23 November 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: trattoria della posta, monforte d'alba

I'm trying to remember where it was I first saw the enormous, old-school Italo-swag menu of Trattoria della Posta, a restaurant renowned for serving Monforte's most traditional meal. It was either as wall-art in the bathroom at Paris wine bistro Le Bistral, or it was in a collection of menus maintained by a former employer back in LA. Or was it the collection of the former employer in Boston who collected old menus?* Suffice it to say the menu is memorably huge.

Opening it brings the same sensation one gets stepping into the vast, stately restaurant itself, situated just east of town, with a parking lot to itself. It is the feeling of entering a proud, entrenched culinary tradition, hermetically sealed against outside influence. One wishes one had a mustache, or at least a cigar.

Trattoria della Posta was founded by the Massolino family in 1875, and continues to be owned and operated by the same family today. Mindful of how much we'd been spending, my friends and I allowed ourselves one last serious grandstanding meal before leaving Piedmont, and went with TdP out of two restaurant recommendations we'd received from Roberto Conterno, saving the less historied establishment for some future visit.

Upon delving into the wine list, I was delighted to see that one of the similarly huge list's cheapest selections was precisely the wine I'd been wanting to show my friends. In a further coincidence, it was also one of the few Piemontese wines that was appealing on an August night during a heat wave after spending the day at the beach on the Italian Riviera trying to find parking. It was G.B. Burlotto's** Nebbiolo Rosato "Elatis," a wine I can unreservedly call Italy's greatest rosato.

Sourced from Verduno, at the northern border of the Barolo appellation, it is slender, crisp, with cat's tongue tannins, glowy red fruit, and peppery orange peel aromas. I have no idea why more Nebbiolo rosato isn't made like this.

After an inexplicably slow start, the rest of the meal unfolded in much the way we'd expected. Rather than describe every dish in mouth-watering detail, I'll just relay some minor impressions of Piemontese cuisine as experienced at TdP.

For one thing, I adore the pokey presentation of many classic dishes. Consider the roast onion stuffed with toma and sausage:

Or how J's bagna cauda was as direct as a bank robbery, just raw veggies and the anchovy sauce itself.

This meal, like others, confirmed agnolotti's status as Piemonte's greatest contribution to Italy's panoply of pasti. The tajarin, as everywhere else, was just A-okay.

Like, come to think of it, almost every four-course Italian meal I've had outside of the American fine dining scene, main courses were sort of a let-down.

I don't think it was a psychological phenomenon resulting from pasta enjoyment, either. I've had truly astounding Piemontese beef in California, of all places. (Not to mention at Eataly, in Turin.) But many otherwise great spots in Piemonte, TdP included, seem unaccountably clumsy with meats. I wonder whether this has to do with the challenges of gauging cook times vis-à-vis pasta service. Or maybe I'm just ordering poorly.

In any case, as long as Giacomo Conterno Barbera is on the table, I could happily stomach roadkill.

On the way to our table I'd noticed a big majestic cabinet full of the late master-distiller / sketch artist Romano Levi's grappa bottles, replete with a small sign saying "Not for Sale."

While we held out no hope of drinking this stuff when the meal was over, we were nevertheless fairly disappointed when the server recited from memory a piddling list of the three or four widely-distributed digestivi available. It seemed totally unconscionable that a restaurant so grand could have such a lightweight selection. We ceded to our linguistic difficulties and didn't press the issue, but on the way out, naturally, we espied precisely what it was we'd wanted: a cabinet just festooned with interesting grappi, all opened and clearly meant for service.

Who knows why it wasn't offered. There are enough foreigners passing through the place that I'd rule that out as an explanation. Perhaps the staff just wanted an early night.

By that point in the trip it wouldn't have killed us to have one ourselves; instead we wound up back at Monforte's old-town wine bar Case della Saracca, if I remember correctly.

* Chefs collect menus in much the same spirit as designers collect fashion mags. For the rest of us these things just pass through our hands like so much sand. 

** I'd really wanted to visit the Burlotto estate, but unfortunately the family left on vacation just as we arrived in Barolo. Another one to schedule for the next visit, whenever that may be. 

Trattoria della Posta
Località Sant'Anna, 87

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