Piazza Duomo, Alba
November 5, 2009
Piaza Duomo was established in 2003 by its chef Enrico Crippa and the local Ceretto winemaking family. It has been gradually gaining a good reputation for its creative Italian cooking, but, until October 28, 2009, Linda and I had never been there, despite our bienniel visits to Alba.
On the ground floor, with the glassed-in terrace, is their informal restaurant, Piola. Above it, behind the five windows and the long balcony, is the one dining room of Piazza Duomo. Its entryway is not obvious.
Fortunately we had been told to go down the little alleyway under the arch to the right of Piola and to look for the purple door. We rang the doorbell. On the intercom we were asked for the name on our reservation before the door was buzzed open for us.
The dining room is decorated with freeform murals by Francesco Clemente on a pink background. It seats about thirty diners. The evening we were there a winewaker from Ceretto was entertaining Russians at a table for ten. A young German couple was announcing the upcoming arrival of a grandson to the two pairs of future grandparents at a table for six. There were four tables of two, including us.
After being seated, we ordered glasses of Delamotte Champagne Brut, which was lovely, but I was surprised that there were no Italian sparkling wines on the apéritif list. Many good hors d’oeuvres arrived.
There was a big crunchy wafer and two little ring-shaped ones. There was a bag of flavored chips. A little jar, not in the photo, had brandade with a pea purée.
I can’t remember what all these were, but the little mound was filled with runny cheese that shot out if one didn’t eat it in one gulp.
We were given a book of menus in Italian and one in basic English that was less descriptive. There was a menu Evasione e Territorio at €100 with nine courses that were mostly based on local specialties with only one fish course.
A menu Accompagnando il tartufo 2009 at 90€ was composed of dishes which were thought to be suitable to have white truffles shaved over them. It included: Beef tartar, scallops with potatoes and hazelnuts, rabbit with foie gras and savoy cabbage, potato cream with a quail egg flavoured with Lapsang Souchong tea, homemade pasta with Fontina cheese and chestnuts, roast veal with buckwheat polenta, a chestnut Mont Blanc. Two tables for two near us ordered this menu; thus we could see and hear the process. The bowl of truffles we had seen on a table in the entryway was brought to each table. A truffle was selected and then weighed on a tiny scale and put under a glass bell on the table. As each course was served, the diners were asked if they wanted truffle with it. If they said yes, they had to react quickly to stop the shaving if they only wanted a little. One table specified one or two slices each time. Before dessert the scale was brought back and the truffle weighed again. The diners were charged 6€ per gram used. I heard that one table used 20 grams for two people; I didn’t hear the other, but they did not use much. At ten grams per person the menu was almost as expensive as the one we had enjoyed at Ristorante Bovio the night before which included many times more truffles.
We selected the menu L’autunno 2009 at €110 with ten courses.
The amuse gueule was foie gras with Campari jelly.
This was fun and pretty. Tradition has foie gras garnished with something slightly sweet. The Campari jelly, treviso and radish slices were slightly bitter, which worked well and was interesting.
We ordered a bottle of 2004 E. Pira e Figli Cannubi Barolo. As is typical in a relatively young restaurant, the older vintages were priced quite high. This five-year-old Barolo was ready to drink, but will get better. A small sip filled the mouth which was good as the bottle had to last us for the eight courses before dessert. We thought the wine was delicious; we stopped at the friendly nearby Grandi Vini Enoteca the next morning to buy twelve bottles, some 2004, but mostly 2005.
The first course was
Tobinambour, carciofie e liquiriza
On the bottom is a purée of Jerusalem artichokes. It is topped with fresh artichoke slices and some chips. The sauce had a mild licorice flavor which worked well, but we didn’t start sipping our Barolo with this course.
Gambero di San Remo al naturale, mosto d’uva, fragola
The raw shrimp from the nearby Mediterranean coast were lovely, but the strawberry purée didn’t go at all well with them. The grape halves were all the garnish needed.
Rape bianche…sgombro…soya, sesamo e mandarino
Pieces of mackerel on an excellent soy sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds were garnished with thin slices of white beetroot and tangarine chunks. There was no obvious relationship between the three and so the dish was just okay.
Merluzzo…broccoli e mozzarella di bufala
Two pieces of fresh raw cod were served on a broccoli sauce with dabs of olive. There were wilted broccolini leaves, four big maccheroni and two mounds of fresh buffalo mozzarella. The ingredients were all good, but, like the previous course, I didn’t see the point of serving them together. At least this dish had an underlying sauce that could have unified them. I have never appreciated cheese with fish; maccheroni are not interesting as a distinct item. But not everyone would agree with me. This dish has stayed on the menu for the six months since Aaron enjoyed it, writing afterwards:
“Each element of this dish either challenged or enhanced each of the others. Everything was there for a reason. Crippa had created a precisely calibrated range of flavors, temperatures, and textures.”
“come un tonno di coniglio”…In Langa…d’autunno
A shoulder of rabbit was cooked sous vide for twelve hours at 60°C. I don’t know what was in the Langa(?) sauce, but it went very well and perked up the tender, but somewhat bland, rabbit.
Riso…porcini e anice stellato
This was a very runny risotto with a nice porcini flavor enhanced by a meat glaze and just perceptable star anise. Very good.
Dal mediterraneo…una sogliola…Zucca e pan di spezie
I don’t understand the reintroduction of fish at this point in the menu. If we were more than two, we would have had a bottle of white wine and one of red and this would have created a problem. But, even aside from the wine issue, after the rabbit and mushroom courses, this reintroduction of fish is jarring. Like the mackerel and cod courses, this sole course was disjointed, with the pumpkin purée and the Brussels sprout leaves not enhancing the sole, which was a nice piece of fish in itself. I guess that the “spice bread” announced in the menu description is the dry powder.
Petto e coscia di pernice arrosto…la sua salsa
This roasted partridge dish was superb. The bird had an assertive, but elegant flavor. The sauce made from the pan juices was just right, as was the Savoy cabbage wedge in the middle.
Macedonia di frutta e verdure…”Adesso”
This mixture of many seasonal fruits was excellent. The brown part of the soup is tea which added a nice note of astringant bitterness to the general fruitiness.
Il tubo alla nocciola “14”, mascarpone e caffé
The hazelnut tube was filled with a coffee flavored creamy cheese. Alba is in the heart of the hazelnut growing area so this had a nice local aura.
Excellent fresh cream chocolate truffles; hazelnut cakes.
Quinoa wafers; the tubes had a vanilla and moscato flavored cream.
It is interesting that the four courses with which I wasn’t entirely happy were the four fish and seafood courses. Enrico Crippa has worked in Japan. He seems to have emphasized presentation over cuisine in these four dishes. So despite some excellent dishes, the meal was not what we had hoped for, but I would go back. Another time we might try the more local menu.
Piazza Duomo’s website:
The next day we had a notable small lunch at Enosfizioteca Conterosso 2; Via P. Belli, 4c, Alba. The first course was a salad with greens, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and a generous shaving of good white truffles. The second course was pasta with another generous serving of white truffles. Coffee and a glass of Dolcetto were included in this 56€ special menu which we had spotted walking by.
We stayed a five minute walk from Piazza Duomo at the Palazzo Finati, an excellent newly renovated boutique hotel.
The hotel’s website: