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Under 40 Crowd - Ca di Facelli

Diana Strinati Baur

This is the first in a series about country restaurants in Piemonte where you can eat – lavishly – for under €40 a person, including good quality local wine.

I can’t believe that we have lived in Piemonte for almost seven years. I can’t believe it primarily because, despite the relatively long time I have been here, I am continually surprised by new discoveries that we still make. Most have to do with those favorite Piemontese pastimes, vino e cibo, food and wine.

As the years have gone by, we have become a true Piemontese in one sense: we have very high expectations concerning value, quality and price at restaurants here. There is simply an abundance of excellent quality food in this region and we have become very choosy as to where we spend our dining euro. In this vein, I have taken on the challenge of finding excellent restaurants that provide, in our minds, exceptional value.

I didn’t have to look far. It seems that the SS334 outside of Acqui Terme is becoming la strada della gastronomia.

Awhile back, our friend Giovani Piacenza (who makes our very well received house wines, Giovanni Piacenza Barbera d’Asti and Chardonnay) called us up and invited us for dinner. The restaurant would be one of his best clients, Ca di Facelli on the SS334 outside of Melazzo, about 9 km outside of Acqui.

Now, we had seen this restaurant many times on the road to Cartosio, located between the very popular and quasi famous Piemontese restaurant I Cacciatori (Via Moreno, 30 - 15015 Cartosio ) and my favorite local spots, Il Giardino (Loc. Giardino 7, Melazzo) and the Wine Bar at Villa on the SS334 heading in the direction of Sassello on the way to the Ligurian Coast. However, we had never stopped, maybe because we didn’t see a place to park, as the restaurant is directly on the street.

We were greeted by the owner, Ugo, like friends. Giovanni was, as he always is, late. Apparently, so were the other fourteen guests that Giovanni had invited, since it seemed like we were taking over almost the entire dining room. Ugo poured us a couple of dry vermouths at the bar to wait, and we found out that he had spent time both in the States and in Germany – and spoke both languages. He was charming. Finally Giovanni arrived, an hour late, with the rest of the group, and we sat down in the beautiful, candle-lit room (anyone who knows Italy well knows how nice it is to find a dining room in a country restaurant with moderate lighting and candles. Hmm).

Corks started flying, and soon multiple bottles of Giovanni’s wine were being consumed by the case. Laughter ensued, most of it coming from Giovanni himself. And the food started rolling out of the kitchen.

Since I don’t photograph food in restaurants, I must describe here for you what we ate to give you an idea of what food in this part of Piemonte is all about.

The first course was silky smooth duck liver pate, served in a slightly sweetened green sauce, decorated with a leaf of sogino salad. A small, almost bite sized serving. The dishes were scooped up, and in their place arrived generous portions of torta d’asparagi, a delicate medley of asparagus mousse in a phyllo crust, placed in the center of the lightest cheese sauce imaginable.

Giovanni looked down the table at me. "Tutto va bene, Diana?"

"Si, tutto va benissime, Giovanni."

Next arrived classic vitello tonnato. I consider myself vitello tonnato expert. It takes a lot to impress me. This one had me shouting across the restaurant, ho bisogno della ricetta, Ugo! The sauce, which always makes this recipe, was as light as air, with just a fragrance of tuna.

I never did get the recipe. Hmph.

Mercifully, we moved onto our primo piatto. Crespelle, filled with ground veal and béchamel and a soft essence of pomodoro.

I could barely move. Ugo looked at me suspiciously.

You look full already, he frowned.

I am, I said, waving my white napkin in capitulation.

There’s no choice. You have to have a little of the secondo. We’ll make you up a small plate. I shook my head, which was flat on the table in my arms.

He came out with a monstrous oval platter of legs of veal that had clearly braised for hours in red wine. The aroma was incredible. Giovanni looked pleased. I was numb. A slice arrived on my plate, the kind of slice you would never need a knife for. Roast potatoes. Pan drippings. You get the picture.

I felt like crying. I had to be up on seven hours to make breakfast. Would I ever feel true hunger again, ever?

People were starting to feel sorry for me. The thing that annoyed me, though, were that there were three petite ladies at the table, far more petite than I was even as a child, who were polishing of plate after plate of food and glancing at the kitchen door, waiting for the next course. How could this be? Do you have to be born in Piemonte to be able to metabolize mega quantities of extremely good food, still want more AND fit into a size 8?

After a small break, during which Giovanni opened at least four more bottles of his own wine, dessert arrived. Semifreddo di Zabaglione. Of course! You could taste the Moscato in the soft ice cream, as it was made according to the classic Piemontese recipe. What else? Oh wait, I forgot, meringue cookies filled with whipped cream! Naturally! We wouldn’t have wanted for anyone to go away hungry, now would we have?

I, of course was wondering what all this was costing our host, and I really needed to know, if I were to tell guests what to expect to pay. I demurely asked one of the other guests if he knew, in general how the restaurant was priced.

Oh, he said, this is probably somewhere around 35 to 37 euros a person, with Giovanni’s wine.

I was stunned. Again. I am always stunned at the level of quality vs. price that we find at country restaurants in Piemonte. We have since sent several guests to Ugo and everyone has come back thrilled and extremely full, unable to even finish breakfast the next morning.

So, a little trip down a small highway in Piemonte can be a gastronomic discovery. Stay tuned for my write-ups about the other wonderful restaurants where you can eat abundantly while holding on to the majority of the cash in your wallet.

Oh, and one more thing ... Grazie, Giovanni!

Ca di Facelli
Regione Molli, 12 (SS334)
+39 0144 341015

Diana Strinati Baur is a potter and innkeeper at the Baur B&B in Acqui Terme, Italy.

© Diana Strinati Baur, 2010. Do not republish without permission.

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