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OSTERIA DELL'ARCO, ALBA, ITALY: WHITE TRUFFLE FESTIVAL RESTAURANT REVIEW

Truffles, like wine, create an almost cult-like atmosphere when their devotees gather.

The connoisseurs of both truffles and wine converse in specific and mystical languages. They may wear badges and ritual clothing. They take that which is common out of the realm of the ordinary, elevating it to heavenly status. Cult-like. Am I being serious? Kinda sorta. Anybody who grows grapes can make wine. Anybody with the patience to plant and nurture an orchard can produce truffles and train a pig or a dog to find them.

OK. Maybe making good wine is a complicated chemical process requiring precision timing from harvest to vinification. And it's certainly true that if truffles were as easy to farm and as plentiful as grapes, they wouldn't be quite so expensive even without what I consider their artificially constructed mystique. But you get the picture. We're talking about products of nature here, known to mankind for centuries. We don't have tasting contests for peanut butter. And I'm one of many who are passionate about that delicacy, particularly when wed to chocolate.

But I digress. And, if you read ahead, you will learn that a white truffle shaved in a restaurant, even if the truffle isn't at your table, can be a sensory experience like no other.

Cathey and I don't exchange gifts on birthdays or our anniversary or Christmas. Instead, we designate special times as surrogates for those purposes. In 2018, I arranged a surprise trip to Alba, Italy for the International White Truffle Festival. I didn't tell Cathey where we were going and why. I did tell her how many nights we would be staying at our destination, what the weather would be like, and what types of clothing might be appropriate to the activities that we would be undertaking. Given the popularity of the event, I booked our Airbnb well in advance and, after much online investigation, reserved all of our dinners and a lunch or two in highly rated Alba restaurants. (I was pleased that our Airbnb host considered my choices spot on.)

I will discuss dinner on the night of our arrival in a following post. We took our first luncheon, after a stroll around the picturesque Old Town and some serious window shopping, at Osteria Dell'Arco. It took a bit of finding, tucked away in an unmarked courtyard. We had to ask directions after our GPS took us to a blank wall. But once found through a passageway between two shops, definitely worth the effort. It's a semi-formal but inviting white table cloth and crystal restaurant with a diverse and interesting menu, helpful and knowledgeable waitstaff, and most importantly, good food well-prepared and reasonably priced for the place, time, and quality.

We don't do aperitifs. We start with wine. We eschewed the list and simply asked for a bottle of local white, not too sweet. The result was a crisp, clean Piedmont. Perfect. And at 13€, nicely priced for a restaurant bottle.

I won't spend time critiquing each dish. Everything that we ordered came prepared as we expected it to be, plainly but elegantly presented, in proper portions, cooked and spiced to perfection, and delivered in a timely yet unhurried fashion.

Cathey began with salt cod garnished with black truffle shavings and in-house baked crackers, had slow-cooked rabbit for her main, and sorbet for dessert. I started with veal tartare, went on to slices of local beefsteak, and finished with a very chocolatey chocolate construct for dessert. Cathey enjoyed every bit of her meal. Double for me. It turned out to be one of my two favorite meals of the trip. And the veal tartare was a revelation.

With coffee for me at the finish, a small cover charge, and a small charge for a bottle of still water, the tab came to 77€. I've spent much more for meals that I enjoyed much less.

Below, you'll find a picture that I took of the folks at the table next to us, a three-generation family who had brought a softball-sized white truffle with them. After they posed the toddlers with their hands on the truffle, the chef came out and shaved the truffle onto their pasta. I can only describe the resulting aroma that filled our entire side of the restaurant as awesome. Foodie perfume. Completely different and much more aromatic than any black truffle experience that I have ever had.

Almost worth joining the cult...
 












 


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