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Acqui Terme: I Caffi

Via Verdi 1 , Phone: 0144.325206
Closing day: Wednesday evening and Sunday

Reviewed by: JDeQ from Canada, review #2955

When: 2008

One of the best meals we have ever eaten in a restaurant. If you love good food be sure to visit this restaurant!

I Caffi Dining Room, photo by J DeQuetteville

I Caffi used to be located in the Langhe area of Piemonte (in the town of Caffi) but recently moved into the city of Acqui Terme itself. It is now located in a completely renovated 15th century building just a short walk from the Cathedral, comprised of two dining rooms, one on the upper floor with a coffered ceiling and elegant and refined furnishings, known as the Sala Padronale, and one on the ground floor, in a more relaxed, country-style setting, known as the Sala delle Mura, where lunch only is served. The formal dining room is small - only seating about 35 guests; if you don't have reservations . . . forget about it!

Our reservations were made well in advance and confirmed. The owner of the B & B in which we were staying drew us a very detailed map so that we would have no trouble finding the restaurant. Thank heavens because without the map we still might be looking. We arrived at the appropriate time, rang the bell for entry and were ushered to our seats. The dining room was beautifully decorated with a creative touch and great attention to detail.

Each place setting was colour coordinated with the charger and bread 'plate' being made from coloured glass. The water glass picked up the same colour. Each setting at the table was a different colour - mine red, Paul's golden.

The menu was in Italian with NO English 'subtitles' - which, as all good travelers know can be a very good sign. Our waiter spoke no English either. You had the choice of ordering a la carte or ordering a variety of tasting menus. We both ordered the Piemonte tasting menu which was paired with regional wines.

Not long after we had ordered a server brought over a glass container filled with homemade grissini, still warm from the oven, and a large basket of bread. From this basket he arranged three small rolls on our bread plate. Each tiny roll was different, unique, and carefully prepared. I was in trouble immediately . . . with rolls this good I was likely to fill up on them!

Heaven help you if you ate them all because then the bread basket reappeared and more were placed on your plate! Again, each unique and different.

For our first course we were brought a glass jar which contained a local Piemonte potato salad. This was a pleasant combination of potatoes, fresh mayonnaise, onions, herbs and spices. This was NOT your grandmother's potato salad eaten at the summer BBQ!

To accompany this course we were brought a fluted glass which was filled with a local sparkling white wine. We were shocked when it was refilled . . . when we have enjoyed tasting menus at other restaurants we would receive one glass to go with the course, when it was done, it was done. I would have to be careful or we would be walking back to the B & B.

Not long after our plates had been whisked away we were brought the next course. This deconstructed dish contained a mound of raw chopped veal covered with shaved Parmigiano, a glass with a small amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a formed mound of fresh soft cheese, and three tiny piles of different sea salts. Our served demonstrated how to pour the lemon juice over the meat and then eat this wonderful dish which was like a version of steak tartar - but far better than anything we had ever tasted.

All the while our champagne flute was replenished with a seemingly never ending supply of wine.

The next course consisted of the freshest poached egg I have ever had - so fresh that the yolk was a brilliant orange colour! This egg was served over a bed of chopped spinach, covered with a flavourful white sauce, and then sliced white truffles were layered on top.

After the server removed the plate another server removed the champagne flute and replaced it with a wine glass. We were then given a bottle of wonderful red wine for the table to sip with our next courses.

Soon we were presented with a plate containing the pasta course. It was a small mound of freshly made tagliatelle with a wonderful white ragu. We had enjoyed a white ragu the evening before on Torino but this was far superior. The meat was a combination of pork and veal, the sauce carefully prepared with perfect seasonings.

Four the ‘main’ course we were presented with a plate containing two pieces of roasted rabbit and some steamed beans and fennel. The rabbit was perfectly prepared and served with a delicate sauce. To be honest though, I was most impressed with the vegetables. It has been our experience that most of the restaurants we have been to in Italy tend to cook their veggies far more than we are used to, not I Caffi - these were perfectly done.

By now we were rather full (understatement of the year). The service had been attentive and we had been carefully paced through our courses, however it was still a lot of food even though the portions had not been huge.

Our table was cleared of everything except for the Siamese fighting fish who had been swimming lazily in his bowl while we had eaten our way though our tasting menu. We were brought a sweet dessert wine. We wondered what the finale would bring? We should have known the best would be saved for last!

We were soon presented with a glass pedestal dish covered with sweets - tiny wedges of paneforte, chocolates, cookies, candied orange peel, chocolate covered fruit, and small fruit jellies. This alone would have been more than enough for dessert. We noticed that the other dinners were waiting so we admired the view (although this was a challenge, let me assure you!) and waited with them.

Soon a server brought a plate that was beautifully decorated with melted chocolate. A bit of chocolate trivia for you - it was the people of Piemonte who perfected the art of chocolate making and then taught it to the Swiss and the rest of the world. It is fitting that we would end with chocolate.

On the plate was a small chocolate cake, still warm from the oven. Beside it was a chocolate cup containing a scoop of gelato. It looked like vanilla but upon further investigation we realized that it was lavender gelato. WOW.

It was 11:15 when we rolled ourselves out to the street to wander back to our car. Acqui Terme is beautifully lit at night and it was a lovely stroll through the quite pedestrian only area. As we made our way back to the B & B all we could speak about was the stellar dining experience we had had. Not only was this one of the best meals we had eaten at a restaurant in Italy it was one of the best meals EVER. The food was carefully and creatively prepared. The service impeccable. The wines well-matched to the foods.

The price?

130 euro for both of us.

A meal of this calibre in Chicago, New York, or Toronto would easily have been between $300 or $400! Add an incredible value to the list of superlatives above.

So, if you love food, are in Aqcui Terme, and wish to celebrate a bit - run, don't walk to I Caffi (having made a reservation well in advance of course) and enjoy a stunning dining experience.

Extra notes on closing days: Formal Dining Room - Closing days – Wednesday, Sunday + national holidays Sittings from 8:25 – 9:45

Less formal dining room – Closing Days – Wednesday, + national holidays Serves – 12:30 – 2:15

Restaurant closes for 15 days in August and 15 days after Christmas

Reviewed by: lkmaloney from TN, review #2939

When: 2008

Another thumbs up vote for I Caffi

Directions: A short block off of the Piazza del Duomo

I Caffi is in the charming town of Acqui Terme on a little side street that's easy to go by - we did. But its discreet entrance takes you into a very fine restaurant! We had lunch there on a very rainy day in May, and the room was warm and pleasant and the food was wonderful. The service was also what you would expect in an excellent restaurant - attentive and pleasant but not rushed or aggressive.

I don't remember what the bill was for the two of us, but we did not consider it expensive. One of the things that was particularly memorable to me was the daily offerings of wine by the glass. The by-the-glass wines you could have were written on a blackboard. I have often been disappointed in Italian restaurants at the limited selection of wine by the glass, especially of regional wines. I had a hard time deciding which one of the four or five choices I wanted - I went for a dolcetto d'alba that was lovely.

We would definitely return next time we are in the area!

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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