(or The Moon and I)
So after filling our tummies in Recco, you didn't think we were just going to stop there, right?
Of course not, because we had reservations for dinner that night at Io e Luna, the restaurant in Piemonte that we first visited with Uncle R back in May. The memory of that meal we had was so firmly imprinted our memories that we just had to return, and introduce it to D as well.
It was an hour and a half drive to Piemonte from the coast. And we still had a couple hours to kill, so we stopped at winery to pick up some wine, took a stroll in downtown Alba and browsed in a bookstore. Finally, it was almost eight and we could go have our highly anticipated meal. Yes, I was excited.
The restaurant is about 15 minutes outside of Alba, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We quickly studied the menu and ordered our food.
First came the 'pre-appetizer', if there is such a thing. The appetizer offered by the chef as a prelude to our meal. I can't exactly identify all the tasty morsels but there was insalata russa, russian salad. Not sure why they call it that but it's a kind of creamy potato salad with tuna. Needless to say, we licked the spoons and plates cleaned.
Oh, and then out came the second 'pre-appetizer'. I almost forgot about this but good thing I took pictures. This was cotechino, a fresh sausage, topped with a fried potato (I think) chip with a sweet sauce. Yummmm..
Then the brought out the bread basket, filled with an assortment of breads made in-house. There were grissini breadsticks, mini croissants, focaccia, and other breads. I had to stop myself from filling myself up!
All this while, we were washing everything down with this excellent barbaresco wine. Full-bodied, pricey but what an aroma and most importantly it tasted great with a good finish. Thanks to D for treating us to this.
Look at our happy faces. And we weren't even officially into our meal yet.
Then our appetizers came. My plate had from the left, some kind of tomato relish, then some quiche/frittata strips, followed by a mound of delicious steak tartare perfectly seasoned with (I think) some olive oil and parmesan cheese. Next, some pickled mushrooms and finally a quail egg topped with a truffle shaving. Mmmmmm...
S and D had the same appetizer. Not sure what was on the left but on the right was a roll filled with a leek cream and a poached (I think) egg, topped more truffle shavings. I had a taste and I was in heaven. At that moment, I understood the hype surrounding the truffle. I would've been perfectly happy to end my meal right then.
But then came my first dish, and it was a homemade gnocchi with a meat sauce. Simple, homey and satisfying.
S had the plin, which is a type of ravioli typical to the region of Piemonte. Also handmade and good.
In my mind, the real first dish star was the tajarin with foie gras that D had. This is another pasta found in the Piemonte region, similar to tagliatelle but cut really thin. I really liked the springy texture, much like the Asian noodles I know and love. This dish was just divine.
Another thing I like about this restaurant is the leisurely pace that the food is served. It is just right. Enough time to take it all in, but not so you start looking at your watch. And the service is just impeccable.
D and I had the same second dish: the guanciale or pork cheek. Served on a bed of mashed potatoes with sweet pickled onions, it is tender and melt-in-your-mouth. Not to be missed.
S had the pork ribs (?) and that too was tender and falling off the bone. There was some kind of sweet (pumpkin?) puree in the onion skins that was good too.
D really appreciated the food. It was just funny watching him ooh and ahh with pleasure over each bite.
What comes after the end of the meal? Dessert! We were all stuffed by then, but of course could not pass up the dessert menu.
S and I shared the chocolate plin ravioli, in a cachi or persimmon sauce, with chestnut gelato. Firstly, the plin just looks chocolatey, right? But when we put one in our mouth, the insides were melted - the best surprise ever! And the persimmon sauce and chestnut ice cream complemented it perfectly.
D's torta ciocolata calda, hot chocolate cake, was warm and melted inside. So good. The plate was licked clean.
And if all that wasn't enough, they had to bring out the 'post-dessert', the piccola pastecceria, or small bakery. There was literally an assortment of 11 different miniature desserts. You could tell the chef had assembled them just minutes before. The white ones on the bottom left were creamy panna cotta set on a crispy cookie. There were mini tiramisu, creme caramel, cream filled cookies... we ate everything but unfortunately had to leave four pieces behind. There was just no more room.
So three hours later, we head out the door with full and very satisified tummies. We actually stopped and got to personally convey our compliments to the chef. He was young, couldn't have been much over 30, and painfully shy. What talent. Our second visit and we remain very impressed.