Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Italian Tryst Day Six - Friday 2nd November 2018

Buongiorno Truffle Trystians!!
The Italian Tryst - October and November 2018

Write up of a seven day bus trip across Northern Italy by me and some of my Malaysian Foodie and Winey friends, taking in Lake Como, Bolgheri, Alba and Milan. Dear Leader said we were a Tryst of pilgrims on another wine and restaurant and food adventure, so we became Trystians. Photos mostly by me, though some filched from the Facebook pages of Chan May Peng, Wong Yin-How, CJ Yong and David Teh.  

Day Six - Friday 2nd November 2018 - Alba Truffle Hunt - Pio Cesare Winery - Lunch at La Ciau del Tornavento - Dinner at Locande del Pilone

Alba Truffle Hunt 

One man and his Truffle Dog
The dedicated Trystian Truffle Pilgrims had all signed up way ahead for a Truffle hunt to experience the thrill of the chase as farmers and their dogs snuffled their ways around the Oak trees of Alba in pursuit of the elusive fungus. I had considered it, but opted for discretion in the possible thought of having to piggyback a knee injured Lenglui along forest tracks and back to the bus. We opted for a lazy breakfast instead. The Trystian Trufflers came back having had an absolute whale of a time, and having had a truffle breakfast to boot. They related that the hunt was indeed thrilling as the trusty dog went from tree to tree sniffing. Excitement mounted as the dog would sniff vigorously at a particular tree, only for it to quickly deflate as the dog did little except mark its territory with a quick squirt and move on. Then it would mount once again with the dog suddenly picking up pace and start to scrabble anxiously at the base of a tree. The smart farmer would quickly throw some doggy treat to the side to lure the excited pooch away from the treasure. Though not for long - the wuffies like their truffles almost as much as everyone else and would come quickly barking back to continue the scrabble and force the farmer to sacrifice another doggy treat to keep it from scarfing the truffle.  Whilst the dog was eating its treats, the farmer would carefully dig away at the earth. Then with a yell of delight, the farmer would bring the treasure from the earth and show off to the adoring Trystians and the happy dog. The dream had been fulfillled - they were now official Truffle Hunters. 

Look what I got!!!
The other story for the morning was that two of the other Trystians told of a midnight visitor that had chewed its way through their ceiling and somehow locked itself in the bathroom. As I recall, the staff claimed that it was some kind of woodland possum. Well, and maybe, though a large part of me literally smells a rat. Wherever you have kitchens, you have rodents. Whatever, the Trystian opened the front door and the ra… er, possum ran out and disappeared. There was a silver lining for the Trystians - the Estate gave them free run of the booze in the room fridge for the day. Some of the other Trystians offered their assistance in clearing the fridge though I am not sure if it was taken up. 

As said, was a lazy and easy breakfast of ham, salami, eggs, with croissant and butter and jam and two coffees before heading back to the room to coat up for the day ahead. Today was a bit overcast and grey, which would stay for the day, but not much in the way of rain. Before our off, Lenglui and I lurked at the doorway and opened a window to let in some fresh air whilst waiting for Marco the Bus - he was a bit late so we suspected either still sleeping or another "oops". Finally we saw him arriving and stopping at the other wing (naturally…) so those of us who were ready sauntered along the roadway and clambered aboard. The Estate has a giant red metal chili sculpture near the reception which made for a cute photo against a backdrop of vines on a slope. A quick check on numbers with yet another failed attempt for the Trystian heads to count themselves and we were off. 

Entrance to Pio Cesare Winery
Pio Cesare Winery

Little bit of drizzle as we pulled up outside a big door on a narrowish road in Alba town. It took about five minutes to discover that this was the wrong door so we drove on a bit and hung a left before stopping to dismount and follow Dear Leader along a narrow back street and up to a pretty non descript wooden doorway in a fairly non descript wall. This would prove the way into the winery. 

Anyone ever seen Doctor Who? And his time travel machine the Tardis? An old Police telephone box that opens into a vast complex? Pio Cesare winery was on these lines. The door would prove a portal into a whole new winery dimension - though most of this one would prove underground. 

Going Underground...  look at them stairs, aiyoooo my knees
Some history. The website says the winery was founded in 1881 by Cesare Pio, a "successful entrepreneur who was inspired to produce a small and select quantity of wines from the hills of Barolo and Barbaresco for himself, his family, friends, and customers." "It has now been producing wines for 135 years and through five generations in its ancient cellars in the center of the town of Alba."

One level down, I think...
"Today, the family members travel extensively to more than 50 countries around the world, echoing what Cesare Pio himself did at the beginning of our history—promoting the name and reputation of the Pio Cesare winery to restaurants, hotels, wine shops and wine lovers worldwide."

Barrels. And more stairs. Yes.
Family is clearly the strong connector and the thread that fires the Pio Cesare brand. 2nd generation Giuseppe Pio carried on his father's passion and expanded the cellars, 3rd generation daughter Rosy's marriage to a Guiseppe Boffa brought him into the business and their 4th generation son Pio Boffa now leads the company with 5th generation daughter Federica Rosy and nephew Cesare Benvenuto now continuing the family tradition. 

Fifth generation Cesare and Sixth Generation son 
It was Cesare who greeted us at the gate and brought us into the labyrinth of steel vats and huge oak barriques sleeping under the Alba streets. He was there with his young son to show us around the winery and end up with a tasting of some of the new lovelies. Cesare shared that Pio Cesare owns 70 hectares of vineyards across the Piedmont region "featuring high-quality hillside exposures intentionally located in multiple different communes of the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations." The website notes the reason for such diversity of location "was determined by our strong belief in blending the different characteristics of each vineyard and region in order to produce wines that represent the styles of each appellation terroir as a whole, instead of individual sites." This translates to 20 hectares of Nebbiolo for Barolo, 14 hectares for Barbaresco, and the remaining presumably for blends and other varietals - they do a brilliant Chardonnay, more on this later. 

Wheel of Light
As said earlier, the cellar was amazing and all the more so for being in the centre of a bustling town. Website says it was built at the end of the 18th Century on four ground levels and "are delimited and surrounded by the ancient Pompeii Roman walls, which date back to 50 B.C. and are its main foundations, seen in every corner of the cellar." This makes for non fluctuations in temperature and humidity and consistency in excellent conditions for production and storage. There have naturally been some renovation work over more recent times, but maintaining the underground operation seemed crucial; Cesare also shared that height regulations forbid high rise building above ground. Fair enough. Though the website reason of "always keeping the pre-existing architectural style, in order to preserve an atmosphere that is rich with charm and history" is wonderfully romantic and in keeping with the general seductivity that seems pervasive in the wine industry. 

The VERY good stuff
Following our orientation, we were led down some stairs into the first level of the winery housing the vats and barriques for a brief description of what went on there and then further down to where the barrels were letting the precious juice age until ready to be bottled. The stairs down were a bit hard on the knees, but the ambience was stunning - touching walls built over 2000 years ago. There were some cute decorative touches here and there. The Trystians seemed intent in their polite and silent listening to Cesare's stories and history sharing, though I suspect some were more intent on whetting the tongue. 

Tasting table
There were two wines we tasted. I have a photo that says they were both Barolo and one was a 2014; I can't find a photo of the other one but I recall it was a bit younger and perhaps 2016? Cesare was clearly practiced in pouring and was able to make a single bottle pour 25 glasses - very skillful. None of the Trystians complained about the apparent parsimony and and no one asked for extra; it was naturally massively young though the tannins were not the tongue rippers that some of the en primeur Bordeaux present. 

The old stuff
Pio Cesare Winery
Via Cesare Balbo
Tel: +39 0173440386 
(by prior appointment only)

Then it was climb back up the stairs for a pre bus pee and gentle stroll back to where Driver Marco had parked up and back on the bus. He did one of his famous "reverse onto the main road" to get us on track to our lunch destination. The weather was slightly brighter than earlier though still pretty overcast and threatening rain but it held off and we tootled our way onward and upward through gently climbing hills. Quite soon, we were quite high and almost touching clouds. Then Marco stopped to check direction and hung a left and suddenly we were pulling up in a small square with the restaurant directly across the square from our terminus. 

Lunch at La Ciau del Tornavento

The sky was still overcast though with a few promising patches of blue peeking through as we entered the building that was La Ciau del Tornavento. The outside presented a pretty glass doorway after which coats became depositable and then through to the main dining hall. This was another greenhouse affair on one side which showcased a magnificent view and vista of the rolling Piedmont hills. Hugely pretty and so much natural light coming through - perfect for photos, of which many got taken by our Trystian group. Since it was a One Star Michelin it would be another "gents in jackets" lunch though without a need for a tie. We all settled in and got ready for the feast. 

Light and breezy lunchtime ambience at the restaurant. Pretty full too
I am still trying to find a menu and a wine list for this delightful lunch. I recall the wines were all in magnum and photos reveal the fantastic 2014 Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay (we all placed orders with Yin-How for the forthcoming vintage who had figured a way to bring them into Kuala Lumpur - legally, of course) and a 2011 Pio Cesare "Il Bricco" Barbaresco but that is it for now. May Peng was smart - she added the dish names to the photos she posted, so I'll look to stitch one together. (NB Yin-How emailed me the menu he got sent by the restaurant - looks about right though I think some dishes got added, also there were some individual alterations necessitated by dietary restrictions).

In his FB post, Yin-How wrote:
Dear Trystian Leader pouring for Trystian Rajan
Nice bottle, si?
"Throwback to an excellent visit at the historic Pio Cesare winery followed by lunch at Le Ciau Del Tornavento, a one star Michelin restaurant and the grandest main dining hall in Piedmont with a view as well of the surrounding vineyards in Barbaresco. Excellent well plated Piedmontese cuisine which was modern, yet incorporating traditional recipes like the Agnolotti pasta. The Pio Cesare Barolo and Barbaresco wines paired very well and the rarely seen Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay made in the cellars under the restaurant, was particularly impressive. Many liked it for its Burgundian profile of deft oak, fresh saline acidity, river stone flavours and complex green fruit. #throwback#leciaudeltornavento @ Barbaresco, Piedmont"

Whilst MayPeng wrote:
"Paid a visit to one of our old favourites, Pio Cesare, which is located in a medieval building in the centre of Alba town. After tasting the 2014 and yet to be bottled 2016 Barolos, Cesare and his son joined us for a fabulous lunch at 1* La Ciau del Tornavento. Located in the pretty hillside village of Barracco, the restaurant offers a stunning vista of the Piedmont countryside. The restaurant is also famed for its wine cellar, considered to be the best in Italy. Lunch was paired with a stunning Cesare Chardonnay made in a winery just underneath the restaurant and the Barbaresco made 50m from the restaurant."

Trystians Jeremy and Kalsom
The food was indeed excellent throughout and the wines brought in by lunch host Cesare from our morning winery paired wonderfully. There was a light and breezy ambience to the place, partly due to the height of the room and the presumed inability of the central heating to fully cope with that fact (not that it was uncomfortable or stuffy - far from it) coupled with the occasional opening of the glass door onto the verandah for the obligatory photophoto of the Piedmont countryside. This trend was started by the Lenglui and quickly leapt on by many of the assembled keen to get selfied. Problem was, the door did not open from the outside with the result that I was required to remain at the door on guard duty to permit the escapee Lenglui to re-enter the dining hall. Let in a few other escapees too. Didn't charge them for re-entry either - must have been the wines put me in a generous mood. 

Pumpkin Soup
The service was, with one or two blips in terms of who was supposed to have what, very swift and co-ordinated. Our wine sommelier was most generous in his deft handlings of the magnums that he was required to negotiate and I heard no complaints from the Trystians as to stingy pourings. 

Vitello Tonnato Tradizionale
Seem to recall being told about one sensitive moment when one of the Trystians asked if the restaurant had  some Chili flakes so as to enhance one of the dishes. Whisper was that host Cesare was somewhat miffed at this. 

Ravioli on May Hay. The pop of Thyme was genius. Where's the Chili?
Which could open a whole debate about whether and in what circumstances it would be appropriate for us punters to ask for condiments for dishes prepared by Michelin chefs. Any takers? Watch this space. 

Veal Cheek braised in Barbaresco. Of course. Melted in the mouth...
After the lunch, Cesare made his early exit and left us Trystians in the hands of Chief Sommelier who took us all on a tour of the Restaurant's wine cellar. This was absolutely amazing - bottles and magnums of the best all shelved along walls and parked in displays and boxes and all waiting to be drunk. If there is a wine cellar in the afterlife, it should look pretty much like this one. Champagne, Chablis, Bordeaux, Burgs, Barolos, Super Tuscans - all here. Lenglui and I and the other Trystians gawked and ogled and ooohed at all the lovelies for about fifteen minutes or so before having to tear ourselves away or risk missing the bus. Stunning wine cellar, well worth a detour to visit. 

Wicked sinful dessert
Lunch at La Ciau del Tornavento
Winemaker's Lunch at La Ciau del Tornavento*.
Add: Piazza Leopoldo Baracco, 7
Tel: +39 0173638333

Overlooking the Piedmonte from La Ciau del Tornavento
MENU (with grateful thanks to Yin-How for supplying)
Pumpkin soup, Robiola cheese ravioli and Amaretto biscuits
Vitello tonnato tradizionale
Cold, sliced veal with a creamy, mayonnaise-like tuna flavoured sauce 
Agnolotti del plin di seirass cotti nel fieno maggengo, al burro e timo serpillo
Ravioli stuffed with Seirass ricotta cheese served in a nest of May hay 
Guancia al Barbaresco con verdurine e polenta
“Turn the other cheek…” veal cheek braised in Barbaresco wine
Cilindro di mousse di marroni, passata di caki, gelato alle castagne
Crispy cylinder with Marron Glacè mousse, mashed persimmon, chestnut ice-cream
Caffè e piccola pasticceria
Coffee and Petit Fours

WINES (all in Magnum)
2014 Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay 
2011 Pio Cesare "Il Bricco" Barbaresco
Pio Cesare Barolo

Itwas a short bus ride back to the Fontanafredda Estate, though lunch had extended somewhat with the result that there was less time to pack for the morning off to Milan. Not that this was a problem - light travelling and dumping old clothes and disposable smalls as we go means more space for wines to take home. As it was not raining, Lenglui suggested I should go for a walk in the woods. I thought about it and opted to nap. As ever, I should have done what she suggested; my boots might not have died the following day when I did the Forest of Silence walk - they are indeed now forever silent. 

The six must drink in a lifetime Bordeaux - I have done five

Dinner at Locande del Pilone
Add: Strada Della Cicchetta, 34 (25 min drive) 
Don't remember much about getting on the bus for this one, but again it was a men-in-jackets affair. This was the night for Marco's most magnificent "ooops" of the entire trip, which involved what felt like a three minute reverse back onto the two lane road to get back on the right track. And masterfully done it was too. I know I whack him, but he sure can handle a bus. 

We pulled up at our destination and quickly trundled through the door and into the place. For this dinner, we would be separated across the two rooms of the place. Ambience felt a bit stuffy, but it was all pleasant enough - country style farmhouse with lots of wood and glass furniture and heavy chairs at tableclothed, er, tables. 

Sorry to say I found this one to have been a pretty bad experience. The fizz with which our table was greeted was oxidised and clearly the sommelier did not check it before pouring. Had he (or she) looked into the glass then he (or she) would have seen that it was the colour of diabetic pee and possibly in need of a further check. Not a good start. After some dingdong with him, he relented and poured something more appropriate though with tongue stripping acid bubbles. My only memory of the food was the equally tongue stripping salt infused beef brisket and the wafer dry meringue that seemed to suck all the moisture out of the mouth. The spritz water was very good, as was the bread and butter. Also the drains were stinky - I went outside for some reprieve from the stuffiness and got whacked with a large whiff of…   eeeuuuuwwwww….  Didn't stay there long. Sat back down and waited for the whole thing to end. The table company was pleasant - always fun when the Trystians are sat around a table. Was glad when Marco came to rescue us all from this one. Would not go back there on this showing. 

Società Agricola Boroli – Locanda del Pilone
Strada della Cicchetta/Loc. Madonna di Como, 34
12051 Alba (CN) - Tel +39 0173 366616 Fax +39 0173 366609
e-mail: info@locandadelpilone.com - P.IVA 00922540042

Menu - "Dedicated To Truffle"
The Chef's Welcome
Egg, Leeks and "Raschera" Cheese
Hazelnuts "ravioli", hen ragout and parmesan
Piedmontese Beef Brisket
Panna Cotta, Chestnuts and Meringues
Petit Fours

No idea - couldn't be arsed to photograph them…

Food Photos
Took some, but they are all pretty unspectacular. Have to call this one a fail. Maybe just a bad night. Maybe.

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