Alba Italy, in the Piemonte region was settled more than 2,000 years ago. It began to grow as a stop on a Roman road and became prosperous as an independent city-state in the 11th century. The city was fought over and changed hands several times over the subsequent centuries. It earned the nickname, “town of one hundred towers”. The city retains structures from all of this history. These include:
- Remnants of the Roman wall, foundations on which subsequent churches and medieval buildings have been built (and can still be seen in some church basements) and a few exposed ruins, including part of the foundations of a 26×33 meter temple that was built between 27 B.C. and 4 A.D.;
- The Doumo and San Giuseppe Church, 12th-century buildings that were both built atop Roman foundations. The large, elegant, 13th-century Palazzo Marro, meanwhile, was built on much of the foundation of the Roman-era temple;
- Municipal Palace and several other churches and homes built during Medieval times; and
- · About half a dozen 14th and 15th-century towers that retain their original heights, but have been retrofitted and updated for current uses.
But while the city certainly has history, a walk through some of the main piazzas (such as Piazza Risorgimento) and streets (especially Via Vittorio Emmanuel II) will show you the modern side of the city, with its stores, its busy restaurants and cafes and a number of wine bars that show off the Barolos for which the Alba region is so famous. We, as discussed below, can also verify the modernity of the perspectives and the recipes of some of the city’s premier chefs. Even the inside of the Duomo, with its sky-blue ceiling and arches painted almost like gold racing stripes, shows a bit of its modern side.
Barolo is a commune (Medieval city-state) in Italy’s Piedmonte region that consists of 11 small villages, each of which are authorized to produce Barolo DOCG wines. The area consists of dozens of rolling hills and scenic valleys that are planted, as far as the eye can see, with vines. About the only interruption to the plots, each running in different directions, are lovely stone houses and wineries and the occasional town, some with towers and tall steeples and in the city of Barolo itself, a castle, visible from all directions, that now serves as the official Barolo Wine Museum (WiMu).
Although WiMu is supposed to be a very interesting museum that offers a chance to taste up to 50 different Barolo region wines, we did not have time to visit. We did, however, have the time to walk the town center, passing entecos, wine tasting rooms, wine-centric restaurants and wineries at almost every turn. We, in fact, had a tasting at one of the city center wineries (Borgogno) (not to speak of others in villages across the commune) and ate at one of its restaurants (La Cantinetta). But more on that in our blog on tasting wine in the area.
Osteria La Libera. Unfortunately, we were running so short on time that we had to order partially on the basis of the time it would require to prepare the food. This limited our ability to take advantage of what, from what we heard and from our very limited experienced, merited much closer consideration. Although Tom’s veal tonnato didn’t really test the restaurant’s skills, Joyce’s pan-fried sea bass was wonderful, as was her “ratatouille” mixture of roasted vegetables. Tom did, at least test the pasty chef by ordering the tiramisu, which was creatively made with croutons, mascarpone and crunchy chocolate flakes in addition to powder.
Albamare, located in Alba, began with a few amuse bouches (fried baby carrot with condensed vinegar/white wine drops, dried bread with mayo/mint sauce and potato cream with parmesan). After huge lunches, we had only two small dishes for dinner: lemon-yolk-marinated baby shrimp with olive oil, potato puree and mushroom water was very good. Veal tartare with water mayo mustard could have used a bit more flavor. Wine was another 2017 Langhe Arneis, this one from Coscina Albano.
Duleis Vitis, Where we had a very good, albeit somewhat expensive meal of homemade Tajarin pasta (thinly sliced stands made with egg yolk) with saffron, butter, culatello ham and snails, and rabbit medallions with Roero arneis wine sauce and vegetables. Both were delicious. We followed up with what turned out to be a disappointing triple hazelnut dessert with pretty good ice cream and spread, but a far too dry cake. Wine was yet another Roero Arneis, this time a minerally 2015 from Cornarea.
Guido Ristorante (Fontanafredda’s fine dining restaurant), a prix fixe restaurant that allows you to choose two, three of four dishes in addition to standard offerings and dessert. Tom chose three courses, and Joyce two in what turned out to be a nice, but not especially memorable, three-hour lunch. The meal began with a nice glass of the winery’s 2017 Pradalupo Roero Arneis. Joyce got an additional white: a very nice 2017 Fontanafredda Marin Langhe Bianco (a 50/20 nascetta/Riesling blend) and Tom had two reds, beginning with a light, dry but fruity 2016 Borgogno Dolcetto d’Alba with his two lighter courses, followed by a more substantial, but still very nice, drinkable 2014 Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco. The food service consisted of:
- Smoked trout with sour cream as something of a large amuse bouche;
- Poached egg with parmesan cheese cream, zucchini and black truffle as a delicikous first course;
- Handmade ravioli filled with a mixture of veal, pork and vegetables as a wonderful pasta course for me; and
- Oven-baked ravioli willed with soft egg yolk, ricotta cheese, herbs and topped with blue cheese cream for Joyce’s somewhat less compelling pasta dish, followed by two main dishes;
- Steamed cod (very nice) on a bed of strangely sour mashed potatoes with ricotta;
- Roasted kid goat (fine, but not exciting) with a very nice small salad.
Then on to our desserts;
- Zabaione mouse with amaretti cakes (very tasty); and
- Fiordilatte, milk ice cream, prepared at the moment, without being frozen, which was creamy (much more than milk) and delicious, raising the bar for future assessments of ice cream.
- Merengue cups, filled with different flavors of whipped cream for a complementary ending.
La Cantinetta, located in Barolo, is a small, casual restaurant that makes local dishes from local ingredients. We had three dishes, beginning with Uovo in pasta (a soft egg yolk in a large ravioli) which was more tasty than that at Guido—and almost as good as that at San Francisco’s Cotagna restaurant, followed by tagliatelle with meat sauce and deboned quail in a nebbiolo reduction sauce—all very good.
Palazzo Finati. This is a small boutique place with a great location by the cathedral. They had paid parking that you could reserve which made it easier. A little hard to find but GPS handles it. We had a bedroom in an alcove and a sitting room and balcony. It was nice to have the extra space. The shower was a little interesting. We couldn’t figure out how to get into it without water going all over. From the stains around the wood, it looks like we were not alone. Breakfast was nice combination of hot and cold foods. Robe, slipper, kettle, Kleenex were all in the room. Nice place nice people