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 Seven - Saturday 3rd November 2018

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 and David Teh.  

The Red Chili outside Fontanafredda Reception
Day Seven - Saturday 3rd November 2018 - Alba - Antica Trattoria della Pesa lunch - Milan - Eataly - Enrico Bartolini dinner

Woke up surprisingly early and thought - this is the morning to go for a walk in the woods. There was a light rain but I thought I can handle this - my tatty 7/11 telescope umbrella of five years plus can keep off the drizzle. We were also scheduled for quite a late up up and away with Marco. So I quickly dressed and booted up and figured for a quick forty minute stroll along the paths of the Forest of Silence before breakfast. Lenglui slept on. 

The Forest of Silence is one short and one long walk through woods with occasional stops to read philosophical quotes on mini billboards along with occasional information about what one can see (ie plantlife, birds). 

The early pathway was firm and gravel and made for an easy and gentle uphill ramble past the swans in a lake, and all quite pretty in the rain. 

It meandered gently upward before diverting whereby one seems to return toward the buildings whilst the other goes deeper into the wood. Feeling quite chipper, I felt able to try the long route. So steeled and of this intrepid mind, I set out on this quest. Big mistake.

My assumption was that all the path would be firm gravel underfoot. It quickly disappeared and became thick mud. I found myself at the top of a hill ankle deep in mud and sinking with only a think walking stick for balance. There seemed to be two choices - turn back and find the gravel path or take a short cut downhill past some vines and cut back across to where I could see the start buildings. I opted for this latter - the ground looked fairly firm and manageable. 

It proved hard and slow going. The mud turned deeper and I found myself looking for clumps of grass to plant the walking stick and slowly negotiate the downward trek. Also needing to be a bit ginger in the footing so as not to get the foot sucked down. Five minutes of this led to the base of the hill, though even on the flat the mud was still treacherous. Eventually I got to a two foot drop from the path to the road and went for it. There was an estate worker taking his two dogs for a morning walk and they were looking at this mad muddy Brit with dubious eyes. But they got whistled on by their master who nodded a "buonjiourno" to me as I went past - must have seen dopey idiots like me many times before. 

I got back to the lake where there was a hose to wash down boots. It was futile - there was mud everywhere; laceholes, cracks, the tongue. Five minutes of hosing the things and they were still caked. And all whilst trying to keep the rain off with the umbrella. I eventually gave up - the boots would take at least a day for washing and drying out and we were due to be off in a few hours.  Not a chance. I stumbled back to the the home building and carefully undid the laces so as to leave them near the door and not sully the floor. Knocking on the door and receiving no answer indicated Lenglui had gone upstairs for breakfast, so in my surprisingly still dry socks but mud spattered pants I joined her. None of the breakfasting Trystians seemed to notice my lack of footwear - perhaps they thought it was some Brit thing, that we breakfast in our socks, or just too polite to comment. Probably the latter. 

Returning to the room I fished out a Cold Storage plastic shopping bag which would serve as the shroud for my boots. Not the most noble end for a good foot servant of many expeditions, but what to do? I gingerly put them in to avoid more mud on the clothes and tied the bag off. I considered putting my mud spattered pants in to accompany boots but figured they could go home and survive a wash.  I left them by the door in the hope that some kind soul might take them in. Goodbye boots. 

Goodbye Boots...
Feeling strangely sad about the demise of these boots. Bought in the BATA in KLCC, they had somehow attached themselves to the soul. They had been my companions in nations across the globe, shaping memories, pounding city streets and country wineries paths. Keeping out the elements and protecting the feet against pavement stubs and the ankles against twisting on cobble stones. And to end up in some manky plastic bag. Sometimes there just ain't no justice.   

I morosely packed the final bits into the case and crashed on the bed contemplating the morning events. Lenglui fluttered around packing equal final bits. Once done, we trundled the cases to the main door to await Marco the Bus. There was a slight drizzle but we kept the door open for fresh air.  

Seem to recall having to lug the cases down to the other wing. This is one of the reasons why I travel light - getting up and down unexpected stairs or traipsing across unexpected gravel with multiple cases is way easier when they are light. I was able to manage both mine and Lenglui's main cases in one lug. Marco's practice of getting the cases on the bus was to study them all carefully before selecting one to hump aboard. He would then again carefully study them all before selecting the next for the hump. The hump itself involved a groan with the lift and a grunt with the dump and a "phoo" as he hauled himself upright for the next selection. His big belly would occasionally flop down from under his untucked-in shirt which was perhaps a shade gross for first thing in the morning. So it goes. This is Italy. 

Another unsuccessful self head count and we said our farewells to Fontanafredda. Good memories…  Guido Restaurant, Committee meeting, the ra… er, possum, the Happy Truffle hunters. It is great location for foodie groups like ours, or foodie couples with a car. Don;t see myself returning in the near future, though one never knows. Lenglui's daughter might again take up the mantle of Tour Leader and decide that Piedmont is the next place for photos and food. We may yet return.

Trystian Money trying to sell me a fake bottle...
Antica Trattoria della Pesa lunch

Our destination was a town name of Costiglioli and a venue name of Antica Trattoria della Pesa for an earlyish lunch ahead of our drive into Milan. Dear Trystian Leader had billed this one as good solid rustic fare and one of the best Osso Bucco he has tasted. 

Went to the restaurant website for some more detail, but found it a bit confusing. It seems to suggest there are two venues under the Antica brand - The Bistrot and the Piccolo - and the address indicates we would be having our lunch at "Il Piccolo Della Pesa" which translates into "The Little Pesa". Some more,  "At the small Pesa you can get away from work, relax and have a drink with friends or spend a wonderful evening with us.The restaurant, adjacent to the Trattoria della Pesa, also offers an extensive wine list, with the best labels DOC and DOCG Lombard and a selection of the best Italian wines." 

Marco the Bus pulled up at a bus stop to let us all get off and we followed Dear Trystian Leader and his Google Map handphone on a damp morning tour of the streets of..  wherever we were. Quite a quaint little town, long narrow streets of light coloured stone walls greying in the overcast sky. One more turn and we saw the faster Trystians' piling through a door and into the cosy interior that was the Antica Trattoria della Pesa. We parked our coats on the hanger by the door and squeezed our way around the tables that had been set to receive us. This was a bit cramped, though we all managed to shoehorn ourselves in somewhere. Very cute place, comprising a bar in the centre that divided the eating area from the drinks. Lots of bottles everywhere, and a massively realistic wine mural on one wall. There was also a real rustic feel about the place. No pretensions - you come here to eat and drink and just enjoy. Which we all did. Hugely. 

Our starters
Couldn't find a menu for lunch on the website, and judging by the photos I think we might have gone off menu a bit. The tall balding host and owner was hugely welcoming and had a cute sense of humour. and we were quickly chugging on some full bodied (presumably house) white and chowing down on what I think were eggplant topped with roasted garlic or toasted breadcrumbs. This was quickly followed by the Osso Bucco which indeed was rich and full of meaty goodness and got wolfed down double time by the Trystians. The accompanying (presumably house) red was a fruit bomb with fair tannin that helped the meat go down a total treat. Happily return for a second round of this one. Dear Trystian Leader certainly knows his secret food places. 
The magnificent Osso Bucco with Roast Potatoes - food for the soul
Lenglui lunching
OLD TAVERN OF PESA | Vl. Pasubio 10-20154 Milano (MI) - Italy |PI 10329560154 | Tel. +39 02 6555741 | francisassi71@yahoo.it
THE BISTRO THE PESA Via Pietro Maroncelli n1 - Tel 02 6592880 LITTLE OF PESA - Viale Pasubio No 10 - Tel 02 6554762

Menu (I think)
Eggplant rolls
Osso buco with risotto Milanese - we had roast potatoes
Creme caramel

No idea

Antica Creme Caramel dessert 
Antica Trattoria ambience - lot of red cactus for some reason...  and booze 
Happy Trystians!
Lunch ended with our host at the door wishing us a friendly "Buongiorno" as we grabbed our coats to tootle and stagger back to Marco the Bus. Our next stop would be somewhere called Eataly in Milan centre. I had no idea and had been a bit lazy in researching - I had assumed it was a department store and certainly somewhere to go shopping but paid little mind to it. Turns out it is 5000 square metre four storey market and delicatessen smack in the middle of two main roads and chock full of culinary and gastronomic delights. Floor one was fresh fruit and vegetables, pastas, pastries and bread and jars and tins, floor two was oils, meats, salami, cheese and chocolates, and floor three was the One Star Alice Ristorante and wines. Some of the Trystians had earlier been salivating over the impending visit to this place and with that dreamy gaze you see in the devout - futurecasting a paradise beyond this earthly life. So long as Marco got us there safely. Which he did. Thank you Marco. And the Road Gods. If there are any...

Eataly in Milan
Eataly was born as a result of aggregating a number companies operating as artisans of excellence in separate sectors of the food and wine markets. The first Eataly store opened in Turin in 2007 and since this time "has been able to offer the best artisan products at reasonable prices by creating a direct relation between producers and distributors, and focusing on sustainability, responsibility and sharing." At this time of writing (Dec 2018) there are 13 Eataly stores in main cities across Italy. The Milan store opened in 2014 in a building which apparently used to be a theatre (Teatro Smeraldo). 

The website holds that Eataly is "about eating Italian food, living the Italian way" whose goals are "to introduce a new way of distributing high quality agricultural products, inspired by leitmotifs as such as sustainability, responsibility and sharing.." and "to demonstrate that high-quality products can be made available to everyone: easy to find and at affordable prices." 

View from the 2nd Floor
The brand EATALY is the combination of two English words: EAT and ITALY. Eataly is about eating Italian food, and extolling the "Italian" way of enjoying excellent cuisine within the continuing history and culture of food and wine that is uniquely and unmistakeably Italy. It claims to be open 10am to midnight, though bear in mind that a Siesta might kick in across some of the outlets from 3pm to 7pm. 

Once inside the Eataly, I could now understand the reverence with which its name had got whispered. This was a total Cathedral for the belly and Temple of Tittilating Tastes for the tongue and everyone was worshipping in spades. It was packed on a rainy Saturday afternoon with devotees gazing wide eyed at all the delights on show. Checkouts were lengthy and shopping carts were full. During research, I found one story where the writer had "heard on the radio that the New York branch of Eataly is the third most visited place in the city after the Statue of Liberty and the Guggenheim Museum." [https://www.likealocalguide.com/milan/eataly-smeraldo]. Hallelujah indeed. 

Eataly Display
We had about an hour to do the place and could easily have done longer. There was so much to look at, so much to think about whether to buy back or not, so many places to think about sitting down with a coffee or a full pasta and pizza and watching the Eataly world go by. The meats section was amazing - all these beef slabs hanging up and ageing or lying down waiting to be bought. Awesome place. Lenglui and I bought some bread and cheese and ham to make sandwiches at the hotel for the next evening or three as back up in case we did not feel up to going out for dinner. We exited to find some of the Trystians already parked on some benches outside the Eataly entrance for a 4.30 Marco who had earlier advised we needed to pitch up exactly on time as there was no waiting area on the roadside. Surprisingly, everyone complied and we were all aboard in less than two minutes after he had pulled up. Our hotel was to be the LaGare which (we would find on the morrow) was physically a 15 minute stroll but a twenty minute drive. Part of the Sofitel group, the hotel is well appointed and naturally near Milan's central railway station. Marco huffed and puffed the luggage off the bus (this would be his last time so humphing - he would drive us to our dinner restaurant and there we would say our farewells) and we claimed our doorkeys and got the lift up to our various floors to unpack and get ready for our farewell dinner. 

Piazza Venticinque Aprile, 10, 20121 Milano MI, Italy
Website: www.eataly.net
Email: eatalysmeraldo@eataly.it
Phone: +39 02 4949 7301

Reception at Enrico Bartolini
Enrico Bartolini dinner

There's an old saw about saving the best for last. Which had come up somewhere along the Trystian Path in some context about why we usually drink the best wines last rather than first. Notwithstanding, in a restaurant context on our tour it had not come up. Yet it was to prove true with Bartolini. The Fates must have decided to establish the truth of the saying for us tiny band of boozy foodies at our food finale. 

Ready for the off at Enrico Bartolini
We had assembled at the lobby and quickly clambered aboard our final ride with Marco. Everybody seemed in a buoyant mood and ready for one of the food highlights of the trip - dinner at the Michelin Two Star Enrico Bartolini. 

The website says Bartolini has got five restaurants in Italy, along with Spigo in Hong Kong and Roberto's in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There is an overarching philosophy of “Contemporary Classic” which looks to blend "tradition with innovation and endless experimentation to create new flavours that are packed with memories, with a strong emotional impact. We strive for perfection in both taste and aesthetics, ensuring every dish is an unforgettable culinary experience…" Whilst Michelin says that the "personality and talent of the chef and their team is evident in the expertly crafted dishes, which are refined, inspired and sometimes original."

Born in 1979 in Pescia, Tuscany, Enrico Bartolini started culinary life in the kitchens of Paolo Petrini in Paris and then Mark Page in London before  returning to Italy with Massimiliano Alajmo at the Le Robinie restaurant in Oltrepò Pavese, where he gained his first Michelin star aged 29.

Four years later he got his second at the Dodici24 Quick Restaurant in Cavenago Brianza (just outside Milan) along with L’Espresso’s Tre Cappelli and the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Forchette. 

in April 2016, he opened Ristorante Enrico Bartolini on the third floor of the MUDEC, and in November he "conquered the Italian gastronomic firmament when he was awarded four Michelin stars at once, two in Milan, one in Bergamo and one in Castiglione della Pescaia. This important recognition becomes even more significant given that the three award-winning restaurants opened almost exactly at the same time!"

Got a bit confused when the webbie says that also in November 2017, he got one Michelin star for Glam Restaurant in Venice, which would have made five if my math is correct. Could not find any second reference to back this up. But all the reads make much of the fact that he is the first to ever hold four stars at once - two in Milan, one in Bergamo and one in Castiglione della Pescaia. Pretty impressive by any standard. 

A Two Star translates to "Excellent cooking, worth a detour!" This Ultimo Marco Bus would indeed prove to be quite a detour involving a 40 minute trek across Milan city to the restaurant. Pretty dark and gloomy and wet was the drive, though some streets looked half familiar from previous visits to the city. Probably my imagination - Google Maps didn't seem to be making much sense at this time of night. 

Not sure of this one...
As said, the Restaurant is located on the Third Floor of the MUDEC (or Museum of Cultures of Milan) which is both a museum and exhibition center inaugurated in 2014 and "dedicated to the enhancement and interdisciplinary research on the cultures of the world." Located in the Tortona area of the city, it houses collections of ethnographic and anthropological exhibits placed there by the Municipality of Milan. The Bartolini website holds that this locationis "perfectly aligned with our culinary philosophy, based on the principles of experimentation and research. This is where our haute cuisine is crafted, determining the style of each of our restaurants, while respecting the biodiversity of each local area. And it is where we explore new worlds and new flavours, without forgetting our origins and traditions. Milan is the cornerstone and the creative impetus behind all aspects of our ‘Contemporary Classic’ philosophy." 

One of the Amuses
Seemingly lacking a signature "oops" Marco pulled up outside this seemingly open area looking not unlike a railway station and everyone piled out and headed to the glass door signifying warmth. I was about to follow them when I remembered that this was Arriverderci Marco, so I headed back and shook his hand and wished him well. He had driven us all week with nary a word to anyone, but he had done it all with reasonable grace and fair temper; far better than the Napoleon we had in France last year. He smiled broadly, and that was it. May the fates guide you well, and hopefully toward you losing forty pounds very quickly.

Not sure of this one...
As said, the entrance felt like a railway station of steel and glass with a souvenir shop to the right (which naturally attracted the attention of the Trystian shoppers) so we took advantage of this distraction to get straight into the elevator and up to the Third Floor. We parked our coats and, having been greeted with a welcome glass of bubbles, proceeded into the main restaurant area. 

Not sure - one of the amuses? 
The restaurant was pretty modern in ambience, with subdued lighting and modern art pieces and paintings. The website talks about an "intimate and refined atmosphere, enhanced by warm, natural tones and soft leather chairs and sofas with gentle, cosy lines, invites guests to relax and fully enjoy the culinary experience in the utmost comfort, while the chef and his team strive to provide unbridled pleasure." Okay. I have half a memory of being traumatised by the toilet for some reason - I think it was the blue lighting that shone in the pee tank - can't remember at the moment. 

Anchovies Oysters and Caviar 2019 version
There were two tables around which all Trystians would seat themselves. Lenglui picked a corner and the Governer picked a corner and the regular groups picked their seats and everyone else arranged themselves around this seating puzzle. It seemed to work out. 

Tuna Belly and "scritti beans"
Foodwise, the webbie says that the "food selection takes diners on a sophisticated culinary adventure, from the Be Contemporary tasting menu to the Be Classic menu with its range of classic Enrico Bartolini dishes, not to mention new seasonal options and highly original creations – a melting pot of flavours, worlds and traditions." Which ultimately did not overly imrpess the Governer who found it all "a bit modern" - damned with that particular and masterful faint praise of his. Though he did say that he thoroughly liked the wines. Here's what May Peng in her Facebook post had to say:

Bottoni filled with Olive Oil and Lime, Roasted Octopus and Cacciucco Sauce
"Our week long of fabulous food and wine indulgence was wrapped up at Enrico Bartolini, a 2* restaurant at the MUDEC in Milan. Multi Michelin starred Chef, Enrico Bartolini was regrettably not in attendance, but it was still a perfect venue and menu for our "Last Dinner (Supper)". We had the whole restaurant to ourselves..  that was very nice and we can abandon restraint for a little bit. The menu was essentially Italian, interpreted in a modern style. But it was very complex, with multi layers of flavours. Some felt there were too much happening on the plate. Quite noticeably, the Chef had ingeniously introduced a hint of acidity (sometimes citrussy) in the earlier courses. It certainly helped with delaying the feeling of fullness, until Course #8. I thoroughly had an enjoyable dinner. However, for me, the real highlight of the Dinner, was the Double Magnum of a 1967 Barolo from the museum collection."

Rice and Milk from Lodi, undergrowth Jugged Hare with Pepper Essence
Whilst Yin-How writes: "On top of the museum of culture Milan sits a gem of a restaurant with 2 Michelin stars. Enrico Bartolini showcases modern Milanese cuisine with just a few touches of molecular touches, to remain fresh yet traditional in its culinary roots. There is a constant thread of acidity in most dishes which kept our 10 course meal balanced and never cloying, though the richness of the final oxtail dish was a touch too far for some."

Roasted Pigeon and "welcome back" Boiled Breadsticks
I am trying to remember. I recall that I enjoyed it, but the individual dishes have faded into haze. It all looked amazing, it all tasted amazing, but the individual combinations - nada. This seems to be happening a lot lately - remembering it was enjoyable, but forgetting the individual tastes. I have been off making notes at the table, based on the Julian Teoh philosophy that if you fully engage all your senses then you don't need to make notes. Doesn't seem to be working out too well for me. I think maybe I need to start making them again; this is about the third occasion where food and dish memories have evaporated. Even the photos don't seem to jog the mind into recall. Perhaps it is meal fatigue - too many meals in a short time and all the detail getting lost in the overindulging. Though strange that other meals I can recall with perfect clarity. Maybe the food was just not that memorable to me. 

Oxtail and Savoy Cabbage a la Royale
Though the wines got pretty much stored inside the tastebud memories quite easily. The ones we had on the night ranged from delightful to spectacular. As May Peng said, the Star was the 1967 Double Magnum Barolo which sang like Caruso, danced like Nureyev and finished like Red Rum. And all at the age of fifty years old. Amazing wine - life, fruit, balance and structure all fully integrated. Worth the trip just to drink this wine alone. 

Traditional Zabaione, Bronte Pistachio and Orange Tree
Winewise, the webbie says the "wine list features a selection of Italian and foreign vintages with great personality, carefully chosen by Sebastian Ferrara, the restaurant manager and a highly experienced sommelier". And the wines were spectacular. I leave it to Yin-How to describe them:

Piccola Pasticceria
"The wine selection was a homage to the great names of Barolo.
Larmandier Bernier Terre de Vertus 2011(1.5L)
Trademark elegance and transparency, with flourishes of lime blossom, citrus and green apple skin and underlying chalk on the long finish.

Marchesi di Barolo Barolo 1967 (3L)
Sommelier had to open a second btl as the first one was compromised. Still youthful vibrant Ruby red with bricking edges. Amazingly delicate perfume of strawberries, Violets and cinnamon. Palate had a vibrancy and bright red fruits, savoury nuances and excellent balance between sufficient fruit and acidity. Tannins were resolved and fine. No one guessed this wine to be more than 15 years, testament to its ageing ability!

Bruno Giacosa Falleto Barolo 1998 (1.5L)
Ruby red with bricking edge. Nose was lifted, deep and sonorous with some VA, savoury notes but mainly dark plum and cherry with soy and balsam. Palate was developing to show gamey notes under still vibrant dark cherries and supported by ripe and maturing soft tannins. 

Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate Barolo 2013 (1.5L)
The 1967 Barolo - an amazing wine
Pure, pristine dark fruit, morello cherries and Violets and rose petal notes on the nose. Palate already showing impeccable balance in its youth with pure dark cherries, black berries and licorice backed by fine filigreed tannins and underlying lithe acidity. Long finish. Bravo.

Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia Barolo 2012 (1.5L)
Legendary single vineyard wine. Primary soaring nose of intoxicating Black fruits, crushed earth, floral rose petals and dark spice. Palate was large framed but always in balance between pure dark core of fruits and lacy tannins and freshness of well integrated acidity. Opened up through 2 hours to show more Violets. Tour de force. @ Enrico Bartolini"

The service was extremely good and friendly without being familiar. I think I would return, but would have to bring a large chunk of change to drink wines like these again. And a notebook and pen. 

And suddenly it was over. People got up, said their farewells and see you at breakfast, headed for the door and out into the cold almost midnight Milan chill. Given Marco's arriverderci, We were all required to get taxis back to the hotel, which I rarely enjoy doing - trusting Milan taxis to show up just before midnight is often a lost cause, especially on a Saturday night. Which so proved for us, though the earlier Trystians seemed to enjoy more luck. The restaurant had booked the cabs and we were all given numbers as to which taxi would be ours. But ours failed to show. Naturally. Eventually Trystian Sanjeev scored an Uber and we belanja him and Trystian Money a ride back. Have to crack a nice Austrian bottle for them at the next boozy. 

Wines for the night
Back at the Hotel, good nights and see you back in KL's all around, up the lift and crawl into bed. Felt like a long day. Certainly slept like it was one. 

Via Tortona, 56
Milan (MI)
Bistrot opening hours
7.30 - 19.30 Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
7.30 - 22.30 Thursday, Friday
9.30 - 22.30 on Saturday
9.00 - 22.30 on Sunday
Tel. +

Our Welcome
Amuse Bouche
Anchovies Oysters and Caviar 2019 version
Tuna Belly and "scritti beans"
Bottoni filled with Olive Oil and Lime, Roasted Octopus and Cacciucco Sauce
Rice and Milk from Lodi, undergrowth Jugged Hare with Pepper Essence
Roasted Pigeon and "welcome back" Boiled Breadsticks
Oxtail and Savoy Cabbage a la Royale
Traditional Zabaione, Bronte Pistachio and Orange Tree
Piccola Pasticceria

Champagne Tere de Vertus, Blanc de Blancs, Pas Dose, 2011
Pinot Bianco Vorberg, Alto Adige, DOC, Terlano 2015, Magnum
Barolo DOC, Marchesi di Barolo 1967, Double Magnum
Barolo DOCG, Brunate, Giuseppe Rinaldi, 2013
Barolo DOCG Falletto, Bruno Giacosa, 1998, Magnum

Barolo DOCG, Cascina Francia, Giacomo Conterno, 2012 Magnum

Lenglui and I would have a few extra days and nights in Milan, as would some of the other Trystians. It would be mostly food, wine and shopping, including lunch at Lenglui's favourite eatery on Corso Como followed by a brilliant afternoon with Trystian Dear Leader in a wine bar in Milan's Chinatown. I will look to write this up soonest. In the meantime, many thanks to Dear Trystian Leader and the Trystians for a hugely fun and mostly memorable seven days. Let's Tryst again soon!!

Click here for Days Eight to Ten >>>
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Farewell Trystians - till we Tryst again!!

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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