Alba / Larossa: marching towards a starred future
In 2017, Piedmont was the second Italian region for number of Michelin starred restaurants, 39 in total, 15 of them in Cuneo province – where Alba is.
The reason, as mentioned in previous posts, is the availability of incredible variety of products, enriched in flavor and taste by a blessed land watered by Po and Tanaro – from the intensity of the white truffle to the sweetness of the Carmagnola pepper and the powerful notes of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto grapes –, uniqueness of its beef breed – whose natural gene mutation allows for tenderness and low fat infiltration – and a long history of tradition and family dedication to the food business.
For our last meal of the weekend and to satisfy our white (and wild) wishes, we decided to trust a young but promising chef (not yet starred), Andrea Larossa of Ristorante Larossa, and the wine pairing of a 'sparkling' Patrizia Cappellaro.
The restaurant, in its design and menu, represents the piedmontese origins of the chef, the Friulian influence of Patrizia, his partner in life, the dedication to an honest cuisine, respectful of the territory and its population, and the ambition of a couple who invested all their dreams on a red door in the center of Alba.
The amuse bouche is a mix of colors and techniques, as well as an opportunity for the chef to provide a snapshot of different products, within and beyond Piedmont: sweet paprika, curcuma and spinach are the base of rice chips, crusco pepper from Basilicata the heart of a mini burger filled with grana and ventricina (Abbruzzo), a cream of sweet garlic from Friuli and anchovies powder the topping of a sponge of parsley, rabbit liver pate and Piedmontese hazelnuts the spread of a canapé…
Interesting appetizers, some more intense in flavor than others, but the best of them is actually the most hazardous move of the chef: stravecchio cream (cheese from Friuli rich in natural salinity, ‘a product that can compete with the great Italian hard cheeses’ in the words of the chef), cocoa, salt and mandarin gel… Saltiness, Bitterness of cocoa and acidity of the mandarin to balance the saltiness of the chess: in few spoons, the signature of the chef.
The first of the starters is a dish that uses a technique, nowadays very popular but actually very old, that enhances the taste of ingredients: fermentation!
The product chosen is a trout paired (again) with two popular ingredients from south and north of Italy, burrata and lyophilised pesto. All in all, a way to explore new territories while keeping the feet solid on the known Italian ground.
Stravecchio is again the main ingredient of the second starter: a fondue to accompany poached egg and a generous quantity of white truffle. The dominant taste of truffle and stravecchio leaves only the runny texture of the egg yolk to the palate. A traditional Piedmontese dish with very personal touch in the choice of the cheese.
The third and last of the starter is a dish created for the Foodie’s moment of the International White Truffle Fair: the house of the snails, a reproduction of the snails’ ecosystem using Cherasco snails cooked with maple syrup served over cauliflower parmantier, hazelnuts, salted chocolates, sweet garlic.
The dish plays a bit with the different consistencies of snails and hazelnuts but could have dared more on taste – I would have expected an earthier taste or smell, a bit mushy, a more granular (not creamy) texture, almost to remind the perfumes and consistency of the ground after rain.
Instead, the most interesting note of flavor, is offered by the ‘wine’ pairing: Chocolate in a bottle, a sparkling wine made with Chardonnay grapes and natural essence of hazelnuts and cocoa. When brining the glass to the nose, the hazelnut is dominant but when sipping it, the cacao blends well with the wine resulting pleasant and lightly sweet.
For the choice of pasta, we trust a great (and simple) classic of the Piedmontese tradition: Tajarin, a thinner version of tagliatelle characterized by an intense yellow color. The version of Larossa is made with 40 egg yolks per kilo of flour (the maximum clinically allowed), creamed in Isigny butter and topped with freshly shaved white truffle. Excellent the pairing with Barbaresco Roncaglie 2014: perfect blend while exalting even more the taste of truffle. Only remark is that I would have probably expected it to be a bit more callous but I was probably biased by another version eaten in Turin few days earlier.
Veal cheek and celeriac mash is the last pair of ingredients chosen to accompany the white truffle symphony. Once again, a simple combination of flavors – using great raw materials – to exalt the king of the meal. The veal cheek, a very lean piece of meat, is cooked low temperature, for almost 10 hours, and it becomes so tender to be easily cut with a spoon.
A glass of a larch-based digestive to complete the meal with a fresh and woody note!
If I regret something about the meal is probably to have been too focused on the white truffle and it’s dominant ‘personality’ and not have paid the due attention to other chef’s creations, more elaborated and probably more ‘intimate’. I’m sure there will be another opportunity.
Certainly, it was enough to appreciate the excellence of a Piedmontese culinary tradition opened to the locals and to the world, equally and democratically devoted to more and less exigent palates.
Larossa is the perfect reflection of the humility, hard work and ambition of Andrea and Patrizia… And these 3 values always pay off.
Looking forward to a 'starred' future (maybe on November 16)!