Again sorry for the silence. Election time is the silly season for political scientists, and things have been rocking around here.
I haven’t forgotten my truffle tale, but before any more time gets away from me I wanted to report on the gorgeous meal we had in Alba at Osteria Lalibera, where the food is tremendous, the chef extraordinarily skilled and the place absolutely charming. Big time thanks to the savvy folks on eGullet, who consistently recommend this place despite the presence of bigger names and starrier restaurants in the area.
Lalibera was only a cool evening stroll away from our hotel, and six of us arrived for our 8:00 reservation, hungry after a day of truffle sniffing and wine tasting,despite a big lunch in Barolo. We sat in a room in the back of the sophisticated restaurant, maybe a tad brightly lit for comfort, at a long linen covered table casually strewn with crackly breadsticks and, just for decoration, fresh, rosy pomegranates, still on the branch.
The menu was in Italian, a very good sign except that we were able to read only about every third word of it. My Italian food dictionary was safely tucked in my bag, back in the room. What were we looking at? “Vitello Tonnato” was easy enough, but “Cappesante e crema di topinambur” was just a mystery something in cream of Jerusalem artichokes. “Parla inglese?” The waitress was regretful, but made it clear that the chef, who spoke English, would be out to take our order.
Marco Forneris is a prince – an amazingly talented chef, he was also good humored and generous with his time to a bunch of foreigners who had many and detailed questions about what they were choosing to eat.
Those mysterious cappesante? Sea scallops, pan seared, floating in a bowl of sunchoke soup. “Batsua?” A traditional preparation of pigs’ trotters, long braised, cubed, and deep fried. Insalatina di ovuli reali? A salad of the unusual egg-like mushrooms we’d seen that morning at the truffle market. Tajarin al burro fuso e tartufo Bianco d’Alba? No problem there – that was the distinctive pasta of the region, showered with shavings of white truffle. We picked and chose and decided and changed our minds — Chef Marco unfailingly patient and smiling all the while.
I can’t remember every single thing we ordered, but some of the dishes are indelibly stamped on my memory. The scallops, when they arrived, were perfect in their rich, creamy soup, with a frizzle of fried Jerusalem artichoke garnish. The Batsua were succulent, the signature Piemontese agnolotti del plin the best of the trip, served with butter and crispy sage leaves, the insalatina di ovuli reali a drop-dead gorgeous heap of vibrant, paper thin mushroom slices, and delicious to boot. Porcini ravioli were plumply stuffed and covered with porcini slices, the maltagliati di pasta fresca con seppie e broccoli (ragtag pasta cuts with cuttlefish and broccoli) was not much to look at, but it was rich and spicy.
And the pasta with truffles? Oh my God.
I have a habit of getting on a kick when I travel — ordering the same thing over and over again to check out variations in how it is prepared and how it tastes. Usually it’s things like key lime pie in Florida, or tarte tatin in Paris. What I miss in variety I gain in deep appreciation for a regional food. In the Piemonte I was on a truffle mission – truffles on pasta or truffles on eggs or just truffles on a plate (with porcini mushrooms, drizzled with oil and sea salt. Oh my!) I was fixated on learning my way around truffles.
So I know what I am talking about when I say the tajarin e turftufi at Lalibera was really special. I guess I should have figured that a restaurant in Alba would know how to pick a perfect truffle (and in fact, I did know that this place was likely to get it right based on this and this.) But nothing prepared me for
the overwhelming earthy truffleness that rose up from that steaming plate. The pasta was delicate — eggy, and toothsome — but the shower of nearly white truffle, perfectly ripe and smelling of the depths of the earth, stole my heart. Although I stayed on the truffle quest for the remainder of the trip, nothing came close (including, sadly, the truffle we bought at the market.)
The rest of the meal was fabulous, as near as I can remember through the mists of my truffle high. My saraga (a mild fish) with flash roasted vegetables was superb, the stinco di vitella (veal shank) braised in Barolo was a highpoint, the roasted lamb, the veal with capers and the tripe were great, the desserts were terrific (molten chocolate cake with hazelnut gelato!) and the cheese plate with Cugnà (a locally made condiment) was really first rate. And the wine drinkers were over the moon with the Barolo of their choice.
By the end of the evening we were fresh out of superlatives, sated, happy, and very, very full. After an exchange of email addresses with Chef Marco, we came away, leisurely, contentedly taking the long way back to the hotel.
What are those Michelin people thinking, to have missed the opportunity to give that man a bright, shiny star?
If you are in the area, be sure to book for lunch or dinner. 24 A Via E. Pertinace, Alba. Phone: 017-3293-155.
7 Comments Add yours
I want to go back right now!!
You described the meal and more importantly the experience perfectly.
What a meal this must have been! Thanks for sharing it ! I would die to try pasta in Italy, once more. Time for a trip!
Sigh…what a dreamy meal! When I return, Osteria Lalibera is at the top of my list.
Question: when you buy truffles, what yardsticks do you use to gage the quality, or is it a gamble and you either get lucky or not?
If you’ll pardon this expression…your blog is something of food porn. Sometimes I buy cookbooks based solely off of the photos, and, oh yeah, there are some recipes in there too. My mouth is literally watering looking at the photos!
Oh, I saw an issue of Bloom magazine at Soma (on Kirkwood) this morning. Your writing is quite the contribution. Very well done.
Happy Thanksgiving 🙂
I know, Ron. Let’s go!
It just tastes better there, Bea. Don’t ask me why.
Lisa, I know there is a trick to picking the perfect ripe truffle, but I don’t know what it is. Just know that the various ones I had last month were all over the map in terms of taste and fragrance.
Thanks, Katrina! Happy Thanksgiving to you too!
Thanks for your inspiring review of lalibera. I now know where I want to eat when i’m in town for the truffle festival (and also my brothers wedding) next week! Do you have any other recommendations for cafes, gelato, cheese, wine, etc? As a chef, I’m eager to experience the best food of the region. I have three days after the wedding to explore (piedmont/northern italy) on my own. Unfortunately, I haven’t had enough time to research and now I’m cramming before my flight leaves on wednesday night! Any help will be greatly appreciated!!
Hi, I am going to Alba in two weeks and somehow I cannot get a hold of the restaurant. I am so eager to go there, could you perhaps send me the email adress that would be great! Bye Daniel!