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Aosta / Osteria da Nando: 60km away from happiness

It’s Saturday evening and you have already spent quite some time trying to make up your mind on the place that will satisfy your lustful culinary wishes for dinner.

The calories spent skiing – and the alibi provided by those that will be spent the day after – advocate for some high caloric mountain food (raclette, cheese fondue, tartiflette) or carbs Italian style (pasta or pizza)... ‘Italy is only 20 min away, it cannot be bad!’.

After scrubbing the web for information and pictures, and having realized that the Michelin guide website in Chamonix even mentions (but not ‘selects’ to be fair) pizzerias with corn or pineapple as topping, you realize that the best decision is to opt for the ‘original’ and face the over 55€ return ticket and 70 km/h speed limit of the almost 12km-long Mont Blanc tunnel.

Aoste is waiting for you on the other side, less than one hour away from Chamonix… and it is probably because I love Italy, north, south and center, that, despite the cold and the geographical and cultural difference from my Sicily, I cannot help but feeling a warm sensation in my heart when smelling the air, walking on the Roman cobblestone pavement or opening the door handle of the Osteria da Nando, a place that has fed (and enriched) Aosta Valley with polenta, carbonade and bagna caoda for more than 60 years.

The menu remains very truthful to the territory (that contemplates some influence from neighboring regions), but the battlefield where the restaurant is playing its David vs Goliath is the wine list: despite being squeezed in-between two giants of the wine culture, Piedmont and Savoy, the menu shouts out loud the pride for the regional grapes – fumin, cornalin, and others –, their bright colors and fruity and smooth tannins.

While we have praised the wine selection, food and service tell the rest about the long successful history and fame of the place with recipes that are ‘mastered’ around local ingredients and dishes that are ‘sunk’ into the tradition.

Here is my personal shortlist:

– STARTER: the mousse of Lard d’Arnad with gelatin of chestnut (my favorite dish), served with homemade brioche and meat cuts, is an excellent dish playing on the mild notes of lardo (that partially loses its fat in this mousse version) and the sweet flavor of chestnut

- PASTA: the tagliolini Nabuisson, served with a cream of fontina – very versatile semi-soft cheese –, lardo, butter and pepper, have a great texture and mild flavor that does not result greasy or weak

- PASTA: the agnolotti, a square-shaped pasta, filled with cabbage, fontina and meat stock (ingredients of a local soup) are incredibly tasty and honor a very humble ingredient like cabbage in the same way tortellini or agnolotti del plin do with meat

- MAIN: carbonade, a veal stew cooked with wine and onions, is one of the oldest dishes of the region and one of the best ways to taste the quality of the breeds of the valley

- DESSERT: Armonia is the kind of dessert that I love (but honestly all desserts are very good). 3 layers: chocolate, coffee and gelatin of genepy, the most famous Alpine herbal liquor. Not too sweet and creamy and lightly alcoholic… Bingo!

Complete your dinner asking for a caffè alla valdostana served in the Coppa dell’Amicizia (friendship cup): a wooden cup with pipes to be shared with friends or family filled with an equal mix of coffee and grappa and the addition of genepy lemon and sugar that is lit on fire before serving.

Wait for it to cool down, let the alcohol vapors evaporate and take a long sip… Now, you will probably feel the same warmth in the heart that I mentioned at the beginning of the article! Santé!

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