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i{esla. u ra nts
ter represented than in the region's
osterie, casual restaurants that serve
traditional, home-style cooking. In
a parn' of
mountainous portions
three might receive four entire pans
but on a recent visit. the
of dessert
Roddino, Cherasco, and
Seatt!e: [ating Piedmontese
Piedmont, the osteria was where men
would gather after returning from the
vineyards, hazelnut orchards, or cornfields. And while the customers now
include entire families and tourists, the
hearty
food is still fit for farmers
and rich no matter the temperature
amounts seemed more reasonable, so
that a table might actually finish them.
(For the record, Boeri's son, Daniele,
maintains that Da Gemma's portions
remain as abbondanle as ever.) And
while this is the heart of Piedmont
wine country, and you can ask for a
good Barolo or Nebbiolo grown, vinified, and bottled on one of the adjacent, and visible, hillsides, you're perfectly well off just ordering the house
there's no house
wine, a Dolcetto
which comes gratis.
white
The other part of the osteria's old-
Osteria da Gemma
via Marconi,6, Roddino (aboutten
minutes east of the wine village of
March and April and the first two weeks
outside. The diet is heavy in meat,
dairy, and eggs, with, depending on
where in the region you are, wheat,
polenta, and rice sharing more or less
ofAugust)
equal importance.
Monforte dAlba)
tel o't73.7 94252, www.leradicieleal i.it
closed Monday (plus fourweeks in
z6 euros for four courses, including
Da Gemma ("At Gemma's Place") is
via Caribaldi, t3, Cherasco
located in the tiny village of Roddino,
which is nestled in the undulating hills
of the Langhe's spectacular wine country and home, my Piedmontese friend
Andrea likes to joke, to "a cat and a
tel ot72.488458
couple
closed Monday (plus ten days in winter and
6z-year-old matron of the place, has
dessert, house wine, coffee,
and grappa
La Torre
of dogs." Gemma Boeri,
the
a
30 euros before wine
cherubic face and looks something like
a sturdier Alice'Waters. She opened her
restaurant in ry86 as a circolo sociale,
Spinasse
a social club where members could
r53r r4th Avenue, Seattle
gather and also have a bite to eat. Only
in zoo5 was the public invited, and the
earlier history still underpins the life of
two weeks in August)
tel zo6.z5l.7673, www.spinasse.com
open dinner only, closed Tuesday
$6o before wine
Piedmont in northwest Italy runs from
the'Western Alps to Ligurian Apennines and borders France, Switzerland,
and the Italian region of Valle d'Aosta.
It's associated most often with cars
(Fiats), white truffles, and Barolo. But
despite their region's relative wealth
and luxurious associations, the Piedmontese are most proud of their contadino, or peasant-farmer, roots. This
is the land of Slow Food and of a fair
celebrating fattened oxen [AoE 83],
with towns that specialize variously
in the cultivation of leeks, chestnuts,
snails, buckwheat, and peaches.
Nowhere is the contadino pastbet-
40
rHE
ARr
oF
EATtNc
the place. lfhat the locals love about
Da Gemma is the nostalgia they feel
there, Andrea told me; it's how osterie
were 20 years ago.
Part of that is the generosity and
casualness. Like many osterie, Da
Gemma is thoroughly comfortable
and unpretentious: warmly and a
little too brightly lit, simply and
functionally furnished with ample
space between tables. Each is laid
with grissini, a knife, and a cutting
board with a whole salame cotto and
a whole dry-cured salame. You slice
and eat as much as you want and You
share everything, just as with the rest
of the meal, served family-style. For
years, the dishes came in positively
-
school character is its constancy. Aside
from one seasonally varying
main
course, the menu never changes. It
covers many Piedmontese standards,
if Gemma Boeri were your
nonnl, somehow those standards taste
wonderfully the same every time. (I ate
there regularly when I lived in Piedmont for several years, and I try to
return at least every other year.)
After you've declared yourself finand as
ished with the salumi, a server brings
three more antipasti. Gemma's insalata
di carne cruda and uitello tonnato are
respectable versions of those dishes.
The carne cruda is raw veal ground
from the double-muscled thigh of the
Piedmontese breed of cattle, dressed
with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice,
and a touch of garlic. The texture
of this raw veal, in restaurants as in
homes, ranges from coarsely hashed,
indicating hand-chopping, or even
sliced in thin sheets like a carpaccio,
to Gemma's finely ground near-pur6e.
Vitello tonnato, "tuna'd veal," consists
of thinly sliced boiled veal in a sauce
of tuna blended with mayonnaise and
flavored with capers and anchovies.
(Landlocked Piedmont, while taking
advantage of its lake and river fish,
wtne
notes and resources
rcsiailranis books letters
meat, the rabbit still bony, sitting in
shallow pools of the cooking liquid, the
surface shiny with grease. As tends to
be the case at Da Gemma and in much
of Italy in general, the meat was somewhat dry, and yet somehow iust right in
the context of the meal, especially with
a dish of borled costine, beet greens,
which came alongside.
Servingtajarin at Da Cemma.
has for centuries embraced the flavors
of preserved ocean fish.) It's the kind
of classic osteria dish whose looks are
unimpressive. The veal is a pallid gray
color, and the tuna sauce is a gloppylooking pinky beige tone. But the meat
is tender and mild, and the sauce makes
a pleasingly creamy, piquant contrast.
Similarly humble
ts the insalata
russa.The"Russian salad," a mixture of
boiled, diced vegetables, usually potatoes, carrots, and peas, dressed with
mayonnaise, was conceived in Belle
Epoqo. Paris when it was frequented
by Russian aristocrats, who would gild
the mix with truffles and caviar. The
salad came from France to Piedmont
and from there spread through the
rest of northern Italg where it is eaten
by everyone (sans caviar). In Boeri's
version, which includes chopped hardboiled egg, the vegetables are cooked
perfectly al dente, and the dressing is
..2
;
tangy with a little vinegar. Hers is the
best I've ever had.
The sole primi arc taiarin and
rauioli dal plin. The first, perhaps the
region's most typical pasta, is a testament to its agricultural abundance'
A fresh pasta handcut into long, thin
just a few millimeters wide
rib-bonlike strands (the meaning -of the
dialect name), taiarin typically calls
for five whole eggs and ten yolks per
kilo of flour, but you'll hear people talk
about a nonna they've heard of who
made hers with the fabled 4o yolks
per kilo. Boeri's taiarin is just fine,
the pasta delicate and elastic, lighdy
and sparingly dressed with a veal and
mushroom ragi. The ravioli dal plin,
also known as agnolotti dal PIin, is
similarly straightforward and satisfying. The small pillow shape, created
with a pinching motion (plin, tn dialect), encases a mixture of veal, spinach, cabbage, and beet greens, made
sweetly mysterious by a little nutmeg.
It's sauced with the same ragi.
As often in Italy, the secondi are the
least attractive of the courses. Gemma
always offers a main course of roasted
rabbit, and when I was there last, we
also ate brasato al Barolo [AoE 8Zl.
(On another evening, the other secondo might be wild boar or chicken or
bollito, boiled beef.) Both were unapologetically unadorned, just chunks of
For dessert, the Piedmontese seem
to prefer the kind of soft, sticky sweets
that the very young and very old, and
the British, also like. Da Gemma offers
you all four at once. There's bonet
(pronounced boo-NEHT), one of the
most beloved Piedmontese desserts,
a splodgy pudding made with milk,
eggs, and sugar and subtly flavored
with, depending on the cook, amaretti
cookies, cocoa, rum, and coffee (Da
Gemma's has coffee but not amaretti).
Cooked in a water bath in the custom-
ary mold, it resembles the flattened
beret for which it is named in dialect.
The strudel, popular in northwest Italy
(and further evidence of the porous-
of borders), is a little limp and
mostly forgettable, but anYwaY the
real point of this course is the mer-
ness
ingata and dolce all'ananas. Both are
resplendent with whipped Panna, or
cream. The former layers the cream
with crunchy, very sweet meringue,
torrone, nougat, and hazelnuts, as well
as candied chestnuts in winter, while
the latter is just the simple and tasty
combination
of
canned pineapPles
and lots of that cream. The coffee and
grappa help it all go down.
If Da Gemma is the exemplar of the
erstwhile osteria, La Torre is the osteda's most modern incarnation: refined
and moderately ambitious, yet retain-
ing all the casual eatery's comfort
and some of its rusticity. Run by two
forty-something brothers, Marco and
Gabriele Falco, the restaurant lies a
few paces from a r 5th-century Gothic
20i0
NUI\,4BER
86
41
I
time of year, La Torre also serves giardiniera casalinga, homestyle pickled vegetables, lingua in giar dino, which treats
boiled pig's tongue in much the same
way,or peperone con bagna caoda,bell
peppers in the well-known pungent
anchovy-garlic-olive oil sauce.
Marco's mastery of tradition is
on display in his pastas. His gnoccbi
al Castelmagzo
(Piedmont's famous
sometimes-blue cheese, made usually
from cow's milk, but occasionally also
with ewe's or goat's), long, spindly,
and cloudlike, attain the classic ideal,
as do his
served
agnolotti dal plin, sometimes
with a sugo d'arrosfo
from a roast)
(juices
which literally means
- from the pan plus
just the leavings
The dining room at Da Gemma.
some bits of meat. In both cases, pasta
tower in the center of Cherasco, the
seat of a small comune comprising
fresh daily, and they are superb
about 8,ooo inhabitants. As with Da
Gemma, I try to return to La Torre as
often as I can, and not just for the feel-
nuttiness from whole-wheat flour.
For antipasti, there might be handchopped carne cruda. Or uitello tonnato, for which Marco cooks the veal
like roast beef, leaving the meat inside
an attractive rosy pink. It's prepared
alla maniera antica, "in the old manner," though it seems more modern
than Boeri's boiled version. (Everything
ings it inspires. It also serves some of
the best food in Piedmont.
Gabriele is the brother you'll interact with most. Garrulous and a little
eccentric, he attends to the front with
help from maybe one other server,
while shy and quiet Marco hides in
light
and crunchy from lard, with a delicate
old is new again.)And unlike Boeri, he
the kitchen, turning out, from a menu
that changes daily, dish after brilliant
perfectly executed Piedmontese
dish
tradition with his carpionatd, a refresh-
classics as well as subtly tweaked renditions and a bit of inspired fantasia.
ing summertime dish whose name and
method come from a similar fish prepa-
-
At La Torre,
everything
is
done
with care. The grissini are made by
a
Cherasco baker who makes them only
for the restaurant. Grissini have been
integral to the Piedmontese table since
at least the rTth century, and maybe as
early as the r4th, and have since spread
to pizzerias and "Italian trattorias" all
over the world. Unlike the usual paperwrapped, cardboardlike breadsticks,
these grissini, as good grissini should
be, are stirato a mAno, or hand-pulled,
42
THE ART oF
EATtNc
likes to garnish his plates with the occa-
sional branch of rosemary. He hews to
ration in which a variety of items, but
especially zucchini, pumpkin, seafood,
and sometimes veal, are breaded and
deep-fried and then marinated in vinegar, olive oil, garlic, a whisper of clove,
"la parte pii importante
and always
-
della carpionata," says another Piedmontese friend
sage. Carpionata
was important in days before refrigeration as a way to keep food from spoiling, and preservation is no small part of
Piedmont's flavors. Depending on the
is the
main ingredient, the rest is condi-
ment. (If served al fumo, the agnolotti
are just cooked in meat broth and
served plain.) He might borrow from
neighboring Liguria for mabagliati al
pesto or for a white ragi (made with
rabbit and without tomatoes). You'll
probably never be offered taiarin with
the elsewhere-ubiquitous buruo e saluia (bttter and sage), but the pasta
might come with a sauce of fegatini
(chicken livers).
Pretty much every Piedmontese
hill town and village has a crop,
product, or dish that it claims as its
own. Cherasco's is lumache, or snails,
referring to any species of Helix. And
though the cultivation of snails dates
only from the efforts of a few enterpris-
ing farmers in the r97os, it has been
thoroughly embraced. Marco prepares
snails in a variety of local ways: fried,
gratin6ed, stewed, alla parigina (butter,
garlic, parsley). Among secondi, however, his real genius lies
offal
-
in his way with
commonly featured in Pied-
montese cuisine, but not prepared with
quite his imagination, which conjures
up ceruella dorata, "golden brains,"
f
.9
wine
zuppa di trippa, "tripe soup," animelle
al limone con i funghi, "sweetbreads
with lemon and mushrooms," in addition to the classic batsod, pig's feet
boiled in vinegar and water, boned,
breaded, and fried.
La Torre's cheese cart is a testament
to
Piedmont's remarkable cheesemaking tradition and a sign of the
a showstopper
osteria's ambition
- you might find
to any
comparable
in a Michelin-starred restaurant. The
glass case might hold large wheels of
Gorgonzola (from Novara in northeastern Piedmont) and Castelmagno,
Raschera, luscious Robiola di Roccaverano, softly aromatic ewe's and
cow's milk Murazzano and other
stacked rounds of tomini, Montebore,
a small cheese with rzth-century origins, alpine Testun of various ages or
covered with grape must or chestnut
leaves. (Desserts at La Torre hold few
surprises. Among those you might
find on a given night are bonet,panna
cotta, zabaglione, and s emifr e ddo, and
all are fine standard versions, gussied
up with a little squirt of vanilla sauce
or a sliced strawberry.) La Torre's wine
list pulls no punches either:
there's
plenty of Arneis, Dolcetto di Dogliani
and d'Alba, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Barolo,
and Barbaresco from good and great
producers, but you can also select from
a number of French bottles all the way
up to 8oo-euro Roman6e-Conti.
La Torre is one of the best examples
in Italy of how a creative, talented,
thoughtful chef can keep traditional
dishes tasting fresh and make you
consider what they really say about
a place. There are many restaurants
in
Piedmont, including expensive
try to pull off the new
global cooking, incorporating Asian
ingredients or molecular gastronomy,
stretching the limits of the local cuisine as well as of taste itself. By workones, that
ing within the idiom and showing
restraint, Marco allows Piedmontese
food to do what it and Italian food do
best, which is to highlight the flavors
of the ingredients: the sturdy foundation of grain, the warm plushness of
egg yolks and cream, the winey, iron-y
richness of veal and beef. It's food that
describes the summers in the fields and
the foggS hard winters. It's not cucina
pouerai it's cucina borghese, the cooking of comfortable abundance whose
backbone is nonetheless the humble,
honest, hearty fare of the contadino
and which is influenced by France and
generations of Savoy kings. How does
this kind of cooking translate when it's
taken overseas?
Unlike the cooking of TuscanS Sicily, Naples, or even Emilia-Romagna,
that of Piedmont is little known outside Italy. But as the popularity of
Italian regional cooking continues to
grow everywhere, more such restaurants are popping up. I was skeptical,
though hopeful, when I heard about
Spinasse. Too often American chefs
feel compelled to make the food more
visually attractive and to "correct" its
modest flavors with excessive acidity
or fat. Jason Stratton, at Spinasse in
Seattle, surprised me. He leaves well
notes and resources :'csi:{.;.ar,is
books letters
roasted pork loin. lnhis sformatino, a
light, savory flan, usually accompanied
by fonduta, a cheese sauce, he might
use Dungeness crab. (The sformatino
of cauliflower would be perfectly at
home in the Langhe.) He might com-
bine Kusshi or Kumamoto oysters
with zabaglione as sauce for tajarin.
That tajarin made me wonder
where and horv Stratton learned to
cook this food so rvell. The tender, eggy
noodles rvere handcut and so narrow
they started to curl. (They're actually
made rvith 4o yolks per kilo of flour.)
Vhen I ate them, they were modestly
dressed in a wonderful loose ragl).
Stratton learned to cook in Seanle,
his hometown, where he has worked
in several of the city's most respected
restaurants. It was during his tenure as
sous chef at Caf6 Juanita, which specializes in northern Italian food, that
he became interested in Piedmontese
It began with the wines of
cooking.
the region, and then, he told me on the
phone, he became fascinated with the
"minimalist cuisine that was meant to
show off the wines." He has traveled to
At Spinasse not long ago, I ate some
of the best Piedmontese food I've ever
like
had. It's osteria food
- refined,
although the dimly lit,
La Torre's
high-ceilinged room is decidedly more
elegant and sophisticated than that of
the typical osteria. The prices are also
much higher. Like Marco Falco, the
Piedmont a couple of times, and specifically to Alba. "The other reason for
my geekiness," he told me, "is that I'm
also interested in the history of cuisine.
In Piedmontese food you can feel the
past very much as a living thing in the
modern cuisine." Above all, he seems
to be a highly sensitive cook, attuned
to where the balancing point is in the
region's cooking, and appreciative of
how well the old dishes work. His
food, like Falco's, manages to be both
comfortingly familiar and totally excit-
baby-faced, bespectacled Stratton uses
ing
enough alone.
the cuisine as a framework to show
ingredients at their best. Stratton, as is
expected of chefs these days, focuses
particularly on the local ingredients
of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of
veal in his tonnato, he might use slow-
precise
the cooking is so beautifully
that it forces you to re-examine
what you know of a dish and rvhere
its merits lie. At Spinasse, you realize
once again that Piedmontese cooking
deserves much more attention.
Winnie Yang
-
2oro
NUNlBER
Ea
L)

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