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Where the Locals Go - Ristorante Corsaglia
The road you take to Ristorante Corsaglia follows a rocky stream through one of the most beautiful valleys in the Monregalese. Its hillsides are covered with chestnut forests that are the source of many ingredients found in the local cuisine: wild boar, venison, hare, porcini, truffles. The scenery along the way seems ready for an artist's canvas: alpine meadows with wildflowers, rustic farm houses, dilapidated 400 year-old barns, occasional road-side chapels. Combine all of this with the hypnotizing sound of the stream's rushing water and you feel as if you are in a magical place.
Ristorante Corsaglia is located in Montaldo di Mondovi in the heart of Piedmont's Monregalese area. This family-run establishment has year after year been recommended in the Slow Food - Osterie d'Italia guide of traditional places to eat. Chefs Sebastiano Dho and Mauro Nasi pay particular attention to the rustic culinary traditions of the area. Both chefs are active in promoting heirloom products from the Monregalese that are in danger of extinction.
You enter the restaurant through the bar area where you are likely to find a table of locals playing cards. The atmosphere inside is warm and welcoming but with a touch of kitsch. Knotty-pine paneled walls display traditional ceramics, family photos, various awards and mementos, which include a plaque marking the water level from the area's last flood.
Dinner starts at 8:00pm and the menu changes constantly according to what is in season. Margherita Dho works the dining room and will read you the handwritten menu of the day from her notepad. Typically there are six antipasti, two primi, two secondi, a cheese course and three dolci. As is the custom in most trattorie, diners may choose any or all of the courses as they are served family-style. There is a good wine list which rightfully focuses on Piemontese wines. The Dho family also produces and sells their own excellent Dolcetto and Accardina wines which serve as the house wines.
On my most recent visit to Corsaglia I tried three out of the six antipasti on the menu that evening. The first was a plate of three types of home-made salami: cinghiale (boar), asino (donkey) and maiale (pork). The salame d'asino is a traditional product of the Monregalese that has practically disappeared, but for the Ristorante Corsaglia, where it is a staple on their menu. Serving the three varieties together works to highlight the unique taste and texture of each type of meat. Next to arrive at the table was the trota in carpione, fresh trout that had been breaded, fried and then marinated in a mixture of vinegar, sugar and spices. The preparation was originally used as a way to preserve meats in the days before refrigeration. Corsaglia's updated version is a delicate take on sweet and sour that worked perfectly with the fish. The last antipasto was Flan di verdure, a rich spinach flan that was sauced with a delicate version of the classic, garlicky bagna caôda.
I had a difficult time choosing between the two primi so I opted for a half portion of each. The gnocchi rossi were made from a variety of potato that thrives in the high altitudes of the valley. Although the name suggests red, the color of the dish is more purple than red. Butter and sage was the right sauce since it didn't overpower the flavor of the gnocchi. The ragù di trota was made with Fario, an indigenous trout whose provenance just happens to be the stream right outside the restaurant. Talk about freshness. The delicate flavor of the fish worked well with the tomato and herbs in the pasta sauce.
When it came to the meat course, I knew immediately that I wanted to try the cinghiale al civet. Al civet refers to a traditional method of cooking game meats like boar, venison and hare. The cinghiale was first marinated in red wine, herbs and onion and then braised for hours. The result was a deeply flavorful and tender meat that was accompanied by perfectly roasted potatoes and carrots. Others at my table tried the capretto al forno and they vouched for its tenderness.
Cinghiale al civet
Having passed on the cheese course, we went right to dessert. The chefs typically make three different dolci, but in order to make choosing easier, they offer a tris that lets you sample all three. The first was bunet, the classic chocolate flan of the Langhe and the Monregalese. Corsaglia's version was especially rich and creamy. The crostata di castagne was a slice of sweet pastry topped with a thick, chocolate and chestnut filling. The third dessert, and in my opinion, the one that stood out the most, was the zabaione. Made al minuto, the silky custard arrived still warm and with a heavy perfume of Moscato wine. How do a few egg yolks, sugar and wine turn into such complex flavors? Accompanying the zabione were the classic corn-meal cookies of the Monregalese, paste di meliga, which were crunchy, buttery and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
A meal such as this would cost between €20 and €25 per person, excluding beverages. Reservations are a must. Please keep in mind that little or no English is spoken. For those who speak no Italian, a pocket dictionary or translator might be helpful with menu questions. Ristorante Corsaglia offers slow travelers a truly authentic dining experience in a magical corner of Piemonte.
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