Thursday, December 5, 2013

Day 11: Moving on to a dinner in Dal Pescatore

Day 11: Moving on to a dinner in Dal Pescatore

Restaurants/Cafe visited

  1. Vino Cafe, Alba (5 star. Great cappuccino, delicious pear pastry.)
  2. Dal Pescatore (5 star. Traditional luxury Italian fine dining. Great service and really good food.)

Morning cappuccino, leaving Alba and a short visit to Asti.

Laura mentioned Vino Cafe yesterday, so I stopped by for my morning cafe there. The Cappuccino was great. and the pear pastry that I had there was really delicious! The service wasn't as warm as other places but I will go back just for that pear pastry. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura!

As I dropped the keys in the key box for Laura and drove out of the garage, I was feeling really sad. After the rainbow yesterday evening, everything seemed so real, so familiar, yet so far away. It was a very surreal experience driving away. It felt like I was leaving home. However, if there is one thing that I learned from this trip, it is to focus on the presence. From when I was planning and to overcome this separation anxiety, the best way to go through this is to focus on the presence. Many times in life, we hold on to something too tightly and for too long, and we end up not having enough room in our heart for what comes up next. Alba was great. Everything in the past 10 days has been better than anything that I could have imagined for this trip. And now, what will come next? Thinking that, I felt much better as I drove away from the city of white truffle and headed east.

Asti is one of the main city in Piedmonte. It is larger than Alba and on the way to my next destination, so I made a short stop there. After I parked my car outside of the city traffic limit zone, I saw Eataly right in front of me. I didn't know there were that many Eataly stores in Italy. Sort of like Whole Foods Market back home.

As I walked towards the center of the city, I came upon this street market where people were selling food items. There were some roasted vegetables and some artisan products like honey, jams, cheese, etc. I had a great time chatting with people and sampling their food there. Even took a photo with the owner of a breadstick baker! :)

I didn't stay too long as I still had to drive for a while to get to 9 Muse B&B to check in, and then go to Dal Pescatore for my 7:30pm reservation. I didn't get to visit the famous Asti market on this trip. I will have to return for it next time.

As I left Asti, the landscape shifted from rolling hills to flat plains, where the flat farm land extends to the distant mountains. Everything opened up and it put this fertile land on display in a big way. That's when I knew that I have left the province of Piedmonte, and now entered the province of Lombardy.

9 Muse B&B and a great dinner at Dal Pescatore

Dal Pescatore has 3 Michelin stars. I found out about this restaurant in a documentary, Three Stars , that talked about what's behind the scene in Michelin starred restaurants. It was a great movie. Check it out if you haven't seen it. Dal Pescatore makes traditional Italian food in a fine dining settings. The restaurant is run by the Santini family. The grandma, Bruna, the mother, Nadia, and the son, Giovanni work in the kitchen, while the father, Antonio, the younger son, Alberto, and Giovanni's wife, Valentina work as the face of the restaurant in the front receiving guests.

The food that I had in the other Michelin 3-star restaurants in Italy have been somewhat disappointing. Will Dal Pescatore give me a different experience with their traditional Italian cooking?

On Dal Pescatore's website, they recommend visitors staying in 9 Muse B&B, so I emailed them to reserve a room. The owner, Caterina, is super friendly and knows Dal Pescatore really well. After I checked in, we sat in the dining room of the B&B and chatted a little bit. Caterina used to work as a journalist in Milan. She got tired of working in a big city so she came back home and turned the family house into a B&B. Today, she runs her own business of 9 Muse B&B that has 4 rooms. She told me that the business has been good since it started because there was no other B&B in the vicinity. She was being very humble. I am certain that her business is good mainly because she runs the B&B very well and people love to come and stay here.

When we talked about Dal Pescatore, she told me to order the pumpkin ravioli, which is not on their tasting menu, but apparently is one of their signature dishes. She also gave me some tips about the food in that area and in Bologna, which is my next destination. She also offered to drive me to and from Dal Pescatore for 30 Euro. Knowing that I will be drinking wine in Pescatore, I took the offer.

After about 10 minutes driving in the middle of nothing, we all of a sudden came upon a group of buildings, which she told me was the houses of the Santini family that runs Dal Pescatore. We then stopped in front of this gate that has a camera on it. It opened after about a minute or two, and we drove in. Caterina pointed to an area beyond a wall and told me that it is a helicopter pad. Apparently, some guests arrive in helicopters!

The decor of Dal Pescatore was luxurious, yet very homey and relaxed. I felt like I walked into the home of a good friend who is super rich. Very tastefully decorated. I was surprised to see the same pink dog statue in Dal Pescatore as the one that I saw in front of Le Calendre. Valentina, who was receiving me, told me that it is a piece of modern art that was given to them at a charity party that Le Calendre also participated.

After I was seated and I opened the menu, there was a photo of the family there with signature of each one of them in the menu. The menu was beautifully designed.

Following Caterina's suggestion, I went with their tasting menu plus the pumpkin ravioli.

Just like all the restaurants that I've been to in Italy, amuse bouche came, and it was simple prosciutto from Parma and parmigiano chips. That's when I knew that this meal was going to be fantastic. No manipulation or clever technics. Just simply the best quality ingredients from this region presented in its original, and the best, form for consumption. They were amazing. Simple, raw, and amazing.

And then, another amuse bouche! Pumpkin soup drizzled with Tuscan olive oil. Warm and creamy. It opened up my appetite for the tasting menu! Delicious!

First course, terrine of lobster with caviar, served with their own pickled ginger. Not sure how traditional this dish is. Really delicious. The only thing is that they used lobster claw meat together with other parts of lobster meat. Lobster claw meat has a more spongy texture and less favorable taste, in my opinion, and I wish that they didn't use it in this dish. Otherwise, it was really good.

Second course, pumpkin ravioli. Just like Caterlina said, they were pockets of heaven! The pasta was al dante, the filling was buttery, smooth, creamy and sweet. So delicious! This is a specialty of Giovanni. Thanks for the wonderful ravioli, Giovanni!

Third course, saffron risotto drizzled with balsamic vinegar, Dal Pescatore's specialty. They grow their own saffron in their garden. I asked Valentina what type of rice they used for this and she told me that they use Vialone Nano rice. The risotto was delicious! Cooked perfectly. Creamy and the rice was al dante. The red wine that I've been drinking was too light for the risotto. I told Valentina, and she brought me a bottle of Babera and I thought it worked better. Might be even better if it was a bit stronger but it was much better than the first wine for this course.

Fourth course, guinea fowl and porcini mushroom ravioli with honey-caramelrized mango and black truffles. Again, perfectly cooked. Flavors was balanced and delicious. So far, everything has been solid tonight. Excellent traditional Italian cooking. Truffle flavor was a bit weak but that may have something to do with me just had a whole week of Alba white truffles. Ha.

Fifth course, roasted white fish with fried artichokes and endive, drizzled with Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. I thought this course was good, but a bit boring. Of everything that I had in Dal Pescatore, this was my least favorite dish.

Sixth course, Venison with blueberry sauce. The meat worked really well with the sauce. A bit tart and acidic, cutting through the richness of the meat. Really delicious. At this point, I was really full. Of all the tasting menu that I've had in Italy so far, I haven't been able to finish the last couple dishes. The portion of each dish has been definitely more than what I'm used to in the States.

Cheese course. Can you believe it? I was still eating! Ha. I was so full that I was about to explode at this point. The bread was great and cheese was delicious.

Dessert. Sorbet. 4 different kinds. At this point, I was so full and so drunk, I couldn't really remember what they taste like anymore. Ha.

Sweets. Pretty good selection of little snacks. I just wish that I could still eat them. I only had the cream puff and the raspberry mini tart.

Because of the wine situation, they comped me the pumpkin ravioli and the champaign. Classy. No wonder they have three Michelin stars! Awesome service. I ask Antonio if I could take a picture with him, and he said "Oh, do you also want to take a picture with my wife in the kitchen?" And Nadia came out of the kitchen to greet me. And she said "Oh, let's go to the kitchen and take pictures with grandma Bruna." Such hospitality! Sweet family. After I came out of the kitchen, Antonio said "Let's take a photo with Giovanni." It was awesome!

I had a great time at Dal Pescatore. Solid traditional Italian food that is delicious. Great service. Down-to-earth and sweet family running the business. I will definitely come back again! Thank you, Antonio, Nadia, grandma Bruna, Giovanni and Valentina for giving me such a wonderful dining experience at your restaurant!

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