Day 6: Day walk in Alba downtown. Dinner at Piazza Duomo (Michelin 3-star)
Restaurant / Cafe visited:
- Caffe Fiorio: (4 star. Great cappuccino. Friendly service)
- Forneria Pasticceria : (Bakery, 3.5 star. Good bread. Average pastry
- Il Salotto: (cafe. 4 star. Delicious sugar chestnut. Haven’t tried coffee yet.)
- Piazza Duomo: (4.5 star. Great food. Service was a bit stiff.)
Morning walk in downtown Alba: Charming tourists-friendly town
I haven’t had a chance to walk around downtown Alba yet so I got up early this morning to check it out.
There aren’t that many Asian visitors in Alba, and I find that people here tend to avoid eye contact with me. I guess that’s what non-Asian visitors in Taiwan experienced(I’m originally from there). It’s giving me a new perspective to be on the other side! What I have been doing, whenever I have a chance, is to smile and say “Buongiorno” to them first. It’s awesome to see how people’s facial expression suddenly completely changed from nervous and suspicious to friendly and relaxed. Many times, all it takes is that first step, isn’t it? :-)
I’ve also discovered that when an Italian enters a store, he/she always greets the shop keeper with a “Buongiorno”(Good day) or “Buonasera”(Good evening). The shop keeper of course greets back, too. It really gives it that small-town feel, where everyone knows everyone. I love it!
Maybe because these greetings are in Italian, I am able to see people’s reaction to these words without me being affected by the words themselves. I’m totally fascinated by this! It’s something that I want to bring home with me. Always greet people and acknowledge others’ existence. A true connection has to start somewhere. Why not start it with a sincere and warm “Good morning.”?
”Buongiorno”, I greeted the two baristas behind the bar as I entered Caffe Fiorio. This was going to be my first cup of coffee in Alba. “Buongiorno”, they greeted me back. Connections were now established on this chilly Sunday morning. I ordered a cup of cappuccino and it was really good. I think Caffe del Doge in Venice is still better but this one was pretty close. Nice crema on top with thick milk foam. It is so good to have a cup of cappuccino on a cold morning like this.
After my cappuccino, I went back outside and onto the main street, and saw this pastry shop that I walked by several times. I went inside and got myself a typical Italian dinner roll and a couple of pastry. The dinner roll was pretty good. Really soft and chewy on the inside and nice crust on the outside. The pastry, however, was just okay.
I went back outside to the chilly air and suddenly had an idea! I had signed up for a cooking class on Wednesday at the tourism office yesterday. Why not check with them and see if they can teach me how to make that cocotte dish during the class? The egg, cheese and cream dish that I almost fainted eating with shaved white truffle on top. With white truffle costing so much less here, I will just bring my own truffle to the class and shave it on top of the dish and see if I can recreate it! That would be the best souvenir I could ever imagine bringing home!
I went to the tourism office and the girl who signed me up with the class yesterday recognized me right away. I told her how much I loved those cocotte dishes and showed her the pictures. She laughed and said “Yes. That is the best way to enjoy truffles. Sure. Let me call the instructor. It shouldn’t be a problem.” As I nervously waited, she spoke those beautiful Italian words that I didn’t understand into the phone, and then turned to me and said “No problem. They said they’ll include it in the class.” This, seriously, is going to be the best class ever. If you know me personally and are in the Bay Area, you are in luck, too! I will for sure do a truffle party when I go back and this will be on the menu!
As I walked onto the main shopping street in Alba, there were truffle stands everywhere. The entire downtown area was filled with white truffle aroma. This is truly an amazing experience. Everywhere I go, I smell truffles. For some people, a vacation is lying on a warm white-sand beach listening to the ocean waves hitting shores. For me, the ultimate vacation is right here. To wonder on these little cobble-stone streets between centuries-old brick buildings in Italy and completely submerge myself in the aroma of Alba white truffle. This is heaven.
There are so many beautiful spots for photography in this town. Every few steps, I had to stop and take pictures. A few steps, an old church appeared in front of me. A turn at the corner over there, a beautiful curvy street with beautiful buildings on it sides. I think Venice still is at the top of the list for travel photography but Alba is really beautiful in her own way as well. There used to be hundreds of towers in Alba that demonstrated its wealth and power. Most of them are no longer around but a few that are still in existence today are beautiful to see.
And then, of course, I saw this…
There are times when I don’t want to see your beautiful faces, Hollywood people…
Oh well. I suppose everyone has his/her own path finding his/her own identity. I hope that the young people here see how beautiful their own culture is. So full of life, depth and richness that there is no need to look outside to find their identities.
As I hastily slide away from Hollywood star power and turned a corner, a Sunday farmers’ market appeared in front of me. I was so happy to see this and to check out what the local farmers here are growing.
Hazelnuts and chestnuts definitely stole the show. They are in season and in abundance. I got myself some vacuum-packed hazelnuts to bring home. I also got a rosewood truffle shaver. Where else better to get a truffle shaver than right here in Alba? Made in Italy! :-)
I walked by one of the booths and saw this woman making some amazing looking flat bread, so I got some to try. It was really delicious. Tasted like thin polenta cake with flour mixed in. Crunchy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside.
My bag was getting heavy and I was getting a bit sleepy, so I went back to the apartment for a short nap and worked on my blog posts before getting ready for my dinner at Piazza Duomo.
Piazza Duomo: The second Italian Micheline 3-star restaurant on the list
Piazza Duomo was just added to the Micheline 3-star list last year. It is about 3 minutes walking distance from the apartment that I am staying. My first impression of the dining room was: “It’s pink!”
After I sat down, before I even finished reading the menu, they had set up the Amuse-Bouches that covered my entire table! The most impressive Amuse-Bouches I’ve ever had.
There was a dish that tasted just like Chawanmushi (Japanese savory egg custard). They told me that it is flan with miso. I couldn’t tell if there was dashi in it. It was done well, but a chawanmushi served in an Italian Micheline 3-star restaurant?
Before I finished all the Amuse-Bouche, 2 more Amuse-Bouche arrvied! Green olive with raw veal stuffing and black olive with raw beef stuffing. (Raw meat is a specialty dish in this region.) They were really good. I can’t remember what the other foam dish was.
And then, guess what? Yep. Another Amuse-bouche!
After the impressive display of all the Amuse-Bouche, the main dinner finally began. I was kind of half full already by now. Oh well…
There were a few tasting menu choices as well as an a la carte menu. I went with the “Evasione e Territorio” menu, which was meant to showcase the chef’s creativity. There were total of 11 courses.
Overall, I like the food of Piazza Duomo better than La Calandre. I think the heavy Asian influence definitely created more challenges and pushed the chef to be more creative at Piazza Duomo. Especially the seafood dishes, I think their execution was flawless. Some of the Japanese ingredients selections for their dishes were questionable, like umeboshi for the shrimp, or miso for the egg flan. I just wasn’t sure how much they added to the dish. Nevertheless, it was a great dinner and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Will I come back again? I doubt it. I think that the traditional Piedmontese dishes are so amazing already, it is impossible to add anything to it. The food that I had in Piazza Duomo feels like something that I have had in New York City or Napa Valley. Much of the local characteristics were lost in chef’s attempt at making something new.
If you are visiting northern Italy, compared to other restaurants that I’ve visited so far, I do not recommend spending your money at either Le Calandre or Piazza Duomo. Spend it on the regional traditional restaurants and you will have an amazing gastronomic experience and spend much less.
Two more Micheline 3-star restaurants to try. Will either of them change my opinion about Micheline 3-star restaurants in Italy? :-)