background that surrounded us. She left me their contact information and I promised to get in touch with them. The next time I come here, I will for sure stay in their B&B after it is open. I also promised to buy some olive oil from them. Organic and first cold pressed, they promised. :-)

(P.S. I realized that I didn’t save their contact information on my iPhone at the last step. Must be the alcohol! The couple from Genova, if you see this post, please email me and let me know your contact information. I want your olive oil. :-) )

I circled around more and bought some hazelnut chocolate and cakes, then went back to the apartment. Every time I drink wine, I get really sleepy. So I took a short nap before heading back out again.


Afternoon walk in Alba: Duomo and a local supermarket!

Every Italian city / town has at least one main church. I wanted to check out the one in Alba. The sun was setting, which made it hard to take photos of the half shaded church building. Still, it was a beautiful church and I couldn’t help taking some photos.

When I was in Florence 4 years ago, I walked into a church and took a few photos, but then was quickly stopped by someone. I did some research online afterwards and realized that in most churches in Italy, photography is not allowed once inside. Unfortunately, it was the case with this church as well. It was beautiful. I wish that I could show you guys.

When I was walking around in the church, a friendly old priest said hello to me and started chatting with me. We sat down and had a long conversation about the history of this church and other churches in Italy. We used the TripAdvisor app on my iPhone looking for many different churches throughout Italy. It was fascinating watching an old Italian priest using iPhone and the app UI that I designed.

He told me that this church in Alba is of Gothic style. The columns and the ceiling were built to mimic the forests. The columns reach up to the ceiling and branch out like trees in the forest reaching up to the sky, and the ceiling is painted dark blue as the night sky and with stars painted on it. The style was originally from Germany where people believed that forests held special power.

I told him that I will stop by Paris before I head back to San Francisco. He then gave me a pendant of Maria that he got from a church in Paris and asked me to check out the church if I have time. What a lovely and warm priest here in Alba! As we shook hands and said goodbye, I could feel his passion passing through to me with his big warm hand.

When I walked out of the church, it was already dark. I was getting really thirsty and there was no more drinking water left at the apartment. I walked to a local supermarket and got myself some water, a packet of breadsticks and a jar of Nutella. (Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, set up its headquarter here in Abla.) Sandro, a French intern in our team told me that Nutella in Italy uses the hazelnuts from Italy and tastes better than the ones that we get in the US, which uses the hazelnuts from Canada. I don’t know about the hazelnuts from Canada but the hazelnuts here in Piedmont is amazingly good.

Oh, and they have the best shopping baskets ever. It has a handle and wheels at the bottom!



Osteria La Torre: My truffle ultimate experience continues…

I found out about Osteria La Torre on chowhound.com. I also checked TripAdvisor and the photos looked amazing. I made a reservation on their website before I came to Italy. When I called them today to reconfirm the reservation, no one spoke English. They only speak either Italian or French. Even though it was a bit challenging to communicate with them, eventually I made it here and was seated promptly.

The location on Google map is about half a block off. However, there is a sign of the restaurant at the Google pin location pointing to where it is. It’s pretty easy to find.

A lovely girl approached me and she spoke English. Woohoo! She patiently explained everything on the menu to me and helped me decide what to order.

We decided on the Coccotte tartufata (Similar dish as I had yesterday at Antica Corona Reale, that egg, cream and cheese dish.) and Ravioli quadri rid e coi al burro (chestnut ravioli with sage and butter). And depending on how full I feel after the ravioli, we will decide if I’ll order more.

We again started with amuse bouche. Vegetable flan and sour kraut. Really delicious.

 

One thing that I noticed is that breadsticks seem to be one of the standard “bread” that restaurants here serve. Everywhere I go, breadsticks are served. Delicious!

Next up. Cocotte Tartufata. I was again in paradise. Egg, cream, cheese and butter, with truffle shaved on top. It is really the ultimate truffle experience. After this, no other dish will be able to come even close to the truffle high I get from this combination.

The next dish was the ravioli. I had truffle shaved over it. It was pretty good but the problem of having any dish after Cocotte Tartufata is that everything will just pale in comparison. Good dish though.

To my surprised, I felt that I could have one more small dish afterwards. I haven’t had any meat dish yet, so I asked my waitress what she would recommend. I can’t remember the name of the dish and it was not on the menu, but it was basically every body part of a rooster except for the meat. Like the brain, the guts, the crown, etc. She said it was a regional specialty and she looked concerned that it may be too weird for me. It must have been really obvious. Hahaha. But, hell, how many times am I going to make it here in my life time to have a chance to try this dish. “Yes”, I said. And the dish arrived!

It was pretty good! I had no idea what half of the stuff was and I ate them, but they were very tasty. There were two pieces of fried polenta on top of them but I wish that there was one more. There were some pickled vegetables, which balanced out the gamy taste of some of these body parts. I’m not sure if I would order it again but I’m very glad that I tried.

I was really full by now but wanted some sweets, so she brought me raspberry sorbet, which was delicious! If I wasn’t this full, I would’ve wanted to try their panna cotta, but oh well.

After the dessert came the sweets. Highlights: Dark chocolate covered hazelnuts. These hazelnuts are amazing. If you have a chance to come to Piedmont, make sure you bring some home. Hazelnuts in this region are super sweet and delicious.

And this concludes my day full of amazing experiences. Tomorrow, I will visit my 2nd Michelin 3-star restaurant in Italy: Piazza Duomo, here in downtown Alba.

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