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La Morra: Osteria del Vignaiolo

Fraz. Santa Maria , Phone: 017350335

Closing day: Wednsday, Thursday

Reviewed by: Tim in Piemonte from Italy, review #2226

When: 2006

Just wonderful! la cucina Piemonte at its best!

Directions: Santa Maria is a little village along the way of the La Morra to Alba road, about halfway up the hill.

Every winter we like to try some new (to us) restaurants, to evaluate, hopefully enjoy, and decide whether to add to our short list of restaurants for next season.

The Osterie del Vignaiolo is in the little village of Santa Maria, about halfway up the hill on the road from the Alba highway to La Morra. It’s not very grand outside and is right on the main road (can’t miss it) but as we have so often found in Piemonte, drab exteriors can conceal gastronomical surprises.

The restaurant was small but not claustrophobic and, although it was full on Saturday lunch-time, we felt quite cosy and intimate. The service was very good with two attentive waiters, Giancarlo and Massimo, who speak good English. The first surprise was excellent homemade-bread (including focaccie with anchovies) and heated grissini, not necessary but a nice touch. We decided not to have the menu degustazione since we wanted to try as many dishes as we could. We were not disappointed- maybe the best restaurant we have tried this year.

First antipasto was on the house and was a ceci (chickpea) crepe crimped into a pouch and stuffed with ricotta cheese, then baked until crisp at the top. Delicious and unusual.

Our second antipasti was Cacioffi stufati con crostone di polenta e scaglie di grani (baked artichokes served with crusty polenta and shaved Parmagiano). Artichokes are in season now. These were very tender and drizzled with olive oil - a wonderful combination.

Next antipasti was Tortino di cardi con salsa al castlemagno (tart stuffed with cardoons and served with castlemagno cheese sauce). Again, delicious. You could really taste the cheese in the salsa, which mopped up the crust.

My primo was Taglionini al ragu di salsiccia (fresh angel hair pasta with sausage sauce). I ordered this as a test as I thought it sounded very ordinary, but it was much more - the very fine minced sausage sauce blended into the thin pasta superbly.

Tim had Tortelli di Fonduta con purea di bietolini which was a flat pasta stuffed with cheese sauce and with a sauce of bietolini (a green aromatic herb) which was divine. He then elected to have a fresh truffle shaved over which made it a super-divine combination of flavors.

Here I must make a note that the wine list was excellent with not only a huge selection of Barolos, Barbarescos, and Barberas but many other local wines plus some French and German imports. Since we were on a budget, we chose a 2001 Barberesco from the Produttoroi, which by now we had finished. So we ordered a half bottle of local Barolo, a Roche Castagno 2000 from the neighbouring frazione of Annunziata - a teeny bit okay for my taste, but an excellent complement for the secondi piatti.

For my secondi piatti, I had Stinco d’agnello arrosto (roasted shank of lamb). It was a bit dry, however, the side dish of boiled shallots acted as a sauce and the carciofi fritters were excellent.

Tim had Coscia d’Anatra stufate di Arneis (duck thigh cooked in Arneis wine), which he polished off with gusto. I don’t really like duck, but tried a taste. It was not too gamey, not overly cooked and too rich a sauce which often is the case with this bird.

We were now quite stuffed but the dolce looked so intriguing that, in a departure from our usual habit to share, we each had one. I had Semifreddo marone con purea di cachi (frozen chestnut custard with persimmon sauce) – I am now running out of divine words! Tim went for the Gelato alla liquorizia (liquorice ice cream), which was also incredibly divine. Both were served with a homemade biscuit with glazed hazelnuts - very nice and a delicious touch.

We were left with an impression that the food is very much to season and everyone eating left with big smiles. A sure sign of a great Osterie is when everyone starts chatting to the other tables, us too, even though we were the only foreigners.

And the bill for 2, including 2 bottles of wine and a serving of tartufo, 135€.

Reviewed by: wino666 from CA, review #665

When: 2003

Casual elegance in the vineyards, great food, very good wine list

Osteria del Vignaiolo in La Morra, Highly Recommended *** Elegantly casual osteria just outside of La Morra. We went here with local friends who really know good places and we were not disappointed. We had a bottle of ’99 Rocche Costamagna Barbara and followed that with an elegant ’00 Poderi Nebbiolo.

For appetizers we tried a special Jerusalem artichoke tart with anchovy sauce that was great, a pastry wrapped mushroom, and a very good rabbit terrine. We also had some gnocchi which had good flavor, but a little too much cheese sauce, some wonderful fried porcini that had beautiful flavors and a very little batter coating. We really like the food style and overall feel of this place. We’ll definitely go back next time.

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

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