Casale Monferrato, Alba, Piazza Duomo and Piedmonte

casaleWe got on the road early leaving Lake Como and stopped in Casale Monferrato for a really good macchiato.  Had this in a small cafe in the piazza.

Then we drove through the back roads into Alba.  The landscapes are just beautiful.  We were heading to Alba en route to Relais San Maurizio where we were spending the night.  Fred did a little research and said we should have lunch at Piazza Duomo in Alba.   I have been to multiple restaurants with creative chefs from French Laundry to Noma and honestly Piazza Duomo might be top of the list.  Enricco Crippa is the chef.  He has been cooking in top restaurants since the age of 16.  He did a short stint in Japan and what he brought from that experience into his food with his Italian roots is subtle, unique and brilliant.  I think what separates him from the other restaurants is that sometimes creativity wins out over taste where at Piazza Duomo everything was creative and also tasted divine.

shisoiceYou get four choices when you sit down.  You can either order the price fixe 9 course meal from either the innovative, traditional innovative, traditional or a la carte.  We went with the innovative.  That sets the stage for the mise en bouche you begin with.  I will try and recall all of this. Although a blurry pic this is what we began with which is a shiso ice.  I never loved shiso but I do now.  This was an incredible dish.  A singular punch of intense flavor with the cold ice is why I knew immediately that he had to have spent some time in Japan.

bokchoyA small leaf of baby bok choy covered in sesame seeds, seaweed and one other thing.  Small and powerful.

sticks and cheeseThe dried spaghetti noodles are each dipped in a soft puree.  They are each different vegetables.  The one on the far right is eggplant.  On the front block is a Parmesan chip with a dollop of a sweet ricotta like cream.  Delicious.

crispand sweetsThis was interesting.  Some of these were sweet and others were savory.  A buckwheat chip almost like shrimp toast.  A puffy chip filled with a sweet ricotta, an Amaretto flour cookie filled with an almond paste and a chocolate melt in your mouth cracker.

langastineandvealoliveThis looks like olives but it is not.  The one on the right is langoustines made into an olive with an olive like taste and the one on the left is the same concept with veal.  They were both unbelievable.  It is one of those things that once it hits your mouth and begins to melt your eyes just pop out.

chipandcolivecantelloniThe one on the right is a very intense fish chip and the one on the left is a black olive chip shaped like cannelloni and ricotta cheese piped into it.

mushroomsponge:foiegrasThe one on the left here is has the consistency of a sponge but tastes like dense mushrooms and there is a sweet cream inside that once that mixed with the intense mushroom flavor the whole taste changes in your mouth.  It is a one bite experience.  The other has a light sherbert consistency on top that is made with a Campari liqueur but underneath is a foie gras cream.  A total wow between the bitter and the savory.

eggsaladNow the meal begins.  Honestly we could have gone home happy at this point.   This is a salad of three eggs.  Pieces of lettuce scattered over the plate with small dollops of egg yolk, caviar and egg white.  Then over the top is small pieces of seaweed and dustings of other Japanese flavors.  You were supposed to eat a piece of lettuce and then have a small sip of the hot broth afterward.  One of the most unique salads that I could eat over and over again.  The flavors were just perfect.  Truly sublime.

fishpoachedDish number two was poached pieces of cod served with a roasted almond sauce that had a thick texture to it.  This was my least favorite of the entire meal.  It was light and heavy at the same time and mild when it came to the flavors.

eggplantparmThis was brilliant.  A deconstructed eggplant parmesan.  No more explanation needed.

veggie:calamari soupA soup of calamari, seasonable vegetables and a light eggplant based soup.  Tasted like the end of summer.  Each flavor stood out on its own in this very subtle way.

potato tacoPotato taco.  Inside this crispy taco which melts in your mouth is a piece of buttery poached fish.  You take this and brush it over the different sauces of tomato, olive, a green vegetable and saffron.  The dish was perfect.

sweetbreadsSweetbreads roasted with a nice light brown sauce and wrapped with Japanese mustard greens.  Loved.

seaurchinWe had the option to go with mushroom risotto and the first truffles of the season but we both love sea urchin and that was on the menu so we went with it.  Did not love this dish.  Not enough sea urchin and heavy handed on the sauce.

cantelonniWe were seriously hitting the wall here but once I tasted this I ate the whole thing.  Red pepper cannelloni that melted in your mouth stuffed with ricotta and splashes of veal bolognese on the plate.  An OMG.

pigeonThe first time we had pigeon was almost 30 years ago at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  It is not something I order often but if it tasted like this I might.  Roasted perfectly over a rich mustard sauce and then plated with small caramelized carrots, herbs and cheese.

fruitsNow we begin the desserts.  A minestrone soup of fruits.  Tiny bite sized pieces mixed in a light sugar soup with shaved white chocolate on top.

pbjI figured I would pick through dessert but I was so wrong.  His version of PB & J.  Crispy layers of light phyllo dough crust stuffed with a peanut butter cream.  Take the large sweet blueberries and sauce put it on top and you have an insane sweet sandwich.  Wow.

sweetsMore?  Oh yes.  Chocolate dusted hazelnuts, a chocolate covered lime coconut cream lollipop, hazelnut crispy cigar, sweet jelly squares dipped in crushed peanuts and a melt in your mouth coconut tasting shortbread.   I obviously tasted each of these.

latte+The small piece that looks if it came from somewhere foreign is white chocolate dusted with green tea and stuffed with cherry jelly.  The small red bottle is cherry juice.  The white bottle is a take off the movie Clockwork Orange where they drink milk laced with mescaline.  Here it was grappa and it could not have been a better ending to the meal.  It coated my stomach.

I saw the chef on the way out and told him how magnificent the meal was.  The service was impeccable too.  Honestly I am speechless.  Usually when I go to these long meals I generally regret it and then wait some time before doing it again.  Now I have to think again.  This is definitely going under one of my top ten meals  ever.  I am just using ten because I have not really thought about it yet but now I will.

wineyardsThen we drove over to San Maurizio through the beautiful hills of Piedmonte where the grapes are everywhere and got horizontal the minute we got into our room.